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About Jenna Cato Bass

I'm a director, writer, photographer, aspiring explorer and retired magician living in Cape Town, South Africa

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Getting There...

Posted June 23, 2009

Hey there. 

So. Today was good in one particularly significant way: I have money (yes money) in my account. What does this mean? It means that the first installment of NFVF money has come through. It means I can pay my 50grand owed for gear and lights. It means I can wake up in the morning without feeling ill with worry. It means I can pay the people who have been phoning me at strange hours of the night. It means I can pay back my mom some of the money I owe her so she can pay for her holiday in Botswana and a dentist appointment she hasn't been able to book because of me. It means I can afford to exhibit my photographs next week. It means... oh happiness and relief. 

Overall though, it seems the relief comes too late to save me - discovered my first grey hair on Friday in the Edit room... OK, that's not strictly true, we'd found another one on the second day of shooting. Anyway, the historical moment is captured here in high-definition video:

The edit itself is almost done - tomorrow is our last official day... I'll be sad to end....

Then it's time to get footage through to Adrian in FX, catch up on the soundtrack's progress with John, record ADR, track down the rights for obscure 1980s Zimbabwean pop songs from defunct record labels, and begin work with Nic in sound design... the long road continues. It hit me the other day that so far I have spent about 7 months of my life exclusively on this film....I suppose that's not much, but it's the longest I've yet to spend on anything... by the time we're done it'll be close to 8 or maybe 9... something like that kind of adds to the pressure, if you know what I mean. Makes one think. At dinner on the weekend, though we both tried incredibly hard not to, David and I both ended up talking shop - discussed the video we're about to do for ETC Crew and then conversation strayed to even greater things, namely features. What's quite awesome is that David is as keen as I am to get started almost immediately, and it's funny how the second one is faced with doing what one wants to do we sometimes pull back a bit. not much, but a bit, you start to question the project etc etc. but all that is secondary and of no real importance. Purely nerves when you see life stretching before you, misty and distinct at the same time. The script needs work, without doubt, and hopefully a little trip up country with Elwin to visit real cowboys will put everything in place. Jacques even mentioned that if we go ahead, he'll consider not registering to study next year and work on the film instead. Damn. We've got to go for it. 

In other news, a massive storm has his Cape Town. We celebrated our near completion and improved financial stability by going to the beach where Jacques ate a chocolate corndog, ice-cream, pizza and chips and I managed to fall down a sand cliff into a river. Sadly, that particular moment was not captured on camera, so let's make do with the following illustration:

I love storms. When the going gets tough, I think about giving it up and being a professional storm-chaser. Or a chef on an Arctic research station. I'd like that. 

By the way, who's seen the news about Zhang Yimou directing a Blood Simple remake... I suppose it's the only Coen film that vaguely bares consideration as a remake, but still.... interesting.... very interesting....

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Hello Bankruptcy...

Posted June 18, 2009

Saturday night I am going to celebrate my utter bankruptcy by spending the last of my bank account on a massive midwinter dinner. Sort of like Babette's Feast. Except at the end I won't even have two spartan, yet charming Danish women to look after me. 

What is really freaking me out is the looming payment for all our gear, by far the largest chunk of our budget, that is due next week. At the moment, I still have no idea whether the NFVF installment will have gone through by then... so potentially I am screwed. But trying to remain positive. There is something almost spiritual about paying your bills - even as I get closer and closer to being completely broke (which I pretty much reached today), there is a kind of zen-like serenity that comes with that - more like, one less person who can potentially hate me if they're not paid.... maybe it's that... As I said to my parents (talking about what it will be like when the NFVF money comes in) - "It will be so, so, so wonderful not to owe any more money". At which they looked at each other in affectionate despair and said, "Wonderful, another member of the family who is never going to succeed in business."

All is not lost though - am hopefully going to be exhibiting some of my photographic work next week. Maybe I can sell something and use the money to pay for the camera gear.... if not, looks like I'll be selling my camera...

