One Shot Reproduction – Sunset Boulevard

Director’s Reflection

Overall response (2-3 paragraphs):

Write an overall response to your film in 2-3 paragraphs: Were you successful at achieving what you set out to achieve? What are you proud of? What would you do differently if you could remake this piece? What did you learn?

I think the film turned out okay. Not great, not something I’m honestly proud of, but at least I got it done — and at this point in the semester, that’s something. I liked working with the actors a great deal, it was fun and truly enjoyable developing their performances. I think they did better than if I hadn’t worked with them. I would certainly opt for a different rig than the steadicam if I could do things differently, and I would have added more props if I’d had the time. I learned a lot about my limitations again. I need to stop trying to work on masterpieces by great filmmakers, because they tend to be hard to follow up.

 

Briefly discuss the following:

What, specifically, did you want to communicate? Were you successful? Why? Why not?

I wanted to communicate Gillis’ shrewdness. My theme going in was “Everyone has an angle”. I didn’t include the opening monologue, which would have made this more clear. Instead I relied upon the performances, but even so, it was a poor choice that made the final product less nuanced.

How, specifically, did you try to communicate this?

Through the performances, and through the compositions — the shifting power dynamic being represented by the size of the characters and the space they inhabit, and so forth.

What did you learn about storytelling:

I learned that you really need to spell things out sometimes, and that it’s better to be too much while still being clear than to be too little and not get the point across. Good sound helps as well.

What did you learn about working with actors and getting performance:

Praise goes a long way, as does directions disguised as suggestions. I learned that making sure they know what they’re feeling and how they feel about certain things is important. I learned the importance of breaks and of pacing oneself. I learned the importance of being firm in blocking.

What did you learn about blocking the camera and actors?

I learned how important it is — you don’t want to just be standing there reading your lines. Movement is great and makes it feel more natural. It can communicate things in the script and things regarding theme, but more key it makes the image more interesting and more pleasurable to view. Camera movement should be subservient to what’s going on on screen rather than the opposite.

What did you learn about visual elements such as lighting, composition, framing, etc.?

It really is difficult to use more than a few of them at once! I think we paid most attention to composition and movement, with some consideration given to depth. These are kind of my go to’s in terms of the visual elements, and they didn’t serve the scene as well as something else would have.

What did you learn about design and art direction?

I learned that it can go a long way, and needs to be pronounced in order to be noticed by viewers. If it’s not conspicuous but also somehow not overly so, it is hard for it to have an impact without being over the top. How do they do it?

What did you learn about the Production Process such as pre-production, collaborating with crew, securing equipment, etc.?

Shot lists are important. I should storyboard more, as that is my preferred method of previz. Really basic little sketches help me see what I want to do with the scene better than anything else in my experience. I’ve learned that the more time one has, the better, when it comes to locations, actors, and so forth. I need to hold auditions more.

What was it like to watch your film with an audience? Did they understand it? Miss the point? Why did they respond the way they did?

It was difficult, to be honest. I wasn’t too pleased with the film and watching it with a group just underscored my own concerns with it. I’m still glad I did it, and I still feel satisfied having made it, but I wish I’d done things differently so that concerns could have been addressed. This is the blessing of hindsight, though, and mistakes are also a kind of blessing — the only failures are mistakes not learned from.

Director’s Plan

This statement of intent is designed to train your mind, eye and heart to shoot purposefully. Prepare it well before shooting. Briefly—but thoughtfully and specifically—answer the following questions.

 

  1. What film or TV show is this from?

Sunset Boulevard

  1. Have you ever watched this film?

No.

  1. Do you have the actual script of the film—not a transcript?

Yes.

  1. After reading the entire script, in 3-5 sentences, what is the story of the entire film?
  • Down on his luck screenwriter needs money and a place to lay low.
  • Chances upon the mansion of an old starlet of a bygone era, living a fantasy life.
  • She convinces him to ghostwrite her film idea and dotes upon him.
  • She falls in love with him, but he is in love with his friend’s fiancée.
  • Her film idea is shot down by the studio, without her knowing.
  • She goes mad with jealousy and kills him.

