John Rufo: An Interview with Jennifer Bartlett - cover photo by Emma Bee Bernstein[*Jennifer Bartlett*is the author of several books of poetry, including, most recently *Autobiography / Anti-Autobiograph...
Sunday, July 15, 2012
My friend Joe Falco's sister Edie Falco watches over me
Yesterday I finished one forbidding stretch of a movie we have been working on for three years with this great actor looking over my shoulder: Edie Falco. I used to work with her brother Joe Falco at a magazine in New York, and after one of her occasional visits to see her brother and meet his friends, Joe hooked me up with a signed portrait.
Without planning any moviemaking mojo or symbolism, I moved the picture of Edie from a place in my basement workspace where you couldn't see it so good to a more prominent spot on a different wall.
Only after I finished the somewhat nerve-wracking task at hand did I notice I had moved Edie just in time for her to watch me do some final scenic architecture on my editing script.
Any moviemaker reading this post will lap and weep on my behalf, to see I have invoked the treacherous word "final" for any semblance of a script.
Unlike the talented sister of my buddy Joe Falco, Poetry Scores makes silent movies that are edited to long musical settings of long poems. The scripts I prepare have no dialogue because we use none, they just describe what I hope we capture visually in each scene.
So, if we perfectly execute my shooting script, then when we are finished shooting I should be able to scribble out "shooting" on the script and write in "editing" and hand the same document over to our editor. But there is no such thing as perfectly executing anything in the world of no-budget amateur moviemaking.
Our method has evolved in such a way that at least I know now how we will arrive at the unexected. We take my shooting script and try to get the best cast available to the best location available, and then depending on the vagaries of the location and any surprises (pleasant or otherwise) as to who we can get to act (and when) that day, we improvise.
As I was saying last summer, in the movie we are still working on we improvised a major minor storyline around my neighbor's gift to me of a watermelon. This fat little thing looked just like my mental picture of the Fat Man nuclear bomb. Our movie, Go South for Animal Index, is based on an atomic bomb poem by Stefene Russell, so we took the watermelon and literally ran with it -- that is, Thomas Crone's swaggering soldier character Buster Jangles literally ran with it. This gave Crone's character new things to do with a scientist wife character I really wanted more screen time for, and it kept going from there.
When you find new screen time for a character, you need more screen time. As we all know from reading the entertainment stories, major talking movie pictures tend to run over budget and balloon in length as the director keeps adding new scenes. In a Poetry Scores silent picture, we are limited to a piece of music we already have created, so we can't just go making our movies any longer.
At least that's what I thought, until this last picture. Local moviemaker Dan Cross came aboard half way in our shoot as a shooter, and as an experienced editor he grasped right away that we had more story to tell from our footage than we could fit in the 58 minute poetry score Matt Fuller and I had produced to Stefene's poem. As I kept listening to Dan, it began to sink in that we certainly could make the poetry score longer.
One technique we use for scoring poetry is to compose, commission or curate an instrumental with the feel of that phrase or line of poetry and use the phrase or line as the title of that instrumental. So all we really had to do was compose, curate or commission as many new instrumentals as we wanted and then sequence them into the score in places where we need to use more scenes we shot, provided we could keep the pace and feel of the poetry score.
So we went back to our archives, picked out some more tracks by Middle Sleep, our beloved early 1980s post-prog rock improvisers from the Hollywood Hills. Go South employs a very talented local musician, Tory Z. Starbuck, in one of the roles that got bigger thanks to the watermelon, since Tory's wacky nuclear scientist plays opposite Crone's soldier character in the movie's final scene, and we had to make more of Buster Jangle's final scene since the character had more presence now. And then of course Tory has a way of making more screen time for himself whatever he does.
So, I talked the situation through with Tory -- who was then an anxiously expectatant first-time father -- and he ran right out and composed three perfect keeper pieces of music: a kyoto piece (that is just right for a confession scene with the General that turned out much bigger than my shooting script called for), a long fractured snyth rock thing (that is just right for the dramatically expanded finale between his scientist and soldier Buster Jangles), and a lightly cheesy spaghetti Western that stole my heart for the closing credits track.
So ... the task has been upon me ever since was to bust open a nice, somewhat tidy editing script for 28 scenes and make it fit a poetry score with 33 pieces of music. And now I had a totally different dynamic of major characters from different storylines to juggle in a silent medium with no language to provide plot and character clues. In a silent movie, you really have to think about the dynamics of who you see when if you want to get the audience to follow a whole lot of very different characters -- in Go South, tramps, soldiers, a tramp who becomes a soldier who reverts to a tramp, a general, a professor, scientists, scientist wives, a scientist's kid, a priest, tribal healers, tribal people, a tribal healer who works a day job at the Army comissary, zombie uranium miners, zombie uranium millers, zombie bomb targets) for 81 minutes.
That's what I finally (ha, ha, ha) finished doing yesterday, under the watchful gaze of Edie Falco. Was she my lucky charm? I am taking the position that she was my lucky charm. From now on I will move this talismanic picture around with me whenever I am hung up on rewriting a shooting or editing script.
On this job I also figured out at some point I needed to get the scenes off the linear page and onto an array of frames where I can see the whole architecture of the movie in one sweep and be able to walk around it and think about it and move things around.
That was a breakthrough, and I will break down weep when this workroom I've assembled to finish this editing script finally becomes the basement guest bedroom.
As for that Edie Falco, very cool chick. We called my oldest sister "Chick" and Joe's older sister reminded me of my older sister: obviously smart, obviously tough, obviously straightforward and candid. My sister, who was a beautiful woman, used to talk about running errands while looking "hagged out," which meant there would be no major production for makeup or coordinated outfits. I doubt Edie Falco could look like a "hag" if she tried, but she seemed to make a point of coming to see her brother just looking like somebody going to see her brother at work. She presented herself and carried herself on these visits in a way where it would simply have been impossible to give her any kind of a movie star treatment. This was your friend from work's sister and she was just coming through to see him and to take a look at the people in her brother's life. What she did for a living was the furthest thing from her mind.