Directorial Debut... and Acting?
Kick the ladder is a weekly video challenge to flex those directorial/cinema muscles. Not only does it exercise the technical aspects of videography, but I’d argue that it’s more of an outlet for creative expression. Its founder Isaac Deitz brings these individuals together in his own basement/garage known as “Thunderdome.”
I was dragged along by a couple of friends who knew all to well that, despite never having been in this world before, that I would dig it. And dig it I did. Attending that first week of the 2020 KTL season, or leg day as it is called, the energy of the room was electric and nothing like what I expected. Everyone cheered one another on as one minute videos flashed on the screen. It was a place to show love, cheer on each persons personal goals, critique our weaknesses and notice each persons expressiveness through video. One moment a community of cinema lovers are laughing at a a ridiculous video and the next we all listen intently as we see a cathartic video that a directer made to express the emotion he/she felt about losing a loved one to cancer. It’s a roller coaster in a 100 sq. ft. room.
Truth be told, this was my fist time truly diving into anything like this. I fell for the world of photography a few years back, but photography can be very isolationist by nature. At least in the way I’ve carried on about it. With long lonely walks in new cities and environments to take artsy fartsy photos, I’ve never worked with a crew and allowed an image in my head to come to fruition; at least not in the form of art.
Kick the Ladder
The rules for challenge 31V involved having 3 cuts, the need for it to be a music video, and of course being 60 sec or less. The idea of having a long tracking shot of a guy dancing on the street and crossing paths with the “girl” was the initial inspiration. I loved the idea of a the camera panning up from the feet and gradually exposing the subject. Having the camera brake away from the protagonist and following the ground to meet the female interest added more substance to that first shot. I’ve seen single shots before in music videos and movies, and it always appealed to my senses. There’s something impressive and stimulating about long single shots that gives you that slight high when in occurs.
My initial thinking was to have all relatively close shots. James convinced me otherwise. Being the subject matter expert that he is and a talented cinematographer, he explained the “power” and balance of having a wider shot after having such close shots. It creates a balance that otherwise, and I’m guessing here, would be too distracting to the viewer. Great learning experience and one that I’m storing in my back pocket as I think about future shots. How does one present their “art” and also have it be structurally sound. I imagine it as being similar to an architect. A design might seem great in your mind and even on paper… but is it actually possible to hold its own when built? Now the need to bring the story too a quick conclusion was the next step. It was very natural in this case: I knew I had to finish off with the protagonist taking those first steps and it only made sense to present the girls perspective. Must have been osmosis from all the movies I’ve seen in the past, but some times things just make sense even when you don’t know why. Like the rule of thirds… It just speaks to you.
The two biggest challenges came down to lighting and eventually working in post. A bonus would be not having a gimbal. Planing in war is pointless, but vital. The original plan was to get to the park earlier in the day, but naturally we ended up bringing more friends to “participate” on the project, giving us a lovely one hour before sunset. Needless to say, we had to be johnny on the spot in not only finding the proper location, but getting the cuts done correctly before losing our great ball of fire and light behind the large buildings. It worked out well, but made color grading a bit of a challenge in post. Specifically in the wide angle shot where boy crosses girl. We also figured that despite not having a gimbal, that we could fix that wonderful camera shake in the beginning with some post magic. Unfortunately, our attempts turned the video into a twirling illusion. So we made due with what we had and made the most minimal of adjustments to achieve the most visually acceptable results. Aka, warp stabilizer was set to 1%.
I was sitting with James in post as he was showing me all the ins and outs of Premiere Pro. We eventually hit an impasse on one of two takes. The first take was shaky and far from perfect, but the actors were zoned it. The genuine nature of the story could be felt by the viewers. The second video was an arching improvement in stability… but as things came to be, was lacking that connection that the audience would have with the characters. The difference was subtle, and I want to emphasis that, as otherwise the answer may have been too obvious for most. James turned to me and said “hmmm… so what to you think”? The answer was an obvious but ambivalent one for me. I said “Lets go with the shaky footage, I think that so long as the audience is captivated by the story, it will override the technical pitfalls, but not the other way around.” We both nodded as James followed up shortly with “that’s the right answer.”