I took two months off of editing my new movie, I AM THAT, so that I could travel. It was an intentional strategy to edit the fine cut and then take time away. I do that when I write a script. Its one of the most helpful strategies I have in my tool box.  When I take time away from a project I always have a new perspective when I come back. This time being away was a little different simply because I feel like a completely different person then who I was two months ago before I left for my trip.

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I traveled to India to study Yoga and I’m not sure what happened but something really significant clicked for me on this trip about my yoga practice and myself.  It was unlike anything I’d ever felt before.  For the first time I felt total confidence in myself.  I even had a wild moment while I was practicing where it felt like deep inside of me a voice said, “You can do everything you want.” But not in a way that’s still completely full of doubt (I’ve had those before) but in this way where I felt let in on a secret of my life and this secret seemed so true that I actually became afraid.  I became afraid because it was too much for me to handle at one time. It was too much work. It was as if I saw the rest of my life and it was what I wanted, what I’ve been tirelessly working for the past 15 years. It was bizarre how complete the internal thought was. It included my own artistic truths and even my partner’s legacy that I’m working towards.

Back to today and me editing with the editor.  The major thing I viewed was a lack of confidence in the story.  The person(s) who had edited this movie two months ago were scared and weren’t trusting the moments and the journey of the protagonist. A couple of days ago I recently watched P.T Anderson’s, Magnolia, and its amazing how as a storyteller he is so confident in the writing. He’s so confident that he will sit with a character in a slow push in while their having an emotional breakdown. He trusts his moments.  This has been one of my major storyteller problems.  I don’t trust the moments and as a result the story feels rushed.  But I’m finally seeing it in I AM THAT. I feel positive that if I hadn’t taken the time off then I wouldn’t be able to see this mistrust.

I have to trust the story. That’s what I took away from today.

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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, b.1571 d.1610 was an Italian painter active in Rome, Naples, Malta and Sicily. His paintings, which combine a realistic observation of the human state, both physical and emotional, with a dramatic use of lighting, had a formative influence on Baroque painting.

For the past two weeks I’ve been studying hard and trying to become more familiar with the classical principles of painting.  In the text book that I’ve been studying, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s paintings are used as examples of exceptional visual principles, and so what luck that an exhibit was being presented at The National Gallery while I was visiting London.

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Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1602

What principles does Judith Beheading Holofernes utilize?

1-Visual Tension – Caravaggio is a brilliant artist because he chooses to paint the most interesting tension filled moment of a story. He capitalizes on the emotional tension of the subjects. Here is some background info on the above painting from Wikipedia: “The deutero-canonical Book of Judith tells how Judith served her people by seducing and pleasuring Holofernes, the Assyrian general. Judith gets Holofernes drunk, then seizes his sword and slays him: “Approaching to his bed, she took hold of the hair of his head.” (Judith, 13:7-8). The moment of slay is the most dramatic moment of their relationship and so this is the one that Caravaggio chooses to paint. He also makes sure to not complete the task of the full beheading leaving us in a moment of suspense, plus, the fact that Holofernes is still alive makes the scene so much more horrific and dramatically gratifying to the audience.

Beyond the emotion of the subjects, there is also visual tension within the technique of the painting.  The painting isn’t balanced. The power duo of Judith and the old man are tipping the painting to the right. It is two against one. Our frame is stronger and more powerful on the right side.

2-Chiaroscuro lighting – “Chiaroscuro” is Italian for light and shadow. It means gradations of light and dark. Visual artists use light and dark to create depth and focus the viewers attention.  As far as I can tell Caravaggio is the first film noir filmmaker. He is fucking brilliant with how he uses light to dramatize the scene and bring the audience eye right to where he wants us to look.  Our eye looks at images from the left to the right which means I first look at Holofernes tension filled arm pressing down in pain into the bed, then to his facial expression and then up to Judith’s heroic look of determination to kill the fucker.  Do you notice how his right eye, which is trying to make eye contact with Judith, is lit up more then his left?

3-Lines – Lines either horizontal, vertical or diagonal, explicit or implied, are a constant in design.  Just a few simple lines can organize a two dimensional space in a way that is comprehensible by the eye and brain (direct quote from my book).  Caravaggio uses implied and explicit lines in this painting. The squirts of blood from his head give the beheading a horror film emotional charge. We can hear the blood come out of the painting.

