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A Filmmaker's Notebook

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Writers keep journals of ideas. Artists keep sketch books of visual concepts. Musicians record hooks.  And with the advent of quality digital video and broadband internet over the past 10 years, filmmakers can create short scenes as their brand of "notes". I know this because it's exactly what I do.

I was on the set of my feature last fall, and we were stumped on the coverage for a scare gag, and I was able to reference to my team one of the short films that we'd done that had a similar type of scare. So we pulled out our iphones, logged onto Youtube, saw the way we'd covered the scene in one of my short films, and problem was solved. We could cover the scare in the feature the same way we did in the short film.

Actor William Devane was with us that day and pointed out something I knew instinctively, but had never really verbalized or even thought about consciously -- that the short films I did were all just little "studies" on types of scares. He thought it was briliant that I had a catalogue of scares and techniques already filmed that we could reference, but I had to admit that while subconsciously that's exactly what my short films are, I could not take credit for consciously planning for them to be that. 

But it's true, not only are they self contained horror shorts - cousins to the comedy sketch in just about every way -- but they are also each a study or a sketch of a concept in horror. And now, with well over 40 short films in my catalogue, and more on the way every week, I've sort of accidentally created a catalogue of creeps, a tome of terrors, a sketchbook of scares, that I can always reference.

I don't want to spend my life repeating myself, not by a longshot, but I don't mind taking a bit that worked for thousands online and reworking it into a feature that will reach millions. And I can always fall back on the idea that stealing from others is plagurism, but stealing from yourself is style. And that I can live with.

Most recently, I made a short film called THE OLD CHAIR, staring AJ Bowen, Kaylee Score, Maria Olsen and Jonica Patella. At the time I wanted to do a filmic study on camera movement (or rather, lack thereof) and how it related to creep and dread.

My hypothesis going into the film was that while film fashion these days is to keep the camera moving almost manically all the time, could I do a film where the camera NEVER moved? And would that help or hinder the creep factor, since this film was going to be really creepy (hopefully). Could I do without the long dreadful dolly move down the hall? Could I do without the push-in revelation shot? Hell, would it look stiff and antiquated just because I relied only on cuts to propel movement?

It was, in short, a study in stillness.

I had to see. I wanted to do a short without moving the camera. So I made the horror short THE OLD CHAIR. And interestingly enough, I've had half a dozen emails telling me that the camera movement is what made the film so terrifying. And I have to laugh to myself with some satisfaction because there IS no movement in the film. There is only story and character. The camera is rooted to the floor like it was nailed there, and it never moves, not even once. So there's an example of a filmic study that now goes into my catalogue as something that works (believe me I've done plenty that don't work too  - and those can be even morevaluable).

So my point is this; in an age when you can buy a camera and editing software almost as easily as an artist can get a sketchbook, shouldn't we, as filmmakers be using new tools in new ways?

I think so. Because, after all, just as a writer writes, so too does a filmmaker film.

Gaudium per atrox.

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