NO ALTERNATIVE: “…And That’s A Wrap!”

The last time I updated my blog, we had yet to begin production on “No Alternative.” Perhaps it’s a testament to the all-consuming nature of production that you have not heard from me since! I am therefore extremely pleased to write that we’ve finished principal photography and the film is in the proverbial “can.”

On the set of “No Alternative.” Photograph by Joshua Sarner.

It want to reiterate that I would not have been able to get this far without the help and support of everyone who contributed to our crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. Because of the strength of the Indiegogo campaign and your stalwart support of the cause, this project has gained the attention of magazine, newspaper and television outlets around the country. It also attracted the interest of investors who also believed in the film — both in its message, and in its commercial viability.

I can honestly say that everyone involved in the filming, from the actors to each and every crew member, was emotionally connected to the material and brought their A-Games to the set:

It was an absolute pleasure to work amidst such a passionate and talented group of people. The leads, Michaela Cavazos and Conor Proft, impressed me more and more each passing day. They were outstanding as Bridget and Thomas Harrison and I can’t wait for viewers to see just how outstanding their performances are on screen. I was also thrilled to work with veteran actors, Kathryn Erbe (“Law & Order: Criminal Intent”) and Harry Hamlin (“Mad Men”), who played the Harrison parents. I can’t thank them enough for their passion, generosity and faith in me as their director. Coming-of-age movies about families are hard to make in Hollywood, but I truly feel this movie was meant to be made — it was a near-impossible task, but everyone’s contributions made it possible. And it was not only monetary contributions: people donated their time, their 90’s era vehicles, their wardrobe, their food, their houses (as locations and for lodging), their instruments, their band logos and music, among many, many other valuable goods and services. My hometown, the City of Yonkers, could not have been more accommodating throughout the process — it has always bee a dream of mine to shoot this film there. This project was about as grassroots as it gets; and you know what, each and every step of it was invigorating!

Left to right: Conor Proft, Kathryn Erbe, William Dickerson, Harry Hamlin, Michaela Cavazos.

I’m extremely excited to be heading into the next phase of the film: the editing phase. We have a wonderful editor, Natasha Bedu, who has spent a lot of her time recently cutting the Emmy Award-winning series “Intervention” on A&E. Natasha couldn’t be more excited to be part of the team, and I’m thrilled to have her on board!

As we venture into post-production, our fiscal sponsor, From the Heart Productions, has encouraged us to continue raising money for this final, and crucial, part of the process. Those looking for end-of-the-year tax deductions, all contributions remain fully tax-deductible. Please share the project, if you haven’t done so already, and consider adding to your contribution if you feel compelled to do so — we’ve already done so much with a relatively small amount of money (by Hollywood’s standards), a little bit more will assure we get the best post-production sound and color correction we can swing. Here is a link to our current campaign:

https://bitly.com/noalternativefilm

Thank you so much for your support! I wish you all the best this holiday season!!

 

An Inside Look Into the Making of “No Alternative”

I’m thrilled to announce that Film Slate Magazine will be publishing a series of real time updates on the pre-production, production and post-production of my film, “No Alternative.”

NoAlt-1

“No Alternative” is a personal film that, these days, is near impossible to get made in Hollywood. I’ve written a great deal about how the decline of the middle space of filmmaking has essentially mirrored the decline of the middle class in this country—the chasm between the one percent of filmmaking—tent-pole blockbusters—and the ninety-nine percent—indie films, which have been relegated to shrinking microbudget levels—has never been greater, or more stark.

I’ve directed a few features and never really considered crowdfunding as an option, but Hollywood’s rather myopic focus on the “biggest” and “broadest” has led indie filmmakers like me to welcome such an avenue—we’ve always had to beg, borrow and steal, but such an ethos has never been more germane to independent filmmaking as it is right now. Inspired by my sister’s real-life struggles with mental illness, “No Alternative” couldn’t be more personal to me, and therefore it made for a good project to attempt to crowdfund. Through my research, I’ve found that people are more likely to contribute to a person with a personal story, with a cause, than to simply a story itself.

NoAlt-2

We raised over $50,000 through Indiegogo and continue to raise funds through our non-profit sponsor, From The Heart Productions here: https://bitly.com/noalternativefilm. The campaign attracted a lot of attention and drew support from a great deal of people, including Amazon Studio’s own Ted Hope. We’ve been able to raise eighty-five percent of our budget from outside investors who were also drawn to the project and its accompanying crowdfunding campaign. It’s important to remember that crowdfunding campaigns are not only about raising money, they’re also about establishing, and subsequently building, your base. This base includes supporters, fans and potential business partners like investors, producers and keys of departments. The crowdfunding page for your film serves as its “go-to” hub for people interested in it. The best part of it is: if they like what they see and hear, they can be a part of making the movie a reality!

