Author: Maggie Mertz

Action

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“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished.
That will be the beginning.”
-Louise L’Amour


Action

Before the scene is called and the slate is clapped and the actors are cued with the shout of “Action,” the crew must ready their instruments. The sounds technician must raise the boom pole, turn on the H4N recorder, and respond to the call: Sound Speed. The camera must be set, and the focus marked before it begins to roll. The assistant director asks the questions, the PA responds to the cues, the crew follows instructions. The actors prepare themselves, costumed by the dresser, and rehearsed by the director, waiting patiently for the scene to start. After everything is prepared, and everyone is ready, there are three seconds before the action call. Three precious seconds of peace before organized chaos.

My summer of preparation is over. My semester  of practice and process is is just about to begin.  I am sitting in those three seconds of the in-between now, waiting patiently, eagerly, nervously, unsure of what will happen, but eager to start. These past few weeks have been chaotic. I filmed the raw footage of the project, trained to be an RA, and now am starting orientation. I haven’t honestly had a moment to reflect until now on how the filming process went. I am unsure of where to go from here, unsure of how the scene of this semester will play out, unsure if all of my preparation and planning will amount to anything, or will I have to shout cut, and start the scene over.

Despite my worries, the filming went smoothly. It was challenging, insightful, and exciting. I always feel that I learn more information in less time on a set than I do anywhere else. We shot the film for six days, from August 1-6, and in that time, so many things went wrong. But also so many wonderful things went right. I could not be where I am today with the support of so many wonderful people, who assisted, encouraged, and pushed me, and I am so eager to see where this next semester of my thesis will lead me. Earnestly, I wait for the call to action.


Project Update

So Far:

  • Completed Shooting of the Film
  • Paid Main Cast
  • Debriefed Crew
  • Presented Research
  • Began Music Search

In the Next Few Weeks:

  • Meetings with Advisors
  • First Round of Raw Edits
  • Music Acquisition Research
  • Start drafting animation and title sequence storyboards

About the Project   ♥     About the Studio

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The Show Must Go On…

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“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations
and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.”
―Bruce Lee


SPLIT SCREEN

There is a three minute sequence in the film 500 Days of Summer that I think of often. The screen splits into two halves: on the left it is labled Expectations, and on the right, Reality.  In the scene our protagonist attends a dinner party thrown by his ex-girlfriend, and in what I consider to be a heart-wrenching use of cinematic tools, we are shown his idealized expectations while watching them completely shatter. I cannot help but think of this scene in moments like this, where my expectations are not lining up with my reality, and my project is in some ways being split in two.

In the past few weeks my project has gone through several highs and lows. From winning an award at a research presentation, to losing the location I booked and not being able to find another, to hiring a wonderful cast and crew, to fracturing my pillars of support. I am working through the process, trying to learn from this as much as I can. Research is a learning experience after all, and as the mentor that came to speak to us last week said, “Stay grounded. Find a way to impose a structure on yourself.”

So, as I carry on this summer with my research, I am imposing a split structure, one that will hopefully help balance my idealized notions with my actual capabilities. By working on two halves, one in film and one in fiction, I am hoping to create a project that is not necessarily perfect, but demonstrates my dedication, progress, and skill. As the mentor told us, “You want to gain experience doing something well.” So if I can keep my expectations in check and manage all the ever moving pieces of my project, hopefully this split will lead to a positive outcome. Or at least one less heartbreaking than the previously mentioned film.


Project Update

So Far:

  • Completed Third Draft of Film
  • Production Schedule Completed
  • Hired Main Cast and Crew
  • Props, Costumes, and Locations Acquired
  • Storyboards Started
  • Presented Research

In the Next Few Weeks:

  • Meetings with Advisors
  • Third Round of Revisions
  • Transportation and Location Finalization
  • Storyboard Completion
  • Next Research Presentation
  • FILMING!

About the Project   ♥     About the Studio

The Plot Thickens…

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“Why is it,” he said, one time, at the subway entrance, “I feel I’ve known you so many years?”
“Because I like you,” she said, “and I don’t want anything from you.”
―Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451


CUT TO

I once heard plot structure described as thus:

In act one you put your character in a tree. You might feel bad about giving your character more problems, but in act two, you have to make their situation worse. You have to throw rocks at your character, or add in a thunderstorm or tornado. You can’t just get your character down from the tree. Or you can, but the second they reach the ground, a bear is there to chase your character, and then their leg breaks, and then the tornado comes back.
Things cannot be easy and problems shouldn’t be easily solved.
Your character has to be challenged, otherwise you don’t have a plot at all.

