Category: blog tank

Alumbramiento: an unpredictable story.

“Alumbramiento”: a family faces the last night of its eldest member, showing their different ways of dealing with a life’s ending. In a surprising manner, overcoming fear and taboo, one of them will guide the passing” (from website, Arrivano i corti film festival, Italy)

This is an accurate linear-narrative account of the plot elements of this unique award-winning short from Spain by Eduardo Chapero-Jackson.  I will suggest another: “Alumbramiento” is a powerful cinematic experience, simple yet narratively unpredictable. The surprise ending resolves not only the specific short narrative, but sheds light – as the title suggests – into the realm of big unanswered questions.

It all starts in a dark bedroom.  Pitch black with thick shadows, so impenetrable one is unsure when exactly “Lightborne” (as the title is translated in english) begins and the title sequence ends. Did a phone ring? Sounds mingle, invisible hands awake and fumble for a switch. Light. In the middle of the night. A man and a woman. Another light is on. Then off again. An exhausted pattern of taking turns, one that can fill both dream and waking life with exposed nerves, low tolerance, fatigue.

Time to heed the call. Time to put on glasses, to try and see. Where does life go?

Now we’re in a car, slicing through a yawning sequence of on/off lamp-posts, flashing like low-energy question marks, without apparent purpose nor answers, so much more powerful is the night. It’s a  journey with no peace of mind. The man drives, focused, spent. His eyes gripping the road through the steering wheel, his mind taking logical stabs at the scarcity of solutions, given the dire medical report he just heard. His woman sits by him, navigating by feelings rather than professional instinct. She offers a hand but he refuses, they don’t hold together. Pain and fear create a kinds of distance that – uncured – can be fatal. The director frames each separately, two broken halves deep in silent visuals of the hallucinatory real. The dawn is much further away. How can life be fixed?

We understand from scant dialogue delivered with surgical precision – in script and performance –  that this scenario is recurrent. 120 seconds into the film and we are immersed in an amniotic texture of lucid confusion, a quiet helpless re-investigation of the apparent dead-ends of life,  relationships, memory. Before we can even begin to try and escape to safe and controlled rationalizations (what city are we in? have I seen a film by Chapero before?) or connect plot strands (where are they going? who is sick?), a darkened apartment and bedroom engulfs and suppresses our resistance.  We are witnesses in a magnetized, polarized cinematic space of dark and bare practical lighting of the devastating narrative undercurrent:  life is much more subtle, weaker, than death. We are here to spend ten minutes in the bedroom next door and – through a magical unpredictable development in narrative  – we will stay there much longer.

The characters enter, the forces of life assemble around each other’s weakening pulses, matching optimism against pessimism.  “She will make it. She always makes it” says his sister. Silence replies. Rafa shifts shape from son-who-is a-doctor to Doctor-who-is-also-son by directing a nurse in the technical requirements of tonight’s pain-aversion attempts. He tries to appear in control, hides feelings. His woman observes, until now a cutaway, a pair of eyes of vast and quiet intensity. The old woman on the deathbed appears childish and angelic, but wrapped in breathing tube and coughing all she seems to have left inside, with resistence. Time and place is now, the narrative secrets of the first first few minutes are explained. There was no need to clarify who was going where and why. This is the doctor’s mother and she will soon die despite the morphine and more morphine.

Predictably, death will not be mentioned around a deathbed.  This is a story about death and the living. Its ending escapes classical categories of dramatic endings (happy, sad, good, bad, etc). In “Alumbramiento” the passing on of the old mother is not the end of the story. It is not the tipping point where we cry. The childhood song about the piggies is, sung by the doctor and his sister. Seconds before the doctor’s wife life-embracing beat of no-return  “Tu te vas a morir” had opened the dances with death, unafraid. The doctor’s wife now replaces human logic (the distancing and silencing of pain, the fear and avoidance of death) with a peaceful caresse and a simple imperative: – Breathe, you did well in life. Just breathe.” She removes all power from the predictable. These two beats open the narrative doors and award “Alumbramiento” unpredictable emotional heights:  the visible moment-to-moment defeat of fear and death by way of love, forgiveness, rejoycing, celebrating life as it was. As it is.

Here is a look at this extraordinary film from a film-practice angle.

