Director's Journal Notes by Antero Alli



SEPT. 28, 2006
Shooting has begun on my next feature film, "The Mind is a Liar and a Whore", and so far, the footage is looking very promising. It's such a huge risk and a gamble to turn a script into an actual movie. So often, what works on the page falls flat in front of the camera.

I am always looking for those unplanned moments,
happy accidents and runaway improvisations.

Sometimes, I come to the set with all these plans and throw them away because sometimes what happens in the heat of the moment is more interesting than what was created alone in front of my computer writing the screenplay. Such a crapshoot, this filmmaking process and probably a big reason why I do it. I like the high sense of uncertainty combined with the strong force of the vision I am following.

The story we are following starts out very stable and comfortable but soon tips and topples into a series of wild reactions all the characters have to a state of emergency that I won't disclose here except to say, it points to a highly likely catastrophe for which we as a society are ill-prepared to endure. Rather than focus on this mysterious catastrophe, our movie explores the reactions of half a dozen people stuck together in a kind of boarding room house for forty-eight hours.

One of the characters, Ona, is an old skool YouTuber webcast celebrity. You can see one of the webcasts of her show, "The Mind is a Liar and a Whore" right now by clicking this

 


Brady Woolery (BRENT), Cassie Powell (ONA), David Gauntlett (SAM)
waiting patiently for their next shot

OCT. 5, 2006
The first draft of my screenplay was finished over the first three weeks of last August. Over the next two weeks, I found my final draft while auditioning actors. We rehearsed for the next three weeks and here we are now at October 5th with only six more shooting days to go. Since mid-Sept., we have been shooting half days (about 6-8 hours) because I do better work in that rhythm than shooting 12-14 hour days (like they do in the big stinky pro film studio industry). After our shoot schedule ends, we'll have shot about fourteen half days.

Many filmmakers may wonder how the hell we can shoot a feature, and do it well, in such a short time ? Stellar casting, a very small well-oiled crew and artful catering. It also helps that I totally know what I want. I know where each and every scene is going while staying open to those magical little moments -- happy accidents -- where the characterts' subtext and their situations can be exposed without words.


Bekah Barnett (LILY) and Duncan Cook (HANK)

I am totally exhausted. I approach each feature project with the intention of exhausting everything I know about this process. It's the only way I know how to grow and develop. In this exhaustion, I sometimes feel as if I am growing new sense organs and cutting new neurological grooves in my brain, which may be totally bullshit but that's how it feels. I place my faith in the the escalating whirlwinds of upward motion that some athletes call "second wind".

Shooting will be over by October 15th. I say this with confidence as I have been reviewing footage along the way and so far, nothing needs to be reshot. This can be attributed to the fact that we keep shooting each scene, getting more and more coverage, until I get what I want. I don't move forward until I got exactly what I wanted or better; often times, it's better. It is never less. I know what constitutes "better" is a subjective asessment. This is why each new film I make gets better, in my eye (and in those who tell me), than the last one.

Each of my films could not be more different from each other.
I am commited to not repeating myself.

I will start reviewing the footage with an eye to editing in a week or two and continue this process for about another month or so. During this time, I will manually edit a rough cut at home (on vhs dupes imprinted with timecode for those who know about that) and around December 1st, bring all the footage, my rough cut and notes to my editor Chris Odell where we will put the movie together over the next two to three weeks. Yes, that's right. Two to three weeks! However, when I include all the time invested in the rough cut, the editing process for this film comes to about three months. This is how I have edited my last five features.

My ideal premiere date for this film is Christmas Day. There's a reason for that but you'll have to see the film to know what it is. I mean, a lot of people traditionally go out and watch a movie on Christmas Day, right ? And so, I don't see why they wouldn't take a chance on a mysterious little indie gem called THE MIND IS A LIAR AND A WHORE. You'd see it, right ?

OCT. 29, 2006
I wonder about the very first human cinema experience. I'm thinking of that enchanting prehistoric moment watching figures previously painted on the cave wall jump to life by the flickering lights of the hearth fire. It's a little like that for me during this period of near sense-deprivation and hermetically sealed solitide...watching the series of takes from each shot and each scene in my dark and tiny editing room. Offline editing has begun and will continue throughout November 28th. On November 29th, we move "online" with my talented editor Chris Odell to finesse the rough cut into the final cut (using Final Cut Pro). Chris has helped me edit my last five features.

I have been reviewing eleven hours of footage for the last two weeks. Of all the many aspects of filmmaking -- writing, rehearsing, shooting, directing -- for me, editing is probably the most creative. It's really where the movie gets made. Often times this involves discovering different sequences for scenes that deviate from my original screenplay and actually work far better than my previous concept. Other times, I find those rare gems of spontaneous moments where the actors were shot without knowing it. I also love to review multiple takes of the same shot to find the various nuances that best communicate what I feel (not think) that moment is truly about.

