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Chaos Manor Special Reports

On Making Movies

Alex Pournelle

Monday, December 12, 2005

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The BYTE Fiasco

Done originally as a letter on April 23, 2001.


Ok, so this weekend we spent working like dogs to make a short video. Three more weeks, at least. Fun, silly, great practice, amusing, achievable--therefore desirable.

It was a giant pain in the hienie, involving much physical labor. Not, you would say, a lark, a way to relax, a recharging method appropriate to the weekend paradigm. It did have many Fun Things in it; fun, if you're a film nerd. We had to struggle with a lighting setup; try and try to kill the shadows, while the actor sat patiently, waiting. An hour to get one 20 second shot... not unusual for a 'real' film.

And this was with, mind, a tiny crew, a camera which doesn't need very much light, some nice lights, the germ of a good grip kit. The harder jobs, the bigger plans, the more complicated scripts await. (Waiting, particularly for lighting, will be the one constant of film- or video-making, at least the way I plan to do them. Dogme 95 isn't my style, right now.)

Oh, yes, there are lots of tedium, but occasionally you catch lightning in a bottle. There were certain moments, looking through the camera (with one eye. I don't squinch up the other one, either. Learned to turn one off ages ago), when something unexpected happened. More than once I had to bite back laughter at the physical humor in front of me; kind of stupid when the cinematographer blows a sound take, don't you think?

That moment, that glimpse of the unexpected, is at once so cliched and so unexplored, and it is the center of this little discussion. I would not trade it for anything.

* * *

I have this theory, that there is no single Great American Novel. Thank the Positive Role Model for that; if there were, it probably would have been written already. (Then where would we be, we would-be writers of same?)

There are, of course, paragons, touchstones, books which seem to stand the test of time. There are new chrome-plated supercharged literary works, gleaming with hard-fought plots and studded with intensely modern sentence constructions, sandwiched between raised-letter covers, with editors and designers and accountants acknowledged or even thanked, the current sausage-packaging which perpetrates paperbacks.

Even, occasionally, there's something worth reading.

(I will leave it to another time to discuss whether this path is generally upward; has Man improved over time? Simply stated, without edu-speak, the question would be: Has anyone written a better novel since "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer"? Papa Hemingway didn't think so. Discuss.)

* * *

It's that transcendence, that flash of the divine, glimpsing the live spark of creation--that's what it's about for me. That's the thing, the goal, the place to reach for.

I'm an intermittently gluttonous man, when it comes to life. I want everything, always, all the time, complete life lessons, to saturation and then some. I hold my friends by the pants cuffs and shake till the experiences fall from their pockets, to be gathered up and hoarded, to be sat upon like a dragon hoarding treasure. And I am, I find, pretty good at it, at coaxing the fine print of new thoughts from minds around me, of peering into an ear and finding... newness.

Then, I forget, 'go to sleep' metaphorically, somnambulistically wander through life, on auto-pilot from point B to D, straight ahead and level, boring (the exact word) through life.

It's my friends and family, and those remembered gems of experience, which wake me up again from this life-like-sleep, into wakefulness, into DOING SOMETHING, creating, spinning a new meaning or insight.

To which I can only say: Keep it up. Keep applying the wingtip gluteous kick-start, and keep me on course. I shall try to do the same for you.

And, if you have any ideas for more movies, longer ones, something of feature length we can make, be proud of together--I'm no longer so much of an iconoclast that I think I'm the only human being on the planet capable of writing. (See discussion of novels above.)

Yes, the procedure of writing is independent, solitary, a joy or a job. (Not all forms. Another discussion.) To have written is an accomplishment, to write is a chore. But, some expressions of writing are less solipsistic; they involve arguing and collaborating and external expressions of the internal idea, waiting and sipping coffee and burning your fingers on a too-hot PAR can and having six clothespins on your pants pocket (for clipping tough-spun to lights) and using the word "Sorcey" to mean the light's wrong and the rest of the deal. It's both sloppy and very exact; sloppy during principal, exact during post; the audience sees exactly what you show them, but it's only out of what you shot. A many-sided game, impossible to "win" yet always possible to improve. Not the only game in town, if the town is 'creativity', just the storefront I gaze into the most.

And that, I suppose, is why I like making movies.