The Production Blog
Welcome to the Production Blog. Pandora was originally written and produced as a short film in 2012 and 2013, as a part of a Masters Thesis for the MFA of Pam Theodotou at the Columbus College of Art & Design, where she now currently teaches. It was the first step towards the creation of the Cinemagraphic Novel. If you love the process and the magic that happens within "the creative" and how ideas can generate their own mythos, then take this journey within Pam's production blog and watch Pandora unfold.
FRANKENSTEIN FOUND; June 22:
If you would like to read the full academic paper PANDORA: The Cinemagraphic Novel Development of a New Narrative Media Form, you can download it either at Academia or by clicking on the PDF Icon.
After a little well needed rest from the close of scholarly events, the gallery show and critical commentary, I have resolved to begin researching in earnest my prospective thesis project for the final year of my MFA. Last year a number of story ideas that have been brewing are culminating in an odd way. They revolve around two characters in history, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Benjamin Franklin. Both have held a fascination for me over the years and in an odd combination of reading that I have been doing on both of them, a concept for a story that includes both characters has occurred to me.
Mary Shelley has created the most enduring horror story of all time, Frankenstein. Most other stories have some basis in myth or legend, yet Frankenstein was so completely original it took audiences by surprise and was an instance success, spawning other literature, stage plays and the like. She also was writing in a time when it was rare to find women in the trade, which in itself was a challenge. She was lucky to have had a mother who was famous for having written about woman’s rights in the late 1700’s and a father who was well known of this political and philosophical writings.
She also kept company with an extraordinary group of friends, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Keats, Lord Byron and their intellectual circles. I picked up two original volumes of a collection of the letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley about 20 years ago. Having read them it did not occur to me I might utilize them in a project like this. But re-reading these old leather bound books is providing a wealth of information.
Likewise I have always been an admirer of Benjamin Franklin. The man was so ahead of his time in his scientific endeavors and was responsible for so many inventions that are still in use today that it befuddles the mind. His guidance and direction among our founding fathers provided the balance necessary to lead our young country through some very difficult times. His wit was unparalleled to such a degree he made fast friends with Voltaire. He has often been described as inventing the American persona.
My thesis direction has been to develop the Cinemagraphic Novel, a moving book of text, illustration, video and sound. In a thesis project I could go many directions with story and how to apply narrative to the media form so I intend to pay special attention to developing a story line with depth so that the material itself is more literary, opposed to cinematic or episodic. I think this will provide more balance for the medium sot that it is not confused with motion comics. Depth of story, I suspect, will play a large role n the development of the work.
PHILOSOPHICALLY SPEAKING; June 29:
The narrative I am developing is a historical fiction. In other words I am using real persons in history and real events to create a fictional story concerning these characters. Thus I am putting Mary Shelley and Ben Franklin into the same time period and having then act as protagonist and antagonist in the narrative. The fact that Franklin died a few years before Mary was born is part of this fictional narrative. It therefore has some metaphysical or supernatural elements to the story.
This past week I have collected as many sources as possible to review concerning Shelley and Franklin. A story line has revealed itself and a vehicle by which I can pull these two characters in history together is supportable by some basic facts that I am finding through research. I am creating a running memo called “Historical-Fictional Bridges” in order to relate actual events to the proposed fictional story elements that I will be creating. Each time I dig into any materials I am amazed at what I find and how the new fiction is so supportable. The process of analysis reminds me of some basic tenons in philosophy. It is important to me that the whole concept is supported by fact in order to make the absurd actually plausible. The analysis is not only necessary for my own narrative building but it also applies to the creation of the Franklin character who as both protagonist and antagonist must have command of the rules of deductive logic if only to break those rules. It is important to me to make this character an enigma. Within the story he is the character you want to trust the most the character you should trust the least. In a way it is similar to two films that come to mind. In The Usual Suspects, the film was so successful because the narrator turns out to be Kaiser Sausa, who has been lying to the audience the whole film. As an audience we accept the narrator as the truth teller. To flip that concept makes it a truism. Another great film where a character describes this kind of command of logic is in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. When at the end the serial killer describes to the protagonist how he treats his victims with small kindnesses before he murders him it is deductive reasoning in action but flipped on its head, it is the murderer allowing the victim to come to the wrong conclusion based on a series of facts, it is again the narrator lying to the audience.
In that effort I needed to review some classical Greek philosophers. Aristotle's system of deductive Logic, with its emphasis on the syllogism (where a conclusion, or synthesis, is inferred from two other premises, the thesis and antithesis) is the process in which I believe I am engaged. Unlike Plato, Aristotle held that Form and Matter were inseparable, and cannot exist apart from each other. Although he too believed in a kind of Eudaimonism, Aristotle realized that ethics is a complex concept and that we cannot always control our own moral environment. He thought that happiness could best be achieved by living a balanced life and avoiding excess by pursuing a golden mean in everything (similar to his formula for political stability through steering a middle course between tyranny and democracy). Remarkable.
Deductive reasoning concerns what follows necessarily from given premises (i.e. from a general premise to a particular one). An inference is deductively valid if (and only if) there is no possible situation in which all the premises are true and the conclusion false. However, it should be remembered that a false premise can possibly lead to a false conclusion.
At the core of deductive reasoning is the syllogism (also known as term logic), usually attributed to Aristotle), where one proposition (the conclusion) is inferred from two others (the premises), each of which has one term in common with the conclusion.
Major premise: All humans are mortal.
Minor premise: Socrates is human.
Conclusion: Socrates is mortal
An example of deduction is:
All apples are fruit.
All fruits grow on trees.
Therefore all apples grow on trees.
The key is that one might deny the initial premises, and therefore deny the conclusion. But anyone who accepts the premises must accept the conclusion. Coupled with the narrator telling the story and the narrator being the questionable source, this makes for good drama.
The research on the Thesis project is developing into a story that will use deductive reasoning to its advantage and hopefully turn it on its ear, utilizing deductive reasoning as a tool to trick the audience, which provides for drama and surprise.
IT ALL GOES BACK TO MYTH; July 6:
I have decided on a working title for The Shelley-Franklin project; Pandora. This comes from the original title of Frankenstein was “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus.” The original Greek myth tells of the Titan Prometheus and how he convinced Zeus to give knowledge to man. The traditional myth is that Prometheus gives man fire, a manifestation of Zeus’s most powerful weapon, the thunderbolt, or the heavenly fire.
Prometheus is a Titan, culture hero, and trickster figure who in Greek mythology is credited with the creation of man from clay and the theft of fire for human use, an act that enabled progress and civilization. He is known for his intelligence, and as a champion of mankind. In the Western classical tradition, Prometheus became a figure who represented human striving, particularly the quest for scientific knowledge, and the risk of overreaching or unintended consequences. See William Hansen, Classical Mythology: A Guide to the Mythical World of the Greeks and Romans. He was regarded in the Romantic era as embodying the lone genius whose efforts to improve human existence could also result in tragedy.
This describes Dr. Frankenstein perfectly, a man who attempts to sculpt a human from clay (or body part retrieved from the ground/grave) brought to life by lighting/electricity. Likewise in this work Pandora, Franklin is Prometheus, a man who has harnessed Zeus’s lightning for the use of man, and who has been rendered immortal in the process, giving him the qualities of a Titan. He also classically exhibits the values of Prometheus in his real life as a figure who represents human striving, particularly the quest for scientific knowledge, and the risk of overreaching or unintended consequences (as envisioned in the story Pandora). In Pandora, when Franklin is compared and contrasted to Frankenstein, his character is actually both scientist and monster, reflecting both the best and the worst of humanity.
The name Pandora comes from a closely associated myth. In retaliation of Prometheus’s actions an enraged Zeus sent Pandora, the first woman, to live with men. Pandora was fashioned by Hephaestus out of clay and brought to life by the four winds, with all the goddesses of Olympus assembled to adorn her. "From her is the race of women and female kind," Hesiod writes; "of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble…"
Hesiod also expands upon the Theogony's story of the first woman, now explicitly called Pandora ("all gifts"). After Prometheus' theft of fire, Zeus sent Pandora in retaliation. Despite Prometheus' warning, Epimetheus accepted this "gift" from the gods. Pandora carried a jar with her, from which were released (91–92) "evils, harsh pain and troublesome diseases which give men death". Pandora shut the lid of the jar too late to contain all the evil plights that escaped, but foresight remained in the jar, giving mankind hope.
In Pandora, Mary is symbolically this character, much in the same way she made Frankenstein the embodiment of Prometheus. As the protagonist to Franklin she is Prometheus’s Pandora. Through her, man has hope and yet she carries with her great power and effect to release evil upon the world. In the same way the Pandora of myth innocently releases the evils on the world, so to does Mary feel this responsibility of knowing about Franklin and his secrets.
PRE-PRODUCTION PREP; July 13:
Working on getting costuming and props together for a shoot next weekend with several loads of pieces from storage at home. My studio looks like a costume shop. I am researching various locations that may include regency style buildings. There are inherent difficulties of finding these kinds of buildings in our area. I am looking to more Greek and roman architectural revivals which were happening in the Victorian era. These examples generally have a gothic influence which is all wrong for the time period. I will need to be very selective and perhaps utilize stills that will be animated in After Effects to get good establishing shots. I am also looking at garden and graveyard settings since they are less period specific and can be utilized to reflect the early 1800’s.
