Archive for April 3, 2008

Fat and Fifty!

Posted in FILM with tags , on April 3, 2008 by dcairns

Alec Baldwin as “The Fat Controller” in THOMAS AND THE MAGIC RAILROAD.

fat fat fat

“Room for one more inside, sir.”

Alec Baldwin is fifty today! He seems like he can be a bit of an arse but I wish him well. He is an incredibly powerful actor.

Long or wide?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2008 by dcairns

Barry Sonnenfeld, ace cinematographer turned ropey director, has a fondness for the wide-angle lens, which he considers particularly suited to comedy. And it’s true that the distortion of a wide-angle up close can add a goofy, cartoony quality to the simplest shot.

This would be amusing almost any way you shoot it

B.S., as I’m afraid we must call him, proselytized for the wide lens so strongly that when Billy Crystal noticed that his director on CITY SLICKERS II: THE SEARCH FOR CURLY’S GOLD (a Brit from commercials) was shooting with long lenses, he put in a panicky call to B.S.

“He’s using a long lens! It’s not going to be funny, is it?”

“No, it’s not,” replied Sonnenfeld confidently. And history proved him correct.

BUT you don’t get to be the director of MEN IN BLACK II and WILD WILD WEST without being catastrophically wrong at least 75% of the time, and I think Sonnenfeld is wrong about the the “long lens = unfunny” equation.

Here’s a moment from Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO. Having developed a multiple camera system of shooting that meant entire scenes could often be covered in a single performed take — long shots and closeups and everything — Kurosawa naturally relied upon the long lens to get close-ups of actors without finding himself filming his own cameras. He’d also exploited the lens for action scenes as early as THE SEVEN SAMURAI — you can’t have a horse fall literally on top of the camera, but you can make it seem to do so with a telefoto lens.

(Early footage on Terry Gilliam’s ill-fated THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE was deemed unusable when Gilliam realised that his trademark wide-angle look was useless for filming horses galloping — they look tiny for ages, then big for an instant, then they’re gone. Peckinpah really shows the way for capturing horses in motion for sustained shots.)

Here’s a moment from YOJIMBO. It may give you eye strain — tiny details! The corrupt town guard is announcing the time in the extreme distance when, in the even extremer distance, wandering samurai Toshiro Mifune unexpectedly appears, spoiling for a fight. The guard does the most exaggerated double-take on record, then legs it.

...and all is well!


The understatement of the angle, where the long lens flattens everything, and the background figures are not even 100% sharp, adds immeasurably to the success of the gag, especially by contrasting with the extreme ham of the guard’s full-body reaction. in fact, the contrast of performance and shooting style IS the gag.

No particular lens has a direct correlation to comedy gold. Hal Ashby makes use of long lenses in a way that’s slightly comparable to Kurosawa’s, and some of his stuff I find fantastically funny. Buster Keaton preferred a more neutral, middle-of-the-road lens, approximating the spacial perception of the human eye.

It’s a matter of sensibility, Barry.


Sleepy Bobo

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 3, 2008 by dcairns

tears before bedtime

One of the things that usually gets a gratifyingly big reaction from audiences in CRY FOR BOBO, the clown film I directed in 2001, is Little Joey the infant clown.

Played by three-year-old thespian Lewis Reid, he’s an endearing yet nightmarish figure, and his entrance is the point where the viewers realises they’re in a rather different kind of world. Coulrophobes start squirming immediately.

Lewis was used to the idea of acting and make-believe, like most kids, but especially because both his parents are actors, and he’d seen them at work in panto. He came to meet us while we were preparing the shoot at our studio/offices, having been suggested by one of our adult clowns, I think Stevie McNicoll. Lewis worked the room vigorously, seeming like a complete little grown-up, eagerly showing us his Thunderbird 2just the way an adult would. We were all immediately convinced he had what it took to play the part of Joey. “It was amazing — the whole time he was here I just assumed we were definitely going to cast him,” remarked costume designer Ali Mitchell, who had the substantial job of making both a clown wardrobe and a business suit for the little thesp.

So, Lewis’s first day of filming dawned. I screwed up. Lewis was so self-possessed and confident I failed to realise that a three-year-old is like an elephant, you have to kind of work around their needs. I devised a tracking shot that pulled back with our two clown protags, Mark McDonnell and Stevie, and then Lewis was supposed to walk in. But he was afraid of the tracks. He’d seen the camera dolly trundle along them and he was damned if he was stepping into its path.

On take one his dad sort of prompted him into shot, but got into shot with him.

For take two I sat Lewis in the foreground and let the camera reveal him. But he looked like a sort of abstract squiggle down at the bottom of the frame, a colourful hair in the gate or something.

Take three — I had Tracey Robertson, as Betty the clown housewife, carry Little Joey in. He’d been demoted from actor to prop. That seemed to do the trick.

carry-on baggage

Then we filmed other stuff. For hours. BIG MISTAKE.

This is what happened when we put Lewis in front of the camera just after his bedtime. Three-year-olds have an Off-Switch somewhere in their little brains, and when they get tired, it trips, and they’re out like a light.

“We’ll have to be quick,” I told cinematographer Scott Ward, “Lewis is falling asleep.” Scott assumed I meant “Lewis is tired,” until he looked through the camera at the close-up, and realised, NO, he’s LITERALLY falling asleep.

I promise, just about the cutest thing you’ll ever see.

Lewis was nothing short of magnificent for the rest of the shoot. While acting as an extra, Fiona asked him what his favourite film was. “CRY FOR BOBO!” he replied, without hesitation. Now that’s my kind of actor.

The Couch Trip

You can watch the whole film HERE if you like: