Friday, July 15, 2011

#5: While it renders...

2 and a half years ago I went to Paris to shoot a short film.
2 years and a half years (and a lot of frustration) later I´m finally looking at a Final Cut project called "Paris In Parts".

On the screen a small box says "Writing video. Estimated time: 4 hours" and I suddenly remember I haven´t written a blog entry for 8 months.

I think I can just make it...

First Up: Applying to Super16.

The only film school I would ever want to attend is Super16*. Because even though they have the word "school" in their description it´s not really a school. There are no teachers, only the ones they choose to have. They go out and find their money in the real world. They learn their craft the real life-hard way, and not under secure environment. They know what good promotion and marketing, means plus: Their office is at Nordisk Film.
I decided to apply about 1 week prior to deadline and found that I already had most of the things I needed for the application. I sended them Little Man (a short film from 2009), a page of thoughts on creative decisions made during the making of it (which was really just a bunch of clever bullshit), a biography, a page about future projects and 15 pages from this very block about the making of "Need Action".

"Now, I´ll be damned if I´ll let the waiting for their reply take control over me"- I thought. I just didn´t want to go "Oh what will that do to my career?"
What it´ll do is that if I´m not accepted, it´s the perfect sign that I´m not supposed to attend any film school whatsoever. If Super16 didn´t think I fitted right in there, I´ll do fine on my own. End of story.
What Super16 could do to my career was to speed it up a great deal. I would get 3 pretty good looking films out there sooner that I would on my own and I would get my name out a lot faster.

But of course, nervousness took over and I found myself thinking "What I´m not accepted" etc. And I hate that. It´s the whole idea of "acceptance by someone else" that bucks me. They might be, but if they´re gonna act all snobbish and like smart asses, I prefer not to be accepted.
I think it comes from the fact that I believe pretty strongly in myself plus I´m insanely stubborn when it comes to film making.
And that agenda will bite me in the ass later, I´m sure, because in every meeting with executives and studio heads I´ll have to say and do the right thing, for making them believe in me.

They replied and wanted me in for second round: The Conversation.
I must admit: I wasn´t really surprised. I would have been had they not wanted to see me. It just seemed obvious that Super16 was perfect for me and I was perfect for them.
Without knowing exactly what they wanted to talk about, I entered their office and what do I see? They´ve placed my chair in front of a very long table and their chairs on the opposite site. It´s like a fucking exam! I suck at exams. Exams are in no way an effective tool to find out what people can or cannot do. They put an insane amount of pressure and spotlight on the person they´re gonna tortue and the exam will only show what that person is capable of that day, that hour, that minute.
Which is ok really, all meetings with strangers are like that in the real world. But if you don´t get the job, that´s life. You stand up again and move on.
Exams and schools are not real life, so that whole arrangement bucked me a great deal.

But we talked, they asked questions, I blabbered on and 30 minutes later, I was out the door.
I think I said some pretty goods stuff and I got a lot of nodding and "Cool, cool" from them.
One thing that I was eager to find out was their reaction to something that I will write more about later on: That I´m going to NY and LA for a month to do some more networking. I knew that they would also start school in september but I didn´t knew how they would react to it.
I got a lot of advices about this: "Don´t tell them, you´re never gonna get in" and "Tell them, honesty is important".
I found out that telling them was a very effective way of testing them.
See, if they had a problem with it, that shows they think more in terms of school-structure.
If they didn´t have a problem with it, that means they think more in terms of film making-structure, and then it would definitely, oh absolutely, be the right place for me.
So if they had said "You´re in...if you cancel that NY/LA networking-trip" I would say "Thanks, but no thanks" and off to NY/LA I would go.
I´m just not spending anymore time in a classroom where they teach you how to make a good film.

So I told them about NY/LA and they had no problem with it at all. In fact they had a producer working in New York at the time, so that wouldn´t affect anything, they said.

* Actually, that´s not true. I would love to get a one-year degree at NYFA. (The one in NY, since it has the entire city as their back drop). But it´s just too much money. If I had 18,000 $ I would probably use them to make a film anyway AND live off of them in NY or LA.
One of my friends attended a 3 months acting course and got me a cool leather bag with the NYFA logo on it. I was so happy. Now it would almost be as if I had been there. But I felt I couldn´t walk around with it. So I wrote: "I couldn´t afford NYFA but make movies anyway" on it. The only justification for me using it and a way of feeling as cool as one can fool not having ever attended any course.

4 weeks later I got their reply. "Dear Jonas. We´re sorry to inform you that...".
Oh well...That´s ok.

And here´s some reasons why:

Then: The Tourist

It took me forever to finish that 2nd draft. Forever. And I must admit: It was the embarrasment of not writing that made me sit down and try to finish it. I would be highly optimistic, saying "Oh we will still be able to make it this summer", even though the script wasn´t done.
Boy, was I naive. Even if I had finished the 2nd draft in time, it would be so incredibly stupid to even attempt making it during the summer. The movie would have suffered from production stress tremendously and no good would have come from it.
I have realized that postponing the making of a movie is never a bad thing. It won't suddenly turn itself into crap and it won´t mean less to you in the future. It will grow with you new ideas will come at their own pace. Not because you sit at your desk, drinking coffee trying to stay awake and fix something. But because you let it take it´s time.

Writing The Tourist was my own little class in screenwriting. I tried to be tough on myself, asking the hard questions as I was writing.
"Would could she say that would proppel the scene forward?", "Is there something missing in the structure?", "This is quiet good, what would make it better?", etc.
I learned that I usually write the dialogue spot on. I write the subtext as dialogue and often too much of it. I think this is a common mistake writers do (except soap opera writers, writing spot on dialogue seems to be what their supposed to be doing). 
But I found that it was a huge help. First: What I write is never the finally thing, until I put "Final" on the front page. Second, writing the subtext in the dialogue would help me to figure out what the characters where really saying, and third: How to hide the subtext and what NOT to write. Whatever I had written, I had to find a new way to say the same thing, but with different words.
Plus I learned about cutting dialogue. Sometimes only half of the dialogue was needed and thus making what was be more simple.
Other times I would write half sentences all over the place. People rarely speak in full sentences. They slice it up, taking a new direction for every new sentence, they often at times make it up as they go.

