Film as Art
Week 07 – Planning the Mise-en-Scene, Assignment 7
Bunker Hill Community College – April 8, 2010
Watch Sunshine. Choose one scene from the movie and describe the entire mise-en-scene (everything that you can see and hear, including the actors’ movements, costumes, lighting, sound, set, camera angle, and shot-size).
Scene – Full Sunlight, Kaneda’s Decision
A powerful, low tone sounds as we open on an extremely wide aerial shot of Icarus II’s heat shield. The camera sweeps over the vast field of metallic panels. Yellow, orange, and red fires glimmer on the distant horizon. The looming sunlight slices through the darkness, racing towards our characters, Kaneda and Capa. The electronic crackle and shimmer of the heat interweave with the film’s score. An ethereal chorus sustains an ominous, almost mystical chord.
We cut to Kaneda, Captain of the Icarus II. As he stands in his unwieldy, gold-plated space suit, the camera dollies in from a low medium shot to a close-up. A critical heat shield panel closes slowly on frame left. We see the reflective glow of the approaching sunlight glisten across his helmet. Behind him, there is nothing but the cold, empty void of space. The feminine, computerized voice of Icarus updates the ship’s status: “89% of shield in full sunlight.”
We cut to an extreme close-up of Kaneda’s eyes, the interior of this helmet. His eyes absorb the approaching sunlight. The fiery horizon is reflected across the screen, refracted through his helmet’s small slot. The sunlight intensifies before him, from soft orange to a severe yellow. Kaneda’s eyes widen, his breath quickens. The electronic score sounds like a submarine buckling under the pressure; low-frequency droning underlies the soundtrack.
We cut to an extreme close-up of Capa’s gloved hand. He too dons a gold-lined protective suit. We track Capa’s hand as he installs a mechanical device inside a broken heat panel. The low-frequency soundtrack continues.
We cut to an extreme close-up of the dark interior of Capa’s helmet. His face is strained and sweating on the left of the screen. On the right are small electronic displays – one of Kaneda’s helmet interior and the one of the Icarus’ bridge. We are able to see through the helmet slot to the exterior, where Capa installs the component. Capa breathes heavily. Subtle electronic beeps and whirs complement the droning soundtrack.
We cut to a low, wide shot of the dark exterior. Kaneda is maneuvers in the zero-G over to Capa from screen right to left, and we pan slightly to follow. As Capa toils, the sunlight’s orange aura silhouettes the open heat panel. A work lamp floats in the mid-ground. Kaneda’s static radio communication to Capa punctuates the intense score: “Capa, go back. I can finish this.”
We cut to the interior of Kaneda’s helmet. The shot is a close-up, a mirror shot of Capa’s helmet interior. Kaneda’s face holds the right of the frame. Through his helmet slot, the burning yellow glow strengthens. The in-helmet displays flicker ominously with static as Kaneda broadcasts his final order: “Go.”
We cut to an exterior medium shot. At this moment, John Murphy’s score cues a swelling adagio. Capa and Kaneda slowly pass each other in zero-G, their bulky-suited bodies parallel with the heat shield’s surface. As they pass each other, the soundtrack drops out and lets the score emotionally supplement the fateful decision.
We cut to a grand, sweeping aerial wide shot of the set piece. It is a stark contrast to the dark interior of Capa’s helmet. The frame is filled with the overwhelming orange and yellow glow of the sunlight. Lens flares add to the FX shot’s effectiveness and realism. The sunlight dances like a fire in the distance. The shimmering sounds of an electronic inferno rise as we push past Capa and Kaneda, who are dwarfed by the scale of Icarus’ heat shield. While Capa has covered some distance to the shield’s edge, it is insignificant compared to the distance left to travel. Unheeded by Icarus, Capa restates his question: “Capa returning to airlock. Do you copy?” The camera rotates as it flies by, keeping Capa and Kaneda center frame. As our angle changes, the background becomes the icy emptiness of space, and the sounds of the fire fade. The voice of the ship’s pilot Cassie responds: “Copy, Capa. Hurry.” The shot illustrates the enormous distances between the men, the shield’s edge, and the devastating heat approaching them. The score swells as the camera pulls back, the two men barely visible. The camera begins to shake violently, as we break into the red sunlight’s threshold. The voice of Icarus updates: “91% of shield in full sunlight.”
A Scene from “The Terminator” – Sarah Connor Watches Reese’s Interrogation Tape, from Skiffleboom.com
Film as Art – Bunker Hill Community College
Week 04 – Character and Dialogue, Assignment 4
February 25, 2010
Sarah Connor watches Kyle Reese’s interrogation tape.
Examine a scene where dialog is used and answer the questions:
1) How is character revealed through the actions they take?
On a television monitor, a tape plays: Kyle Reese sits handcuffed to a chair while Dr. Silberman questions him. The camera pans left to reveal Sarah Connor watching the tape, along with Dr. Silberman, Lieutenant Traxler, and Detective Vukovich.
Silberman sits front and center, amused by Reese’s outlandish tale. He laughs at the tape with Vukovich. Both men seem oblivious to the anxiety-wracked Sarah, who nervously chews her fingernails. Traxler gives them both a look of disgust—Silberman and Vukovich are insensitive to Sarah’s mental state.
We cut back to Reese on the monitor, explaining his circumstances. The handcuffs and questioning agitate Reese. He seethes with frustration—he is not convincing anyone with his bizarre story… except maybe Sarah. We cut to close-up of Traxler, tensely chewing gum. We cut to close-up of Sarah. She looks scared.
As Reese explains, Silberman pauses the tape. He tells everyone in the room how brilliant Reese’s elaborate story is. He clearly does not believe Reese. This inappropriate action demonstrates the Silberman’s egotism. He is too thrilled with career prospects to consider the murders, and their effect on Sarah. He resumes the tape.
Reese reaches his limit Silberman’s questioning. He realizes Silberman is not in any position to help him. Reese silences him and pleads directly to the camera. He warns about the Terminator to anyone who will listen. Officers attempt to subdue Reese. His fervor suggests he truly believes his mission is to protect Sarah. The fear in Sarah’s eyes suggests she may believe him.
The doctor stops the tape and apologizes. He realizes that he should not have exposed Sarah to Reese’s fear-inducing rant. The doctor shows a fleeting moment of responsibility. He is not a very good doctor if he is oblivious to Sarah’s nerves. Sarah asks Dr. Silberman if Reese is crazy. The doctor assures her Reese is insane. Traxler and Vukovich show Sarah some body armor. They explain the Terminator is likely a man wearing such protection. Traxler gives Sarah the armor so she can feel the weight. He is assuring. Vukovich explains how PCP may have been used to inhibit pain, but before he can tell an anecdote, Traxler gives him the armor to put away. Vukovich has clearly had a lot of experience, but Traxler is focused on nurturing Sarah back from her anxiety.
Traxler warmly suggests Sarah lie down and get some rest. He covers her with his jacket. He is protective and paternal. He assures Sarah of her safety, and she falls asleep, completely exhausted from the ordeal.
2) Are large chunks of information spilled out all at once or is it parceled out?
The information is parceled out. The time travel exposition is well handled. It feels natural—Reese responds to questioning because it is his best option to protect Sarah, given his situation. Scene is written to explain back story while revealing character. Protecting Sarah is Reese’s only concern. He tries to be convince Silberman, but his story is just too surreal for the doctor.
By framing the Reese/Silberman conversation as a pre-recorded tape on a monitor, we are able to focus on the reactions of the observing characters. We get the exposition, but we also see Sarah’s emotion state.
Traxler and Vukovich split assurance duties. The perceptive Traxler is clearly the better man for the job, as Vukovich seems insensitive. They divide up the rationalizations between them, helping calm Sarah. The Dr. Silberman’s dismissal of Reese’s story also helps Sarah relax.
3) How does the writer parcel the information? –Are the speakers saying exactly what is on their minds or are they using subtext getting at what they want to say by being indirect?
At first, Kyle Reese answers the line of questioning in an effort to win allies. When he realizes that his efforts are going nowhere, Reese screams exactly what is on his mind—Sarah is going to die unless the Terminator is stopped.
Dr. Silberman explains the intricacies of Reese’s “delusion,” but is more occupied by the possibilities of his career advancement. He sees great personal opportunity, and at one point, he refers to it as a career case.
Vukovich doesn’t say much, but it is clear he is a man of experience. His attempts at anecdotes allude to this. His insensitivity to Sarah’s emotional state is characteristic of a someone used to dealing with death and murder.
Traxler’s measured, collected manner of assuring Sarah reveals sensitivity. He is a thoughtful, empathic man who has her best interests at heart. He understands how traumatic the experience must be, and brings her a few steps closer to tranquility.
