The Garden, 1910: Faking It Right

The Garden, 1910: Faking It Right

Currently, our challenge with The Garden, 1910 is finding film festivals willing to program a 30 minute “short” film–never mind one with extensive (non-sexual) nudity. Private screenings both in the US and Denmark have been extremely positive, but we’re not exactly teabagging the zeitgeist.

Our challenge in making it was one of bringing across a big-budget 1910s fantasy film on a 2010s microbudget. As the production designer and cinematographer, I wanted to know what it was like sitting in a smoky cinematograph watching a new, hand-colored print of a film like ours.

We came up with some terminology: The illusion vs. the effect. The effect was how we would actually achieve the shot: greenscreened footage of actors, puppets and miniatures (filmed on an iPhone 6s with Filmic Pro) composited in Blackmagic Fusion, Final Cut Pro X and Motion, with additional elements from still images, Animation:Master and Photoshop. The illusion was how our magician-turned-filmmaker would have created the shot using period techniques: sets with sometimes elaborate stage mechanisms, multiple photographic exposures, splices, color-tints, pyro, forced perspective, piano wire, Pepper’s ghost, and so forth.

The subconscious effect of frame rate, and how variable frame rates can be used artistically, is something I’ve been exploring. The Garden, 1910 actually runs at 60fps; a blurred three-blade shutter fades each frame in and out, running the “film” at the slightly unsteady 17-19fps of a hand-cranked projector. As the camera would also have been hand-cranked (at a slightly lower 13-14fps for a better exposure) each frame of the fully-composited footage also has a slightly randomized gain adjustment, to simulate variability in exposure. (Filmic Pro will record footage at an arbitrary frame rate like 14fps, but from working with the footage my impression is that the iPhone hardware itself will only capture at certain fixed frame rates, and Filmic merely discards the unwanted frames.)

Obviously, we weren’t content to slap an “olde timey film” filter onto the composited footage and call it good. Each composite in Fusion was piped through a battery of patches to extract and then imperfectly add back in false color, to simulate hand-coloring. (This was a nightmare, but probably an instructive one. I’ll drill down into it, with some downloadable material for Fusion tinkerers, in an upcoming blog post.) The completed “film” frames from each sequence (one frame per frame) were edited in Final Cut, with glue splices added as a custom FCP transition from Motion. (Don’t look down on Motion; it’s a real Swiss army knife, and incredibly fast.) The footage then made a round trip to Fusion, where it received unsteady re-timing to 17-19fps, shutter flicker, gate jumping, vignetting, emulsion dust and scratches, exiting as 60fps finished footage–and making a round-round-trip to Final Cut for final editing.

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So I Wrote a Star Wars Fan Film…

1. EXT. COTTAGE – NIGHT

A single dim, warm LIGHT above the front door struggles into the soaking mist, revealing the front of a MODEST REED-WALLED COTTAGE, round and set over the water.

A REBEL slips by. Dark, ragged fabric from head to toe divulges only parts of a helmet and utility vest. We can’t see their face — and we never will.

MATCH DISSOLVE TO:

2. EXT. COTTAGE – DAY

Morning finds us at the marshy edge of a pleasant lake.

Three STORM TROOPERS march toward the door, their white armor Endor-style, and era. The FIRST TROOPER stoops, blaster sweeping the short crawlspace between the cottage subfloor and the lake. A few machines hang down, nothing big enough to hide a person.

FIRST TROOPER

Clear, sir.

SECOND TROOPER

Sub droid’s found nothing in the water.

LIEUTENANT

Send it away.

3. INT. COTTAGE, CONT.

A familiar, visibly ageing Gungan answers the door.

JAR-JAR

Oh! Me’sa got officers coming here!? What can dis’sa be happening?

LIEUTENANT

A rebel against the Empire has been tracked —

Jar-Jar’s foot catches unluckily on a set of ceremonial spears near the entrance, which go CLATTERING to the floor, nearly gutting the first trooper.

FIRST TROOPER

Watch it!

LIEUTENANT

Step aside, Gungan.

JAR-JAR

Oh no! Rebels in meesa house? No no no! Find them!

The interior is spartan. Tidy. One room. Aside from the (many) mementos of state hung around the perimeter, it contains only a small kitchenette and a few sleeping cushions strewn about the floor.

