Author Archive

Sabbatical (Brandon Colvin, 2014)

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Paul here.

While I’ve been traveling for the first series of Something, Anything film festival screenings, I’ve caught up with a few films, though not nearly as many as I would like to have seen. Of all of them, I was inspired to write a few words about Brandon Colvin’s Sabbatical, which I saw in Wisconsin at its World Premiere.

I rarely make time to write out-and-out reviews, but I wanted to put my thoughts down on this one for three reasons: First, I’ve thought about a good deal in the three weeks since I’ve seen it. Second, it is a “difficult” film, and because of that I fear it will face some (unfair) challenges on the festival circuit. And third, I have seen few other people writing about the film. My words certainly aren’t going to convince a curator to program the film, but I believe the film merits a serious look and this is my way of sharing that.

xxx

Sabbatical (Brandon Colvin, 2014)

Brandon Colvin’s Sabbatical, which had its World Premiere at the Wisconsin Film Festival, was described in the fest catalog as an “unapologetically rigorous work.” It does not fail to deliver on that promise.

The film’s story concerns Ben (Robert Longstreet), a religious studies professor who returns to care for his ailing mother. During his time back home he reconnects with people from his past — an estranged friend (Thomas Jay Ryan) and Sarah (Rhoda Griffis), a former lover. Describing the film in this way, however, is misleading because the film’s characters and dramatic arc are secondary to the film’s austere formalist concerns.

Sabbatical consists of some 60-odd shots over the course of its 72 minutes with most of the scenes existing as single, static long takes. (At least two of these last over 5 minutes.) In the entire film I can only recall two instances of camera movement. There are many, many shots (or “scenes” — as I said, there’s hardly any distinction between the two) in which we see characters only from behind. And the actors, truly performing in the mode of Bressonian models, speak in virtual monotone. Throughout, the film steadfastly denies us the things we typically expect to see or hear in more mainstream cinema.

While Bresson obviously looms large as an inspiration here, because of its single-shot-per-scene approach I was also reminded of Jon Jost’s work and, though it’s a bit of a stretch, even Hollis Frampton’s classic of structural filmmaking, [nostalgia]. Regardless of who one thinks of, audiences that have some cinematic references to draw upon will undoubtedly find themselves more engaged with the film than those who read a logline and expect to see a sensitive family drama. Within two or three scenes/shots you understand how Colvin will tell the tale, and I suspect at that point you’re either with it or you’re against it. The woman sitting next to me at the world premiere was, it’s probably fair to say, against it. Me? I was with it. (So, too, were the many people who stayed afterward for the Q&A.)

One can’t expect complete success with any film, and you certainly can’t with a film that feels like such an experiment for its creator and cast. There are a few moments one feels the actors struggling to perform in the same, flattened register, for instance. Sometimes, too, the images feel more mannered than rigorous. Still, in moments like the film’s final scene, or a scene where Ben discovers his mother is unconscious the starkness and purity of the film’s approach works in harmony with its themes of separation and loss. Best of all was what I consider the film’s centerpiece, an indelible scene of loneliness and tenderness between Ben and Sarah at a kitchen table. It’s a sequence that, three weeks after seeing it, continues to haunt me.

Beyond its literal reference to the main character’s break from work, Sabbatical‘s title has a deeper meaning. The origin of the word literally means “a ceasing”, and denial is at the heart of this film — the affection people deny to each other, the denial of death, and above all, perhaps, the denial of the typical pleasures of narrative cinema for something else. In Sabbatical Brandon Colvin challenges his viewers to look deeper, and I found the investment of time, of attention, rewarding.

Something, Anything – World Premieres

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Something, Anything
Ashley Maynor and I spent a lot of time — a lot of sweat, a lot of love, a lot of pain — making SOMETHING, ANYTHING. More than either of us have ever put into a movie. Years. Friends of ours have raised infants to preschoolers in the time it’s taken us to make this film. This film has been our baby.

Not surprisingly, as we finished the film we did a lot of thinking about where we would want to premiere it. We knew wanted it to be a festival with a lot of integrity, both in the films they select, and the way they treat their filmmakers. Path

So we asked a lot of filmmaker friends, and we researched. What festivals were taking risks on premiering and screening films that we admired in the last few years? (Films like The Unspeakable ActThis is Martin Bonner, and The Color Wheel, among many, many others.)

And two festivals kept coming up again and again: the Sarasota Film Festival and the Wisconsin Film Festival.