 

  1. After reading the entire script, what is the theme or message of this film?

It’s a lot of things:

  • Old Hollywood and the fleeting nature of fame.
  • The hopelessness and impossibility of love.
  • The spotlight that sears what it focuses upon.
  • The way Hollywood discards its own.
  1. In 3-5 sentences, what happened in the story immediately before your selected scene?

Gillis has read part of the screenplay. They’ve drunk some champagne. He decides that staying in the mansion would be a good setup for him, and tries to figure out how to make it happen.

  1. In 3-4 sentences, what is the story—the beginning, middle, and end—of this scene? In other words, what happens as the scene starts, as the action rises, and as it ends?

Beginning: His narration states his purpose and intention: to make sure he can stay in Desmond’s mansion.

Middle: He establishes a need – the script is not up to scratch, and then tells her she needs an editor. He excuses himself. She doesn’t catch the bluff and wants him as editor.

End: She wants him to stay in the house. He “begrudgingly” obliges.

  1. What specific story details must the audience understand in this scene in order to remain oriented and engaged in it, as well as in the rest of the film? What specific moments/details must you be sure to shoot in order to communicate each piece of information?

We need to understand his intention, or the scene won’t work. We need to understand the specifics of the screenplay and what she wants. We need to highlight what both of them want.

 

  1. What is the narrative and thematic purpose of this scene within the larger story? In other words, how does this scene affect or change the theme of the film?

It’s largely plot based – it moves the film forward, both by providing a sensible reason for him staying in the mansion, and for her wanting him there – at least initially. It highlights their character – his shrewdness, her pride. Theme stems from that at most, though the plot here seems more important.

  1. What is the progression of emotions that you want the audience to experience while watching this scene? Why? How, specifically, do you intend to do this?

At first – curiosity: what is his plan?

Then: hope, that she’ll go along with it.

Finally: satisfaction, then fear – how will this play out? We know he was shot at the start of the film, this is leading us to that and we know it!

  1. What is the first image of the scene? What is the final image of the scene? Describe why you chose each image.

The first image: The title page of the screenplay.

The final image: the screenplay tucked into the back of his pants.

 

  1. Why is this scene personal to you? What specific personal experience(s) does it remind you of?

The scene interests me because of the subtext – they both want something, but they’re both playing coy to get it. There’s an element of salesmanship involved, and salesmanship is a talent that I’ve reluctantly embraced since the mission – the necessity for rhetoric and shrewdness whilst still retaining one’s integrity is something I try to balance out. Wise as serpents, harmless as doves, etc. There is no balance in this scene though, as Gillis is being a heel and Norma the same. Fiction provides the outlet for that merciless, relentless shrewdness and cunning that I refuse to use or adopt in my actual life. (This is the basis of Olly in Guillotine)

  1. How should the lighting feel in this scene? Use the most descriptive language you can. Why? You may include sample image(s). (Not from the actual film!)

It’s described as dark in the script, and I’d do something the same – low lights, practicals, so that the focus is on the two actors. No worries about color temps as we’d be shooting in black and white.

  1. Which two specific visual elements—line, shape, space, tone, color, rhythm, movement—do you intend to use to purposefully communicate the emotion of the scene? (You will be graded on your execution of this plan.)

Movement is key. The blocking and the movement of the camera will establish and reinforce power dynamics and will externalize character’s thoughts and wants.

Tone also – darkness and light can go a long way in telling the story of the conversation.

How will you utilize the principles of contrast and infinity of these components to help build intensity to tell the story more purposefully.

The light will be contrasty when things are uncertain, then more flat as things become certain. The movement will slow during moments of importance.

 

  1. In a bulleted list, describe three-four potential obstacles you may face in creating a successful scene. Describe how can you be prepared to overcome these? Be specific!
    1. Finding an actress the age of Norma!
    2. Finding an old mansion to shoot in.
    3. Getting the blocking down without extensive rehearsal.

The scene might be longer than the requirement.

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