Ross School - Senior Project 2007-08
Mentor: Kerry Sharkey-Miller
Title: The Muffin Top
The Muffin Top, is a short film I produced for my senior project. I used stop-motion animation and live action film to illustrate my original screenplay. It is a story of two beings unaware of each other's existence who are able to interact with in their dreams. I focused on the symbolism of dreams and how they can influence our daily lives. I learned a lot about the process of producing, editing, and writing a short film while overcoming many obstacles related to producing a film and mana ging a cast. I plan on entering my film in local and international festivals.
For my senior project I decided to make a film called the Muffin Top. I first started to think that I would like to do a film for my senior project last year when I created a short stop-motion animation for my modernity project. I had so much fun creating my modernity project film and it was shown in many local film festivals. I decided to participate in a summer program at the University of Pennsylvania in animation, film and photography in the summer of 2007. From this program I was formally introduced to live-action film and the use of editing software. This program helped me a lot for my senior project and made me very excited to get back to school to start my project. I needed to think of a theme for my movie. At the end of my junior year an artist named Jackie Summell came and spoke to our grade. She was very interesting and a current project of hers was writing to prisoners at Angola Prison in Louisiana. Through her correspondence with a prisoner Herman Wallace, she began construct his “dream house.” I thought that this was such a cool idea and I decided I wanted the theme of my movie to be the dreams of prisoners. I decided to elaborate on that broadening my theme to the dreams of imprisoned people. I decided to focus on three groups of imprisoned people, prisoners in Angola Prison, women who have been domestically abused, and soldiers from the war in Iraq. I contacted Lauren Walsh at the retreat about the possibility of me speaking to any of their patients. She did not completely shut me down, but she said that there job was to get women to safety and questioned weather an interview with me about their dreams would be on the top of their list. I started to write to Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace at Angola Prison at the beginning of the summer and I received letters back. Our correspondence was guarded from both ends. I was worried about revealing too much about myself or sounding like a spoiled girl from the Hamptons' doing a school project, and I could tell that they were not willing to share information about their dreams either. This was very understandable that they would not want to open up to me after such a short period of time, however I really needed to do my senior project. I was worried with the little information given to me about their life as prisoners I would risk misrepresenting them.
Over the summer I tried to get over my failure with my first theme and was very frustrated. I decided the best thing to do was to give myself a break from it and start fresh when I came back to school. This is exactly what I ended up doing, I came back to school and started to brainstorm with KSM. I had a one on one class with her everyday where we were able to talk. I watched many movies for inspiration, but I found this time to be very frustrating because I just wanted to begin filming. I watched many movies and drew inspiration from Jan Svankmajer and Norman Mclaren who were both among some of the first pixelators. The film “Dinner” by Svankmajer helped to influence my food scene of my movie and the dancing scene in “Neighbors” by Mclaren inspired the dancing scene in my movie. I created many scenarios and stories but they never seemed to work out. Eventually I decided to settle on dreams of people. I researched the symbolism of various objects in dreams and decided to create a fictional story about two people who interact within their dreams. At this point it felt like I had strayed very far from my original idea, however I now realize that I hadn't. I was still focusing on dreams, and my characters were people who felt trapped in their everyday life. The good thing about my new idea for my project was that all of my characters were fictional, and I would not have to worry about the misrepresentation of anyone. I had a few meeting with Mr. Foard about the story of my movie and he helped me to make my story comprehend able.
Once my story was completely nailed down I began to storyboard my film. I had a set idea in my head that the beginning would take place in a kitchen and the end would take place in a radio station, however I needed to plan out where the dream sequence would take place. I was lucky that Ross has a great kitchen and recording studio that I could use for my opening and closing scenes . The issue was now finding places to film the dream, I went location searching and took many photos at many different locations. The story for my dream was heavily driven and influenced by where I decied to film. Originally I decided that I wanted to film it at the beach and the graveyard. There would be a porthole connecting the graveyard to the beach, however my mentor and I began to worry about weather and we both agreed that I needed to find more inside locations. I eventually settled on the idea of filming in a barn and after looking at about three barns, Alexis pointed me to her friends barn on Shelter Island. Once I looked at this barn the story for the dream began to come together and I incorporated the cool furniture of the barn into the story for my movie. I researched the meaning of different people and objects in dreams and incorporated them into the dream portion of the film. This made it so there are two stories taking place.
In the next part of my process I needed to find actors so I could begin filming. Originally I asked two of my friends who are seniors to be the actors. We had a solid day of shooting and accomplished a lot in that one day, however after reviewing the footage I realized that there was a lot that would need to be reshot. I had trouble with those actors because they were going away, visiting colleges, and doing school work. I began to look for actors who would be willing to give the time needed for stop-motion animation. Luckily I found Moss Turpan and Patricia Milligan, they are sophmores who agreed to be in my movie.