So we shared SOMETHING, ANYTHING with programmers Tom Hall (Sarasota) and Jim Healy (Wisconsin). And we crossed our fingers. These guys look at thousands of films a year. I don’t know how they do it, honestly. For the sections that we’d be eligible for, they maybe take a dozen films.

The fact that both of these programmers — who we admire so much, and whose festivals are beacons of daring programming — separately selected SOMETHING, ANYTHING for their respective festivals… well, to call it gratifying would be an understatement.

We’re calling our screenings at both Wisconsin and Sarasota our “World Premiere” — a co- or dual- World Premiere, if you will. The festivals happen over the same dates, and its a way for us to signify how honored we are to have all of our hard work — and the work of so many others — to be recognized by both festivals.

Thanks for following us on the journey so far.

Something, Anything

Announcing our first feature: “Something, Anything”

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Among my friends and collaborators, I have something of a reputation for being tight-lipped about films that I’m actively working on. This is one of the reasons things sometimes get very, very quiet on this blog.

Though the path to completing and premiering it is still long, Ashley and I are happy to announce that our first feature, Something, Anything, is in post-production. In fact, the Independent Feature Project announced yesterday that Something, Anything has been selected as one of ten projects from around the country for IFP’s esteemed Narrative Lab.

You can read more about Something, Anything, the other projects, and the Lab in the official press release and the Filmmaker Magazine article. The projects are impressive and we’re honored to be in such good company.

Friends of ours have taken their first features (The New Year ParadeSt. Nick) through the Lab, and knowing how much they valued the Lab makes us especially excited to have this opportunity.

We’ll try to do a blog post or two about our experiences at the Lab. Stay tuned. Until then, here’s an image from the film — one of the last shots of the movie, but one of the first we filmed.

Something, Anything

 

A Dozen Useful, Low-Budget Camera-Related Items

Monday, November 7th, 2011

As you may have gathered from Ashley’s recent post about art department lifesavers we have been doing some filming lately. After several days on set, I’ve come to deeply appreciate some small, even seemingly minor, accessories and pieces of camera-related equipment — “kit” in industry parlance. I thought I’d discuss a few of these items, each of which is under $200.

We’re using a Sony FS100, a Red Rock Micro follow focus and low-rise baseplate, an assortment of Nikon lenses, and a Heliopan variable ND filter, but many of the items listed below would be at home on a DSLR-based shoot or a shoot with a more traditional video camera (Sony EX1, Panasonic HVX200, etc).

Zip tie lens gears.
Lenses that were designed for stills, not cinema, lack a gear that allows them to be used with a follow focus. One solution would have been to use the gear rings that we had from Red Rock Micro. These are functional, but they have a number of disadvantages: they’re large, they can be time consuming to put on/take off, and at $40 each, they’re overpriced. Zip tie lens gears are inexpensive and easy-to-add to every lens you own. Once on your lens, you can forget about them. $40 for 3. 

Zip tie lens gears from Wide Open Camera.

Wet Erase Markers
A good set of wet-erase markers will help you make marks on your follow focus ring. We like wet erase, not dry erase, markers because the dry erase ones will smear. $7.

Filter pouch.
Our Heliopan Variable ND filter comes in a less-than-ideal case. It’s a very tight fit, to the point of seeming like it could scratch or scuff the glass. We quickly bought a filter pouch to protect our investment. $9.

77mm step up rings and lens caps.
We use a 77mm variable ND filter on set, which at that size has the ability to cover all of our lenses when using step-up rings. After a few days of filming with one step-up ring per size needed (e.g., a 52-to-77, a 62-to-77, etc.) we found that we were being slowed down by having to unscrew the step-up rings from lens to lens, particularly when so many of our most-used lenses (e.g., 28, 35, 50) all had a 52mm threading. So we splurged and purchased the necessary step up rings for all of our lenses. Now all of our lenses have a 77mm “face” (and accompanying lens cap). Though step up rings seem like an inexpensive piece of kit, read the reviews and buy a reputable brand like B+W, Heliopan, etc. Lesser step up rings can seize up, making that expensive variable ND filter a big headache! Step-up rings: $25 – $45.  Lens caps: $5.

