I was reading a book the other day. An old book, from 1991 – John’s Grisham’s “The Firm”. I won’t mention the shallow sexist fantasies this book promotes, nor the vapid, materialistic values the main (good) characters manifest. Nor I go into why I am reading this book (I own it because in 1996 I found it on the street in front of my building, I picked it up because it was free and I felt I needed to start building a library). What struck me in that old old book was that those characters are constantly talking about doing research. They have their secretaries go to libraries, and they themselves sift through piles of paperwork for hours. They even make phone calls to accomplish the research! How amusing!…
Research is easy these days. Mirror Mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?
Google is pretty much like the Magic Mirror – it gives you a reflection of yourself, of your wants. How you punch in the question, that’s the answer you get.
I have to make paper mache sets for my film. Some of the characters wander into a forest.
- How does a forest look?- I ponder. Not that I don’t know how a forest looks but it’s perplexing starting a forest out of newspaper and glue without exact image in my head. I could get a train ticket and get out of New York into a nearest forest. But I don’t because: 1) it costs money 2) it takes time 3) it’s not the right forest anyway (my paper mache forest has to be Latvian) 4) you can’t get green tea in delis outside New York.
So I Google “forest” and look what I find!:
It is just what I was looking for – the unobstructed by bushes, clear ground (making paper mache bushes would take all the time I have and would leave nothing for making the film) and the tall, unaffected by fungus pine trees. It creates nice sense of the set’s dimensionality. I print out the picture and put it in front of me while immersing my hands in glue. There is one thing I have noticed before – my hands are in conspiracy with my eyes. The eyes see, the hands make. They don’t need me to tell them what to do.
Three days later they have created a forest. Here it is:
Hmm… maybe not exactly like in the picture, but close, eh? The characters take their little stroll in the forest and even find a mushroom.
But the other character has to fly away from the forest. I need an airplane. To make the story realistic I would probably have to make a commercial airliner because the flight is transcontinental, but I find airliners visually boring, just a long white sausage with a row of holes. I Google “small airplane”and click on “images” button… It is small and it is charming:
Here’s my hand version of this aircraft:
- Well, – you’ll say. – Doesn’t it look like a dolphin?
Oh well, it takes only a millimeter here and millimeter there for something to look like something else. But I am very proud to be sending my character overseas in this dolphin airplane. It’s pretty visual and thought inspiring.
Oh, and then I needed money. Not the green money: why everybody associates money with green color? Money has variety of colors, just Google it! I needed Czarist Russia’s 100 ruble banknotes. One of the film’s characters spends 2 years locked in a Warsaw apartment painting the banknotes by hand to raise money for his political activity. Here’s what I found, still not sure if this used to be real money:
The two headed eagle is pretty mysterious until you read Wikipedia entry. It represents Tzars double sovereignty - religious and secular. Ah, history is so delicious!
Here’s my version of the same banknote:
I actually prefer my version. My eagle got more character, the dualness of Tzar’s sovereignty is right in your face, whether you are buying bushels of wheat or barrels of crack – you’ll never forget that the Ruler has the claim on your Spiritual Path as well as on your Lust for your Wife.
The project also required building a house. Again, not just some suburban tasteless villa that people who wish they were rich live in, but a very specific house on a very specific hilltop. It had to look like this or nothing:
This was the hardest of them all. Note the unusual roof and strange small entrance room. I am not an architect, I have no idea how those things come together. It only looks easy, but try to make a replica in paper mache and you are going to be daunted. I put the set aside a few times, but the deadline kept pressing. I just couldn’t master it.
- Fuck it, – I finally said. – I think I am looking too much at the picture. I can’t get what is in the picture, so let me try something else.
So I threw out the house printout and started from zero, relying only on memory. Here’s the paper mache house, ready for move-in:
I know it doesn’t look like the original house at all, but better this than nothing. Next time I’ll have a group of architecture experts guiding my paper mache construction work.
There is a scene in the film where a young woman marries and starts feeling trapped like a fox, to be killed and skinned. Her husband has her hide. I had to make a fox hide for the husband to wipe his feet in. Last time I stepped on a hide (it was a beaver by my Mom’s bed) was more than 2 years ago, so I needed to look it up. The sweet skin of an innocent fox:
I rolled up the sleeves, put the glue on an old paper (post elections 2008, what unbelievably old news!) and twisted it the best I could. A little paint later and here’s a paper mache hide by the bed:
There would be no film if there was no barn. The family in the film at that moment is suffering through Second World War. Russians had confiscated their cow and a horse, the Germans took the remaining cow and a horse. The only thing the family has left to eat is rabbits that they grow in the empty barn. I find barn interiors very visual – horizontal lines meet vertical lines in a very elegant way. See what a nice picture my research found:
But I was worried that alone I wouldn’t not achieve this elegance. I invited the Master of the Lights Sturgis Warner to collaborate on the barn.
- Don’t you have anything else to do on the project?- he asked.
I did, so I left him alone with the barn set. When I returned, Sturgis presented me with the most amazing barn. I wish I could enter it:
Now, you’ll ask:
- How about research on those characters of yours? Where do THEY come from?
I did an extensive research on how people dressed in that time or the other (my story spans from 1901 to 2010) and I found characters in the family photo books, like this one:
Note how stylish this man is. He is also extremely entrepreneurial, adventurous, opportunistic and self absorbed. In the language of contemporary USA politics one would diagnose him as a Republican, but he was actually a fervent Social Democrat.
Here’s my loving rendering of this character, Indulis:
But now – back to research!