Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pentagram of Loss


I finally got around to filming nude people and surprise surprise, it
wasn't porn! My friend Becca who works for the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art helped get me a job which entailed filming a movement performance piece entitled "The Pentagram of Loss" and editing the footage into a five minute video. Luckily for me Pinky Bass, the artist responsible for creating the performance insisted I film the rehearsal as well. I ended up going with the mentality that I was shooting a documentary and cut together a short "mini-doc". Here's the final product:

Pentagram of Loss from Jesse Berger on Vimeo.

Apparently another videographer was set to do the piece but this fell through. I'd like to think he/she was too intimidated by the whole naked thing. To be honest neither I, nor most people I know have had the chance to see a performance so strange. And who would have thought it would occur in Charleston?

I tried my best to show clips which exemplify the character of Pinky Bass in the video. From what I could tell, she was kind, humble, and eccentric in the fun artistic way. Instead of brooding in despair, she's used her artistic nature to get over the loss of the five people who meant the most to her in life.

When I described the piece to a friend he basically asked if avant garde acts of the likes have real artistic merit. Utilizing the human body in its natural form may come off as shock-value, though it should not. I'd like to point out that Pinky's motivation for the piece is derived from real tragedy. And there's no getting around how brave it is for an older woman to be nude in front of a group of people. She also had enough artistic integrity to convince other people to act in the nude as well so kudos to her.

Filming such interesting material only happens so often and I'm quite thankful for the opportunity.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Project Updates

Last night was the premiere of The City Green. We had a great turnout and the event went really well. Thanks again to Sean from City Lights for letting us screen it there and thanks to everyone that came out. Now that the premier is over the only thing left in store for the film is a quick gamble with the festival circuit. Submitting to film festivals is expensive and who knows if the festivals actually watch all the films they receive. But I'm confident it'll get into a few. Other than that, being done with a project always puts me in a strange state of mind. I think of it as a form of postpartum depression, but its much worse when shooting wraps than after the film is made public.

Now its time to finish filming and get serious with editing South of the Border. Nate and I are going to make what could be our final trip (in the context of this doc) to SOB sometime soon.

This fall break I brought my computer and hard-drives containing all the footage to North Charleston where I'm cat-sitting. I was holed up for a solid 48 hours without the internet sorting through the many hours of interviews and b-roll we have. I also began testing out ideas for scenes. Now that I've become thoroughly acquainted with all the newly organized footage its about time to put together a draft.

I had the chance to get in touch with journalist Lisa Napoli last week. She made a 30 minute documentary about South of the Border in the early 1990's. Nate and I didn't find out about this until we were reading the master's thesis Laura Christenson wrote about the place and saw the doc in the footnotes. When I first saw this I got a terrible feeling in my stomach because the worst thing in the world would be finding out half-way through shooting that our film had already been made. I tracked down a copy of the film and watched it a few months ago. Luckily it takes a completely different angle than ours.

Talking to Lisa was re-assuring, and just what I needed to kick-start the editing process. She's become a really successful journalist, and my first "contact" in L.A. where she currently lives.
She also gave us permission to do a special scene that involves using an "excerpt" from her documentary.

The interviews we have so far have a good bit of substance, and the rough "scenes" I've been working on show some promise for a fun and quirky doc. This roadside attraction happens to be a brilliant slice of Americana, and that is definitely going to come across well in this doc.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tribute to Little Walter

Friday night, Nasty Nate and I took a trip up to Camden to meet and film blues harmonica player Dennis Gruenling's band Tribute to Little Walter. The reason for our trip was simple: we need blues music for our documentary South of the Border. In this case we really lucked out because each of the members of the band have solo projects that they're going to let us use in our film. In less than a week we've gone from having no music at all to having a rather plentiful collection of awesome blues to sift through.

We filmed the band and cut together a little piece:

Besides being really talented, I hold a lot of respect for these guys (Dennis Gruenling, Steve Guyger, Doug Deming, Mookie Brill, and Dean Shot) for being nice enough to let us use their music. We need independent artists because using major label music can get you sued... or worse because music rights problems can hold up distribution.

In my quest to find music for our film, the guys from this band are by far the most down to earth players I've met. A few other artists I talked to were completely full of themselves. For example New York band The Wiyos told me via email that they weren't interested unless the film was guaranteed major distribution, and that they'd have to see a final version of the film before they would agree. We're students, we're definitely not going to make any money off this project, and we'll be lucky if we can get any sort of distribution at all. Who do these guys think they are?

