Telling the Story
Being creators as well as fans of film, we wanted to really design the film with intricate blocking, staging, and camera moves. We also knew from experience the limitations of indie films. We opted for a cinema verite style for the music component of the story. This style was perfect for the energy of that world - at times highlighting the excitement and at other times the chaos. It also created a thrust and movement for the story and propelled the pace of the film.
For the family elements of the story we went with the more classic film style - sticks, dollies (where possible) and choreographed blocking. This created a deceiving silence, like the eye of a hurricane, because the subtext of the dialogue between the characters created a sense of foreboding.
And of course - whenever we were running out of time, all bets were off. The focus was to get as much coverage and takes in the can. The plus was that we had two cameras, and shot with both cameras as much as we could. In the end we knew that we had to get as much as we could in the can, because this was not the kind of production that could schedule two weeks of reshoots to pick up anything we didn't get the first time around. This was it. Whatever we got was all there was.
Working with Ben Kufrin we did tests on the RED camera to set a look for the film. We knew that it would be a de-saturated world- at one point Youssef wanted to shoot Black & White -- but we settled on a look we felt fit the story. A de-sat look with a splash of color that stood out, that not only highlighted the character central to the scene, but also informed mood and story.
The great thing about the RED and working with Ben is that he lights for a specific look, but he gives us enough latitude on the raw file so that we have choices when we get to color correction. The technology really opens the creative doors. We shot 2:35 aspect ratio, which allowed the characters to live in a wide frame. We wanted a feeling of isolation by framing them in a wide canvas. We also played with the idea of power shifts in scenes with conflicting characters -- we would change the angle on a character as the scene progressed (low to high), to diminish or enlarge their presence accordingly. We wanted to always make use of the language of the camera.
We had to create this same structure with the music. It had to play into this design - it had to also create dramatic situations for the audience to position themselves in the story. The music had to continually push the story to the emotional center of the characters. It had to serve the story. It's not an easy thing to do, because it can't be on the nose unless it becomes melodramatic. It has to be counterpoint; it has to take you into the emotional center from a different direction than the dramatic thrust. This way the audience makes an emotional discovery when you find the connection.
We were able to create this by always starting with a big story idea with the music, and then distill it down, minimizing it into simple dramatic lyrics and sounds. We had a great music team between Edward "E-Dub" Rios and Reza Sefinia. The two of them allowed us to continually push the music into different directions as the film demanded. In the editing room, the story dictates how it wants to be told, and you have to allow that process in, you can't fight it. As we continuously tried to steer the story into the center, and adjust for this, the music also had to adjust. We made so many changes I think we drove them crazy at one point, but to their credit they adjusted their own creative process to serve the film. As you'll see in the credits, we were all ingrained in the music creation process - and our music team allowed us to explore.
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