Giving Back: Production Classes at BRE
By Minsa Cho
One of Back Roads Entertainment’s objectives is to train “Young Guns” of the industry (AKA the not-ready-for-primetime crew members) so that they’ll have a comprehensive understanding of the ins and outs of production.
To achieve this end, Back Roads leads a 10-week production class. Each class covers an aspect of production including cameras, sound, lighting and editing. Although not a comprehensive class, it does provide a broad overview of the types of equipment that is used throughout all aspects of production. Additionally, the students handle the equipment to familiarize themselves with the gear, and are then asked to use the equipment in real-world settings. Each class is designed to assist the students to learn what actual production entails and figure out where their individual strengths and weaknesses lie.
In addition, students are also given instruction on set, assisting the Producers and Camera Operators in creating the look and feel of a project. It’s a valuable learning experience that is uniquely Back Roads Entertainment’s.
Along with the hands-on classes, we had guest speakers come in and talk to the students about their specialties within the industry. Among the guests were Executive Producers in television, film producers, audio technicians and gaffers, all so the students can gain an insight into the industry that is usually left un-taught.
One of the training projects was to assist in the production of a short film. It proved to be a valuable exercise because it offered the students a glimpse into actual production that is rarely offered at other production companies. It allowed the students to put into practice, theories regarding light, composition and sound.
Justin Coco, one of the students, assisted in lighting as well as serving as Assistant Camera. ‘As an NYU Film School grad, I’ve been on a number of sets, but the Back Roads’ class offered me the opportunity to really get my hands dirty and wear many different hats.’
This particular short was interesting in that the story was told strictly through visuals – there was no dialogue, just ‘nat’ sound and the reciting of a sutra. The film features a Korean Buddhist monk as he goes through his daily process of meditation and prayer. The idea of this short was to show the way in which a man attempts to attain enlightenment within a very rigid, patriarchal and Confucian society.
The dilemma was this: How will this story be told with no words? How do you convey the idea of enlightenment without hitting the viewer over the head with it? How do you show rigidity?
It comes down to this: WHAT you shoot will determine HOW you shoot. You see it all the time- music videos and movies that use interesting camera moves and angles, but with no substance behind it. The shots are not meant to tell a story, they’re used to make it look interesting so that the viewer forgets that what they’re really watching is, well, crap…
For this short (which some will say is crap, too), we could have shot it very ‘music video-esque,’ with fast cuts and a constantly moving camera. But that would have defeated the purpose of the story we were trying to tell.
To capture the rigidity of Buddhism within a very Confucian society (which relies heavily upon ceremony and respect), the camera was left as stationary as possible. Up until a certain point, there are no camera movements- just a series of static shots.
As the monk meditates, a series of quick dissolves into tighter shots were used to convey the idea of the monk’s tranquil concentration. The final shot in the sequence is a dissolve into the Buddha’s face- a mirror image of the monk that conveys (or attempts to convey) the idea of the monk’s attainment of knowledge on a level equal to Buddha.
A basic precept of Buddhism is that enlightenment is attainable by all, not just The Buddha (which literally means ‘awakened’). Indeed, Buddha is not the first enlightened being, but one of many who have come before, and come hence. That is why I used moving shots AFTER the monk reaches a certain level of enlightenment: the monk is just another in a long line of enlightened beings.
Just as the English language has grammar, so too, does film language. Shots are meant to convey meaning, tone and/or subtext. Juxtaposed, those shots create a sequence, and those sequences create scenes, and so on…
Take Martin Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver,’ for example- to capture Travis Bickle’s (Robert DeNiro) loneliness, Scorsese framed him, as often as possible, alone in the frame. In the scene where Travis and Wizard (Peter Boyle) talk, you’ll notice that, although Travis is in Wizard’s frame, Wizard is never in his.
A perfect example in the reality television genre would be using brightly, well-lit shooting styles within the crime format. Imagine ‘COPS’ or ‘The First 48’ shot in the style of ‘The Real Housewives of New York City,’ where all of the police officers are evenly lit, with a backlight and a soft fill light. It would take you out of the gritty, dirty world in which these cops often visit. In short, it would look ridiculous. Can you imagine ‘The Rachel Zoe Project’ shot like ‘Paranormal State’?
Always think about WHAT you’re shooting, and that will guide you in figuring out HOW you’ll shoot it.
Check out the short, ‘Bodhi,’ and let us know what you think.
And if you’re interested in participating in our production classes, please send us an email at: email@example.com. Our summer program starts on June 11, 2012.