The last day of shooting. We’ve been in my apartment for three days in a row, and people keep asking me if it’s strange to shoot here, or annoying. Neither. It doesn’t really affect me much, though I’ve been happy with how the scenes can be choreographed in the space. Thimios and I watched the central, geniusly designed—and still very emotional—apartment scene in Contempt, though not closely, but it gave us some ideas. Placing the camera in central spots and following, letting the actors lead us through the spaces. Sometimes it makes for long shots, that might or might not work, but there are interesting moments. How do you reveal time passing in an apartment? This was always something production designer Amy Williams and I talked about—we are only telling time passing through clothes and production design and emotions—and now we are shooting a scene after a break-up. How many boxes, how many pictures come down? I found that the set dressing needed to go past the reality, maybe, in order to say something.
Much of shooting film is figuring out how visual movement, across space, reveals information, becomes storytelling. Thure has a scene where he comes home, the apartment is empty, he’s alone, he gets some ice cream, he sits at his dining room table and eats, surrounded by emptiness. We do it once, twice, and on the third time—he always has freedom, this I learned and re-learned watching Pialat (and listening to the actors’ commentary)—he changes his actions, he can’t stay there anymore. He gets up, puts on his jacket and leaves. The focus might be soft (it was unexpected), but the feeling is there. He told another few sentences in the story.
The words on the page, the dialogue tells some of the story, but the blocking and the actors’ faces tell paragraphs. It is the density of the film, the depth, the prose.
Another scene, Erik (I have begun to confuse the names, and use “Thure” and “Erik” almost interchangeably) comes home after Paul has disappeared at a dinner with friends. The lights go on and Erik sees an empty bed. On the fourth take, Thure throws his keys on the bed. It’s a new action, you feel them bounce, they stay there in the middle of the frame. He keeps it in takes going forward. It’s another phrase added to the paragraph.
We shoot in the hallway: Erik comes home to find Paul collapsed at the doorway after a 32-day crack binge. It was a scene that got cut in the script and then added back because Thimios liked it, mentioned briefly he missed it. We block it with a dolly move (I worry about the neighbors not being able to get into their apartments). Anne Hubbell and Josh Marston are here visiting, watching. But it’s a scene I don’t really believe in. I think the sequence ends just before this. I do my best to direct it, but I realize, yet again, if it’s not important to me, I can’t fake it. The acting is off, the shot seems overly melodramatic. I give it my half-assed best to help out, but mostly I just want to move on. Maybe it will surprise me? But afterwards, I have to tell the actors what happened. It’s the one scene in the movie I don’t really feel. They are both relieved (Thure particularly) because he knew something was off, but figured it was him.
Like in all directing, if you don’t get it, it’s hard to fake it. I know this even more with working with co-writers. In the end, if I don’t understand a line of action or dialogue, it will likely disappear before we shoot, even if it’s in the script. In this film, it’s mostly been inserts (milk curdles in a cup of tea). They don’t really work, so they don’t get shot. Mauricio, my co-writer, gets it. He makes these moments easy.
More to say. The birthday party scene we shot two nights ago; the “shit-hits-the-fan” sex scene that we are going to shoot today (day-for-night, I want one night sex scene in the dark, not lit by practicals, and so, given we primarily work with available lighting, and can’t flood the room with light from outside, six floors up, we will shoot it in the daytime), but mostly, I want to see goodbye to shooting. I woke up anxious about what comes tomorrow: real life. In bed, at Boris’s, I was more anxious than I’ve been in weeks now, since the start of the shoot, when I worried I didn’t know what I was doing. Now I realize I have to go back to my real life. Moviemaking is one long excuse not to engage. Or only with the small world in which we are living, real and imagined.