Making the Movie

4Jun/090

#2wkfilm Reviews

If you've been following along here in the last month, you know about the Two Week Film Challenge. The guy who started it all, REid Gershbein of The Royal Baronial Theatre, just put his #2wkfilm up online for free. It's called...

The Dabbler, the Dreamer, and the Man Who Broke the World (60:11)

The movie opens with a prologue, where the filmmaker addresses the audience directly. He explains that the movie was made in two weeks for $100, and asks for the audience's help in promoting it. I think this is a great idea for any filmmaker who is releasing a film for free online. It personalizes the movie.

The Dabbler... is probably a personal movie. It's definitely a thoughtful, fantastical, bilingual slice-of-fantasy about three Bay Area arty types. Cheryl (the dreamer) is someone who thinks very hard about things. She convinced herself she's a tap-dancer simply by believing it. Jefferey (her boyfriend?, the dabbler) is a musician trying to finish a novel. He takes Cheryl's convictions as inspiration. Their friend Orlando, a code-switching Spanish/English speaker in a loud Hawaiian shirt, seems to be in search of something, and receives a mysterious Pandora's box. He'll wish he never opened the box.

Continue reading about the #2wkfilm The Dabbler, The Dreamer and the Man Who Broke the World (major spoilers)...When Orlando opens the box, at first "nada pasó." Seemingly, nothing happens. But no devices, from t.v. to cell phones to cars, seem to work. Yes, he 'broke the world.'

Unable to drive to an appointment or call and notify anyone they are running late, Cheryl and Jefferey wander, setting up an impromptu performance space in a public square. (The two-week nature of the movie tells in the scene where they discover no cars are working, which is full of sounds of cars and trucks in the background.)

But this is not a movie particularly concerned about what would happen if everything electronic stopped working. (That would be Bunker Hill). It's more a sort of John Cassavetes-type exercise in actors having long, seemingly-improvised conversations.

I'm fairly sure I didn't understand it all. Anyways, it was interesting to watch and try to understand. To me, the ending was a happy one. Without spoiling anything, things seem get back to right with the characters and the world.

And things were never that wrong in the first place. Perhaps what separates this movie from a more traditional plot is that the stakes for the characters seem pretty low. It's more of a mystery just to figure out who the characters are and the relationship between them, something a traditional movie would give as probably the first piece of exposition.

The movie is shot in a sort of off-kilter, nontraditional-angle way, and post-processed to have selective focus in the shots, a sort of REid Gershbein trademark apparently, which I think helps keep the longer scenes from getting stale. I believe REid, a composer too, also did the score -- that's maybe why it seems to fit the movie so well despite having been done within the two-week limit. All in all, what I felt I watched was a filmmaker exploring an aesthetic, or bringing his own aesthetic into the confines of a two-week-film. For Gershbein, it's a lesson in minimalism.


Another #2wkfilm is available free online. The movie is written by Mike Peter Reed and Matt Smart and directed by Reed (aka /britmic). It's called...

The Original Soundrack (66 min)

I decided to do an experiment of my own and type the review while watching...

The Original Soundtrack opens with a sort-of music video, establishing the beach, an arcade, the boardwalk and the protagonist, Chris, a forlorn young man with iPod headphones perpetually in his ears. You can tell it was shot guerrila-style. This goes on a bit long, and the next scene with Chris in an analysis session, drags even more. I would've liked to see them intercut. In this scene, he cryptically alludes to feeling responsible for a girl's death.

Continue reading about the #2wkfilm The Original Soundtrack (major spoilers)...In the next scene, Chris waits for a train while listening to a tune with the lyrics "I love you, but you've gotta die." A stranger approaches, sensing he needs help, and asks if there's something wrong. Something I've never seen before: instead of hearing the dialogue, we only see the subtitles. Another clever run-and-gun strategy (which is used throughout the film). Speaking of running, the scene ends with Chris running away from the stranger, rather than be helped.

Cut back to the analysis session. Chris says he's been contemplating suicide. He says, "Let me tell you about my mother" and we cut to another extended rock music scene.

Chris is walking through the park, sits on a bench to eat lunch. An attractive girl approaches, tries to chat him up. He's cold with her, so they sit on the bench, eating in silence. The scene cuts progressively wider. We see that she could've sat on other benches that are empty. The song plays out in an extended wide shot.

New scene; new song. "What's good for you is good for me..." I like this song. Chris is walking down the street, runs into the guy from the train station, who recognizes him. He gives Chris a piece of paper which seems to be blank. When Chris looks up, he's gone. Is this a hint of something supernatural?

Cut to an analysis scene. The psychologist asks him if he remembers how he met Carol. This starts him opening up about her. It seems they were dating or perhaps married. Chris starts narrating a story about going out to dinner on their third anniversary. The actor speaks very haltingly. (Is he reading cue cards or listening to the lines in the iPod headset? It's a long take with few cuts so good on the actor if he memorized it.) He gets up to where he's going to say what happened to Carol and...

