CONTINUITY CHILDSPLAY

I got chillllls, but I dont got trees, the background guys gee-gawking with their arms up and the same hue of seafoam green

My parents didn’t take us to the movies as much as I would’ve liked, but a couple of those early screenings have stuck with me as filmic comfort food.  After the daily stress of the world on hold and nightly chores on the farm, 2020 has been the year of classic cinema. Not meaning highbrow, just old!

Grease is the word! Or it was last night, streaming into our living room.  Way back, when movies stayed in the theater for months, I did get to see this film projected a couple times.  That year a friend and I danced and sang our little girl heads off to the soundtrack. And when it later came out on VHS, and when my family eventually (better late than never) got a VCR, teenage me maybe might’ve rented it once, or twice, until someone down the road gave me a tape of my own. Never got around to a DVD copy.

So my hub and I watched, in HD on a decent sized flat screen. And during the climactic final duet, some childhood cinematic memory urged, “was I right?” There was something that I remembered feeling off about that part of the song where Sandy and Danny move their way up the zig zaggy stairs of a carnival attraction.

And there it was. The close ups didn’t match in continuity, the backdrop didn’t quite match, and were (now quite obviously) filmed on stage. I felt that as a kid!  But I’ve seen this on tape several times since then, and thus knew this already no? No. Poking around versions of the scene on Youtube it became clear. After seeing it in the 1970’s theater, the other viewings were on a squarish TV, the image severely cropped (unless there’s a letterbox version out there), with the softer focus and drained color saturation of a film on tape.

Good grief, who knew then that seemingly useless observational sense would apply to decades of work as a script supervisor!

As an aside, in mentioning this to a friend, she brings up the cringiness of some of the sexist dialogue and lyrics in my beloved Grease. Well, I look at it as a film about the 50’s made during the 70’s. Context people! BTW what kind of example are today’s big name musical artists promoting? I will take my hand jive and pussy wagon all day long over a degraded twerking Cardi B or Miley Cyrus.

the wideshot

LISTENING TO YOUR GUT, EVEN IN FILMMAKING

Guest Blog by the Fabulous Michelle Cohen

enlightened gut

After years of questioning my instincts, fighting them and not following through (usually to my own detriment), I have finally been handed enough proof in my life that it is usually wiser to trust those feelings.

Here is a tale of what happened when, despite my doubts and fears, I listened to my inner guidance and found myself swiftly whisked across the country to LA – with meetings at CAA, UTA and ICM for my movie…

Emails kept popping up about a film networking opportunity in downtown NYC. Being from the theater, new to film, and not a comfortable partygoer…I promptly deleted all three of them. When the 4th message came in, I finally realized I HAD to go.  By then I had at least learned how messages are not that insistent unless there is a reason. So I replied with a sigh, ‘yes.’

But a few days before the event, I came down with such a horrible cold that during a coughing fit I burst a blood vessel in my eye. Aye yai yai! Now I sounded and looked like Quasimodo and figured, cool, don’t have to go.

And what came was such a loud, resounding, YOU ARE GOING NO MATTER WHAT message in my gut, I became more nervous to ignore the advice than to attend the event. So, resisting the temptation to don a pirate’s eye patch, I made my way to the party and hoped for the best.

In moments I was approached by a woman who introduced herself as “Tequila” (not kidding). She was so taken by me that, without my knowledge, she went around the room telling everyone about my screenplay. I found myself at the center of attention without having to say or do anything. Without even moving –  everybody came to me. Including the “suit” which is really the one person you want seeking you out. 

Not only was he intrigued, he asked if I was going to AFM in Santa Monica. Again, theatre person, no clue what he was talking about. He explained that it’s a huge film market event. Next week. Next week? I needed to get on a plane and be there and he would personally introduce me to everyone I needed to get my movie made.

What?!!

Back home I checked him out and sure enough he was legit. Wise advisors in my circle said that it was nearly impossible to get into this organization without that kind of support so I should absolutely find my way there.

No, impossible for this to happen! But my instincts continued to reassure me that this could be easy if I let it be. Sure enough, my parents had frequent flyer miles they kindly shared, and my sister and brother-in-law, living in LA at the time, offered to put me up.  In spite of my apprehension, next thing I knew I was in Santa Monica. The “suit” was true to his word, already waiting with people prepped to meet me. It was a whirlwind experience but within the week I had lined up a distributer, producer and investor interest!!!!! 

