Thursday, January 27, 2005

Clarification and A Scanner Darkly

A few comments to clarify ideas I've been touting as I try to put some thoughts down this evening:

Firstly, the viewing of Sky Captain has really spurred my enthusiasm for the tools that are available to regular people, like myself, in film making. I actually agree Caitlin and Swambo's comment that they hope that CGI gets used in different ways from the "big budget FX extravaganza's" that, as she rightfully pointed out, often end up shite (Chronicles of Riddick anyone?).

I don't think Sky Captain is one of those films. For one, up until a few years ago Kerry Conran was just one of us; sitting at his iMac working out six minutes of test footage for his dream project. Sky Captain was born in one person's love of comic books and old pulp films rather than some studio trying to cook up the next big hit.

However, a conversation with Luke regarding animation films and Caitlin's comment on alternate uses of digital technology brings me full circle to talk a little bit about Richard Linklater's take on Phillip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly. For those who are unfamiliar, the story is about a group of drug addicts, one of whom (Arctor, played by Keanu Reeves in the film) is an undercover cop. Of course being a Phillip K. Dick story, the twist is that Arctor suffers a schizophrenic breakdown and begins to track himself to the source of the drugs. Some screen shots have been released.

Here's Keanu Reeves...

...and Winona Ryder.

Here's an animator using digital technology to trace over the hi-def digital film using a graphics tablet and pen.

Linklater is a Indie film hero (even though I hate the term "Indie"). He works only on projects that he wants to, often on a super low budget. His films are personal yet never pretentious. A film like Before Sunset (which I highly recommend to anyone who hasn't seen it yet) is so low key and personal. It is truly a masterpiece of American independent cinema. A Scanner Darkly shows the potential that the digital era is giving to filmmakers who work apart from the big studios.

What I hope to bring to light is that there is a place for digital tools in the world of filmmaking beyond the FX heavy "epics." I'd love to hear what some of my fellow flimmakers out there have in mind.


At 10:23 p.m., Blogger Ewan said...

Anders' blog should be called "I love SkyCaptain".

At 11:56 p.m., Blogger cait said...

Well, I don't know if I could be called a "fellow filmmaker" quite yet, but I really don't know how I'd deal with FX; the kinds of films I've always been interested in films that don't so much call for FX: Tom Stoppard, Woody Allen, Richard Linklater, Coen Brothers, Campbell Scott/Stanley Tucci, Sofia Coppola. Not ruling them out, of course, but I'm not sure how I'd use them. Even Swambo and my ideas that are a bit more complicated (i.e., the Sci Fi Gershwin musical, the adaptation of R&J in prohibition-era NY, the Tempest set in modern times) don't seem to call for that sort of thing.

Whenever I watch the "making of" features on films that have FX, I really just feel bad for the actors. In the original Star Wars, they were actually there; Cecil B. Demille really had thousands of extras for his films. Of course, once it's on film, the difference is negligable if the CGI is done well, but filmmaking becomes a lot less reactive in such a controlled environment. I don't know if we've really seen the true effect it will have on the craft of acting yet.

At 12:21 a.m., Blogger Anders said...

Don't forget that Tom Stoppard penned Brazil which is a pretty heavy FX film. And as I pointed out Richard Linklater is doing so nifty stuff with digital tools.

There are films that are "FX intensive" that aren't in the Star Wars vein of things. Take historical films, such as Master and Commander (which incidently had almost as many FX shots as any film) or even A Beautiful Mind, a film that you might not think it, but made extensive use of CGI in things that you wouldn't even think it.

I think digital tools would be invaluable for those films that you mentioned (especially a Sci Fi Gershwin musical).

