Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Cucalorus Films: "Meeting MacGuffin" and "World of Tomorrow"

This year, I was fortunate enough to sample two impressive, yet wholly distinct forms of animation. The two shorts I had seen were the films Meeting MacGuffin and The World of Tomorrow 1&2.

Meeting MacGuffin: An Ecological Thriller was a bizarre yet charming take upon a dystopian future where humanity is all but extinct -- and the ascendant surviving species (typical woodland creatures) have taken to creating humanlike proxies known as "homies," constructed from the discarded bodyparts that are all that remain from humanity, itself. Utilizing stop motion animation with figures constructed from dolls and other such crafting materials, the film gives a charming feeling of a dark and macabre fairy tale -- paired with the gentle voiceover performances, yet all together unsettling aesthetic, I don't know if I would necessarily classify this film as a "thriller," as there were really no moments of suspense found within.  It would be my own assumption that the filmmaker placed the subtitle upon his film simply because of the dark "between-the-lines" content found within -- often I find that films that place the genre of the work as part of the subtitle seem to be forcing the audience to draw certain conclusions from it.  In the instance of MacGuffin, I feel that it works contrary to the film's favor.

Regardless, the film's production quality was incredibly charming -- and the "scavenged" aesthetic of many of the film's models and characters definitely helped add to the mythology behind the setting, itself.  In many ways, I was reminded of Shane Acker's short film 9, that was later turned into a (lackluster) theatrical release.  In many ways I feel that this narrative does such a great job of building an exposition behind the story that we would be cheated to not have more time to "play in the sandbox," as it were.  While a full-length, wide theatrical release is probably not viable or realistic, I feel that it could be supplemented by creating additional short films to expand upon this intriguing concept.

Don Hertzefeldt's World of Tomorrow, a work of hand-drawn, illustrated animation was far more traditional in its approach, however far more adventurous in its narrative.  I was eager to see this film given my familiarity with the filmmaker's previous work, Rejected, which had been a long-time favorite of mine.  In World of Tomorrow, we are introduced to Emily Prime. A young child who is about to engage in a conversation with her cloned descendent, several centuries in the future.  The simple, childlike figures coupled with the voice actress for Emily Prime similarly gives the film a bit of a childlike pallour that underscores the sinister implications underneath. Throughout the course of the conversation, Emily's descendent (heretoafter simply named "Emily") begins to explain to Emily Prime some of the numerous technological breakthroughs that her time period has access to, as well as many of the cultural advancements made in society.  While presented in a lighthearted, humorous edge, there are many disturbing elements found within these descriptions -- a human boy grown without a brain and kept on permanent display, for instance.  Yet all of these sinister implications go over the head of Emily Prime, who continues to make innocent, childlike observations about them all.  I wonder if Emily Prime's role was scripted or if the voice actress (similar to South Park) was simply given a microphone and allowed to babble and react to the dialogue much like a child would, naturally.

While not as "randomcore" humorous as Rejected, World of Tomorrow was no less engaging or impressive in its function.  I was rather surprised to find how emotional poignant the film became, in its last few minutes.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


While I have filmed many amateur movies since I was a child, this project marks the first time where I took time to create pre-visualization materials prior to the shoot. While I can definitely see the benefit behind creating storyboards and shooting plans, unfortunately, for me, this was decidedly difficult. I am a passable visual artist, at best, and being a bit of a perfectionist, I can believe that I spent way more time than perhaps I should have trying to make sure that I was illustrating a storyboard that appeared cohesive and also comprehensive. Thankfully, my wife, being a professional comic book writer, was able to assist me with the Ins-and-Outs of sequential art, and making the "action" and "movement" trackable.

