10 July 2006

shot by shot through L'Attente (part 1)

What follows is an experiment of sorts, a shot-by-shot analysis L'Attente, the short film I made earlier this year. Generally it was well-received, but I think it can be better, so I'm going shot-by-shot through it to determine where changes can be made for the better, as the writing process will help me figure out things that endlessly tweaking never could. Is the whole thing shameful self-promotion? Probably. But if I'm going to do it anyway, it may be of interest to the casual observer. It should be noted that I've never done this type of analysis before, so forgive the mistakes of a beginner. You can watch the entire film here. The stills are grabbed from the quicktime file, so may not be the best quality.

Any and all suggestions and criticisms (or gushing praise) would be greatly appreciated. Oh, and the location no longer exists, so re-shooting anything is not an option.



00:00: Room audio comes up over the production logo with a voice that says (subtitled in French) "We are rolling...". The logo has the look of scratched film stock and is shaking a little bit.

As far as openings go, this is pretty basic. The scratches on the logo[1] give the impression the film is either set in the past or meant to invoke films of the past, but in this case it's the latter. The voice of the director is an odd choice, but is intended to establish the natural (and intentionally primitive) sound for the remainder of the film. The subtitled French tells the audience that the use of language may be different from the expected. Unless, of course, you happen to see it in France.


00:05: Fade up on two people in a sparse diner. The off-camera voice says "Action", the actor in the foreground lights a cigarette, and the camera moves over to this shot:


The initial camera move is intentionally pointless, as it emphasizes that the film knows it's going to be rough around the edges. First shots are full of information and quite often the most deliberate thing in the entire film, so to start with a camera move that accomplishes nothing actually accomplishes quite a bit. It increases the margin of error the audience is likely to give the camera movement later on and indicates that this is a film that perhaps isn't to be taken too seriously. The inclusion of the director's "Action" is more evidence of the same.

As for what's in the frame, we have a basic set-up: two people in a nondescript diner that could effectively be anywhere from Paris to, say, Pittsburgh[2]. There's no tell-tale signs of what's outside those windows. The characters are both wearing clothes and hair that could theoretically exist anywhere in the last 70 years. The footage is in a grainy black and white, as you'd expect from the logo and is entirely hand held. The foreground actor (our hero) is smoking and appears to be about to do something when we cut away while the other one is nearing the end of a rather large book. The ending shot tells us that our dynamic is going to exist primarily between these two characters, and that the one in the foreground is clearly our man.


00:16: The credits, all scratched and shaky read (in French, no subtitles): "Montagne d'or Studios présentent//une production de d press//un filme de lucas mcnelly//avec daniel stiker/matt reed//scénario joshua edenhofer/lucas mcnelly/matt reed/stephen vesolich//dialogues lucas mcnelly/matt reed//musique le futility parade//montage et photographies lucas mcnelly//mis en scène lucas mcnelly". Then the title card with small legal info at the bottom. The titles finish with this descriptive card, which roughly translates to "This is the tale of one man's suffering for coffee and the quest for God. It could be anyone. It could be you..." A traditional French love song plays over the credits.

So, in case there was any question, we now know for sure we're watching a French film. We've got scratchy titles in french with a french love song and a title card that "explains" the setting. They read like the titles for any number of films by Godard, Truffaut, or Renoir. An observant audience member, based solely on what we've seen so far, could correctly assume that this is a film that deals with a French New Wave style and mentality, meaning we should expect some existential themes, odd editing, basic camera setups, long takes, and a general disregard for the rules and conventions of classical cinema. The film may or may not hit all (or any) of those notes, but the important thing to note is that it is invoking that spirit for a reason, for what reason is yet unknown.

In short, the film is telling us that it knows what we know and it'll probably do something with that information, and it's telling us this before we've been given anything that you'd normally associate with a plot or story. There's a reason Woody Allen famously said he can't walk into a film late.


01:02: Our hero writes on a legal pad as the song fades out. He drinks some of the coffee, writes some more, finishes his drink, and looks to the right, presumably in the direction of the staff.

The longest shot in the film ironically contains the least amount of information. Nothing much happens--he finishes his coffee and plugs away at his writing--and the shot could probably stand to lose ten or twenty seconds, but other than that it accomplishes a few goals. First, the continual take with little to no action establishes a pace to the film, allowing the audience to settle into the scenario. Second, the pace and editing quickens significantly in the film's later stages, so the slow pace of the beginning serves as a contrast, a starting point from which the film can build. Third, the complete lack of dialogue (in addition to the natural sound) gets us used to the idea that dialogue won't exactly be the primary focus of the story.


02:00: Seconds later, a waitress walks by him and replaces the empty mug of the reader in the background, who says, "Merci" and smiles. Our hero attempts to get her attention as she walks away.

Here it is: some "action". Our hero is ignored by the waitress. Is there a reason they guy behind him gets service and our man doesn't? Not that we can tell. The guy with the book is friendly enough, but he isn't anything special. The key bit of information here is that our hero doesn't say anything to the waitress. Not an "excuse me", not a "miss?", nothing. He tentatively looks in her direction, but takes no real action. He's too timid to do anything that may draw attention to himself.


02:07: The camera quickly zooms to this shot after the waitress has left. Only slightly put out, he resumes his writing.

This is, simply, a New Wave flourish that allows us to get the camera closer to our hero. Now that he has been snubbed, he is clearly the center of our attention.


02:15: We transition back to this shot via a dissolve as he's still writing.

