Galloping Gertie, 2008
Written and directed by Michael McVey
Bunker Hill Community College 2008 – Elements of Video Production
In 2008, I decided to go back to school and learn filmmaking. I enrolled in video and audio production courses at Bunker Hill Community College, Charlestown, MA. Galloping Gertie was my first video, made for a class called Elements of Video Production. It was an intro course for video basics like 3-point lighting and depth of field. It was a good class, thanks to the learned Professor Pastel and his classic film references. For our final projects, Pastel divided the class into small groups. I was elected our group’s writer/director, and I mustered up a quick little story that used our group as actors and our school as our location.
I’ve included the original storyboards below: I wrote the script on cocktail napkins at a Cambridge, MA music bar called Toad during a friend’s shows. I wrote parts with specific people in mind – with my group members as lead actors, I cast my audio production Professor Palermo, as the Evil Professor.
The shooting day came, but most of the cast and crew didn’t show up for the shoot… so I recast on the spot. With a leading actor vanished from the group, the role of the Agent went to Bunker Hill’s resident AV squad leader, Marcelo Almeida. Professor Palermo was a no-show, and I ended up filling in. If you look at the storyboards, you’ll see the difference, as I drew that role for a big Sydney Greenstreet type.
We shot the whole thing at Bunker Hill over a couple of days in late Fall 2008. We shot on a Canon Elura 85 MiniDV Camcorder and edited it in Final Cut Pro. It didn’t cost a thing, and it was a lot of fun to make — I really had a great time making this goofy little project, and really enjoyed the process, even if the final result is ridiculous.
When comparing the film against the storyboards, you may notice that the fight scene was originally set in a bathroom. Why you ask?
Apparently, we weren’t allowed to film Marcelo on BHCC campus bathrooms. He had landed in some hot water with the campus security earlier in the year. He was working on his own video project – a “re-imagining” of the Casino Royale Trailer. Marcelo brought a toy gun to school to recreate a James Bond bathroom fight. When security walked in on 007 filming fights in school bathrooms, they were not pleased. They confiscated the toy gun, but let him keep the tuxedo. Now that I think about it, that’s probably what caused his lutropublicaphobia.
And it was for these reasons we had to move the bathroom fight scene to a computer lab. We kept computer genius Stephan Brooks’ cameo as “That Guy Who Was Made Uncomfortable,” but it wasn’t nearly as awkward as it should have been. The lesson: stay fluid, especially with comedy.
History of the Moving Image- VMA 115
Bunker Hill Community College, Charlestown, MA
The Birth of a Nation Response – February 25, 2010
The Birth of a Nation:
Describe a scene you find disturbing. What specifically makes it disturbing? Think in terms not only of the characters, but also of the specific shot sequence and the relationship the image creates.
The election sequence from “The Birth of a Nation” is an incendiary account of shifting social and political power during Southern Reconstruction. The sequence narrowly characterizes class and race relationships with broad stereotypes. Griffith portrays historical events with one-dimensional characters. These characters disturbingly polarize the conflict’s complexities into simple good and evil. We begin with the title card:
“Election day. All blacks are given the ballot, while the leading whites are disfranchised.”
Both black and white voters line up to vote. A white man, presumably a carpetbagger, takes ballots from black voters. Black soldiers flank the man, keeping the crowd orderly. When white voters attempt to vote, they are denied. Soldiers aggressively shove these men out of line with their rifles. We cut to Dr. Cameron and his son Ben leaving their Piedmont home to vote. We cut to black and fade in on Dr. Cameron attempting to vote. He is denied and aggressively ejected. From this short scene, we infer that all Southern white voters were denied their rights from Unionists and Carpetbaggers, backed with military muscle. The use of these broad, unnamed characters and actions nurture resentment in the viewer towards the blacks. The use of these broad stereotypes is propaganda, influencing the audience to feel that blacks with power are unjust and malevolent.
We cut to the interior of Silas Lynch’s Piedmont headquarters. Lynch is the mulatto protégé of Reconstruction authority Austin Stoneman. Lynch’s mixed-race staff rushes election results into the office. The title card declares, “Silas Lynch is elected Lieut. Governor.” Stoneman is elated when Lynch presents him with the news, and Stoneman’s daughter Elsie joins them. She is fancily dressed.
The title card reads, “Celebrating their victory in the polls.” We cut to an exterior shot of an all-black Unionist army marching through Piedmont, joyously greeted by an all-black crowd. We cut back to the interior of Lynch’s headquarters. While Austin Stoneman speaks of the election, we cut to a medium close-up of Lynch staring lustfully. We cut to a medium shot of Elsie as she sorts white paperwork. We cut back to Lynch. He covers his genitals with a black hat as he stares. We cut once more to Elsie. It is clear that the newly elected Lynch has designs on Stoneman’s daughter. Stoneman seems oblivious to this aside.