I´m not the kind of writer/director that will say to the actor "The script is the truth, say exactly what I wrote". Sometimes a certain line will be important but other times I will go about it as I went about the subtext-dialogue, telling them "Forget what words I used, but say something that goes in the same direction, that gives the same idea".
I feel very lucky that I´m not so protective of my written lines. I can´t wait to be in rehearsal, throw away the script and say "Let´s see what comes up if...". That´s the exciting part. The script is only the guideline, until something better comes up. The ground work where we will build something on top of it.

I didn´t write the script using any structure-paradigm or anything like that. I´m a big fan of Syd Fields back-to-basis books (especially The Screenwriters Problem Solver). I think the idea of a beginning, middle and an end is a fairly build-in thing in us as humans. We want to be intrigued in the beginning, be fascinated and to see more. We want something dramatic to happen, something we can´t predict and urge for the rollercoaster ride in the stomach. And we want it all to finish off good and nicely in the end. Luckily there are thousands of ways to do this.
After finishing the 2nd draft I tried to, for the fun of it, apply it to Fields story paradigm and holy! It fitted right in there! Pretty weird, I never tried to hit those marks.

One thing that was a huge help in my writing was my new iPad. I couldn´t wait to take the writing with me, instead of just sitting by my iMac. I felt so stuck. Now I can suddenly sit in café´s and write on the screenplay itself, instead of just making notes for it as I did in by walking abouts.
But the main impact was really in my writing. Normally I can just vomit over the keyboard because I´m a fast typer. But with the iPad I was kinda limited. It takes some concentration to write on the thing and I became more aware of what I was writing, since every tab was more thought out somehow. And not in a bad way. The iPad created a filter where most of the crap would be detected and what was put on the "page" was more to the point.

As I write this, I´m 4 days away from the starting on the 3rd draft. The 2nd one have been in about 10-15 peoples inbox for over a month and 6 of them have been nice enough to give their critique. Most of them are about The Girl-character. Why she reacts as she does in the script and what motivates her. And others are logistical stuff.
And I gotta remember: The thing about´s only feedback.

One of the people I sended it to was Ole Christian Madsen. He is by far my favorite danish directors, next to Nicolaj Arcel. They dare to think in CGI, cinemascope and they´re getting danish film productions out of the apartment and away from narrow minded storytelling.
Madsen hasn´t replied with his feedback. And I don´t know if that IS his feedback. But he will get the 3rd draft his way when the time comes. I just want to get to know him and have him be sort of a mentor.

Some thoughts on needing a mentor:
I could really use a mentor, one that is aware of that role. I have many people I seek for advices and such. But I need a mentor to really take me under the wing.
I have plenty of rolemodels. I guess rolemodels are people you don´t know but look up to. A mentor is a person you look you look up to and get to know.

Having said that, I have some fucking awesome role models! Spielberg, P.T. Anderson, Bay, Ridley Scott, Cameron, Tarantino and Nolan, there you go.
They´re the ones I look for guidance in film making: what stories they tell, how they structure sequences, blocking of the actors, their visual style, their way of directing, handling the production and there going about things. Plus I admire them deeply for who they are as people.
And for a long time I thought the reason for having them as role models was because I wanted to be like them. But not untill recently I discovered that the reason why they give me strenght is because I can recognize myself in them. And it gives me confidence: if they made it, so can I. It´s a kind of weird acceptance of who are you.

Oh, and did I mention that The Tourist has now grown into a feature film?
80 pages. Something that suits me quite well. I want to paint on bigger canvases now.

Second: Showreels

This was an idea I got from when I was in LA 2 years ago, where I helped Jay Holben and Jamie Neese out with the shooting of some scenes that was to be used in an actors showreel.
You´ve always wanted an action scene in your showreel, since most of them are talky scenes and you want to show more diversity. 
Make ´em yourself.
It would be nice to have some more stuff on my Vimeo and Youtube page to show people in NY and LA.
So I wrote two scenes. One where the starting point are two people sitting in a restaurant, one where a woman suddenly finds herself taken as a hostage, without her knowing about it. With these two scenes I want to show people that I can write good dialogue, direct actors, do proper and interesting blocking and that I can make people laugh and go "Oh shit".
That´s basicly it.
The actors are Jesper Zuschlag, Charlotte Uldall, Tine Pohl and Jesper-Ole Feit Andersen. My DP will be David Rohde and we are all gonna go crazy on the 31 of july and 28 of august.
I´m right now in pre-production frustration, since we´re having some trouble finding the right location etc. 
But we´ll find it.

Then: L.A. Networking, Round 2

I thought about what I should do this summer and for some reason it felt like the most natural thing to do was to flight the 9000 km to the other side of the world. Mostly for the reason I can think of (meet more people), but mostly for the reasons I can´t think of.
Last time I was there alone for 2 months and I got to know Jay Holben (former DP/Director/producer), Zach Hammill (screenwriter), Kasper Graversen (producer) and Jamie Neese (director).
This time it will only be for 3 weeks but to make it a new experience from the very beginning my friends and partners Joel Hyrland (actor/producer/musician) and David Rohde (my DP) is coming with me. Originally I wanted more people to come with us, people who wouldn´t go there to take a vacation but who wanted something out of it, career-wise.
It ended up only being the three of us but travelling with two of my best friends is fine by me :)

Even though I had set up a few things last time I went to LA, I wanted to more this time.
And I thought a cool thing would be to have these Private Consultation meetings, where me and someone I can learn from sit down over dinner and talk.
So far I´ve set up meetings with David Brooks (Actor/Acting teacher at NYFA/Life coach) to talk script analyzis and about the director/actor-relationship. Jay Holben to talk director/DP-relationship. And either Moreno or Grieco from The Writers Store about structure in screenplays and to give The Tourist a little hollywood make-over.
That´s it so far, but I hope to find more people to talk to once I´m over there. Since I apparently won´t every attend any film school, I might as well create my own classes :)

We will also be shooting a music video for Joels new single. We´ll shoot the main stuff sporadicly over the weeks in LA. But we have a small section with 5-8 dancers dancing in the ocean and in the desert. We want to make it consciesly a bit over the top and try to take the piss out of all the corny and crappy music videos normally produced. It´ll be nothing more than utter fun.