The lieutenant gestures toward the ice box — the only space large enough to hide a person.

SECOND TROOPER

Sir.

FIRST TROOPER

In position…

The troopers push past the hapless Gungan with levelled blasters.

JAR-JAR

Rebels in meesa ice box?! Oh no! This-a terrible!

With interlocking fire, the troopers approach. At a signal, one THROWS THE LID!

LIEUTENANT

Report?

Both look in, nonplussed.

FIRST TROOPER

Half a sculptrin fish, sir. And, maybe, some cake.

JAR-JAR

Ooh! Meesa be saving that cake.

They lower their blasters, look around.

LIEUTENANT

(into a comlink)

Clear.

They leave.

After a moment Jar-Jar quite calmly scoops up the spears, setting them upright and closing the door.

His little pot-bellied kettle WHISTLES.

JAR-JAR

Muy bad business. Muy muy…

He pushes the window open, cocking an ear.

Jar-Jar pours water and a sprinkling of plant grounds into not one — but two cups.

JAR-JAR

(cont’d)

They’sa gone now. Is’a safe.

Two cushions, not touching, stir on the floor. The rebel pushes them aside, one from their legs and one from their upper body, hips sunk into a pit crossed by a bit of flooring — no doubt hidden by a domestic machine below.

REBEL

(whispered)

I didn’t cover my tracks very well.

In sotto voce, we still can’t even tell the faceless rebel’s gender.

JAR-JAR

They’sa droid spying under the lake gone too.

(points reassuringly to his big ears)

You’sa Rebel, eh? You’sa fight the Empire? You’sa make war, so you’sa
spawn make houses, so you’sa spawn’s spawn make poems. Yes?

REBEL

I — Senator?

Jar-Jar sits. In the bright sunlight streaming in from the lakeside window, his every wrinkle seems in sharp relief.

JAR-JAR

I’sa not a Senator no more. Never really was. Shouldn’t have been.
It’s not for making pretty up the past now; just living small life of
the old Gungan. My skin, it’sa not keep good water in or out, that’sa
how Gungans say it.

REBEL

They said you might be able to help me get off-planet.

A swell of displaced water creeps stealthily toward the cottage. A ROBOTIC EYE — not dissimilar to the one at Jabba’s palace — rises to the surface, cleaving the water periscope-style. The rebel scrambles for the false cushions.

JAR-JAR

Ahh! Me’sa lunch here.

Underwater delivery droid EL-ZED disappears beneath the cottage. A manhole-sized iris HISSES open in the floor. The wet metal eye pops up through an appropriately-sized hatch to the side as a BATTERED METAL RACK rises into the room — atop it a metal, but unmistakeable, TAKEOUT CONTAINER.

JAR-JAR

(cont’d)

Mmm-mmm! Smell’sa that good seaweed.

(He takes it with relish)

Thought I said no fish flakes…

EL-ZED BEEPS his inculpability.

JAR-JAR

(cont’d)

Here, you’sa meet a good friend. Meet El-Zed Vee-Three. She’sa being
your ride out of here.

The rebel steps to the iris, gingerly testing the ladder-like delivery rack, and taking a peek down into the cramped, rusty delivery bay. The eye watches interestedly.

REBEL

First class.

JAR-JAR

She’sa take you to the big kitchens at the seaweed factory. There a
slow freighter at the pad, leaving at noon. Just tell the captain an
old froggy sends you. Here —

(takes a small object off the shelf and tosses it to the rebel)

Very slow freighter. You’sa be wanting a book. This’a by a friend,
dear departed long time ago.

At a CLICK, a page of alien text momentarily appears in the air with a portrait of AMIDALA.

JAR-JAR

(cont’d)

She’sa teach you muy thing about rebelling. Now go go. Time not
a’waiting.

REBEL

Thanks for this. I won’t forget you.

The rebel finds room inside the droid’s tiny hull, as the rack CLATTERINGLY retracts.

JAR-JAR

Not forget me? You’sa never met me!

The iris closes.

