Way back in the late 1990s, I bought a PXL2000 camera off of eBay. Michael Almeyreda's masterful use of the camera's lo-fi image quality and low frame rate seduced me, and I wanted to use a PXL camera to complement the Super-8 footage I was using.
After I bought it, the camera took up residence on a shelf in my room, and it moved with me to several crappy apartments in the greater Boston area. I had shot some footage with it for my first installment project, "Films About Water", but had no way to digitize and edit it. From time to time I would take the camera off the shelf and gaze longingly at it, but any desire to make something with it was eclipsed by the fact that I had no way to edit or even view the footage. Making things worse, my attempt at wiping off the blue chip
resulted in my accidentially dropping the chip down a sinkhole.
I put off doing anything with the camera until "the right project" came along. Over time, ideas for what this right project would be started to come together. While the camera's relative ubiquity during the late 1980s and into the '90s indie film boom made me think the pixillated style was anchored in that era, prolonged exposure to early TV broadcasts and video technology such as kinescopes reminded me of the PXL footage I'd seen.
In the mid-oughties, I started working on what I came to term The Lost Movie. I collaborated extensively with Donna Baden, an older woman playing a dramatic role. Donna's sense of humor, as well as her straightforward, deadpan demeanor and her expressive face, stuck with me over the years -- especially after she appeared in my one-minute photo roman "The Mystery of the Missing Matron".
The idea of a kinescope with Donna didn't fully gel until I started revisiting Buster Keaton's movies as preparation for "A Doorman's Lullaby". Kino's DVD compilation Keaton Plus
compiled several commercials he made for products like Alka Seltzer, Kodak, and Simon Pure Beer.
At this point I had to think of a product. I didn't want Donna to advertise anything traditionally feminine, which had the potential to either be lulsy or depressing. Though Donna is older, I didn't want the audience to pity her for being trapped in her home...which is how I feel when I see 1960s TV commercials aimed at women. I'm not sure how the "Street Phone" product came about, but that seemed like the most right product for Donna to hawk.
In my head, the character of Belle Van de Veere was a former silent comedy straight-man who had retired to raise a family and returned to the public eye later in her life -- a narrative that mirrored Donna's own life as a young model who returned to acting as an adult woman.
I managed to write the script quickly, with the hope of completing it in time for LE60
and other autumnal short film festivals. "The Mystery of the Missing Matron" was too dense and plot-heavy for a one-minute short, and making a slapsticky fake TV commercial seemed like the way to go.
I had conceived of the short as a reunion of sorts for myself, Donna, Jeff Landale (who played Wendy's boyfriend Eddie in "The Mystery of the Missing Matron") and Ian Cardoni (who starred alongside Donna in The Lost Movie).
Sadly, Ian was unavailable for this shoot. In his place I cast Paul Kmiec, an up-and-comer whose appearance in the short film "In the Tradition of My Father" reminded me of Bud Cort.
His physical contrast with Jeff and his ability to keep a straight face under the most trying of conditions made him the ideal choice for the role of Pickpocket #1.
Sadly, the day of the first shoot didn't go as well as I'd hoped. We ran into some technical problems, stemming from the unreliable viewfinder on the PXL 2000 that caused me to shoot a lot of cranium and sky. Additionally, before the shoot started I found out that my previous short film,
"Stranger than Bearskin Neck"
"Portrait of Madison" had gotten rejected from Straight 8
-- a rejection for which I paid $120. Thanks, dudes!
I was just a skosh out of sorts.
When I finally sat down to watch the footage and learned it was unusable, I reassembled my cast and reshot it. The reshoot was a little hectic. Because most of my cast was clad in black boiled wool, tweed hats, and nylon stockings, I felt as though I had to rush through the shoot. We had a captive audience in the form of the beauty salon customers in the strip mall near where we shot. A shirtless wino kept threatening to make an unwanted cameo appearance. This was also the first time I worked with a monitor -- mostly to avoid the craniums and sky effect described above -- and I lived in fear of ripping it out of my fearless assistant's hand if I moved too quickly. Never before did I identify with conjoined twins as much as I did on that set.
This afternoon I finally downloaded the footage from the shoot. The footage looks...good. I'm afraid of setting unrealistic expectations by saying it looks great
; the camera is too far away and the light too undefined. I shot plenty of medium shots where you can't quite parse out the facial expressions. At the same time, though, looking at the footage is like looking at a bolt of unusual cotton yarn and seeing the great dress you're about to make. This isn't heavy brocade or ermine or something gorgeous, but the raw material has a quality that will make a good, unusual short film.
This week I will start putting together an assembly edit. My initial plan for this involved submitting it to the Disposable Film Festival
, but even though I wrapped shooting with enough time to edit, I didn't know if the score or additional sound would be ready in time for submission. I'd like to get a cut of this completed before I fly out to San Francisco, but instead of making something that I rush through making so I can show it to a programmer, I want to make something that makes me proud.
At some point in the future, I'd like to make a ten-minute black-and-white musical on the PXL -- something that recalls early dramatic TV efforts. As much as I need to keep my eyes on the task at hand, it's nice to have an idea in the back of my mind.
Now, to go learn the clusterfuck that surely is iMovie '09...