Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Diary of a "Lost" Film
Making an animated film used to be so much more physical in the days of film. There was lots of lugging heavy artwork to camera, for instance. Back then, you felt the weight of production in your hands. One morning, in 1997, before going to work at Blue's Clues, I stood at the corner of 50th and Broadway with two heavy FedEx boxes filled with "Snow Business" cels (from my first indie film) for the camera man to shoot, and crossing the street right in front of me was Harrison Ford. Being the only one on the corner who recognized him, I winked. He winked back. Now, thanks to the digital age, we make films without leaving our living rooms, unfortunately greatly reducing the chance of bumping into Han Solo.
Since I’ve only had a tablet and Cintiq since 2007 and 2009 respectively, I wasn’t able to employ the full joys of digital filmmaking till that time. Just before this period, in 2006, I embarked on a film that I never finished. This unfinished film, which I called “Thrown” was autobiographical in that it was loosely based on me and my terrible aim. I can stand right next to the garbage and throw away some trash and miss. It’s not always the case, but it’s true enough of the time and it’s something I’ve noticed about myself over the years.
Around this time, Debbie and I were watching a ton of Buster Keaton films, which gave me the idea to try “Thrown” as a type of silent movie complete with irises in and out, and title cards. I started to get excited about the project and loosely outlined the film’s structure, doing thumbnail sketches in place of slick storyboards. I drew the animation on paper with a sharpie. I didn’t plan on cleaning up the drawings or even coloring them in. After each scene I scanned all the artwork and assembled it in After Effects.
Looking back, I can see that I felt a disconnect while working on this film, even though I was jazzed by how the animation was coming out. Nowadays, when drawing a film on a Cintiq, I can instantly view its progress as I’m drawing it, or immediately after. This makes me feel like I'm always inside the film––really living in it. The digital process is far more instant and direct and that helps keep me engaged to see a project through.
Ultimately I found myself not really committed to keep going. I wasn’t feeling it anymore, and slowly let the project die. I can’t really say why for certain. I know I wasn't really enjoying the process, and perhaps the idea for the film was too flimsy in the first place. Although personal in nature, it didn't give me the deep desire an indie needs to carry oneself through the production.
Click here to see a cobbled together cut of some scenes from the film, and note that the story is far from complete.
Click here to see a isolated test from an early scene in the film.
Click here to see a bit of the unfinished end sequence of the film.
I think every artist or filmmaker leaves behind these little detour projects that are destined to not go anywhere. But, even though this film didn’t get finished, it did help to steer me in the direction I’m in today. It taught me the joys of a looser approach, the value of having autobiographical content, and (most importantly) that even six months is longer than I want to spend on an indie short. No work, even an unfinished work, is ever wasted.