Cinema, like life itself, is all about moments and memories.
Other than that, cinema and life are not the same to me.

I find myself laughing outloud a lot which is a good thing seeing as this film is my first comedy. However, it is not 100% comedy; I don't think I can do that nor do I remember any comedy being 100% funny. This is looking to me like a dark farce. Maybe a very dark farce; we'll see.

 


Sylvi Alli

I am working closely with Sylvi (my partner in crime) as she conjures up her musical elements for our quirky-creepy-spooky-funny soundtrack which includes her sylvan arrangements of "Amazing Grace" and "Home of the Range". We are siding with "treated" (messed with) acoustic instruments like banjo, harmonica, piano, various percussions, whistling and a maniacal choral. I remain in awe of Sylvi's creativity and artistry (not always the same thing) as she keeps coming up with sounds I've been hearing in my head and also never heard before.

So far, we are on schedule. I have decided to screen a private sneak preview for cast and crew on Monday Dec. 26th and then, premiere it here in Berkeley sometime in January 2007. It is possible that between Febraury and March, Sylvi and I will travel up the coast showing it in half a dozen arthouse venues as we go; we'll see...

 

NOV. 6, 2006
The first rough cut is done today (this happened faster than even I expected). It's called "the rough cut" for good reasons. The audio is often awful, the picture quality is sometimes very poor and the transitions can be sloppy yet, all the shots and scenes are in place (the audio and picture quality is cleaned up and enrichened in the final cut). The movie is ready to be watched as a whole for the purpose of correcting any mistakes, deleting or adding shots and most importantly, building the soundtrack. Sylvi and I have decided on an overall tone of tense whimsy.

Today we'll be sitting down to watch the dummy (my nickname for the rough cut) while listening with our innermost ears to feel (not think) where the music she has already created best serves the moment and what new music still needs composing and recording. One of the many things I like about working with Sylvi is how we are not always on the same page. We argue. It's sometimes difficult for each of us to yield our separate points of view when it comes to our creative processes. This simultaneously makes us very good at what we do and also, a little stupid.

Sometimes, I'm right and sometimes she's right. Where her strength offers solutions of subtlety and harmony, mine work with more forcefully dynamic results. Sometimes her solutions can be too timid, just as mine can be too brutal. Whenever we can find that magical key to unlock this mysterious union of seemingly incongruous juxtapositions, we have success. How this happens, however, remains a mystery to me.

But when I think about it, it's not so mysterious. We share a certain kind of mutual respect which affords just enough intrigue to consider that the other may actually have the better idea; a humbling and enthralling prospect for each of us. This works really well for me because I believe the best idea should always win, wherever it comes from.

DEC. 5, 2006
I've been editing online (Final Cut Pro) with my talented editor Chris Odell and am enthralled to say we are just two edit days away from completing the final rough cut of the whole movie. This means I am a full week ahead of schedule and could possibly hold a private screening in my home as soon as Dec 19th. But... I will patiently wait until the 26th to experience the movie on the big screen in the company of others during our private sneak preview. I am now negotiating with Gaia Arts Center in downtown Berkeley for a January 15th public premiere, with possible Monday night screenings there January 22 and 29.

I love this movie. Just like the ones that came before it, it is unlike any of my others. It's very colorful (literally and figuratively) and, very funny. The performances are strong all around in this genuinely all-star, no-star ensemble work. Sylvi has created an entire musical score that is unlike any other music she has made before. The soundtrack also features two original songs from my Chilean filmmaker friend, Andres Tapia-Urzua (you can hear one of them at the movie page), a beautiful aria by Handel sung in character by actress Rebekah Barnett and a choral arrangement of "Home on the Range" by the Opelika Ladies League Campfire Singers.

 


Cassie Powell as "Ona"

DEC. 21, 2006
Negotiations for three screenings at Gaia Arts Center in downtown Berkeley came to grinding halt when I read their complicated contract (designed for corporations and non-profits; we are neither) stating the necessity for a million dollar insurance policy for each night we were there. This was a first for me. In my ten years of public screenings and rentals, no contract ever included this clause. Though this apparently is probably a standard for corporate contract building use, the additional fees plus the queezy feeling in my stomach have compelled my decision to withdraw our proposal and move on. The world premiere is now set for January 25th at the art gallery venue 21 Grand in Oakland (where my last feature premiered) where venue relations are by and far more artist-friendly.

 

DEC. 27, 2006
Last night's private cast and crew sneak preview was a hit. I was very pleased to see the smiles and hear the laughter from all those who came together to make this movie happen (though sadly Cassie couldn't make it). I am also happy to announce the San Francisco premiere, Feb. 3rd at A.T.A. (Valencia & 21st). This show will probably sell out to a SRO crowd. It's a bitter sweet time for me as the completion of this film coincides with the unexpected passing of my mother who left this plane a little over three weeks ago. In her day, she was a successful photojournalist in Hollywood during the sixties and somehow managed to be the World's Greatest Mom amidst her very busy and very glamorous life. I am very proud of her accomplishments as a woman, a human being and a mother. She will be missed and always loved.

