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Monday, June 25, 2007
SUNDANCE LABS: "There is no end. Everything that’s happened will be carried forward."
By Braden King 

[ Filmmaker concludes its exclusive look inside the Sundance Directors and Screenwriters Labs (which wraps up at the end of the week) with a final entry from Filmmaker Braden King [pictured above], who's been posting weekly stories on his experience at the Labs.

His project is titled
Here, co-written by himself and Dani Valent, and follows an American mapmaker charting the Armenian countryside who’s traveling with an adventurous landscape photographer revisiting her homeland.

King has directed music videos and short films for Sonic Youth, Will Oldham and Yo La Tengo. He co-directed the film
Dutch Harbor: Where The Sea Breaks Its Back.]

Sunday, June 24, 2007 – 12:10 A.M.

I am sitting on the floor of the bathroom with my laptop as my wife and kids sleep in the other room. They’ve been visiting for the weekend that divides the production side of the Directors Lab from its final week -- the Screenwriters Lab. It seems hard to believe that I’ll have to be leaving here soon. I wonder if anyone’s ever just refused to go.

The actors and crews have left; it’s all quieting down. A separate Documentary Lab has kicked in but we don’t have a ton of interaction with those folks. The vibe has changed. It’s not better or worse, but it’s different, more reflective, slower. The Institute folks keep telling us that this is a week of recovery. I’m still deciding whether or not I want to recover.

My co-writer, Dani Valent has arrived from Melbourne, Australia. We had a couple of great one-on-one meetings on our script today – one with Howard Rodman this morning, the other with Atom Egoyan this afternoon. After dinner tonight, Atom screened a print of The Sweet Hereafter for a small group in the screening room and discussed the film and its production afterward. Dani and I walked up the mountain trying not to let our chatter about the day distract us from the landscape. We collaborated on our script long distance; this is the first time we’ve been in the same place in almost six years. It feels like we just saw each other yesterday. In many ways, we did.

Talk to me, trees. Talk to me, river. Tell me what to write. What do I remember? I close my eyes. I remember Lubna Azabal spontaneously singing “Rhythm of the Night” (no –- NOT the Lionel Richie song, the Corona song that closes out Claire Denis’ Beau Travail -– remember Denis Lavant’s fantastic dance?) on set the first day of shooting. I took this as the very good omen that it turned out to be. I remember the snowball fight that broke out in the meal tent after Institute Executive Director Ken Brecher dropped a huge chunk of snow he’d brought down the mountain into the middle of the room. (See the photo that accompanied my first missive from the Lab. Yes, that is Michelle Satter front and center, winding up. She’s got wicked aim, by the way.) I remember the first time our scenes were projected. How overwhelming it was to see all of that great work that had happened so fast. It never stopped being overwhelming, even into the final scene screenings this week. I can and can’t keep going with this. I can’t, because if I do, I’ll still be typing when the sun comes up and I still won’t be close to half finished.

I do not remember arriving.

There is no end. Everything that’s happened will be carried forward, everything that’s happened will continue to evolve and change. I’ve failed to scratch the surface.

I go back to where I started – my own lack of ability to fully articulate what goes on here. As I’ve written, yes, we do shoot scenes, work with actors and crews, talk with advisors, screen films, stay up late, exhaust and use up all of ourselves. But something greater has transpired. Something about it all eventually even transcends making movies.

There’s a flow, an energy, a spirit, a life.

I go back to the river.


# posted by Jason Guerrasio @ 6/25/2007 10:24:00 AM Comments (1)

Monday, June 18, 2007
SUNDANCE LABS: "I feel everything becoming much more about a solidification of process."
By Braden King 

[ Filmmaker continues its exclusive look inside the Sundance Directors and Screenwriters Labs. Every Monday Filmmaker Braden King [pictured above] will be posting a weekly story on his experience at the Labs until its conclusion on June 28.

His project is titled
Here, co-written by himself and Dani Valent, and follows an American mapmaker charting the Armenian countryside who’s traveling with an adventurous landscape photographer revisiting her homeland.

King has directed music videos and short films for Sonic Youth, Will Oldham and Yo La Tengo. He co-directed the film
Dutch Harbor: Where The Sea Breaks Its Back.]

