Match Frame

Thoughts from an American editor and filmmaker in New Zealand about film and video production and post-production. Plus whatever else I feel like talking about.

Location: Balmoral, Auckland, New Zealand

A work in progress.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

here come the zombies.

I'm totally sleep deprived but unable to get to sleep, so I'm going to type a blog entry in the hopes of clearing my mind.

Every year I've lived in New Zealand (all, um, three of them) I've participated in the 48HOURS film competition. (For those unfamiliar, you can familiarize yourself here.) For the previous two years, I've been a co-writer and editor (well, co-editor last year). This year is the first time that I've decided to direct, in addition to co-writing and co-editing.

The time leading up to 48HOURS was a pretty nerve-wracking experience. For reasons from work to being siphoned off by the competition to being in another country, most of the previous year's team were unable to participate this year. Furthermore, several people who volunteered then had to back out, with the last backing out Friday morning. As a result, we had to operate with a relatively small cast and crew.

This is the first year I've been to the launch, which is where each team is assigned their genre and the random elements are revealed. For some reason, I thought that each team drew a number, and then at the start time it was revealed which number corresponded to each genre. But (at least this year) it doesn't work that way; each of the 160ish teams there drew a genre in order, then we waited around to get the elements right at the launch time. (The draw went quicker than expected, I suppose.)

To backtrack slightly, a couple important pieces of information. One is that one of the few things you're allowed to do prior to the shoot is secure locations. Perhaps apropos for the small crew, we didn't have access to that many locations apart from our flats. And, oh yes ... one person had access to a chapel, and the adjacent cemetery grounds.

The other important piece of information. I've been slightly obsessed with zombies for a while. It's sort of a random thing that spiraled out of control. Prior to going to South Seas, I think the only zombie movie I'd seen was NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. I think it's fantastic, but it didn't really make me rush out and watch more zombie movies. But then at South Seas, the camera people would like to practice their shooting in the car park, and often I'd be walking through, and half for reasons of my own amusement and half for reasons of giving them a longer amount of time to be able to shoot, I'd switch into a zombie walk, lumbering towards them or across the car park or whatever.

Anyway, this zombie thing kind of grew. I made a fake commercial for Zom-B-Gone! Hallowed Ground with our 2004 team. I instigated, co-wrote, and (regrettably) acted in a mock-education film called ZOMBIES AND YOU. I got around to watching the rest of the DEAD trilogy, although truthfully I haven't seen that many other zombie movies besides those and the brilliant SHAUN OF THE DEAD. (Although I'm dying to see THEY CAME BACK, a French film about zombies that apparently soft-pedals the gore in favor of lengthy city council meetings.)

Maybe I like zombies because I sort of envy them. Their life is largely simple and uncomplicated, albeit inelegant. They don't have the pretentious style of vampires, or the psychological torment of the werewolf. They just stagger around and feast on entrails. It's kind of a beautiful thing, in a way. (Of course, in another, more accurate way, it's really gross. But anyway.)

All of this is to say, when we drew the genre "Horror", I smiled. The first reason I smiled was because we successfully avoided drawing the "Musical" genre. The second reason I smiled was because I realized that we had a graveyard, a church, and the horror genre.

Clearly, it was zombie time. Now, we just needed a basic plot idea.

At 7:10, we got the random elements. They were a character (Robin Slade, "an eternal optimist"); an object (a mirror); and a line of dialogue ("That's what I'm talking about.").

Everything clicked in my head, and I had a basic plot idea. (What was that? You'll just have to see it to find out.) Now, we needed to write the script.

Okay, I'm fading now, so so much for the blow-by-blow. The short of it was that the script writing went great, the shoot was awesome (we shot Friday night 11 PM to 6 AM and Saturday night 4 PM to 1 AM), and the editing went about as well as could be hoped for. I'd have liked more time to get the audio bed stronger, but as I keep trying to remind myself: "It's a 48 HOURS film." The most important thing was the experience, and it was a powerfully positive one. I've directed two shorts this year, and in both cases despite major headaches and last minute crew shufflings, the people who've wound up on the shoot have absolutely been the right ones, and not only taken the short to another level than I would have on my own but made it a lovely experience. And hopefully we'll be able to coast off the energy of this into getting some other shorts made soon. I already have a title for the next one, which I'll keep to myself for the moment. Because I'm like that.

Our finished product is screening at the Wednesday night, 9:30 heat at the Civic. I highly doubt anybody's reading this who lives anywhere near here that wouldn't know that anyway, but if you're in the neighborhood come by.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

black hole

is the name of the Charles Burns graphic novel I read last night. It's a decade's worth of work collected into one book, a sprawling overlapping narrative with horror-sci/fi trappings (the concept involves a bug transmitted by bodily fluids [mostly sexually, though in one powerful scene, it's made clear that spit alone can do it] that causes animalish mutations amongst a group of teens). But that's the setting, not the reason for the work itself. It's a character-driven story, it's low on artificial drama, and it's deeply deeply sad. I've been reading any number of graphic novels lately - lots of bus time plus rediscovering the library and rediscovering my love of the comic book form, i guess, after bumping into an AMERICAN SPLENDOR compilation a few months back - and while all the ones I've read have been good, this one packs a wallop all its own.

BLACK HOLE is being made into a movie; unfortunately, the director Alexandre Aja, responsible so far for the brutal horror films HAUTE TENSION and THE HILLS HAVE EYES (remake), has been slated to direct. To be fair, I haven't seen either film, and also to be fair, there are any number of disturbing and grotesque effects that are necessarily part of the BLACK HOLE narrative that I have no doubt he'll nail. But unless he displays a heretofore unpublicized skill for tenderness and melancholy, the film will lack the very qualities that make the graphic novel truly extraordinary.

All of which is to say, I suppose, read the graphic novel.

48 HOURS film festival this weekend. Time to take a nap.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

a quick update

since I now know that at least one person is reading this basically unpublicized blog.

The big news in my professional life is that I'll be editing NZ IDOL starting June 1 and going through the end of October. In the meantime, I seem to be preparing for it by working every day of May, except for a busman's holiday of the 48HOURS competition the last weekend in May. Hopefully once I get on track with that I can get back to what I wanted to focus this blog on, although I also have a June 22 deadline for the NZ First Writer's Initiative, which I am trying to complete a script for.

I managed to take some time out tonight to start watching a late Easter/Christmas present that I ordered for myself - well, the package showed up on Friday. Anyway, I got the TV series WONDERFALLS and GREG THE BUNNY and watched the first episode of each. WONDERFALLS is a sort of magical-realism thing about a graduate from Brown with a philosophy degree working at a souvenir shop in Niagara Falls who starts having inanimate objects talk to her and give her suggestions. It's very well done and I had a smile on my face pretty consistently through the first episode - ditto for GREG THE BUNNY, which is set in an alternate world where puppets are real people (well, "fabricated Americans").