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Cuddlefish The Film Shoot

All that nervousness about shooting my short scene was unnecessary, but was probably going to happen anyway. My film shoot went really well, and it was a lot of fun. The set looked great (especially given that my original ideas for the set kind of went wrong early on, especially concerning the bed) and the actors were fantastic and everyone was relaxed. Including me, surprisingly. Once it got going, it rolled along smoothly and we finished on time to enjoy the nice spring day.

Here are some set photos to show how the space was transformed between my shoot and the shoot the next day. The same exact space was used, as was the same bed. Here’s my set:

A professional cuddler's room on a low budget.

A professional cuddler’s room on a low budget.

I’ve never seen a professional cuddler’s bedroom. Originally I wanted a double bed, but the only bed available from the props department was a hospital bed. So, we did a LOT of covering up with blankets and pillows and somehow managed to make it look like a coherent bedroom. Our props department has a lot of mismatched stuff, so I’m still amazed that we got stuff that matches somewhat.

The next day, I got to be camera (or, director of photography if you want to be fancy about it) for another fellow screenwriters’ shoot. This shoot also went smoothly, which was great. I actually really liked being camera, probably because I love photography and the two are similar. The first set we had was a trashed bedroom that belonged to a male musician:

The bedroom of a very upset man.

The bedroom of a very upset man.

This was for the first scene of that shoot. For the second, the room became a hospital room.We changed from the trashed bedroom set to the hospital room set in half an hour.

It's a really dingy hospital.

It’s a really dingy hospital.

Props has a surprising (disturbing?) amount of hospital/medical equipment. Which isn’t really obvious in this picture, but we did manage to get the dingy hospital feeling across. I have seen some hospitals in the Bronx that would rival this set’s dinginess, so for me at least, it was convincing.

So, it’s surprising what you can do with a set. This space was meant for two different shoots, and stood in as three different locations. I was a bit wary of the space because, as a room, it’s pretty grim. But as you can see above, I think it turned out well.

I’m really happy my directing experience worked out so well. I don’t know that I would want to be a writer-director. I definitely wouldn’t want to only be a director; I like writing too much to ever stop doing it. But if I got to direct my own writing, I don’t know if it would be stressful or a nice extra bit of control. This experience was really relaxing, but I know they’re not all like that, especially on a full-fledged production rather than just the production of a short scene. After our short day of shooting, I was exhausted. So I won’t write it off completely, but we’ll see.

I also have no idea if I’m any good at it. My team helped a LOT. They were awesome.

I did like doing camera on the shoot the next day. Working to make images that look interesting is a lot of fun. I also really like pull-focus shots, but some cameras are better at it than others.

And somehow, I always end up on shoots where the camera is in a position that’s quite a bit taller than I am. But it’s okay, because the shots we got from those positions were really good.

I’m looking forward to getting back to writing. But we have two weeks to edit our short scenes, so I think it’s going to be awhile before I’m back to the thing I’m actually studying.

 

 

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Screenwriting In the UK

So I said I’d be keeping up with this blog, and I’ve done a really bad job. But it’s been a month since I’ve started my course in England, so I thought it was about time for a post to talk about what I’ve been doing aside from the answer I usually tell everyone, which is writing.

I am writing. For those who missed the last blog post, I’m doing a two year Masters course in Screenwriting at the National Film and Television School in England. After which, I hope to get a job, preferably in the UK because I like it over here more than, say, LA. Not that there’s anything wrong with LA but it’s not particularly my style.

The screenwriting course does involve a lot of writing. There are ten of us, and we spent the first few weeks each generating ideas for a film or TV series. We had four ideas to develop with the following prompts (or guidelines, they weren’t very hard about them): idea based on visuals, idea needing research, fantasy idea, and an idea in a particular genre other than drama. We wrote treatments (proposals, pretty much) for each of these ideas. I ended up with four film ideas whose working titles are: Fishermen (this will change), Underground, Fallen, and Cuddlefish. Take those as you will. The last one is a romantic comedy. The first one I’m thinking about as maybe a play, though the visual part would be great to see on camera. But it’s such a smallish drama that I wonder if it wouldn’t be better on stage. The middle two I haven’t thought much about, but would love to write them.

On the side I’ve gotten involved with games design, collaborating on story for a game. The second year games designers have to develop a full-fledged game (for any platform) as their final project. Some of them want to bring in writers for story/character reasons. This is where I’ve come in. The game I’m working on is very story based, which is great. I like story based games. It’s much different to writing a script, but it’s a lot of fun, and the interactive aspect is fun to think about and play around with.

