As stated earlier, the script was begun in early December. The final edit was finished in early April. It has been the centerpiece of the building effort to see this film to completion. It was not however the only piece of preparation that had to be done. Early this spring we began pulling together the structure of the set. We began at a local scrap yard owned by a client. She let us sort through the stainless steel and aluminum pile in exchange for a trade for classes for her girls. From the pile we pulled rejects from a company that makes shower surrounds and stainless conduit housing. We were working from a design of Gabe’s, that in the early stages we were hoping to make portable for workshop teaching in the future. We had to abandon this plan due to time constraints, but the drawings and materials are gathered and I am sure that the portable model will be built when we have more time.
With the completion of the script we were able to record the audio for the film. We wanted this early so that we would have the audio to use as a sort of road map for the filming. The biggest challenge here was to find the voices for each of the characters. We wanted to do all the voices ourselves for several reasons. One of the most important was our focus on a complete professional result for the film. We knew we would be willing to stay with the process until each piece was perfect. The other was knowing that this will be a four film cycle. Loosing an actor, three films in is such a difficult hurtle to overcome, by making the voices and characters ourselves, we do our best to avoid this.
The recording took several days as we read, edited the script and tuned the performance to get the finished voice audio that we would need. Once the recording was complete, Gabe began editing the music and the voices together to form that rough draft. Those are his words. The result of the several days of editing between the Cubase software for music and voice and the iMovie program for compiling and layering the audio seemed a bit magical. It produced a beautiful audio version of the project that allowed the black and white script to breathe and begin to evoke the emotion that I imagined for the characters. Five original songs were created for each character or situation and then edited into a score format for the short film. Picket Line War, Trapped, The stone Woman, Curiosity, and Jeff’s Mind were created in house with the Cubase software and Garage band.
Every part of the preparation happened on top of all the other things that happened this semester. So amid the web page development and the editing and the new gig at the community college, the set preparations continued. We used the 1 1/2” flexible natural gas conduit in a large half circle 30 feet around on top, suspended from the steel frame on the ceiling that is a part of the barns agricultural history, and on bottom, screwed onto the heavy stall matts and reinforced with a steel braces designed and created by Gabe to reinforce the structure to allow the large piece of canvas to be stretched between the two conduits. Pockets were sewn into the top and bottom of the canvas to allow the conduit to be threaded through and then stretched using zip ties and bungees. Lighting was the next critical issue to solve. Gabe chose a daylight LED bulb and rigged the light array to a dimmer switch so that the day and night passage of time would be possible.
As soon as the set, including a reinforced pedestal was built and lit, we were ready for filming. To make this possible we needed a way to move the figurines without having our hands show in the film. To solve this we made slides that would glide on the unglazed surface of the floors of the house without scaring that surface or allowing the figures to fall as they are being drug around the set, as many of them, especially the squids, are top heavy. To make the slides, we used a heavy clear plastic used for document display and tied a light weight but strong fishing line to holes drilled in on four corners. The ends were tied to color coded dowels so that multiple strings hanging together could be differentiated. The operation of the slides in the set was a bit like operating a marionette. The priority was to hide this manipulation throughout filming as much as possible.
The filming itself relied on playing the audio and filming just what we needed for each scene. We generally filmed 2 or 3 angles for each so to that the immovable figurines could feel more active on the screen. We used monitors to better view the camera in action. Here Gabe is checking the light levels and setting the manual focus, which had to be used extensively to control the shots.
The end of the filming is the beginning of the editing, which is another process that takes time. At this writing the film is about 98% finished. It is the perfect mixture of artful mystery and fairy tale. There are sections, following the camera closely up the stair case that make me feel I need another bone in my neck to properly follow the movement, and scenes in the dark with silhouettes of the squid heads with bright points of shine off the glazes that have the character of a dream. Yet it is paced in the classic formula, wishes, gold and three guesses. The mysterious supernatural figure in the attic oversees the world and it is unclear if she is a helper or the cause of all the trouble.
Bringing the script to life illuminated the ideas I intended and revealed deeper and older story telling devices and symbols that I did not realize were there. This is the essence of storytelling and art making. To put forth our knowledge and ideas, to give those things every bit of ourselves and then to be granted gifts in return. In this way, story and art are alive, as responsive and intelligent as a dear friend, whispering encouragement and demanding endurance.