He also uses implied lines through the arms of Judith and Holofernes.  Judith’s arm that holds the sword is extended and straight and Holofernes upper arm, forearm and hand also create straight lines. He makes these lines taut with energy and this brings more tension into the painting.

4-Triangles – The 3 heads of the subject form a triangle. Triangles are a powerful compositional tool. They keep the frame active.

5- Open Frame – Lastly, this is an open frame. Both the old man and Holofernes cross the edge of the frame. By having Holofernes cross the edge of the frame it makes the scene more chaotic and your imagination extends beyond what Caravaggio actually paints.  I can see Holofernes legs struggling for life.

I: So how do you go about writing a new script?

Joy: I generally have a few visual ideas first.  With my next film, which is called The Fog of Maya St, I actually saw an image on instagram which hasn’t left me.  When an image doesn’t leave me I know I’m on to something.

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I: What is it about the above image that grabbed you?

Joy: I love how the couple doesn’t know the creature is behind them.  Its like they are on a walk or at a party and a friend asked if they could take a picture and the couple agreed not realizing that there is a scary alien right behind them. Or if they do know then they are acting totally fucking normal.

I: Its kind of scary.

Joy: Its fucking terrifying. I’m always terrified about the fact that there is some deep shit inside of me that I don’t even know is there.  Its this type of hidden monster, right behind you, right under the surface shit that keeps me on edge. It keeps me writing.

I: So how are you going to use this image?

Joy: I have no idea. I don’t even know if it will end up in the film but this picture is a jumping off point. I know that I want to write something very dark.  I AM THAT was a fable. It had dark moments but I wanted to keep it on the lighter side. That was my goal when I was writing the piece. I wanted it to be like the Aesop’s fables I use to read when I was a kid and I do think the script accomplished that. But with the Fog of Maya Street I want this to be very dark, urban fiction. I want to shoot it in black and white.

I: high drama?

Joy: Ha ha. That’s funny. That makes me laugh because I don’t know if I actually have it in me, inside my soul, to write a high drama. I have so much tongue and cheek inside of me. Too much of my dad’s sarcasm. If a drama comes out that’s great, whatever, it doesn’t concern me what genre my films are labeled, what I’m interested in is getting into all of those hidden creatures I have inside of myself and writing an entertaining story that people will want to watch and identify with.

I: Do you have any thoughts on characters at this early phase of the writing process?

Joy: I do have a few. I know that I want all of the characters to live on the same street and for there to be chapters where you go  inside each of their houses (lives) and then of course other characters pop in and out of each other’s stories.  Its a multi plot script.  With I AM THAT I wanted to write a classic three act structure hollywood style screenplay and I did it. I wrote a damn good classically structured script but as a writer I need to push myself and so i’m going to mess with structure in this one.

I: So right now what do you do on a daily basis to get the writing process flowing?

Joy: I do a lot of Yoga that usually ends with me being very frustrated and not at peace. Lol.  That might sound strange but I’m trying to just confront myself in everything I do so that I get ideas churning and I read a shit ton on the topic.

I: What are you reading now?

Joy: I’m reading a couple books on a local philadelphia lower class neighborhood.

I: People who vote for Trump?

Joy: No. These locals don’t vote.  Someone who votes at least has some optimism. These people know how much the system doesn’t work for them so they’ve given up a long time ago. Which actually just gave me an idea!

And I’m also reading a book called, Coming Apart: The story of white america 1960-2010. Which is damn fascinating.  And then I’m watching and rewatching films like On the Waterfront and Nashville.  At this point all I can do is research, research, research and get the wheels spinning.  And when ideas pop up in my head I write them down and start spinning out.

 

 

 

 

I shot a scene today that wasn’t anything like how I’ve imagined it in my head the past 3 years. In fact, I don’t believe there has been one shot that has been exactly how I’ve dreamt about it for the past 36 months.  FUCK.

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I don’t know exactly what to think about that.  It feels like I’ve failed as an artist.  The process has been a success but the outcome has been a god damn mess and not what I’ve wanted. WHAT TO DO WITH THAT BAG OF SHIT?