We´ll also be going to the Round Table Meetings, which I also attended 2 years ago. It´s a very cool way to meet some nice people, since everybody attending wants to help each other out.
Through that meeting I met with John Rhys-Davis for 15 minutes, to ask him questions. To walk next to this giant, with his deep voice, and hear things like "You know, Spielberg always said..." and "What Peter Jackson did on Fellowship was...".
I´ll never forget that.
For that I made some new, shiny and cool business cards. For some reason, I put my old website on the old card I had. That site is gone now and now I got 250 business cards, which can´t even be used as toilet paper.
So what I did on this new one was to only have the words "Phone:, email: and website:" on the back. I will fill some out with my excisting info and hand them out, fill some new out, etc. 
The invention of the wheel, ladies and gentlemen.

And last: Future filmography.

I did this pretty radical thing the other day: Writing down the movies I want to make during the next 8 years.
Because I´m starting to have ideas for some pretty big movies in my head and I thought the first step to make them become real was to write them down, in correct order.
I gave myself two years in-between every film, since I already know what they´ll be about.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is my climbing to the top of Everest for the next 8 years.

It looks like this:
(The titles are only working titles) 

The Tourist
Surprise. We have planned to have it done by january 2012.
It will run about 80 minutes.

I got the basic idea, but without the always troubling act 2. I´m building the story up by the pieces I get from "somewhere", while doing something completely else.
And I want to start writing the script during post on The Tourist. Probably not alone, but haven´t found the right writer yet.
The reason for making it in 2014 is to get out of my head and to show the brilliance of The Tourist wasn´t a chance of luck. (Sarcasm, you know)
It will run about 60 minutes.

From Ashes To Ashes-film.
Got almost nothing but the rather complex structure. I know it´s about a mans life from birth to death, but that´s it. I know it will be a mix between Forrest Gump and Magnolia though.
With that in mind it seems rather weird to even have it on the list, but this is going to be a 2-3 hour film and I know the story will contain a lot of tricky stuff that I will need to have experienced before I can even attemp to make my...

Epic Sci-Fi-film.
I love sci-fi films but have never thought I would be making one. The only reason for my passion in this project stems from an idea for an opening sequence I´ve had in my head for ages. And all of a sudden new things started to emerge in my head and I know got the basic outline for it.
For some reason, I keep thinking of The Abyss (James Cameron, 1989) as inspiration. Not sure if it´s the mood, the structure, the way Cameron mixed the real science and fiction, the characters of that film that keeps popping up. I grew up watching that film, admiring it to death. Maybe that´s got something to do with it. But I want it to be a clever sci-fi film and not an unrealistic, unlogical thing.
And to sound like a complet jerk: I´m not going to tell you what it´s about. It´s THAT cool, alright? So you´ll just have to wait untill 2018.

And I need to make that sci-fi film, with the million dollar budget and all, to handle the 2020 project:

The People Inside
Since it happened that september morning, I´ve been wanting to make a film about the people living and working at the World Trade Center and suddenly find themselves trapped, with no way out. It´s the end of everything normal, my fascination with scenarios that once was, how people delt with the last goodbye and the decisions these people were forced to make that appeals to me. The size of it is just too big for me to understand. Maybe that´s why I want to make a movie about it.
But it WON`T be a comment or investigation in why it happened, politically.
Because I will ONLY tell the story of the people that was in the towers. And it won´t show anything about bombs being placed, because I don´t believe in it.
(My believe of why the towers went down? The infrastructure was clearly damaged by the explosion, making 5-10 floors into debris. And even though the towers was ment to survive a hit by an airplane, it wasn´t structured to hold up the 30+ floors and tons of metal that suddenly was left dangling in the air.
The collapses looked like a series of explosions? A skyscrapes contains 70 % air, it needs to get out, along with the ashes and debris.)

Obviously, I have to earn my right to make this film. If I got offered the job today, I would turn it down immediately. I´m simply not skilled enough. This will be my Titanic, my top of Everest. And I don´t want to take the easy way up there.

So as you can see, being dumped by Super16 is not such a bad thing after all :)


The rendering is done. That means "Paris In Parts" is done too. 
Don´t know if I did good on this one.  But as soon as it hits vimeo and youtube, it´s not mine anymore.
It´s everyone else´s.


Hope all is well.

Jonas Thorbjørn

Ps. Now go leave a comment!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

#4: The Making Of A Realization

As I write this the 5th and probably, hopefully final version of our new commercial is done. It´s called "The Dream" but it sounds really lame, so I might have it changed to "Need Action?", in honour of the "Need Milk?" commercials back in the 90s. 
Tomorrow it will be in the hands of the sound mixer and the composer. We are almost done, 6 days away from our deadline and as I sit here in my room at 10.55 PM on a saturday evening, I will try to journey back to see if I can remember how it all started.