Yet the time lapse pulls us back to this shot. The dissolve makes it clear that time has passed, but we're not sure how much. We've backed off him a bit, partly for the technical reasons, but partly because that quick close shot is meant to emphasize what's going on in his head. He's wondering, briefly, why his mug is dry. But, since it seems like a minor annoyance at the time, he goes back to his writing. As a result, we return to watching him abstractly.


02:21: After a few seconds, he discretely and quietly nudges the mug a few inches over to his right.

He cannot muster whatever might be necessary to ensure the waitress fills his coffee, so he takes the passive aggressive route and hopes she might notice. Yet, he doesn't place the mug at the edge, instead opting to move it a little bit, thinking she'll maybe take the hint. Of course, this is a waitress who ignored him completely in her first visit, so the chances she'll notice are slim.

Still, he's content with his actions, so he happily goes back to his writing.


02:26: He looks up again in the direction of the waitress and we begin to hear his pen tapping on the notepad. Near the end of the shot, the camera zooms out to something slightly tighter than a medium shot.

The edit has a slight jump to it, so there's likely been a small passage of time. Our writer, as is bound to happen, has hit a snag and looks up blankly for inspiration. He taps the pen in what is probably a nervous tic and remembers the coffee. Now that he's stuck, it gains more importance. A writer, plugging away without a hitch, can ignore almost anything, but that same writer looking for the right word can be sidetracked by pretty much anything--real or imagined. Here, it's the lack of a refill. The camera pulls out slightly after he looks in what we can assume is the direction of the waitress, indicating that her actions are taking him slightly out of his "zone". Inspiration is starting to slip away.

[1] The logo itself is the work of Paul Johnson, an artist I knew in Chattanooga, TN. The name comes from a college poetry course where we had to write and self-publish a chapbook and come up with our own "publishing house". I went with d press and the name stuck when I made my first film later that year.

[2] The location is Tom's Diner in Pittsburgh, PA (the one in Dormont). For a short time this room was to be a part of the restaurant, but a couple of weeks after they finished it and before they ever used it for that purpose, it was converted into a beer store with a wide selection of micro brews.


johanna said...

oh, dear. ok, so i'll start with the language.

1.) nous sommes roulement is giberrish. rouler is to roll and the -ment suffix in french usually corresponds to the -ly in english. roulement, if google is to be trusted, means ball-bearing. i believe you can find those on roller skates. i think it's kind of funny myself that we hear the director's darling voice say we are rolling, but see that we are, in fact, ball bearing...in the singular, no less

Should you want to correct this small slaughtering of the french tongue, you can use nous roulons, which is translated as we roll/we are rolling. The difference in print between the two translations is negligible.

2.) C'est un conte d'une douleur de l'homme pour le café et la recherche de Dieu. Il pourrait être n'importe qui. C'a pu être vous...

A rough translation's one way of putting it. What I'm reading here is: It/This is a count/story of a pain of the man for coffee and the research of God. It/he could be not any..* It/this has could be you...

*The sentence barely translates.

"This is the tale of one man's suffering for coffee and the quest for God. It could be anyone. It could be you..."

Here's something closer:

Voici la raconte de la souffrance pour du café et la cherche pour Dieu par un homme. Il peut-être importe personne. Il peut-être vous...

I don't know the French equiv of quest, but recherche implies the scientific, while
cherche suggests that God hasn't been seen yet...perhaps more indicative of suffering.

Also, since the French don't do apostrophes, you have to indicate the possessive somehow, so that's why the par un homme/by one man at the end of that first sentence.

I really liked your film a lot, but your conveyance of the loss of inspiration could use some work. Part of the problem, in my mind, is a heavy reliance on Dan for 'facial gymnastics'. When I see an actor doing it, I either throw something at him or her or take a closer look at the material.

How are we supposed to intuit that he was feeling inspired at the onset of the film? That's a good place to start.

johanna said...

hang on...i sent these to Kathy Trainor for a better translation.

johanna said...

Alright, here's the straight dope:
(from a guy from Cameroon)

Nous sommes montons...

C'est un conte qui parle de la souffrance d'un homme qui a soif du café et la recherche de Dieu. Ça peut être n'importe qui. Ça peut être toi...

you can't translate this stuff word for word; he insisted on the 'soif' (thirst) because it doesn't make sense in French without it

johanna said...

since Cameroon has its own dialect and the fellow was unclear on some of the words, I'm still checking with Kathy and her French expert friend, who says "on tourne" would be the best way to say 'we are rolling...'

She emailed him the rest.

lucas said...

wow. thanks a bunch

johanna said...

you're welcome. i'm up here in farm country for a much-needed chill out time, so i'll get back to you on the rest soon after the weekend.

right now, though, i'm prescribing myself 48 hours of no Internet.

Levi said...

Are you going to redo or re-edit parts of the film or is this strictly philisophical?

This sounds like our final Cinema paper at Geneva: 20 pages on 8 seconds of film...

lucas said...

i'm going to re-edit the film next month (hopefully)

there's more coming, assuming i get the time.

johanna said...

Here's the rest of the translation, as promised:

C'est le récit d'un homme qui souffre pour le café et qui part à la recherche pour retrouver Dieu.

Ce pourrait être n'importe qui. Ce pourrait être vous.

Kathy's recommendation of Rick as a French expert was good enough for me -- she has a BA from Bates in French and lived in Switzerland for two years -- but as it turns out he's a professor, too.

It's beautifully clean French.

johanna said...

just got a chance to watch the film again on YouTube...if you provide the ending titles' translation (the bit about no mugs being hurt in the making of the film, etc.) i can get you some copy on that, too, if you include that when you post more on this, how you word it