Date of Submission
Academic Programs and Concentrations
Film and Electronic Arts
Project Advisor 1
Making Cinder Eater was a process of synthesis and deconstruction. What began as a scripted narrative based on several trips to the White Mountains in New Hampshire, evolved – or even devolved – into a mostly improvised psychodrama built on the exercises and collaborations of a very small crew of four, including myself, and two actors. I had drawn the central story between an estranged father and son from such a personal place it had become too paralyzing to carry along that creative thread. The only way I could let breathe what I felt was at the soul of the story was to take a creative risk, and so I refocused the script and stripped it down until I was comfortable with a functional outline.
For the younger male role I looked to a close friend of mine whom I thought could embody the character without a great deal of preparation. The older male role was much more difficult to cast, and limitations in choice lead to further practical changes to the older character during the first days of production. Most notable was the alteration from father to uncle, which was certainly a risk, but one that - in my estimation - was ultimately fruitful and brought about a breakthrough in production. Not only did this affect the naturalism of their dynamic, but also the absence of the father proved creatively liberating and, for me, more honest. His absence elevated his impact on how the two central characters related to one another, and it wasn’t until then that I felt drawn to re-shift their dynamic during the second half of the film. Survival was present in every day.
It took some time to peel back the unwanted layers. From our base in North Conway, NH we did improvisational exercises by night and shot by day. We had many conversations, both with the whole crew present, but most of all between the actors and myself - building character, creating memories, and in time seeing a consistent dynamic emerge from my two actors that felt like it was blurring the line between performance and reality. An exercise that proved effective was discretely following my actors by fading in and out of their space, gauging when to be a voice in their head or let the mood breathe. We brought this ethic into the mountains where the terrain and landscape would also play an equal part in articulating their psychological space. From this energy - as well as feeding from my own personal memories tied to the places we hiked - we gained better instincts. The last few days, in particular, largely informed my process in structuring the edit.
At the center of Cinder Eater are men in isolation. Perhaps for a few different reasons, but most of all in their relationship to their own history. They see reflections of themselves in each other. There is the confrontation of the present as they are entering new stages in their lives, striving to understand where they are now; but too, the struggles of letting go and an easing of the past. Their relationship is meant to be specific - at least initially - but then devolve into a slightly more abstracted space, both guiding and palliative, during the second half as they become almost tethered together.
Lastly, the title - although still subject to change - comes Norse myth and history where young men would go through a ritualized period of immobility by remaining at home and staying close to the family hearth. They were covered in ash and often bit at the stray cinders of the fires they so fervently maintained. When ready, they would then enter of the trials of adulthood.
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Levering, John Spilman, "Cinder Eater" (2014). Senior Projects Fall 2014. 7.