I’ve been open and honest not only about my personal connection to the material, but also about the filmmaking process itself. I’ve written a book on microbudget filmmaking and plan to put my experience and theories on the subject to the test on this film, and I will be keeping a journal of sorts of the process and publishing it in Film Slate Magazine over these next few months as we make “No Alternative.” Stay tuned!

#MiddleClassFilmmakers

99Percent

It seems my Indiewire piece on “The 99 Percent…In Hollywood” struck a nerve [bit.ly/1XtxL9K]. I think that’s a good thing, both positive and negative responses alike. The point was to start a conversation and the conversation has begun.

ElijahWood-Indiewire-TwitterMost of the response out there has been positive and I can’t thank you enough for the support.

TedHope-IndieWire-Twitter-2

LawrenceODonnell-Indiewire-Twitter

But the reason I wrote it, and titled it “I am the 99 Percent…in Hollywood,” is that this isn’t about me at all. It is about an issue that’s much larger than I am.

Stage32-Indiewire-Twitter

ChelseaLupkin-Indiewire-Twitter

Indiewire-FacebookComments

For the benefit of clarity: I’m speaking on behalf of numerous filmmakers, many I know personally, who share a similar sentiment. I’ve made three features in the past 2 years and have been fortunate to see them all released in a variety of ways. Detour was distributed theatrically and digitally—both domestically and internationally (it just finished a successful theatrical run in Japan)—and Don’t Look Back was sold to Lifetime Movie Network and recently premiered to 1.1 million viewers when it aired.

It took me a while to get here—Detour took over 5 years to make, a process that started before the trend of minimalist, single protagonist, single location films—our development and pre-production predated Buried and 127 Hours, for instance [http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/29/movies/detour-directed-by-william-dickerson.html].

Making a film is in any filmmaker’s grasp, money or no money, and I do agree that’s a powerful, important and hopeful thing; particularly when making your first film.

AlexGibney-Indiewire-Twitter-1

AlexGibney-Indiewire-Twitter-2

I have directed both film and television. The problem is compensation and support is not commensurate to the work in this “middle” space—the current area in which many of us are working.

AlexGibney-Indiewire-Twitter-3

Films are cheaper, and easier, to make, yes; but much more difficult to utilize as a bridge to a living. It’s indeed necessary for new “outside-the-of-box” models to be explored.

TravisStevens-Indiewire-Twitter

This is a tough conversation, but it’s one that not only filmmakers need to have, but the higher ups in Hollywood also need to have.

Are movies simply a pop cultural fad? Are they simply a product? I don’t think so, and if you’ve ever been affected by a movie, you don’t think so either. I believe movies are not only important, but indispensable, to our culture. If you don’t think so, my piece isn’t for you. And that’s perfectly okay. I will continue to advocate for change, for a rebuilding of the middle space of filmmaking because I think the current chasm is doing long-term damage to both the industry and the art form itself.

KimMasters-Indiewire-Twitter

I recently used the film Me and Earl and the Dying Girl as a lens through which to examine the current state of movies. In this particular “indie” film, the story ends with a girl dying. As if to add insult to injury, she dies while watching the movie Thomas Mann’s character Greg has spent the entire film making for her. We are forced to stare at the dying girl as she’s watching the movie, and dying, and we don’t get to see it. We don’t get to see the movie Greg has toiled over, the movie that results in his grades going down the toilet, the movie that may, or may not, be his first and final expression of love and affection for the character of Rachel. We will never know what the movie is about. We will never know, because that’s not what’s important.

What is important is the power that movie has on both Rachel watching it, and Greg having made it, and the power the movie within which that movie is being projected is having on us as we watch it in the theater. Movies have the power to not only move us emotionally, but also provide the shared experience of experiencing that emotion with others—and that experience is nothing short of transcendent.

Greg grows up watching movies with his father, with his friend Earl, and with Rachel. Greg is you and I. Movies have a lasting, meaningful effect on his life as well as ours. As Me and Earl and the Dying Girl shows us, moving pictures are life—they live on after death. They continue to point us into the direction of the people we respect, care for and love the most; they point us into the direction of eras, societies and cultures past. I have no doubt that most people working in the industry will speak of their passion for movies, but if they’re really passionate about them, they’d make more films based on that passion. When movies are made in boardrooms on the basis of demographics, or the desire to sell in other countries, they alienate that portion of the audience that wants to see unique, personal films. Movies are an amalgamation of art and commerce; however, there must be an equal balance between the two for a movie to matter.