WHAT'S IN VOGUE IN 1814; July 20:
Today I met with Kristin Baird who has kindly agreed to play Mary Shelley for me in an initial test shoot. The purpose of the shoot for me was to tackle some costuming and location considerations as well as get familiar with the Canon 7D. Earlier in the week I met with Kon Petrochuk who ran me through the training on the camera. Having a Nikon F2 I was very comfortable with the set up and learning the video aspects were not too difficult.
Next were the actual shoot and its challenges. Taking on a period shoot is difficult enough. Trying to do it with no budget or production and art direction support is another matter entirely. This test shoot was more than just about testing equipment and costumes. It was also to see if the project was doable with the sever limitations I have. Without a real film budget for such a project a lot of ingenuity was going to have to come into play. This was going to be a balance of utilizing the resources I have as well as utilizing special effects and the options that technology offers to make up for those shortfalls.
Regarding art production, I have some experience in developing period costuming in some other projects I have done over the years which included the Napoleonic period which is within the broad strokes of this piece. Pandora takes place in 1814. It seems as with modern fashion and architecture that every 20 years see some wide swings in style. Therefore some costume pieces I have can be altered slightly to adjust to new cuts and fads.
In 1815 with the Napoleonic wars over, Britain began to follow French fashion trends for wearing a high waistline. The waistline reached its peak height in 1816-17 when the line fell directly under the breasts. Almost as soon as the waist had risen, 1818 fashion plates began to show the waistline dropping and tightening. It continued to drop annually by an inch, until by 1825 it was at last in its normal position. Skirt Styles, 1818, 1819, 1822.
All these wider skirt silhouettes show decorative interest, ornamentation in keeping with Gothic over embellishment. Leroy the French designer had to follow the whims of his clients and drop the dress waists and widen the skirts. It seems that French ladies soon preferred the English style. Anglomania began to sweep France . After 1820 as the neat slim waist emerged, corsets were worn again by all women. The narrower buckle belted day waist or sash wrapped evening waist was balanced by widening skirts which were often horsehair padded and frilled to make them stand away from the legs. By 1824-5 the wider skirts were balanced by a wider shoulder line with a leg of lamb sleeve often known as a gigot sleeve as seen in the central pink dress.
Anglomania: Rise and Fall of the Waistline 1815-1825
For Pandora we experimented with different looks with pieces I have in my own collection that are either earlier or later in time period. I opted for a costume that resembled 1814 England mixed with the continental ease a slightly 18th century feel of the French Revolution 30 years prior. The test shots show Kristin as a combination of the Anglomania of the time plus the flare of the continental nobility. This allowed for a less stylized hair treatment and hat (modern brushed wool felt) with a flourish of ostrich feathers. The white silk taffeta skirt was in actuality a petticoat form the late 1800’s modified to include a petticoat of its own. I opted for a Dolce and Gabbana black wool corset with a sheer plaid organza fabric shawl secured with a taffeta belt. The look was finished with replica vintage period jewelry.
I chose two locations, the outdoor rose garden and herb garden at the Franklin Park Conservatory as well as the Green lawn cemetery in south Columbus . The goal was to work with the image of the character in a setting that might either reflect a European setting (an English rose garden) or an old cemetery to play on the horror overtones of the story. Both proved to be useful locations. I expect also to look for locations to resemble the inside of a period home, which I may recreate in the studio.
Many thanks to Kristin for looking so lovely in these period costumes and being a great sport in 100 degree weather with three layers of corsetry, taffeta and wool.
REFLECTIONS UPON MARY SHELLEY; July 27:
I downloaded the shoot from the memory card. The costuming worked very well and the locations are definitely places I can utilize in the future.
AFTER EFFECTS AS THE FUTURE OF THE CINEMAGRAPHIC NOVEL; August 3:
This week I took some online tutorials in After Effects and experimented with some of the footage to mimic the Sherlock Holmes end credits. I had some success and resolved that I need to take a course in After Effects in the fall with Eric Homan to give me more depth in utilizing this technology and applying it to this project.
THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT; August 10:
I am doing research this week regarding Mary Shelly and her inclusion of scientific elements into Frankenstein. It is important to understand what scientific advancements she was able to draw upon in 1814. Given that Franklin was a prolific inventor and is credited with discovering electricity and describing it, these investigations go hand in hand. I have located several great articles on the subject. This also has lead to extensive research on Franklin ’s scientific endeavors. I happened upon one interesting notation. The first published notice of his kite experiments in the Gentlemen’s Quarterly in London referred to the experiment as the “Philadelphia Experiment.”
Considering my last Cinemagraphic Novel was based around the Philadelphia Experiment from 1943 I took this as an amusing sign I was on the right track.
I also took note of the terminology developed by Franklin during his research. He is credited with identifying and describing electricity. Some of the electrical terms which Franklin coined during his experiments include: battery, charge, condenser, conductor, plus, minus, positively, negatively and armature. Interestingly enough his first description of lighting and electricity were dubbed “Electric Fire,” how appropriate given the alignments to the Prometheus myth.
POLAR EXPLORATION; August 17:
As I was researching Franklin and his life this week (obtaining all of his written work on pdf for reading) I happened upon an Admiral John Franklin who lived during Mary’s time. Interestingly enough John Franklin was a very famous polar explorer. The interesting connection is that in the novel Frankenstein after the monster kills everyone important to the Dr. in an act of revenge, he retreats to the north where Frankenstein follows him. Dr. Frankenstein bent on revenge boards a polar ship to pursue his nemesis where he eventually dies and is mourned by his creation.
I have decided to utilize this persona as Ben Franklin's alter ego in the initial aspects of the story. If he is to fake his death in the 1890's then he must live on as a person in society. It would pay homage to his ingenuity to put himself out as a relative of himself (although genealogy research does not show any relation to John Franklin, they are however from the same region in England and may be distantly related). Additionally research has shown that Ben was well known for his oceanographic discoveries and he had a fine knowledge and respect for the sea. He is credited with the discovery and description of the gulf stream while sailing back a fourth from England . An aging Franklin accumulated all his oceanographic findings in Maritime Observations, published by the Philosophical Society's transactions in 1786. It contained ideas for sea anchors, catamaran hulls, watertight compartments, shipboard lightning rods and a soup bowl designed to stay stable in stormy weather.
The admiral John Franklin information is useful at the beginning and the end of the story, and I suspect the beginnings of a sequel. After all John Franklin's expedition ended in mystery and with suspicion of extreme survival mutiny and cannibalism and John Franklin was never found.
THE MORTAL IMMORTAL; August 24:
I continue to do research on Mary Shelley. I have collected all of her written works which include several volumes that interestingly play on the theme of immortality. They include a short story titled The Mortal Immortal. The story has been linked to St. Leon, a 1799 novel by Shelley's father, William Godwin. This had established the idea of a tragic immortal protagonist, possessed of exceptional powers but unable to use them well, which had been developed by Shelley in Frankenstein (1818). (See A. A. Markley, Laughing That I May Not Weep": Mary Shelley's Short Fiction and Her Novels)
Her themes on immortality seem to be linked back to her own father’s work but it seems to me that it may be more personal than that. As with many people in that time period, death was an ever-present and constant reminder of our own mortality. Mary not only lost her Mother before she was able to even remember her but she experienced the loss of several children as did family members and friends all around her. Child mortality was very common at that time with little medical treatment for many diseases. Accident and suicide were also very prominent themes in Mary’s circles. In the development of Pandora this will be a theme upon which I will lay. Some of these deaths will affect Mary’s actions and perspective and some may be utilized in plot development with doubt being cast of the nature of the death and whether foul play was present. For instance, Percy Shelley died only a few years after their marriage. Historians have theorized that his death may have been orchestrated as a part of the conspiracy and others have pointed at the boating accident as purely accidental. Nonetheless it works for a good plot point for Pandora in offering a third explanation that serves Franklin ’s motives. Additionally it is a long standing myth that surrounds Shelley’s death that during the cremation of his body his heart would not burn, and that his friend leapt into the fire to retrieve the heart. It is a fact that it, or its ashes, were given to Mary in a small box to carry with her, which she did until her death. This is a fictional bridge that is very useful to the immortality theme in Franklin .
PROPOSAL FIRST STAB; August 31:
AE CLASS: I am auditing Eric Homan’s class in after effects this semester. Eric has also kindly agreed to be my thesis adviser this year. I think this class will be invaluable to my continued development Cinemagraphic Novel because the form needs strong effects to convey narrative effectively. After working with AE briefly this summer and several conversations with Eric about examples in the industry I agree with him that “utilizing After Effects will be a game changer, it will allow you to work in 3d space and vastly expand your options in developing this narrative form”.
This first week covered the following After Effects elements: Interface overview; creating a composition; importing still images; using the Text Tool; setting key frames on Transform attributes (opacity, anchor point, rotation, scale, position); RAM previews (0 key); importing in a computer animation image sequence; Interpret Footage; looping (video) footage; Pixel Aspect Ratio; understanding and creating an alpha channel/ mask/ matte in Photoshop; assembling photos in layers in Photoshop; Photoshop layering techniques with the clone tool; Spot Healing Brush Tool; Band Aid Tool; basic After Effects visual effects (blur, saturation, drop shadow) that would apply well to images assembled in layers in After Effects.