Lilliput 7" LCD

Lens cleaning tools. 
We switch lenses and filters often, which means more chance of dirtying them. We keep our glass clean with:
Nikon Lens Pen. $7
Kimwipes. $5
Purosol Lens Cleaner. $8

Lilliput 7″ 668GL On-camera HD Monitor
In 2010 I read about Lilliput’s small, inexpensive HD monitors. At the time, they only seemed to be sold on Ebay. I bought one off almost as a novelty, not expecting much from it since it was so much cheaper than other HD monitors on the market. While its picture is not as vivid or high resolution as that of other portable HD monitors I’ve used, it works, it’s lightweight, and it’s far more affordable. The one I bought over a year ago didn’t have a battery pack like the new ones they make, so I had to buy an Ikan battery AC/DC adapter plate, which allows me to use Sony batteries with it. The new models, which you can purchase through Amazon, now come with their own battery solution and component inputs. As for its application, I tend not to use it if I’m operating camera myself, but when working with a DP or camera operator I use it as my “director’s monitor.” It’s especially useful when filming in tight spaces (like a car — see below) where using your camera’s LCD monitor or viewfinder isn’t an option.  $170.

FilmTools Gripper 116XL

HDMI Cables It’s nice to have different lengths of HDMI cables to use with the Lilliput monitor. I’ve used these Insignia brand cables on set for a few weeks and haven’t had any problems. One’s a 9 footer, one’s a 3 footer. $10.

FilmTools Gripper 116 XL car mount.
Trying to shoot smooth car footage handheld , particularly with a CMOS sensor prone to “jell-o”, can be a test of one’s patience. This FilmTools car mount affixes to your car’s windows or windshield with a large suction cup and will support cameras up to 9 pounds. $110.

Coleman LED Quad Lantern
This ingenious LED lantern can be split into four smaller LED sections, which have a functionality similar to micro Litepanels at a fraction of the cost. We’ve used the “quads” for driving shots by hiding them on the ceiling, in the dashboard, and on the floor. Beyond driving, they’re useful for any situation where you might not have access to power and don’t need to light a large area. And if you need more light than one puts off, you can gaff tape them together. Though they’re not necessarily color corrected like a those designed for video use, they work great if you throw a gel on them or dial in the appropriate color balance setting on your camera. Plus, when you’re not filming, the lantern can be used for camping — you can’t say that about a micro Litepanel! $58.

Coleman LED Quad Lantern

Two-Way Radios
Or, as laymen call them, “walkie talkies.” I’m usually not working on a set that’s so large that we all need to be outfitted with professional two-way radios and headsets. That said, it’s nice to have an inexpensive set on hand for those occasions when your cast and/or crew is in different areas. I find them essential when shooting exterior car scenes (i.e., those in which the camera’s outside the car, filming actors driving). It’s the easiest way I know to cue talent or ask for another take. Roughly $35-$75, depending on features.

Canare breakaway cable
For the uninitiated, a breakaway cable consolidates multiple XLR and mini cables into one neat cable, which can be run from a location audio mixer to a camera (or audio recorder). Though it may seem overpriced for what is seemingly a bunch of XLR and mini plug cables wrapped together, if you’re using a mixer and feeding that audio into your camera the simplicity, organization, and mobility that a breakaway cable provides is well worth the cost. In addition to feeding your camera two tracks of audio with one cable, a good breakaway cable also give the sound mixer a means to listen to the “return” audio instead of the audio from the sound mixer. This is the best way to monitor the audio being mixed, so for me it’s worth the investment. $190.

Rest In Peace, Steve Jobs

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.

I remember January 6, 1984 like it was yesterday: My dad and sister went to an electronics store and brought home our first VCR. My mom and I went to one of Knoxville’s only computer stores and brought home our first computer, an Apple IIe.

Like so many filmmakers, my life been shaped by the fusion, the intermingling, and the collision of the motion picture with the personal computer. That I was introduced to both of these on the same day — on Epiphany, no less — is so “poetic” that it’d be a cliche if you read it in a story or saw it in a movie. But that’s the way it happened, honest.

More than any other person that I can think of, Steve Jobs is responsible for bringing together motion pictures and the computer. Jobs’ influence on both fields would be hard to overstate.

For me personally, Jobs’ life work — that is, the things he made or had a hand in making — directly led to me pursuing my life’s work, work that is, for me, the kind he spoke of in his commencement address at Stanford, quoted above.

So it seems appropriate at this moment — on the day of his passing — to say, “Thank you, Mr. Jobs, and rest in peace.”

Here’s one more quote from that 2005 commencement speech:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.