3/28/15

"Kill Your Darlings"

A phrase I internalized two summers ago during my filmmaking class at Dartmouth was to "kill your darlings." This simple phrase that traveling filmmaker Andrew Mudge shared with us perfectly summarized his experience as an independent filmmaker who had to both shoot and edit his feature length film.

For those unfamiliar with the phrase, it means, in terms of filmmaking, that sometimes you have to let go of things you hold dear. Things such as impeccable shots you spent hours trying to capture, interviews that took forever to schedule, scenes you had dreamed of filming and having in your final outcome.

Being the director, the cameraman, and the editor is a challenge indeed. Killing your darlings is incredibly counterintuitive and quite an emotional process, and I understand now why this phrase is so cruelly fitting for the process.

It's been just about a year now that I have returned from China, and I find myself coming back to the editing board again and again (over the past year) faced with the horrendous brick wall of what can only be described as writer's block for cinematography. It's a wall that has taken months to scrape through with a rusty spoon, one that stands right between where I am and where I want to be. The gap, they call it. I don't know what's worst--its existence, or my hyper acute awareness of it.

Luckily I have been learning slowly, as this footage has been growing stale in organized bins for so long, chipped down milliseconds at a time, that I do just need to push the delete button and Kill My Darlings.

To describe my process so far? It's a spattering of edited clips and interviews, assorted sporadically across nine different timelines, telling pieces of beginnings and ends of sections of the film. I feel like an archeologist trying to reconstruct a fossil of some unknown creature. Or a web developer in the 80s ;) Miraculously, I awoke at 3am a few nights ago with the revelation of the perfect introduction to the film, one that seems to have opened the floodgates for the rest of the film. Makes sense, as I have always been unable to write a paper without the perfect introduction first.

My goal still remains the same: to finish before I graduate, to get this up on the big screen in Loew in the Visual Arts Center so that I may debut my first short film to my friends and family! It's a dream I intend to realize. But first I have to kill the rest of my darlings.

5/3/14

Trailer!

It's been a while, but between android programming and writing raytracers and modelers and attempting to learn After Effects while getting used to Premiere Pro, I have put together a short trailer for the film:


Post is still a struggle of a process, but it has been amazing finally seeing my footage come together. A shortened version of this will also be shown at the Visual Arts Center @ DMAX next Tuesday. Enjoy!

3/10/14

hats

Hats should be worn one at a time, most of the time.

This is the lame metaphor I came up with—wow, has it been 13 weeks already??—last December when I jumped into the beginning of this project. Although I was prepared for the task, I could not help but succumb to the flooding of worries that come with independent filmmaking. Independent, as in, not “indie”-fresh-and-hip-and-cool, but as in thoroughly on your own. I found myself suddenly wearing all the hats of filmmaking: cinematographer, camerawoman, director, assistant, lighter, sound woman, editor, grip, etc.


showing how i really feel, with my furry friend, deadcat
There is certainly no rest when it comes to playing all these roles at once. I barely slept the night before my first interview shoot: I spent the whole night trying to decide between 24fps and 30fps, believing that the wrong choice would be the death of me. I was most worried about lighting and focus and being able to act comfortable and natural to my sensitive interview subjects while simultaneously monitoring my new, unfamiliar camera and sound equipment.


I took a deep breath and stepped into my first interview shoot. It was a biggie; it was the one in the mountain side with my foster mountain grandparents (or mtn.grandparents as I refer to them in my film logs). I felt completely unorganized and even a little foolish, as if I were an unworthy Sisyphus and the project was a crumbling rock falling from my shoulders.

Fortunately, as I have learned many times over, taking a deep breath and letting yourself fall into your passions can be quite rewarding. We all have our self-doubts and some moments the doubts are bigger. But our subconscious expertise is always buried somewhere within ourselves.

an interview in action
That being said, the first interviews went well and paved way for the rest of my footage-gathering. The process never got easier, and in the midst of forgotten tripods, batteries, headphones, camera-shy subjects, painful memories, and limited memory cards (not to mention learning the difference between Class 10 and Class 4 SD cards in the middle of an interview at the top of a mountain…) I never really stopped worrying the night or the moment before filming anything. However, as I grew accustomed to the finicky and never-quite-certain process that comes with tackling a project like this alone, filming finally became the exciting adventure I hoped it would.

one of many makeshift "sets", a typical sight

Filming was my reason to wander out to a mountain top at sunrise. Filming was my reason to step dangerously close to creeks. Filming was my reason to come all the way out here in pursuit of a story.


Despite the fact that I have a long road of scripting and editing and animating ahead of me (and as I have discovered, the only thing worse than having to review all this footage is knowing you did it all when 50% of it is junk), learning about myself for the first time as a real-world filmmaker has been quite a revelatory experience. After all, you discover quite a bit about yourself and how much you like to talk and sing to yourself when you leave cameras and recorders on by accident.