Pretty early on, on almost anything I know I will be directing, I can see certain shots (camera movements, angles and beats) pretty clearly in my head. It´s not rare that I write an idea down and do a small, sketchy storyboard next to it at the same time.
So 3-4 for weeks before shooting, I had made a list with shots I knew I wanted. I showed them to my DP and, luckily, he had only good feedback.
Some directors like to have the DP worry about where to put the camera and choose which lenses. As it turns out, I am not one of those directors. I just see things in a certain way that I feel is cooler, more dynamic and interesting (obviously). And I want to make sure that it gets to the screen.
I asked my DP about this when we were driving home after the shoot, if my attitude towards it pissed him off. He said that he felt comfortable in having me figure out the shots, because he knew that I knew what I was doing (this is called "make believe" on my part by the way!) and that it would make him look good in the end.
A particular funny part about doing shot list/storyboards, is trying to do it as logistically as possible while drawing. To think " Instead of having 4 shots for that scene, maybe those 4 could be combined into 2 shots in some way? What if we re-use that angle during the end where A runs over to B? And while we have the dolly on this side for shot #6, could we shoot shot # 11 while we´re at it? That will save us some time". 
And so on.
I like to plan this stuff out by myself, because then I will for sure know the plan inside out, which will make me feel more secure while shooting. That way you can instantly go "Cut! Perfect! The next shot is over here, tracking in on A and panning to B". It might only be minutes saved, but those minutes count up in the long run.

Early storyboard ideas
Shot plan for 2 set-ups

The commercial has two parts. On that is supposed to look like a red carpet event. And the other as an office space. The camera styles in Part One is kinetic, dynamic and fast paced. In Part Two on stics.
To make Part One get that red carpet-Oscar night-stardom all over-effect we rented some streak filters. Streak filters are a piece of glass you put in front of the camera that has teeny tiny lines edged into the optical surface. These lines will take a spot of light and streak it out horizontally or vertically, depending on what way you have the optical placed in front of the camera. 
This would come in handy during shooting, because I knew that we probably wouldn´t be able to find enough extras to fill up the room/shots with. So in placing red heads behind the talents, the streak filters would take that light and fill out the empty space with streaks, thus making it more confusing and give the illusion that more people are in the shot.
We choose to go with a lot of contrast in the faces too, with hard light, only a bit of soft filters. There were going to be a lot of colors in the first part, so the white hard line in the faces would make it look interesting.

Next up was location scouting. I think at that point in time we had already called some places we liked and asked if we could come visit.
The first place was a conference/hotel. Me and my DP walked into an incredibly big room and was it not for its fanciness, it could easily have been a studio. We could control the light as we saw fit, it was perfect for sound and the ceiling was full of small lights, that would look really good, since I like to have the camera low, pointing up on the actor and showing the ceiling.
But the bad thing was that it really just was 4 big walls with almost no "information" for the camera. There was nothing to let the viewer know where in the room the actor would be and since there were shots planned to dolly around the actor, those shots would look like shit with nothing behind him. Imagine an airplane battle in the air with only the blue sky as the background. You wouldn´t know what was up or down, plus the speed of the airplanes would get lost, since you wouldn´t have anything to relate to. This was the same for this particular location. So we had to cross our fingers that the next ones would turn out good.

Meanwhile, I met with Asger, the lead, to talk about the commercial and to catch up. He was in the Metro commercial as one of the frightened people and we clicked right away. 
I ended up staying there for 3 hours. We talked about the film business, about acting and he had some great ideas for what his character could do in the commercial. All this while trying to figure out why the apartment on the other of the street had full blown red light in the living room with 6 women walking around, drinking. Swinger party was our first guess but it turned out to be a halloween party. This made the few awkward waving-correspondence we had with them a little less disturbing.

Only one place showed some real potential. Located in the center of Frederiksberg, there was this old building with multiple big rooms the owners would rent out. The biggest one had this old but cool look, plus it had a balcony. Dark red and cream white walls. It was perfect. We could have the basic light placed on the balcony, facing down. That ment I could point the camera in almost any direction and we could have spots of light coming down. We quickly new this was the room for us to shoot in.

The location we decided to use.

One thing we also had decided was to rent the room for 2 days. Day 1 being pre-light day, Day 2 being the actual shooting. And that plan was pure luxury for us. In going through every shot, figuring out where to put the light, we would save an enormous amount of time during shooting. Luckily for us the room was available for 2 days, so we could basically just leave all the gear standing in its place. Oh the jolly!

The jolly wasn´t so jolly regarding extras. We searched for extras one week prior to shooting. Pretty late, you think to yourself. Yes, but the location deal was certain only 5 four days prior to shooting and we wanted to make know if we could shoot the damn thing at all. Plus extras are really good at showing up with minimum notice anyway.
We used That site had made me meet some nice people when we made the Metro-commercial. Actually, I only met Asger because he wrote back on our extra add and we happened to click right away. He gives 200 % full power from when he enters the door and till he leaves. And as a director, that is gold! It´s just easier to ask for "less" than "more". (Which is an awful direction by the way!) But the cool thing about Asger is that he is willing to go somewhere new in an instant, just for the sake of trying it out. 
The Metro-commercial also had Julie and Frederikke in it, as the two chips eating spectators. I loved those two together,so I naturally wanted them in this commercial too, as the same two spectators. Almost like a signature-thing, you could say. The plan is to have them in everything I make in the future and have them react to whatever is going on. And have them eat something new each time. Some people might say that has nothing to do with anything. But those two girls together makes me laugh, so those people can go fuck themselves.
Fortunately they wanted to come back and that made me very happy.

From the metro commercial and the new commercial (not yet color graded!)

We were only two days away from monday 15th, the day of the shooting. And we only had like 10 extras. And in my head we needed around 20-25 of them. We could only hope that enough people would show up…and spam the hell out of people on Facebook.

On the crew side we had:
A DP, line producer, assistant director, two runners, a gaffer and a sound mixer. This was the biggest crew I had ever had under me, and that both excited me and scared me a great deal. But with so many other things in life, I knew that you are only really scared in the time BEFORE something. When you´re there and it´s time to act, the fear goes away and you do what you have to do. 
I had also asked a good friend of mine who is a phenomenal photographer to come and take some stills. Don´t ever underestimated the power of production stills.