We also met with our graduate studies and thesis seminar classes where were given the schedule for presentation of Thesis Proposals. We have two weeks before we need to make out presentations and argue for our proposals before the committee. I have been thinking about the proper form for the proposal and I have come to the conclusion that it will differ greatly from proposals of last year since I am the only media/cinema MFA currently. My proposal will call for more presentation of research upfront and I will need to front load my proposal with a complete narrative of Pandora in order to have the proposal understood properly. I cannot do as other students have in the fine arts and base my proposal on referential artists and propels the nature of the work to be conducted. There are too many questions left unanswered with this approach and media always begs the question on how it will be executed and accomplished simply because of the sheer volume of the work and the various references and departments that must be utilized to accomplish the work (i.e., technical ability, equipment, prop dress, art direction, post production, research, authoring etc) I have already been presented with the over arching questions “how are you going to get this done.” This might seem daunting to some but for me I believe in the magic of movie making. I draw my excitement from what I know can be done with little, that movies have a track record of creating fantasy out of models and lighting, and with the advent of software I believe the possibilities are there for me to harness. The trick will be all about careful planning and realistic effects done well.
TITLING BRILLIANCE September 7:
AE CLASS: This week we learned explaining and verbally analyzing motion graphics time-based design; Animating to the beats of a song; Visually sync different shapes to different musical notes; Thinking and designing in a time-based fashion; Animation principle exercises (exaggeration, squash and stretch, bounce) with text and still images; Time-Stretch (slow-motion, fast speed); Replace Footage, Reload Footage; organizing a Photoshop image on separate layers; importing a Photoshop image with multiple layers; Duplicating layers and key frames; Blending Modes (Multiply, Add, Screen, etc.); Channel Control for Hue/ Saturation; Adjustment Layers. Eraser Tool; Paint Tool; animating paint strokes; Clone Tool; Nesting compositions; Pre-compose; parenting layers.
In an effort to draft my proposal I began the sections on theory. I have been researching motion comics and graphic novels since last year but I have recently come to the conclusion that classic silent film and titling in modern film is the actual technological personification of what I am trying to achieve. Artists who are utilizing After Effects and animation techniques to make dynamic and quasi narrative credits for modern films are utilizing the exact techniques that I hope to apply to my narratives to bring them alive.
I am of the solemn belief that if creative directors such as Terry Yount (Sherlock Holmes, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and artists like Neil Gaimon and Dave McKean (The Sandman) collaborated with companies with stories like Marvel, DC and Dark Horse that it would revolutionize motion storytelling both in comics and graphic novels. Meanwhile I will explore this direction myself in an effort to bring the concept to fruition.
AE CLASS: This week we learned understanding and creating an alpha channel/ mask/ matte; Rectangle Tool; Mask Feather; Pen Tool; RotoBezier; Track Matte; Creating dynamic graphics: Time-Based motion design concepts (transitioning through a movement of graphics, swish-panning/ zooming in of visuals, similar shape-to-shape transitions, color-to-color transitions, unique wipe transitions); motion graphics design and animation principles: quick expand/ pop/ scale out and bounce back in. Pan Behind Tool (the Anchor Point Tool); Motion blur; exporting work as a movie file (Render Queue); importing audio files; seeing the audio’s volume waveform. Motion Sketch; The Smoother
I drafted my first version of a thesis proposal in the form of a presentation in order to work out the ideas. This included 4 aspects, writing a novella of the narrative, drafting a script of the Cinemagraphic novel and doing a print version from the media form. After meeting with Ric Petry and Michael Goodson I was advised that I need to focus on several questions that they think the committee will probably focus on. This include: 1) Who is the audience, this is not for a fine art/gallery crowd, 2) The media form will be confusing so description will be important. 3) Consider an interactive media form 4) The project is too ambitious and it was suggested to only tackle the Cinemagraphic novel, “not to author the novella but to get right to it.”
MY IDEA TO WRITE MY LITTLE HORROR; SEPTEMBER 14:
Taking these suggestions into perspective it is hard to consider drafting a script then the story is not written. In fine art terms it is like having imaginary materials and media to create the work. One cannot come to fruition without the other. However I understand the concern for time and the need to focus energies which will make for a better and more concentrated project. It is however a chicken and egg problem. I am resolved to change the thesis proposal to reflect these suggestions but resigned to the fact that will have to write the prose version anyway as a part of my “process.” It is amusing that process is such an important part of fine art and elevated to an exalted position as a whole division of contemporary art in of itself and yet every aspect of media is viewed without that consideration. The advice to me has been consistently to “just shoot it; we want to see examples and understand what you are proposing.” The irony is amusing.
Film making is a hugely process driven process. I believe that as I struggle with those perspectives I will need to reference other film makers and directors and how the creation of their work is not so different than fine art. Hitchcock was well known for designing every shot to its excruciating detail. Film would not be wasted on experiments or happen stance. On the other end of the spectrum was Kubrick who was also truly a process artist but in a different respect. His preparation was exhaustive but he would also shoot so much film the actors would in exhaustion simply be worn down enough that the director could mold them as the film developed on set. Lines would change, charters would change, re-writes were commonplace, but none of this was attempted without solid preparation.
An additional problem is showing work that is not working in the development process. Depending on the critical academic audience it can be an informative process or it can be extremely destructive. I am resigned to not show process driven experiments until they are ready to be seen. This is where utilizing the skills of my adviser Eric Homan are important. Eric will have carte blanch in that regard because his critiques are always about craft and are incredibly informative. His response to my process throughout all last year was to assist in describing the work and what it is or is not working and then to discuss how to alter the work to make it work. I flourish in such circumstances. What does not help me in my process is a judgmental approach to my work on whether it is likable or not. The approachability of media in our culture seems to have made everyone a photographer and everyone critic, neither of which is true. Video camera in hand does not make one a good video artist. Approaching a media based project is just like approaching any other art medium, one much have an understanding of its elements and of its historical critical theory and above all craft.
Nonetheless, I will be redesigning my proposal to present a very sharp and direct idea of the project and goals that I will stick to and use to stay on course. Regarding process, if I draft a manuscript of the novel as apart of my process then it can be an official addition to the thesis later. A motto I have been always partial to and I believe will serve well in this situation is “Under Promise, Over Produce”
I drafted a short piece of prose to include in the thesis as an introduction to give you a taste of what is brewing:
[Prologue Excerpt from “Pandora” by Pamela I Theodotou (Copyright 2012)
“It was there, in the villa on Lake Geneva that I first came upon my idea to write my little horror. I wonder how, as just a young girl, I came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea. But I pose this question in rhetorical jest, for I know well its birthright, its source and its effect on all my life… if life you can call it…”
“But I digress… “It is my desire to scribe this story, for I know that it is unbelievable. I pray that these pages survive and that someday the true telling can be told, because its implications for society, science and history are of the utmost and serious nature. It was here in this place that nature was undone, that she was subverted and bastardized for purposes I can only believe were born out of man’s blindness, ego and arrogance.”
“Now I lay captive in this unknown place far to the north, prisoner of a man I trusted. I have kept my promise until now, that I would keep his dark secret, but with his betrayal I will let it pour fourth like hurricane to paper, for I may not live to see morning.”
Mary Shelley, Scotland . Date unknown
MY APPOINTMENT TO WRITE; September 21:
AE CLASS: Class this week covered Text along a Motion Path; CC Composite; Question and answer session and workday. Keying out green/ blue screen fundamentals; Luma Key; Keylight; Matte Choker; Splitting a layer; Expanding a sense of 3D spatial depth in 2D image; Making a 2D layer into a 3D layer; moving photos and video in 3D space; 3D cameras and animating them; Navigating in 3-D space; images that would work well in a 3D environment or in motion.
After completely failing to be able to verbally articulate the narrative story of Pandora both in Graduate Seminar with John Fergus Jean and in a meeting with my adviser Eric Homan I decided to draft a film treatment for the project for inclusion in the thesis proposal. This caused a good deal of consternation. Scripts general gather steam in my subconscious before they decide to flood out through my fingertips and demand to be written. It really is a fine example of muse like activity or automatic writing. I am another person, who ever is telling the story, in that process. Making an appointment to write is therefore a rather ridiculous suggestion. Form is also dictated by other subconscious forces. Whether I can work on dialogue or prose or analytical materials is completely up to the mart of my subconscious that shows up or is wrestles its way forward to grasp the pen. I’m being over dramatic but the process does feel like this and I’m into the first to experience it, far from it. Writers are sometimes very superstitious, they know this process is not entirely in their control, all we can do is create the right environment, whether mentally or physically, to allow that magic to happen. Distraction is deadly to most writers for the process is so perfectly cerebral unlike may other arts which are perhaps better described as an elegant dance of “making.”
In any case, choke down the little fear that you don’t know the story yet, that it won’t stand to proofs. But trust the muse and it will come; and she did. I have a good 4 page film treatment of the film incorporating 4 months of background research. Now I can read the result, as I often cannot tell you what I have written after doing it, and use it to elaborate to the next incarnation. Turned in draft of the Thesis to my adviser.
A MAN NAMED BURR; September 28:
AE CLASS: Class this week covered markers in the timeline for specific cues; Camera lens and settings; Depth of Field; analyzing and critiquing other TV logo spots on the web; The Graph Editor; animating the speed of set key frames on graphics; Linear key frames vs. Auto Bezier key frames; Editing tangent handles for key frames; Controlling acceleration and velocity of key frames; Speed Graph; Value Graph; Easy Ease; Liquefy.
