EVALUATION BY MATTHEW W.F. SENIOR
'william' - A LIVING PHOTOGRAPH
For this project I wanted to create a personal, intimate, family-driven eulogy short film, which I would dedicate to my grandfather. I wanted it to be a living, speaking & moving photograph – a piece of art, which captures his entire life (from start to finish). I would encompass these ideas with technical filmmaking to create a captivating short film with a run time of approximately fifteen minutes. The film is named after my grandfather (William Henry Senior), and I decided to utilise his real voice (as opposed to the film being narrated by an actor) to add to the depth of realism - after all, once someone has passed on, it is very difficult to remember their voice. As this film was personal, I wanted to handle near-on everything (including writing, direction, lighting, cinematography, vocal coaching etc...). I am aware that low budget films with one crew member covering a handful of tasks are looked down upon, and usually result in a 'shabby' film, however, I had to oversee every detail of this film. I am not claiming to be a pro cinematographer, gaffer or lighting manager, however, I did my very best with the knowledge I have. The only additional crew members, aside from the soundtrack, were producers.
Previously, I had felt angered by the world we lived in - and so I wrote a poem over the course of one year which I titled Home Of Cold Rock. I had the vision of a character performing this poem in a monologue fashion surrounded by darkness for some time, and it fitted this project perfectly. Utilising a green screen and directional lighting, I positioned the subject in the right of the frame, toning down the colour and contrast in post. This in turn created the desirable surreal, abstract effect I had envisioned. I would layer this imagery with shots of the moon, stars and flame close ups, signifying life, the subject matter of the poem, and beautiful close-up contrast imagery for aesthetics. Additionally, I instructed the actor not to blink for as long as possible, for the illusion of photography - until he blinks and looks upwards towards the sky. (Later I would extend the film and build upon this scene with religious imagery).
In terms of being viewed, I would very much like to see this piece projected onto a white canvas. It reflects the use of slides within the film, but also suits the age of the film.
Originally, I wanted the opening shot to feature the subject ‘low and left’ within the frame – this symbolises losing through cinematography.
Similarly, I intended for the final shot to feature the subject ‘high and right’ – this symbolises winning. However, development of the screenplay proved these ideas to be unsuitable.
In terms of construction, I utilised time-sensitive songs performed by The Beatles for the soundtrack – not only was my grandfather fond of them, but the music fits each scene adequately. I also incorporated music from Sun Kil Moon and Leonard Cohen - as this project was exclusive to Vimeo and completely non-profit, I was not concerned about copyright. I took time planning each scene through a storyboard – this would help me block out the film - however, I re-ordered certain scenes during editing (It is very hard to tell if a scene works unless you are physically editing it. The final version had an element of being non-chronological). Furthermore, I wanted a professional, technical and visually appealing screenplay. Ridding unnecessary shots, I ensured each angle and camera position was not only aesthetically engaging, but helps to tell the story. I also recruited the use of the rule of thirds for subtle finishing touches, additionally applying ND filters, gradient filters and colour correction in post-production. I utilised a range of shots including POV, tripod pans, tracking shots, as well as close ups, extreme close ups and medium shots. I ensured that no shots were flat or boring, often framing my subject central to the camera. I also had to improvise once, where the camera slider would not fit. The first shot of ‘William’ writing emerges from darkness, so I had to place the DSLR on a train and run it along the track – this required an abundance of attempts.
Pre-film, the audience are met with a pitch-black screen over an EKG machine sonic, which continues over the opening titles before abruptly cutting. This plays with the idea of morality, and adds emotional depth wit this being a eulogy. Following my grandfathers passing, this film would have a completely different meaning. As my grandfather was fond of building model railways, the film begins in his attic, following a series of trains layered with opening credits. Soon, this transitions to him on the shore of a beach, “staring into the soak”, whilst wearing his former naval uniform. This is significant as it takes a look back at a main event within his life, which he is very much proud of. Following this, he participates in gardening, stamp collecting, cooking, gardening and DIY, all accurate hobbies of William, before returning to the beach where he ends his life. Two months after the release of the original cut, I re-visited the film, shooting additional footage. These scenes are to develop the character further, introducing problems for the character to create a slightly enhanced narrative (including an interview-style narrative on his life, his negative views on the modern world, and shots of 'william' going about his life - by himself). The ending couldn’t be any other way. He couldn’t leave his life unfinished; he had to end it at his own will. By walking into the water, he not only confronts his fears, but it brings him back to his youth (and his days in the Navy), ending his pain and the disappointments of the modern world. It closes a chapter. After seagulls are heard screaming, the EKG machine can be heard over a heart pounding, before it begins slowly fading, slowing down over time. Soon it flat lines like a broken piano key, implying that William was in a coma, and his life flashed before his eyes before death, but also overtly signifying death. This matches my theme of harsh realities perfectly – the topic of which is time. The film closes with a collection of real-life footage of William, as he recites some of his most recited phrases. This film is very personal to me, and my proudest to date.