I began filming in the end of October. Stop-motion animation is a very time consuming process, it is a time based media that is shot frame by frame. The type of animation I like to use is pixelation which is where you move people and objects. This means that for my film I took frame by frame picture of people and objects, each frame they moved a little bit more. It is shot at thirty frames per second which means that for my finalized dream sequence there were 5,520 individual pictures. When I was filming I would always shoot more footage then I needed and would make sure I got many different angles. Consequently the amount of stop-motion animation footage I shot in total was 13,884 frames. I spent about 24 hours filming this is because I would film most of the scenes in one day and a large part of the process would be in the planning. For example, the scene inside of the barn took 9 hours to film and was edited down into a 3 minute segment. In addition to stop-motion animation, I decided to use live action film for the beginning and ending sequences. I thought that this would be an effective way to differentiate between the dream and the real life parts of the story.
When editing I used Final Cut, and most of the time I would edit as I shot various scenes. I had used Final Cut only briefly before and I really improved my editing skills through this project. Moving into post production I needed to make titles and organize the sound for the movie. I researched getting the rights to songs by big name musicians, however the use of these types of songs limit the distribution of the film and are also very expensive. I decided that I would try to use the musical talents of students with in the Ross community. I used a song by “Too Busy Being Bored” a band which sophomore Forrest Gray is a member of as the opening song. I was then lucky enough to have Christian Scheider score a song directly for my movie when it was completed.
Throughout this whole process I received a lot of feedback and helpful advice from my outside consultant Mitchell Kreigman. It was great having having someone hear my ideas and look at my footage with fresh eyes and with out knowing the behind the scenes of how I got to that point in my story. He was able to give me a lot of encouragement to pursue different ideas for my movie and to do whatever felt right for me.
There were many challenges when creating this film. The whole process was a challenge but I feel that I have learned a lot from it. The biggest challenge was time. I never felt that I was stressed for time, but I realized early on that my main focus for the fall needed to be senior project, college applications and school. Especially when working with a media such as stop-motion animation you run into many issues with time. My actors were always very corporative and willing to film when I needed to, but often times it was me who felt bad taking up part of their weekend filming my project. Thinking of my theme was a very big challenge for me and I spent the first two months watching films and reading books for inspiration. My next challenge was managing a cast and crew. I am a little bit of a perfectionist and I really enjoy doing things completely by myself. However I had to realize with my film that it is not always possible to do everything yourself and you need a crew to help you with production. I had trouble directing people and describing what exactly it was that I wanted them to do. Another challenge for me was collaboration, when I say this I am thinking of the music. I was lucky to have Christian Scheider score the music for my movie and I gave him freedom to do what he wanted to do. I had to trust that the music he would make would fit how I envisioned the music for the movie would sound like. In the end I love the score that he created and I think it works very well with the film. I learned how to let go and how collaboration is a good thing.
In the future I plan on attending college. I might major in film, but I am not entirely sure. Film is definitely an option for me and I will pursue it in some form. I plan on entering this film in many local and international film festivals and I have already entered it into the Guild Hall Film Festival.
Hart, John. The Art of the Story Board. Boston: Focal P, 1999.
Jidlo. Dir. Jan Svankmajer. Perf. LudvíK SváB, Bedrich Glaser, Jan Kraus, Pavel Marek, Josef Fiala, Karel Hamr. DVD. 1992.
Katz, Steven D. Film Directing Shot by Shot Visualizing From Concept to Screen. Stoneham: Focal Press, 1991.
Kreigmen, Mitchell. Personal interview. 6 Nov. 2007.
Neighbours. Dir. Norman McLaren. Perf. Grant Munro, Jean Paul Ladouceur. DVD. 1952.
Parker, Alice A. Understand Your Dreams. Tiburon: HJ Kramer Inc, 1995.
Russett, Robert, and Cecile Starr. Experimental Animation Origins of a New Art. New York: Da Capo Press, 1976.
The Science of Sleep. Dir. Michel Gondry. Perf. Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alain Chabat. DVD. Partizan, 2006.
Simon, Mark. Storyboards Motion in Art. 2nd ed. Boston: Focal Press, 2000.
Steriogram: Walkie Talkie Man. Dir. Michel Gondry. DVD. Capitol Records, 2004.
Community Member (Details)
My community member was Mitchell Kriegmen. We had one meeting in person, but mostly we communicated through emails. He was very helpful because I would email him my storyboard and he would give me advice on how I would alter my story to make it better and encouragement to go with my imagination and feel free to experiment even when on set filming. After I would film I would send him quick times of a rough edit and he would let me know what he thought should be changed. What was helpful about my outside consultant was being able to get advice through fresh eyes. Having someone who was not so closely connected as I was to my film offer advice was very helpful and often was things I would never think needed to be changed.