Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Elixir

. .

An ugly man turns to the secrets of alchemy to make his inner self apparent on the outside —at any cost.


Process Statement:

I created The Elixir as my final for Sight and Sound: Film in the Tisch School of the Arts way back in June 2010. It was shot on 16 mm film using an Arri S 16mm Camera from 1952.  The story of how this film came to be is long and colorful.  Technical and personal difficulties abounded in production.

I began this project with a nebulous and ambitious goal.  I envisioned multiple characters, dialogue, location changes, and the elapsing of time —all of which were impossible to do correctly in a 2-4 minute long production on silent film.

I also wanted elaborate in-camera special effects such as double exposure and backwards time lapse.  While these would not have been impossible given the materials at hand, my shooting time was severely cut down, which made these effects unreasonable.

In sight and sound film we worked in crews of 4 but by the end of the month-long course, our group dynamic had almost broken down.  Somebody on the crew wanted to make a 15 minute long sight and sound project of their own, which obviously ate up a lot of our limited time and resources.

By the time my final shoot rolled around, the stress was intense!  I managed to pull together enough things to give my film some production value:
I rented a sack full of test tubes and vials from the school's prop center.  I brought out my copy of Alchemy and Mysticism from Taschen books (which was part of one of my friend's films as well).  I made some strange-looking notes using a code alphabet I made up.  I even made a pile of prescription meds big enough to make a roommate ask if I was starting a meth lab.  I also did some makeup on myself and wore my friend's fake glasses to make myself look really gross.I went to my friend’s un-airconditioned, 1-room, 5-person dormroom and shot the film there because I wanted The Elixir to have an incredibly tight, claustrophobic feel.

With the help of some McDonald's coffee, I stayed up all night shooting, scavenging out my shots.  I got my last shot just as the post-production center opened, so I turned my film in right away.  I shoot very efficiently so I came in under-budget, using only 200 feet of film.
The morning the shoot ended was also my birthday, so I thought I would be blessed with Birthday luck.  Not so.
A visit I was expecting from some movers took unexpectedly long.  Then when I went to edit my footage in the editing suite there were no machines available until the last minute.  I knew there wasn’t enough time to cut, double-splice, and sound-sync my final in only an hour and a half so I decided to use a digital camera to record a projection of my footage and edit it on the computer overnight.  Even the projector was in use so instead I pirated my footage off of the tiny screen on the Steenbeck machine.  Just as I finished recording the footage the digital camera I was using ran out of batteries and died.  It was my friend's camera, and he had no spare batteries.
He and I ran to his room to look for the charger - Now it was 1 AM
The noise of the search bothered one of my friend's roommates so much that he threw a tantrum and kicked us out of the room. 
There I was at 3 AM, with only a secondhand pirated copy of my own footage and no way to access it, let alone edit.  I decided to go home and get some sleep because I had class in 4 hours and was flying back to MN first thing in the morning on the next day.  Forget the film.  I took a C-.

Eventually my friend was able to email me the pirated digital copy of my footage and I was able to put together a very grungy and blurry cut of my film (and I did the voice-over while fighting a horrible cold.)

I thought that the "bad cut" would just be a placeholder until I could acquire the original reel (which was in my friend's custody) and edit it properly.  But then my friend left my reel in North Carolina and it was lost.

More than a year elapsed.  I got my other films scanned to a digital format at Technicolor PostWorks and moved on to other projects.  I found I couldn't afford NYU, and also hated it.  So I came back home.

Finally, in August of 2011 the reel with The Elixir was rediscovered.  I flew to New York City to get a number of projects done and while I was there I had the footage scanned at Technicolor. 

I re-edited the film, shot two additional insert shots on my digital camcorder and the "remastered" version is what you see now.

Seeing a sequence of pictures and sounds come together like this to tell a story —especially after so many obstacles came up to stop it— produced an incredible feeling of elation and joy in me.  I love making movies, guys.  I totally love it.

The wait was worth the end product, and the lessons it taught me:
1.  When it comes to creation, exercise, love, work, anything —do not stop until you go farther than you ever thought you could —until you've landed, feet firmly planted, beyond excellence.
2.  Sometimes it may take a while to realize what it is about an activity that you love so much.  Sometimes you need to experience something you hate to rule it out and distill your understanding of your joy.  For example, find out whether you hate being a grip, hate doing animation cleanups, etc. early on.  Learn what you don't want to do so you can focus on what you do.
3.  Practice distilling your vision to its simplest form by finding the kernel or focal point of a work and deleting as much as you can without losing that essence.
and more but that should come later...

—Thomas Boguszewski

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