Ross School - Senior Project 2007-08

Student: Roger G. Elliott

Mentor: Marie M. Maciak

Product                            

Title: The Unforgettable: A Fiction Film by Roger Elliott

Description: Can loss be forgotten, or will past memories ruin new relationships?  Joe, the main character of Roger Elliott's film, drowns in nostalgia while living with memories of his past girlfriend.  When he encounters a newcomer to town, Amanda, her sensitivity triggers a sense of healing and the hope of moving on.  This cleverly shot and uniquely styled film takes place on the East Coast. Roger has been interested in cinematography and the filmmaking process all throughout high school.  He chose this project to further challenge himself and to synthesizing his skills.

Details:

Script - “The Unforgettable”

Joe running on beach, this demonstrates Joe isolation from society. 

Screen Shot - Joe sitting on cliff, think about Amanda.

Screen Shot - Joe first meets Amanda on the sidewalk.

Abstract

For those of you who dont know me, my name is Roger Elliott, and for my senior project I have created a short fiction film.  I have always loved making films, for me its a way to sneak off into another world - a world that I completely made up. In my past years at Ross, I have  made 6 short documentaries and one Public Service Announcement.  the PSA was my first attempt at writing a script and creating a fiction film,  a baby step in the direction of my senior project. Thus my senior project was an opportunity to expand my horizons and to focus on directing actors and also more on cinematography.  I wanted to complete a well-written script which I could direct, shoot and edit.  I also wanted to make a film that can be distributed throguh student film festivals.

My film producing process can be broken down into 3 stages:  pre-production, production and post-production. Pre Production, however, is the most important and vital part of the process.  It sets the foundation for shooting and editing. My original script idea came from Mr. Foard's MTERM - screen writing class last year.  It can be summarized as a story about a guy, named Joe,  who looses his girl friend and has a very hard time forgetting.  He meets a newcomer to town, Amanda, and starts clinging to her as a band-aid for his lost relationship.  Amnada likes his sensitivity and she is drawn to him. I began my process by addressing problems in the original script.  The main characters were undeveloped and did not have any personality. 

Creating Characters is like giving life to completely new being and deciding what experiences they had prior to the story in the film.   I tried to base my characters off the people I knew cause it seemed more realistic to me, and also create traits that were easy to relate to.  Joe, the main character was similar to me in the way he acted and spoke.  Originally I made him  more of the angry type but I softened him up in the later versions of my script so that Amanda's attractction to him would be more believable.

The first script version had many unnecessary characters and scenes.   The script  showed every miniscule detail of the story. For example, each time that a scene ended I had numerous shots of Joe getting to the next location.  These lengthy transitions were unnecessary. I wrote about 8 drafts.  In the first versions of my script I introduced a new character during the final scene, Amanda's Father.  This character had no real purpose other than to explain that Joe and Amanda were going away together.  I was advised by Marie to always show what is happening rather than tell through words what is going on. In later versions I also took out expositions to allow the film to be more visual. I also let it be more ambiguous - with a some what sense of mystery. For example,  I decided to remove direct references to Joe's past girlfriend's death.

Dialogue was another road block. I quickly found out that, the way people naturally talk and how I wrote the script were remarkably different.  My dialogue sounded generic, stiff and way too predictable, like when Joe is waking the person in the bed of his truck. I think the first line I wrote for Joe was something like "Rise and Shine", so i had to go back and make it more naturally flowing.

Scene Descriptions - Before I finished the final script version, I created an outline of scene descriptions.  It allowed me to understand how each scene helpes to develop the plot.  I also saw which scenes were extraneous, or purely decorative. For example, I had a scene of Joe looking at girls passing by b/c his friend tricks him to look so that he could take a bite of his pizza thus taking advantage of Joe's distraction.  This scene was funny but it took away from Joe's character being depressed.  I realized that if he was depressed, he would not even turn around to see the passing girls.  Thus this scene was also removed.

Storyboarding is the proccess of drawing out all the shots.  Its a way of seeing if the shots fit together and how they will be edited before you actually go out and shoot them.  For me this was a challenge because im not that good of a drawer, yet this is crucial for preserving continuity that gives the film a sense of a flowing visual narrative.

Since I am passionate about videography I invested in my own video camera, a Cannon XL2, instead of borrowing one from the school.  For me the production process was most nerve racking and I worked with very talented yet untrained actors.  I was unable to coordinate rehearsal time with my actors, so the only time we rehearsed was right before the shoot.  As a result, there was some awkwardness between the actors and they could not stay in character for too long. Ms. Maciak wanted me to have the actors wrestle each-other prior to shooting to break the tension. I really didn't think that was going to work, but I could have made them do some physical improvising, which would have helped them understand their roles more and helped them be comfortable with each other.


Lighting was always a challenge. Being able to correctly light a scene takes a lot of skill and time. With lighting you use something called 3 point lighting where the key light is the main, strongest light source. Fill is half the strength and it softens the key and the backlight separates charcters from the background so they don't apear looking like cut-outs. But if your shoots are beautiful and your acting is weak then the shoot becomes meaingless. But I feel that with good acting, some technical problems may be forgiven.

