Date of Submission

Spring 2012

Academic Program

Film and Electronic Arts

Project Advisor 1

Kelly Reichardt

Project Advisor 2

John Pruitt

Abstract/Artist's Statement

Director’s Note:

The Card Game is a short narrative film and is the first self-contained part of a 3-part script set in New Orleans.

Writing an artist’s statement in inherently difficult for me because I think the first mistake a lot of filmmakers make is that they immediately assume that because they are working in a certain medium, what they produce will automatically be art and by extension make them artists.

While I have little interest in how one should define art, I have for a long time held the belief that art is something that emerges rather than is created--that is to say I never start out with an idea or script and right away assume that I'm making a piece of art. My primary goal in filmmaking is to tell a story. If the movie I make has artistic elements that emerge, that's nice, but it's not what I ultimately strive for.

I usually start with an image in my head that makes me feel a certain way and what I love about making movies is that I can use all of these formal rules and techniques to try to convey said image. It'll never be 100% what I had in mind, but the more I invest myself in the details of lighting, camera work, mise en scène, etc, the more I can approach this very indistinct impression that I want to create.

With The Card Game, I was thinking a lot about how every sub-group of people has a certain mythology that they subscribe to—they have rumors, things that get passed from one person to another, and it creates this kind of mythos for this group of people.

I have very distinct memories of a closed-off world that only a few others and myself are privy to. You'd hear stories about this kid who got arrested, or some guy who got beat up for saying something to the wrong person; these were our provincial urban legends.

The script of The Card Game is based on two true stories; it was an attempt to create one of these provincial legends. The characters all know one-another, they are all part of a network—they refer to events that take place outside of the movie. The attempt is to create a living breathing world, a cross-section of one night and how these people interact.

My way of working on set is very process-oriented, almost mechanical in nature. While I do not conform to a Bressonian view of actors as automatons, I have found it best, once I have discussed with them the precise blocking of the scene and their character's intentions, to leave them to their own devices and focus myself only on the physical process of capturing the scene.

Once the script has been written, I try not to think about the lines and how they should be expressed: I believe that’s the actor's job. I've heard it said that 90 percent of directing is casting, so I was very careful to choose actors who above all else, physically conform to what I had in mind.

My interest in filmmaking is mainly focused on cinematography and sound design. The process of crafting a very specific image with specific intentions, I find, to be the most intensive and rewarding aspects of the process. For every scene, I created a very specific lighting setup.

For example, in the later poker scene, I placed one raised light outside with a wire-link gobo (go-between) in front to simulate an outdoor floodlight coming in through a window. The gobo casts a soft shadow onto the scene in an intersecting pattern intended to underscore the enclosed space. While the main character doesn't have many lines in one of the key scenes, I lit him from behind with a warmer color light to separate him from the background and keep him visually prominent.

The camera work tended to be very restrained—all of the moves are simple and I tried to maintain an objective distance from the characters to really allow them to inhabit the world. The poker table was one of the harder things I've ever had to shoot. Besides the presence of multiple people in a single scene (and thus multiple lines of action to keep track of) there was the issue of the cyclical action.

As the betting in the poker game moves from person to person, I had to ask myself if it's the game itself the audience would be interested in or the movement of emotion, that is, where the characters are looking. The easy thing to do would have been to focus on the table, on what cards people had in their hands, but the movie isn't about that—it's more focused on the relationships of the characters in that world.

The sound design is also very specific in its implementation. I spent a great deal of time collecting wild sounds from the neighborhood in New Orleans where I shot--dogs, bicycles, cars, people walking, police and ambulance sirens, etc. All of the sounds are mixed in to indicate a persistent world that exists outside of the events taking place. The sound of the Saint Vincent De Paul Catholic Church clock tower repeats three times throughout the film, subtly marking the passing of time.

Every element in a film should contribute to the overall impression of the world that it takes place in. The world of The Card Game is one that is very specific to me; it is based on stories that have happened to me or people I know, based on a landscape that I'm very familiar with.

I very well may be the only one who gets it. The way people talk is the way that the people I know talk. This is something I knew going into the project. My hope, however, is that others may be able to recognize the world as something real that exists, and even if they are unable to directly relate, it is this recognition that I think is important.

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