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Imagine Justice: An Introduction

In addition to working with Columbia Legal Services to produce Poison Control, I’ve been creating a series of short videos with the organization. A sort of anthology in the making, these form the opening of what is being called the “Imagine Justice” campaign.

The first four that we created were used to promote the organization’s annual fundraising event, but also to lay the groundwork for the campaign to come. As you can see, a strong emphasis is placed on diversity and community.

What is particularly exciting for me, as both a filmmaker and a member of society, is that this project is grounded in positivity. The very idea of imagining justice is an affirmative exercise; it is an act of agency. And in a world where so much of our focus is drawn towards the negative, its important to remember that people, and our communities, are worth it.

We’re going to be meeting later this week to plan out the next stages and I’m very excited to see what shape this project takes in the future. Follow me on Facebook for updates.

Nate

Poison Control Info and Press

Hey folks, its been a long time since I’ve posted here, but I’m back with a number of things to share. I’m going to space them out over the next couple of weeks so I don’t step on anything, so check back here or follow me on Facebook for the updates as they roll in.

POISON CONTROL

For the past five months I’ve been working with Columbia Legal Services on a short documentary called Poison Control. The focus of the film is the story of three women’s painful experiences with pesticide drift — an increasing threat to farm workers’ health in Washington State. You can view the trailer above.

PREMIER

The documentary will premier at the Social Justice Film Festival in Seattle, WA on Friday, October 14th. The screening will be held at University Christian Church in U-District, and will start promptly at 6:15.

For more information on this event click: here. For tickets, here.

ART FOR JUSTICE

Journalist and political commentator Eoin Higgins also wrote an article about the video’s roll in an upcoming lawsuit: New Documentary Explores Pesticide Drift In Washington State. It contains an excerpt from a Columbia Legal Service press release which updates the ongoing struggle, and demonstrates how Poison Control is being used in the search for justice.

Martin Scorsese on Visual Literacy

Martin Scorsese

In a previous post we discussed how visual storytelling, through the use of staging, lighting, and shot composition aided and enriched the movie “There Will Be Blood”. To follow up on that point, here is a great video essay by Martin Scorsese (hosted by Edutopia) that, among other things, explains the importance of what he calls “visual literacy”:

Some quick points of interest:

– His case for teaching visual literacy to children is highly compelling, especially as we move towards more dynamic and integrated forms of knowledge consumption. It is not a stretch to assume most folks in this country get an increasing amount of their information visually.

– In addition, his point that movies are strong propaganda tools only makes the fact that some teachers use them to get an afternoon “off” more disappointing. The fact is, most Americans use the movies (specifically) and screens (more generally) to “escape”, because that’s how we’ve been taught to view them. The reality is that norms and stereotypes are being produced and solidified before our eyes and, for the most part, audiences are unaware of this manipulation. We will return to this point in a future post.

– Finally, his discussion of the violence in his movies is an interesting one, especially as it relates to his upbringing. Violence is obviously a sexy form of entertainment, as we are (again) reminded with films like “The Revenant” and “The Hateful 8” opening recently. But does the artist have carte blanche to use it as a form of expression, or is there a moral obligation to show both the cause-and-effect, like Scorsese seems to be arguing?

That’s all for now, folks!

“There Will Be Blood” and How A Single Shot Can Define A Movie

One of the first things a young filmmaker learns is that by taking the time and understanding one’s story, you can enrich the final product through staging, lighting, and shot composition; in other words, through visual storytelling. Sometimes a single shot or two can define an entire film. Though this takes a lot of imagination and is difficult to do, the best films often include single shots of great significance.

A great example comes from the 2007 epic “There Will Be Blood”. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and beautifully shot by Cinematographer Robert Elswit, who won an Oscar for his work, the film is ostensibly about the California oil boom at the turn of the last century.