An imporatnt thing that i have learned from this project was to always shoot coverage for flexibility during editing.  This means many many many cut away's and enough, CU, MS, WS.  During most of my shoots, I shot the bare minimum because I was always running out of daylight, or my actors had to be somewhere else. I was lucky to always have void of sunshine weather which assisted in creating a mood of melancholy around Joe.  I also shot him alone on the beach to underline his disconnect. 

I was fortunate enough to have taken post production class previous to this film, so i was familiar with the avid non linear editing software.  Avid is an editing system similar to Final Cut  but slightly more complex.I decided to use classical continuity editing where continuous and clear narrative action is maintained by direction and matching of shots.  This gives an illusion of fluidity from one cut to the next. I had weekly critiques of rough cuts, and the editing room was where I felt most comfortable.  For this film iIdid compose and perform an origional song.  After recording the song I realized that  the music was too perfect and that I should use mistakes in the music to symbolize Joe's inability to move forward.

My main inspiration was from the learning process itself.  In addition, I wantched various fiction films that Ms. Maciak recommended.  I don't think that I was directly influenced by an of them but surely inspired. The two films that helped me the most were Stranger Than Paradise by Jim J and L'Avventura By Antonioni.  With Jim Jarmusch's film the plot moves along very slowly and the film is minimalistic, there are rarely CU's of characters. He uses extremely long shots and many of the scens are showed in 1-2 very long shots. I wanted to imitate the long takes.  I was also inspired to create pauses and allow akwardness to have space on screen.

L'avventura by Antonioni demonstrates the curves that life throws at you. The main characters fiance goes missing during a trip to an island and as he seraches for her, he falls in love with his fiances best friend.  The film has incredible cinematography and it potrays characters both longing and disconnecting from each other.  In my film there is also a disconnect as Joe is unable to move forward.

After the film's premier, many viewers approcahed me saying that I have a great "dark" sense of humor. Althought it was meant to have moments of humor, overall, in my mind, I wrote it to be a dramatic short, but it seems to have turned out to be quite the comedy, which surprised me.  Maybe it made people uncomfortable to see the male character being depressed and showing his sensitive side.  But that is why Amanda found him interesting. 

Distribution is a huge part of film making. A FILM IS MEANINGLESS WITHOUT AN AUDIENCE.  To find audiences I will be submitting my film to many film festivals using this site called “without a box” which allows paperless submission to student festivals all over the world. There will be a limited number of  copies on sale outside after the presentation.

I plan on continuing to study filmmaking because it's what I really love to do, and hopefully get into a good film school and further my understanding and abilities.

Works Consulted

"Directing." Interactives. Viewed 18 Nov. 2007 <http://www.learner.org/interactives/cinema/directing.html>.

L'Avventura. Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni. DVD. Janus Films, 1960.

Maciak, Marie M. Personal interview. 11 Nov. 2007.

Messinger, John. Personal interview. 11 Oct. 2007.

O'Brien, Molly. E-Mail interview. 30 Oct. 2007.

Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat! the Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need. California: Micheal Wiese Productions, 2005.

Stranger Than Paradise. Dir. Jim Jarmusch. Perf. John Lurie, Eszter Balint, Richard Edson. DVD. 1984.

"The Standard Three Point Lighting Technique." Medai College. Viewed 17 Nov. 2007. <http://www.mediacollege.com/lighting/three-point/>.

Community Member (Details)

My outside consultant for this project is Molly O'Brien.

Molly O’Brien (Director/Producer)

Emmy Award-winning producer, Molly O’Brien most recently served as co-executive producer of “Sierra Club Chronicles,” a hard-hitting, half-hour documentary series of environmental stories that promote “direct action” and grassroots activism aimed at policy change.  The series, the focus on a series of articles in The New York Times and Time magazine, is currently broadcast on WorldLink TV, and is in talks for distribution on other networks. 

Before this project, she completed producing and directing a documentary, “Terminal Impact,”for the Natural Resources Defense Council.  Narrated by Diane Keaton, the film celebrates the NRDC clean air victory over the City and Port of Los Angles.  Prior to that, O’Brien directed 11 episodes -- including the pilot -- of ABC Family’s “Switched.”  Her two feature documentary films, “Schooling Jewel” and “Pepa’s Fight” about the lives and struggles of teen girls in Tulsa, Oklahoma and East Palo Alto, California broadcast on Oxygen Network.   “Schooling Jewel” premiered at the Doubletake/Full Frame film festival and went on to IDFA in Amsterdam.

Previously, O’Brien produced “American High” (Emmy winner), the critically acclaimed documentary series that aired nationally on FOX and later on PBS. 

O’Brien’s first film, “A Pig with Hair,” was short listed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  Featuring Wynton Marsalis and his music, “A Pig with Hair” went on to win numerous awards including the Silver Plaque in Chicago and continues to air on PBS. 

O’Brien’s first dramatic film, “Some Common Things That Happen to Corpses,” starring Jennifer Aspen and Ivan Basso, also won numerous film festival awards including New Orleans, St Louis, Belgium, CMJ, and Austin Film Festival (finalist), and was selected by the Montreal World Film Festival, Galway Film Fleadh, Film Foyle, Williamsburg, Ohio, Sau Paulo Brazil, and International Shorts in New York City.

O’Brien graduated from NYU’s undergraduate Tisch School of the Arts/Film and Television and currently lives in Los Angeles.  She is represented by Jenny Fritz at Broder Kurland Agency.