Sunday, June 17, 2007

It’s 10:42 P.M. I have to get to bed. Another shoot starts in the morning. Two days.

I walked home through the mountains from the Saturday night party (well, O.K., after party) as dawn was breaking this morning. We danced until 5:30 A.M. — fellows, advisors, crew members alike. The sky, blue black, led the way home.

There is literally no time. This is a good thing. It’s beginning to sink in: What we are learning is how to use all of ourselves. To give ourselves over. To put ourselves into it, into the film. Because if you try to get out of it more than you give, that’s when it all falls apart.

My youngest son turned two today — on the other side of the country.

* * *
We had a great group of advisors in this week. Fernando Leon De Aranoa (Director), Keith Gordon (Actor / Director), Catherine Hardwicke (Director), Andrew Mondshein (Editor), Ueli Steiger (Cinematographer) and Alfre Woodard (Actor). The vibe was good — supportive but tough. They had a great sense of when to get involved and when to lay off. It seemed to me that we all took enormous jumps forward with our work this week.

My six-day week consisted of two edit days, a rehearsal day, a shoot day, another edit day and then another rehearsal day for the scenes I’ll be shooting this week. On top of that we had advisor meetings, night screenings and script readings and the aforementioned, very necessary Saturday night party. No day was shorter than 15 or 16 hours. Most were longer. It passed in about five seconds.

We had today “off,” but this afternoon I set up a screening of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Distant, which I’d never seen on the big screen. Right after that, we had a fellows meeting at 4:00, a reception for this week’s new advisors at 5:00, a scene screening at 6:00, and then dinner and another screening after that. If you’re waiting for me to return an e-mail or call, now you know why it’s taking so long. It’s not you, it’s me.

The tentativeness of our first week of shooting has faded. It was exciting to see everyone starting to play their instruments without thinking so hard about which levers to press at the scene screening tonight. The week we’re heading into is the last of three shoot weeks. As we turn the corner into the home stretch, I feel everything becoming much more about a solidification of process. We’ve started to find our individual grammar. The next step is to lock it in, to make it instinctual, second nature.

You have to be rigorous. You have to listen to the voice and you have to go deep. You have to be in. You have to obsess. You cannot do it half way. Be demanding.



# posted by Jason Guerrasio @ 6/18/2007 10:32:00 AM Comments (0)

Monday, June 11, 2007
SUNDANCE LABS: "Like some kind of platoon, all of us here in the trenches together."
By Braden King 

[Beginning today Filmmaker Magazine will be taking an exclusive look inside the Sundance Directors and Screenwriters Labs. Every Monday Filmmaker Braden King will be posting a weekly story on his experience at the Labs until its conclusion on June 28.

His project is titled
Here, co-written by himself and Dani Valent, and follows an American mapmaker charting the Armenian countryside who’s traveling with an adventurous landscape photographer revisiting her homeland.

King has directed music videos and short films for Sonic Youth, Will Oldham and Yo La Tengo. He co-directed the film
Dutch Harbor: Where The Sea Breaks Its Back.]

Friday, June 08 – 7:09 AM

I keep coming back to the river. How to describe the process that goes on here? I’m tired, used up in all the best ways. I think it’s only week two.

How to form an introduction?

I keep coming back to the river.

Where am I? Somewhere in Utah. In the mountains. I don’t know what day it is.

My second day of shooting starts tomorrow.

Sunday, June 10, 2007 – 2:56 PM

“Art is a mystery. A mystery is something immeasurable.” – e.e. cummings, poet

“Playing it safe gets you nothing.” – Michael Krassner, composer, collaborator

Trying to articulate what goes on here...

I’m not sure that it’s possible to fully articulate what goes on here. It feels like an impossible task. If you haven’t experienced it, if you haven’t felt it, I’m not sure I’m a talented enough writer to bring you here, to bring you in. I can tell you this: it’s a gift. There is no way to leave here unchanged.

We all drank the Kool-Aid pretty quickly. I’m sitting under a tree, next to a river, on my first day off after a six-day week of rehearsals, shoots and edits. There’s a grasshopper walking across the top of my laptop screen.

Better living through chemistry? Better filmmaking through landscape.

I keep coming back to the river.

