Everyone talks about the magic of movies: how one wave of the filmmaker’s wand can create and innovate, reaching the depths of human imagination.
A moving picture is all it is, yet as I stood between the first and second assistant directors with shot lists and makeup artists and costume designers on touch-up-standby, the notion that a movie is just a moving picture seemed farther away from reality than a fantasy film.
The idea of being starstruck by a word didn’t even begin to bridge the realm of possibility, yet when directors and brothers Will and Jackson Pruitt enunciated a certain two syllables on the set of their short film “Stiff,” starstruck was the only emotion visible from a mile away.
The camera became a window for creative genius. Thoughts and scribbles on a storyboard threaded themselves into reality and the Brothers-Pruitt channeled the intricacies of their imagination onto a moving screen.
An experimental short film is the canvas and the ideas range from revival, vitality and even decay.
As I walked around the abandoned warehouse setting of the film, listening to chimes of deep orchestral ballads and observing a larger-than-life camera twist and turn on tracks to capture the creative vision, my mind added depth to the usual two-dimensional projections seen at a movie theater.
The two-day shoot for the Pruitts’ short film comprised about fifteen people – all of whom ascribed to their own niches and capitalized on their own talents to create a smoother and visually interesting product.
The director duo clutched stapled pieces of paper and notebooks ridden with scribbles and storyboards — anything to transcribe the creativity in their minds. They then observed and picked a part each shot, searching for perfection in their own creative innovation.
The talent, Lamonte Goode, dressed in hole-ridden clothing and aged 300 years by makeup artist Jack Currier, performed stunts and acrobatics, completely breaking the barriers of the human body and its power in front of a moving camera.
The whole production appeared closer to a dance and maintained a certain contemporary rhythm as Goode performed, collapsing and contorting himself.
The gaffer and his army of grips took charge handling the daunting apparatuses and ever-so-expensive equipment while the director of photography, Ben Goodman, actualized visual elements of the directors’ artistic vision.
The first assistant director, Nate Comay, yelled “Alright, picture’s up. Lock it up. And roll please.”
And consequently: “Cut cut,” (for emphasis, perhaps) as he and his second assistant director undertook the monumental task of coordinating the production and wrangling all things necessary for an easy-as-can-be process.
And while the final product of a film is smooth and fluid, the process it takes to create such a project is anything but. “Rigid” and “stop-start” can be attributed to the rhythm on set as multiple takes were taken.
Repetition was the name of the game. Witnessing upwards of five takes on something the layman would deem so simple added to the attention to detail and artistic drive all parties on set internalized.
A simple brush of makeup here, an adjustment of clothing there. Things I didn’t have the eyes to see were corrected and perfection, even if millions of miles away, was chased incessantly.
Being able to witness that journey to perfection and not just the finished product allowed for an appreciation of an industry completely foreign to me.
I saw art, took a look behind the curtain and was able to peer into the imaginative minds that work towards that very craft every single day. The demystification of a process that was completely alien did not take away from the filmmaking mystique — it added to it, in fact.
As the lights on the set dimmed and c-stands and cameras were put away, people lingered as long as they could — searching for an opportunity to help even as the job was done or perhaps to bask in the glory of creating something.
Makeup was carefully removed from the talent’s face and body and shot-lists were retired. Sighs that were held in for two days were released as “Stiff” went from a happenstance thought to something tangible.
The Pruitt brothers and their cast and crew took a mere idea and brought it closer to reality, and while an audience member is never meant to see the brush strokes that end up creating the art on the canvas, it will be hard to forget the immense awe felt as I witnessed the creation of a masterpiece.
And as the curtain was pulled back on this whole production and your average movie-goer stood on an actual set — industry secrets were not so secret anymore.