Saturday, August 2, 2014

Assignment 3: creating meaning

This assignment is to create a short sequence that tells a basic story and conveys implied meaning.  It must be no longer than 90 seconds and must be based on one of the scenarios provided by OCA. The focus is on meaning – we are required to clearly describe the action or sequence of events and imply a second layer of meaning.

Key considerations
  • Composition
  • Mood
  • Atmosphere
  • Where the audience’s attention is focused
  • Space on and off screen
  • Assumptions audience will make

From a list provided by the OCA, I chose the scenario of somebody making a cup of tea with the implied meaning that they are suicidal.

There is not much of a script as such as there is no talking in the sequence. Instead I created a storyboard, an essential shot list so I could have flexibility with editing and an extras list. In the end I stuck fairly closely to the storyboard but did include a couple of shots from the ‘extras’ list. I also had to lose a lot of the footage from the essential list due to time constrictions.

Looking back I can now see that my essentials list was actually very simple:  show Sara feeling sad, alone, depressed and thoughtful; show her making tea; show some specific indications that she is contemplating suicide (i.e. the note and the bedroom door closing on the camera).

Originally I had contemplated adding more drama: having the actress sobbing; showing her rubbing her wrists as if thinking about slashing them – even filming some spilt milk near her upturned wrists but in the end I thought this would be too forced.

I obviously did not have time within the sequence to convey too much about the character or to paint a picture of depression, as Melancholia does so incredibly powerfully. There are also a number of remarkable films which tackle suicide in very different ways: Polisse, In Bruges, Breaking the Waves, Wristcutters, What Dreams May Come, 21 Grams, The Hours and A Single Man to name but a few.


The sequence

Evaluation of finished sequence

My approach was inspired by Andrea Arnold’s brilliant 2009 film, Fish Tank. Arnold managed to convey some grim situations, without the mise-en-scene always being bleak. I deliberately kept most of the shots light and airy and used the birdsong as a diegetic soundtrack.  Instead, I tried to use the space and composition to show the feelings of confinement and suicidal depression.  I was aiming for a bit of an Edward Hopper feel.  

I think the sequence works reasonably well.  The opening shots show the actress trapped against a grey wall and, later, when she is sitting on the floor, she’s small and isolated and confined by the lines of the kitchen units.  The turquoise/blue background denotes a sense of calm, almost coldness, as she has made her decision.  We don’t get to see much else of the world around but we do see her looking out of frame to suggest that she has big worries or concerns.

It was important to make sure the audience focused their attention on the actress enough to develop some sense of intimacy and empathy, hence the close-ups. I did not want these to feel too intrusive but did crop them tightly to enhance the sense of confinement.  This resulted in a couple of moments of Sara breaking the frame, which I would have preferred to avoid.

I think the contrasts of sounds work well – the contemplative birdsong and general street sounds, followed by the violence of the kettle and unpleasant scratchiness of the pen; then quiet contemplation followed by the sounds in the hallway and heavy clunk of the door shutting.  The final shot of the letter in the empty kitchen has simple birdsong and sounds of London so as not to be too heavy-handed. I thought about adding the subtle ticking of a clock but that may have skewed the implied meaning somewhat.

The sequence would probably have looked more professional if I’d had a medium shot of Sara with ‘look room’ followed by a shot of the tea or the letter, using the right lines of attention, and with corresponding look room. Also some shots were too soft – even if I was channeling Andrea Arnold!

Areas of marked improvement since my last assignment

  • Communicating with my actors – I have developed a good sense of when they need very precise direction and when it can be a bit more improvised
  • Storyboards and shot lists – this is absolutely essential. It also helps massively with continuity if it is properly thought through in advance.
  • I am now much more confident with mixing together various sounds and atmos tracks

Areas to strengthen

  • Much more practice with getting the focus right when using large apertures – also to experiment with more lenses and artificial (but natural-looking) lighting
  • Be more careful with headroom and ECUs/breaking frame (need to take more time during shoots to play everything back and check it looks right on screen)
  • Shoot more overlapping action for the editing stage (needs to be built into the shot planning)
  • More practice with look room and eye-lines.  
  • Practise, practise, practise; shoot, shoot, shoot!

1 comment:

  1. Great - I think you achieved your aims. That final shot is a narrative in itself.