Tis strange, but true;
for truth is always strange;
stranger than fiction.
I was driven to work on whatever section of the novella that felt comfortable; the trip that the characters Mary, Percy Shelley and Claire Clairmont make to Chamonix in the summer of 1814 was asking to be written. This trip was taken as a jaunt away from Geneva where Lord Byron was hosting the group. It is where I have them run into “John” Franklin, who is really Ben. I wrote about 4 pages which was incredibly helpful. I was able to hear each character and get comfortable with their voice, motivation and manner. It’s rather like eavesdropping on a conversation that took place 200 years ago. I was quite surprised to find Mary emotionally so forthcoming, and was not surprised by her sensitivity and sharp awareness of where she is all the time. Franklin is darker than I expected but as charming as he is clever. Percy Shelley is sweet, very in love with Mary but cannot hide his 18th century social graces and faults. In light of Percy, Mary and Franklin both come across as quite modern in their sensibilities, which is to be expected.
During the writing of this section I had the occasion to review some of Mary’s journals and accompanying materials and references. While reading The life and letters of Mary Shelley I discovered that the American former vice President and accused traitor Aaron Burr was a guest at the Godwin home a few years before Mary elopes to the continent with Percy. Burr was an enigmatic character in American History. Once among the founding fathers and serving two terns as our second Vice President under Jefferson , his duel and killing of Alexander Hamilton caused him to fall out of the favor. He later moved to the western territories where he attempted to raise monies for an invasion of Mexico . He was charged with murder and treason, but was convicted on neither. As a person he has been described as a man with brains and guts and considered a very slick and somewhat dangerous opponent. Reviewing Burrs personal journals from the four years he spent in Europe after leaving the US and the scandal, I found notes of his visits to the Godwins and that he also had a house on Craven Street in London just down the street from the Franklin house. I see infinite possibilities in utilizing Burr as a second antagonist who knows Franklin, suspects his secret, can recognize him on sight and can use this information for his own advancement.
In developing the film treatment I had to come up with some overarching motivation for Franklin in the story. The vehicle I have chosen is a conspiracy laden subplot that includes the Freemasons and the Illuminati. In short the Burr character can act as a burr (pardon the pun.) Burr is desperate to regain his position and power, which is historically why he was in Europe , to raise money for his own war effort. Having him recognize Franklin in London, knowing that the man should have been dead 20 years, gives him motivation to push Franklin into the lime light and to action. Historically, Burr was kicked out of the Masons and desires to regain his position. Franklin was a Grand Master and well respected. Burr comes at his plan in several directions; he elicits the help of the Illuminati, another secret organization hated by the Masons in triangulating a plot of extortion to force Franklin to help him. Franklin ’s condition of immortality is interesting to both secret societies since they both revere the metaphysical, not to mention the power that immortality might afford any of their powerful members.
An Aside; My research also revealed a family lineage for an “Aaron Burr Franklin” that dates from 1770 to the mid eighteen hundreds. I am doing further genealogy searches to learn more about the family and any ties they may have to the founding fathers. This seems a red herring but interesting and intriguing nonetheless.
I also located an excellent website at the Bodleian Library at Oxford that is exhibiting a collection of items including the original manuscripts of Frankenstein. The library is an overwhelming wealth of information and knowledge housing many original documents from every discipline. When I was doing an overseas program in law at Oxford in 1987 I had the opportunity to peruse the collections daily. It is a place where you can literally feel the knowledge of the world pressing down on you. The link for the collection can be found here and is very interesting to surf.
The original manuscripts of Frankenstein will serve as excellent “original” props that I can use in the video and stills for Pandora. The collection also includes personal items of both Percy and Mary Shelley that have been closely held and cherished by family members for the past several hundred years. The collection is incredibly personal and truly a treasure to view.
My approach and answer to this directive is to work on a script and art direction outline with as many supporting images and detailed technique as possible, which would naturally be my next step in any case. The question of when to shoot a first scene will either come naturally or will be pushed by the committee’s need to feel comfortable with the concept. I will actively discourage this only because it interferes with my process and at the current pace I will be finished with this project by December, which is overly ambitious and would harm the quality of the project.
Another note: Some genealogy research on Percy shows that three children survived him: Lanthe and Charles, his daughter and son by Harriet (who committed suicide after separating from Percy); and Percy Florence, his son by Mary. Charles, who suffered from tuberculosis, died in 1826 after being struck by lightning during a rain storm. Lighting! How convenient for some twisted subplot. Charles was to inherit the Baronetcy, so with his death Mary son Percy Florence would be the heir; another excellent twist to add to the narrative.
I presented my thesis proposal to the committee this week. Ric Petry announced to our Graduate Seminar class on Thursday that everyone who had presented to the committee on the 26th had passed, which was good to hear.
My proposal grew to about 40 pages which was I’m sure much longer than expected or wanted buy the committee. I however felt it is important to include as much of the pre-production research as possible because I felt the project, if misunderstood, would get off on the wrong foot with the committee. I needed the narrative to be clear and come across as clever not crazy. I also needed to present a clear vision for the development of the media form of Cinemagraphic novels. Lastly such a proposal needed to convey my ability to pull off such an ambitious project.
The project was met with expected and reasonable concerns reflecting the above. The narrative was not questioned thankfully, I believe because of the volume of supporting materials, however the question of whether the project could be accomplished was of the most concern. I was urged to develop initially a proof of concept with some test shoots and technique development. This is a whole other line of work I am reluctant to engage. My philosophy is that I have to prepare adequately to be able to shoot quality material. Again, another chicken and egg issue.
PRE-PRODUCTION NOTE ON A TEST SHOOT; October 2:
(Portrait By Chad Wys)
The image above is work by artist Chad Wys. His Nocturne series is quite stunning. The nature of the work holds within it an emotional underpinning that I would like to be able to capture in Pandora. Somehow the pieces in the the Pandora perspective speak to decay. Perhaps it is the immortal nature that portraits are supposed to have and considering these are of an 18th century style we expect them to be a reflection of our history, ourselves. Instead they have a mac ab re nature about them as melting or deformed figures as if to say they are portrayals of the true human psyche. This idea will be useful in the port royal of these characters to be sure if not literally than , with some metaphorical homage to Mr. Wys' work.
I have been working on the shooting script for Pandora and have been drawing on different kinds of imagery in order to set the mood. Since this project is not a run of the mill zombie or slasher film and relies heavily on psychodrama, the imagery must be powerful and convincing with historical context as well as the emotional visual structure of fear and the unknown. It must be dark, foreboding and play to what we would most commonly refer to as the Gothic sensibility. It must have a midnight quality. Therefore pacing, style and delivery will be delicate. If it can come off as velvet then I have succeeded.
Having been asked by my adviser and the committee for a proof of concept I did some rough story boards in the last 24 hours for a short intro sequence. This is not part of an official script but simply test concepts scribbled down for such a purpose.
Working on the opening sequence for test purposes I will be doing some limited shooting of tightly detailed bits to cut into the establishing shots. Without the script done and not having enough pre-production to deal with costuming, location etc, these shots will be generic in time frame and meant to be psychological elements for us e in a proof of concept piece.
The plan is to use two establishing images, a Dark medieval forest that is back lit (inspiration- The Wolfman 2010) and the establishing shot of Blair Drummond House/ Castle in Scotland (See below) (Historically Franklin visited and stayed at Blair Drummond)
Some stock images I may be using in the cut out 3d camera space in After Effects are the following:
The goal will be to alter these images (a forest shots I will shoot locally) for suitable use in the project by using After Effects. I will also be adding layers of trees to the Blair Drummond Images so that a 3D camera can move through the layered landscape to establish the opening sequence of the project.
I also have been looking at locations for establishing shots and took a few smartphone shots downtown (Church on Broad Street for potential downtown London scene- see below)... I am also considering the Statehouse Lobby/ Atrium, Ohio theater, Santa Maria, Green Lawn Cemetery, Franklin Conservatory (love the name- how appropriate), local homes in Old Town East . I've reached out to most of these locations to discuss shooting.
Lastly some sequences that are inspiration for various reasons:
This unofficial titling sequence captures darkness well. It is imbibed with the feeling of the unknown and a creeping fear. The shadow images of the hands is particularly well done. The piece is known for its excellent typography which was hand done and shot though a fish tank with cutouts and lights. Bravo. As a part of the first test shoot I will be doing a whole series of images like this to convey the Frankenstein classic aesthetic and subject matter of reanimation and experimentation.
John Adams is valuable for its antique qualities and it slow and calm pacing.
The Pacific is a really nice sequence where illustration and video come together nicely.
IMAGES OF NICOLA SAMORI: A STUDY IN DECAY; OCTOBER 4:
Many of the images I am looking at are baroque in nature. The time period captures the romanticism of the 1814 time period as the appreciation of art still looked back to the old masters. In the same way that I am looking back into the romantic poets and their first fore into gothic horror I also have been looking to modern artists who are looking back to masters to create their own view of this style and adapting to modern sensibilities. The work below is that of Nicolas Samori (http://www.nicolasamori.com/) an Italian artist who's work and extensive exhibition vitae includes galleries and museums. His website describes his work in the following terms: "Samorì takes his subjects from art history: portraits, crucifixions, saints, still lifes, landscapes. His compositions for the most part conform to Baroque chiaroscuro. His figures emerge from the darkness of the pictorial space into the light with dramatic realism. Samorì completes his paintings in the style of the Old Masters with the highest degree of precision, causing the interventions he subjects them to to be all the more painful: he distorts them, smears them with his hand, disfigures them with the palette knife, paints them over, spills paint on them, or like a torturer removes the half-dry skin of the uppermost layer of paint with a scalpel. For all the destructive violence inherent in these virtuoso manipulations, his paintings are de-constructive compositions that make the historical pictorial legacy available to the contemporary viewer with the highest possible degree of sensuous energy.