Story

“Alumbramiento” has a simple plot yet a complex structure. There are several relationships defined by the story, not provided before the story. Information, when needed, is integral to the development, as in real life. We see what we need to see – and what we manage to understand – at the exact moment the story requires it, all “in medias res”, includes all the characters’ lives, which we encounter “in the middle of the night”. This simplifies audience “narrative baggage” to a focus on the now, nothing more. During the nighttime ellipsis at the mother’s house, we see a montage: images of a butterfly, a photograph of a woman holding hands with a boy. None of this images added narrative burdens by imposing overly-complicated symbolisms to decode. The family imagery remained elusive, poetic, organic to the moment. It is sound that brings the past to life, the clear sound of a shared song sung in tears, wash away the heavy cough of departure and welcoming the final silence.

Personal

It feels like this film and itss catharsis may refer to the director’s own experience. Making peace with one’s memory, one’s daemons may be afforded us in fiction more than in real life. The power of short films to engage in topics of deep significance to all of us (i.e. phases of natural life) seems better exploited as a combination of personal experience and dramatizion. The personal links are left to the thank you references to real persons in the credits, but the story is not told in first person. An asset.

Endings

 “a surprise ending” can be any clever solution pushing standard plot structures aside. “Alumbramiento” has a miniauture three-act setup (the call, the wait, the end) and – quite predictably – cannot prevent the old woman from dying. To the contrary, it is a film about facilitating the end of suffering through shared memory of life’s accomplishments and efforts. The dead woman’s smiling face is an image of eternal happiness and purpose. Rarely have I ever seen on film a sequence so poignant: a woman choosing, accepting to die, honoring the good in the mystery of life.

Two of everything

the director extends the cinematic aesthetic contradiction of light and darkness to all areas of content. The film’s apparently static locations and forms function as a delicate visual and aural layer, with particular magic in the use of duality, ambiguity and repetition. The son has been there many times before, the sister suggests the old mother “always pulls thru”, morphine injections are repeated, childhood memories recur, aesthetic patterns exist.

Repetition is a key to modulation. it establishes what small later variations can highlight. Modal musical scales are a parallel example.

The final gestures (the holding handsover the dead body) is itself a repeated gesture healing the first occurrence, when hands would not hold in the pain-car. 

Eduardo Chapero-Jackson is in full control of “Alumbramiento”, its cinematic and narrative textures, and its emotional high. “Alumbramiento” can mean in Spanish both “illumination” and “safe delivery”, the awaited climax, the arrival of light and peace.  Imagine all that, in a film devoid of any visible sunlight.

Gracias, Eduardo.

/ daniel alegi

Why good stories make you want to have a better life.

Recently I liked this far away three-pointer by Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed.  They always struck me as adventurous storytelling characters, Super-people from the quiet wild side.

Their quote was about finding ways to get through life.

One: “Don’t be afraid of anyone. Now, can you imagine living your life afraid of no one?”

Two: “Get a really good bullshit detector.”

Three: “Three is be really, really tender.”

“And with those three things” – Laurie said – “you don’t need anything else.”

In the full wide range that stretches from street hobos to rich presidents and from Ivy-league dropouts to post-celebrity rehabs, there is a common thread:  life is ripe with conflict.

Sure, conflict is what made humans sharper, problem solvers until the last beat. Storytellers know that ultimately conflict alone can float identity through a sea of half-truths, up, up to the surface where the sun plays catch with flying fish. However important our culture of conflict may be, the search for less human pain, suffering, and crisis may also be a story to pursue. A peaceful target to shoot for.

In dramatic movies, the ending may be, in terms of plot, happy or unhappy. In either case, if the story works, the viewer is rewarded with insights into the depths of human life.

The ancient Greeks attended Tragedies more than school, feasting on pop-corn-less morality with cathartic heroes like Oedipus (an unknowing motherfucker) or universal strategists like Ulysses, king of the surprise climax.

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Endings in these stories didn’t seem to matter much. The deus ex machina finale at times gave Gods the task of resolving plot indecision or confusion. This over-the-top device released authors from spending too much stage-time on predictable closing show and tell details. (They lived happily ever after! was another shortcut).  The middle of the story is where it all happened. Development, substance, focus, now.

So, what can we learn about “making our life better” by watching a film story?  It is true that caped Super-heroes are our cultural diet now, just as Commedia dell’Arte theatre masks were dominant wanderers from town to town for four centuries.

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Masks are types. Types embody in broad strokes the infinite relationships among standard folk: the rich man, the poor woman, the young lovers, the old doctor, the cop, the thief, the servant.

It’s all about relationships, stupid.

