Oct 272011

Like a lot of people, Savannah didn’t…care much for me when we first met.  I can give pretty disastrous first impressions.  She thought I was a bit of a dick and was surprised when I asked her, months later, if maybe she wanted to do something together .

The best working environment for me with a performer is one where something of the relationship we have off screen makes its way into the material.  Savannah was the ideal candidate to play my character’s sister in the Woman’s Picture film series because we get along like siblings in real life.  There’s a nice tension in our relationship and a lot of that contributes to our interaction on camera.  Another thing that helps: sense of humor.  It isn’t just that Savannah laughs at all my jokes, though that helps.  We share a sense of humor in general and a lot generates from that.

Savannah is one of those actors I could create stories for all day.  I feel that way about several of the women I’ve worked with.  I want to see them in every conceivable situation.  I want to find out what will happen in scenario A, B, C, and D.  I like working opposite Savannah but I like exploring what she’s like with other performers as well.  She’s one of those actresses: no matter where you put her or with whom, the results are compelling.

There’s a nice mixture of naturalism and theatricality to her screen acting.  It’s unique among the people I’ve worked with.  She seems like someone you know, but knowingly melodramatic.  And when you put her in a situation where her character is unfairly treated or meets some kind of adversity, it feels authentically tragic.  You feel like someone’s hurt a good friend.  There’s something raw about Savannah on screen, bold but vulnerable, that I really relate to.  She’s also physically striking, with a face that reads as retro and modern simultaneously.

(The first project we did together became Silent Movie, which screens at Indie Memphis next month, Saturday, November 5th, at 1 p.m.)

 Posted by on October 27, 2011
Oct 202011

– Somebody put out pistachio toffee.  Have you ever had this stuff?  You wouldn’t forget it.

– Somebody put out the most amazing cheese sticks.  They were more like bread sticks, with cheese on them, and they fell apart in your mouth.  They were set out in glasses and I must have eaten about fifteen of them.  My plan was to have one.  I think my shirt was probably full of the crumbs.

– A woman I think might have been from Russia was talking about some kind of Russian vodka.  I listened intently but there was so much going on I can’t remember anything she said now.  I love it when that happens.  It’s like I got away with something.

– The trio behind the counter (Laura, Steven, and Carlos) looked like a million bucks in front of the store’s baby blue wall.  I bet I’m not supposed to call this color baby blue.

– Andy Tauer, the perfumer behind Miriam, gave me his camera to take pictures.  He said it was really easy: point and shoot.  When you don’t accidentally hit the manual focus switch without realizing it.  This might be the only picture which was only slightly out of focus.

– Ann Magnuson had a really cool hairband on.  It had some kind of flower on it.  Women get to wear really great things, which is why I always appear in T-shirts I get at Target.

– Thomas Pease, one of my favorite bloggers, talked to me about the history of downtown LA as seen in films.  I do remember a lot of what he said.

– My friend Johnny showed up unexpectedly and didn’t mind standing with me on the sidewalk while I smoked.  This, I learned, is a rare show of generosity in Los Angeles, where they prefer you to smoke your cigarettes five miles away under a piece of litter.

 Posted by on October 20, 2011
Oct 182011

Between launching the Tableau de Parfums fragrance line on Friday, October 7th, and screening Woman’s Picture on October 11th, perfumer Andy Tauer and I travelled from LA, where these events were held, to Joshua Tree, where we tried to decompress a little, ate greasy truck stop food, and took a short hike in the national park through an area which was once the Desert Queen Mine.

Andy’s been hiking more than I have, and I’ve been smoking more than I should, so the hike wasn’t as easygoing as I imagined it would be.  Later I found out we were never actually on the trail, which explains why we couldn’t find our way back on it when we thought we’d veered off.  You do get turned around, and if you go too far on anything but intuition, you can find yourself panicking.  One rock looks like all the others.  You look for your own footprints when you circle back around as we did more than a few times.  “Look,” said Andy, at some point.  “That was me, and that was you.”  I couldn’t tell the difference between the sole of an Addidas sneaker and the paw print of a wild animal.  You see the limitations of intuition out there, where hunches can start to feel really foolish.

The sun is merciless – like in Los Angeles, only with vast expanses of sand and rock, and a lot less between it and you, unless you count the massive rock formations, which seem to amplify the sunlight somehow rather than block it.  You get dehydrated quickly, especially if you insist on smoking breaks.  I insisted on smoking breaks.  I needed to catch my breath, I said.  Andy is tireless.  You have to try hard to keep up.  Bend over to tie your shoelaces and he’s gone.  Eventually, I let him run ahead, up an incline or two.  We were turned around and he wanted to see if there was anything resembling a path in the distance.  There wasn’t, so he came running back and we retraced our steps.

The Desert Queen Mine operated from 1895 to 1961.  Ownership changed hands several times, according to a sign heralding the steep descent into the canyon and the surrounding trails.  It was passed along by way of “murder, robbery, foreclosure, sale, and payment for back wages.”  After a few minutes hiking in the desert you learn that trusting your partner is paramount; get lost, and you might be stuck with them for a while.  An argument wastes precious breath.  We’d just started out, which is to say stumbled down the canyon, when Andy told me about the Dutch/German couple who’d ended up dead in the park earlier this year.  I wondered how long they’d been stuck together, and whether they wasted time bickering about the decision to go this way instead of that.

Later I looked the story up online.  The couple drove into the park and got stuck.  Their bodies were found about a mile apart on the same road.  The car was five miles away.  Like Andy, the man had run ahead looking for a way out.