While I am looking to film title artists, the work generated for Hollywood can have such a clean and perfected look to it I think it can detract from the style I am looking to create. Review of the kinds of images Satori is painting and destroying begins to describe the aesthetic I am after. Trying to do this in time based media will be challenging. While titles like Sherlock Holmes capture the literary/quill pen look of what I am trying to accomplish, other opening titles like True Blood also lend to a decay treatment (noting the portion of the title sequence of the actual words "True Blood" and the liquid or membrane effect behind the words). Creating that kind of effect in my work but infusing baroque qualities that Satori has created will take some experimentation.
FILM TREATMENT AND PLOT DEVELOPMENT
I believe a I have a solid film treatment completed that has a few more layers in it than the official proposal even envisioned. I'm really excited about that development mainly because I think good stories are multilayered. They provide for more depth and cross collateralization when it comes to characters motivations and action.
The story line for Aaron Burr has developed richly and I have included two antagonists to even his position of antagonist, the Illuminati and the Freemasons. Each group has its own belief system and desire for control. This allows for Franklin to be set up not only as a potential villain but also as a hero depending on who you ask. Ultimately it is the character of Mary that will see him for who he is, a complex man in a complex situation .
I also discovered that Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe, carried on in the secret meetings of Freemasons, Illuminati and Reading Societies , a book written by John Robison in 1798 claims that the secret societies were the cause of the French revolution. The secret agent monk, Alexander Horn provided much of the material for Robison's allegations. French priest Abbe Barruel independently developed similar views that the Illuminati had infiltrated Continental Freemasonry, leading to the excesses of the French Revolution. What is fascinating is that the fear was widespread. George Washington, in his letters found in the Library of Congress, tries to quell these fears by stating that the Illuminati has not infiltrated the Masonic brotherhood. Conspiracy theorists of the time claimed that the founder of the illuminati so resembled Washington that there was a plot to replace the president with the illuminati leader. Additionally I am researching sources that claim that Alexander Hamilton was being blackmailed in some kind of Illuminati plot, for which I believe there is historical evidence. Again, these bits of information are extremely useful to plot development and the antagonistic positioning of all of these historical figures. Interestingly young Percy Shelley actually read Augustin Barruel's book Memoires Illustrating the History of Jacobinism with excitement between 1811 and 1814. It was published in 1797. In short, Barruel wrote that the French revolution was planned and executed by the secret societies. When he eloped with Mary in 1814, she read it with him. Percy's death has always included claims that he was murdered for his beliefs by a government agent. This allows for some excellent foul play in the scene of Shelley's death.
LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION; OCTOBER 7:
I completed the initial draft of the script this weekend and can now start per-production which includes finding the proper locations. I had done some of this research before, knowing that locations to depict 1814 Europe were going to be difficult. A location that I am currently pursuing is the Ohio Statehouse which was built in 1839 and reflects the appropriate time period. The images below would be excellent locations for the Italian style Villa Diodoti in Geneva, Blaire Drummond Castle in Scotland, Various siting and dining rooms as well as a traveling scene (Potential green screen with vintage coach)
MOVIE HISTORY: RESEARCH:
I have also continued to do research on various looks and techniques in film. It being October and Halloween fast approaching I decided to watch some classic horror films. I have classics collection of 100 films and began with the first three discs. I watched the following as I was working on the script (I work best with background inspiration- either films or music specific to my project). The marathon of film included:
Jamaica Inn (Hitchcock, 1939), The Demon (1979), Murder in the Red Barn (1935), The Ape Man (Bela Lugosi, 1943), The Ghost (1963), Crimes at the Dark House (1940), The Long Hair of Death (1964), The Incredible Petrified World (1957), End of the World (Christopher Lee, 1977), The Fury of the Wolf Man (1972), The Ticket of Leave Man (1937), Shadow of Chinatown (Bela Lugosi 1936). Watching these films back to back you see some interesting progressions. The older the film, the more they still utilized some text elements, an aesthetic that is part of my work. Below see the text from Hitchock's "Jamaica Inn."
The old films have a really nice quality about them that I think we identify with classic Horror. You also can't deny Hitchcock, Lugosi or Lee when it's one of their films, they shine with excellence. Those early films had a kind of mellow drama to them but it seems appropriate because most films of the time exhibited that quality. (who can compete with Bella for some mellow drama? (See below)
The music was still the old style silent film style with tinny sounding piano accompanying fast action like keys stone cops. Sometime in the 50's, pop culture wormed its way into film and it seemed there was a departure. Costuming reflected both period and modern, with women sporting teased a quaffed hairdos of the Kennedy years yet it was a film about the 15th century. The campiness of horror was born. There was however a turn in the music for the better, compositions created for the film were more like our dramatic music we hear today, although not as high quality. All in all I can watch the classics from the 1930's-19'40s but for the most part can only watch the cult classics (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Blob, War of the Worlds etc) from the 50's through to the 70's on because there is so much bad film from that time period. Many of those films remind me of the bad movie of the week TV shows from the 70's. Go figure there were probably made in the same studios withe the same actors and directors using the same aesthetics.
JUST A LITTLE TASTE OF THE SCRIPT; OCTOBER 7:
PANDORA script: 10.7.2012
©Pamela Theodotou, 2012. All rights reserved.
TITLE & OPENING CREDITS
BLAIRE DRUMMOND CASTLE, SCOTLAND, 1823.
CUT TO: Establishing shots of a dark forest opening to a Scottish castle in the mist.
CUT TO: a castle bedroom. A disheveled MARY SHELLEY, looking crazed, hastily scribbles down words on paper.
I write this for I may not live till morning. If I die, then let it be known I was Mary Shelly, author of Frankenstein, a true story of my life.
CUT TO; A rear view of a MAN in a white colonial shirt rolling up his sleeves and handling electrical scientific equipment. He is preparing for something.
I lay captive in this Scottish castle by a man I trusted, a famous American revolutionary and master of science. He is the man who is both Dr. Frankenstein and the monster of his own creation.
CUT TO: Mary. She feverishly writes, stopping to rub her cramped hand.
But this is only the beginning for it is the blindness, ego and arrogance of men that lead me here to this place where nature was undone.
CUT TO: Mary walking in a rose garden.
My tale begins near Geneva where I first came upon my idea to write my little horror. We met John Franklin and I know now it was no accident.
CUT TO: Inside an Italian Villa, from over a MAN’s shoulder we see him shake PERCY’s hand and Percy turns to introduce him to LORD BYRON who appears aloof but acknowledges the unseen man with a nod.
My husband Percy Bysshe Shelly welcomed him to our little party of poets. From the beginning, Lord Byron knew him to be a dangerous man. Over dinner they argued and the American returned to the house brandishing a pistol like a madman.
CUT TO: Dinner scene. We see the unseen man make conversational hand gestures and Byron, at the head of the table jumps up from his chair with a glare and throws his napkin at the man. The man also jumps up and the whole party is shocked reacting to the slight.
CUT TO: Following day: The unseen man storming into a living room where all the characters are causally spending the afternoon. He is brandishing a pistol and fires wildly. He is carrying a bound manuscript in the other hand. Byron reaches for his own pistol and returns fire, the unseen man is shot and falls.
Byron shot him through the heart and he bade me keep his manuscripts safe before he died.
CUT TO CLOSEUP of Unseen man’s bloodied shirt. His hand reaches to his side and he pulls a bound manuscript onto his bloodied chest.
CUT TO: Mary leaning over him holding his hand. He presses the papers into her hands.
Thinking him dead I began to read them, and there the tale turned strange for the documents came with a note “Mary, tell my story, Ben”
CUT TO: Mary walking in a graveyard, sitting under a tree and reading the manuscript.
They were the notes and letters of Benjamin Franklin a man dead 20 years, or so I thought.
CUT TO: Various images of scientific notes and drawings on vellum and diary entries.
The manuscript told a tale of a brilliant scientist
“I am victim to my own discovery, my Philadelphia experiment, ever changed and altered by fire from heaven itself.”
FRANKLIN DIARY ENTRY
“The truth of it is I cannot die, the fire has so changed me, I am a modern Prometheus, and carry the secret of immortality.”
CUT TO: Mary sitting in a sitting room reading the manuscript.
But I digress. From Geneva we traveled back to England. Thinking Franklin dead I began to read the documents.
CUT TO: Close ups of diary entries. Map of England and then London, Craven Street. An Image of a row house.
LOCATION FOOTWORK; OCTOBER 9:
I working on the locations today I reached out to the various organizations in charge and am receiving a good reception so far:
The Ship The Santa Maria: Linda Ketchem is in charge of the program and was very accommodating. I will be speaking with her tomorrow about the schedule for the ship and when I might be able to board with a crew (pardon the pun). I am to call her tomorrow when we can discuss the schedule
The Ohio Statehouse: My initial conversations with Connie Derikito, Events Manager, were helpful. She is checking with the communications department about filming and seemed to think it was very possible. I may have to anticipate getting permits etc or handling other issues like any production company would.