* * *

My wife is visiting this week. We spent the morning hiking up to a 1,000 foot waterfall. On our descent I kept thinking about how one analogy might be some kind of outward bound for filmmakers, a kind of cinema boot camp that gets under the skin and hits deeper – to the bone, to the soul. We all seem to be finding the edges of ourselves. And then moving past them. Over and over again.

I can’t explain the X factor but I can tell you that there is one, there is magic, there is family, there is something that far transcends simple lessons in craft. The Institute knows this, it knows what it’s doing.

Everything is big here, open. I felt the horizon expand on my first day here. There is a lot of light. Especially coming from New York City.

Yes, there are specifics, there is production. We shoot scenes, we work with actors, crews. Advisors wander on and off your set, into and out of your edit room. Good ghosts, mostly. The kind you want around when you’re up against the wall, painted into a corner. A few short words can turn your entire day around. The generosity is the mind-blower, the depth of care and discourse. A day here feels like a week in the best ways.

Everything is a lesson. The doing is a lesson. The velocity is a lesson. The exhaustion and the failures – most of all – are a lesson. The opportunity to go there is the gift.

You learn from your actors. I have been working with two incredibly talented ones this week – Lubna Azabal (Paradise Now, Changing Times, Exiles) and Derek Cecil (TV's Pasadena, Push, Nevada). Every take they’ve done has made me a better director. The local actors who fill out our casts are no less essential to the journey.

You learn from your crew – from their sweat, their muscles, their brains, their dedication and their generosity. No one is getting paid to be here; it’s about the love of the game, the contribution, the chance to create something larger than ourselves. Maybe that’s what it comes down to, what it is - the definition. It’s as close as I can get today.

We learn from each other. It’s humbling to be a member of this class – John Morgan, Maryam Keshavarz, Sophie Barthes, Adewale Akinnouoye-Agbaje, Patricia Benoit, Eric Lahey, Richard Montoya. It already feels like some kind of platoon, all of us here in the trenches together.

Finally, of course, you learn from your advisors, the ghosts. I spent time this week with Gyula Gazdag, a magnificent filmmaker and the Lab’s creative advisor, Joan Darling, the resident guru of working with actors, and the visiting advisors Brad Silberling (Director), Peter Medak (Director), John Amiel (Director), Robbie Greenberg (DP) and Lisa Fruchtman (Editor). Even the shortest conversations felt like master classes. A new crew arrives this afternoon (they rotate each week). I can’t wait to meet them.

* * *

I’ve often thought that it’s actually not for us to decide what our stories are about. It’s only for us to create them, to birth them – because we must - or they will kill us.

It’s not for us to impose our hopes on the child. The child will resent us and the child will rebel. The child is the film, the actor, the crew, ourselves. Our job is to ease it out of the ether and into its life.

Sundance, this lab – it’s like the most caring, midwife you can possibly imagine. But it’ also tough. She has to be. The kid has to come out. Now. It’s natural childbirth: messy and painful and without all the drugs, but beautiful, perfect somehow.


# posted by Jason Guerrasio @ 6/11/2007 12:20:00 PM Comments (0)

Friday, June 8, 2007
By Jamie Stuart 

It is entirely without hyperbole to introduce Vittorio Storaro as one of the most singular and influential cinematographers in the progression of modern motion pictures. His color palette on films such as The Conformist and Apocalypse Now is without peer, and long-lasting collaborations with directors Bernardo Bertolucci, Francis Ford Coppola and Warren Beatty have been recognized with three Oscars for Best Cinematography (Apocalypse Now (1979), Reds (1981) and The Last Emperor (1987)).

Storaro's latest film is Caravaggio, screening this week as part of Lincoln Center's series "Open Roads: New Italian Cinema" (June 6-14). He considers Caravaggio to be part of a new period for him as an artist; the first started in the late 1960's and lasted until Apocalypse Now,; the second phase continued through The Last Emperor; the third culminated with The Sheltering Sky (1990); most recent, his collaboration with director Carlos Saura served as yet another. He often takes yearlong intervals between these chapters to study subjects ranging from philosophy to painting to literature, just to expand his understanding of the meanings behind light and color; when he discusses a color, red for instance, he's not just interested in the way we might emotionally react to it on a visual level, but also the manner in which the physical light particles affect our bodies when passing through them.