CUT

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I swear, this is just research…

30+ Cornstarch Fireballs

1080p (vertical) shot of 1 teaspoon of cornstarch blown into the air near a flame source about 30x. Filmed at 120fps, playback at 30fps. As much fun as you’ll have doing this yourself, these pyro elements are released into the public domain for any and all usage, commercial or otherwise.

These elements were created for Troy Minkowsky’s “The Garden 1910” a Rhino Crate production currently in post.

Download Clip in MP4

CC0
To the extent possible under law, Matthew I. Rasmussen has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to 30+ Cornstarch Fireballs. This work is published from: United States.

flame_rig

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Nicholas Roeg’s “Walkabout”

A man drives his son and teenage daughter (credited only as White Girl and White Boy) into the outback, lights the car on fire, tries to shoot them, and caps himself. Young aborigine (Black Boy) finds them, helps them return to civilization. Film.

This isn’t a movie that’s seen very often anymore, which is a shame.

I actually first saw Walkabout in a film class in high school. We had a video projector on the cyclorama of the school stage jury-rigged into a quasi-cinema. Our teacher, having spent his ’60s youth (and met his Kiwi wife) hitchhiking around Australia and New Zealand (in a way very foreign to a ’90s teenager) didn’t seem to have actually sat down and watched the movie through in some time. Being reminded how risqué it becomes at times, the class could see him squirming, but we wouldn’t let him turn it off.

What a remarkable film. It has moments that’ve stayed with me ever since, through film school and beyond. Interestingly, the current rage that year for us Black Boy/White Girl-aged students had been Aussie Baz Luhrmann’s overclocked refresh of Romeo + Juliet. The two might make an interesting double feature.

Animation: “The Gremlin”

An animation loop, for your pleasure. Something to remind me both what I love and hate about doing character animation. Created in Animation:Master and Final Cut.

Does anyone else remember that old “We’re gremlins from the Kremlin” Warner Brothers cartoon?

Grammy Rasmussen

My grandmother passed away on January 14. I brought a microphone and sat down with her back in 2002, then shot some 16mm film on Friendship Long Island and edited a short. Here is that film:

Click here if your browser does not display the video properly.

Five Underused Horror Tropes

And properties that make interesting use of them.

1. Frankenstein Creations: Powerful, perhaps immortal confusions of once-dead human parts reanimated by Dr. Frankenstein’s (always) secret method. Not to be overly confused with James Whale’s 1931 film with its constricted, single-location plot, dim bolt-necked creation, and memorable use of Nicola Tesla-inspired electrical equipment as the (revealed) method of cell reanimation.

Franken Fran: A manga series about a loveable but somehow unmistakeably monsterous patchwork girl who inhabits a mansion full of equally bizarre creations, “helping” people as she sees fit, and awaiting the return of her creator.

2. Dopplegangers: Classically, a mute apparition of oneself that appears to warn against impending danger.

Arcana: Another manga, slow to start, in which a girl matching no missing person’s report is found by the police, and by her ability to see ghosts proves useful in investigating a series of brutal murders.

3. Former Tenants: Beings who inhabited the Earth long before humans, and who want their world back.

The short stories of H.P. Lovecraft: Lovecraft lived in the era when man was pushing into the final dark corners of the map. His dominant theme was a fear that the dark corners would push back. The double-switch Lovecraft plays in “At the Mountains of Madness” is particularly impressive. (Cthulhu, despite his fame, is a relatively minor player.)

4. Sirens: Beautiful female creatures, often with the aspects of seabirds, who lure men (and women?) to a watery death with an irresistable song.

There is a Japanese survival horror videogame series called “Siren,” but it appears to have very little to do with the western myth.

5. The Motif of Harmful Sensation: Related to the siren, a broader term for the idea of a piece of sensory input that can cause a physical effect on the victim. (Well explained in the finest deleted Wikipedia article I’ve ever come across.)

BLIT: David Langford’s remarkable short story revolves around the discovery of a class of images that “crash” the human brain, killing anyone who views them.