We’re also working on a project called Metamorphosis, which is to give us writers a perspective on what it takes to bring our scripts to the big screen. We’ve each picked a scene from one of our film ideas and written it, and we’re going to film it two weeks from now. Between then and now we have to finalize the script, cast actors, get location and props, and learn how to use the equipment. This means that we’re making 10 films (since there’s ten of us.) Each writer directs their own scene, and the crew is made up entirely of other writers who aren’t filming that day. So we have two weeks of prep (this week and next) and one week to film, and then a few days to edit. I’m not a huge fan of the production process (I did come here to write, after all) but it should be a lot of fun. Especially since it’s the most developed script I’ve ever filmed.

Adjusting to life outside of school is interesting. I’ve had to get used to not having the usual people to fall back on for support and/or weekend hanging out, to not having things work the same way they do at home, and to not having a good selection of pre-made cookie dough. The Ben & Jerry’s here is also terribly expensive. I haven’t been able to justify getting any yet, but I will. Maybe as a birthday present. Going into London a lot gets expensive so I haven’t done it too much.

Overall, I’m enjoying this, and I’m really happy that I’ve got this opportunity. I feel more creative than I have in a long time, more creatively supported than I ever have, and like I’ve learned more about the film/TV/theatre industry and writing in the past month than I did in my three years at my university. And that is just fantastic. I’m really excited about all the writing we’re going to do, all the different areas we’ll get to explore, and how much we’ll learn about everything.

And, fingers crossed, when I’m done they won’t kick me out of the country.

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The Great Trip Home

London pictures here.)

Okay, so it wasn’t really a great trip home, but as far as trips home go, it was pretty good.

I got home a week ago, but I’ve been pretty busy (read: procrastinating) on writing this blog entry until today.

I got to spend two days in London, or rather a few hours of one day, a full day, and a day in the airport. I took the train from Edinburgh-and the British trains are surprisingly not smooth and seem determined to throw everyone around the train cabins without actually managing to crash the train. It was an interesting ride, and after four hours of jostling I arrived at King’s Cross, where I spent half an hour waiting in line to get an Oyster Card while listening to some guy complain about his lost Oyster Card and a few other guys get really angry at him.

Anyway, the next day I spent wandering around two different types of shopping areas. This:

IMG_1802

And this:

IMG_1857

The first is Camden Market, which is an awesome place full of interesting items and clothes of various styles. Also fried oreos. That’s right. Fried foods that aren’t meant to be fried aren’t limited to the United States.

The second is Regent Street, which is full of Stores I Can’t Afford and several H&M’s. It’s a pretty street to walk down and window shop and stare at what might have been had you been born rich, or at least wealthier than you are now. It’s pretty much the opposite of Camden Market.

Now, I’ve already been to London twice, which is why this blog entry only includes something about a market and not any of the more iconic things one might do in London. One might say that I’d gotten lazy on this part of the trip–and that’s true. But I did spend a few days in London a few years ago, and a few weeks in London two years ago, so I covered a lot of ground. This visit I had less time, so I did less. And what I did was explore an awesome market that people should go to more often.

The next day I went to the airport nice and early (Heathrow, for the curious) where I wasn’t allowed to check in for three hours. I arrived six hours before my flight because my hotel check-out time was early, and my flight was relatively late. I ended up puttering around, buying a paperback version of JK Rowling’s secret book (the one she wrote under a pen name), and drinking coffee.

Heathrow Terminal 5 is a nice place to spend a few hours once you’re allowed to check in. There’s a TARDIS, several shops, a noodle restaurant, and a fair amount of free wifi, all of which I took advantage of. Never have I spent more time in an airport so willingly.

I had a flight on British Airways, which was really nice–good service, back of seat entertainment systems, and relatively good food. The flight went faster than I expected, probably because I watched Casino Royale and then spent the next three hours writing with Les Mis in the background. Not a bad way to spend a flight. I didn’t feel like dying once.

And when we got into JFK, we were treated with a lovely sunset as a backdrop to New York City.

NYC sunset from JFK airport.

NYC sunset from JFK airport.

It’s been surreal being home. I kept thinking, “Oh, yesterday I was in Europe.” And then, “Oh, this time last week I was in Europe.” I’d gotten tired of traveling but I miss it, too, which is always the problem of coming back from somewhere. Being left at home with nothing to do is quite a change from exploring new places, and I’ll probably go stir crazy in another week. I love traveling. I love planes, which sounds weird but probably isn’t. I love the feeling of being in a place with a lot more stuff going on than at home. And I love doing what I want.