Sarah Connor is a nervous wreck. Her face and body language suggest she may believe Reese. She asks questions looking for support. The doctor and police officers assure her of her safety. She is too exhausted to process any more information. She accepts Traxler’s comforting words and falls asleep.
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.
Film as Art
Week 10 – Identifying the Throughline, Assignment 10
Michael McVey – Bunker Hill Community College
April 27, 2010
Watch American Beauty. Identify the super-objective of a central character and describe this character’s throughline in detail.
American Beauty tells the story of Lester Burnham, played by Kevin Spacey. Lester is a middle-aged, unhappy suburbanite. He feels his American life is a joyless chore, and sets out to reclaim happiness. Lester’s pursuit of happiness is his super-objective.
The opening scenes establish Lester’s ennui. He has strained, distant relationships with his wife Carolyn and daughter Jane. The gay couple living next door, Jim and Jim are the only “normal” people Lester knows. Lester hates his job. At work, Lester is largely unappreciated, and is in danger of being let go by his undeserving superior Brad. Quitting this job will become one of Lester’s sub-objectives. At home, Carolyn is hypercritical and unsympathetic to Lester’s plight. She perceives him as a loser. Jane hides behind a wall of sarcasm.
Lester attends a local high school basketball game. His daughter Jane cheerleads. Lester sees Jane’s friend Angela, and is immediately smitten. Angela becomes the object of Lester’s desire, and he begins fantasizing about her.
Lester steals Angela’s number from Jane’s bedroom. He calls Angela, but hangs up immediately when Jane exits the shower. This is Lester’s first step towards his super-objective. He awkwardly attempts to contact Angela to begin a relationship – Lester associates having Angela with happiness. Sleeping with Angela becomes a critical sub-objective for Lester’s super-objective.
Later, Lester and Carolyn bicker at a party. When Carolyn flocks over to local real estate magnate Buddy King, Lester makes an awkward, honest comment. This embarrasses Carolyn, and Lester further embarrasses her with a protracted kiss in front of Buddy. Lester starts to cut loose a bit, taking another step towards his super-objective.
Lester’s young neighbor Ricky approaches him at the bar. Ricky and Lester retire outside for some recreational smoking. Lester enjoys himself and makes a connection with Ricky. He admires Ricky’s self-control and perceived freedom. Lester begins defining his super-objective based on some of Ricky’s qualities.
Jane brings Angela over to her house. Aware that Lester is fixated, Angela decides to flirt with him. Lester quickly falls into a semi-erotic fantasy. Later, Lester overhears Angela talking about him with Jane. She playfully teases Jane about her dad’s fixation. Lester hears Angela mention that he would be sexy if he worked out. Later, Lester goes into the garage, finds some weights, and works out in the buff. He is clearly motivated to get fit. Lester equates his fitness with Angela’s attraction. Fitness becomes a sub-objective, as it may result in attracting Angela, culminating with Lester’s super-objective.
Carolyn catches Lester masturbating during a nighttime fantasy. Lester defends his right to masturbate, as his wife does not service him. They argue about their mutual sexual frustration, and Carolyn brings up divorce. Lester quickly turns the tables on her, ending the argument. Lester seizes control from Carolyn and does not back down from her criticisms. This fosters the self-control needed for Lester to achieve his super-objective.
Lester starts running with Jim and Jim. He goes over to Ricky’s to buy weed. Getting high is a new sub-objective for Lester – it helps him to relax and enjoy life. Lester fondly recalls his youth to Ricky: flipping burgers, partying and having sex. Later, Lester smokes a joint in the garage while lifting weights. When Carolyn confronts him on his new social deviance, he retorts, telling her to leave. Lester’s exercise, habitual pot use, and devil-may-care attitude reflect his efforts pursuit of happiness (through irresponsibility).
Lester writes a sarcastic and biting performance review. Brad tries to fire Lester, but Lester counters by threatening blackmail and sexual harassment. Lester refuses to be a victim, turning the tables on his thankless employers. Lester gets a year’s salary as a severance package, and triumphantly leaves. Lester separates himself from the working rabble, gaining a degree of freedom.
