Wednesday, August 25, 2010

SketchUp and Storyboarding

I've been using SketchUp as a tool for storyboarding on this project. It's my first attempt at storyboarding anything without actually drawing each frame by hand. Initially, I considered keeping the entire process digital, exporting individual images from my 3D model of the set for each shot in the film, creating a digital sequence that would serve as a sort of animatic. That process was a bit of a flop. If there was a button I could press that would basically snap a photo of my view in SketchUp and save it as a sequentially-numbered image file (perhaps with the option of adding some notes?) that might have worked out better, but as things go, it's such a tedious process to align each shot, and to save each individual file.

Instead of this, I devised a hybrid method that combines my tried-and-true pencil-and-paper method with the promise of digital previsualization.

First, I sat down with the script and devised a general visual approach to each act of the narrative. This "lens plot" (inspired by Sidney Lumet's approach, described in his wonderful book, "Making Movies") served as a guideline for what shots I would or would not include in a given scene.

Second, I took that "lens plot" and used SketchUp to create most of the shots that I would use -- in this instance, medium shots, wide shots, shots with very few angles. I made about ten or twelve image files, and printed them all, nine images to a page. I cut these out and arranged them in stacks.

Third, I storyboarded. Instead of drawing a shot by hand, I grabbed a picture from a pile and taped it on to my storyboarding page. I wrote in notes, drew in arrows for camera movements, and folded the little papers to form tighter shots.

Aside from the obvious benefit to my writing hand, this process had an aesthetic impact, and will have a logistical impact as well.

By having before me a limited array of shots, I was 'forced' to tell the story from a limited number of vantage points. Rather than confining me, this limitation allowed me to approach the scene more fluidly -- every available shot is part of a broader scheme, so, in a way, any shot I choose would be "correct". I didn't have to worry so much about whether a shot would fit in the scene's context. I only had to focus on the way each shot related to its immediate context, and to the character and the moment.

The logistical impact may be obvious -- by limiting my choices of camera angles, I'm also limiting the number of setups that will be necessary on the set. This will give us more time to focus on performances, and the nuances of camera position, lighting, sound, etc.

Now that the first act is storyboarded, I've got to think about how to approach the 2nd and 3rd acts. They involve more movement, both in terms of the characters and in terms of the camera. Will this approach work for these more fluid scenes? I'm not entirely sure yet, but I'll find out soon...

-Arnon Shorr
Director, "A Modest Suggestion"

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Competition?

There are people in Turkey spending $10M on an anti-Semitic, anti-Israel action film (the latest in a series, actually).

Politics aside, this is scary stuff. The earlier "Valley of Wolves" film, released this past January, is little more than a contemporary rehash of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion", using modern-day Israel as a thin metaphor for the Jews in that anti-Semitic text. The Mossad kidnaps Turkish children in order to convert them to Judaism? Are you kidding me?

(Thanks to Rafi Farber for bringing this to my attention!)
-Arnon Shorr

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Book's Cover

It's early yet to be discussing promotional graphics, but brand identity is important, so we're discussing it.

We're looking for feedback on our Man-in-a-Chair graphic. Who does it reach? Who gets it? Who doesn't? Is it effective? Is it flat? Is it dynamic? How should it change?

Mark, our executive producer, is an absolute expert in the marketing world. Since I am not, I'm looking to get a broader perspective on this design, to see if there are folks out there who can help me look at it through a different set of eyes.

So, what do you think?


Friday, August 13, 2010

Our set, as per "SketchUp"

They say "seeing is believing"

My previous experiences in the director's chair have all been "on location". Even when I'd work in a studio space, I'd be working with it as a studio space -- in other words, I've never had a set built for a film.

For "A Modest Suggestion", we're building a set. It's an exciting prospect, to have that kind of creative control over the space these characters will inhabit, but it presents some interesting creative challenges.

In the past, whenever I wanted to get a feel for a space, I could usually just walk in and look around. Right now, the set is just a schematic -- there is no room to enter, there are no walls to look at, and even if there were, they're not painted the right colors yet.

If I can't see the set, how will I plan what you will all see in the film?

To tackle this new challenge, I've employed several tools. I created a three-dimensional scale model of the set in Google's "SketchUp" software. That has been my primary planning tool. In the software, I've even set the "angle of view" to match our camera's widest setting, and I've maneuvered the screen size to match the 1.85:1 aspect ratio we'll be using for the shoot.

It's a neat start, but it's not enough.