Dennis Gruenling was quite an interesting character. He looks bluesy, talks bluesy, and personifies the struggling artist type. He admitted to sometimes sleeping in his van, and this isn't your punk cousin that decided to drop out of college and tour with his band. Dennis has been playing for quite some time and is recognized by blues aficionados as an accomplished musician. Though his chances of knocking whatever shitty group off the top of the charts are slim, I was surprised to see how many videos of this guy are on youtube. I feel like I've uncovered an underground blues movement that I had no idea existed. And that's exciting in its own rite.

Thanks again to the members of the Tribute to Little Walter for being cool with us and giving me my first real blues concert.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The City Green Premier

The City Green, my latest short film will premier Thursday October 16th at 8pm in City Lights Coffee. I shot this film at the end of summer and just finished it a few weeks ago. I've been trying to think of how to pitch it, here's my best shot: No dialogue, one actor, a refined look at a person losing their mind. I'm billing the premier as a "Really Short Night of Shorts". The other two films screening are a cool stop motion animation by Kyle Hilliard called Andre the Miniature, and Sarah Jones's Blausaure, a well photographed and directed noir short. Both "rider" films as I call them are less than 3 minutes, and my film is only 12 minutes so the entire night will be no more than a half an hour.

The City Green took us about three and a half days to shoot. I wrote it last summer with C.J. Avery who I met through my good friend Alex Hesemann. Alex is credited as Phantom Producer. What the hell is a Phantom Producer? Here's my critera:
1. If it weren't for this person, the film might not have happened.
2. The person must live in another state and never work on the set.
3. A Phantom Producer must be involved in the film from when its first conceived to the final cut.

Taylor Townes plays the one and only real actor. The music in the film was composed by him as well. This was my first experience with using any type of storyboarding, and my first (and hopefully last) artsy-fartsy film. This was also my first time shooting with a dolly, which I built with Nasty Nate. Antonio Robinson was my assistant director and right hand man on the set. Finally, Zac Mallard did the drawings used in the film, which turned out well for that purpose and have also been an excellent marketing tool.

Above everything else, this film is an ode to some of my favorite places in Charleston. The owner of City Lights, Sean, was nice enough to let us shoot inside and made the suggestion that we screen it there as well. At first I was apprehensive because City Lights is a small venue, but it later dawned on me that it could be an intimate experience and it will hopefully be easy to turn out a packed house. By the way this event is free... so come.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

On the Set: Green Fair Doc

Above: Filmmaker Justin Nathanson

This past Sunday I had a crew gig working for local filmmaker Justin Nathanson on his upcoming documentary about the first annual Charleston Green Fair. Held at Marion Square, the outdoor festival was created to embrace and expand an environmentally conscious Charleston. From sustainable food to alternative energy, the Green Fair provided a detailed survey of what the local "green" community has to offer. The event was put together by Suzie Webster and her husband Drew Franyo, owners of the local startup company Evergreen Concepts. Nathanson and his newly incorporated Cut Company followed the green duo as their dreams materialized into a highly successful event.

The call time for this shoot was a brutal 7am but I picked up a delicious breakfast from McDonalds to get the day started right. This was a HD shoot, and video was shot to disk rather than tape. My job included dumping footage from cameras onto hard-drives and taking production stills among other things. We wrapped at 7pm and besides an impressive farmer's tan, all I've got to show for a long day's work (until I get paid) are the pictures I took below:

Vendors setting up early Sunday morning.

Justin and the cool sound guy.

Probably the best picture I've ever taken.

The crowd starts turning out.

Justin filming Mayor Joe Riley...

Who interrupted a crazy ukalaylee band...

And the tap dancer who accompanied them.

Suzie Webster of Evergreen Concepts...

Her husband Drew Franyo...

And their oldest daugher in the middle.

A Taco Boy showing off his sauce bottle skills.

Fake rock wall = fun for kids.

A priceless face.

Another priceless face...

And a sad looking dog to top it all off.
*The guy in the top left
was my roommate freshman year.

A fun crew and good weather contributed to this being a successful shoot. Its always a pleasure to work for Justin, who is one of the funniest people I know. Getting a crash-course in the world of Suzie and Drew was definitely a worthwhile experience. My favorite part of this kind of doc is being briefly but thoroughly immersed in someone else's life as a bystander watching closely from the sidelines. It always leaves me with an accurate impression of character, and in this case it was a good one. Plus, Suzie and Drew preach green as a practicality and I completely agree.