Killing Them Softly – Master with Coverage

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 was happy to make this film and felt it turned out pretty well. I managed to overcome some difficulties in film making that I’d had previously, and I prepared much better for the shoot than I had previously, giving the scene more thought as well as working harder on preproduction and securing locations and props.

Briefly discuss the following:

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

I wanted to communicate incompetency. I think it came across, though I did prime the viewers beforehand by mentioning that this was my goal. I got a few laughs when they were incompetent, so I guess it worked.

How, specifically, did you try to communicate this?

The script helped a great deal — the yellow gloves, for instance, were written into the script. The machete was an improvisation on my part, because I didn’t have the sawn-off shotgun the script called for.

The actors did their part really well when it came to communicating that incompetency, with them using their environment to their advantage.

What did you learn about storytelling:

It’s really important to spell out details and make sure that every little thing is highlighted if it’s important to the story. It’s also important to be more efficient than I was.

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

Talking to them about the characters and the film and the purpose that we were looking for was extremely helpful. Giving them time to rehearse and then rehearsing with them beforehand was helpful. Being assertive in rehearsals was great. Actors want and need direction usually!

What did you learn about blocking the camera and actors?

I learned to make sure that everything we did had a purpose, that the actors moved for a reason — that reason colored their movement, their performance, gave them an immediate reason to do what they were doing.

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

It’s important to light dark backgrounds at night! I also think lighting is much more subjective — even though the light was in the same position on one shot, it looked different when we moved the camera. It would have been good if we’d relit the shot to match the mood and the feeling rather than the literal geography we were working in.

It is important to get close! Closeups are special, in that they immediately make us feel. They force us to engage with a character and what they’re going through. They trigger empathy. Reactions would have been better as well.

What did you learn about design and art direction?

It really can tell a lot of the story for you. I wish I’d gone further and added more stuff for them to interact with.

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

I really dislike this part of the process! I would rather focus on the creative aspects instead of the logistical sides of making films. I’ve learned that the more time I had, the better prepared  I could be, and the more on theme I was, the easier it was for me to make creative decisions.

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?

They found it more funny than I was expecting, which is a good thing — I’d been with it too long to really see it as anything like that. I think they understood it. I chose the scene because it was so simple and so easily readable — it’s a preparation scene, we’re used to that format and that archetype.

For Film 6 only – After screening in class, watch the actual scene you chose to shoot. How does it compare to your scene? What choices did the director make that were different than yours? What were the same? How did the director address problems you experienced?

I like Dominik’s scene a lot more, because he’s much more clear in that version. The dialogue is much clearer and works better. The whole preparation scene takes place in their car and is much shorter. They talked faster and didn’t pause between lines. The yellow gloves worked the same as in mine, but the shotgun was amazing and way better than the machete. The performance was great and mine didn’t compare at all.

Director’s Plan

NOTE: Because of my own lack of organization, I failed to turn in the proper Director’s Plan. I wrote a few of my thoughts down beforehand to get some prepping done though. Read them below.

Thoughts on Killing Them Softly

Dominik is trying to contrast the high level criminal activity of the Wall Street bankers responsible for the economic crash with the low level criminal activity of the common street thugs. Does one lead to the other? Considering Dominik’s Australian anti-establishment views, I’d think that’s the conceit of the film. Are these street thugs as bad as the masters of the universe that start wars, crash economies, and pocket the profits? They’re much less worse, yet we object to them because of the hierarchies that we’re a part of – they’re below us, right?

Well, not entirely. This is where Jackie Cogan comes in. He’s a thug, yes, but he kills people softly – he performs his actions with a certain grace unbecoming of a thug. He is the lone expert in a field of deadbeats and idiots. We question if our feelings about thugs are accurate when we see someone like Jackie at work. He’s a professional, through and through, and defines himself and his existence by his job and expertise at it.

This brings us to the scene at hand. These guys, Frankie and Russell, are victims of the system. They are awful thugs and exist in the story to both setup Jackie’s expertise and to show us how incompetent these low-level guys can be. It’s a struggle to watch them, so when we finally enter Jackie’s world, it’s a huge relief to see just how good he is.

In order to highlight that, this scene must be about one thing and only one thing: incompetency. Their entire world must push against them, and they must struggle to overcome it, making it only due to luck and not due to their expertise. The yellow kitchen gloves, the machete, the sirens, the general buffoonery, all of these create a constricting atmosphere of incompetency that should make the audience twist internally. Where a viewer could sit in awe at the work of a master, they should feel the opposite watching these two.

Thoughts on application

The core of the scene, visually, will be our following them up the stairs of an apartment complex. This is visually interesting, creates an inherent feeling of struggle, and is immersive so that we feel like we’re a part of the event. This is also the “second act” of the scene. We’ll have them trip, drop things, be afraid, check their phones, all to drive home their incompetency.

Musically, we’ll include a tense hip-hop beat – GZA’s Liquid Swords to be exact. The sound will shift from diegetic in the car, to non diegetic as they walk up the stairs. This indicates a shift from objectivity to subjectivity – we’re entering a new world of theirs, and the music cues us into this. The volume of the music will also steadily increase until they get to the door, as this will create a sense of crescendo that matches the uphill march visually. By the time we get to the top, we’re hyped up, we’re excited. This beat works because it matches the BPM of one’s heart when engaging in exciting activity, so we can physically compel excitement in the viewer.

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