Oh, and an update on the DSLR situation - the cutaways I shot seem to be integrating well, so much so that I may do a few more, especially as there are two scenes which are in desperate need of a smoothing over transition... Just got an email from Jan-Hendrik tell me that the D90 can adjust ISO for video mode... hm, the thing to do would probably be for me to read the manual properly... but why make things easy? Still doesn't solve the aperture situation... nevertheless, my lens is an 18-80mm which is very handy for getting film-like depth of field in the kind of close-up cutaways we need, so we should be fine.

Oh yes, ADR. I hate that whole process. Always find myself apologizing to actors for putting them through it, because it is beyond me how anyone can repeat their dialogue not only in sync, but in the correct mood, energy and emotion that they had a month or so ago. We have a lot of additional dialogue to record. A lot. Some of it is accent related, other parts are lines we've added to clarify certain points that weren't adequately covered on set (yikes, not good. luckily there aren't too many of these). And that's not counting all Elizabeth's narration we still have to do. We had been intending to use the same studio where we'd be recording our soundtrack but, money being as it is (non-existent, i wish i could say "scarce"), this was no longer an option. Thus Jacques and I (wasting precious editing time as Jacques was quick to point out) picked Sibu up from school and drove to a quite, suburban cul-de-sac on the mountain, where, using Jacques's directional mic, we sat in the stifling hot car and recorded the film's integral narration. Despite almost asphyxiating, the results are surprisingly good - not only was the car nicely sound-proof, but, together with the mic, gave a really nice, warm, intimate tone. Very cool. Whether it will work for recording the 5th Brigade commander's ADR, I'm not so sure... Luckily, we've run into Pete, a sound designer who's offered to help us out in the areas where we, uh, need help - namely ADR and 5.1 mixing. Yay. Thanks Pete. 

Otherwise, in between gossiping and consuming large mounds of peanut-butter toast (on which we subsist) - progress is being made in the editing suite, as Jacques will now relate:

In the next post - hopefully more fun, excitement and borderline hysteria. Will also try get James, our production assistant and all-round aspirant filmmaker prodigy to dress up as a troubadour. Or similar. 


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"Am I Hypersensitive?"

Posted June 14, 2009

Woken up on Friday, feeling ill with a cold, by my dog barking - my NFVF contract had arrived, after weeks of waiting and hundreds of increasingly snappish phone calls (apologies to Neiloe at the NFVF). I felt dizzy. Spying my trusty bottle of rescue remedy (which I had taken every night leading up to and during the shoot, for the placebo effect if not anything else), I dropped a few into my mouth. What I really felt like doing was pouring a whole lot into my shoe waving my arms around and saying, in my best Bavarian accent "Am I hypersensitive? Am I persistent?" Don't know what I'm on about? Please watch "Julien Donkey Boy". You refuse to? Well in that case, you should at least watch this. And you suck. 

So the contract was here. Except it was not - turned out it was the old version without the amendments. Nearly had an aneurism. Another phone call to Neiloe sorted this out and I was able to drag myself to join Jacques at the studio where he was finishing the first cut to send to the NFVF as out second deliverable. He'd been up till 6am the night before, I'd been lazy and copped out at 4am. I hate rough cuts. I even hate first cuts. I hate showing them to other people, and after screening it to John who needed to get a sense of it to start the soundtrack, I've sworn never to do it again unless it's essential. So far, there's much that bothers me about the cut - not Jacques editing, but just our lack of good coverage during many of the scenes - something which happens when you're on a too-tight schedule and you're panicking. Another biggie is that it seems the sound input on the camera we hired (not being able to afford a nagra we recorded straight to tape) was faulty, and Nic, our sound designer, is now faced with hundreds of sound takes riddled with spikes and glitches - unusable. argh. 

Other things too have been plaguing me, and they're big, bigger than glitched sound or outstanding invoices - i won't go on about it here (like always will save the angst for someone who has no choice but to listen to my complaints... namely Jacques). But I am going to swear something right here and now, something that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with this film, but I suppose a blog is the most public platform I'm going to get to make a sworn statement: For my next film, I am going to camera operate myself. This is something I've been leaning towards for a while. But it's final. I've just got to. 