EricKohn-Indiewire-Twitter

When it comes down to it, we are all film fans. We, as human beings, are compelled to tell stories; it’s how we make sense of the stories of our own lives. Hollywood, when operating at its best, is one of America’s greatest industries. Please, let’s not take that power for granted.

Let’s keep this conversation going. Follow me on twitter: @WDFilmmaker

THE MICROBUDGET REVOLUTION

IMG_2725Did anyone notice that the movies nominated this year by The Independent Spirit Awards for Best Feature were the same movies nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for Best Feature, with the exception of one film, Love Is Strange? If the Academy Awards were created as a platform to showcase commercial Hollywood’s best and brightest, why were the Independent Spirit Awards created? Presumably they were created as the antithesis of the Academy Awards: a platform for independent Hollywood’s best and brightest.

Financially speaking, The Independent Spirit Awards deem an “indie” to be a movie made for under 20 million dollars, but if that 20 million dollar budget is coming from the same studio that made millions of dollars from the latest superhero franchise, is the film in question still capturing that “indie spirit?”

Let’s step back for a minute. 10 to 15 years ago, the studios had their own independent film divisions. They considered independent film a viable product for niche markets of film consumers, so much so that they were willing to blur the idea of what an “indie film” was in order to have a piece of the pie. Today, virtually every studio has dissolved those divisions. They are officially not in the independent film business any longer. This means the independent film is now quite literally independent of studio support. So, why then is an awards show dedicated to independent film, presenting the majority of its awards to films that are not technically independent? Here’s how the Independent Spirit Awards define the rubric of an independent film: “uniqueness of vision, original, provocative subject matter, and an economy of means (with particular attention paid to total production cost and individual compensation).”

If the studios aren’t funding lower budget, character-driven, niche films anymore, those who are funding them are most definitely not funding them to the tune of 20 million dollars. The days of the 5 to 20 million dollar independent film are over, and have been over for a few years. I’m not saying films aren’t funded inside those numbers currently, but they are very few and far between—so much so, that it is foolish to focus your sights as a filmmaker on making a movie within that range.

If independent film as we know it is dead—at least in the current state of the industry—what is left? What’s left are: studio blockbusters (i.e. movies made for 150 million dollars and up) and microbudget films (i.e. movies made for 1 million dollars and under, and more often far under). The number of studio films made this past year has shrunk by nearly half, while the amount of microbudget films has nearly doubled. The studios are making fewer movies and putting much more money into them. They’re taking huge gambles financially, and the way to offset that gamble is to ensure that the entertainment they’re selling appeals to as many people as possible. This approach, of course, dilutes the originality of the content. When movies are made in boardrooms on the basis of demographics, they alienate that portion of the audience that wants to see unique, personal films. In other words, they alienate the actual film fans. Instead of making ten films that target different, more niche markets, they make one movie for the price of ten and bet it all.

The truth is that independent film is far from dead. In fact, it’s thriving like never before thanks to the technological resources at the disposal of hungry, young filmmakers these days. They are overwhelming and strikingly affordable. Behold the microbudget feature. Anyone with the right stuff can make a movie these days with production values that were simply unattainable just a few years ago. The stigma that was once attached to movies with budgets this low is no longer there—one can make a movie for peanuts and make it look like a million bucks. The barriers to making a feature film, and consequently announcing yourself as a filmmaker in this industry, have never been easier to overcome.

While this is encouraging, no doubt, this has lead to a surplus of low-budget films living out there in the world. For the consumer, there’s a deluge of movies to choose from, many of which have little-to-nothing in the way of traditional marketing. And, while the filmmakers’ methods of directing and producing films have changed, the industry’s method of buying and distributing them has, essentially, remained the same. This has lead to a business model for microbudget filmmakers that precludes them from making a living wage from their films. Ted Hope recently stated, “Filmmaking is not currently a sustainable occupation for any but the very rare.” There are approximately 141,000,000 jobs in the United States; approximately 100,000 of them are film directing jobs. Working directors make up about .0709 percent of the workforce. If more and more of the movies being made are microbudgets, that means a director’s salary is accordingly micro, if they have a salary at all. Therefore, the potential payoff rests on the distribution of the film, but getting your film distributed through the conventional channels may not lead to much of a payoff for the filmmaker.

The good news is that do-it-yourself distribution has not only gotten easier, but it’s quickly becoming an accepted practice. If the filmmakers are in charge of promoting their own films, why let a traditional distributor profit from your hard work when you can distribute yourself digitally through an assortment of online outlets and recoup the profits directly? This is an important question to ask if you’re planning on raising money for your own microbudget. DIY has never been easier, or more professional looking, as it is right now.