Additionally, the shooting plan was surprisingly rather helpful to me, as it allowed me to get a real sense of the space, where we can place the cameras, and how to generate an efficient workflow without having to figure it out on the day of the shoot, itself.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Master Shot: The Interrogation

From NYPD Blue, to Law & Order, to Blade Runner, some of the most suspenseful and intriguing scenes in Film and Television revolves around the interrogation room.  For the master shot scene, I am interpreting the Bran & Park dialogue scene to have a bit more sinister undertones.  Bran, in this instance, will be taking on the role of an investigator, looking into the mysterious Park -- a polyglot with a criminal record that seems to be decidedly silent and a hard nut to crack open. It is my intention to use low lighting to evoke a noir-esque feel of the scene, hearkening back to classic detective dramas. Low dialogue volume and subtle microexpressions will be absolutely key to giving this scene the weight and the intrigue that it requires. While Bran & Park's conversation occurs within the interrogation room, a mysterious, silent third party (which we're referring to as "JOHN,") will be watching the discourse via a security camera in the middle of the room.  Is Bran getting closer to discovering the nature behind this mysterious Park?  Or has Park's charisma and charm compromised Agent Bran's integrity...?

Vox Populi -- Maybe not so popular?

During the course of shooting our documentary, amusingly or frustratingly enough, we had a bit of difficulty finding decent sources for our vox populi.  While there were no shortage of individuals in the downtown area, finding individuals willing to talk on camera, even for a limited time, was more difficult than one would expect. Even guests on the tour seemed rather reluctant to talk about their thoughts and feelings toward it, however, thankfully we were able to reach a few guests who were very eager, indeed, to share their thoughts on the tour. Luckily, we were able to find a guest who had gone on the tour multiple times -- and thus had no real shortage of interesting stories and anecdotes with which to share with us. Additionally, we were able to interview Kent -- a new tour guide with the Ghost Walk who was also very learned in local Wilmington history.

The Expert Interview

For our expert interview, my team and I interviewed Anna Gamel, a tour guide with the Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington, a popular tourist trap here in the Wilmington area. Anna has a great number of years of experience in storytelling, theater, performance and, so we are led to believe, experiences with the supernatural. Unfortunately, due to the limited space, we were forced to film within the cramped confines of an employee breakroom, which necessitated that we get rather claustrophobic during the course of our filming.  Unable to set up a wide range of lighting trees, we were luckily able to ascertain that a single key light provided very intense and dramatic shadows that were very fitting for what we were about to shoot.  The harsh light and deep shadows on Anna's face providing a very spooky image, reminiscent of placing a flashlight under your chin while sitting around the campfire telling scary stories.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Documentary Interview Questions

For our documentary interview, we will be speaking with Anna Gamel, a fellow tour guide on the Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington. The questions we will be asking her, and the vox-populi questions for the attendees, are detailed below:
Q: When did you start doing the Ghost Tours?
Q: What interested you in them?
Q: Do you believe in ghosts?
Q: What is the scariest thing to have ever occurred to you on one of your tours?
Q: What sort of people enjoy going on the ghost tours?
Q: What is your favorite ghost story that you have told?
Q: What are the origins of the Ghost Tours?
Q: When do most people attend the tours?

Q: Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not?
Q: What made you interested in the tour?
Q: Have you ever attended a ghost tour before?

Two Tours, Two Time Slots, Two Different Lighting Experiences

As a tour guide at the Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington, I am lucky enough to give guests an immersive and engaging experience during a 90-minute walking tour in the Downtown Wilmington area, where walkers hear various bits of local history and folklore, presented to them with bone-chilling narration. The tour operates at two different times -- 6:30 and 8:30 respectively.

Obviously, at both of those times, the sun hangs in different places within the sky -- with the 6:30 tour still offering loads of daylight, whereas the 8:30 tour, especially during the summer season, begins at dusk.  While most guests tend to enjoy the daylight, I can't help but feel as though it greatly cheapens the experience.

With the sun high within the sky, every nook, corner and cranny of the architecture and buildings of downtown Wilmington are fully illuminated -- allowing guests to take in the details.  However, at night, with no light source aside from the street lamps, my hand held lantern, and...if we're lucky...a bright moon within the sky... shadows seem to loom, ominously. Darkness licks at the heels of the guests, and the presence of long, far-reaching shadows only add to the guests sense of mystery and, if I'm particularly lucky, fear.