Finally, I think you underestimate the effect on acting that digital technology would have. Stage actors rarely have any problems with the use of CGI, etc. And the human element is still there for actors to work off of each other, which is where the real emotions come from. And even in the end, this "reactive" filmmaking that you speak of often comes in the editing suite. If anything digital filmmaking allows directors to become more reactive, able to screen shots immediately and change things on the fly in reaction to what their actors do. Filmmaking is no longer a "linear" process and digital is responsible for that. Terms like "post" and "pre" production are dissapearing. I think this will allow actors and directors to become more intimate with stages of the film (such as editing) than they have ever been before. But like any tool, it's how you use it.

At 12:35 a.m., Blogger Johannes de Silentio said...

I would like to point out (though I don't like getting involved in these FX debates) that 'O Brother, Where Art Thou' is one of the most FX heavy films of the past fifteen years. It's not obvious though, because the Coens are the Coens. The entire film has been digitally colour treated. It's unbelievable when one is watching it though, because it just looks like the dirty South. I thought I should clarify for you, Caitlin, that even though it may not seem like it, some of your favourite filmakers do use CGI, but they use it well and in ways others wouldn't. There is hope for it yet.

At 12:45 a.m., Blogger Anders said...

Oh yeah! Joel comes through. I totally forgot about O Brother. Not only the colour treatment, but the whole flood thing at the end is CGI. Way to get into the spirit of things Joel.

At 4:18 p.m., Blogger Ewan said...

When i make Ewan Currie's Death wish 3 II there's going to be no CGI.

At 8:04 p.m., Blogger cait said...

Hmm . . . I dunno. While I was aware that a lot of that stuff was CGI (i.e., OBWAT?), those aren't necessarily the types of films I would make. I don't see myself making a Brazil-esque film, I see myself making a R&G are Dead type of film. I see myself making Barton Fink or Raising Arizona, not necessarily OBWAT?

As to the Sci Fi Gershwin musical, our idea was rather to make it as disgustingly cheesy with as bad production values as possible, a la Dr. Who, Original Series Star Trek, to a lesser extent Red Dwarf, etc., so using CGI would be counterproductive. Other than that, I rather see myself making "talking heads" films.

Also, I feel it is necessary to point out that M&C was something of an epic, as was OBWAT? which was based on The Odyssey.

At 1:48 a.m., Blogger Anders said...

I get what you're saying.

Still, sometimes I get sick of these "talking head" type movies...I want to see what someone with your tastes can do thinking outside the box.

At 3:31 p.m., Blogger cait said...

Gah! I hate that saying; obviously, if you're using a cliche, you're NOT thinking outside the box, either. Pblth!

But seriously, forks, the part of film that I am most interested in is human motivations on a micro scale as well as a macro scale. Yes, I love movies like "Hero," but not because of how beautiful they are visually; that movie spoke to me because it was about the greater good and personal sacrifice, battles of wit as much as battles of strength. It's why I find pretty movies that are lacking in plot, character development or good acting really annoying, probably why I didn't like AI at all, or the LOTR trilogy very much, why I'm not as much a fan of Yellow Submarine as my sister is. It's probably also why I don't like Wes Anderson as much as I like Richard Linklater or Woody Allen. My love of films sprang from my love of theatre (I was a hardcore drama geek in high school; I had planned to go into drama before I realized I wanted to be a writer more than an actor).

Theatre more than film is fundamentally about people, and why they do what they do. Human motivation is my primary interest; that's why I'm obsessed with social constructs, religion, history, english, theatre: to me, they are all about human motivation. What I find fundamentally lacking in most "epics" is that they often miss the nuances of motivation and feeling, focusing instead on epic battles and unrealistic, black and white concepts of good and evil. You can't tell me that Star Wars, the LOTR movies, even Harry Potter in the earlier books (though Rowling does expand beyond that in Order of the Phoenix) don't do those things. And while I do love those things, to me they really don't compare to nuanced works like Vatel, later Shakespeare, or Citizen Kane. It's why I'll always choose a movie about people like Separate Tables or Peter's Friends or Withnail and I over a movie that is big on action or FX like LOTR, ET, or Indiana Jones.

At 12:50 a.m., Blogger Anders said...

Hence the definition of "epic." ;P


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