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Dad’s Birthday

This short film features footage that I took in the abandoned mining town of Swansea, Arizona. This is also the first film I’ve shot using my updated tripod with my homemade tripod arm extension. The new equipment brought with them their owns joys and difficulties. Concerning joys, I’d like to make note that my previous tripod setup had been malfunctioning for the better part of six months, forcing me to abandon it –for the most part– for handheld filming techniques. So, with a new tripod in hand, I was finally free to execute some camera movements that had previously typified my Korean short documentaries. However, I also found that, nearly one year on from the films I made in Korea, that my taste for certain camera movements had changed, so I tried to imbue my work with some other techniques I’d since developed, such as manually adjusting aperture within sequences. Difficulties, however, were also prominent, as the homemade tripod extension, while a perfect tool in set ups requiring the leverage it provided, also managed to get in the way of some of the sequences filmed in more cramped confines… forcing me to perform all manner of gymnastic movements in order to allow unrestrained manipulation of the arm extension. Simply put: the arm extension was so long that my body got in the way. I suppose this is the virtue of field-testing a tool. I just wish my experiment hadn’t spoiled such a special, rare opportunity. Certainly, I would’ve had more useful material if I’d decided to just shoot unfettered by “aid.”

This features my first excursion into several different types of videography, and while it’s not entirely successful, and far too short, I’m pretty satisfied with what I’ve managed to put together.

This short documentary features footage taken during the immigration protests in downtown Phoenix on July 29th, 2010, and photography from two locations: the State Capitol Building and the area in front of County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s offices. Both of these locations are within a few blocks of each other on Washington Street in Phoenix. A location that I wasn’t prescient enough to capture footage at was the Madison Street Jail, which apparently had some of the most photo-worthy, but dangerous opportunities. The major protests at that location happened in the morning, long before I showed up with my camera a quarter before noon.

While I’ve tried to craft messages in my films before, perhaps most obviously in “Metro”, I’ve never before sought to depict them as I have here. In my editing, I also tried to complement the natural tone of the protests, the formality and pageantry of the posters and colorful protesters, as well as the chaos that it often descended into.

The protests also presented a new opportunity to shoot action with a high-shutter speed, which produces the sharp, articulated movement you see in the film. I also experimented with a few other in-camera stylizations, such as purposefully overexposing the image, to give it a particularly edgy, blown-out look.

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Both the shooting of the footage, and figuring out what to do with it, were very challenging. The foremost problem presented to me in the acquisition of the footage was also the element I absolutely demanded be in the film: heavy, drenching rain. I had shot “Shadow & Light” earlier, and deeper into the rainy spring season in Oregon, but was ultimately dissatisfied by my own squirrelly nature on location. I felt that I was risking too much by exposing my camera to the elements. On completion of that project, however, I realized that  I should’ve stayed longer, and endured more. Thus “Time Dilation,” which presents more context and more character than the previous film. It also has many technical errors that I committed while trying to capture as much rain on camera as possible.  The shooting took place earlier in the day than the shooting for “Shadow & Light”, so regrettably the rain wasn’t as back-lit, which is essential when trying to capture it on camera. Instead, I tried some new and stupid things: pumping the iso to the point that it coated most of the shots with a heavy grain, and also shooting in 60i frame rate, which effectively split the video resolution in half. I had been hoping that a faster recording speed would complement the higher shutter speed, but the effect, at least on my video camera, was negligible.

There are some elements I’m very proud of in this film, especially the long panning shot over the trees that I’ve made the centerpiece of the film, and the last two shots of the little pier and the man sitting beneath the umbrella, waiting for his fishing line to catch. I’ll be a little more detailed with my appreciation of the panning shot. It’s one of the few times I’ve managed to compose a movement with such depth, using the middle, fore, and background as three distinct elements –this being something I’d been challenging myself to do, to compose shots with greater range.  I also found such sheer poetry in the storm-tossed trees and leaves I was recording. I think that this elaborate shot plays well in contrast to the gravely-framed images that surround it… the unfettered core of the film.

I’d also been itching to put a Ryuichi Sakamoto song in one of my films, and I thought “Forbidden Colours”, from the unjustly overlooked Pacific Theatre WWII film, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” was a perfect complement to the moods I was trying to encapsulate herein.

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