I met Storaro at the Walter Reade Theater the day before Caravaggio's premiere. After talking a bit about his career thus far, our conversation shifted toward the technical aspects of cinematography and his feelings on digital filmmaking in particular. As it turns out, he's just as opinionated about technique as he is regarding interpretation.

Filmmaker: You're well-known for overseeing various printing methods on your films like ENR or the Technicolor dye-transfer used on Apocalypse Now Redux. Over the past 10-15 years, there's been a great evolution to film stocks and the introduction of DI. How do you see technology influencing the medium?

Storaro: No doubt that when sound came out the camera's possibilities were oppressed. The language of cinema was almost stopped -- they put the camera within a clear box. Technology went on and finally the camera was liberated to continue its journey expressing through the language of the cinema. Color came up. Particularly to the German Expressionists -- they used light in a conflict with the shadows, which made the dramaturgy very strong -- everyone felt fear to use color in the darkness. There was a moment where there was no longer a relationship between light and shadows. It was a unique feeling. Until the '70s, I think -- The Conformist, The Godfather -- then many films started to use color in a very dramatic way. We picked up again the journey of dramaturgy in light and color and so on.

Today in digital, no doubt there is a great chance to continue to amplify our ability to express ourselves. In this case, the electronic system amplifies, but in a very lower quality. This is why there was resistance from most of the cinematographers to use it until it can grow up. Upon my first experiment I realized how powerful the system was, but at the same time I realized the problems it had. I wrote a long letter to Sony to explain this, and I was glad to see that step by step the camera was picking up. I used it when I was teaching at the Academy of Images, the high definition by Sony, and no doubt, we proved that for some specific projects it can be great -- particularly in a school, because today there is no time or patience to shoot not knowing what we're doing. Today, you want to see it right away. There's now a chance to study, teach and learn in a much faster way together. My problem is only that people know the level of difference with the two systems, so you can use film or digital according to the project itself. Unfortunately, still today, if you follow the number, a system like Univisium, the one I'm using...

Filmmaker: The 2:1...

Storaro: Yes, the 2:1. It's three-perforation. It's using the maximum negative space available. We're talking minimum 6000 x 3000 information or eighteen-million. With a video camera, any subject, the maximum information is roughly 2000 x 1000, which makes two-million. Whatever you've got in front of the camera, in one, you've got eighteen-million; in one, you've got two-million. In one, you've got at least 32-bits; the other one, normally you record at 10-bits. Film has already proven it can last a hundred years. The electronic system, or digital, has to improve its longevity -- particularly, it has a very short longevity. The systems are changing very fast, the material is not very strong. People are very ignorant in this area -- they still believe that digital is permanent. That's a major mistake. Major. So, in my opinion, the system should be used, because if you don't use the system the company doesn't have the chance to improve it. It should be improved till it reaches a much better level. But at the same time, I think we should be aware of the different levels, so you can use one or the other according to the kind of project that you're doing.

Digital intermediate is a dream for a cinematographer, in the sense that you're not only able to change the overall color and tonality, but you can change it during the shot. You can change a portion of the image itself. That's great. But you have to go back from your eighteen-million of information to two-million. This is not good. Most American films today probably go through a digital intermediate, that's a fact. So we have to just push the technology, particularly the digital effects companies, because everything is dictated by them. If they do their visual effects at 2k, you have to do the rest at 2k. Now we have a big hope that the technology is starting to improve. And my hope is DALSA.

Filmmaker: DALSA Origin.

Storaro: With DALSA, next year I can maybe use it, because it's 4k 16-bit. Moving to that level is not exactly film, but it's very close. Good luck.

Filmmaker: It was actually just announced that the Landmark chain is equipping its theaters with 4k Sony projectors. The first movie is Ocean's Thirteen, but they're also doing a restored Dr. Strangelove.