And within the month, I found myself in the offices of the highest agencies in Hollywood, each of them trying to get me to choose to work with them!

Now I am very aware, this is not the norm. But what if we truly listen to our instincts even when they seem highly improbable, could it be more commonplace? For while I certainly resisted from my personal comfort level, when I followed through – it brought me to an inconceivable amount of opportunities.

Michelle Cohen is a producer, writer, director, performer & intuitive coach moving seamlessly from the entertainment industry to the written word to the invisible world. Her many talents have been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, MTV, NPR’s “All Things Considered”, and in People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and The Washington Post.

For more info visit her website: www.michellecohen1.com

A WRINKLE IN TIME PERCEPTION

Lockdown to Slowdown

Woke up…no alarm…sunrise…. Did not know what day of the week it was.

This sentiment pops up on the Internet, seeing others comment that in lockdown they are losing their bearings. Basic patterns disrupted, unsure as to when things will get back to normal, a certain monotony of days blending together…

This is not uncharted territory for folks in the film industry! After completing a job you might just float around til the next one. But when in production, crew becomes initiated in to a sort of club where the framework of time is lifted, or shifted, in a ‘through sleet or snow or any hour’ kind of way. If not clocking in at a sound stage, and instead doing location work, more than likely schedules will shift, with no natural day of the week or weekend.  Circadian rhythms be damned, if we need to shoot all overnights, we shoot all overnights. If we need to shoot 6 days a week, well by golly that’s what we do.  If we need to film Wednesday through Sunday, then that’s that. And say goodbye to the 40-hour work week.

Friends and family don’t automatically understand that you can’t meet up after work or for Sunday dinner, or that you can’t plan too far ahead without the caveat “if I’m not working.”  They may be shocked that you miss a little calendar marker, or that your bills might be late, or that you aren’t caught up on the news.  

They may not understand how with odd and shifting work schedules you can get turned around as to the day of the week, and even if you are off on Sunday you must do laundry, wash dishes, look at mail and paperwork and try to sleep for that 6 a.m. start time on the next day.

They may not understand… until now. At least some folks. Depending on the level of lockdown, some people have been home in a loose loop. Saturday night may not differ much from Monday morning.  Home bored, or home busy – cleaning out closets and cabinets, learning an instrument or writing that novel. Working from home in half the time. But missing haircuts, no concerts or shows, nor eating out, no conference room meetings. Sweatpants, and keeping those brassieres in the drawers (this, actually, is pretty good) – all are big adjustments to a whole world’s habits and rituals and normal operations. 

For those on the sidelines that didn’t experience any sickness, maybe this was a strange gift, a moment to slow down, catch up, to look inward, to intuitively appreciate simple moments and small things.

It’s almost summer. Businesses begin to open. Production is officially allowed to shake the dust off its shoulders in Texas, but projects have yet to ride over the horizon.  People have had to live in the slipperiness of an expanded view of time, and maybe that has changed us in a good way.

TIME CAPSULE Film Can

message from the past

Hubby working out of town means a chance for some deep cleaning and organizing. While slowly sorting through random stacks and stashes in the office, I came across one of my old films. Like actual film, like in a can.

Finding this is jarring for several reasons. Bound in bubble wrap with a hand written note from a dear friend recently deceased, I haven’t seen this projected for decades. And honestly…I don’t quite remember which film this is, long ago passed to Dave in NOLA to view at a movie theater he managed part time, entrusted to him as a bond between friends moving in different directions.

During that time, at then slightly indulgent, brain expanding, childhood-dream fulfilling graduate school, we scholars watched hundreds of films a week.  Some were shockingly short, some were feature length and beyond, way beyond.

To clarify, this was not like flipping through the internet, or watching on a screen the size of a credit card while multitasking.  This was intentionally sitting in the dark, quietly, viewing each work with respect – extracting anything we could of a message, a tone, an idea, or observing what was stirred up inside of self.

By no means were all the films good. But the process and approach was, creating an environment that encouraged one to stretch and play and strive to express something as only YOU could, on film.

Even though this was not as spontaneous or easy as pulling a phone out to use for camera, editor, screen and distribution method, between friends it wasn’t uncommon to pop off 100 feet, experimenting with lenses or lighting, getting lost in a wee world created in that tiny eyepiece.  For fun. And later, screening those few minutes together was in a sense a celebration.

