by Jim.

Well, last month I wrote something about how I was gonna show you a screenplay and all - but as that's a bit past me at the moment, I'm just gonna hold off on making such promises in the future. This is a diary, after all, and so I'm just gonna take things as they come.

What I have been doing in the interim, instead of concentrating on a short script, is hanging out with a local filmmaker and throwing around some ideas about projects the two of us are interested in. I've long held the opinion that it would be a neat idea for multiple filmmakers to transcribe a piece of music into a visual experience and then, with our varied takes on the same piece in hand, use them as tools to articulate where we differ on visual aesthetics. With this in mind, we're working on seeking out local musicians who would offer up some of their pieces for the project.

So, we got that goin for us...

Also, I pitched a commercial idea to a self-defense instructor, who was very receptive when I told him I have production and post-production at my fingertips - it's necessarily a project without artistic merit, but if I can figure out a way to generate enough passive income that my job as a waiter becomes "optional," then I'll be happier. So...there's that...

I also tooled around with a feature idea that I've been thinking on for some 4 years or so, and it's actually starting to gel quite nicely. I can't really say anything yet, because I know how disparate my intentions for something are with the eventual outcome. More when there's more to tell.

Lastly, I did a little experimenting with my XL1, before I jump into that, here's an aside on the sort of underlying philosophy that informs my "work" with a very general direction. Feel free to offer guidance or point out the (possibly gaping) holes.

It has only been recently that I've been compelled to look past narrative filmmaking as the function of film. There was once a time when I saw a film as confined and subservient to a string of plot points and characters aligned with the purposes of the plot, and that it was my job as director to make sure everything was aligned with the desired outcome.

Now I'm more in the mindset that my job is one of being a sort of experiential sieve, constantly re-assessing the material at hand and sorting out the more coarse elements from those that more elegantly express (and inform) the themes.

It would have never occurred to me to allow the elements (set, actors, limitations of the particular medium I'm working in, etc...) inform my direction -- in other words, I've often felt a conflict between what I wanted from a particular project, from what the project was able to give me.

And so, with this in mind, I'm glad to be returning to basics, rebuilding my senses from the bottom-up, and searching for my own sense of visual grammar.


I took my XL1 out yesterday at around 5 in the evening and just kicked it around - pulling knobs, turning levers, and mostly just doing everything short of shooting staid, comfortable set-ups.

Things I was out to find :

1) How miniDV "deals with" color space and lattitude. I walked around shooting the edges of trees and buildings backlit by the setting sun, and looked to the edges to see where the light bled through. I took reflective window shots of people and cars moving past. I took shots of dark interiors of bars, of shaded areas of buildings under construction lit by 30w lights...

If I do this often enough -- placing the camera at either end of the lattitude extremes -- I hope to be able to "see" in miniDV when looking around, stopping down or opening up my eyes appropriately, and then judge what I can take from the scene with existing light versus how much "work" a shot needs.

2) How miniDV records texture. This is my tooling around with the sort of ephemera that I hope to one day use to personify themes in the environment in my films. I took shots of all sorts of things -- bubble flecked bottles, sponges, brushed steel, hardened concrete spills at construction sites, etc...

Semiotics strikes me as a way to lend momentum to general themes in a film - the hazard is becoming obsessed over them, fetishizing the look and feel of things instead of using it as just another tool as with editing, dialogue, music, etc...

3) People. I wanted to see people in their natural state, just walking around, and what visual qualities miniDV lends to this experience. The XL1 is in this respect too obvious. Sure, without my asking the resident coffee-house Elvis impersonator will ham it up for the lens, but how do I get a shot of that eerily perfect looking woman approaching me without seeming the perv? I'm thinking it might be equally wise and dishonest to cover the blinking red light and just carry the camera around shooting people randomly...

4) Drawing narrative from existing elements. As the elements in this little experimental project are necessarily random/chaotic, it's interesting to see what little stories or simple set-up jokes you can get by just juxtaposing images in sequence.

I fooled around with establishing shots and other rote, Hollywood fare - framing a sign that says "Walnut Street" and then pulling back to a well-composed long shot of Walnut St.

Then I took a shot of a painting of a bustling street circa 1700, and then panned to a bustling street here in Philly. No 2001 bone-spaceship match cut at that, but still fun to play around with.

Things that found me :

I got some rather neat looking visual artifacts in some of the washed out, overlit areas in some of my shots. I like them honestly, and in general I like the idea that despite what Kodak insists, miniDV has its own organic sense and feel, not "rigidly confined" by a stream of ones and zeroes. That damn Rudolf Arnheim creeps back into my mind again - with his "limitations are the necessary mold for artistic expression..."

I'd only been out for a little over an hour, but I found the camera to be sufficiently light that I didn't mind. I've got the XLR/shoulder pad so that might help, but I walked around, ran a little, and wavedthe camera around as much as possible.

I was setting up a shot of a statue here in one of the parks - it's of a lion fending off a snake - and in fooling around with different setups, I wanted to get the most "dramatic" shot. Just as I was framing things up, looking over the snake's head into the lions gaping maw, this little kid started climbing all over the statue. So I figured, what the hell, and when he came over to look at the camera, I let him fool around with the buttons. I got a completely out of focus shot of his face looking into the lens, toggling the depth of field button, saying "Is this working?" I think I'm going to use it as my own MGM lion roar...