Storaro: Well, my dream is digital cinema, D-Cinema, at least in 4k 16-bit, 2:1 aspect ratio. Also, we should move to the European shooting frame of 25. We should discontinue shooting 24 because it doesn't work. The interlock between America (NTSC) and Europe (PAL) doesn't work. The pulldown doesn't really work, it's not a perfect balance between the two. In changing the algorithm, trying to do five-fields-plus-one we can easily do the 25 frames to the 30 frames. It will be much more linear and much more in synch. It would be a perfect 25, a perfect 30, not 29-whatever it is…

Filmmaker: 24p is usually 23.98, and NTSC is 29.97.

Storaro: That's ridiculous. That's my opinion.

Filmmaker: Apocalypse Now. Theatrically, it was amazing to see it in its Scope aspect ratio, in 2001. I know that at this point you're preferential to 2:1, but some people were upset to see it on DVD cropped from the 35mm 2.35.

Storaro: Well, I always connected with one painting that Leonardo did, The Last Supper. The Last Supper is 2:1. At the time of shooting Apocalypse Now, I was not aware. I don't really remember when I became conscious of the 2:1. Definitely when I started to originally transfer Apocalypse Now (to video). In my opinion, it wasn't working in 2.35 -- at that time, we were forced to do a pan-and-scan. That was the worst. So we had to find a common ground between film and television. The aspect ratio for 65mm is 1:2.21, and the new video aspect ratio is 1.78. If you remove 0.21 from the 65mm, and then you have high definition which is supposed to be the future film/television format, you'll find the perfect balance between the two is 2:1. So any transfer I do is at 2:1. I remember with Bertolucci when we did The Last Emperor and we watched it on the television screen, we didn't like it at 2.35. We found it was much better at 2:1. Now, I only shoot 2:1. I refuse to not shoot 2:1. And I only transfer with this, even the old films, because I know it's the only solution for the future. It's the only meeting point that we have. The DALSA at 4k gives me some encouragement to continue in this way.

Now, there's this rumor they're going to retransfer Apocalypse Now at 1:2.35 -- I will not do it. I will not do it. Because on a television it doesn't work.

Filmmaker: Not even if it's being played on an HD 16:9 screen?

Storaro: 16:9 should be changed.

Filmmaker: There would still be black bars, but it would be less...

Storaro: No, no. We should change the screen and make it 18:9.

Filmmaker: 2:1.

Storaro: You can never be perfect. It could never work in television at 1:2.35. 2:1 is the perfect balance. Even if you lose something, you gain the most important things. Never again would it have to be chopped to 1:3.75 (pan-and-scan) like Americans do. In 18:9, easily you can see the Academy ratio with bars on the sides, or the French ratio of 1.66, even 1.85. The only thing that you miss a little from is the anamorphic.

I really do care about composition. Believe me. I even would discuss this with Stanley Kubrick if he could be here. You can never really do composition perfectly at 1:2.35. If you go in any theater and measure it, it's not perfect 2.35 -- because they don't like to be so small.

Filmmaker: Stanley Kubrick hated 1.85. At the very least, he preferred 1.66. Because he started as a still photographer, he preferred to compose for the full negative. So he'd compose for 1.85 for theatrical at the same time using the whole frame at 1.33.

Storaro: I did the same thing for many films. When I knew that here in America we'd have to do the transfer at full screen, I did that with The Sheltering Sky.

Filmmaker: Super-35?

Storaro: Super-35. We kept the composition for theaters and instead of blocking it out had images at the top and bottom. At least we didn't have to chop the sides. But, you know, it can't work -- you can't have a painting at 2.35. If you go to Amsterdam, you go inside the Rijksmuseum, on the back wall you see a beautiful Rembrandt painting called Night Watch. You look at the painting... and something was wrong. It didn't work. Then, next to the main painting there is a copy. It was a copy of the original. The painting by Rembrandt was cut because it didn't fit between two windows. Somebody did the copy before that -- so you can see the original composition. And that's what's happened to cinema on television. The answer: Univisium. 2:1. 25 frames.


# posted by Jason Guerrasio @ 6/08/2007 12:01:00 AM Comments (1)

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SUNDANCE LABS: "There is no end. Everything that’s happened will be carried forward."
By Braden King

SUNDANCE LABS: "I feel everything becoming much more about a solidification of process."
By Braden King

SUNDANCE LABS: "Like some kind of platoon, all of us here in the trenches together."
By Braden King

By Jamie Stuart


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