So many of those faces and places are gone –  passed on or moving in a lifetime that no longer exists for me other than in memory and celluloid.  Almost within the same moment that I reach to tear off the plastic wrapping, I set this film can down, content with a small mystery of my own making.

ACTORS – Larger Than Life, or Inflated Egos

god bless gary busey

Actors are fascinating. They lie for a living. Or, lets say, pretend. Yet when they etch in a character’s map with the highways, side roads and dead ends we all encounter on life’s journey, the Actor becomes truth-teller, reflecting our own circumstance and emotion, or eliciting our reaction to such.

Script Supervisor supports the Actor by running lines, then as we roll, by (gently) correcting dialogue, or actions for matching when needed.  Sometimes we are the messenger for the Director, dashing on to the set with his or her suggestion, and sometimes the Director is the messenger for us!

Before a challenging scene Actors may isolate themselves, do jumping jacks, listen to music. On There Will Be Blood crew was asked to dress in muted, somber, sepia-type colors to help engage the period and stylistic mood for Actors, you believe?  Crew may also be asked to work quietly or even clear the set. Whatever it takes to help the Actor concentrate, live in the role, despite a dozen folks aiming cameras and microphones up their face.

I once worked on a low budget Indie that had a cameo appearance with an interesting odd bird who could go from charming to grossly inappropriate, or merrily singing oldies to politically boisterous, in a flash. He created such a deep back story for his character that he often thought out loud, adlibbing lines that had no context or connection within the actual script.

His last scene was in a bar, shot on location in a small Texas town.  Camera was about to roll. “Watch this.”

He pulled out a yellow onion, and bit into it, over and over, right through the papery skin, gagging chunks of it down, producing tears and mucus for what seemed to be an almost B-roll shot.

That’s entertainment. And dedication.

I’ve wondered if this is tried and true, an old performing trick, if Shakespeare stood by in the wings of The Globe , slipping a shallot to an otherwise complacent Juliet. Or if Dreyer had his silent screen Joan Of Arc snack on some scallions to squeak out those glorious black and white tears, in close up.

Dreyers The Passion of Joan of Arc with Renée Jeanne Falconetti and onion –

EDITING : Get It Together

misty water colored memories of the way we were

And now a positive note on technology…

We were cutting a reel for a friend and needed a slug of black between shots. BASIC. I don’t edit every day and forgot some of the shortcuts, not to mention what’s in the hundred drop down menu options and tweaks.

Oh where oh where is a simple slug of black? Help was no help. It could not be found by poking around the program. After scanning through a couple articles and a tutorial it was revealed to be “black video.” What should’ve taken 2 seconds took 20 momentum-breaking minutes!

I grumble, then must remember this is a slight inconvenience. Let’s saunter down memory lane. Cutting a film used to literally be cutting the film – first a work print – like practice – then cutting up the negative (no going back here) to match it – the commitment. Negative cutting, or conforming, is a whole nother specialized process.

Editing was on a flatbed, a big mechanical desk with ‘monitors’ that projected the film frames (like microfishe), with speakers playing the sound from the magnetic audio tape. Motors kept picture and sound tracks in synch as they ran reel to reel, lying flat on platters – think of a DJ with 6 to 8 turntables.

BTW using a fantasy name generator, my DJ names are:

wiggy wiggy wiggy

There were maybe 3 buttons, and a lever for playback. Cut and tape with a splicer. Any effects like fades and dissolves were imagined, and notated on the actual film to mark where to add the effects into the negative cut.  You didn’t see your Fade Up until the cut negative was processed at the lab!

Twas a rare luxury for Independents to cut the negative, make a final print, then recut the negative again. All time and money, Baby, so editing decisions were perhaps taken more seriously back then than today. And perhaps because of the abundance of digital footage and choices for todays Editors, the wise ones utilize the blessing of the Script Supervisor’s notes more than ever, finding it faster to scan through a few pages of detailed notes than a few hours of shots. Everyday.

But I digress.

There was an awkward technology gap for a while. Flatbeds were phased out as film was lumpily forging its digital path, different from typical video. “Ooo now’s my chance,” thought this Silly Rabbit, and heard of a rumored unit for sale in town.

I contacted Steve – Hoop Dreams – James, who decided he was too sentimentally attached to his Steenbeck, but graciously invited me to HQ to edit my short film on it.  He brought me to the flatbed’s dedicated room. It was covered in potted plants! Did I dream this part? We moved the greenery and removed the fitted plastic cover. I began to edit.

