Picture This


Closed Space

A Californian Fairy Tale

One of the classes that I find myself bemoaning the most is a class called “Visual Expressions” or, in the USC shorthand “506”. It’s a great class and I’ve learned a lot, and it has one major assignment: a photo notebook of seventy eight photographs illustrating the various concepts discussed in the lectures. Now that it is getting to be the end of the semester that photo notebook is looming large on my horizon and the number Seventy Eight is taking on epic proportions.

On several occasions throughout the semester we were assigned small batches of these photographs to be works-in-progress for some of the bigger topics that we covered like Line or Space or Tone. The parameters for the photographs are pretty specific: they must all be taken in landscape orientation (like a movie screen), and must all include an actor (because movies are about people) and the actor can’t be yourself or a passer-by and must be no closer to the camera than waist height and so on and so forth. All good rules for a filmmaker to become acquainted with, but tricky to accomplish while also trying to juggle the production of several film projects.

Organization was the hardest part. While the requirement is only to take still photographs, in reality we are setting up miniature film shoots requiring their own casting, location scouting, and shot lists. For myself, finding the actor was the hardest piece of the puzzle. For a while I relied upon the good graces of my sister Bean who also happens to be a USC alum and didn’t mind coming to campus to visit every few weeks or so, but there is only so many times that you can ask someone- even your sister “hey, can I buy you a cup of coffee in exchange for letting me take a few photos of you?”

At last I decided to go to a professional (Actor, that is.) I sent an email to the actress who had appeared in my film earlier in the semester and asked if she would be willing to spend an hour or two picking up some photographs for the class. I put together a list of shots that I wanted to try to get- not the full Seventy Eight, but a goodly selection nonetheless, and we spent part of an afternoon working to cross them off.

The difference between trying to do the photos at the last minute and doing them with a real actor and some planning was the difference between night and day: I didn’t set out to tell a particular story with the photos we were trying to capture- most of the time the background was more important than the actor- but the more photos that we took the more a story began to emerge. The human mind naturally tries to draw connections between things. The individual photos may have been about Line and Space and Shape, but they began to take on a narrative quality that felt a bit like a fairy tale.

Now that’s what I call movie magic.


~ by Gwydhar Gebien on April 10, 2014.

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