It’s been a busy first month back in film school. I’ve written six short scripts, acted in two scenes and two film exercises, made two exercise films of my own, and am now preparing a third exercise, seventh script, and a scene for directing class. What I want to do in this Film School Diary entry is show those first two films and discuss the parameters of the project and how I feel about the process and the results.
Our first exercise was Character. We were to make a 1-minute film with no dialog, in which a character performs an ordinary action, but something about the way the perform it gives us insight into their character.
This film is based on a quirk I’ve developed over the past few years, in which I sometimes obsess about being absolutely certain that I’ve locked the door.
I shot it all by myself, with the camera on a tripod so I could be on screen. I had to use autofocus on the shot of me coming down the stairs, because I couldn’t see the peaking in the glare of the sun, but I think it worked out. I also found that I needed some additional angles in the edit, but I was able to create them by punching in digitally (since I shot in 4k but was finishing in HD, this could be done with no real loss of quality). I had to abandon a really cool closeup of my hand turning the keys in the lock (or trying to, as the lock was already locked) because the lock was in focus, but my hand was not – a casualty of trying to get a shallow field of focus when the thing I needed to focus on was not able to be in the frame as I was focusing.
For sound, I recorded some wild sound effects after the fact, then mixed them into the audio from the camera (heavily EQ’d to remove as much low-end rumble as possible).
Our second exercise was POV. We were to make another 1-minute film in which a character makes an important decision, using POV shots to bring us into the character’s head space.
As with the Character piece, a driving force in figuring out the concept for this was what I would be able to achieve with very little time, no budget, and no school equipment. That basically meant I had to shoot at my apartment. I felt like dealing with a surprise pregnancy would provide a good opportunity for a dramatic decision (and it turns out I wasn’t the only one).
I struggled for a bit with how to show the decision. At first I wanted the girl to have pamphlets for abortion clinics, but I didn’t want to use actual clinics. That also ruled out websites, and I thought having her Google “abortion” was too on-the-nose. In the end, I decided it would be good enough if I could show that she had decided not to tell anyone about her test results. Thankfully, at least some of my classmates picked up on this.
In terms of cinematography, I thought a 1.33:1 aspect ratio would be a good fit. Usually, I prefer widescreen composition, but I really enjoyed shooting this project in such a narrow ratio. It enhanced the sense of being trapped in an unwanted future, which is what drives the girl’s decision at the end. I also purposefully allowed the handheld camerawork to be really jittery up until the moment of decision, from which point the camera is on a tripod.
As with the Character piece, I did some really basic sound design starting with the camera audio, but this time I used stock effects: a basketball game to indicate the activity beyond the door (with the crowd yelling “defense” for an additional layer of meaning) and an electrical hum that builds up tension and releases at the moment of decision.
Now, it’s time to get back to work on my next project…