So, onto better things, like Anthony Dod Mantle - watched Festen yesterday and was blown away by the camera work. More than anyone here's someone who uses to simple power of the frame to make an impact. And don't get me started on how he moves the camera. More and more it seems to me that more often than not, the camera can be liberated to great effect, making it less and less important what model you're using or how expensive it is. Good news for us low-budget filmmakers. And on that note - Roberto Quezada-Dardon's article on DSLR filmmaking - as a semi-proud D90 owner, yes, this is very interesting - Of course, at first it seems too good to be true - a large HD sensor, excellent image quality, interchangeable lenses (if you have them or can hire). However, there are some drawbacks to be made aware of before we all jump off our couches and run out the door, shrieking into the street (as I am often tempted) - bare in mind I'm talking about the D90 now, I'm not sure about the Panasonic or the Canon (but if you want to be sure, check out DP Review) - aperture and shutter speed are not manual - you can lock exposure and you can use exposure compensation, but this is not, naturally, ideal. In some artificial lights, even simple bulbs, you can get banding. Depending on your lens, focus isn't easy as the camera just isn't designed for manual, handheld video functionality. And then there's the sound issue - the in-camera mic, is really not good at all (and picks up all the rustling and creaking that comes when you turn the focus wheel), and there's not input for another option, so you've got to go the external route, which costs more money. BUT, like most things there are ways around this. You can invest in some second hand sound gear (which I am intending to do as soon as my bank account is replenished), you can build a follow focus for your lens, you can make sure your filming is confined to smaller areas, without any dramatic changes in light, and you can build yourself a handheld rig. And all this is actually a lot of fun and still relatively exciting. So yes, I think shooting a music video with it is the next step and we'll go from there, though I did find myself at 11pm last night sitting in front of my fireplace filming sparks which we had not caught a cutaway of on set, to try out in an effects sequence. So we'll see soon. 

In another response to a Focus-featured article - David Parkinson's blog post "Not Waving, Only Drowning" - thank you Mr Parkinson, for being the first person (I've cyberly encountered) to say it like it is - no one likes to critisize a good film, especially when their first response was to be entertained, and seldom do we probe further: how did this film effect me? Did it really move me? I'm stepping out of the cinema, is the world the same as I left it? Of course, I know all films cannot be like this, but I miss the days (not that I was alive), when film changed things and changed people and changed itself. There have been a few films of recent years where I've seen a glow of something new, a direction, and what else can we do but follow that, or forge our own paths. I don't know if my current film has done it. We'll have to see. But if I fail this time, I know we'll keep at it. What else can we do?

To sign out, two more post videos with Jacques (still from the manifesto day), which may hopefully entertain. (Yes James?)



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Going Slow(er)...

Posted June 08, 2009

Running through the rain, sprinting to get to the bank to change the limit on my account before it closes at 3.30 (which is in like, five minutes), I think to myself: I should really get better at running. My legs are useless. And running is important. Especially for director/producers. Werner Herzog was right - he says:

At my utopian film academy I would have students do athletic things with real physical contact, like boxing, something that would teach them to be unafraid. I would have a loft with a lot of space where in one corner there would be a boxing ring. Students would train every evening from eight to ten with a boxing instructor: sparring, somersaulting (backwards and forwards), juggling, magic card tricks. Whether or not you would be filmmaker by the end I do not know, but at least you would come out as an athlete.

He also says:

Everyone who makes films has to be an athlete to a certain degree because cinema does not come from abstract academic thinking; it comes from your knees and thighs.

So there you go. The physical is important. And how I know it: The other day, Jacques dropped our R3000 lacie harddrive with all our (unbacked up) transferred footage, on the stone floor. At that moment, the physical was very important. I screamed, "OH MY GOD" really loudly and then collapsed in the corner. It wasn't a high point. But miraculously everything's OK. I think. 

Dinner on Friday with the Africa First crowd (minus Edouard and Dyana) was cool - I don't know how everyone managed to appear so calm, considering they are shooting in two weeks. If it had been me, I'd have been a nervous wreck. Nevertheless, I managed to get through all three courses without embarrassing myself, or David, too much, except when I ordered a main course of just chips and David threatened not to speak to me for a week. Oh, and when I took my endangered marine species list out and consulted it while he was ordering his fish. Don't think he enjoyed that much. Sorry David.  

