Hello! This is long overdue, but here it is blog post #1. I’d like to dedicate this inaugural post to a project I’ve been working on since January— “Canvas”, a four-part music video for Grey Light’s newest album “From Sleep”, featuring lead actress Murie Gillett and members of the UR Program of Dance and Movement.
That’s what it is officially.
Unofficially, it’s me and Ben (Fang) growing a potted plant in Rochester NY.
How it started I guess was quite simple, he wrote some awesome music and asked if I could make videos for it. I said sure! He said maybe we can make narrative superimposed onto the four songs on the album. I said sure. He said we’re going to incorporate animation, filming in different locals, and actors and dancers from the University of Rochester. I said…sure… He said he wanted to release it by May. I said …uh…. maybe, umm, well, what if…sure.
We started it as two kids who wanted to be grown ups, we went through all the necessary steps— write a script, find the actress, plan out the locations, stick to the timeline. That was the way it was done! And at first, it seemed to really pan out. We got extremely lucky and our number one choice for lead agreed to be apart of our project, (little did she know what she agreed to). Then, we met with an enthusiastic class of talented dancers (who had real majors) at the UoR— they split into small groups to choreograph a section of each song, there were four sections in all. After that, we started to scout locations, our demands were simple: we needed an apartment littered with art supplies, an abandoned subway tunnel, a snow field, a forrest with lots of trees, and urban streets. Everything seemed to stick miraculously to plan.
Day 1 of filming was upon me and I was quite nervous but very excited. “I can do this!”, I told myself as I set up my own apartment with an easel and canvas, art books piled onto the carefully placed table, with paints and brushes scattered all over the ground. As Murie, our lead, arrived at the door, it all became so real. That’s when I was hit with the unthinkable— I have to make a film.
A flood of anxieties soon followed. “I’ve never made a film like this before, this is going to last forever! What do I say to Murie? How do I use a fucking camera again??” That first shoot was a learning experience for both me and Murie, and at the end of two hours, we began to feel a bit more at ease about the whole thing. Still it was a relief to call it a day.
After Murie left, my apartment rampaged by art materials, it started to sink in—
I’m making a film.
For maybe the first time since me and Ben started working on the project, I realized that I had no idea what that meant. I had seen many movies, and I thought I had some inkling as to what they were, what they were trying to say, and what I wanted to see…but as Morpheus put it “There's a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.”
I was lost. and I didn’t know what it meant to be not lost.
The feeling of being familiar with a tradition but not know what it is— is quite strange. I had to reconfigure my thoughts, to figure out just exactly why I was doing this project and what I wanted it to be. I knew I wasn’t doing it just for fun, I knew that it was an amazing opportunity to see the potential of so many disciplines working together, and also I knew it was a chance to work closely on a creative project with a friend who is intensely dedicated to his art yet has an entirely different aesthetic than mine. These things were too good to pass up, but could they be enough to build a film from the ground up?
I didn’t know.
I modeled the only thing I did know— the narrative of the film mirrored exactly my thoughts and life, and ended up using basically every artwork I had made in the previous months. I had literally put everything I had into the film to make sense of it. This made me realize a scary thing— perhaps I didn’t really know what my life was about or where I was going from there.
In the meantime, we kept filming. The bigger picture bothered me, but I had to concentrate on what was at hand, mostly— what is the best way to frame this shot, what is it trying to communicate? How is the lighting, is it in focus? How does this image connect the next image? How long do we have before we all freeze and can’t function? Do we have a ride to get to the next location? Is Murie free Tuesday afternoon?
In the midst of being preoccupied with the endless technical considerations, I kind of got distracted from the big picture worry. It bothered me unconsciously, but I didn’t have time to examine it. The film moved from set to the editing room, and there it dawned on me again that what happens on location must translate to the screen. This is a strange thing about creative endeavors that only the maker knows— making art is extremely messy, tumultuous, and raw (like running through a deep snow field or dancing in a pitch dark subway), but what we end up seeing onscreen or on the canvas is usually very polished and refined. The connection is what is important: how do you communicate the intention— capture it in just a few movements or images— and have that mean something in the context of a whole? It’s hard.
Yes! It’s hard wahhh.
At first it was just that I didn’t know what I was doing. Now it was too hard for me. This doesn’t seem to be going very well.
Around this time, the first video was released. I had been so buried in my own worries and frustrations that I often ignored the encouraging comments of my peers and family, I was convinced that they were just being nice. But after the release, I was pushed to see the work as a whole in a new light— as a creative endeavor and nothing else. It didn’t have to be “cinema”, it didn’t have to be a “music video”, it didn’t even have to be “good”. The only thing it had to be was “mine”— my thoughts, my hopes, my efforts, my imagination— I had to mean it, and that’s all there is to it. I had to mean every shot, every movement, every moment.
To be very clear, I could not have even attempted this project without the talents of deeply thoughtful human beings who gave so much of themselves “for the sake of art”, as we jokingly put it, namely — Ben Fang, our creative mastermind and Murie Gillett, the face, spirit, and personification of the creative process, as well an entire team of dancers and musicians from the Grey Light band. Together we tried to build something of our own in our own way, and that’s what made every challenge so worth it.
As we are nearing the end of the filming period for this remarkable project, I am incredibly thankful, but also regretful that I did not sincerely believe in the possibility of how great it can be from the very start. I should have written my thoughts down on the first day of filming, in my own apartment, amongst my own things, fully and totally and completely giving to the idea that this is my life and my thoughts, and regardless of whether they are right or wrong, good or bad, that they are true nonetheless.
We all have ideas about cinema, we have all watched good and bad movies, and we have all felt one way or another cheated of our time, attention, and trust when it didn’t meet our expectations. As someone from the outside, I felt that I had a right to my own thoughts and reactions to the film work, and that it was relevant to some degree…somehow what I thought made a difference.
But as someone on the inside, I’ve had an endless wrestling match with that mentality.
From the beginning, I was more concerned with whether or not it was going to be a “good movie”, unable to escape the maze of worries and fear that it will turn out to be a piece a crap— therefore making it evident that my mind and abilities can only turn out crap— RATHER THAN seeing the reality of it which is that I am so completely honored and overjoyed to have the collaborators, support, and the opportunity to be apart of a project as creative and so bravely genuine as this. That I have access to the resources and the privilege to be creative; to have it be seen, be heard, be liked. From the very beginning, I’ve had nothing but unending support, enthusiasm, and excitement from friends, family, and creative partners alike — just that alone, what more can I ask for?
Yes I have learned a lot— TONS— about narrative, set design, lighting, how to operate a camera, moving images, the image itself, character, movement, collaboration, props, how to deal with weather and natural environments, misquitoes etc.
but none more than just how important it is to BE HERE, to be here now, and to see what is happening right in front of my eyes, and to be apart of it completely.
Thanks for reading! I look forward to telling you much more :)