The film opens in the middle of the New Mexico desert where we find Daniel Plainview, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, mining silver. The first 15 minutes are spent without discourse, as we track Daniel’s literal ascent from the depths. When Plainview emerges we find that he’s acquired a small oil company and a small boy, HW, the son of a worker who died in an accident.

This opening is significant. Because of its lack of dialogue, Anderson and Elswit have set up the visual aspect of the film in a dynamic way: the audience’s eye has become invested in the visual clues forthcoming, because that is precisely how we’ve made it to this point in the film.

That attention to detail is rewarded quickly, as Daniel and HW stand before a group of would-be investors, and Plainview delivers his first monologue. The critical part of the speech is when Plainview announces himself to be a “family man”, referring to HW as his son. Right at that moment, the scene cuts to this shot:

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 1.05.47 PM

What does the shot composition here remind you of? In my opinion it is referencing the classical trope of the Shoulder Angel, whereby a person is visited on his right shoulder by an angel and on his left by a devil. Now, I understand that the absence of the ‘devil’ may lead to some confusion, but I think I can demonstrate the likeliness of my hunch through the examination of three more stills.

In the next sequence, coming almost directly after the scene above, we witness a conversation between Daniel, with HW at his side, and a couple. First, look at the staging and shot composition of the couple:

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 11.31.35 AM

It’s a classic two shot: the frame doesn’t emphasize either character over the other. Nor does it place significance on the staging of where the characters are in relation to one another. Lastly, make note of the lighting.

Now, here’s the shot of Daniel and HW:

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 4.15.51 PM

It’s pretty close to the two shot framing concept of the couple. The difference is in the staging: Daniel is clearly leaning forward ahead of HW. This is significant because as he concludes his monologue to them about the technicalities of oil drilling and his intentions to purchase their plot of land, he slumps back into his chair. A long pause follows, and then the woman asks Daniel about the whereabouts of HW’s mother:

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 4.17.20 PM

Notice the similarities between this still and the first: Daniel is clearly in the center of the frame, with HW to his right shoulder, and an empty space to his left. Despite the fact that this is nominally a two shot, because there are only two characters in it, the staging and shot composition are more indicative of a three shot: someone seems to be missing.

If we return to the idea of the Shoulder Angel, traditionally the angel is seen on the right shoulder and represents the conscience, while the devil is on the left shoulder and represents temptation, dishonesty, and impurity. So just through the staging of the shot we can theorize that HW represents the angel: he is clearly on the right shoulder of the character at the middle of the screen.

The lighting of the first and last shots are especially significant: HW is particularly well lit, especially in relation to his “father”, who is shrouded in shadow. Compare this to the third shot where Daniel, leaning forward, talks about the technicality of the oil business: we can’t see his whole face, but both of his eyes are lit, implying a relative truthfullness. Similarly, in the third still his posture is more direct, more straightforward, than the slouched and guarded positions he takes in the first and fourth stills. These combine to highlight that the differences in lighting, staging and shot composition refer directly to what Daniel is talking about. Only when he begins discussing his relation to HW, someone else’s son, as his own, does the shot take on a darker undertone.

This comparison provides the final insight into the relation of these shots to the broader context of the movie: being an oil man isn’t Daniel’s sin, it’s the profiteering from another’s innocence. In this sense, there is no one to Daniel’s left because he has assumed the role of the devil. This theme would play out throughout the movie in a variety of ways, and not just in Daniel’s arc, but the stage was set early on visually.

An Introduction

I know, I know: film is a visual art.

While that’s certainly true, I like writing, and wanted to include a space for my half-baked thoughts and theories on what’s going on with video and the world at large.

So welcome to the written part of the website!

This is where I’ll dabble in all sorts of film criticism and theory, share my favorite articles and links, and get in the writing reps necessary to craft that perfect screenplay (fingers crossed). I can’t imagine doing any sort of long-form writing more than once or twice a month, but I’ll likely intersperse that with an occasional shorter post, and I should have the first “real” post up soon, so stay tuned!

Also, let me know if you have anything you would like me to comment on by contacting me: here

Nate