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Month: February 2018

My Behind-the-Camera Goals

Becoming a director is my ultimate goal, and what I am studying at school. To me, it is one of the hardest things about making a film or TV show. You can have a great script, fantastic actors, and top notch people doing every job, but every single one of those people takes his or her cue from the director. It is both an intimidating and exciting job and I can’t wait to start doing it for real.

Since everyone looks to the director for guidance, I want to be able to remain strong in my convictions. Thanks to my upbringing and experiences, I feel like I have a unique perspective to offer, and I never want to lose sight of that – especially not when I am behind the camera. I am not saying that I won’t listen to constructive criticism or that I will ignore ideas from the cast or crew. I never want to muddle my vision, however. I want to be confident enough to accept when somebody has a better idea and when I need to just stick with my own plans.

It’s definitely a work in progress. The first few times I have been a director on school projects, I have been incredibly nervous. It’s one thing to be messing around with friends who are eager to listen because you know better than they do. It is an entirely other experience to be here in school with people trying to become professional actors and film crews, who have definite opinions on how things should be done and aren’t afraid to tell you so. But, especially when we’re dealing with a topic that is in my wheelhouse, I am trying more and more to make sure my voice is heard and my directions are followed. That means having more self-confidence than I think I have had in my whole life.Luckily, the more experience I get, the easier it is to find.

Another goal of mine is to be sure to portray the subject matter authentically. I feel it is important to be true to the material as far as set design, dialogue, and costume go. I want to do research and to have trusted consultants and experts that I can talk to so that I can verify that everything we’re doing is as accurate as possible. I know that won’t always be easy, but it is something that truly matters to me. Being true to the things that matter to you will help make you a better director. At least, that’s my opinion.

My last goal is to be good at directing. That might seem silly, or even just way too obvious. But, because there is such a lack of Native American women in the entertainment industry in general, every mistake I make will reflect poorly on both my people and my gender. The better I am, the easier it will be for all the Native Americans and women who come after me. That’s a lot of pressure to put on myself, but I think it is important to keep it in mind.

When a Film Shows the Truth

Some of the students in my editing class go to the movies together every other week or so. Afterwards, we sit around and dissect whatever we saw: if there were plot holes, scenes we would have shot differently, the pacing, things like that. It can be really helpful to talk about this stuff after having just seen it: we can talk about concepts in class, and we can try them ourselves, but seeing it on a huge screen in a crowded theater reminds you that there is a final product that real people pay actual money to see.

We went to see Wind River recently. If you’ve never seen or heard of it, it is a movie about a man who works for the Fish and Wildlife Service. He’s out on reservation land (and it is based on a real reservation) and finds the dead body of a Native American woman. The movie spirals downward from there. It is one of those movies that was a real heartbreaker of an ending – and you know it will by the way things happen throughout the movie, but you can’t help but feeling that way at the end anyway.

Two things stood out to me, while I’d say only one stood out to my classmates.

First, I’ll go with the obvious one: the film is based on a real incident, and it helped to shed light on some of the ways that Native American Reservations are a tough place to live. They are not designed for its people to live a respected, autonomous life. It is, in no way, separate but equal to the way other American citizens are protected. Back in the 70s, a non-Suquamish man living on a Suquamish reservation, was arrested and charged with a crime. To make a long, disturbing story short, this man claimed that he wasn’t subject to tribal law because he wasn’t a member of the tribe. And the Supreme Court agreed with him. Let that sink in for a minute. Can you imagine that as a rule anywhere else? Say your parents are hit and killed by a drunk driver, but the person who hit them lives in another state – they get away with the crime because the police who arrested him aren’t from his state. Do you hear how crazy that sounds? Anyway, the movie brought up the disgusting fact that federal agents have to get involved and that many people get away with doing horrible things to Native Americans on their own reservations. It is appalling, and it was good to see so many of my classmates get an idea of how awful it is.

The other thing, and this was something that I noticed that they might not have (because nobody brought it up), was toward the end. One of the older members of the tribe is sitting outside with paint on his face. He calls it a “death mask” and the main character asks him about it. The man replies that he doesn’t know if he did it right, because there is nobody left to teach him. That part hurt my heart so much. I think of the pride and culture that my people had, that has been slowly stripped away and died with our elders.

That’s why I think what I am doing is so important. I need to preserve our stories, show our people, and continue our culture.

Today in the Editing Room

Today in my editing class, we talked about making hard choices. There are always going to be decisions made in the editing room that we might not like but that would be better for our film or show in the long run. My professor talked to us about how there would be times in our career where we were completely in love with a scene, for whatever reason, and would have to trim it down or completely cut it. Whole characters – even impeccably performed by great actors – might need to be eliminated.

He was speaking from experience, of course. He told us a story about how he finally had a chance to make a film adaption of a book he had loved. When every scene was shot and the filming wrapped, the movie was too long by at least a half hour. He had to cut a scene that was one of his absolute favorites in the book. While it was a great scene and the actors did their jobs well, it didn’t drive the plot forward well enough and letting it go freed up a lot of the time he needed. We talked a little about how hard it is to translate something cerebral like a book (meaning most of the action plays out in your mind) to something as visual as a performance. Things have to adapt and change in order to go from one to the other, and there’s an endless amount of ways for you to accomplish the task.

Our professor also talked about how it isn’t all bad, and how there are workarounds. Directors create special “Director’s Cut” versions to be released for home viewing, or even add everything to a deleted scenes section on the disk or streaming service. There are ways to have everything we want, he said, even if it is after the theatrical release.

It really got me thinking. I am not looking forward to making the kinds of decisions he is talking about. I know that in the grand scheme of things, this is the job. There will always be choices like that. There will always be good scenes that don’t make it into the final cut for whatever reason. It sucks and it isn’t fair but it is reality and I will have to come to terms with that if I want to be a real director someday. While I know that there is a “consolation prize” so to speak as far as director’s cuts or deleted scenes go, it is still hard for me to accept right now. I can’t imagine being so attached to something and then having to get rid of it. The idea that all of our hard work, and all that emotion, would end up on the cutting room floor and potentially wouldn’t be seen by anyone is a little heartbreaking.

I don’t know if I need a thicker skin, if I need to be better at managing time and pacing (so I run into this issue less) or if I need to be less emotionally involved in what I do, but I will have to find a way – or combination of ways – that works for me so that I, and any project I am working on, survive the editing room!