Post continues: Jacques has been very serious and forbade me from watching anything until he's lain all the footage down in an acceptable fashion - rather sensible of him - but the first cut is due tomorrow and so we'll spend the day together working on it then. Have been filming here and there, but the results are probably more illustrative of buggering around than productive workflow . Nevertheless, here is a video - though possibly, unless you know Jacques and I it's a bit... oy, this is very unprofessional - but Trevor, you like it, yes?

Still waiting anxiously for the NFVF contract to be couriered. I dreamt it arrived the other night. It was wonderful. Basically, until it is couriered, signed, sealed and re-couriered, I won't get my first installment. And I really, really need that first installment. Really really.

On Saturday I finally managed to take my first proper, official break since, well, for the last 4 or 5 months. It was hard, usually when I try relax, it's not long before various unpaid bills, unmade phonecalls, outstanding tasks and assorted film-related anxieties bombard me and beat me around the head like disgruntled cartoon birds. But on Saturday I switched off my phone and computer. And alphabetized my DVD collection. And slowly, but surely, I've been allowing the luxury of switching off my phone at 8pm. wow, it feels good. And of course finding time to catch up on movie watching - revisited Pulp Fiction (I need to have a serious debate with someone about Tarantino. I really need to - any takers?) and about to revel in the glory of Al Pacino in "...And Justice for All". Oh joy. 


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Post: Day 1

Posted June 02, 2009

Spoke to Kisha last night (hi Kisha) who runs the Africa First Program - she's down in cape town, so am really looking forward to seeing her and possibly hammering her with questions on a few important matters. She says that she and some other NY people read my blog. Yay. I hope it's entertaining. This inspired me so much that I decided to write my next post immediately. (A)Typically, 24 hours later, here I am... 

We've made it to the edit - officially, today was, as declared in this blog's title: POST: Day 1. Jacques has moved his "office" to my "studio" and we're all set - all we have to do now is make sure I don't hang around and get in the way, as is my wont. But I did decide that, seeing as I'm worried that the shoot was woefully under-documented in terms of behind the scenes material, I'd try keep a post-production video diary of how we progress. OK. I know, this is faar less exciting than a production diary. A lot. But um. ja. There you have it. Ladies and gentlemen, I present: Jacques de Villiers - experimental video artist, avid hiker, connoisseur of cream cakes, proud miniature schnauzer owner and also, my editor: 

(I should mention first, in my haste to get this posted I didn't wait to get a before and after clip of what Jacques is talking about in the video [I'll try tomorrow] as capturing off the computer screen doesn't show much- basically, the film is meant to begin with a long, atmospheric track down a underground tunnel...)

Filmed it with my D90, which despite my original reservations is starting to live up to expectations (kind of) - it's great as, whenever I've filmed anyone, they're really natural and candid thinking I'm taking stills of them and not video... little do they know... excellent... I feel like a spy... or a private detective... both are good. 

But yes, a media intensive blog post it is today - probably inspired by Jacques being busy in final cut, I've felt left out. I've been meaning to post these two videos of Orli & Maike in the last few days before the shoot (oh, how healthy we looked back then).

Also, having our transfers done with (yes, I'm not going to discuss what that was like - watching rushes is always painful for me... though I have experienced worse) means I can sneak some stills when Jacques takes a break - I'm always too hasty and post a whole lot at once, so I'm going to try for one every post. Here's number 1:

I've been thinking a lot lately about the future. As one does. Sat down with David the other day and effectively tried to get him to plan the rest of my year for me. Of course no can really do that. Not even a producer. In the end, all he was really sure of was that I would make no money whatsoever. He felt so strongly on this point that he offered to write it in blood, put it in a bottle and bury it under the tarmac of his parking lot for posterity. I said sure, he should do that. But he has to film it so I can put it on my blog. Thought it'd be funny. You know. 

But yes, the future. There's a few projects I'm trying to decide between, and then of course there's Flat Land (of 'rejected by sundance' fame) which is actually complete. In times like these, what do you do? Come up with a completely new concept for a script. In fact I have my Dad to blame, who accosted me in the kitchen (OK, accost is not the right word, I just like the sound of it and it reminds me of Twelfth Night "Good Mistress Accost...") and told me what he thought the subculture for my next film should be. I thought it over. Damn. He's right as always. I'm regretably precious about film concepts, but here's a clue:

Soon soon...


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