We rented gear from Zentropa, Filmgear and Filmudlejningen. This was the biggest lighting package I had ever had to disposal. And as I would do a couple of times during this production I thought to myself "We are really raising the bar each time". On the Metro shoot we had an extremely small lighting package, a very light dolly and even though the set-up was pretty big, this was even BIGGER. And I really like that. 
I have always had a quote from James Cameron in the back of my head: "If you´re not really breaking new ground, what´s the point?". And I kinda understand where he´s coming from. He probably mean in the technical aspect of filmmaking but I translate it into that if you, yourself, don´t personally feel you´re doing something you haven´t really done before, then you´re just repeating yourself. And what´s the fun in that? Our lives are so build up on the same rituals: Waking up, eating, shower, work, eating, going home, eating, sleeping. At least some part of it must be new.
So if the film, or painting or piece of music that you´re making isn´t breaking new ground professionally or personally, then, in my honest opinion, you should go for a walk and find something in yourself that can put that piece of work at risk. If nothing´s is at stake, then you or that piece of work won´t evolve into anything great.
And that´s why directing is the coolest job in the world. Because you just don´t know what you will end up with at the end of the day and nothing can prepare you 100 % for it. And that fear can seriously heighten your sense of what you have to do. It keeps things more alive. Much more than a 9-17 day job.


 The picking up gear at Zentropa.

The dolly from FilmGear.
I can sleep through heavy thunderstorms, in hotels and places that are far away from home but for some reason I couldn´t fall asleep the night before the shoot. I wasn´t even that nervous as you would think. I lay there and kept thinking "What if there´s something I forgot in pre-production? Is there a shot or a beat that is important but I haven´t thought of?".
And as a matter of fact there was one thing I had "miscalculated" in the storyboards. The idea for the beginning is that Asger is waayyy back down in the room with a ton of people in front of him. The Mysterious Object is being shown and in a total we see everybody raise their signs. In the same shot Asgers sign fills the frame and we pan down to see Asger desperately trying to get his bid across the room. This shot would be his characters first shot, followed by a shot where we see all the people in front of him.
But I realized that there was a much more effective and funnier way to show his situation in (And you will be surprised how logical and obvious this new idea is): If he is in the back of the room, then we should just really see his sign in air…only to be drowned in the sea of signs that an instant later would fill the shot. This proved to be right on the spot, because a few minutes later I fell asleep.


My alarm bell rang 3 1/2 hours later, at 4.55 AM. The DP would pick me up at 5.30 AM. The set call was 6.00 for preparing everything. Crew and cast would check in at 7.00 and we would hopefully be shooting the first shot at 8.30. 
Quick shower, packed the last things I needed and out the door I went.
The 19 hours that followed, I must admit, is a pretty blurry memory in my head now. But I will try to remember them the best I can.

That fear I wrote about earlier went away as soon as I stepped into our production van. Now we were driving to the location, there were so much other stuff to think about than the nervousness and the anxiety. Because if I just stuck to my plan, then I was fairly sure things would turn out just fine.
I started to update my shotlist, changing a few shots, so that it made more sense during shooting. For example, there was some dolly shots that would be better placed with all the other dolly shots.
As the cast and crew checked in, things started to get serious. I made a brief welcome and said that I was so very happy to see them all and I hope we would all make a kick ass commercial. 
Asger went straight into make-up, followed by the extras. 
When Asger was done, me and him went through the first shot. This needed a lot of physical acting for Asgers part. He needed to push, be pushed, fall down hard, run, jump, fall down hard again, almost for every take.

Asger rehearsing one of many stunts.
I think we started shooting at 8.45. I wanted to start out with one of the more bigger shots. I guess you could start out simple and easy but starting big gives some energy and tone to the whole thing plus it sets a pace. (Something I learned from watching behind-the-scenes of Michael Bay movies).
So now the whole thing was rolling and we just had to keep up with it.
We had around 27 set-ups which is just below the average amount of set-ups a normal film production will do on a normal day. They do around 40-50, I think. Some do 60-70. But we´re new in the game plus I couldn´t think of more than at least 30 set-ups for this one anyway.
The dolly shots were the most fun to do. Even though it would sound like a very old lady, I really got a kick out of doing those. For some reason not a lot of people (people: amateurs/newbies/up-comings etc) use dolly shots and if the camera is handheld, they are almost always shaky and at shoulder level, trying to capture the actors face -

Set-up for the first shot in the commercial.

(which, I might add, fucking always seems so extremely forced and feigned because for some reason some filmmakers think that handheld camera and a CU of the actor will equal intensity and drama. Many short films starts off that way. The problem is that the characters are not doing much else than looking. And WALKING! They always walk! And think. It´s like a fucking Enrique Iglesias video! Eyes will only show a reaction to something that is happening to the character and that reaction will create a link between the character and the audience. But if the character is just looking and thinking and walking and saying bullshit like "…but why don´t you love me?", that will never take the audience anywhere. And with the fear of being thrown out of my own country: We are MASTERS in doing those boring kind of stories! …in fact, throw me out of the country: They are not even really stories-stories, they´re inner-drama stories! Now, sorry for being blunt but what good does inner drama do in a MOVIE!? A VISUALLY medium!? We need to fucking SEE what the character is feeling by what the character is DOING! I hate it when a film is saying "Now, look at her eyes, look at her. She is looking and feeling stuff, look at her looking". 
But that´s not exciting, it´s not taking me anywhere. Of course, if there IS drama and the film IS taking you somewhere emotionally, then those sort of CU´s can be really effective. They can actually suck the air out of the audience in pure suspense. But those CU have to be justified in the story and in the scene, it´s not something you can just throw in there in hope that will help the drama along. In my rulebook anyway. Of course, I sound like I know how to work around those moments and make big drama. But I don´t. And I don´t have to in order to talk about it. Just look at film critics! Well…sorry, back to topic)

- but I like to go for a more cinematic style. I like moving the camera, I like the dynamic a low angle gives. I was raised on movies that did those things, so that has naturally grown into how I see the world. And especially here, in this commercial it made sense to move the camera, because it´s a story with a lot of stuff going on and moving the camera would only add to the feeling of the commercial.
Of course, there are shots on a tripod too. And they were actually pretty hard to make, because they had to look really good next to the dolly shots. With a dolly shot you can kinda dictate were you want the audience to look. With a tripod shot, the audience decides for themselves. So you gotta make sure that it´s still interesting to look at. But I think we did ok with those shots.



