“How was that?”
“You know, that was great. I love how your hair flows. You should see it on camera. Oh, and when you did that slight shrug? I love that. Let’s just do another one for timing.”
“Hold for makeup.”
Hair and makeup marched toward the trampoline as Laura knelt on the side. They masked the glints of sweat on her forehead and pulled back any stray strands of gold. While they were busy, I walked up to the cinematographer. He was perched up on a picnic bench. He angled the monitor downward. I watched and nodded.
As I flipped through the shot list, I checked off what would be the halfway mark. We were making great time.
Tensions never rose above the level of a delayed text message. In fact, my time directing was the most relaxed I felt that day. Except for a few beetles meeting their untimely doom in our lights, I don’t think anyone on this set felt even a hint of stress.
For the most part, that’s what I aim for. Even when something does go wrong, I am the last person to even hold my breath. I imagine that if the pilot on a plane panics, then the passengers would have almost no reason to keep calm. The same goes with production.
Except for an extremely specific vision, I am no tyrant. For my crew, I try to pick out individuals who are not just talented, not just passionate, but who also want to be part of the project. If they believe in creation, and respect art more than their own egos, then of course, I would trust their input. I can admit that these people know more than I do about their respective crafts. I won’t frown at ideas to make the shot better. I’d much prefer a spirit of collaboration than a dictatorship. Wouldn’t anyone?
Sure, not every bit of input may be suitable. There is always the need for creative compromise. But with an atmosphere that supports free expression versus fearful silence, in the end, each person who was part of the production could find their fingerprints on the frame. They could claim that the final product (hopefully) shows in part who they are and not who they were asked/paid to be.
After a few minutes, hair and makeup scurried back behind camera. Laura made her way back to her mark. She jumped up and down the trampoline. I gave the signal and she did that little shoulder shrug and there was a collective “Aaawww” from the whole crew.
We played it again in slow motion. There she was jumping into frame with her jewelry hovering above her collarbones. Her smile stretched dimple to dimple. Just this glance could melt the Arctic. There was a bit of disbelief watching what was once just a seed of an idea now in actual moving recorded pixels. It was a moment so brief and worth embracing - one every artist easily forgets. It was a moment of satisfaction.
"Yeah, we got it."
"Let’s move on."
Model/actress: Laura Quirk. Photo by Landon Stahmer.
I can’t post the actual spot for an array of reasons, but soon enough, I will.
When I found out that the US Postal Service was in danger of going broke, I mourned for the generation who would grow up without the thrill of opening an envelope containing a friend’s message scribbled by hand. Yes, I understand and take full advantage of the immediacy of e-mail/text/social media, but typed text often fails to capture the personality in correspondences. WIthout the rushed tips of C’s, or the differing dotted i’s, there is much left to be desired - perhaps the soul of correspondence.
It may be inevitable that the craft of ink, paper, and stamps would die away despite the efforts of nostalgic protest, but for now, let me savor the chance to send handwritten notes. These scraps of paper with their crossed out words, ink-stained fingerprints, and hints of the writer’s scent are mortal. Before the last mailman makes his step on a stoop, whenever that may be, I’d like to let my words (and yours) travel through these paths that are slowly fading.
Adding to that the recent inspiration found in the letters of Keats (to Fanny) and Rilke (to a young poet), I am offering letters to anyone who asks.
As of today, you are fifty days into 2013. At this point, a good number of your resolutions have fallen. Like plastic trees in January, they are packed and tucked away. “Perhaps in the next year,” you sigh as she lays the last stretch of duct tape over her box containing weight to be lost, habits to be broken, and languages to learn. “Au revoir, I guess.”
The romance is lost. That excitement you had fifty days ago as you scribbled your goals for the year has likely faded. A hundred deadlines have turned into a thousand excuses. You have gone from taking hold of the crack of dawn to despising the buzz of the alarm. You clutch unto the quilt, curled like a cinnamon bun, savoring every inch of warmth and savoring the last comforts of the subconscious. You know that the moment your feet exit the sheets, you must face the new day, fighting against gravity and braving the cold. It’s like marching towards the kitchen and upon entering, forgetting what you were looking for in the first place.
For the past few months, the most common question I get asked is, “So what do you want to do [after you graduate]?” While most of the time, I gave a clear answer about where I eventually want to end up and what I’ll be doing. I’d talk about being a cinematographer and working on commercials, and how eventually I’ll shift to motion pictures and find even greater success. It’s all lofty and sweet. The words ooze with ambition, but ultimately lack real significance. The more I repeat my spiel on my long term goals, the more it dawns on me that there is something far bigger than one’s own comfort and achievement.
After watching the documentary War Photographer on James Nachtway, the thought became even clearer. Without purpose to one’s craft, all aspirations of becoming ‘the greatest’ is merely vanity. Upon facing the reality of what goes on beyond my own personal bubble, beyond this city, this state, this country, upon being reminded of the surroundings I grew up in, the whole notion of the celebrity and the culture it propagates all feels so empty.
I reside in a society that invests emotional interest in the daily lives of pointlessly famous self-absorbed people. The thought of being moulded into such a culture worries me. Most especially in art school, there are always constant cries for affirmation. I’d like to distance myself from all this, and emerge from this pool of self-centeredness.
I’ve not come to the realization that the pursuit of art is pointless. If I were more impulsive and radical (or foolish), I’d maybe drop everything and just volunteer somewhere. It’s a strangely convenient solution to the curse of luxury, but listening to Nachtway speak about his experience of documenting the field made me further understand the importance of art and the responsibility it carries. Sure, artists (be it photographers, filmmakers, musicians, painters) may not be carrying guns or passing laws, but we are given a platform. Those gifted with great eyes, ears, and hands have a remarkable opportunity to communicate effectively. It has then become a common mistake to become so focused on reaching that podium that one forgets what exactly to say once given the chance.
The world shines its light upon its great artists and we should seek this light not to bask in it, but to reflect it.