Later in the evening, Lester eats dinner with his wife and daughter. Lester and Carolyn bicker, and Jane is forced to listen. When Jane tries to leave, Lester exerts authority, and Jane sits back down. Carolyn rants hysterically, refusing to quit. Again Lester exerts himself, smashing a plate against the wall. This silences Carolyn. Much of Lester’s earlier misery stemmed from his passivity. In this scene, Lester works on the sub-objective of reclaiming his familial authority. Lester exhibits more self-control, and he moves towards his super-objective.
Lester enjoys the spoils of his severance by purchasing a 1970 Pontiac Firebird. He also buys several toys. When Carolyn berates Lester yet again, Lester defuses her through compliments. He makes a move on her, and we sense a happier past. But before he can round second base, Carolyn breaks the mood, afraid Lester might spill beer on the couch. Lester cannot overcome the sub-objective of salvaging his family life. His wife’s obsession with material objects and appearances hurts their relationship. He gets angry with her material worship and chases her away. Despite acquiring material objects for himself, Lester is not happy.
We flash forward to Lester running through the neighborhood. He looks much happier and healthier. While Lester makes a health shake in his kitchen, he learns Angela will be sleeping over. Jane is embarrassed by her father’s obvious attraction to Angela, and shares her disgust. Lester calls his daughter a bitch, just like her mother. This hurts Jane, and she leaves. Lester still struggles with the sub-objective of normalizing his family relationships, which prevent him from obtaining his super-objective.
Later, Lester catches Carolyn having an affair with Buddy King. At the drive-thru Burger joint Lester works, Lester surprises the cheating couple. Carolyn sees Lester has been working a menial job, but Lester finds the work invigorating; there is little responsibility. Lester calmly dismisses Carolyn and Buddy. By cheating on Lester, she has relinquishes any authority over him. From his perspective, Carolyn’s transgression is liberating. Instead of feeling remorse or anger, Lester puts her affair in context of his super-objective. Not able to resolve his sub-objective with Carolyn, Lester is inadvertently given the liberation he needs to continue towards independence and self-control.
After Lester buys more pot from Ricky, Angela and Jane run into him in the kitchen. Angela flirts with Lester. Repulsed, Jane runs from the room. Lester flirts back, but Angela is clearly nervous, and goes to find Jane. Lester’s object of desire, seemingly the key to his super-objective, runs away from him.
Later, while working out in the garage, Lester is confronted by Ricky’s father, Colonel Fitts. The Colonel has mistakenly confused the relationship between his son and Lester. Thinking Lester is a homosexual, the repressed Colonel Fitts kisses Lester. Stunned, Lester gently rebuffs his advances. Overwhelmed, the Colonel stumbles into the rainy night. Lester’s calmly handles the awkward situation, suggesting comfort in his own skin. This grace suggests Lester is ever closer to realizing his super-objective.
Lester goes for a beer in the kitchen, and encounters Angela, sitting alone. She tells him about her fight with Jane, revealing to Lester that she thinks him sexy. Lester and Angela get intimate, and they begin kissing. Lester is within moments of having Angela, the catalyst of his super-objective. Lester takes off her clothes, and as they are about to make love, Angela tells Lester she is a virgin. At first he think she is joking, but he quickly realizes that Angela is sincere. In that moment, Angela stops becoming a fantasy and becomes a person to Lester. He covers her with a blanket and comforts her. In this moment, Lester embraces responsibility.
Throughout the film, Lester sheds the coils of societal expectation. Irresponsibility felt like the key to Lester’s super-objective of happiness. Ultimately, Lester balances out his selfish impulses with genuine care for others. He breaks through his lustful delusions to see an inexperienced, frightened teenager before him, and he gives her comfort and affection. Lester and Angela sit in the kitchen, where Angela eats. Lester asks her about Jane. Angela tells him that Jane is in love. This touches Lester. For the first time in the film, Lester is genuinely interested in his daughter. He is a father reborn. Angela asks how Lester feels. Lester replies “great.” It is this moment that Lester achieves his super-objective. He feels genuine happiness for the first time in ages.
Angela leaves the room for a moment, and Lester is murdered. His body lies on the table, a smile etched on his face. Even though the scene is bloody, there is a poetic beauty in Lester’s smile. Moments before his death, Lester discovers that honest love and affection for others is essential to happiness. Lester recovers from his journey of irresponsibility and realizes that happiness requires balance between selfishness and selflessness. His final moments are happy: Lester attains his super-objective.