Yes, the market is more competitive—everyone with an iPhone can, technically, make a movie. And now that studios aren’t funding indies, you have major creative forces in the entertainment industry turning to microbudgets themselves: M. Night Shyamalan is making a microbudget, Spike Lee raised the money for his last movie on Kickstarter, and Mark Duplass just produced a feature film shot entirely on an iPhone. However, this is what’s important to remember: what matters is the value of the idea—of the story—not the money it took to bring that idea to the screen. That’s what art is. Art is valued by the painting within the golden frame, not the golden frame itself.

DETOUR-CrewPhotoAs I wrote in my book, DETOUR: Hollywood, “In the end, our purpose as filmmakers is akin to the purpose of the railroad, an apt metaphor that never ceases to disappoint in times of crisscrossing articulations: we are just human beings trying to connect…and it is story that connects us.” My advice: make your movie. But be sure to make it using your own unique voice. Be bold, don’t try to fit in, and maybe, just maybe, Hollywood will take notice.

***

DETOUR: Hollywood: How To Direct a Microbudget Film (or any film, for that matter) is available in Paperback and Kindle:

http://www.amazon.com/DETOUR-Hollywood-Direct-Microbudget-matter/dp/0985188634

Why “Whiplash” Won an Oscar for Best Editing

whiplash (n):
1. the lash of a whip.
2. an abrupt snapping motion or change of direction resembling the lash of a whip.
3. a neck injury caused by a sudden jerking backward, forward, or both, of the head: Whiplash resulted when their car was struck from behind.

000036.2771.Whiplash_still1_JKSimmons_.JPG

“Whiplash,” written and directed by Damien Chazelle and edited by Tom Cross, was a hit at Sundance and most recently made a splash at the 87th Academy Awards with 5 nominations and 3 wins — one of those wins going to Tom Cross for editing the film. Filmmaking is an organic process: the film is a beast you’re trying to domesticate by taking it out of the page and placing it onto the screen. The idea dies many deaths: first when it is committed to paper; then when it is filmed; then once again when it is edited. I believe it was Bresson who used this metaphor. Each step is, in itself, a rewrite. The editing process, in many ways, is the final rewrite of the film. And it could make or break it before the light of the projector brings the idea back to life again.

If these are the three core parts of filmmaking, writing (pre-production), directing (production) and editing (post-production), one might argue that the role of the editor is equally important as the role of the writer and the role of the director. Editing isn’t just snipping the footage and glueing one shot together with the next; however, if done right, it should seem like the film wasn’t edited at all. The editing should seem invisible on the surface, but underneath each and every edit should affect our subconscious experience of the film. It should manipulate our emotions and deliver the theme of the movie into our brains without us knowing it — at least upon first viewing.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 5.20.32 PM

The “theme” is the universal idea that threads its way through a movie. It’s often the lesson we learn at the end of the story. It is critical for the filmmaker to identify the theme before making the film; it’s perhaps the most important thing a filmmaker can do in pre-production. The theme of the film is not the plot (which is usually summarized in the logline), but rather the idea that drives the plot.

What is the theme of “Whiplash?” Let’s let the editing tell us.

The film opens with the sound of snare drum hits under a black screen. It’s a building “march” reminiscent of antiquated military drum corps keeping soldiers in time, except this beat gets faster, faster and faster. As the beat concludes, the first shot is revealed to us. It’s a long shot that dollies through a hallway toward our main character, Andrew Neimann, played by Miles Teller.

He’s playing alone; he’s on his time, no one else’s.

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 10.07.06 PM

Until, we are introduced to Dr. Terence Fletcher, played by J.K. Simmons in his Oscar-Winning performance. In a movie that’s filled with precise, and often rapid-fire, editing, the first shot is notable for its wholeness. It only cuts when Fletcher enters the room, and enters Andrew’s life — as far as we can tell, Andrew’s life on screen did not necessitate a single edit…until he met Fletcher. In the first half of the film, Fletcher is in control of Andrew; how do the filmmakers underscore this? Fletcher is also in control of the edit itself.

In the scene in the movie theater, where we are first introduced to Andrew’s passive-to-a-fault father, we listen to their following dialogue:

Father: When you get to be my age, you have perspective.
Son: I don’t want perspective.

Often, in a well-written script, a supporting character will either state, or hint at, the theme of the movie in the first 5 minutes of the film. In this scene, his father does just that. What does Andrew want? One who does not want perspective, wants to live — and see the world — in the moment, in the time he is in now, neither faster or slower, but in time that is his.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 5.23.00 PM

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 5.23.30 PM

The insert (or “detail shot”) of sheet music being opened and placed onto the music stand is faster than the actions Andrew performs in his medium close-up profile shot. By a hair. The action from one shot to the next doesn’t quite match –- the “music” is ahead of him. In the following scene, he places a picture of Buddy Rich on the wall in front of the drums, ahead of him –- he aspires to be as good as his idol, but is behind.