Upper Arlington Athletic Department: When I played water polo at UA many years ago I knew we had an underwater observation window in the diving well. I contacted the High School today who provided the emails to the various athletic directors. I have emailed them requesting permission to shoot two characters submerged in front of the window (Both Percy and Mary separately.) Doing a shoot like this will also probably require normal safety precautions such as a trained safety diver in the water with the actors etc. I await their response.
The Columbus Foundation: I have a call into their Facilities Director Sue Hazelton to inquire about and period rooms that the Foundation may maintain at the Governors Mansion.
Craven street locations:
I am continuing to find locations for the project and have been looking for row houses in Columbus that can double for Craven Street in London, the location of Franklin's and the current museum called "Franklin House." Below are some images of the historic home courtesy of http://www.benjaminfranklinhouse.org
Today I snapped a few camera phone images of the row houses on Gay Street here in Columbus Ohio. They are a beautiful new development made to look vintage. A little research has indicated some of these new homes are still not purchased. I will contacting the developer about working with them to utilize a front foyer, front steps and sidewalk, hopefully using an empty unit and not inconveniencing any homeowners, for one of the scenes that takes place at the Craven Street address. (See images of Gay street below)
WORKING WITH ILLUSTRATION WITHIN MEDIA TECHNIQUES; OCTOBER 10:
I have been developing various techniques to infuse an illustrative quality into the media work. My initial investigations this week have involved using footage taken over the summer and working with the media in the following way; 1. Isolating a still 2. Exporting it 3. Rendering an accurate hand sketch of the drawing 4. Scanning the drawing and importing it back into After Effects. 5. Working with the layered 3d images to isolate the form through various masked layers 6. Work with contrast, brightness and color balance to get the right effect. The next steps to include movie media are more complex and I may play with those processes but will most likely focus on getting all of the footage for the project shot within the next 30 days. I also simply need to generate my own library of filmed effects in a studio situation (i.e: ink on paper, ink in water, steam, fog etc) which will take some set up time and a focused effort.) With the weather being a factor and priorities being the shooting of the scripted scenes, this will have to wait until post production.
I have been researching polar exploration in preparation for the ship board scenes in Pandora. My main purpose was to look at costuming and imagery form the time. Below are two images from 1830's-1870's that upon review have some aesthetics that I think relate to the development of the hand rendered images (like above). The Arctic Explorations image is actually a hand painted glass lantern slide. Other images in the series are photographs. It's Interesting how art illustration and media were mixing together even in the mid 1800's. Anyway, I have not been very interested in using simple sepia treatments in the project and it has been encouraging to see hand painted images from the time period (that will eventually evolve into hand tinted images in photography in later years). It provides for a different treatment of "age" in context. I also include an image I was using for costuming for the ship sequences but have also noticed that the steal engraving technique may also be another way to go...
http://www.freezeframe.ac.uk/collection/photos-british-arctic-expedition-1875-76/ls99-3-1: Reference: LS99/3/1; Title: Arctic explorations; Description: glass lantern slide; Collection: British Arctic Expedition 1875-76; Summary text: Stylized drawing of two sailing ships in an Arctic landscape; Date: 1875; Location: Greenland
Reference: LS99/2/15; Title: ‘Discovery’ in winter quarters; Description: glass lantern slide; Collection: British Arctic Expedition 1875-76; Summary text: Sailing ship ‘Discovery’ in a flat ice sheet. In the background the snow has in great part disappeared from the hills. On the shore, behind the ‘Discovery’ is a village consisting of a large tent formed of sails and spars and a few wooden observatories. Date: 1876; Location: Greenland.
MUSIC; OCTOBER 11:
I am considering the following works as possible scoring music:
Corelli: Concerto Fatto per la note di natale (15:32 min)
Torelli: Concerto in G minor, Op. 8 No.6 (6:45)
Torelli: Concerto in A Minor for guitar, violin & continuo (7:22)
Schubert: Ave verum (2:33)
Vivaldi: : Gloria: Qui tollis- chorus (1:08)
Bach: Magnificat in D major: Omnes generations (1:24)
Bach : Magnificat in D Major: Et misericordia (3:28)
Bach : Magnificat in D Major: Suscepit Isreal (1:50)
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons: Concerto No. 1 in E Major: Largo (2:23)
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons: Concerto No. 2 in G minor: Allegro non molto (5:18)
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons: Concerto No. 2 in G minor: Adagio e piano (2:04)
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons: Concerto No. 2 in G minor: Presto (2:55)
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons: Concerto No. 3 in F major: Largo (3:33)
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons: Concerto No. 4 in F minor: Allegro non molto (3:27)
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons: Concerto No. 4 in F minor: Largo (2:17)
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons: Concerto No. 4 in F minor: Allegro (3:19)
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons: Concerto in C major: Allegro (2:55)
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons: Concerto in C major: Largo (2:28)
Prokofiev: Romeo & Juliet: Montagues and Capulets )5:51)
Prokofiev: Romeo & Juliet: Romeo at Juliet’s grave (5:49)
The difficulty with choosing music is that it is a chicken and egg problem. Much of your editing actions must coincide with the music so laying down clips is a priority of the narrative. Yet when you are tethered to existing music and the way it moves it can dictate emotional changes in narrative. I find that putting music to experimental clips result in a lot of beautiful accidents that generate some of the editing choices. Music is a fluid influence, the mid tends to generate narrative as you listen to music and the mid is also forgiving of those choices. Much like when we see beautiful pastoral music set to images of war (Platoon for example or Apocalypse now), we easily see the poeticism to those choices so the process is very forgiving. In Pandora I am looking to do much of the same thing by choosing classical music and offset what we would hear as beautiful but be presented with the macabre visually.
ESTABLISHING SHOTS, B-ROLL FOOTAGE AND EXPERIMENTAL CLIPS; OCTOBER 16:
Over the weekend I shot establishing shots as well as experimental material to be used in Pandora. The footage was downloaded and I shared it with my Adviser, Eric Homan, who seemed very please with the quality and how the footage was relaying the mood and concept. I was lucky that the weather cooperated and I got some beautiful shots of the lake at dawn and later as a storm blew in.
I am believing that a visual theme that will run through the piece will be Water vs Fire. Metaphorically they represent both lead characters Mary and Ben who are at odds with one another. The theme also fits into the classical mythology of Prometheus and Pandora (as well as Persephone). In the work the theme of water is parlayed in many ways, Mary meets Ben at a pastoral Lake Geneva but later looses her husband Percy in a boating accident (apparent drowning but in reality it is because he was struck by lighting, divine fire in this case). Mary also escapes at the end over water, among frozen icebergs (again water in its most powerful form), back in her element.
FIRST SHOOT; THE SANTA MARIA; OCTOBER 20:
As usual in film making (shoots being disjointed in time), we started with shooting the the final scene of the script on Thursday at the Santa Maria. The character Mary is on a ship bound for the arctic, much like her character Dr. Frankenstein in her novel. She is running from Franklin just as the Dr. Frankenstein was running from his creation, the monster.
The clip below is a fast rough cut with some simple effects and kinetic text just to do a proof of concept. The final work will have many more layers to increase depth and texture as well as kinetic elements that should capture each scene and move them on the page like one is looking at successive panels of a graphic novel.
I am feeling good about the parchment effects and the transitions from video to parchment. Being a rough cut and probably not the edit I will use I expect to fine tune this element and ad many more ink layers to the images. I also expect that there will be some dynamic transitions so the images aren't so static.
Many thanks to Kristin Baird, brilliant and gorgeous, who is playing Mary; and Amy Schweitzer, who was infinite help acting as friend, gaffer, grip, artistic consultant and script girl!
LOCATIONS AND CASTING; OCTOBER 22:
I received word from the Ohio Statehouse that we will be able to utilize the statehouse for shooting! This is fantastic news since there are so few architecturally correct buildings in Columbus Ohio in which to depict scenes of Pandora. The statehouse also has a period stagecoach, that with some green screen effects can be utilized for a traveling scene. With this development this clarifies most of the difficult questions on locations. My other challenges continue to be costuming and set dressing for some of the more unusual scenes. I have connected with several reenactment groups that do have period costuming so I am making good progress.
With regard to casting I have also been fortunate that a very experienced actor, John Michael Stubbins has agreed to play Franklin. John Michael is not only an actor but also an executive producer and is really doing some great work with a group of artists, writers and directors here in Columbus. He is an executive producer and actor in Aiden Five, a graphic novelesque web series that has done very well critically and has appeared at the Canne Film Festival. He is going to be executive producing and staring in "Our Father," the last screen play written by John Candy before he died. A work that Michael is also involved in is The Horseman (see below), which is written and directed by Ben Bays (also of Aiden Five.) The horseman is also a period work, about which John Michael and I have had several conversations.
Click on the image or go to: http://www.teamtwelve.com/horseman/trailer.htm
Additionally I have been able to cast many of the other parts including the 5 men needed to play various Illuminati and Freemasons as well as Lord Byron, from friends at work, so we will have a legion of lawyers in the cast. Andrew McCauley of the MFA program has kindly agreed to play Percy. I am debating whether to cast two other parts Dr. John Polidori and Claire ClaIremont. They are not important to the narrative but their presence would be historically correct and add some extra visual diversity to the scenes in which they appear. I remain undecided...
