Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cinematography Sketchbook-Prologue to Juggernaut

One of the more obvious problems that I felt that my film Juggernaut had in it's early rough cuts was a visually weak opening. In terms of narrative, I felt that beginning it with the Toxic Halloween Protest and the accompanying news reports on same with the whole "film-within-a film" motif was the only way to go. It established a bit of the diegetic background, set up a kind of macabre atmosphere that would be one of the guiding motifs of the film and gave it that meta-twist that was totally accidental and fortuitous. The problem was that the video consisted of ripped news footage and night video that had needed to be bumped up. I really wanted to create a prologue with a certain amout of visual panache, preferably shot on film, and with a lyrical/philosophical bent that would act as a kind of "portal" to the overall conceptual framework of the film. I had discussed it with Ethan Spigland, my Thesis Adviser and I decided to go with a composite idea that I had. Monte Mccolum (Hybrid, Milk in the Land) suggested opening with aerial shots of IBM which I thought was cool, but not twisted enough. I though why not go with the aerial shots but from a strange point-of-view, through some kind of "scrying pool" that the "white brotherhood" (who become a recurring motif in the film and figure strongly in the film's prospective ending) was looking down from accompanied with a voiceover that set the conceptual tone of a merged political/personal subjectivity's "fall-from-grace".
On top of that, let's have the pov based out of a kind of subterranean lair. What would would ultimately ensue would be a major set construction- based out of the basement in my apartment in Queens which consisted of paper-mache' and chicken wire (yes, you heard correctly). It was a task that took me several weeks to single-handedly accomplish. But after everything was said and done, I thought it looked kind of good (in a Star Trek-the Original Series kind of way).

The film footage was shot on Kodak Double-X B&W Negative with a Bolex. The lighting consisted of Lowell 750w and 250w spots (the 250w blew out early on with no replacement bulb-(thanks New School !)-so we had to get creative) and some incidentals. The fact that the assignment was limited to the use of only prime lenses gave us some restrictions but in hindsight I'm glad I didn't have a zoom lens (my "go-to" for everything) because we we're already vexed by the lighting situation. The "shimmering" light on the backdrop was done with a 250w spot and a half-filled aquarium (an idea stolen from Alf Sjoberg's "Torment" which I had seen the week before). There were several rather complex backwind experiments attempted (one of which can be seen in the fial cut)
Luckilly for me, one of the "hooded figures" is my friend Michael Lieberman from the Hunter college MFA Film program who had alot of great insights as to how to make it all work. Also in attendance was the fearless Darrell (Mac) Mcindoe and Luis (Cholo Milk) Perero. The aerial footage was shot out of the back- window of a Cessna 172 with a Canon XL1 which I opted for due to the zoom lens. If you look real close at some of the shots, you can see the "puke splattter" at the point that I got airsick at about 35 minutes in. (and who says I don't suffer for my art?) Below is the finished product (that also appears elsewhere in this blog).

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