But never fear! I’m accompanying my family on college tours for my sister in about a week in Boston, which is a really nice city that I haven’t been to enough. And after that, we’re going to Cape Cod for some relaxation and good ice cream and one really scary beach that constantly changes and is surrounded by sharks. It is the best beach, and it is in Chatham if you ever want to explore a creepy beach.

So, although I leave you with this last bit of the trip, travel isn’t over for the summer. Interesting things are still going on, and thankfully the rest of the summer won’t be me staring at the computer screen wishing I was elsewhere, as I often do.

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The Places We’ll Go

(Day X and Day Y: Advice for someone traveling outside the country, and different countries  you have been to.)

Advice

Honestly, it depends on the country. I’d have to say don’t pack too much, have an open mind, be aware of things you should probably know (like, don’t drink the water in Mexico and ‘pissed’ means something different in England.) And you should probably like planes. If you don’t like planes, you probably won’t enjoy going to another country, because many other countries are most easily reached by planes.

Countries I Have Been To

Let me tell you a story about travel that involves everywhere but the United States. I am from the United States, so obviously I have been there. Alaska does not count as a different country, unfortunately, but I have been there too. And Hawaii. Though it seems far enough away to be one.

When I was younger, my parents preferred tropical places. We went to the Bahamas, and to Aruba. Aruba was where I got over my fear of planes and started to love them. I also saw some huge waves underneath a natural stone bridge and started having dreams about huge waves. It was quite the trip.

As we got older, my parents became more daring. We went to Panama for a family trip, since my dad’s side of the family is from Panama City. That was a bit of a disaster in many ways, and it was the first country markedly different from the United States that we had been to. Also, everyone spoke Spanish. As the daughter of two fluent Spanish-speakers, I should have known how to speak Spanish, but I was never taught, and to this day I only have an intermediate grasp of the language.

There were two trips to Mexico. The first, to Puerto Vallarta, which was lovely. Puerto Vallarta is quaint in that there are cobblestone streets and the city is colorful and compact, and a surprising amount of people drive “Punch Buggies” and if you take a boat there is a small, beautiful beach on the other side of the bay.

The second trip to Mexico was years later, to the Riviera Maya, where there were Cenotes (sinkholes filled with water), which are fascinating and also terrifying when you think of how deep they are. There were beaches of the unconventional sort, colorful small towns, and greenery. There was an eco-park. There was good food, and not so good food, and the longest trip home caused by delays. (Immigration can be awful, sometimes.) Even though we were near Cancun, we didn’t go to Cancun, because everything else seemed much more interesting.

I went to Canada four times. The first time was Vancouver right before Alaska, and Vancouver is a beautiful city. We also went to Whistler, a ski resort, and got to see snow in July. The second time was at Niagara Falls. Then we went to Montreal and Quebec, where we saw a street Cirque du Soleil show. And learned some French. Then back to Vancouver and Whistler, to do some winter skiing, which was amazing (if you’ve never tried above-the-treeline skiing in powder snow, do it.)

Then came Italy, on a school trip, after an emergency medical procedure, so for the first few days of little rest and lots of walking I was in pain. But there is no better place than Italy to distract from pain, and Milan, Venice, and Florence were perfect, especially the latter two, which preserve some sort of old-world feel. Then came Sorrento, a beautiful coastal city with cliffs, and Capri, and Sienna, and Rome. We had Easter Mass at the Vatican. It was really good timing.

Then came London, Oxford, and Paris. London is an amazing city to explore, and Paris is confusing. We got lost in Paris many times, and discovered that Paris is best enjoyed at sunset, when people sit beside the river Seine with wine and simply relax.

Two years later, and London and Oxford called again, this time as I went abroad to study Shakespeare. I traveled to Cardiff, Wales, and Edinburgh, Scotland on the weekends, and a few other locations in England, like Dover, which has amazing cliffs. Then I went to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, which is probably not a good family trip. Then Prague in the Czech Republic, which is all color and intricate beauty, and cobblestone streets. Then Switzerland, the Lauterbrunnen Valley, with dramatic cliffs on either side, waterfalls, and high mountains. I stood on top of a 12,000 foot tall mountain covered in glaciers and snow even though it was August.

There was also a brief plane layover in Munich, Germany, which looked surprisingly small from the air, but I can’t say that counts. We were only there for about half an hour.

And all this traveling has fueled my desire to see more countries, and different places. And so I hope to expand on this list of travels.

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Review: War Horses

(This is a break from all the travel stuff. Spoilers for both the movie and the play versions of War Horse.)

War Horse, directed by Stephen Spielberg, came out last winter, and it took me seven months to re-watch the movie and finally give my well-informed evaluation.

The movie is based on the play of the same name by Nick Stafford, which is in turn based on a book of the same name by Michael Morpurgo. Last summer I had the privilege of seeing War Horse the play in London, and it was a fascinating experience.