I am currently in the second act of my fellowship, and sometimes I wish I could simply cut past my challenges. Jump cut from this moment of uncertainty, where my to-do list is growing exponentially longer, to an indeterminate future moment, where I have the solutions to every one of my problems. Understandably, good stories don’t work this way, and neither does reality.  My foot is still broken, the cinematographer I have worked with for three years is probably unavailable, and I have more questions than answers right now. I am absolutely grateful and privileged to pursue a project that I am passionate about, but the stress is inevitable. The plot has to thicken.

Now that the script is in a solid place, my focus is shifting towards the more logistical aspects of the project. While I will still be editing the 36 pages of dialogue and exposition, writing and rewriting these scenes until the first day of shooting, I now have to scout locations, acquire equipment, find a car to film, sync upwards of 10 schedules, and collect and assemble a group of filmmakers, convincing them to believe in my vision. Along the way, I have to keep convincing myself too.

So many people have been helpful, and though it is hard to ask for assistance, I am trying to reach out and get the advice and help I need while also maintaining my goals.  The artistic process is a beautiful, maddening thing. Though I am soaring high on the expectation and exhilaration of creating something new, I am sinking under anxieties I cannot quite name. But friendship, the rare kind that I am trying to explore in this film, keeps me grounded. And luckily for my character growth, there is no way to simply cut to.

 

 


Project Update

So Far:

  • Completed Second Draft of Film
  • Production scheduled with producer
  • Preliminary design work drafted
  • Solicited new crew members
  • First round of prop and location acquisition

In the Next Few Weeks:

  • Meetings with advisors
  • Second round of revisions
  • Storyboarding
  • Hiring new production team
  • Still figuring out casting, locations, transportation

About the Project   ♥     About the Studio

And so it begins…

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another:
What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
– C.S. Lewis


Breathing Words

In the wake of the Me Too and Times Up movements, the film industry has been forced to come to grips with the fact that it is not as diverse or egalitarian as it would like to believe. Currently, in all aspects of production, there is a lack of female representation, as women make up less than twenty-five percent of the entertainment industry and fewer than thirty-five percent of speaking characters on screen are female. Further, in the low number of films that feature female protagonists, happiness and satisfaction are often correlated with external validation in the form of male approval, and deep connection is only possible with the direct involvement of male characters. While strides have been made in the twenty seven years since the iconic Thelma and Louise, friendship, particularly in films with young female protagonists, is oftentimes relegated the periphery, focused on people from the same background, and centered around a heteronormative romantic arc. My Senior Honor’s Thesis, Breathing Words, will address these issues, both by being female produced, as well as by centering around the deep and career driven friendship between two female protagonists from opposite ends of the globe, who despite having lived entirely disparate lives, find an unexpected understanding and acceptance in each other. Breathing Words is a short film that explores the reciprocal relationship between language and culture, the desire for deep connection, and the universal nature of human emotions. It is a cultural analysis, a personal confessional, a snapshot of life, and a love letter to friendship itself.


FADE IN

Scripts used to generally begin with the words FADE IN, transitioning the screen from darkness into technicolor as the world comes into focus. Though it was a standard of screenwriting textbooks for a long time, films now don’t always begin with this cue, as sharp cutting has become more popular. A teacher once described this technique to me as blinking, arguing that viewers find jump cuts more realistic because that is how we see the world. Though I am a frequent user of such quick and crisp cutting, I am not sure if I agree with her analysis. FADE IN, to me, seems like one of the most realistic things in film.

Change isn’t often sudden, even if feels that way at the time. New phases in life are born from a culmination of decisions, infinitesimal moments that lead us to something new. Yet, I sometimes define my life in terms of before and after. Before and after I rode a bike, moved to the dessert, got a dog, started CMU. I had defined the friendship that inspired this project in the same way, separating my live into segments: before I read a brilliant book and after that book brought me a rare friend. But recently, it has become more clear to me that the sudden understanding one feels with a new companion is only the beginning of a slow transition. Friendship grows and shifts and changes as you get to know one another, the image gradually becoming more clear. You cannot jump cut from a chance encounter into a deep connection. This is the undercurrent of my film: For a friendship to mean something, you need to take the time and effort to fade in.


Project Update

So Far:

  • Returned from my semester in Copenhagen (5 Days Ago)
  • Completed a rough outline and plot breakdown
  • Started the first draft of the script

In the Next Few Weeks:

  • Meetings with advisors and script draft review
  • Consultations with production team
  • First rounds of casting

About the Project   ♥     About the Studio