Directing the actors is the part that I find the most exciting and the most difficult. Directing the camera is much more technical than directing actors, obviously. The camera can´t do emotions and even though the camera is a pretty complex machine, it´s no where near as complex as the human physic. And this is where the real fun begins. No matter how much preparation you do, no matter how much you rehearse…if it´s not working when the camera is ready, what do you do? Maybe the camera can´t do emotions but it holds the definite truth: If something is fake or true. And again: no matter what, there will always be a moment where the performance feels fake.
I pride myself a little bit with having a good sense of when something is fake or feels real. Even if it´s just a second. I am not fully capable of fixing them. But I´m going in the right direction I think. Luckily me and Asger feel pretty comfortable around each other and I like to drop whatever idea I had and test new ground, not knowing if I have a parachute on. And Asger was not afraid of taking the jump with me.

Saying something extremely important to Asger, in a very Director-kinda way.

There were some beats that we had to work on, on the spot. For example: there was a shot where he had to fall on the floor and look up, to see if his plan worked and then get up with a happy and surprised look in his face. We didn´t do any rehearsing on this one, I was afraid we would practice the hell out of it and I wanted it to look fresh. Unfortunately the first couple of takes didn´t go very well, so naturally we ended up rehearsing it. The idea was that Asger would show excitement just after he looks up and then get up in a victorious "YEAH!!". But it just wasn´t working. I think it was tough on Asger because both he and I could feel it didn´t work no matter we tried and we just kept shooting and shooting. It kinda felt pretty stupid spending so much time on it because it was such a tiny moment but in the commercial it was a big moment.
Finally, we figured out a way to solve it. (And as I write this I keep thinking to myself "Of course, why didn´t we figure that out in the beginning??"). Now, if somebody would get as excited as Asgers character was supposed to, it would take a few moments for the victory-reaction to show. And especially if it calls for a "YEAH!!", that needs a full set of lungs. Solved. 
We ended up with 3 good takes.
If we had rehearsed this, we would probably had solved that problem then and saved us some time. But having said that though, I´m pretty proud of the fact that we kept going until we knew we had it. And that Asger didn´t wanted to settle for less either. He is going to be a very big actor someday.

It turned out that we only had 10 extras. 10! It looked so lame if you weren´t looking through the camera. But somehow, we made those 10 people look like 30. We used every trick. Long lenses, shaky camera moves, replacing the extras for each shot and so on. When a friend watched the 3rd cut, he said "Wow it looks so claustrophobic! And I was even there on location!". So that made me happy.

The Extras.
Raw footage.
Around 2 PM I was beginning to doubt that we would make it on time ("Time" being 7 PM) , so when I yelled out "…and that´s a wrap" around 6.50 PM I was really relieved. We had made it! There had been no arguments, no big problems, no "Oh shit!"-moments. You always expect there to be something…but no. None.
We eat some pizzas and burgers, packed the whole equipment down, drove it back to Zentropa and Filmgear, returned our production van and the producer drove me and the DP home. I was in my bed around midnight, 19 hours after I had gone up.
The whole thing was over and we had gotten some amazing shots.

Now the whole just had to be edited together, with sound and music. 


The editing basically started the day after shooting. I did a pre-cut version for the editor, selected clips and threw them on the timeline. It was really just to give an idea of the whole thing. And it turned out to be an invaluable thing. We only had 2 week for post and that pre-cut gave us a big head start.

The pre-cut.

The first cut ran 1m28s. And during the cuts that follow we chopped off 10 seconds every time. The final one is now 46 seconds I think.
The editing is something I look forward to every time. After spending a lot of time in pre-production being in a group of few people, you are suddenly standing with a huge group in production. And when the shooting is done, you are ready to be in a small group again.
Since I basically have the entire movie/commercial/short film in my head long before we start shooting, (How directors can jump into production without it in his head, is beyond me), I use to watch what the editor is doing closely. Not breathing down his neck or anything, but unless something better comes up, I´m really sure that my vision is the best one. The good thing about an editor is that he has no idea of what we´ve been through. He comes in and watch what we´ve got with a fresh eyes. So I also like to see what he does with it.
This is where the project is created for the 3rd time. And this is also where I have to be prepared to let go of my vision and accept the material for what it is. If my preconception of a scene is not possible in the editing (because I fucked up in the storyboards, in my directing, whatever), there is only one thing to do: Try something else.
We could do some re-shoots but that wasn´t a possibility on this one.

The editing process on this one went fairly smooth. We were pretty much on the same page and if he had a suggestion, it was for the better. He kept cutting it faster and faster and I were constantly afraid that it all went too fast. But I´m pretty happy with the way it is now. Plus we have been cutting to dead silence and the sound and score will make the fast cutting more "smoother" I think.
The sound and music are being composed as I write this and I can´t wait to see it with everything on there!

For the score I want to go a bit over the top. Orchestral sound and theatrical. I think it will make it funnier and more exciting. I sended the composer a clip from The Social Network, the famous/infamous (depending on who you ask) rowing-sequence. And the universally famous piece from the William Tell Overture, just to give him an idea of the mood and scale.