Five Minutes of Heaven
By Michael McVey
Originally Published in the Irish Emigrant, August 31, 2009
“Trouble with me is I’ve got all the wrong feelings.” – Joe Griffin
There is a moment in Five Minutes of Heaven when the main character, Joe, is presented with a choice: He can open a door and confront his brother’s murderer – a man who waits willingly for him, three decades after committing the act. Or, Joe can exit out another door, avoiding the possibility becoming a murderer himself, but continuing to live with unbearable anger and guilt imparted to him those 30 years ago. And while the plot of the new film Five Minutes of Heaven may be driven by choices like this, the film itself is really about consequences.
The story begins in 1975 Northern Ireland. The film quickly establishes a sense of time and place by using powerful, and violent archival footage. It transitions into a fictional narrative based on a true account – the killing of Catholic teenager Jim Griffin by 16-year-old Protestant Alistair Little. The murder is made all the more shocking, as it is witnessed by Jim’s younger brother, Joe Griffin.
We cut to present day Ireland, where Griffin and Little are grown men, both en route to a television shoot. Little (Liam Neeson) spent 12 years in prison for his crime and, since his release, has been a tireless proponent of a reconciliation program, designed to help those who’ve committed violent crimes take responsibility for their past. Griffin (James Nesbitt) has since married and raised a family, but is deeply scarred by the murder. We sense his bloodlust brimming below the surface. As the TV crew plans to record the meeting, we get more than a “slight” sense that this looming confrontation may not go well.
Guy Hibbert’s script is an interesting construct – the film’s first act deals with real-life events and characters, and then proposes a fictional “what-if” scenario for the confrontation. The real life Griffin and Little have never actually met, though they gave the filmmakers their consent for this fictional narrative. Bringing an outsider’s perspective to the material, German director Oliver Hirschbiegel took particular pains not to judge the politics of the characters, while still acknowledging the complexity of the conflict. We are presented with several questions…Why do we dehumanize our enemies? How does violence affect families? Is primal instinct stronger than principle?
The filmmakers cast actors James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson against their actual backgrounds – Nesbitt was raised in the Coleraine area of Northern Ireland, and Neeson in Ballymena, County Antrim. Both actors create sincere portraits of men dealing with the consequences of violent acts. Nesbitt injects several humorous touches into his moving portrayal of the anxiety-plagued Griffin. Using voice-over, the film’s excellent sound editing weaves in and out of Nesbitt’s internal dialogue, adding extra dimensions to his performance. Neeson’s gravitas are put to good use, particularly during an interview scene (shot in one long take) that reveals deep seated guilt and uncertainty. Both lead actors create believable characterizations, steering the film away from the pitfalls of heavy-handed symbolism.
Five Minutes of Heaven is disciplined in revealing information to the viewer, and with naturalistic lighting and handheld photography, it succeeds in maintaining a realistic tension throughout. Several touches of humor add levity when needed, including a few well placed barbs at the television industry’s “sensitivity” to its subject matter. While Griffin and Little seem destined to confront each other, the outcome’s uncertainty is played for maximum effect.
The film is straightforward and dialogue heavy, but that is not a criticism. The lead performances by Nesbitt and Neeson, the intensity of the scenario, and the insight of the screenplay make for a compelling drama. Without offering any earth-shattering revelations or solutions, Five Minutes of Heaven makes convincing arguments for reconciliation, using the simplest and purest of reasons.
By Michael McVey
This is why I go to the movies. Co-writer and director Neill Blomkamp’s debut film is an outstanding amalgam of documentary-style realism,thought-provoking constructs, and lots of hardcore, bloody action. Independently produced by Peter Jackson, the film delivers these elements in the guise of science fiction. And like all great sci-fi, the world of District 9 is a prism through which we see our own selves today.
The premise: 28 years ago, an alien ship arrives suddenly over Johannesburg, South Africa. Despite having advanced technology, the alien inhabitants are malnourished refuges, like worker bees without a queen. Unable to return home, they are met with open hostility from a fearful populace and segregated from human society in a crime-ridden slum called District 9…
The filmmakers make bold choices with casting, languages, locations, narrative structure – all of which succeed in creating something truly original. We feel the world the characters inhabit,just as we feel the characters plight, right up to the jaw-dropping, killer climax.
While not perfect (and definitely not for all tastes), this is an incredibly entertaining film. It features first-rate FX, liberal doses of intense action, and it has a lot on its mind – it is great in the way “Mad Max” and “Aliens” are great. This may end up being my favorite film of the year.