JERRY LEWIS, FRIEND OF THE SCRIPT SUPERVISOR

Virus and a Video

The Genius Jerry Lewis – with video camera mounted to film camera

Well our country and world is kind of …closed. Some people have been dealt tragedy, many mere inconvenience, and a few, with good cheer and stocked pantry, hold a winning hand of rest and reconnection with family and home.

Here on the farm it’s just another day after day of spring chore after chore. When it’s finally time for a little lie down before bed, too many news programs bring the fear. So I prefer the comedies of the 60’s, which as a child of the 70’s were like comfort food, safe cozy movies playing on TV in the afternoons or on the weekends.

We started with some Jerry Lewis. The French thought him a genius. And they were right! Not his spasmodic shrilling that first brought him notice, but with Directing and the construction of story – composition, timing, editing, visual transitions, the use of sound, expanding simple moments. Some of his films are downright experimental for their time (like The Bellboy – who else could make a successful modern Hollywood film like that, where the star is silent and there is no story just a bunch of rather unrelated vignettes?!).

Beyond what’s on the screen, Jerry Lewis changed film production technology for the rest of us in advancing the cause of Video Assist.

What?

To be able to truly direct (himself) and best assess his performance as Actor, he worked with the Studio and Sony to develop what we now know as video assist, or having monitors and playback.

Basically at a time when movies were shot literally on rolls of film, he pushed to have a video system capture what the film camera was seeing (by mounting a video camera onto the film camera!). Thus he could adjust his performance take by take, instead of waiting for the film to be developed and a print to come back from the lab, only then deciding whether to reshoot the performance, or live with what he got. All time and money.

The Script Supervisor of yore would often watch takes from as close to the (ONE) camera as possible. Think of Pat Miller, with her binder, on a ladder behind the camera! Now with a faster pace, multiple cameras, location shooting, hand held etc…the video monitor is an essential tool in doing our job.

And this “LAAAAAAAAAAAADY” says thank you Mr. Lewis.

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.

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

FUTURE/NO FUTURE – A General Rant

How Technology Effects Script Supervising

Bloody Hell Photo by Jeff Peterson

A hammer can be used to build or to destroy; it’s in the application. Technology is a tool. 

The on set kit bag for the Script Supervisor of yore consisted simply of a stopwatch, pencil, perhaps a colored pencil or pen, and a ruler, for notating on a paper script. The notes were quite important, as was being present on set for corrections, suggestions, and touches to flesh out the story, working shoulder to shoulder with Directors, Actors and Crew. Much information was stored in the Script Supervisor’s head, as memory for matching, or formulas to assess if enough film was in the camera for another take. Because every frame of actual film costs money to print, care was put into every shot.

With Polaroid cameras, continuity pictures became part of the toolset as a visual double-check of wardrobe, hair/ make up, and settings. That shifted to digital still cameras and thus added the digital photo printer to our gear (and added the extra time to print pictures out!).  Eventually that drifted into the digital cameras being replaced by phones, and continuity pictures often just taken off the monitor.

As film systems became more digitized so did the Script Supervising workflow, using special software and apps with electronic scripts and forms on our laptops and tablets. Now the formats can be more homogenized (ScriptE or Skarrat anyone?), perhaps more convenient for some who want those notes before the word “wrap” is completely uttered.  Even though they may not look at them once the notes are loaded into the editing system. And don’t forget the charging cables and back up batteries, and stands and tables for the machines.

This kit bag is getting heavy!

But external pop-off screen grabs are passé, with converters and down loaders the actual camera footage can be streamed to the Script Sup’s electronic device, and direct screen shots taken from there, to be folded into the script notes. So Script Sup doesn’t even have to sit by the monitors. Now we can capture whole takes, free flowing series of takes that go on and on to replay for the Director to decide what he wanted to match to.  And all the dailies can be down loaded too. The expectation, or pressure, to use this ability, along with the blurring of DITs obligations to pull up takes, despite Union rules, make the original Video Assist job passé as well.

Wait what’s happening here?  More and different work with the technology, making this feel like a chase rather than a craft.

By now there are 2 to 3 cameras minimum filming simultaneously, perhaps a GoPro or 2 tucked in somewhere for a specific “cool” shot. Oh no! What if the boom dipped into frame, or a camera panned off set into a light, or that prop didn’t land quite where we wanted it too! Don’t reset, just fix it in Post.

And while Post is at it, make that 70 year old Actor look young for a flashback, even if she is now deceased. And with digital mapping who really needs the Actor anyway, and the animated films are no longer cartoons but strive to become photorealistic, so that someday there will be no need for a “set” and no need for on set crew any longer.  Progress. 

Progress?

Rant complete, thank you.