I sended a few people a link to the video, just to see if there was something that didn´t work. The general response dealt mostly with smaller things and people seemed to understand what was going on. That is always good to know before you finish something. That some people like it.

Even though the commercial is only a few days away from being finished and even though I have no idea what the outcome will be, I will end this blog entry. 
But before doing so I want to share a very specific revelation I had while on my way home after the shoot. I might go corny here, but bear with me.
That night, while being completely drained of energy and with a toasted brain, I got the feeling that this is really what I am supposed to be doing. Even though I have known this since I was 9, I really KNOW it now. It was a very weird thing that kinda took me off guard but I felt that I could honestly say to people, with no shame or fear of not being taken seriously, that I´m a director. You are in a way brought up by society that it is a shameful, childish thing to pursue a dream in the world of creativity. And when you finally got the courage to say out loud what you want in life, you always find yourself in the energy draining "But what about a Plan B?"-conversation. Those reactions always bum the shit of me and frankly, makes me sad/very pissed off.
But that evening I thought: I had just directed the whole thing and it went great! I didn´t fuck up, I knew what I was doing and I didn´t panic. Hurray!! It was almost as if someone had come up to me after the shooting and said "You passed!". "Passed what?". "The test". "There was a test??". "Yep, congrats!"."Oh…phew!".

Now, I still mean what I wrote in the first blog entry: "I only know half the things I think I should know and don´t know of all the things I don´t know yet." And it will be that way for many, many years to come.

Maybe the commercial will suck big time when it goes public, no one knows. 
But for me, personally, that doesn´t matter. That realization was the best outcome I could have hoped for.


I hope you enjoyed the reading. Leave a comment if you like.

All the best,
Jonas Thorbjoern

Friday, October 1, 2010

Blog #3: A Lonely Wolf, Robotic Arm and Home Made Bible.


So Michael wrote this treatment, sort of sequence-list and it kinda sucked.
Not because of Michaels abilities as a writer, but because it was based on what we came up with on a previous meeting. The problem was that the meeting was over a month old. And during that time new ideas for scenes and structure had entered my head. So it kept building and building in my head.
But Michael had focused on the results from that meeting and had written the treatment out of that.
I took 3 days off from Koncern Film & Tv, (where I work as an post-production assistant, basically a logger/loader) and joined my friend and actor Lucas Alexander on the Oslo ferry, to work on the structure, in a paradigm-form, filling in the ideas that had swirled around over a month. 
The plan was to have it done when I returned home. And I was hoping that the hardcore deadline and obligatory pressure would at least produce one sentence of genius.

Not sure about the genius, but after those 3 days, the structure was working. And since I had to write alongside to figure out if the paradigm-notes, such as "The Airplane Plan", would hold water, I already had kind of a treatment. High 5!

The paradigm-notes.

What I really learned about this process is that nearly every crappy word you write, serves as a sign of where not to go. You have to confront the fear of filling up a page of pure shit, in order to end up with something truly great. (And this fear is what can seriously make you do nothing throughout the course of a day!).
And so the first treatment was a phenomenal and priceless help!

Another great thing that has happened since the last post is that we have found some incredibly beautiful shooting locations in Poland. One of my DP´s, Jonathan Puntervold, insisted on shooting in Poland, for the middle-part of the movie. I responded with a "Under no circumstances are we going to shoot there. It´s all square, boring buildings and the nature, if there is any, must be of the color grey, from the lack of sunshine".
Of course, when no one was around, I googled Poland...and the most beautiful pictures of mountains and landscapes was presented before my eyes. I had no idea Poland had these scenarios! The scenario is jam-packed group of mountains, called The Tatra Mountains.
Some photos struck me to be perfect and I found out they were all taken by the same photographer: Maciej Duczynski, AKA Lonely Wolf.
I wrote him a mail, attached 3 photos of locations I knew we just had to use and asked if he would be so kind to give me information of their whereabouts.

Luckily, he WAS so kind.
Actually, I couldn´t have asked for more, because he told me precisely where he had taken the photos and how to get there.
Additionally, he gave me info on nearby hotels and offered to help us when time came to shoot.

People helping strangers out is the greatest thing in the world!

But it´s not all positive news though.
Sometime this year a film with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie will come out in theaters near you and god damn me if it isn´t called The Tourist!
That leaves two options: 
1) We keep our title and hope the blockbuster will suck big time. Then it will be OK because people will say "They´re called the same, but this one is much better". This One being our film.
If the blockbuster turns out to be a smash hit, our title will stand in its shadow.
2) We find a new name. We can still call it The Tourist as a working title, but at some point we will have to find a new name. Maybe it will show itself during the next year.
All this title-nonsense might sound like nonsense but if you had made something and it took over a year to make, you want to make sure it will stand out somehow. And everybody, including me, will judge a movie on its title alone.
You just have to keep these things in mind. What will sell, what will not.

We have the lead, as I wrote about in the previous blog. The casting is further down the line, but I´m already asking myself: Who should be playing the father? It can´t just be anybody. It´s a small role, but it´s in the climax of the movie and that character has such an impact on the main character. He has to be bigger than life almost.
And I want a name that you know. It´s such a pivotal role and it would be nice if that actor could help bring the movie to life, in just being in it! I have two names in mind but I won´t drop the curtain just yet. I will wait till he have actually agreed to join.
For the role of the pilot and the caretaker I also have two very specific actors in mind. "The caretaker" is a woman I have worked with before and I know will do a great job. "The pilot" is a guy I have never worked with but ever since I met him, I´ve been trying to find some role to give him. And I think this one will suit him just fine. He tends to get kinda the same roles. He has such a persona and a tremendous face! A real movie face.