 


JAN. 27, 2007
Thursday night's world premiere screening was a wild success. A full house laughing at all the right places and then, expressing affection for the film after the screening was over; who could ask for more ? I was especially pleased that almost all the cast and crew were present to experience firsthand such public appreciation for their work. After the movie many of us went out for drinks for actor's war stories, bragging rites, and our favorite moments in our very own movie. Some of us even danced to the disco music in the room next door (I won't mention names here). It was a great night; a grand old time was had by one and all...

It was also very cool that two local newspapers, The East Bay Express and the SF Chronicle, invested significant ink (with photos) with a preview and an interview about the film which also helped bring people in. I look forward to the San Francisco premiere at Artist Television Access on Feb. 3rd. to then, afterwards, decide what direction to take next with this movie.

In the meantime I am slowly easing into preproduction for my next feature project, "The Invisible Forest", which I plan to shoot this summer following an intensive 10-day paratheatre workshop. Here I will work very closely with the actors to develop specific characters in crisis with the intention of being improv-ready by the time we reach the forest where most of the filming takes takes place. This will not be a comedy; this will be more of a mystery.

 

FEB. 6, 2007
The San Francisco premiere at A.T.A. was another full house success. It seemed that the San Francisco audience laughed louder and longer than the Oakland audience. A group of us -- Sylvi, me, Sean Christopher and his girlfriend Auriel (who drove down from Sacramento), Bekah, Carole Swann (who I have known since 1977) and Jennifer Bruce -- went out afterwards for a glass of wine. It was a great feeling to be part of these two successful premieres and to know that we created such an entertaining, funny, and insightful movie.

Now I am reflecting on what to do next with this piece. I'd like to screen it in Berkeley next but it's so tough finding afforable venues to exhibit my work in this town, which is sad seeing how I also live here. What I need is a big fat review published by a reputable media mogul which is next to impossible as their policy states "no reviews unless the movie has a weeklong run." Maybe Phil Hall at filmthreat.com will be publishing a review soon.

JUNE 11, 2007
It's time to launch another screening of the film and it's going to happen on June 28th at my favorite Oakland venue, 21 Grand. Hooray! The film finally received its first review. It's posted online at filmthreat.com, a big-time major film review site. They gave it two and a half stars, the lowest rating review I have received from them so far! After reading their review, I realized the film critic did not get the humor; to me and many others, this film is hilarious. And so, I am asking myself: was the critic just in a bad mood that day or was he expecting more serious work (he gave two of my other "serious" films -- "Hysteria" and "The Greater Circulation" -- their highest 5-star rating) ? Aurghhh... Whatever; crushing reviews are better than no reviews. But I have to admit, reading it temporarily took the wind out of my sails and why I have not posted here for four months.

These types of crisis are common and typical to anyone investing so much time, energy, resources, heart and soul into their work only to discover what ? What ?! Making films, especially feature-lengths, is a weirdly exhilarating and uncommonly demanding, crazy-making process. You really have to want to do it more than anything else just to keep doing it and just to finish any film, period. If it were not for my undying love for the process itself -- of working with people I love, doing what I believe in, meeting unforeseen artistic challenges and overcoming them -- it would be utterly impossible for me to proceed. Anyone who has lasped under the Hollywood spell of making it bigtime with international theatrical release for their little no-budget, self-produced feature is already duped. Any mind that tells you otherwise is a liar and a whore.

NOVEMBER 4, 2007
Here I am about a year after this film first got made. The next screening is in five days on Friday November 9th in an old wooden church here in Berkeley whose priest allowed me to screen our movie in their sanctuary. Go figure. I'm excited about this screening. I can totally appreciate the irony of seeing this film projected where the church's altar usually sits, especially with the Brent's (Brady Woolery) big bedroom scene where he performs his private ritual to his equally private god. The acoustics in the room are fantastic and their house sound system and projector are also quite good. After the lights go down we won't even notice that we're sitting in pews.

These past several months I have been busy in the bat cave editing "THE INVISIBLE FOREST", my next feature which was shot over the summer without the safety net of a screenplay. We're stealing text from Shakespeare and Antonin Artaud, as well as narratives I am now writing in post-production. It's a very, very different film than "MIND", not nearly as funny and a whole lot more strange. What made it really strange for me was casting myself in the lead role of a theatre director haunted by reoccuring nightmares who undergoes hypnosis in the hopes of getting some sleep and stopping his dreams. Good luck, mister. Most of the film plays out in the internal landscape of his memories and dreams while hypnotized. Yes....a whole lot more strange...

 

 


 

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