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Friday, November 28, 2008

Conversations With Other Women. The split screen technique.

More update on the Japanese short film I've been writing lately (read about my seriously comical research on Akihabara maids in preparation for my writing). Being a melancholic tale of an old man and a young girl wandering aimlessly through the empty streets at the span of a night, chit-chatting, and haunted by memories of lost love, missed opportunities etc.

Yes, even before Allan pointed it out, I was highly aware that the synopsis sounded like Tan Chui Mui's short film, A TREE IN TANJUNG MALIM...

Not that Mui was the one who innovated such a genre. And aside from being a Japanese film, the storyline is vastly different from hers. But then, if I were to make this a minimalistic film (which was my initial plan), accusations of being unoriginal may be inevitable. Thus I started rethinking other methods to present the story, sifting through the film library in my head, and then, I suddenly thought of Hans Canosa's CONVERSATIONS OF OTHER WOMEN, a 2006 film starring Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter. I saw the film last year, and it was interesting because the entire film was in split screens.

However, instead of being gimmicky, the split screen technique was used as a necessary storytelling technique. Aside from boosting its rewatch value, CONVERSATIONS WITH OTHER WOMEN turns audiences into perceptual editors, so they mentally edit the film themselves based on how they want to watch it (by choosing which frame to pay attention to). Let me provide you the numerous clips of the film on Youtube so you have an idea what it's like.

Of course, by going with the split screen experiment does not make my film any more appealing to the masses, in fact, predicted complaints of film being 'too slow and arty' will probably shift to 'too fast and chaotic, hard to keep up, bloody arty!". On the other hand, it open numerous new opportunities for me to explore the story with, and I'll be using two cameras for the shoot instead of one. quite an interesting try.

During my days in Perth, when I was experimenting and studying filmmaking, I was very in love with the split screen technique. And had used them on my early video experiments, and also my student films, VERTICAL DISTANCE and GIRL DISCONNECTED. In fact, for VERTICAL DISTANCE (horribly dated now due to my immaturity and lack of experience in filmmaking then) I think its best scenes are those split screen sequences.

At that time, I haven't seen CONVERSATIONS WITH OTHER WOMEN yet, but I thought it was used well (and memorably) in Ang Lee's THE HULK, Aronofsky's REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, Alexander Payne's SIDEWAYS, some Tarantino films, numerous Japanese films and anime, the TV series 24, and even Andrew Lau's Initial D. I was tempted to make split screens my personal signature as well. However, I ended up not using it in the short films that I made this year because, well, story comes first, not the self-conscious need to impose one's own stylistic signature. However, the writing of the script became more challenging (and experimental). I put in a 2-column table, each column representing a screen. Here's a sample of what I wrote:
Normally I use FINAL DRAFT PRO for my screenwriting, but this time, I shifted to MS Word to do this. Of course, the title of this blog post isn't only about the film CONVERSATIONS WITH OTHER WOMEN,, but also an interesting process I went through to write the script, which involved some conversations with other (Japanese) women. It's tricky to write about a foreign culture without committing the usual mistake of exoticizing or stereotyping it. Therefore, I enlisted the invaluable assistance of Japanese lady friends during the writing of the script. Lia the Artist and Maiko the Producer (who had just returned from her 3-month internship at Toei in Kyoto). What I did was I had them sitting around as I was writing, and asked whether they would react like that, or whether an old Japanese dude would say something like that. In simpler terms, they acted as my 'bullshit filter', calling me out if something felt wrong for them. For example: there was a scene where the old guy asks the young woman whether she has a boyfriend, she says yes, and he asks her to tell him his name... immediate Lia the Artist said that a Japanese old dude wouldn't really do that. Totally out of character. And so I made my changes. Thanks to my conversations with other women while writing my CONVERSATIONS WITH OTHER WOMEN-influenced screenplay, I've completed its second draft (the first draft wasn't in split screens) but I still need to do some more tweaking with my script. Even when I'm done with it, and after I get it translated, my script will still serve mostly as guidelines, I'm assuming that I will work closely with the actors, allowing them to analyze their characters, improvising and adding more lines to what I have. For another example of cool use of split screen technique, here's Cibo Matto's Sugar Water music video by Gondry. Love the use of split screens here as well.
Well, folks, can you think of any other cool examples of split screens used nicely on music videos, films or TV? (UPDATED 28TH OF OCTOBER, 2009:) It's amusing to do an update nearly a year after writing the original blog post. The script I mentioned above that I was writing would end up becoming a short film called KINGYO. I then shot KINGYO in January 2009, completed its post-production in June 2009 and premiered it in competition at the 66th Venice Film Festival. Of course, it was mostly in split screens. Here is its trailer.
(UPDATED 26TH OF NOVEMBER, 2014:) And here is the entire short film.