Wednesday, November 11, 2009

ARIA -- a short film directed by Guto Bussab, written by Roy Blumenthal

Guto Bussab directed this film, opting to shoot on real 16mm film. I co-produced with him and Rudi Pieterse. And I wrote the script.

We shot the film over two-and-a-half days, using three locations in Joburg. Norman Coombes was an absolute trooper. At this point in his life, he had almost no sight left. He was as good as blind. And he was old. One of the shoot days had us doing an intense and late afternoon/night shoot in an antique shop. At the end of the shoot, Stafford, our Director of Photography, called, 'Check the gate.' This is a ritual in film. The gate is the bit in front of the lens where the film rushes through. If it's clear, it means all's well. If there's a little piece of film stuck in it, it means trouble.

As it happened, the gate wasn't clear. We had filmed for an entire 6-hour period, with NO film rushing past the lens. We had to reshoot the scene in ten minutes, after calling Norman and Frantz back from their car.

This film was the last one Norman Coombes made before he died. He was into his late 80s when we shot it, and he was long dead by the time our unbearably complex edit was over.

This film was a lesson in 'What CAN go wrong WILL'.

The chief catastrophe, from which we almost couldn't recover, was that a good third of our shot footage was processed by the film lab at the wrong ASA rating. And so it ended up not just vaguely unusable but completely unusable. Viewing rushes is a dangerous and scary thing. When you view the rushes and you cannot see anything but darkness and golf-ball-sized clods of misshapen light, that fear becomes bile-like.

Which meant that the film had to be pieced together by Damon Berry and Digby Young. They literally took my script, worked out what we intended with the movie, and then created an entirely new story out of the footage available to them.

They fought another monumental battle in that long edit. As it happens, Guto's 16mm camera had a problem that nobody knew about. The crystal in the camera which keeps audio and picture synchronised was broken. So the film wandered between 23 and 26 frames per second. Which meant that there was NO lip synch. None whatsoever.

So when Digby and Damon delivered us a film, it took me and Philip Haupt about a week in the audio studio getting a salvageable lip synch out of the cut.

Only two things went really well. One was the music by Dan Selsick. He composed the aria specifically for the film. And the other was the post-production funding I secured from the NFVF, South Africa's National Film and Video Foundation.

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