Another music scene. It starts with a girl in a black dress crying. She's sitting next to Chris on the edge of a fountain, then isn't -- a figment of Chris' imagination. Their dialogue makes me think she's Carol. We see another girl (from the bench scene I think) sitting next to Chris. She disappears too. Several more shots of weeping Carol.

Back to the analysis. Chris says he noticed a suspicious package at the restaurant when Carol went to the bathroom. "Carol didn't stand a chance, she was so close to the bomb." Now that we know what happened to Carol, what will the film be about? Survivor's guilt? The analyst offers series of what ifs involving other people's actions that night that also could've resulted in Carol surviving. He notably omits mentioning 'what if the criminals who planted the bomb, didn't.'

Music sequence. Chris visits a memorial of some kind with many names. Statues of soldiers around. Chris walks to the bench from before. The girl is there. She offers him some Mexican food. He gives her some 'tude and she leaves.

Chris walks off, runs into the stranger again (or 'traveler' he calls himself). The traveler says he knows that Chris isn't actually listening to the headphones and other cryptic things. He notes that Chris kept the paper. When the stranger walks away, Chris throws away the paper.

Back to analysis. They talk about how Chris uses the headphones to isolate himself.

Chris on the bench. The girl approaches. He gets up and walks away. Cold! Chris watches animals at the zoo. The lyrics of the song, "I had nothing until I found you. I was no one until I found you. C'mon baby, love me." The sequence ends with some choppy slow mo-ization of a shot of the girl that reminded me of "Khaaaaan!"

New song. "I will break your will." Chris runs into the traveler again. More cryptic advice, including, "The answer lies within." After the traveler leaves, Chris has a breakdown. The camera pans down to a crushed water bottle on the ground, a nice touch.

New song. Chris is by the sea, looking down at a nasty pile of rocks. The traveler surprises him, does a sort of Vulcan mindmeld. We flash back to the scene of Chris when he was at the war memorial. He walks to the bench. The girl (Megan) approaches -- it's a replay of the earlier scene. This time when she offers him Mexican food... he again rejects it. Wasn't expecting that. She walks away. Back to the mind melt. "Just relax and notice how change is the only constant," says the traveler. The scene with Megan replays again. "Everything's different," sings the singer of the song on the soundtrack. Again, it plays out the same. Chris seems to have realized something about how Megan responded. There's a nice slo-mo shot of him running along a walkway by the sea as waves crash over a stone wall.

Chris runs back to the trash can ('rubbish bin' I should say, since this is set in the UK) where he threw away the paper. He doesn't find it.

Back to the analysis session. Chris says he hears music when he puts the headphones on -- the mix CD that Carol made him. He's gone deaf from the bomb, and he hears the screams of the dying unless he has them in. He feels guilty about wanting to move on. There's a girl he likes. "Do you think Carol wants you to spend the rest of your life alone?" "No." "Go talk to her."

Chris waits on the bench. "I met someone who smelled like you," sings the singer in the song. "And now my bedsheets smell like you too." Chris waits on another public bench. He closes his eyes and sees the traveler, who says, "You see. I know everything." Chris is waiting on the train platform, wandering around by the beach, looks through a telescope at some crossing ferries, a hovercraft (the opening images of the film). The music builds up. He talks to a statue, saying, "Where is he? He knows everything?"

Chris lands back on the bench in the park. The traveler is there. He says he can't help him. The blank piece of paper comes back -- the traveler uses it to write something, presumably an address. Chris walks up to a rubbish bin, throws away his headphones. As he does this, the music changes in timbre, then goes away completely... very cinematically effective. He sees Megan. He runs her down and tells her he owes her an apology.

Back to analysis. Chris says he's doesn't need any more help. He's going away with Megan. We see that the statue he interrogated earlier was in honor of the pioneers who left Portsmouth for America. The end.

I have to say that /britmic really turned the disadvantages of the #2wkfilm to his advantage, making the lack of sync sound part of the structure of the story. Bravo! He also took great advantage of locations that with a big crew would've drawn undue attention (the zoo, the oceanside, public parks). Very clever.

In all, like The Dabbler, the movie felt stretched to get beyond the 60min time. Part of that is not having a lot of time to edit, but part of that is just that there isn't 60 min worth of story. It dragged pretty much everywhere. Where the slowness and mysteriousness seemed to be part of The Dabbler's aesthetic, Original Soundtrack felt it much more, probably because it had a more uptempo soundtrack that really urged the movie to move it along.


If I were to make a two week film -- and I may -- I'd definitely go my own direction, but I'd borrow the improvisatory feel from The Dabbler and the clever turning-of-disadvantages-to-advantages of The Original Soundtrack. When you consider the time frame of these movies, it's quite hard to criticize anything. They are certainly as polished as most low-budget festival films. I learned a lot from watching them. Thanks to /britmic and big thanks to REid for starting the whole thing!



About J. Ott

John Ott is a writer, filmmaker and technology geek. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
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