After Dr. Fletcher decides to give Andrew a shot, he wakes up at 6:03 on the day of the band’s rehearsal, 3 minutes after he was told to be there. He is behind; in fact, he is even filmed behind-the-time:

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 5.27.55 PM

However, after rushing to get to the studio, he realizes that he is early — by 3 hours. He was manipulated, leading him, and us, to question: should he trust Fletcher’s version of “time?”

Fletcher walks in at 9:00 am precisely as the second hand hits the number 12. His footsteps are noticeable, the clacks against the floor evenly timed. After Fletcher boosts Andrew’s morale, telling him that he’s “here for a reason,” Andrew re-enters the rehearsal space in slow-motion. He gets behind the drums, also shot in slow-motion, until Fletcher re-enters the room, which resets the film into normal motion. Fletcher has intentionally relaxed Andrew, setting his mind and body into slow-motion, before entering the room himself and bringing the student up to his speed…quickly.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 5.35.35 PM

“Not my tempo,” Fletcher repeats.

In the scene that won J.K. Simmons his Oscar, Dr. Fletcher tests Andrew’s sense of timing. Is he rushing? Or is he dragging? Rushing, or dragging, or rushing, or dragging? Andrew jumps the cue, rushing it. What is he rushing or dragging?

Andrew promises to be on Fletcher’s time. Fletcher calls him a “rusher.” He is a rusher — his ambition seeks to rush him to greatness — however, his drumming ability is dragging.

Inside of his dorm room, the sound of drumming underscores the scene. As Andrew lets his father’s call go to voicemail, the playing of drums in the future seeps into his present, bringing us into the next scene of him copying the sheet music to “Whiplash” and practicing the drums. The editing says he’s trying to catch-up to himself, to his aspirations.

However, the drumming he performs himself is not in time with the drumming (the double-time swing of the ride cymbal) that plays under the scenes. There’s a perfect tempo in his head that he’s trying to attain; and he’ll shed blood to attain it. It’s interesting to note that while his drumming is off, the editor chooses to place cuts of Andrew placing band-aids on his hand that are in perfect rhythm with the timing of the ride cymbal –-

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 5.46.14 PM

Andrew’s desire to succeed is in the right time, along with his willingness to sacrifice his physical health, but his talent is not.

The Overbrook Competition: The Midpoint of the film (in screenwriting terms, the point-of-no-return for the main character):

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 5.50.50 PM

Andrew loses the core drummer’s sheet music (either by accident, or intentionally — the reality of how he lost it is ambiguous) and is forced to take over, since he has the song memorized. He helps his band win the competition and, as a result, becomes their core drummer.

After this moment of triumph for Andrew, this validation of his talent, he endures an awkward dinner with his extended family. Andrew’s announcement that he’s the new core drummer gets upstaged by his cousins, as their mother boasts of their achievements. No one seems to grasp the importance of Andrew’s achievement (at least, the achievement as he sees it in his own mind). As the conversation moves on, Andrew doesn’t: the camera remains on him, just as his mind remains on his accomplishment, an accomplishment no one seems to understand.

He interrupts his family’s conversation: “It’s Division 3,” belittling his cousin’s accomplishment. He finally gets everyone’s attention with his blunt and impolite manners. Once he does, every single line and physical reaction that Andrew delivers is cut to immediately before he delivers it. The timing is perfect — it’s his timing — and everyone else is following his tempo. The supporting characters deliver their lines back at him as though they’re hitting tennis balls back at him.

Andrew is controlling the conversation, and the editing emphasizes that.

After the Midpoint of the film, Fletcher is well aware of his student’s point-of-no-return, his commitment to this band, and he exploits it. He begins pushing him to the limit by bringing in a new player. With regard to the blocking, the scene starts with Fletcher sitting and Andrew standing — higher than Fletcher — and ends with Andrew sitting behind the drums — lower than Fletcher — which is emphasized in a high angle shot over Fletcher’s shoulder.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 5.54.46 PM

Dr. Fletcher has reasserted his control over Andrew.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 2.26.08 PM

Following this scene, is the second (and “last”) date with his girlfriend (it is important to note that this is the first time we’ve seen them together since their first date).