A film I would watch again is one that leads to my relationship with the story. Titanic was a lesson in teen-age blockbuster making, who would have thought it? Multiple viewings create a relationship, characters become familiar: it’s the key to the new TV series mania.

Note for debate: Characters are not people, but they’re close enough to pretend. Characters stand in a story because the plot says so, and the writer cast them for a role.  No script? No character. They look like people, however. Or should.

This is not the case in real life where life may be scripted but in all likelihood is not very good. Determinists saw destiny play a bigger part than individuals. In the west we famously trust individual agency and will to drive success and failure.

You want to be the big boss man? Slay the dragons. Dominate your universe and plunge forward. Action films seem equivalent to playing Mozart with only Major chords. (Male chords, duh)

I have a preference for the Minor Key in film. Movies that don’t try and impress only with underlined cinematic cartwheeling. I have the same bias meeting people at parties.

If a film reveals a personal insight, I am Up.  If there is a label that explains everything or indicates next to each action, I am turned off. I follow film-makers that make movies that matter, even a little.

As a producer of youth-cinema, I see film conflict not as a medieval head-to-head battle to release adrenaline, but a personal texture, an inside chess game of question marks: where to go? what to do? How? Who with? Well told conflict can be hesitation pure and simple. Or an identity short-circuit. Or lack of clarity, loss of vision. How to take direct action choices, then? Voting can be Hamletic too, in hard times.

Even without a simple top-down final duel on a skyscraper, a film can lead to a character’s foggy melting point, the quiet intersection of dramatic need, desire and urgency in search of identity.

Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed are not film characters.

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Their lingo is story with sound. They quest to stay away from trouble, they are grounded in their shape-shifting personae. Who they want to be? Simple:  happier spending time together.  Popcorn flicks too could explore that engagement vibe.

In the script of life rewritten, I would try reducing, not adding, conflict to stories.  Better conflict, of course, the one worth fighting for without fists and watching with senses aloft. As James Joyce said, the cinema is a “screen of consciousness”.

Luckily I am not afraid of fear, I can smell bullshit from outside the playground, and I still want to hear my kids tell me I was kind. That’s a step towards a better now, even for a callous storyteller like me.

There is already enough conflict to go around in the world.

Danny Alegi is a filmmaker, story development coach and speaker.  Read more of Danny’s blogs at ‘Movies Without Cameras‘.

Do “student films” matter?

If I asked you to name 3 student films, would you be able to?

If you’re not a recent film school graduate or a film teacher , the category “student film” probably doesn’t mean much to you. Everyone knows about Roman Polanski’s film-school masterpiece “Knife in The Water”, but beyond that student films sound like football practice. Exciting huh?

Actually there is such a thing as the Student Academy Award (did you know) and film schools are popping up like blow-flowers, all around the world. Film is the new universal language, next to music. Movies come to your home now, like Radio began to do in the 30s. As Sony once posted on a billboard : “Everyone is a director”. There is a highly publicized process of democratization in film. It’s great for companies selling cheaper and cheaper cameras and smart-phones. Everyone needs one, right? Who wants to be let out of the fun of getting a movie from your cousin rather than a phone call? And sharing videos, of course.  Or an animated story, or a Vine? (are Vines still growing?) For the semipros, equipment is the hot matter. Check that you have the newest Black Magic model camera,  that your three-month old software is not already obsolete. If you use RED, just keep updating those workflows.

The focus on equipment is clear. If you are making a film, your post-production set appears to be the most important feature. Yes, even more than your content. Do you have a good colourist, awesome VFX? great, shoot and you can fix it all in post. A recent NOFILMSCHOOL post highlighted the work of Akira Kurosawa). This giant of a director knew his cameras well, so much so that he felt no pain breaking some key cinematography rules, such as the 180 degree rule. even more than camera, Kurosawa thought like an editor, gazing in his cinema head not only at shots, but at the dynamic interplay of cut footage, with sound. He saw the edited movie in his head, and the material came together organically, like a piece of music composed by different orchestra elements.

There are film schools that focus on equipmen,

 

THANK YOU! Scriptonite Seminar in SF.

THANK YOU to everyone who ttok part in  the sold-out U.S. debut of  my new story-development seminar and workshop: “Scriptonite: Transform your Storytelling”.

I could not have imagined a better location than the awesome Meisner Technique Institute in the Presidio, San Francisco. I thank the gracious organizers Jimmy Jarrett and Melissa Thompson Esaia.  I have spent 15 years in Scandinavia, leading workshops around the world. This California series is a long-awaited homecoming event.