Dark Water: Thoughts on Horror

I’m beginning to wonder if Dark Water is Hideo Nakata’s masterpiece. It drills down through the cosmic terror of The Ring to something far more intimate: The fear of abandonment. We see the child’s fear of abandonment not only in the repeated scenes of one being left after the close of school, but in the adult characters eyes as, by proxy, they’re forced to re-experience its gnawing toxicity. The water, the intrusion of darkness into the rainsoaked day, and the intrusion of water into the spaces and times it’s not meant to be in all mirror that forgotten feeling. The breaking of a child’s trust in the parent, which is also the child’s trust in the world, is a trauma that even adulthood can’t banish forever. Watching an imperfect single mother struggle to hold her own crumbling world together against that invading fear is heart-wrenching. All horror is psychological horror, crystalized in the moment of realizing one has been wrong. Dark Water is Nakata’s most emotionally draining film and that, I believe, may make it his finest horror film. Hell is being alone forever.

The Man With the Pointy Hat

"In the current storyline, there's a lot that I don't agree with, and I made this very clear to everybody within shouting distance . . . As an executive producer as well as a writer, I've sometimes had to insist that my writers make changes that they did not want to make, often loudly so. They were sure I was wrong. Mostly I was right. Sometimes I was wrong. But whoever sits in the editor's chair, or the executive producer's chair, wears the pointy hat of authority, and as Dave Sim once noted, you can't argue with a pointy hat.

"So at the end of the day, all one can do is try to do the best one can with the notes one is given, and try to execute them in a professional way -- because who knows, the other guy may be right . . . ."

— J. Michael Straczynski

2:35

“And sometimes there’s no one there. And there isn’t going to be.” — Michael Ventura, Shadow-Dancing in the U.S.A.

Wall-E is the perfect expression of what it’s like to meet a modern woman. She’s sophisticated, sleek, brilliant, beautiful, focused — and something of a pyro. You’re a bit clever perhaps, but otherwise the only thing to recommend you is that you’ve somehow managed to survive this long.

“To A Skyfarer”

..-. — .-. .. .-. .- —

Morning clouds in disarray

Bright and cold, this is your day

Ten points off the rising sun

Tell me why I feel this way?

Tell me what you’ve been and done

Silhouette in solid space

Future’s half-forgotten face

Stillness grudgingly withdrawn

Far off engines mutter dawn

Slow to wake and slow to thaw

You’d become my paragon

Hope that time could not withdraw

Gone too long, returned too soon

Stowed and moored by afternoon

Scrambling spotters, busy clerks

‘Til this evening’s fireworks

Dancing through the final song

Rubbing hair and other perks

Heart ungimbaled, stomach wrong

Ship returning, fortunes won

Voyage ended, and begun

Windy City: “To A Skyfarer”

Previously posted is a poem for the third draft of my feature screenplay “Windy City.” Draft two borrows from a song by VNV Nation, but I thought it best to write something of my own as a backup. Here are the lyrics as they appear in situ:

A gust carries some equipment away and tugs at the cable. There is a loud SNAP. The workman turns his lamp away from the locks, toward the cable and finds -- a slowly lengthening CRACK.

WORKMAN

CABLEFALL! CABLEFALL!

The cable SNAPS. Half of it CRASHES across the trolley tracks, wiping them away like chalk marks. The other half SLAMS back into the building. The upper floor windows EXPLODE, raining big chunks of plastic on the old workman and his crew.

WORKMAN

DOWN! EVERYONE DOWN!

INT. HOTEL - LOBBY - EARLY MORNING

A low, distant BOOM. The power flickers. Nadine and her sister Ashur are crammed onto a cot in the dark lobby with the other refugees. The building GROANS in the wind. Ashur is too frightened to sleep. Nadine begins to stroke her hair.

NADINE

(sings)

Morning clouds in disarray/

Bright and cold, this is your day/

Ten points off the rising sun/

Tell me why I feel this way?

Tell me what you've been and done/

Silhouette in solid space/

Future's half-forgotten face/

Stillness grudgingly withdrawn/

Far off engines mutter dawn/

Slow to wake and slow to thaw/

You'd become my paragon/

Hope that time could not withdraw/

Gone too long, returned too soon/

Stowed and moored by afternoon/

Scrambling spotters, busy clerks/

'Til this evening's fireworks/

Dancing through the final song/

Rubbing hair and other perks/

Heart ungimbaled, stomach wrong/

Ship returning, fortunes won/

Voyage ended, and begun/

Ashur sleeps.

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