Andrew is breaking up with her, before it feels to us he’s even really gone out with her. He describes their future; how he must dedicate himself to his drumming, and he articulates how he’ll eventually come to resent her for wanting to spend more and more time with him. Therefore, his conclusion is that they should preemptively break it off before any of this terrible, and inevitable, stuff happens. He delivers his lines extremely quickly — he’s rushing it — warning her that they’ll end up hating each other when she eventually asks him to quit the drums.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 5.57.48 PM

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 5.57.19 PM

The entire B-Story (often the love story) of the film has been relegated to two scenes: the beginning of their relationship, and the end of their relationship. Both Andrew, and the filmmakers, have skipped over their entire courtship. Sometimes the moments left off the screen are just as, if not more important, than the scenes shown on the screen.

The couple’s time together is not in the same timeline as Andrew’s pursuit of drumming, his quest to become one of the greats.

Mirroring the montage sequence at the beginning of the film, music prelaps this scene between him and his girlfriend, leading us into the next scene of Andrew practicing. However, unlike before, the music consists only of bass and strings, no drums. Andrew is providing the only sounds of drumming —

He is starting to define his own rhythm.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 5.59.12 PM

During the brutal rotation of drummers, Andrew finally gets his tempo, he finally nails it. Fletcher keeps yelling at him: “Faster, faster, faster…” as he destroys the drums and equipment around him, while Andrew destroys his hands. “Keep playing, keep playing…Don’t stop!”

Andrew earns the part; and after being wound up faster, faster, faster, he walks away from rehearsal in slow-motion.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 5.59.31 PM

The Dunellen Competition: The bus that Andrew is riding on breaks down. While rushing to find an alternative form of transportation, he rents a car and inadvertently leaves his drumsticks behind. In an attempt to retrieve the sticks and get back in time for the competition, he recklessly speeds through an intersection and gets into a horrific accident. Why? Well, because he’s rushing. In this sequence, the cuts quicken — in rapid-fire succession — arriving at the images before Andrew does (they’re one step ahead of him).

HE IS LATE; he knows it, and we know it.

He is trying to catch-up with Fletcher’s time, with the time of potential greatness. When the accident occurs, time is literally turned upside-down — as conveyed by the clock being upside-down in the frame:

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 6.00.59 PM

The effect, of course, is that it looks as though time is counting backwards.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 6.01.17 PM

Andrew’s progress has gone backwards, in one moment of hubris and thoughtless behavior.

[We are about to get into some major spoiler territory, so I caution reading forward if you haven’t seen the film.]

After fighting Fletcher, both physically and legally, which ultimately leads to his teacher’s dismissal from Shaffer Conservatory, Andrew attempts to live a normal life — which is a life without drumming. He works a job, he watches movies with his Dad again; however, when we see him walking in the street eating a slice of pizza, he still hears the siren call of the drums. He can’t escape it. The sounds of a street musician beating on buckets catches his, and our, attention, and operates as an act of The Fates — it leads him around the corner to the very nightclub where Terence Fletcher is playing.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 6.03.38 PM

It’s as though Andrew’s life lacks music, lacks its “fix,” without Fletcher, the “pusher.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 6.03.52 PM

In the club, the two men share a conversation: Fletcher explains that he was teaching at Shaffer to “push people beyond what’s expected of them.” It’s an absolute necessity; otherwise, he’d be depriving the world of the next great musician. The two decide to leave the past to the past, which results in Andrew deciding to play in his band once again.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 6.04.48 PM

At the climactic JVC Jazz Concert, the show starts with a new tune: “Upswinging.”

However, and this is the biggest “however” of the movie, Andrew soon realizes he’s been tricked by Fletcher: he doesn’t know the song, nor has he been provided with the sheet music for it. As the song kicks in, and the other musicians play their parts, he has to keep up…or not…and start his own beat.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 6.06.43 PM

Andrew crumples at the challenge, unable to play anything; in fact, he plays his worst drumming in the entire film at this climactic moment — a moment that Fletcher cautions the musicians earlier can either make or break a career.

After Andrew is humiliated, bringing the rendition to a resounding halt and retreating from the stage, he decides to do a 180 and walk right back out there. He gets behind the drums, undermines Fletcher’s authority as conductor and begins his own rhythm. He establishes his own tempo, which the editor, Tom Cross, punctuates by jump-cutting 3 successive times, getting closer and closer to Andrew, closer and closer to the rhythm he has created for Fletcher, for the musicians, and for everyone watching and listening (in the concert hall and in the movie theater).

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 6.07.34 PM

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 6.07.44 PM

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 6.07.54 PM

Andrew is now in complete command of the camera and editing — just as he’s controlling Fletcher and every other musician on that stage, his performance is controlling the filmmakers.

