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.
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.