To experiment, I added an additional minute of footage to the start of the film. It is television distortion layered with news broadcasts progressing form 1950-2016. The image slowly gains size, drawing the audience in as they become transfixed on the distortion. It represents media, time change and the vulnerability as a passive world. I am fairly pleased with the final result, as it portrays my vision precisely, however I prefer the version without the distortion, so cut it from the public release.
Whilst shooting on the beach, equipment included: a steel tripod, a 1.5m slider, a selection of ND filters, the Rode NTG-3 microphone, the Rode Blimp wind reducer kit, the Canon 70D DSLR, the Zoom H6 recorder, a Gorillapod, a monopod and a collection of spare SD cards and batteries. The original beach was closed off due to flooding, so I located another beach nearby – this turned out for the best as there were less rocks and no people. Six people came to the beach during filming – they waited patiently for us to finish shooting, before conversing with us about the project.
Editing the film, ideas constantly came to mind forcing me to overrule the storyboard. I wanted minimalistic, stylish editing, with a strong font for the credits - a font that was carefully chosen – I feel like a wrongly chosen font adds an amateur feel to any production. In terms of stock footage, I used footage of the sun,
stars, earth and the moon, as I could not achieve this myself. All stock footage was royalty free. By the time I had finished, there was left over narration that I desperately wanted to use, as they are invaluable to the story, however there was simply not enough footage for the audio (this was later corrected in the extended
cut). The narration was my grandfathers own voice – although he is not an actor by any means, he adds personality to the film, and makes his life story all the more upsetting.
The poster was designed to feel retro, original and reflective of both the storyline of the film, as well as my grandfathers life. I decided on utilising a poignant screenshot from the final moments, with a minimalistic credit block beneath. Above, a shot of the moon can be seen, with ‘william’ inscribed below. The tagline,
'memories are forever', is subtly written in white atop the sky and may not be noticed at a first glance. Two alternate versions of the poster were published on my Instagram. (A second official poster was released when the extended version was released).
Personally, I find the storyline interesting as it not only reflects my grandfathers life, but due to the conflicting themes throughout – one moment may be happy, thinking back to his younger days, then immediately upset realising how he has changed. I enjoy watching the range of cuts; some abrupt and some smooth fades depending on the scene.
In preparation for this project, I shot two ‘harsh reality’ film projects. One entitled ‘The Operator’, a thirteen-minute drama shot in London regarding a boy who accidentally killed his father during a drunken tirade. This film can be found on IMDb, Amazon Prime, YouTube and Vimeo. Additionally, I shot my debut feature film ‘The Boy Who Commits a Murder’, a mystery-drama revolving around a teenager who has murdered somebody, as the audience are transported through a series of memories as they put the pieces together. This film can again be found on IMDb and Amazon Prime, as well as DVD and Blu-ray. Thankfully, both were well received.
Thankyou to the producers of the film, and everybody who has watched it - a lot of hard work has gone into this short eulogy film. If you have the time, please do leave a review on IMDb, and take a look at some of my other projects. Thankyou for reading,
- M x
COLD ROCK (POEM)
This poem was written over the course of one year, and went on to become the backdrop for the short film 'william.' An honest insight into the views and opinions of senior himself, 'home of cold rock' is a very personal poem. You can view 'william.' for free on the homepage.
HOW DO PHOTOGRAPHERS AND FILMMAKERS CONVEY HARSH REALITIES WITHIN THEIR WORK?
Before creating his eulogy film 'william.', Matt Senior explored the theme 'harsh realities' to gain a deeper understanding of the subject.