Our production designer, the multi-talented Smadar Livne, built a scale model of the set out of foam board paint, tape and maybe a little glue. She even built little tables and bookshelves for it! The physical model will come in handy when we start to talk about where everyone goes and how to fit people and equipment in the space. I've even been tempted to set it up with stuffed animals and take photos with my cell phone to mimic some of our shots, just to see if I could use it as a 'sandbox' of sorts in which to play with possibilities.

As I type this, my printer is humming away, printing small images I snapped from the "SketchUp" model. I got medium shots and medium-wide shots of all the characters -- these are the angles I'll predominantly use in the film's first act -- and I'm printing them out right now. They're printing nine to a page. I'll cut them out, and use them as little templates that I can tape directly in to a storyboard. Luckily, the little 3D people in my model don't have faces, so I can draw those in based on what the shot calls for.

In the end, all I need is to be able to see the film in my mind's eye before we get to the set. If I can do that, using all of these tools, and if I can organize my vision in to a coherent, orderly shot list, we'll breeze through production in no time. That's the plan, at least...

-Arnon Shorr

Monday, August 9, 2010

Should we... or should we not?

What’s so funny about anti-Semitism? From Mel Brooks to Quentin Tarantino, filmmakers have sought to explore the wildly funny and the darkly comedic sides of the 20th century’s definitive genocide. Some used it to mock the perpetrators (“The Producers”), while others used it as a mode of cultural revenge (“Inglourious Basterds”). Some used comedy to celebrate the human spirit that could triumph over such darkness (“Life is Beautiful”), and some used it to help an entire culture grapple with its own difficult past (as in a slew of German films since “Goebbels and Geduldig” aired in 2002).
What about “A Modest Suggestion”? This film, based on Ken Kaissar’s fantastic play, cuts to the heart of the matter: genocide is funny because it doesn’t make sense. Kaissar’s corporate characters, who begin with the question “should we or should we not kill the Jews”, quickly find themselves questioning stereotypes and struggling with the very question of Jewish identity. When they can’t come up with a good reason, they come up with a bad one. What starts as a logical conversation devolves in to a jumble of emotion and intellectual laziness.
That’s what makes “A Modest Suggestion” so unique. It addresses not the criminals, nor the crimes, but the pseudo-philosophizing that ‘justifies’ hatred, bigotry and murder. I am not aware of any films that have examined this so directly or creatively as Ken’s work. That is a big part of what thrills me about bringing “A Modest Suggestion” to the screen.

So, can a depiction of anti-Semitism's central question function as a satirical critique of itself? You know what I think -- what do you think?


Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Casting, the Characters, and Counting the Cents

How do you cast a comedy about anti-Semitism?

I'll have an answer to this question one of these days. For now, I'm content to simply let the question linger.

We're currently in the midst of a meticulous casting process, involving web-based auditions, as well as a thorough casting session through Baltimore's Betsy Royall Casting. I've seen some outstanding auditions, and if I had to decide on a cast now, I think the result would be a team of actors I'd be honored to work with.

That said, things aren't 'perfect' yet. On one hand, they'll never be perfect. There's no such thing. On the other hand, it might be worthwhile to cast a wider net.

Since there's still time, Mark (our Executive Producer) suggested we open up auditions to actors in New York. It'll be my first time tapping such a major production market for talent, so the idea is very exciting. Casting out-of-town actors has its price, of course, but I doubt we'll find ourselves filling every role with a New Yorker, especially considering how much I like some of the local guys. That said, the penny-pinching, money-conscious producer in me has some reservations.

Either way, we'll see how it goes. By this time next week, I imagine I'll have some very new perspectives on this stage of the process.

-Arnon Shorr

Controversial Film to Shoot in Baltimore

Exciting, would be an understatement for the film I’m currently producing, A Modest Suggestion.

I remember back in February 2010, Arnon Shorr, (who will be directing and who is co producing) called and asked me to view a script he just read. Into the first few pages, I smiled, then laughed, and then laughed some more, when I was done reading, I just had to read it all over again, and laughed more.  

I called Arnon back, and before I got to say hello, he said, “so, what do you think?”, “I absolutely love this script,” I yelled out! It’s amazing! What an explosive masterpiece!"

After I calmed down, Arnon asked me, so, are you ready to make this into a feature film? And I remember looking at the phone, thinking, did he just say what I really thought he said?!

And cameras roll in 53 days!

--Israel M. Orange, Producer