Archive for September, 2007|Monthly archive page

Life as a Montage

There is a tendency in me to picture my life in scenes, as if they were part of a movie. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I think it’s neutral, depending on what I do with it. If I expect life to be this way, I am bound to be disappointed. If I just see it as an amusing flight of fancy, I might get a kick out of it, or even an inspiration.

Regrettably, I think I tend to be more disappointed than inspired.

I once was in love with a girl. I pictured us in different scenes. In some of them, we strolled at night, I gently stroked her cheek, she smiled and knew what I wanted to say without me even saying it.
And then we kissed. And laughed. And it was magical. And pretty ridiculous.
In another scene, we sat on the couch at my apartment, watching a movie. Then suddenly, she put her head on my shoulder, leaning against me. I put my arms around her and we just sat there, holding each other, without saying a word.
There were more “scenes” like these, all of them framed with the exact appropriate shots in my mind. Some of them even had background music. I derived great joy from these imaginings, but I also knew they were dangerous, I knew that if she doesn’t feel as I do, I am in for a great big huge fall. A thundering disappointment.
At the end, I didn’t really find the perfect moment or the perfect timing to be with her alone. I guess I was afraid to actually cross the Imaginary Zone and step into reality. I thought she felt the same way, but I wasn’t sure.

One night, while we were casually talking, she mentioned that she has a date with some guy. I guess the disappointment showed clearly on my face, although I didn’t say anything. The next day she apologized for hurting my feelings and said she only sees me as a Good Friend. Or in other words, a male girlfriend. How sweet.

That scene wasn’t even close to what I imagined. The dialogue was awkward, I stumbled and mumbled. We weren’t standing in a street corner with soft light on our faces, but sitting on the grass in broad daylight. And not long after that it just ended. Our friendship, I mean.

There were no big speeches, no emotional, heart-breaking moments. We kept in touch for a while and then we just didn’t anymore. It was over. I was heart-broken and lost. It was confusing, pointless, drawn-out.

It was real life.

A movie scene is a carefully structured slice of heightened reality. It usually has some kind of conflict at its core, because conflict is drama and drama is interesting to watch (that’s actually something not very positive in real life. We wouldn’t want to be in conflict all the time, would we? On the other hand, in movies as in life, conflict usually breeds a progress of some sort).
It usually has a to-the-point dialogue. People in movies say the exact, appropriate words, even if they mumble them. They don’t go home thinking: “Yes! That’s what I should’ve said!” as it is in real life. In movies, timing is almost always perfect. It has to be.

If we are to create drama, we must condense life, we must take a situation and dramatize it. For example: Three different phone calls between estranged lovers, each phone call by its own is drawn out, too long, too full of fat. We take it and condense it into one heated, dramatic conversation. We cut to the chase. We mine the conflict. We unveil the dramatic core. A dramatic scene is a clean, efficient, stylized facsimile of life. Storytelling, or drama, as Hitchcock once said, is life without the boring, pointless bits.

Of course, people do have experiences and life journeys as depicted in the movies, it’s just not happening the same way. For example, during the pre-production for my short film, I ran to and fro, been in this location and in that location, did this and did that, sat in front of the computer for hours, sending and answering e-mails… at some point, when I was nearly exhausted, I had a comforting thought: Hey, this is a montage!

You know how in the movies, when someone is going through a long, result-oriented process over a period of a few days or weeks or even hours, we get to see a montage? (The best example is of course the training montages in all those Rocky films). Well, this is exactly what I was experiencing. I was having My Montage. If this was a movie, all these past few weeks would have been condensed into a carefully edited reel of 3-5 minutes, with some cool song or music in the background. Maybe even “Eye of the Tiger”!

Real life is messy, arbitrary. It seldom has closure or catharsis. We, as humans, usually want closure and catharsis in our stories. Heck, we need them. It comforts us, it gives us a sense of order, of meaning. It lets us experience life in a more controlled manner. It gives us a sort of hope. Although there is some excellent drama out there which doesn’t obey these classic paradigms (The Sopranos, for example, which makes up for it in spades with its psychological and philosophical depth), those are the exception to the “rule”.
Even my dreams sometimes have a soundtrack and shot-compositions. I don’t know if I should be comforted or disturbed by this, though. I just know that for me, movies are a big psychological outlet in dealing with life. I love movies with all my heart. They’re the greatest thing in the world. Good movies, and good stories in general, help us make sense of things, they aim a spotlight onto a theme and let us see it clearly, away from the clutter and chaos and contradictions of the reality outside. They are the magnifying glass of the human condition.

They tell us who we really are.

Leap of Faith

You’ve got to see this movie!

This, the opening line from my short script, Hype, is probably the only thing left in its entirety from the original work, except the title.

Fashioning a screenplay is a patchwork of trial and error. Perhaps more than a book, a script is an ever-changing work, first in rewrites and then in the shooting itself. Even when you locked a final draft, you never shoot the script exactly as it was written, and that is especially true in extreme low-budget productions, as mine is. You have to take into account the conditions on the location itself, and aspire to use its advantages and disadvantages to move the story forward. In low-budget filmmaking, it’s not the location you want, but the location you can get.

During the exciting, frustrating and exhausting maelstrom of pre-production, the filmmaker has a commitment to have the story in front of him in all times, to never forget its essence, its themes, its heart. While occupying myself with finding locations, doing technical research, recruiting people and scheduling them, I always tried to take the time to get back to the script and go through it again, to remind myself of why I’m doing it in the first place. In narrative filmmaking, everything exists to serve the story. And the characters, and consequentially the actors, are the nexus of it all.

While a story at its core is about the truths of the human existence, Filmmaking itself is a contradictory beast. It is ethereal and practical at the same time, belongs to the real world and out of this world at the same time. It is, as is well known, art and business all at once; in order to be successful in this field, one often need to be a shrewed businessman as well as a gifted director/producer/writer.

Taking care of all this practical stuff, all this doing, and trying to remember the story – and it was quite hard sometimes – was, and still is, like trying to be several personalities at the same time.

At my core, I think abstractly. I’m not good at practical, fact-based stuff like mathematical quizzes or crossword puzzles. They frustrate me and bore me after a time. I like to daydream, to imagine, to think about possibilities, to see connections, to find beauty in whatever I can, to imagine people doing strange, funny stuff in places they shouldn’t be doing it, to picture different lives in different worlds, to wonder what would’ve happened if–

That is the writer side of me, more than anything. But the director and the producer cannot afford to be this way. They exist in the real world, in the here and now. They must be practical and active. They cannot daydream. They must do stuff. They must act. If they sit and think all day, nothing will happen. They cannot afford themselves the luxury of pure artistic flights of fancy. The producer is the one that wills a movie into being. The director creates the visual storytelling out of the written word, aided by his skill-specific crew, in the only art form to incorporate all other art forms, which is what makes it so fucking awesome.

Hype goes into production soon, leaving behind its ethereal existence on the page and making its way to the practical, technical, money-dependent universe we all inhabit.

And that’s the greatest leap of faith in the world.