Is it actually a bag of shit? No. Of course not.  There have been great moments and as an artist creation is happening.  The battle of my ego has stayed somewhat contained amongst the other collaborators.  Although, collaboration has gone better with some folks than other but that’s always to be expected.  Have I collaborated with myself? I’d say so.

So there have been some good moments. And primarily I’ve learned how ill prepared I was for the event. God is that even possible?  How the fuck was I not prepared? How many hours went into storyboarding, actor notes, production design notes, etc? But still I have felt ill prepared.  I want more time, better technique, I want more of it all but for right now i’m fucking tapped. So tapped on the learning curve I could scream.  I’m barely standing anymore. My direction is an inarticulate babble of words that even I don’t understand.

two more days of me toasting under the sun.  two more days of my boyfriend being pissed i’m not at home. two more days of crew drama that makes me want to tear my fucking hair out.  two more days of explaining a vision to someone who won’t ever understand my brain because of a fundamental style difference of being birthed on different planets.

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I’m bitching. I’m complaining about being able to make my art.  That sucks. And it all comes from fear.

The question that remains with me is this, if i haven’t articulated the vision clearly to myself then how the hell is the audience going to get it?  That’s what I don’t like and where I feel like i’ve failed.  FAILED FAILED FAILED.  As a leader I’m not supposed to say that but fuck there are only 2 days left I can say what I want. I’ve kept every fucking negative comment I’ve had locked away.

I say that but in 1 week i’ll be mourning this production.  I will feel one step closer to death.  I will be reminded that my dharma and the days of potential craftsmanship are only becoming less each day I wake up and this is terrifying to me.

God I wish I had more time. More time. More time. More time.  I feel like I’m always either running away or chasing time. Its terrible.  Will I ever create a picture that is close to what I have envisioned in my head?  This is what I’m chasing, the vision. Am I dissastisfied with the past month? I’m dissatisfied when I don’t surprise myself.  And its hard to surprise yourself when you’re so fucking tired.  I’m so fucking tired.

I really should be able to pass out on the floor and sleep for 20 hours but instead I’m up and somewhat wired.  I’m wondering why it is that my vision isn’t being completed? That may be a poor choice of words and I’m sorry optimists or those of you that are fulfilled easily. This is not the post for you so stop reading.

I’ve envisioned every single moment of this film 5 billion times and yet I’m realizing that 5 billion times is still NOT ENOUGH ENVISIONING.  Partially the vision isn’t coming to fruition because of a lack of skill or time.  If I had more time on set, if I was able to go hollywood style and shoot only 1 page a day then a huge portion of these shots would be envisioned exactly the way that I’ve dreamed but I’m shooting 6 pages a day and so there’s a lack of resources playing out. And then there are some images that I envisioned but I didn’t understand how to technically execute and so a lack of skill or being able to communicate the idea to the DP or production designer has failed.

But then there are those shots that I simply didn’t think about it. I didn’t concern myself with and those are the mistakes.  That is where I have stumbled the most.  Its amazing how often a new shot surprises me.  I’m not particularly interested in the unimagined, unthought of, no strategy shot.  Happy accidents are few and far between and not something I want to hang a film on.  I want it all to be organized, planned out, thought of before I shoot.  I did this but not to the extent that was needed. This is a new realization to me.

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I know that I’m a good filmmaker and that I have awesome ideas but the art “on set”, “in production” is missing. Its not there the way that I want it to be.  It feels like unstable ground and that I need to do more of it.

The learning curve on this film is of a higher level then on my first film Bhakti Boy. The technical aspects, the way I want to run a film set, and the way I want to communicate with my designers, the actors I want to work with, are all on steep learning curves. But the main difference is me understanding how much I need to keep learning. Whenever we finish a day I leave there trying to understand where did I fuck up? Where did the vision fall down?  Each day I’m a more serious filmmaker. I’m more serious about learning about my craft. I see now that I’m a stronger writer then director and that my visual technical storytelling skills are what need some serious tending to.

Last night I was speaking to my boyfriend extraordinaire and I asked him if he thought I was doing a good job? He said, “yes, I do. but you can see how unseasoned you are. You can tell that the potential for greatness is there but you need to do it more.”

 

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