Monday, July 5, 2010

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Right now I'm enthralled with the "Production Design and Art Direction" book in Focal Press's Screencraft series.

It features a number of interviews with leading Production Designers. One major thread that appears throughout the book is the fact that the design of a film should be concerned with distilling a visual concept from the story's thematic, emotional, and psychological concerns.

With that in mind, I thought it would be a good time to do a one page treatment of my film idea as it stands today. I think a weakness of mine is to over-research. The solution, I believe, is to hone in as quickly as possible on the thematic and emotional concerns of the story I want to tell, thus making my research that much more specific.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Garry Winogrand and August Sander

These images speak volumes about the relationships that can exist between humans and animals.

The first three are from photographer Garry Winogrand's "The Animals," and the last three are from German portrait artist August Sander, who incidentally, was the inspiration for the setting and cinematography in Michael Haneke's brilliant film "The White Ribbon."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Woodcuts by H. Eric Bergman

Bergman was a Canadian printmaker most prolific in the 1920's and 30's, of whom it was once said, "he believes in being faithful to his medium, in exploring the wood but never violating its nature. ...The result is that his subjects are chosen for appropriateness to the wood."

He tended to focus on the trees, often suggesting the background with simple shapes and tones. There's a rich metaphor lurking there: a man who cuts pictures of trees into pieces of wood...

Saturday, June 12, 2010


My favorite animated short ever is "Garuda," made by a group of students from the French school Gobelins (and one from Calarts). Despite clocking in at only a minute sixteen - it packs quite punch. I get goosebumps every time I watch it.

Garuda from Andres Salaff on Vimeo.

Students from Gobelins never fail to produce work of a consistently high quality in all facets of production: animation, visual development, art direction, sound design, and music.

Unfortunately story and character can sometimes be a casualty in their films, though in their defense there's only so much you can do in a minute. Perhaps it is due to the film's status as a portfolio piece for five students: showcasing skill and aptitude for the "Wow!" factor seem to win out over quieter, well-observed character moments.

I do feel that Garuda works better than most, so here's a brief list of three things I love about this film, stunning production values aside:

1) The Symbolism

The story of a boy who is transfixed by a great magical bird, and, by chasing it down, ends up becoming one himself, is fascinating. To me it's a powerful metaphor for the life of anyone who constantly pursues greatness, only to one day wake up to realize greatness has unknowingly been achieved.

2) The Transformation

That moment of realization (underscored by masterful sound design) that he has become a bird is magical for me. I'm a bit transfixed with animal transformation; I've found it difficult making it relevant to my story, and here is one place Garuda succeeds masterfully.

3) The Mythological Underpinning

The source material for this film was the character Garuda, a magical bird-man creature of Hindu and Buddhist mythology.
The mining of mythology has continued to prove fruitful for Gobelins. Perhaps the millennia's worth of buildup in our collective unconscious gives these stories a heft that would otherwise be difficult to achieve in one minute's time. Here's another great example, this time using the Norse myth of Fenrir:

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What I know so far

Scribbles done during intermission of Ben-Hur last night.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

L'Arbre du Ténéré

"Trees were so rare in that country, and they had to make such a hard fight to grow, that we used to feel anxious about them, and visit them as if they were persons. It must have been the scarcity of detail in that tawny landscape that made detail so precious."
Willa Cather in My Antonia

Photo by Peter Kohn

L'Arbre du Ténéré (or Tree of Ténéré) - the most isolated tree on the planet (before it was unceremoniously mowed down by a drunk driver in '73).

Intriguing: Does extreme rarity confer mythic status?

Also interesting if you have time to kill: Wikipedia's Famous Trees Page.

Brave Buffalo and John Kinsella

By far the best book I read this summer was Kathleen Norris' account of life in a Benedictine monastic community as described in her book The Cloister Walk. Before I knew it I had filled half a notebook with insights gained on topics ranging from ritual and symbol to ceremony and celibacy.

One quote she mentions became one of the seeds of inspiration for my film. It's from a book called "By The Power Of Their Dreams" by Sioux medicine man Brave Buffalo. He says:

"I have noticed in my life that all men have a liking for some special animal, tree, plant or spot of earth. If men would pay more attention to these preferences and seek what is best to do in order to make themselves worthy...they might have dreams which would purify their lives."

I've long been fascinated by the mythical dimensions of the relationships between man and animal, and was intrigued by the notion of its power to "purify" lives.

Earlier this week I read a poem in the New Yorker entitled "Goat" by John Kinsella. It was another one of those a-ha moments.

You can read it in its entirety at the New Yorker website, and it's definitely worth it. It's good, and evokes a huge world beyond its words.

The parts that interested me was a line towards the end:

"Goat tells me so. I am being literal.
It speaks to me and I am learning to hear it speak."

When I read this bells in my head went off - the parallel was unmistakable. I read further, my awareness level at 11 on a 1 to 10 scale. The next line of Kinsella's poem reads:

"It knows where to find water when there’s no water
to be found—it has learned to read the land
in its own lifetime and will breed and pass its learning
on and on if it can."

As I mentioned in my previous post, all I know of my main character was her status as a indian shepherdess and her possible relationship to water. This idea of goats having a knack for finding water when water's scarce may prove to be an important part of the story puzzle. Or it may not. Who knows?

Joann Sfar and Goats That Climb Trees

This early stage is my favorite part of film making. Everything is a possibility - it's so invigorating. My job is to immerse myself in ideas and images and then simply listen. It's almost like the story itself is inside me listening along with me, and sometimes it calls out "Yes!" As if it knows what it needs to come into existence, knows what it wants to be.

Here's all I know about my main character at this point. She's a girl, maybe a navajo, and a shepherdess, she may or may not have a special relationship with water, and there's a tree somehow involved.

Recently I was reading "The Rabbi's Cat" by Joann Sfar, one of my favorite French cartoonists (more on French cartoonists later), when I encountered these panels. (For the record, Sfar's book is heartfelt, humorous, and thought-provoking. His scratchy drawings are dripping in rich character and a true sense of "place-ness," definitely worth the read.)

I saw these and was immediately hooked. A little research turned up these:

I can't believe I haven't seen this on film before! I need to find a way to include this...

Maynard Dixon

Maynard Dixon is a painter whose work I love for its impressionistic color and expansive view of the west. I first encountered his work when researching Dorothea Lange, famed photographer and Dixon's second wife, and was immediately captivated.

Dixon's vision of the West is so powerful, I believe, because of his powers of distillation. So well does he capture the essence of the land, that his resulting West is mythic, expansive, almost Elysian.

In the first two images below, he pushes the horizon as far as it will go in both directions and to different affect - he was a master of composition as well.

I was fortunate to see his work when it came to the Pasadena Museum of California Art a couple years ago. I saw the first painting below, and it inspired both my main character and the working title of my film (and this blog).

First Post

I started this blog with the intention of keeping track of all the ideas, images, and drawings that are helping to inspire the short film I'll be making this year.

I got tired of losing receipts and napkins with ideas scrawled on them, and warmed up to the idea of a blog as a kind of visual compendium and thought map.

Here goes nothing!