This is not a traditional film at all, but an experiment in storytelling about the deviant side of human nature.
Last year I took the Tropfest challenge – an annual festival in which organizers task all filmmakers to use a particular object in their films – this time, it was a mirror. And I decided to make my film an homage to Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”.
I’ll state right up front that in no way am I trying to be or compare myself to Hitchcock in any way, nor is this any sort of a “remake”, but rather, I used his masterpiece (one of my favorite films) as a jumping off point for my own tale. The voyeur aspect is what I focused on, but looking inward instead of looking out at your neighbors, and included both literal and metaphorical “mirrors” in my story.
(Photo by JoAnn Sheppe. Click here to watch the film.)
Being a New Yorker I can relate to “Rear Window”, sometimes it’s like having a wall of big-screen tv’s outside your apartment. And as a NYer you learn to become oblivious to it. But on occasion something your neighbor does catches your eye and before long you’ve concocted an entire story in your head to explain what you’ve seen.
There was a neighbor across the street from me I used to call “Papa” – after Paper Hemingway. He was an elderly, cigar smoking man who spent hours in front of his window writing on his manual typewriter, at times flipping through his giant dictionary that was sitting on a book-stand, and making corrections with his pencil – he was awesome, but I rarely every saw him on the street. We’d look across at each other and wave every once in a while and did that for years until one night his apartment caught fire and everything burned. Gratefully, he lived. I saw him a week or so later sifting through what was left of his manuscripts, and my heart broke for him. But after that, he moved away and I never saw him again. He lives on in my imagination though – like Jimmy Stewart’s “Miss Lonely Hearts” or “Miss Torso”.
Thankfully, I’ve never seen anything untoward, but when watching “Rear Window” my mind is obsessed with filling in the blanks between the salesman and his wife. I’ll stop here, so as not to ruin the story for anyone who hasn’t seen it. But they are the couple I’ve brought to life in my film – though probably not as you think, because there’s a twist at the end of my tale too. (wink)
I did though pull apart all the details Hitchcock gives us about them to write my scenes. And used ONLY their scenes to create my film.
Dialogue – From across the courtyard you really can’t hear what they’re saying, except one word from the salesman, “Quiet!”. (Raymond Burr is so chilling – I love it!) I started there – and wrote the rest of my conversations from it. There’s a very different acting style from the 1960’s – which is a bit more staged. And I left the sound in the room as is – meaning I didn’t filter out the echo, so even though we’re in the room with them, we still hear/feel a sense of being removed and being a voyeur through the mirror.
Blocking – We used their movements, hand gestures and expressions to inform the relationship of my couple (from him throwing the newspaper to her flinging the orange flower). We used their blocking as a roadmap of sorts for our couple.
Costumes – Big score when I found a white satin gown that looks identical to one the wife wears in the film. Small pleasures – thank you Etsy!
Visuals – I tried to capture the flatness of a 1960’s film that still vibrates with bold colors. And I put all my credits up front (I sort of wish film’s still did that).
I photoshopped a lot of background mattes and masks for this film too – all created from photos I’ve taken of New York.
So this building:
Turned into this:
And the bedroom window and mirror:
But that’s where the similarities end. From there I placed all the action inside a small hand-mirror on the bedside table, or in a window across the street (the “other” mirror). Like Hitchcock’s film, the audience has some blanks to fill in, and I purposely lead them down a path that may or may not be true.
There were a lot of details to pay attention to this in this film, and using only a very few short scenes made it tough to tell a complete story. But the most challenging part was playing a miserable character. Fortunately, I was working again with Jay Peterson (The Jules Verne Project) as my husband, and had my longtime friend from film school, JoAnn Sheppe, as our DP. So, in between the characters nagging and fighting – we were having a lot of fun.
Jay is an imposing character, because of his quietness – he repeatedly tries and fails to connect with his wife, and seeks solace in other ways. At the same time – we had to dig in and decide why the wife is so unhappy. In the end, we came to the conclusion that they were so far gone from the content days of their marriage that they could never go back. But where DO they go from there and why? And that’s what this film aims to answer, in two ways – two opposing sides of an internal mirror seen on screen at once – in the mirror and in the window. Do we always act as our heart desires?
Unlike “Rear Window” – I’ll let you decide where my story’s path ultimately went… Maybe watch it twice.
Click HERE to watch the film.
Easter Egg Alerts!
- The “Barbarian Labs” ad on the side of the building is actually Jay’s weaponry and armor design shop. Check it out at http://www.jaythebarbarian.com/barbarian-labs.html
- That’s our DP JoAnn in the kitchen in the building across the street.
- There is a *hint* in here of another project of mine to come in 2015. In one of the other windows…. Can you spot it? (The beginnings of InByTheEye crossovers)
With apologies to Hitchcock…I’m not done exploring his visual interpretation of human nature, and will tackle this further in a rather ambitious photo project in 2015 – but more on that in the Spring.