Lynch walks outside, and is immediately embraced by the all-black crowd. He is hoisted onto their shoulders and paraded about. We cut to Stoneman observing from inside, pleased with the victory. We then cut to Elsie, who stands alone in the room, looking exposed. We infer from this scene that the newly elected Lynch is a devious character. Lynch’s leering is juxtaposed against a marching army of black soldiers, eliciting fear of a black takeover of traditionally white properties. For Stoneman, the mulatto character of Lynch represents a bridge for race relations, but Griffith suggests his (and possibly all mulattos) motivations are animalistic and devious. In the wake of Lynch’s sexual intonations, Elsie’s delicacy is amplified through the lingering shot.
“’The little Colonel’ relates a series of outrages that have occurred.”
The title card reads “The case was tried before a negro magistrate and the verdict rendered against the whites by the negro jury.” A crowded courtroom scene establishes the shift in power. An all-black jury and a black magistrate free a black man accused of a crime – the white victim’s family looks despondent. The camera iris focuses on the magistrate, yelling fervently. The ‘not guilty’ verdict polarizes the courtroom. The whites and the ‘faithful’ blacks are outraged by the verdict. The black defendant shakes hands with the jury. The scene exudes collusion and injustice.
We cut back to the Ben Cameron relating the story. We cut to the exterior of the courthouse, where black soldiers treat the white victim’s family with hostility. We cut to a shot of soldiers brutalizing an old man. These black soldiers are clearly villainous.
The title card reads, “Even while he talks, their own faithful family servant is punished for not voting with the Union League and Carpetbaggers.” The “faithful” family servant’s only discernable characteristic is his steadfast loyalty to the Cameron’s. Having voted against the Unionists, two deceitfully friendly blacks lure the servant to the woods. Several black soldiers ambush the servant. The soldiers bind him to a tree and lash him for his faithfulness. We fade out.
We cut to the servant’s quarters, where an elderly black man searches for his friend. When the elderly man stumbles upon the black soldiers beating the servant, he intervenes. A soldier murders the old man in cold blood. The soldiers all run away in cowardice. We cut back to Ben Cameron relating his stories. We see clearly from these cuts that Griffith is employing parallel editing. The iris closes in on Cameron, who dramatically stands, as though he has reached his breaking point. The camera cuts to the servant, beaten and bewildered, he runs from frame. We cut back to the Cameron’s. The stories deeply move the group, and they stand together, unified by their disgust.
The title card reads, “The faithful soul enlists Dr. Cameron’s sympathy.” We cut to Dr. Cameron, Ben’s father finding the servant in the woods. We cut back to the Cameron home. The servant relays the events to Ben Cameron, who looks furious. The candles blaze in the foreground.
These scenes shockingly suggest that blacks are incapable of dispensing justice properly. The black magistrate, while only briefly portrayed, comes across as a zealot. All the black Union soldiers are portrayed as cowardly, vicious torturers. We infer that blacks are duplicitous from the way the servant was lured into an ambush. Though Griffith doesn’t cast the servant under the same evil light as the other blacks, his is still one-dimensional. His defining characteristic seems to be an acceptance of his place in the old Southern hierarchy.
Perhaps the most disturbing element of this sequence is the technical craftsmanship. The innovative use of symbols to create subtext makes the film potent propaganda. Carefully staged scenes, clever set and costume design, and innovative editing techniques made the film’s simplistic views entertaining and digestible. “The Birth of a Nation” was a new form of entertainment propaganda in 1915. This is exceptionally disturbing, considering that these are not the film’s most cartoonish and unbelievably racist stereotypes. That award goes to the scene that caps the election sequences:
“The riot in the Master’s Hall. The negro party in control in the State House of Representatives, 101 blacks against 23 whites, session of 1871. An Historical Facsimile of the State House of Representatives of South Carolina as is was in 1870. After photograph by ‘The Columbia State.’”
Montage and Juxtaposition in “Battleship Potemkin” – Odessa Steps Sequence, from Michael McVey, Skiffleboom.com
VMA – 115 History of the Moving Image
Prof. Douglas Pastel, Bunker Hill Community College
Writing Assignment #2 – Montage/Juxtaposition/Sequence
Pick a short sequence of about 10 shots from Battleship Potemkin or Man With a Movie Camera and discuss in detail how it illustrates what the “camera eye” together with editing show that no other medium or human perception can see.
The Odessa Steps Sequence (47:37 – 48:02)
During “The Odessa Steps” sequence of Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, a civilian crowd runs down the staircase from Cossack gunfire. Among them, a small boy runs down the staircase with his mother. Cossacks shoot from the steps above. In the panic, the boy is shot. He falls. His mother continues in the chaos. Bleeding, he calls out to her. The mother realizes her boy is gone. She stops and turns into the crowd. She sees her boy. He reaches out his hand, then collapses. The mother stands against the oncoming mob, her face aghast. The mob kicks and tramples the boy’s lifeless body.