Next on "The Tourist (For Now)":

- The treatment will be done today and I will send it out to my trusted critics. Their comments will definitely be helpful in writing the script. Things just need to be speeded up.
- Deadline for funding at the FilmWorkshop is coming up and I need to do some storyboards for some rather difficult sequences, so they (the money-men) can see how I see the movie. Also, I will write out some production notes, basically explaining how I imagine we shoot these things and hopefully show them it won´t be so difficult as they may think.


We went to Cph. Film & Photoschool, were I walked around and made Little Man in 2009, and borrowed their cinema for the storyboard-shooting on a wednesday afternoon.
The idea was: Instead of me drawing some weird, cryptical drawings, I brought in the actress, Ida Kenskov, who is going to play the character and had her act out the entire commercial, while my DP, David, would photograph the whole thing. It served as a rehearsal almost and thus make the shooting itself easier.
It took about an hour and we ended up with almost 300 photos. I have made a rough selection and now I need to figure out how you make a professional looking board of storyboards to show to the money-men.

Behind the scenes: Actress Ida Kenskov in a rehearsal of the "Robot Arm"-part of the commercial. The prop in my head was a stand-in for the robotic arm. We didn´t have a lighting package, but the window in the back was excellent for backlighting, creating a nice edge on Ida´s head. You gotta run with what you have.


An international auction website liked the commercial we made for the Metro trains and asked us to come up with some ideas for their new website.
I made up 3 different sketches of ideas, in a quick and hasty fashion and we didn´t really think we would get the job, honestly.
We did! Or: They liked idea number one and wanted us to make a budget for the commercial.
The set-up is actually quite big but we ended up with a pretty low number (in the world of commercials anyway).
This one will be fun to make and the number of crew and extras is bigger than what I´ve tried before. It scares the shit out of me and I can´t wait! 
To have these kind of jobs is excellent because it´s a great way to keep you warm before you´re try to climb your Mount Everest.
I had a brief meeting with my DP, David, about it and we agreed on the style and lighting.
I will write more about all of this in the next blog, because as I´m write we are awaiting response from the auction-people, so we don´t actually know if we will be shooting this at all.


I´m not planning on attending anymore film schools. (Maybe a few courses, but not schools!) Even though we have The National Film School of Denmark and even though they actually PAY you during those 4 years, I honestly don´t believe attending any film school necessarily will make you a better filmmaker. 
Because will a person spending 4 years in a film school be better equipped to make films than someone working his way up in the business and working on getting better at his respective area during week-ends?
I´m not saying film schools are bad and won´t take you anywhere. But the ones I´ve attended, you didn´t learn about the business! The business is way more than half of the filmmaking experience! Why don´t they teach in budget, contracts, advertising, how to handle a camera rental facility, etc?
And even though we did make movies, it was still a SCHOOL! School rules and etiquettes! Not film making rules and etiquettes.
There are SO many rules, etiquettes and ways to handle certain things on a film set, that they don´t teach in film schools. Certainly not the ones I´ve attended.
They should be teaching about all this stuff and maybe cut out a few of those "Where and where not to put the camera"-lectures.
You Will Figure This Stuff Out For Yourself, If You Just Make Movies!
Plus: The notion of school is just playing it safe. Get out there and learn it by yourself.
(Of course I´m talking about the film business vs. schools here and not schools in general. If you want to be a nurse and you can only be a nurse by attending a certain school, then that´s what you need to do. But films and movies are about life, persons, feelings and stories. You can´t really learn about those things in a class room.)

And as I read and watch people talk about film school, the more I learn that The Business won´t hire a guy out of film school because he went to that school. They will look at his productions and if it looks good and didn´t go over budget, then they will hire him.
That is after they have gone through their own list of people, because you would want someone you know and like to play in your sandbox.
If they weren´t available, then they will ask someone "Do you know someone?". That´s much easier than going through that humongous pile of showreels and applications from strangers.
So it´s really about who you know and if you get along with the people you work with.
And hard work, of course. A lot of hard work.
But the note "Film School" on your resume might not necessarily do anything for you. Not in the long run. should be noted that all of this is written by a guy who doesn´t 100 % know what he is talking about. There are of course great, great things about film schools and a part of me really wants to attend NYFA or something similar, if I had the massive amount of money required. (Especially NYFA, because they do it in a hands-on way without boring film classes on Potemkin.)

Anyway...since I´ve decided not to waste time in a class room, I´m doing my own sort-of film school. In the past 5 years I´ve bought a lot of books on directing, screenwriting and interviews with people I admire. But, as books tends to do, they just spend time collecting dust on a shelf and you rarely sit down and read it, even though you thought it look interesting in the book store and couldn´t see how you could evolve without this book in your collection.
So I bought a Moleskin notebook (the only cool notebook there is!) and wrote HOME FILM STUDY on the cover.

This is now my self-made bible.

At the moment I´m reading Gil Betmanns "FIRST TIME DIRECTOR", for the second time. (It´s a pretty cheesy title, but in this case "first time" means with a million dollar budget and not the first time you pick up a camcorder). And as I´m going through it, I´m writing down as many notes as I can. The more the better.
Luckily, he have made notes at the end of each chapter and I just add more as I go through that chapter.
And this will be the process on the many books to come.
Also, I´m a big fan of things like Inside The Actors Studio and commentary tracks. You can learn a lot about film making that way. Plus you have the actors and directors right there in your room, your own personal lecture. If you were there in real life, I bet you would write down anything they say. Why not write it down, while watching it on youtube?
And for me, it´s a tremendous help to write it down. Listening and reading is only the first part, and might not make you learn it. Writing it down, while thinking about the words, makes it stay in your head. That´s the second part. 
The third part is going out there and use what you´ve written down.

There are so many things to talk about here and I will do a blog dedicated to the great film making books that is out there, at some point. Because you can very easily get lost.

That was that.
For now.

All the best,
Jonas Thorbjoern

P.S. Please leave a comment, if you like!