Bullshit Translator.

September 19, 2015

How the fuck do I take out those squiggly lines?

If you ever worked with me – specially as a cinematographer, and that goes mainly for projects I developed in Brazil – there’s a HUGE chance I lied to you. I apologize now, and before you hate me straight on, I ask you to read the remainder of this post! I didn’t lie with the intention of misleading you, I didn’t lie about my intentions, it’s more like “I made things sound a little more professional than I was thinking” and guess what? You were never disappointed, because I sold that with compelling arguments that made sense in the project’s overall concept.

I believe lying is part of the job (what a contradiction!), and I’m gonna stop using the word “lie” and start using “technical terms”. If you still don’t trust me on that, I’ll write a few examples below and explain what they meant inside my head. Most of the times it’s something that affects budget directly. I don’t like being responsible for extra costs mainly because I NEVER HAD A DECENT BUDGET. That means I’ve always adopted a guerrilla-approach for the cinematography guidelines, even when the project was not guerrilla at all – except for the budget. I have a big rant about how movies are made, but this isn’t the post for it.

“For this project we’re gonna have a very small team, just director, cinematographer, production sound, producer and cast, since that way we don’t have to feed too many people and everyone is always working for the duration of the set. We’re also using natural light because we can’t afford to run power from somewhere else and can’t afford people to keep an eye and adjust and carry the lights.”

At first, it was hard to justify these things in a way teachers and supervisors didn’t question our reasons – “you can’t shoot without an assistant director! you can’t shoot without slates! you can’t shoot with no assistants at all!” and so on -, so I had to improve over time. Now it just comes naturally, it’s all about choosing the right words. So, the extract above translates into:

“For this minimalist project we’re gonna shoot with a small crew in order to keep the focus in the cast’s performance, without too much fuss about the technical aspects on set. We’ll be using natural light as a way to bring the surrounding environment into play as a quintessential part in the story being told. The events happening on the screen are inherent to that place and that specific time.”

If you don’t think I’m pushing it, here’s one for my demo reel.

“Hovering Lights is a project about two students caught up in the middle of something they can’t control. With a handheld mobile device point of view, it aims bringing some light into outside-the-box storytelling, not having to rely on pristine image quality and large cameras. With a constantly moving and shaky perspective, Hovering Lights draws the audience into the chaos of living that situation from the characters’ point of view. Using only sfx and production audio, this project aims to deliver tension through the smart use of silence and sound cues other than overused musical score. One of my references, in terms of tension, are old-days thrillers which never quite show the monster but rather play with sounds and moving shadows. Fitting Instagram’s rules, each shot must not be longer than 15 seconds”

You’ve seen the result, and now you’ll see what I was thinking while writing that.

“I don’t want to deal with actors, so I’d rather shoot with someone I know and trust. I’ll pick May! Besides, if the camera represents a character, I can be that other character. I also don’t want to spend anything with gear, so I’ll use a wide angle lens and pretend it’s a phone (shooting with a DSLR already gives me enough quality to fake that). I can’t afford stabilization for two reasons, first: it’ll slow down the set and I don’t wanna take any chances because I was on one location for too long, second: it’ll cost me money, I don’t want to spend money, plus, all the movement and first-person camera spares me from highly detailed planned shots of the ships and all the other effects, meaning the movement is another way of distracting the audience from any quality issues I might have. No music, period. It’ll take time to find it, or even more time – and effort – to reach out to someone to make it. Playing with shadows and never quite revealing the alien is a cheap way of avoiding long time renders, countless iterations on its shape and texturing, not to mention perfect animation. Fitting Instagram’s rules I don’t have to worry about perfect continuous takes and seamless cuts.”

As you can see, something set to take a long time in post, but a very brief interval of shooting. I still relied in some intricate synchronization for the lights turning off, or the alien beam coming behind May, but when I weighted my options, it was much faster and cheaper rehearse a few times rather than try doing it all in post.

I’m gonna write out a few more examples just to prove how useful it can be translating technical issues into bullshit to sell a project.

“Aiming at an organic look” means “using dirt cheap old lenses”, “the weather translates the character’s state of mind” means “it was raining and it was a sad scene” or “it was a blasting sun outside and the character is cheerful” very much along the lines of Romanticism, where the environment reflects how the characters feel. “We decided to shoot digital, getting rid of all the noisy and large gear for shooting film, in an attempt to make the crew invisible to the cast and director” really means “we can’t afford film”. “Using cutting edge experimental technology to achieve the best visuals” equals “beta testing some shit, might have a good payoff, but we’ll be figuring it out as we roll”. One of my personal favorites is “going for a documentary style”, which is the ultimate guerrilla-yet-accepted concept for “shooting handheld, small cameras, no crew, I have very little planning, will shoot tons of footage; editing will be a pain in the ass”, and “using only practical lights and natural sources, we’ll have very dynamic light placements, fast setups and easy to adapt relying on the camera’s position” which goes along the documentary style for “the producer said we can’t afford lights for the scene to be properly lit, so we’ll crank the ISO to unacceptable levels and use razor thin depth of field with a hell of a good first AC”. I could go for hours, maybe I’ll start drafting some more in future posts just as an exercise. I’ve focused on camera/cinematography statements because that’s what I’m used to, but you can extend the idea for ANYTHING.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this creative use of words. This post was inspired by a rainy morning. I was just staring through the windows and realizing I would have a perfect luma matte of the buildings near me. It also made me think of the diminished visibility and how that could fit some projects very well. Right afterwards I thought “heh, I don’t think saying ‘it was raining as hell’ is gonna cut in order to avoid re-shooting, it would have to be something along the lines of ‘a heavy atmosphere adds the desired level of mystery around the characters'”, which then lead me to think of all the “professional ways” I’d come up with to back up technical issues this far. This post might be useful for people trying to do the same. It’s less about what you’re saying and more how you’re saying it.