Monday, June 22, 2009

How I Got Started - Part 4

I had a pretty good run in high school. The ASB films had made me at BHS, and there was, as I’d like to imagine in some kind of cocky way (that will soon be cut down), a hope from those who knew me that they may, someday, be watching a film I directed at the local multiplex. And after two years of making films that can really only be fully appreciated by the students sitting in the bleachers of Bellevue High, I was determined to make something that could be.

Thus, Summer’s End, perhaps one of the worst movies I’ve ever made, was born. It didn’t start out being awful and the movie itself isn’t terrible. It’s fairly technically proficient. I mean, I’ll brag that the cinematography is very, very good. It’s failure is story. After having my head get bigger and bigger over the past three years, even with the disappointment of Star Wars, I thought that I could do anything. I can’t even recall what the story was based on (though I think Shakespeare was involved) but it started off as collaboration between several of my friends. I was really into Magnolia at the time (Paul Thomas Anderson’s influence drips from the screen when you watch it) and thought that we could do four different stories that are related somehow. But in the end, we found that our fourth story, based on the song There Is by Box Car Racer, was the most compelling, so we decided to make that the A story and then created the other stories as B and C stories to fill in the rest.

I wrote the script, which was probably the first mistake. I was not a very good writer at the time and I honestly viewed writing as the least interesting part of filmmaking. I did not spend the time on the script that I should have. Which is often the problem of student films. Everyone wants to direct, they want to be on set, they want to be shooting the film, which was exactly how I felt at the time. The writing of the script was getting in the way.

The other problem with the film was that it wasn’t a short and it wasn’t a feature. The script hovered around 45 pages and the finished film actually crapped out at a full hour. But I got the script done and we moved into production.

This film was essentially shot using a three-man crew and sometimes only a two-man crew: the producer Chris, the cinematographer Adam, and me. Adam also had to work a day job, so he sometimes wasn’t there, hence the two-man crew. Despite that, there was a real arrogance on my part that we were making a “film”. Even though we shot on a GL-1, I always insisted on having the mattebox on the camera (even though it served no purpose) and having the camera hooked up to monitors (even though I was operating). I did not pay as much attention to the actors as I should have (since, arguably, I was doing everything else) and as such, the performances suffered. I was also working with ¾ of the cast who had never really acted before. (I am not complaining about them. I think they did a pretty good job considering that I didn't do a very good one as their director, something I worked hard at to change later on.)

All the while, I have this picture in my head of this being the greatest film ever made, of me standing at Sundance, of this being my break out. Meanwhile, I was, in reality, making a movie that was weak in perhaps everything but the look. I was too cocky and arrogant to realize it.

Now, I really have to say, that in the majority of cases (unless you are just a really, really terrible filmmaker) a good story will always trump technical proficiency. That alone does not make a movie. You know it. There are plenty of movies out there that cost millions of dollars to make, that have the most advanced special effects and cameras and some of the best talent in Hollywood behind them, that are, to some degree, unwatchable.

Then, there are movies like Once. If you haven’t seen Once, you need to. It was shot on digital cameras in, honestly, not a very great way. The cinematography on it just isn’t that amazing. It works for the movie though. But what really sells you is the story. That is a great example of what Summer’s End isn’t.

Here’s a few tidbits of info on the production:

- The film was in production for 3 weeks during the summer of ’02.
- Thanks to a friend of mine, we were able to shoot in two different show apartments in complexes owned by the friend’s friend.
- At one point, while shooting a scene near the Univeristy of Washington, a couple of drunk kids walked off with our camera, only to have their girlfriend later return it.
- The rain shot at the end of the trailer (and film) flooded the interior of the show apartment around the windows. We spent a couple hours that night holding our film lights over the rug trying to dry it out and going crazy in the process.
- We had a number of shots we were going to do in the winter, when I came back after my first semester in college. We never shot them.

What really hurts this film and story is that it’s so self-indulgent on my part. It really is. But in the end, I have to say, that despite it being the failure that it was, I learned a lot from it. The following summer, we all came back to it, and I had a lot of people saying, “We can save it, we can do something with it.” But I just lacked the interest in the project. I knew it wasn’t very good and my response was that “I got out of it all that I could.” There was nothing else for me to take away from it.

So, the film was left pretty much unfinished, and remains to this day. However, people, at the time, really seemed to like the trailer, which you can now watch below:

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