DAGUERROTYPE DUALITY OF TRUTH; OCTOBER 23:
Working with the footage shot on the Santa Maria I began to apply some of the techniques that I consider essential to the project. That includes transitioning video to illustration and including text. Because the work is a period piece the illustrative portion will be presented as drawing on vellum or parchment. The video on the other hand will need more experimentation. In the rough cut I utilized three pieces of video and had slightly different treatments afforded to them. The first clip utilized a mixture of illustration and antique photo finish. The second clip was more photo finish with a slight metallic effect. The third pulled away from the more photographic towards the illustrative with strong lines and muted colors.
In critique with Adviser Eric Homan the response was good with regard to the illustration on parchment and the transitions into video however the treatment of video was more complicated. The first video selection was the strongest with the third clip being considered too filter heavy. The consensus being that the video needed to be more lifelike in comparison to the illustration. To go to illustrative on the moving portions of the media made the work looks heavy and effect driven.
In that vein I have been drawing upon the differences between photography and illustration and trying to identify the reasons for using each. This inquiry came out of last weeks critique with Professor John Fergus Jean where I presented to rough drawing of Mary superimposed over video to discuss different effects in After Effects to create those transitions. I was asked why I was using those two techniques and how they served the narrative. A basic question and one for which I didn't have an immediate answer except that it was in line with all of my projects to marry illustration and film. What came about was a deeper understanding of the nature of or basic framing of the world. Classically we frame our existence in terms of black and white, right and wrong, yin and yang. When considering that narrative these elements are certainly in play, however what I think is most compelling about this narrative is that those boundaries are severely blurred depending on the character. Because we are dealing with immortality, the character Franklin has a whole different set of moral codes in place simply because of what he is. His belief system has been altered to accommodate his new knowledge and perspective as though he has taken an evolutionary jump into the future untethered by dogma. The essence of Pandora is that it is a story about transformation and the duality of the diametrically opposed two truths.
When considering the imagery utilized to convey these concepts it was discussed in critique with John's lecture on pragmatic truth vs the sublime that the story Pandora reflects two different truths at war with one another. First is the light, the reality, the "truth" all reflected by the clarity of photography "the great truth teller," as conveyed by video. The second is the illustrative drawings, which represent the shadow, the unknown, the sublime and the other truth that is behind the veil on in the void. Using these two kinds of treatments gives the work a visual language as well as its literary one. What I find interesting is that that language can also flip and exchange roles as do the characters roles.
Back to the treatments. I am drawn to the first two video portions of the rough cut because they remind me of Daguerreotypes. Interestingly enough the Daguerreotype had just been invented during the time period of the story so it is an appropriate reference visually. The wonder quality about Dags are that they are exposures on a silver plated copper plate therefore the imagery has a slightly metallic sheen or look of a negative when viewed at an angle. That quality id very evident in the second rough cut clip. Dags were also colorized after they were created and the first rough cut clip exhibits a little more color because of the mix of effects. This round of investigation is taking me into the history and method of Dags and how I can utilize these kinds of effects in Pandora having already seen them at work in the rough cut.
I inquired with John regarding Dags via email and his answer leads me to believe there is more to investigate and that research on Dags will provide more layering techniques and stylistic choices. Here is an excerpt: "The Daguerreotype only occurred in B&W, however a false color process called the bescherelle process instilled rather surreal colors. The color was added in by "artists" who would paint the surfaces to give a more natural look. There was one color process, never verified (Levi Hill) that purported to be color. The modern practitioners, such as Irving Pobborasky, Grant Romer, Patrick Bailly Maitre Grande, and others have much to say on the aesthetics and ephemeral quality you describe, in essence they believe the dimensionality and reflective quality ushers in hermetic knowledge. That is intuitive, organic, energy that speaks of mystery and transcendence. I will try to find written essays and such."
Based on all of the above I have started to examine Daguerreotypes, their edge work and the backs of these plates (see the very colorful copper plate below) for textures and treatments that can be included in the video layering to emulate a Daguerreotype Movie (Eureka: something that did not exist in the 1800's but is possible to emulate through modern techniques. Some the following are Dags I am looking at although I have pulled several hundred images from the internet to study and use.
Costuming and Locations continue...; OCTOBER 24:
Obtained today through Ebay are three pairs of antique glasses for the Franklin character, purchased for $11.50. What a wonderful find.
I also received permission from the new developers of the former Ohio Deaf School to film one of the final scenes of Pandora, where Franklin shoots Mary in the back from a distance as she is escaping across the lawn of Blair Drummond Castle. One of the upper windows of the Deaf school will be utilized as well as the topiary park below. (see original image of Blair Drummond House (left) and photos of the Ohio Deaf Schools and Park below). Also both buildings have wonderful carved faces and I look forward to shooting those on the Deaf school for B Roll footage.
DECAY AND THE DAGUERREOTYPE; OCTOBER 25:
A few weeks ago I was exploring the concept of decay and looked at a few modern painters who had used master work techniques and then incorporated the concept of melting in their work. I felt it was an interesting choice given Pandora is about transformation. I thought this would make for an extraordinary concept to include in my media work but was unsure about how to create this effect in film. With my recent exploration of Daguerreotypes I have noted that many images from that time have naturally decayed through age and handling. It has provided me with a way to incorporate decay into the media by studying how these images decay and gathering textures and edges to bring into the editing process. In some images it is the edges of the Daguerreotype that are most interesting. I am collecting images from the internet and have a library of several hundred images from which I can sample edges and distress to be able to import into the media. (Below are some excellent examples including from the top down, author Nathanial Hawthorne, the first recorded Daguerreotype which is of chemist Robert Cornelius and scientist Michael Faraday.)
Even more informative are the severely decayed examples where the chemical processes have broken down.
Other types of decay include spotting that appear to be chemical decay. When considering time based media this can appear as bubbling and melting, an effect I experimented with last week utilizing plastics, liquid inks and extremely hot halogen lights to heat the plastic and liquid to boiling points as it was confined by the plastic (see the first experiment below). I have just begun to experiment these effects and will be continuing with different materials and setups to have a variety of effects. Warning do not try this at home kids without proper ventilation, I suggest a chemical hazmat mask... I suddenly feel like I'm on the set of Breaking Bad...
The image on the left is the first astronomical image taken (Daguerreotype) and the video on the right is my plastic/ink decay experiment which creates the decay in a live moving format.
LOCATION SCOUTING AT THE OHIO STATEHOUSE; OCTOBER 26:
I went over to the Ohio Statehouse today and looked at specific locations for each scene. It is always extremely helpful to sit in a space and think through different shots so that the shot list can be generated and storyboards can be confirmed. In the next few days I will be drafting a short letter to the Statehouse media department proposing the specific locations and the shooting schedule to get it approved.
ROUGH CUT 10/27/2012; OCTOBER 27:
Work this week included adding Daguerreotype textures to the moving image portions of the rough cut as well as using some after effects techniques like "write on," a process where text it animated to look as though it is being written on the page in real time. I also worked with the footage shot of Percy on a sailing vessel that depicts his death. I utilized After Effects to create lighting effects as well as turning a sunny day into stormy day.
SHOOT SET FOR NOVEMBER 11; NOVEMBER 5:
In a twist of scheduling fate I will be doing all of the shooting in the Ohio Statehouse a month earlier than expected. This is due to the Statehouse schedule and limitation because of holidays etc. I also have gotten the news that some area will not be possible to shoot in such as the Stateroom and in the Stage coach. I am back to looking for locations that can double for these and trying to figure out a way to green screen the actual coach and still utilize it without touching it, a tall order given the circumstances surround it physically. I am also looking into other horse drawn carriage option which are very limited.
Preparations for the 11th are harried and i am madly sewing costume pieces and developing props. Some of the costuming sources dried up so I am back to utilizing my own collection and getting clever with period accents on clothing to get the right effect. To date this has worked very well and my friend Tom Starker has been immeasurable assistance in his creativity when it comes to the male costumes and adapting some of his vintage pieces from his personal wardrobe. A box of period hats arrived today from the costume company as well as a few male wigs with which I will experiment.
BUILDING THE LAB; NOVEMBER 8:
The Director of facilities of CCAD Joe Spybey kindly toured me through the oldest basements of the school to look for possible locations of the Craven Street basement where Dr Hewson has his laboratory. This will also double for some shots in the Blair Drummond Castle lab. I have resigned myself (although gleefully) to building the mad scientists lab and have been looking for ideas for props. I have seen some prop builders do some really great apparatuses from antique electrical parts but its a bit cost prohibited because they are collectors items. I settled on trying to find used electrical and telephone insulators but have not found a source (See below)
Then the Eureka moment was touring CCAD with Joe; he showed me parts of large street lamps that are in storage. These will easily double for towers that will look like trumped up Tesla coils or insulators that I can animate through After Effects with lightning and electricity. I will be allowed to borrow them temporarily for the set dressing and am imagining 10 of these items at various heights creating a backdrop of crackling electric fire. I also located a vintage electrical switch that I will be able to use in a closeup. I was also able to find a distressed metal/wood lab table as well as wiring and miscellaneous metal tubing and struts etc for set dressing.