This short sequence opens with a tracking shot. We dolly alongside the mother and boy as they race down the stairs. The shot begins nearly static – trimmed right to the moment the camera begins to move. This camera movement stirs fervor. The camera descends to the bottom right, keeping mother and son centered amidst the crowd. It is as though we are running alongside them. This is a very dynamic shot with strong vectors.
The vectors transition smoothly as the shot cuts to the blazing Cossack guns. The gun barrels fire to the bottom right; they serve as index vectors. The spatial geography is clear with these two cuts. The Cossack faces are obscured. This static low angle shot is anonymous and menacing. We draw a direct connection between the gunshots and the fleeing mother and son.
Matching vectors, we cut to a static medium shot of the running son and mother. The boy collapses on the stairs, splayed out center frame. His mother continues running, unaware her boy has fallen. Since the cut is juxtaposed against the gunfire, we know immediately he is shot in the back. The image is impactful within the film’s context: an innocent boy falls victim to brutal political violence.
A new cut maintains the descending vectors. We return to our original tracking shot: the camera dollies alongside the mother running down the crowded stairs. The rushing camera dolly gives us a sense of urgency. The panic overwhelms her awareness. She doesn’t realize her son is gone.
We quickly cut to a static close-up of the boy. Blood streams down his face. Blinded, he screams for his mother. This is the first shot of the sequence not adhering to the right-descending vectors. This gives this insert a jarring feel, as we cut back to the original tracking shot.
The camera dollies alongside the mother running, descending vector. She realizes her son is gone. She slows to a halt, as does the camera movement. The crowd descends around her. She turns around. We cut on the turn. This creates a natural in/out point for the next shot.
We cut to close-up of the mustachioed mother. Harbor behind her, she turns and faces camera. She looks away from escape back towards violence. The mother’s face widens horrified. She sees her son!
We cut back to the static close-up of the bloody boy. He reaches out for his mother, screaming. He collapses, dead!
We quickly cut to a close-up of the mother horrified. She raises her hands to her head! This reaction shot emphasizes the impact of the boy’s death. The cut happens quickly, but the mother’s shock amplifies the blow.
We cut to an extreme close-up of mother. Her eyes widen. She is helpless, mortified. She calls out to her son. This shot fuses his death with parental empathy. Each close-up is larger and more affecting.
We cut to a wide shot of stampeding crowd. The camera crosses the 180-degree line and flips vectors. We are jarred, uncomfortable. The hysterical crowd pours down the steps. People shove brutally, more people are shot and fall beneath stampeding feet. This cut-away emphasizes chaos surrounding the dead boy.
We cut to static close-ups of the boy’s lifeless torso. Feet step over. We cut to a second close-up of the bloodied body. A man’s foot steps directly on the hand. The hand moves reflexively! Is the boy still alive? By suggesting the boy may still be alive, these quick inserts make the scene more appalling. The terrified mob tramples his limp body.
We cut back to the mother’s horrified face. This extreme close-up delivers horrendous shock and empathy. We are given a full-frame of facial expression. Juxtaposed with the confusion of the mob and violent imagery, this close-up mirrors our own disgust at the events. We empathize with the expressive mother against the faceless, violent hoard, and unknowingly succumb to some brilliant propaganda.
This sequence demonstrates film techniques that circumvent certain limitations of human perception (sans acid). Within the context of the scene, we are able to change our point of view. Instead of perceiving an event from one specific perspective, we jump around to multiple viewpoints. We are not limited by the physicality of the camera itself. Our “camera eye” can be placed in a raging mob without being stampeded.
A film can observe details that are otherwise overlooked, or juxtapose to unrelated images or scenes to create new context. A film can bolster or downplay emotions with close-ups. Reaction shots effect and define how emotions are perceived. Human perception is limited spatially – it is difficult to observe multiple individuals with only two eyes. Film can manipulate time. In addition to changing frame rates, editing can manipulate time in a way human perception does not. As we cut back and forth between mother and son, are we watching simultaneous reactions broken into two parts? Or are we seeing the characters in real time?
Film can strongly illustrate psychological drama and the inner workings of characters. Film narrative can be reliable or unreliable, linear or fractured. With spatial and temporal restrictions lifted, filmmaking gives people new ways to tell stories as well as share experiences, emotions, and observations.
Film as Art
Week 02 Direct Conflict, Assignment 2
February 9, 2010
“Place two characters in a scene of direct conflict. … Use dialogue as needed, and resolve the scene. Minimum length: 2-3 pages” (Hall, 12). All scripts are written in the present tense. Write what you can only see and hear. Post your assignment using EasyEdit (copy and paste from Word, but keep a back-up of your file).
For ease, just use this format:
Description of action in present tense.
Description of action
Untitled Western – by Michael McVey, Bunker Hill Community College, 2010.