A quotation that really spoke to me during a film class goes something like this: “[with the introduction of sound in cinema] we’ve lost a lot of freedom in camera movement.” Surprisingly, this quotation stuck with me a lot on filming days as I hobbled around foreign lands with my tripod, feeling as though I had found again the freedom in cinematography. As crippling as being alone in pursuit of a dream sometimes is, there is an unimaginable glee that washes over the internal sea of doubt with the knowledge that, perhaps even for a moment, you have found your solace.

wear as many hats as you'd like!

3/9/14

to my 15s

Being so far away from campus this term has been the peaceful, soul-searching experience as I had always imagined, one where Dartmouth would chug along as it always does while I wandered off silently to pursue whatever it is I seem to be pursuing, and return to campus just the way I had left it.

I never would have imagined that so much would happen in just one term. The seemingly relentless tragedy that keeps hitting the Dartmouth community, the Dartmouth '15s, my class, my community, my home.

The distance between me and my home this term has never been so tangible as it is now: this unnameable numbness I feel from being so far away and unable to truly grasp what everyone is going through and unable to be there with my friends.

Life is fragile. After losing a dear friend last summer and sitting by my ninety year old grandpa last week I am reminded of our brittle nature, the second that separates our heartbeat from silence, and its uncertainty. Sometimes life subtracts and we can never understand why. After all, what is the difference between us who have outlived our classmates? Is our barrel of luck any more full?

All I know is the little I've always known: the people in our lives are what makes life worth living, so try your goddamn best not to take for granted those you love. And keep an open heart for those you don't yet.

3/1/14

Hand-Made

I’ve been biking a lot around Xingning lately and had a revelation one day:


Needless to say, the afternoon was set. I had a wild time zig-zagging in and out of traffic around streets, alleyways, markets, etc. at a breath's length from buses and bikes trying to capture some good footage of this village city. When there’s a will, there’s a way!

2/13/14

another day another chicken

Why did the chicken cross the road?
it didn't want to get smushed by a truck!
It’s no surprise that China is indeed shaped like a chicken. “You are what you eat,” Confucius did not once say. At the joy of sounding like Bubba Gump, here are some of the many chickens I have encountered so far:
xingning chickens
mountain chickens
captive chickens
escaped chicken
farm of chickens
lonely sidewalk chicken

regal chickens
living room chicken
village chickens
chicken-in-a-bag
lotsa chickens!
Unfortunately there is a huge stigma of sorts that comes with Chinese chickens, notoriously known for carrying avian diseases that have killed many people, including a few recent cases in Shenzhen. Back in December there was a news report showing a massive declaration for chicken vendors to wash their chickens well and keep them behind glass barriers in shops. This was followed by a stern warning from my mother to not go up and kiss chickens, in mockery of my innate fascination with farm animals. It’s too bad these playful creatures, rather than shady health and food regulations, have to take the hit to their reputation.

There was even some strange contemporary art piece in Hong Kong involving traveling chicken statues that were supposed to embody the "ideal" well-behaved chicken, with no diseases. Art, yes.

1/17/14

the story of the beast with those four dirty paws



My father always told me brief stories about where he grew up, in a tiny tiny village deep deep within the mountainside that still remains unmarked on maps today. It always seemed like a fairytale, or at least a sort of living you read about in outdated history books. I imagined a small, stone house nestled high within a clustering of mountains and valleys and a simple simple yet quite beautiful and peaceful kind of living. Well, I finally had the chance to make the trek into the mysterious place my father grew up and I have to say…it was nearly exactly how I had imagined it.


Story interlude: we were chugging along driving to the village; I was quite surprised that we could even get to it by car since there were no roads whatsoever 15 years ago. After zooming up and down small roads and sharp turns we were met by the delightful news that a bridge—the only bridge leading to where we needed to go—was under construction. Half of it was taken down so that it looked impossible to fit a sedan through. "No worries!" though, the villagers shouted, "you can certainly pass!" Folks, even I was doubtful, but as I have learned, you may as well trust the villagers if you have no other choice—we made it across.

youuuuuu shall nottttt....
...pass!
I won’t go in to the nitty of family history quite yet, but basically my father grew up here with his foster parents who love him more than I’ve ever seen his real parents do. It was a heartbreaking sort of experience, meeting them again as an adult capable of comprehending the complexity of their situation rather than as a 5-year-old child excited to play with chickens (I was still, however, very excited to play with chickens). Their soft spoken kindness and generosity brought me to tears.


  










The lifestyle is simple but the air and the water are lovely fresh here, untouched yet by neither smog nor (unfortunately) modern thinking. It broke my heart to meet their youngest daughter—beautiful, clever, hardworking—who is already a grandmother and obligated to stay in the mountains to raise pigs, just because she is the youngest. And a woman. Sun sets rather quickly in the winter time, where it’s off to bed to drift off to sleep before one is too aware of the cold that creeps into every orifice of the stone house during the night.

There is not a beast but a loyal pregnant dog that lives with my foster-grandparents here and helps watch over the pigs. She became my fast friend, accompanying me as I went around to explore. She gazes out into the mountains every now and then, just as my grandpa does, pining each day for my father to return.

*post title is from "Dirty Paws" / Of Monsters & Men