After seeing the movie, I found myself wondering which one was better. And after re-watching the movie I find myself thinking: The play is better. Way better. And here’s why:

War Horse starts with the birth of Joey the horse, and the main focus, in the fields of Devon, England in the 1910’s. The first issue I have with the movie: for some reason, the film doesn’t capture the scope of Devon. Now, you might be thinking, does the play capture it better? Well, yes. The production I saw in London had amazing set pieces, and the puppetry was masterful, and the music was amazing, and all of this combined in the beginning of the play to make you feel like you were in the fields of Devon, playing with sight and sound perfectly so that you could lose yourself in the world. The movie…not so much. For all that the camera focuses on Joey and his mother, there is a lot of sense of wonder lost. There are no panning shots of the fields of Devon, which are beautiful in their own way. The music is…not as good. We aren’t given time to savor anything before people come in.

Then comes Albert, a boy who loves his horse perhaps more than is strictly necessary. It’s a hard role to play, and Jeremy Irvine does it well in the movie. Still, the character in both the play and the film suffers from being a little too sentimental at times. Then again, War Horse is a sentimental story, a war story, but also a story about the love between a boy and his horse, so this is to be expected. You go in for the sentiment.

The beginning of the movie is a bit too long, when Albert has to teach Joey to plough the fields or risk losing him (and risk his family loosing their farm). I don’t remember how long the ploughing took in the play, but the play uses music as a sort of thread to carry the scenes through, making them flow, whereas the movie doesn’t use montage or music, but rather straight narrative. And after awhile it gets tedious to watch Joey learn to be a good horse. The play offered some moments of humor in these scenes when they paused to rest: more time was spent showing how Joey wouldn’t eat if Albert looked at him, or or how the two get comfortable with each other. The movie skips the humor.

The soldiers and World War I don’t even show up until nearly an hour into the movie, at which point a young soldier, Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston), takes Joey away, very nicely, and hopes to return. The movie does a great job with Nicholls, as does the play, and here is one of the few places where they are equal. In both we see that Nicholls is a caring man, that Joey is in good hands. In both Nicholls has a sketchbook, with which he takes the time to sketch Joey for Albert. The movie has a beautiful scene where the soldiers, prepared for their first charge, mount the horses in a field of wheat and begin their advance. And in both play and film, when (spoiler) Nicholls dies while riding Joey, we feel heartbroken, not only because of the loss of a good man, but because Joey is in German custody, and we begin to feel that everything is downhill from here.

And it is. The film starts taking many liberties with the play from the point of Nicholls’ death, and this is where I start to like the play more. In the play, the horses are taken care of by a German soldier named Friedrich, who doesn’t want to fight because he has a family back home, and is afraid. He considers running away. We learn a lot about him, and that while with him, Joey is in good hands, and for a bit of Joey’s story, Friedrich becomes the main focus. Friedrich shows us the opposite side of war: whereas the soldiers with Nicholls were innocent, looking forward to glory in the midst of fear, Friedrich knows what horrors await him and he would nearly rather kill himself than be killed fighting.

With Friedrich comes Karl, a German officer who becomes one of the antagonists of the play. He is quick to anger, quick to shoot, and slow to think, and when he is around Joey’s life is in danger, perhaps more so than when Joey was in battle. At any sign of weakness Karl will strike down a horse. When he was on stage, I was scared for the horses, because Karl is a volatile, unpredictable character.

The movie instead chooses to focus on two German brothers, who run away and end up getting shot for their troubles. Then, the horses Joey and Topthorn end up in the hands of a young French girl, Emilie, and her grandfather. Emilie is also in the play, though with her mother, as someone Friedrich comes across when he is with the horses. In the play, when Karl discovers the horses, Friedrich, and Emilie, there is a confrontation in which Emilie could very well have been shot. And Friedrich.

In the movie Emilie takes care of the horses, and learns to ride Joey, only for the Germans to show up and take Joey and Topthorn from her. At which point the horses have a lot of pulling guns to do. It is at this point we meet the movie’s Friedrich, but he is only a side character, someone who cares for the horses but has little else to give. And he disappears rather quickly.

In the movie, we are returned to Albert, who has joined the army. Here the play again proves to be better than the movie, because Albert’s story is more interspersed in the play, whereas in the movie Albert disappears for long periods of time and is nearly forgotten. But Albert returns, and after a bunch of trench scenes, so does Joey.

