Pas de Deux

 

Scenario

Philip and Sophia share a small apartment and an intimate relationship. Unfortunately, they also share a physical presence, only able to communicate through the letters they leave one another, only able to be intimate in their shared dreams. When the loss of a loved one results in a lapse in communication, a relationship already strained gets pushed to its limit.

Concept

The concept of a couple who physically cannot be together came from my own experiences in a relationship where conflicting work hours meant we saw very little of each other most of the time. Cohabiting in this situation, you only get to see the shadows of the other person's existence, a book left out on the table by the window, a missing bite from the leftovers on the second shelf of the fridge.

Storyboarding

Because the concept for the film required no dialogue, and the story was mostly conveyed through action, I decided to dive into storyboarding once I had a few outline paragraphs. I tried to stay loose, finishing the boards in a few days.

16mm

I most enjoy watching films late at night, when the next morning's memories struggle to differentiate the waking cinema of the screen from the sleeping cinema of the mind.

Filmmaking and storytelling find their conception in the realm of dreams. The organic nature of film, as opposed to digital imagery, most accurately emulates the organic imagery of dreams.

I had been shooting 35mm still photography for close to 10 years and the desire to transition into motion picture film was finally matched with an appropriate project. I borrowed a Bolex from a friend and began researching the process.

Testing

I decided to start by taking a roll of film from shooting all the way to digital finish. We shot a 100' roll in an afternoon, testing various lighting conditions and camera moves. It was also a chance for me to get familiar with the Bolex and all of its workings.

I bought 3 large, glass jars for developing, which luckily just fit 100' of film, off the roll and bundled up. I didn't veer from the standard D-76 formula and timing was:

Developer - 7 minutes
Stop bath - 1 minute
Fixer - 10 minutes

My bathroom was dark but still had some light leaks, so I waited until nightfall. I went through the process for the first time in complete darkness, trying to get my bearings on where I had put everything. After 20 minutes, I turned on the lights.

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Drying 100' of film proved to be more difficult than initially anticipated. I thought I'd be able to coil it on the floor somehow but there was no way to space it. Luckily, I lived on the 3rd floor of an apartment building. I hung the film from my balcony down to a few feet above the ground, looped a couple times. The film dried quickly in the wind.

I ran the roll through a secondhand 16mm projector I'd picked up and could watch the negative image well enough. The next step was to figure out how to get a good quality scan. I did some initial test with shooting the projected image with a DSLR, shooting straight through the projection lens with the DSLR, and even scanning on a flatbed negative scanner. None of these methods were perfect so I floundered for a while trying to figure it out.

On a trip to pick up more film from the Northwest Film Center, Dave Hanagan mentioned he had built a telecine out of an optical printer and an HVX, automated through an Arduino controller and software he had written. He let me use it to scan the roll.

While the system was fast, it didn't provide the latitude I wanted. Most of the blacks were crushed.

I brought in my DSLR (Canon D60) to do some tests. While there was no way to get it to interface with the arduino controller, I could manually click buttons to get a pretty decent scan, though it required me to be there for hours on end. Still the quality of the scans from the DSLR were far superior, even higher than what a lot of negative scanning services would offer. And free.

After all of this testing, I felt ready to go into production.

Production

Principal photography took place over 4 days, with an extra few hours for the office and dream sequences. Because the actors didn't have to interact, we were lighting entirely naturally, and I was running everything on camera, the majority of the shooting was just me and the actor, the dog on occasion.

We took the days leisurely but, not wanting to burn through too much film, shot only 1 or 2 takes for about 3/4 of the shots in the film. In the end, we shot 12 rolls (1200 ft), or about 30 minutes of footage, which I would later cut down to a 10 minute final running time.

Locations were: my apartment, Bent Image Lab, Washington High School Park, the Sweet Hereafter, Laurelhurst Theater, and the Max, all in Portland, OR.

Processing

The processing was completed in a handful of nights, getting through 2 or 3 rolls a night. I was able to use the same batch of chemicals for all 12 rolls without any adjustments to the processing times.

Telecine

Using the Northwest Film Center's optical printer, and my DSLR, I could scan 2 rolls (200 ft) per day. The final process was essentially to click a button to advance the optical printer 1 frame, then click a button on my laptop which was controlling the DSLR to take a photo. I repeated this action by hand about 45,000 times.

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The resultant image was a 2.5K CR2 which meant I had the full latitude of the film at my disposal. I sequenced the images into ProRes 4444 files for edit.

Editing

Because the scanning process took so long, and the shots deviated little from the storyboards, I was able to assemble the edit each night with the new shots I had scanned. By the time I had scanned the last roll, I had a rough cut in place.

The film was edited in Premiere at ProRes 4444.

Score & Sound

I wrote the main theme for the score while I was storyboarding and it helped dictate the mood of the film from the outset. Once I had picture lock, I was able to arrange that piece to cover most of the film, then wrote a few more parts here and there.

We recorded the score in the St. John the Baptist church in Milwaukie, OR. Matthew Emmons played cello, I played piano.

Some spare sound design was done throughout to enhance moments that warranted it.

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