In a movie crafted with such precise thought and motivation, this is the perfect ending:

All of Chazelle’s and Cross’s filmmaking tools have been usurped by Andrew behind the drums. We are all in his time, and the viewer must watch and listen according to his time from this point forward. The film does not cut before or after moments; it cuts ON THE TIME. ON ANDREW’S TIME. When the camera whips back and forth between Andrew and Fletcher, the movie fulfills the promise of its premise: Andrew and Fletcher become in sync; they find the same tempo; the camera moves suggest equilibrium and equality between these two characters. It’s notable, to say the least, that in a movie called “Whiplash,” Chazelle and Cross reserve use of the “whip pan” until the very end of the film.

When the song “Caravan” is finally over, Andrew keeps playing — he does not relinquish control of the stage back over to Fletcher. When Fletcher leans over Andrew and asks “What are you doing, man?” Andrew says, “I’ll cue you.”

Andrew is running the show; he has caught greatness; greatness is control of him and it’s best that both of them step out of the way and let it play out –-

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 6.12.26 PM

The music drops out, time slows down…or does it speed up?

Cross presents us with a mixture of slow-motion and fast-motion shots, mostly extreme close-ups of bits and pieces of movements, limbs, drum equipment — i.e. not the whole picture, pieces of the picture. Time and space do not matter anymore because Andrew is finally, and fully, existing in the moment. He has achieved what he has been chasing after this entire time, what Fletcher has been pushing him to become: he has become a vehicle for greatness and is letting what is destined to be play out in real time in front of the audience.

At the end of his solo, Andrew looks up at his teacher, and for the first time, when it cuts to Fletcher’s eyes, he is shot in slow-motion as he watches his student, nodding in approval of his apprentice’s performance. When it cuts back to Andrew, he is shot at a normal frame rate (or a rate that is not noticeably as slow), but when we cut back to Fletcher, his coverage is still in slow-motion —

Andrew has now defined Fletcher’s tempo.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 6.12.51 PM

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 6.13.01 PM

The world of the film, which was once Fletcher’s tempo, now exists within Andrew’s tempo.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 6.13.20 PM

Andrew has finally caught up to himself — he’s found his time, he’s found his rhythm in this world, and it is entirely unique, entirely his own, and not determined by anyone else. In a sense, he’s back to the beginning, in that first shot before Fletcher stepped into his life: he’s playing alone; he’s on his time, no one else’s. But, now he is great. And to become great, he ultimately had to reach inside himself and find that greatness.

We all must aspire to find our own time, our own rhythm, inside of ourselves: that is the theme of “Whiplash.”

The effect that Fletcher (and the Fletchers in our own lives, should we be either cursed or blessed to have one in our lives) had on Andrew accomplishing his goal (and have on us accomplishing ours) is a question for the cinematic ages.

For more on the importance of “theme” in filmmaking, take a look at my book, DETOUR: Hollywood: How To Direct a Microbudget Film (or any film, for that matter):

www.amazon.com/DETOUR-Hollywood-Direct-Microbudget-matter/dp/0985188634

DON’T LOOK BACK: The Pieces of the Puzzle

I’m a big fan of mystery. Where there’s a mystery, there’s a puzzle to be solved. And with any mystery comes clues. “Don’t Look Back” is no exception. You might catch clues on the first viewing of the film, but you’ll likely catch more on the second. In the spirit of celebrating the mystery of the movie, while simultaneously deconstructing it, here are some clues to enhance your viewing experience of the movie.

CM Capture 1

Remember, if you look hard enough, you will find the answers:

1. Triangles.

CM Triangle

Triangular shapes — in the production design, shot compositions and blocking of the actors — appear in critical moments of the film. The house Nora inherits, an A-frame structure, is itself a triangle. The shape of the house reflects the shape of the characters’ journey throughout the entire movie:

A-Frame-2

If the two characters are the sides of the house: where do they start, where do they meet and where do they split?

2. Green and Purple are complimentary colors.

complementary-color-wheelWho’s wearing green and who’s wearing purple? When are they wearing these specific colors? Do the colors ever switch characters?

3. Pay close attention to what is shown in mirrors.

CM Capture 6

 

CM Capture 7

 

CM Capture 14

4. The Sputnik.

The Sputnik is a medium format twin lens reflex stereo camera introduced around 1955. It was developed and manufactured in Russia. Using 120mm film, the camera provides six 6×6 pairs (or twelve single images). As Peyton says: “It has two lenses. When I release the shutter, it takes two photographs of the same subject, simultaneously; but because the lenses are apart just so, each picture is slightly different.” Which replicates the way we see, with our eyes apart ‘just so.’

CM Capture 10When Peyton looks through the viewfinder, the image is reversed:

CM Capture 9

We see through the viewfinder several times in the film. Think about the one time we see through the viewfinder and the image is not reversed.