THE BLIND SCHOOL AND THE TOPIARY PARK LOCATION; NOVEMBER 8
Earlier this week I was granted permission to visit the blind school and look for locations in the building. Eric Homan, my adviser, accompanied me and the director of maintenance for the Seneca building to walk us through. I had identified the window which I wanted to use and we were able to get to the 3rd floor of the abandoned and shuttered building to look at the space. I was able also to scout the topiary park and the sight lines from the school window for the setting up of the shot. I am expecting to have the Franklin character appear in the window, set his sights on Mary who is escaping through the garden. He will be using a vintage rifle to shoot her from across the span and supposedly kill her. I'm really excited to use the ghostly shapes of the topiary figures in the shot.
SHOOT PREPARATIONS; NOVEMBER 11:
Since I am doing shoots as a solo production team, the highest degree of organization is very important otherwise all descends to chaos very quickly. Friday evening and all day Saturday were spent making last minute alterations to costuming and creating costume packages for every character to be able to efficiently hand actors their costumes, accessories etc. on location. After creating the groups (see below) I packed and labeled separate bins of props, equipment, tools, refreshments, etc. We are scheduled in to shoot from 1pm to 3pm at the Ohio Statehouse doing 4 different scenes; The arrival of Franklin in Geneva, The chess game between Byron and Franklin, the death of Franklin and the abduction of Mary Shelley.
THE MESMERIST; NOVEMBER 12:
During my critique last Thursday I presented the first experimental edited portions on Pandora (previously posted here.) The response was good and the treatments in the edit, drifting back and forth between parchment paper images and daguerreotype treated video, is working well for the viewer. John Fergus Jean noted the two aspects of the Daguerreotype edits that included a slight film negative effect (edges glowing silver as in a Daguerreotype angled slightly to show a silver negative image.) I was really pleased that to a photographers eye this result was notable and intriguing. The beauty of the effect is that is partially due to the shooting circumstances. During the shoot of that scene the clouds were heavy and the exposure was significantly low. As Mary walked across the deck of the ship I might have just as well shouted to the heavens "Cue sunlight, Cue Wind" because nature, the muse that she is, provided a beautiful increase in luminosity and the drama of the wind kicking up and rustling Mary's hair and heavily furred costume, the movement causing a glow, allowed for the "silvering of the negative". In moments like that I throw gratitude to the heavens.John also suggested I look at "The Mesmerist" by Bill Morrison. The film is an example of nitrate decomposition that goes directly to my efforts to "decay" the images in some way. The film is a salvaged version of the original film named "the Bells" starring Lionel Barrymore and Boris Karloff. We viewed the film in the critique and I was surprised that all of the other artists responded so possibly to the extensive decay that sometimes completely obliterated the image. I suppose this is a result of my thick skinned sarcasm, an amour I am happy the shed at the drop of a hat. In any case I felt that my increasing abuse of my "work negative" was getting some critical commentary but the magic that was this particular critique has informed my in a different way.
The nature of the Daguerreotype is a still image so my current experiments has been layering this kind of still decay over my moving images. The Mesmerist is a brilliant showcase of actual natural decay and one that I will study closely to try and mimic in digital format. My early experiments with melting plastic, ink and water are just the tip of the iceberg and as soon as principle photography is finished I will return to that line of investigation. It will involve some in camera effects as well as I am sure some After Effects techniques to work with morphing the images, altering focus, color etc. A tall order indeed."
Returning to the Mesmerist, D. Cairns ( https://dcairns.wordpress.com/tag/the-mesmerist/) in a blog about film describes the work and the decay in an evocative way:
"This image comes from THE MESMERIST, a short film by Bill “DECASIA” Morrison, which takes a sequence from a silent film, THE BELLS, and isolates it, slowing it down to allow us to appreciate the terrifying beauty of the nitrate decomposition that’s eating the print alive. Imagine that white flicking and sparking all over the frame, while the image itself warps and billows as if projected on a sheet somebody’s pummeling from behind."
"Morrison’s other film from THE BELLS is called LIGHT IS CALLING, and it’s even lovelier and more tragic."
"I was wondering what these images reminded me of — experimental films send my thoughts flitting about, whereas narrative works tether my brain to the unfolding events — and I thought of Max Ernst’s painting Europe After the Rain, a sort of apocalyptic vista of psychedelic distortion, created by a technique Ernst called decalcomania: you’ve probably used the approach at nursery school without hearing the big word. Simply paint one sheet of paper thickly with different hues, press another on top of it, then peel them apart, to create beautiful abstract patterns."
"And of course, that’s how Morrison’s work is created too. As the nitrate stock deteriorates, the surface turns to jam, and the whole reel gets gummed up. As the film is unspooled, the celluloid strips aLways from itself, exactly like those sheets of paper when you were four, and with similar results. THE BELLS peeled."
"The way the sepia tinting oozes like marmalade and assumes myriad hues made me think of a print by Turner of ships at sea that hung framed in our house when I was a kid, a golden mist through which shapes loomed in abstracted outline. Equally, I was reminded of Andres Serrano’s ludicrously controversial work, Piss Christ, in which an image of the Crucifixion glows dimly through obscuring golden clouds of urine."
"I also thought of Ralph Steadman’s Paranoids, Polaroid images mutilated with a blunt instrument as the image is still developing, squashing and stretching facial features to turn likenesses into unlikenesses, actualité caricatures. I was never able to get that to work, although I did have my Polaroid taken by a ghost once. Beat that, Steadman."
"This particular film uses big white Rorschachian bubble-clusters quite a lot. When frozen, they sometimes have a crustacean shape to them, and their whiteness is that of the white whale, the colour of nature when everything else is stripped away."
"Then there’s also the Jack Kirby anti-matter black frogspawn, which is pretty rare but always scary and exciting when it comes crawling into the frame, clustering on the actor’s faces as if to consume them like the neg-scratch monsters in THE FLESH EATERS. Some of this is a product of the decalcomania effect, Max Ernst’s name for what you get when you apply thick paint to a surface, squash it under another surface, then peel the two apart. The same thing happens to celluloid when the film loses its stability and the image turns to jam, squished together in a reel of film. Unreel the film and all these abstract patterns are created as the film peels away from itself."
"The buckling and warping of the print causes mobile blurring of focus, since the film will wibble-wobble on its way through the projector, the distance between lamp and image changing irregularly. And then there’s the squash and stretch on the image itself, as it gets distorted, fun-house mirror fashion, by the shrinking and expansion of the film strip."
"Nothing so beautiful happens when digital information decays, and in fact you very quickly get something that can’t be viewed at all. So it’s arguable that film is superior to digital, even when it goes wrong."
THE MAD LAB; NOVEMBER 25:
The CCAD facilities department and Dean Taggart were kind enough to loan me the materials we found in storage a few weeks ago to create the electrical equipment props that are needed for the Dr. Hewson/ London Laboratory scene. The idea is to create the impression of large insulators hooked up to a lightning rod source that theoretically is coming down from the rooftop. I anticipate shooting some footage of an old rooftop with a lightning rod as well as a storm sequence that is rolling over the city of London circa 1760's. The whole apparatus will be "electrified" through the use of After Effects. I also have made some mental production notes to be sure to use tripods and multiple static shots for this sequence so I don't have an issue with a moving source of the effects. The first picture below is an image of an actual insulator electrified. The following images are the apparatus in the process of being constructed.
PROMOTIONS AND PR; NOVEMBER 30:
As the deadlines loom for the April show, we have been asked by the department to generate PR and Promotions materials for the gallery printed brochures etc since they need to go to print in January. The following are a few stills, although works in progress and not true to the final form of the work, from Pandora to be used for that purpose.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIGGING; NOVEMBER 30:
In an effort to find more material for the Mad Lab Set I researched the internet for antique electrical equipment and parts. I quickly became apparent that it was going to be very expensive to acquire porcelain insulators etc because they are so collectable. I found that some collectors have located (although keeping them secret) turn of the century electrical dumps and they dig through mountains of dirt to find long buried scientific treasures. Most of those items are the highly coveted and rare mints of the glass insulators. In the early 1900's a change of materials was made and these same little art objects were made out of porcelain.
I spoke to an AEP crew on the CCAD campus asking them if they are still tearing down older poles and what they do with the equipment. They directed me to their main supply hub and I was able to connect with the head of the facility. I went over this morning not knowing if I would find anything or be able to acquire some pieces for the set. The items that the trucks dump at the hub are all recycled so valuable metal and wood are all re-purpose or they have contracts with recyclers to come in and haul away what needs to be re-purposed. I was impressed that it seemed nothing went to waste. Poles, if not usable, become shredded for mulch, wire and steal all sent to salvage. Luckily the manager was happy to oblige my request to take some of these items but it appeared it was going to be a one time accommodation since the hub is a hard hat area, they have contracts with recyclers etc etc. So I did my best to take the opportunity to get as many pieces as possible. The staff was extremely nice and even brought out the fork lift to liberate some of the more unique insulators that were trapped under large piles of poles. Remarkably I packed up my little BMW which has now become a salvage hauler, with AEP employees getting a good chuckle at the process, and with little damage I limped back to the MFA studios.
In working on this project I have decided to re purpose these fittings into some furniture design concepts and the management at AEP have given me a few leads on acquiring more old insulators.... but that will have to wait...