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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Scenes No. 001: La Nina del Desierto

I'm starting a series of posts, "Scenes," about scenes that I feel like I end up talking about a lot, exchanging stories with work buddies and debating ways to approach certain problems. Big shoots, small shoots, whatever's an interesting enough situation to talk about.

For my first Scenes post I wanted to talk about what we did back in 2009 for the climax of La Nina del Desierto, with director Malachi Rempen. This is old news to a lot of people but it's come up a couple times this week and it's old so I thought it'd make a good start.

The short's about a man who digs graves in the desert for the mob encountering a little girl who's found his dig site; in this scene the girl disappears and the gravedigger discovers that she was the ghost of the body he's burying. It's the crux of the short, the emotional core of the movie.

Stylistically, the sequence was to be subtle and simple; Malachi didn't want any eye-catching trick or fundamental change in the visual design when the moment comes in the scene. The style of the movie was to present the world from a strongly objective perspective: we used lots of proscenium blocking and simple geometry combined with simple, straightforward camera work to imply a place for the audience outside the emotional point-of-view of any particular character; the goal was to make the reveal that a ghost is a part of this world affect the audience in the way it affects the character.

The plan going into it was to only bend that objective perspective for this key scene: the dolly in and out was a decision that not only accomplished the disappearance of the ghost, it's the only move in the film up to this point that's not physically motivated: any other pan, tilt, crane, or dolly has been a move expressly necessary to continue following action in the shot; now, so late in the film, we have this move motivated only by the gravedigger's building emotions. It was critical to keep it subtle; attention is only called to the movement when the dolly starts to move back. It was our way to try and surprise the audience with how drawn in they and the character have gotten.

The team did a great job building the plan on set and Joaquin Garrido gave Malachi an enthralling performance. There was an especially hard working group digging a 24 foot truck out of melted permafrost while we took the scene; by the time they could wedge wood ramps underneath the tires of the truck they'd dug a four foot deep impression of the entire truck, which had started the day with its chassis resting on the ground.

The effect was taken further when we got to post; it turned overcast for us as we shot on set, and editor Dan McLellan ended up assembling the short with the implication that a storm was building as the gravedigger spends more time in the desert. It was easy enough to take the scenes anywhere from a warmer arid look to the cold before a coming storm; Malachi and I dialed in a color progression for each scene the gravedigger spends in the desert, starting warmer and cooling off. Finally in this scene we make the full transition to the storm look over the course of the dolly in, trying to sneak in a starkly different mood for the moment without drawing any attention until it's already happened. The look ends up changing quite a bit:

So that's this Scene! Check out the whole short, La Nina del Desierto here!

1 comment:

  1. I wish that I was going into filmography. I have always been fascinated with the way that directors and producers can create amazing film shots. I don't know anything about the industry but I definitely want to start learning about it.