The trenches, in the movie and the play, are visually stunning, and the best scene from both is when Joey is trapped in the middle of no man’s land, and together an English soldier and a German soldier free him, and decide who gets the horse. The English end up getting Joey, in the end. But this scene evokes another side of the war: that though both sides are enemies, they could just as easily be friends (it’s a sentiment that occurs in the book “All Quiet On the Western Front”, also about WWI, which everyone should read). A beautiful moment.

And then Joey is returned to Albert after nearly being shot because of his injuries. (There is a lot of horse shooting that goes on. Horses and guns don’t mix.)

And this is also where the worst problem occurs.

The play ends with Albert and Joey reuniting, Albert still not home from war (though in a scene in the play text, he can come home with Joey, though in the version I saw, this is left out and assumed rather than shown).

The movie has the same scene, but doesn’t end there. Instead, for some reason, Joey is sent to be auctioned off even though everyone knows that Joey belongs to Albert. Emilie’s grandfather shows up at the auction, bidding for Joey because Emilie has died, and he’s upset, but then Joey goes back to Albert anyway. It makes the movie extend far past its welcome, because the reuniting the first time between Joey and Albert felt final enough, after everything else the story puts us through. We don’t need a second reunion scene to hit us over the head. Albert and Joey go through so much that by this point they hardly need to go through anything else. (Give them a break, Spielberg!)

Both the play and the movie take us through the stories of many characters as they are affected by Joey the horse, and both come full circle at the end, with Joey and Albert, both having grown from their experiences. The movie seems to feel that by giving each character short, but somewhat heartbreaking stories, we’ll feel for them more, and that by having Joey come back only to be nearly taken away again, we’ll be all the happier when they reunite. But with this goal the movie loses sight of emotions rather than gains them, and seems to forget about Albert, who is as much a main character as Joey is. The play does a better job, weaving Albert and Joey’s stories together, giving us more time to spend with the characters Joey meets along the way, and giving those characters more depth where it can.

And the puppetry of the play is beautiful. The play’s imagery, though on a stage, is well done enough to rival the film.

Obviously, the movie is cheaper to watch, and if you want a taste of War Horse I’d recommend it. It is good, in some parts, and if you haven’t seen the play, a lot of what I’ve criticized probably won’t be too much of a bother. But if you want a more emotional, deeper story, with some breathtaking visuals, see the stage production. You won’t regret it.

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Home

(Day 6-What does home mean to you?)

Good question.

As a college student, I get around a lot. I’ve spent most of my life in New York, but recently I’ve spend most of my time in North Carolina, and I spent a summer in England (London/Oxford). These are the three places I’ve called home, the three places I’ve lived and spent an extended amount of time getting to know.

There are places that I have considered, in the future, could be possible homes. Vancouver, a city I’ve been to twice, has that potential. London does as well, because even though I only made it a home for a few weeks, I would have no problem making the city a home for longer.

So what does home mean to me? New York, North Carolina, and England are three vastly different places. In part, home is the people. If there are people I like, who will make me feel at home, or loved, then wherever they are is ‘home’ (like my family, or good friends.) Sometimes there aren’t a whole lot of people there, so home becomes wherever I feel at peace. England gave me that, and sometimes North Carolina manages it as well (when I stop thinking about how it’s the South, and sometimes the state makes stupid decisions.)

Home is where I’m happy. It changes. Sometimes I feel like nowhere is home, and sometimes I feel like I could be at home anywhere I went, depending on my mood. There are times I’d be perfectly at home in a plane, and other times I wouldn’t be at home even if I were lying in my old room, or sitting on my dorm room bed.

But it’s interesting to think about both the places I consider homes now and the places I would like to consider homes in the future. What kind of place will make me happy? What kind of place can be a home, and give me what I need? The options I’ve looked at are vastly different, far away from each other, and probably say a lot about me being a restless person who needs a new environment every once in awhile.

And to think, such a philosophical question came from an internet challenge.

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To the Future

(As part of the 30 day travel challenge: day 2-where would you like to travel next?)

I would like to travel to a lot of places. I want to travel to the Swiss Alps in the winter so that I can ski. I want to travel to the Rocky Mountains so I can ski. I want to travel to Banff in Canada so I can ski. A lot of these have to do with skiing. Not only is skiing fun, but the places that provide excellent skiing also provide stunning beauty (which I would photograph extensively because, well, I like to try my hand at photography). I would even go as far as to ski in New Zealand, though I would want to go there without skiing as well.

I would also like to spend more time in Scotland. I would like to spend a week in Venice instead of the uncomfortable (if amazing otherwise) day I spent a few years ago. I would like to travel to Chile and Argentina (possibly to ski some). I would love to go to Australia. Japan, possibly to ski and also to see a culture so completely different from my own.

There are too many places I want to travel to next.

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