‘Filmmaking is a completely imperfect art form that takes years and, over those years, the movie tells you what it is. Mistakes happen, accidents happen and true great films are the results of those mistakes and the decisions that those directors make during those moments.’
I find this quote from Director Jason Reitman (Juno 2007, Up in The Air 2009) to really resonate with me at the conclusion of this module. When all is said and done I believe my development as a filmmaker from this point to wherever it shall take me, will have no real conclusion. This is a subjective medium and the idea that a production can be perfect, is just a fairytale as filmmaking is a human art form and just like humans, filmmaking is flawed. There are simply too many factors for it be impervious to flaws, but on the other hand, flaws can produce the best work as much as they can tear it apart so there is a balancing act that must be performed.
The beginnings of this balancing act started with finding a production group and assigning production roles among them. A deliberating process which was largely democratic in that we assigned who wanted the roles most to that respective person. Wanting the role of Cinematographer, I settled on Gaffer with it being a large role in the visual department and works closely with the Cinematographer. I feel this process was fair but could have been based more on each individual’s skill-set.
We eventually settled on a Psychological Thriller script named The Birthday Card. Talking and making notes with the Cinematographer, he and I deliberated on the problems and restrictions we’d encounter in production and discussed references for styles. He had been largely inspired by the style of filmmaking of David Fincher and in particular his 2014 feature Gone Girl (David Fincher, 2014) and the The Social Network (David Fincher, 2012). So the task for me on set would be to implement these low key, melancholic visuals with the lighting to accentuate the nihilism and tension of the story. Our thinking was: as the equilibrium of the story unhinged and revealed the true nature of the characters and the situation in the film, the style would follow suit.
For example, there is an accidental murder which suddenly happens in the film, and when it did we wanted the lighting to take on a colder colour temperature and higher shadow contrast to visually show a transition in mood, as the events get more and more sinister and fractured.
I felt that working in an assigned role, while more restricted, was also key in developing my own professional experience as I had to come to terms with what I had control over and learnt the true value of having collaborators that can work together. Taking full responsibility for an entire aspect of the film also showed me the importance of organisation and planning ahead.
We scouted locations eventually settling on a place that was a bit small and had too many window light sources (including a huge skylight) during the day. Under a deadline we were forced to make do with it. On the test shoot I co-ordinated with the Cinematographer to work out the lighting and blocking through the scenes from a storyboard. It was a challenge setting up lighting fixtures in a small space, mainly during the wide angle dolly shots which covered a lot of space.
This shot of the character Ana walking in from the door obviously had a lot of movement so required a couple of fixtures. We used a LoCaster LED Illuminating the staircase and a bounced a redhead as a fill in the main room next to the camera at a lower f-stop of 2.8 and the window behind backlit her well. Ana is looking for Nick who we know to be dead at this point and is downstairs in the kitchen. This shot is her choice between too paths: to go up the illuminated staircase away from the horror and danger or continue into the darker kitchen to discover the murdered corpse of her lover downstairs. The archway light is also off.
While we attempted to use the visuals to convey meaning we also had to maintain a visual consistency. Using this shot as an example again we didn’t want to make drastic changes to the lighting of the corridor as it features frequently in the film and would be unrealistic and distract the audience from the narrative. The shot below for example.
During this process I have had to think a lot more diligently about continuity when it comes to lighting a narrative production. I think without consistency of style and visuals in a film, you will hinder the delivery of the narrative which is ultimately the main goal.
This experience on set has developed my practical application of lighting a scene as well as a allowing me to be creative with my choices. We took time on each scene to fine tune the details and experiment with what worked and what didn’t.
The Birthday Card is an affair turned deadly. A story that plays with the headspace of a cheated wife and a guilty husband in denial, it ultimately escalates through turmoil into a deadly and horrific situation. It plays with the fear that yes, this is something that could happen in any household in the space of a few moments and that even seemingly normal people are not what they seem at all.
I found the films narrative to be lacking creativity and tension with the payoff at the end coming off a little bit cheesy and out of place with the rest of the film. There were also scenes which didn’t evoke the emotion needed to be believable, such as the murder scene where we are quickly cut through the act of the character Lucy pushing and accidentally killing Nick, not really showing the important part: the emotional effect it has on Lucy.
I do like Lucy’s character arc as her eccentricity, ego and emotional nature are consistent throughout, from her delight at receiving a birthday card ‘Ahhhh I feel so popular!’ to her ferocity and anger ‘don’t you fucking touch me!’ when killing her husband, all the way to her mental state unraveling in the final act. I also like the motif of juxtaposing the nice gesture of receiving a birthday card with the turmoil it brings.
The Film is a visually pleasing psychological thriller that lacks the tension, setting and acting to make it a good pyschological thriller.