We never got so far from the pit of the canyon that we couldn’t find our way back to it, but we did have some trouble figuring out where we’d descended in the first place.  Near the car we realized we’d never been on any actual path but one of our own making.

It feels pretty amazing to be lost this way, or only slightly lost, or a turn away from being lost, especially in that environment, because it puts you in touch with how little control you have in life, and how little you are in general compared to the overall design of things.  You spend so much time and energy trying to exert control in most situations.  It’s humbling – and terrifying – to realize how little you ultimately have.

When we weren’t focused on finding our way, Andy and I talked about: perfume, our collaboration, fragrant materials (birch tar, galbanum, tuberose, castoreum), and the steaks we planned to have the following night.

Andy told me he served time in the military rescuing wounded personnel.  I can carry you if you can’t go on anymore, Brian, he told me.  Then he asked how much I weigh.  “Well, I can always drag you,” he said, when I told him.

 Posted by on October 18, 2011
Oct 062011

I haven’t met Andy Tauer in person yet, though we’ve been working pretty closely together for over a year now.  I guess it’s not so unusual at this point for people to work this way, and you can get a lot done from a distance.  But it will be nice to finally “meet” Andy, as the work we’ve done is very personal.  It will be strange, too, I think, because in many ways I feel we already know each other very well.  He’s on his way–maybe in flight, maybe at luggage, who knows.

I got here this morning, to a rainy Los Angeles, where we’re launching the Tableau de Parfums line in a few days.  Earlier, I went over to Luckyscent’s Scent Bar, host of the champagne thing we’re doing on Friday to announce Miriam, the first Tableau fragrance.  People usually dislike traveling to LA with me because no sooner are we leaving the airport than I’m asking to get over to Luckyscent. Inevitably, they stand around at the store waiting for me as I sniff myself into oblivion.  I go into a sort of frenzy.  The place is riddled with bottles, all perched on shallow shelves.  Eventually, my companions retire to the rental car to wait for me.  My obsession with perfume is a pretty specialized thing.  Usually, the people I travel with are more interested in the various gadgets they get to use on the trip: their ipads, a new GPS, a new phone app.  It was nice to be in there by myself, with no one waiting on me.

It’s exciting to be here.  Andy and I have worked so hard on Tableau and Woman’s Picture, mainly on synchronizing them, trying to make sure every little detail makes sense and is sincerely thought out and executed.  We’ve put so much of ourselves into the project, and I can’t think of anyone I’d want to share this with more.  The prospect of experiencing these launches together is more thrilling to me than almost anything else I’ve done since I started making films.

 Posted by on October 6, 2011
Oct 012011

I’m always pretty excited about showing a film once it’s done, but I’ve never felt as happy with anything as ROSE, the Woman’s Picture snapshot we just finished sound work on.

I’ve always enjoyed designing the sound for a film too, though some films are more arduous than others.  Rose was the best experience I’ve had working with sound.  All of the things that needed to be there were done well enough that we really could focus purely on the design, and the studio work we did totally transformed the material in a way that demonstrated to me, all over again, how thoroughly sound transforms the image, often invisibly, profoundly deepening the tone of what you see.  Sound makes you feel in a way the image rarely does alone.

Most of ROSE takes place in a perfume shop.  We filmed at a place here in Memphis called Joseph, mostly because it seemed exactly the kind of upscale establishment the characters would frequent.  Joseph is pretty posh, and has this uniquely golden quality to it.  It’s all beige and gold and black in there, all of it reflecting off glass, illuminated by recessed lighting and banks of solid white lucite.  I’ve been to the store myself more than a few times, and it’s a lively place, but you don’t really get that feel when you shoot.  You don’t want to: all the noise would create too many sound problems later, in the edit.  You shoot as silently as possible so that all the dialogue is clean.

You can people the background with extras and activity, as we did, but without the right kind of sound, that won’t read convincingly.  The scene in the perfume shop was tricky – several women engaged in the kind of intimate conversation that can only happen in a public place.  Something about the perfume counter encourages the characters to reveal themselves – the sound blanket of other women chattering, the piped in music, the sense they’re among friends and protected from scrutiny by a din of preoccupied shoppers.  When we first screened the edited scene, it worked well but was missing some quality it needed.  The store needed to feel populated, anarchic with the sound of a hundred different conversations going on.

We worked four days to get the feel right, and at just the right volume.  The trick with film sound is to get it balanced just so.  Too loud and it sits on top of the image, smothering it.  Too quiet and it feels artificial.  During the shoot we’d recorded a few improvised conversations with women who came to the set.  We used those in the sound design, as well as a general wash of chatter.  Then we punctuated things in specific places, with the kinds of atmospheric details you’d hear in a store like that: elevator bells, footsteps, and other incidental noise.  Sometimes, you can re record things to give them added emphasis; the sound of someone’s hand touching something can be amplified that way and made to feel more alive.  Even weird details, like the sound of high heels hitting a marble floor, can add important dimension.  At Joseph, the sound of heels indicates a certain kind of formality and elegance.  And you can manipulate the tone and density of dialogue to contrast it in places more sharply with the action, so that a viewer hears it in a different way.

What started as a scene in a tiny, intimate shop now feels like it’s taking place in a vast high end department store.  The sound pushes the image out past the frame and you feel surrounded by it, as if you’re there, inside the place, experiencing it, whereas before it kept you on the outside looking in.

 Posted by on October 1, 2011