“How to make scripts faster and better, how to tell more original, physical stories for the screen?”  These were my starting questions.

No speaker, mentor or teacher could wish for a room so packed, for group more warm,  intense and diverse.  Artists as young as 70 and as curious as 17, eyes full of desire for the art of cinematic storytelling.  My vision at Cinemahead has always been to share  the simplest ways to make good stories well told. Now, with Scriptonite, I add a layer, a storytelling practice.  Add it to established scriptwriting theories you already use.

With traditional screenplay theory,  actual development can still be very  long and difficult. There are  rules to follow, plus formatting and dramatic standards to obey. Much of the fresh inspiration a writer brings to the process can get buried under the obligation to write for sale rather than for production.  Scriptonite transforms  the storytelling process into a liberating independent film-making effort.

If one of your scripts is stuck in a loop of feedbacks, or in the quicksand of start-stop motivation, Scriptonite can  help you structure a story for creative affirmation and narrative empowerment. Think about structure to go along with various scriptwriting software you use for dialogue and descriptions.  Visualize your path of cinematic storytelling first!

Thank you for all the emails, tweets and notes of support and or request for script support and consulting. I am beginning to reply with booking schedules.

Looking forward >

Danny

@cinemahead

GIVE IT ALL AWAY! Show your movie for free and watch what happens…

Crazy and Thief from Cory McAbee on Vimeo.

I am convinced that films should be screened for free. This is crazy by Industry standards of course, because there is still a bums (asses) in the seats mentality for film product, like there was from the age of Lumiere, Edison and Nickelodeons.

The “shoot for cash” mentality has lead us to awesome films and now heads for infinite action hero sequels. More coming on your visual plate by the way. The stock of Marvel stories is infinite, and there will always be a Ben Affleck to take a Batman role.

4-10K digital magic and FX do the box-office magic. From “Transformers” high-end production value have ridiculed and knocked-out indie filmmakers trapped in adult or teenage drama themes investigating life and its real-life dilemmas.

Here today you find a film distributed for free and made for passion. More and more movies that matter are made because someone has something to say, sell or not. Undistributed films find lots of places online to screen and enlarge their followings from festival appearances.

Getting your movie made requires no budget and no stars, no pre-sales and no big business. Now, if you wrote an A-listhe screenplay and have a star attached, go for the option, the sale and the kill – with all its compromises attached. But if you have an idea for a quirky film that bends the marketing rules, why not go for it anyway and shoot it rather than try and twist, butter and sugar the script.

There are so many ways to make a first picture open gates for you and start-up your careers. Career, yes. From simple ideas developed well and given away.

enjoy the show
/daniel

read the full article on the film here

Take the Sundance & Gates Foundation short film challenge?

Sundance and the Gates foundation welcome (and fund sinner) films about solutions to poverty, cinematic celebrations of innovation and problem-solving for common global problems.

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 1.04.32 PM

find all the info here

Also check out the Nuffglobal.net doc film contest about Climate Change, from way back in 2007.

LISTENED TO A SCREENPLAY PODCAST LATELY?

This podcast help new writers press launch their pin-ball into play. After a short personal intro, the useful interview with the creative network Stage32 begins.

The interview is with Richard Botto, head of stage32.com, mighty-popular online hangout for productive writers:

So If you:
are a writer with Hollywood ambition looking for a network
I suggest listening to at least part of this 55 minute podcast

It’s the next best for a screenplay writers, after moving to Los Angeles.

The entire podcast series can be found on iTunes and on www.sellingyourscreenplay.com

if you prefer full engagement the Youtube show is here:

REMEMBER THE GIFT TROJAN HORSE ?

I love “Fitzcarraldo” (by Werner Herzog, with Klaus Kinsky), a story about mad vision in the Amazon forest. And yet, the making-of film “Burden Of Dreams” (by Les Blanc) completes the movie organically, not only as a Blue-Ray added value. The same I can say about “Apocalypse Now” and its making-of film “Heart Of Darkness”.

Independent films can tell their making-of story as an organic making-of doc as well. The story of a movie starts with idea, and journeys thru development, Kickstarter / Indiegogo campaigns, etcetera.

The image that comes to mind is the Trojan Gift Horse, full of power within, and only in appearance a predictable offering.

Once inside the gates, the movie-horse can open and reveal hidden content.trojanhorse-gif