And within an hour it froze up. Steve couldn’t figure out why, and to fix it he’d have to wait for the one guy in the country, James Bond, I kid you not, to make his annual repair rounds to the Midwest.

I then moved away to a town which decades ago declared “film is dead.” And did not finish that short. Woe? No! For it caused me to look at writing more seriously, and stretch from experimental short films to feature length screenplays.

And now technology has become accessible, so that we can shoot and edit in the same day, have several projects in the works at once, can store hundreds of hours of footage, play forever with effects, correct many sound and video issues, pull still shots instantly, and let others around the globe view our progress, all with a few keystrokes. On my teeny laptop, sitting on an end table.

There are still final final steps for “prints” like Blu Ray or DCP, but a whole world has opened up literally at the touch of a few buttons.

Use your power for good, technology! And you dear reader? What’s your Dj name?

https://www.fantasynamegenerators.com/dj-names.php

SCREEN PLAY – MORE ICING OR MORE CAKE?

write write write

I’m late to the party – Nyan Cat Cake – link to the recipe at the end!

During a job interview, the Show Runner asked how being a writer helped in Script Supervising. Well one of the main ways is seeing when a script is too long. He and the other Producer tripped over each other explaining they were still trimming the scripts, wrestling with the author, etc… I wasn’t even specifically referring to their project!

However, it was true of the episodes I’d read there. Not meaning page count, but more specifically when  scenes and sections do not move the story forward or provide meaningful support for any of the layers in the script. Many times I’ve thought “This fluff is n-e-v-e-r going to make it into the movie,” and have often been right. With time or budget limits tis wiser to edit on the page then in the cutting room.

Is the script more icing or more cake?

Script writing, to me, compresses a story that’s bigger than it might read on the page, in a unique format so even literary authors must learn a sort of shorthand to keep within the boundaries. Do chapters equal scenes? Well, a little yes,  in separating the story into sections, but a bigger no, because the separation is dictated by locations instead of a shift of ideas.

Screenplays are like skeletons that are then carefully and intentionally dressed in layers with clues in the descriptions or dialogue, then fleshed out by Actors rounding out the characters, by how the sets look, or the costumes, how the pieces are edited together, by the use of sound and music, on and on.

They’re written as to what’s to appear on the screen, not by internal beats meandering through a character’s head or their past, at least not in the same indulgent light a novel may. Writing a screenplay can challenge one to find simple, interesting, and perhaps sneaky, ways to color in the bare spots with meaningful information.

But once you understand the limits there’s a lot of freedom within them. Did your Mama ever send you out to play with a “go in the backyard” or “stay on the block “ or “don’t ride your bike in the street” ? Play within the parameters of what will show on the screen, but play!

http://sueneal.blogspot.com/2013/03/nyan-cat-rainbow-cake-please.html

ON BECOMING A SCRIPT SUPERVISOR

I Like to Watch and Imagine…Dont You?

Why does one become a Script Supervisor? The short answer, for some: “It’s just a job, Kid. “ The long answer, for me: As an almost-only child in the 70’s, books, TV and an active imagination were my daily companions.  There was an instinctive pull to soak up stories, and in turn create my own through play, drawing, and eventually words. And eventually eventually photography, film and video.

With just a handful of channels to choose from, there was always a desire for more! Sleepovers at my friend’s next door were great for the extra bonus that the Gran watched Television all night long. And from my sleeping bag on the floor of the living room so could I!

Sneakily trying this at home did not go over so well, the sirens from a rerun of Emergency! waking my dad, stumbling into the TV room at 2 am to find wide-eyed little me.

Before VCR’s we had to hope and wait for a movie to play on TV, and were happy to sit through commercials for it. The Wizard of Oz only came around once a year. As I got older it seemed parts of the movie were missing, later realizing the missing scenes and storylines were ones I had made up in my head! But they were so authentic to me.

Hmm what the heck kind of future could this child have? Despite my well meaning parents’ push toward a “safe” trade or degree, Universe took the scenic route to plop me on a commercial film set (better late than never), and eventually at a monitor to observe, take after take, what is, what should be, and with some friendly Script Supervisor suggestions for the Director, what can be the best to bring words on paper to life.

Now as an adult in my downtime I prefer to be in nature, or with friends – away from electronics! Yet still driven and inspired to story – will the sunfowers bloom? Will there be frogs in the pond this year? How can I write a personal struggle into a screenplay best?

Oh and where does that red brick road lead?