CM Capture 23

Who is holding the camera?

5. The Split-Diopter Lens.

Split-Diopter

We incorporate a Split-Diopter Lens to divide the frame between Nora and Peyton. This enables us to have both foreground and background in focus as we execute a split point-of-view.

Nora and Peyton are divided, yet connected on the same plane of focus.

CM Capture 18

Notice how Peyton is first introduced and what the frame looks like when cutting back and forth between Nora and Peyton:

CM Capture 2

 

CM Capture 3

The 180 degree line is intentionally broken, placing both Nora and Peyton on the same side of the frame. This results in our eye remaining in one spot (as opposed to shifting left-to-right-to-left in a traditional shot-reverse-shot) — the characters change, but their position remains one in the same, the blur of the Split-Diopter the only thing dividing them.

6. What is Nora wearing on her date with Jack? How is she wearing her hair?

NoraJackDate

7. Nora’s childhood bedroom.

Nora-Bedroom

Her bedroom — the room that Peyton rents — was the site of her abuse. The scene of the crime. And it literally hangs over the rest of the house. What kind of memories hang over the rest inside a troubled mind?

8. Lithium.

CM Capture 27

Prolonged mood disorders are very serious, and the last line of defense is often “Lithium.” Prescribing Lithium is an indication that a patient’s mood disorder is not only quite serious, but has been worsening over the years. It is not uncommon for a psychotic break to occur if one were to stop taking their prescribed dosages. What are some of the symptoms that might accompany such a lapse?

9. Pay close attention to the moments in Nora’s life when Peyton shows up.

CM Capture 12

Why does she appear at these moments?

10. Whose eye do we begin the film with and whose eye do we end the film with?

CM Capture 29

At the beginning of the film, the camera enters the popsicle stick house. At the end of the film, the camera exits the real house — the one the popsicle stick version was modeled after.

It’s up to you to put the clues together and discover the answers. It’s perfectly okay to “figure out” some twists and turns while watching the film, or to not fully grasp them until long after you’ve finished watching the film. The point of the movie is to put you, the audience, into the shoes of our main character, Nora, and experience the events in the film as she experiences them, as she sees them unfolding around her.

Now I encourage you to watch the movie…and then look back!:

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/dont-look-back/id905543703
Amazon Instant Video: http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Look-Back-Lucy-Griffiths/dp/B00NBD067A
VUDU: http://www.vudu.com/movies/#!content/554110/Dont-Look-Back
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/movies/details/Don_t_Look_Back?id=SXpz_D_TcaI
Vimeo On Demand: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/20579

DON’T LOOK BACK: Television Premiere

DontLookBack-MV-Poster-WTD-Edited-FB-Advert

My latest film, “Don’t Look Back,” will be premiering nationwide on LMN (Lifetime Movie Network), Sunday, October 5th at 8:00pm (with repeat airings to follow):

http://www.mylifetime.com/movies/dont-look-back

I encourage you to tune in! I will be live-tweeting during the broadcast…and I encourage you to join me (@WDFilmmaker) on Twitter using #DontLookBack:

https://twitter.com/WDFilmmaker

The film is also available RIGHT NOW online through these platforms:

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/dont-look-back/id905543703
Amazon Instant Video: http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Look-Back-Lucy-Griffiths/dp/B00NBD067A
VUDU: http://www.vudu.com/movies/#!content/554110/Dont-Look-Back
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/movies/details/Don_t_Look_Back?id=SXpz_D_TcaI
Vimeo On Demand: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/20579

If you haven’t seen the trailer, you can watch it here:

Nora Clark is a children’s book writer whose life is at a crossroads. After moving back into the house she inherited from her grandmother, Nora comes to grips with the traumatic memories from her childhood, and takes in an inquisitive, seductive new roommate, Peyton, who is not entirely whom she appears to be. Lucy Griffiths (TRUE BLOOD) and Cassidy Freeman (LONGMIRE) star alongside Tyler Jacob Moore (SHAMELESS), Roddy Piper (THEY LIVE) and Emmy Award Nominee Kate Burton (SCANDAL).

Here are some recent quotes from the press:

“‘Don’t Look Back’ plays on elevating levels of the human mind, and takes the psychological thriller to a sharp peak.” – Movie Pilot

“This is Roddy Piper’s best performance since ‘They Live!'” – Film Pulse

“The moody acumen ‘Don’t Look Back’ generates almost bristles with a sense of auteur bravado.” – Paste Magazine.

Please watch and help spread the word! #DontLookBack

William Dickerson is Stephen Fry proof thanks to caching by WP Super Cache