"s&co" - a photo by Flickr user austinevan
Thoughts on media, culture, and the world-at-large bubbling up from the dusty corners of my cluttered mind
May 15, 2011
The Crew

Bridesmaids was marketed like a raunch-com centered on female friendship and the absurdities of weddings, but there's a whole lot more going on. The film's wide-ranging (and, to some, surprisingly cross-gender) appeal appeal is based on something far more universal.

Posted By Saralyn on/at 4/10/2010 06:58:00 PM

In the same course for which I made the Twilight video essay, we were tasked with either writing a paper about a documentary or ethnography or making one ourselves. I was going to do the former until a classmate of mine - Tim Posada (who has blogged a bit about the project, including two drafts of our screenplay) - proposed something far more interesting: a mockumentary about his roommates living in the wake of the zombie apocalypse. After three rounds of screenplay editing, wrestling with setting a date for filming, one broken ankle (and several additional injuries), and hours of video editing, I (along with Tim, Cristen Blanding, and Eric Paison) am proud to present "702":

Before moving on, I just want to take a moment to say how pleased I am with our film. Wrangling all the (non-)actors and zombies/extras and keeping them on track was a chore and group projects are not always easy for me, but things came together so well! I feel that we achieved most of what we were aiming for (a contrast between the "day in the life" orientation of the beginning and the more "zombie film" feel of the end, the implication of documentarians in the "stories" they film, "normal life" in extraordinary situations, etc), which is a very satisfying feeling. Tim talks a bit in his blog about the editing process and some of the issues we tried to tackle, so I'll focus a bit more on the process of creation/filming. This was my first experience producing an original film/video project and, as such, much of what I value about the project was in the process.

Perhaps my favorite thing about the film (and making it) is the blurred lines of reality and fiction. Tim and all the roommates in the film are actually roommates who live together in that house. All dialogue about their "past lives" is drawn from their actual ones, and we added no props - everything from the Chuck Norris calendar and Evil Dead's Ash statuettes to the machetes and weapons* were just lying about the house. When we filmed Elliott running on the treadmill in the garage, he hadn't realized we were doing so. He thought Bryan was actually asking him if he wanted lunch, so he responded in kind. This brought up an interesting array of issues, beginning with the interviews (which we filmed at the beginning of the day).

Each roommate had a scripted blurb about themselves we planned to use in the introduction, which we had them begin the interview with. I then prompted each of them with a question about their life before, what's changed, etc, just trying to get them in the mood for the rest of the shoot. I think it's fair to say that, at most, we thought they might come up with a couple of amusing things we could use later. However, once they began talking about being separated from families, missing loved ones, and so on, we were amazed by the amount of good (and surprisingly moving) stuff that came up! It got to the point where we almost felt uncomfortable - it felt as though we were intruding, despite knowing that we were dealing entirely in fiction. Cristen and I discussed how difficult and uncomfortable it would be to jump into situations with people who have survived (or are living in) horrific conditions and ask them to tell us all about it. I can't even imagine doing so.

While we're on the subject of the difficult/awkward/uncomfortable, I'll touch a bit on my role as "cinematographer". When we made the decision in the screenwriting stage to include the "documentarian" in the story (rather than just a silent camera taking it all in), Cristen immediately suggested I play the role.** I was extremely reticent to do so, partly because I've always hated listening to my own recorded voice and partly because I've never been particularly good at filming/photographing. My shaky hands make me self-conscious about taking film or video, but I agreed to do it anyway. We had planned out sequences and shots beforehand (to an extant), which reduced my anxiety a bit. I didn't anticipate how much I would enjoy having the camera in my hands, though! I always try to be attuned to little details about spaces, so it was fantastic to be able to direct the camera in such a visually rich environment (the house).  Shooting the last sequence was extremely hectic and nerve-wracking, as we only had one chance to get it.  The result was a bit mixed, in my opinion - I feel as though we captured the panic well, but sacrificed some of the visual information we wanted to convey (such as the dead zombie in the driveway and the fact that two of the zombies are female, neither of which you can tell).  As with so much of the project, even this is somewhat revealing about the process of documentary-making - you are often at the mercy of what happens to pass in front of your camera.  I hadn't intended this aspect of documentary-making to creep into our fictional film, but it made the process all the richer for me.

Finally, I want to thank all the fabulous people involved in the film. In addition to my peers mentioned earlier, we couldn't have done the film without Elliott, Roy, Bryan, Luke, and Justin being so cooperative and wonderful. And, while they didn't get a lot of "air time", our zombies (Nick, C.J. and Jessica) worked really hard to look and act the part. We also have to thank Dr. Alex Juhasz for allowing us to produce a mockumentary for our documentary/ethnography project. I highly recommend the volume on fake documentaries ("F is for Phony") for anyone interested in the topic.

Feel free to sound off about our film in the comments below (or comment/rate/share through YouTube). We came up with much more background information about the film and why the fictional organization(s) decided to create it and would love talking about it with anyone who's interested.

*The guns were Airsoft and other fake firearms the guys had and painted black for the production. Otherwise, all items were there, in place, when we came to film - including the Captain America and Ash figures sitting side-by-side.
**I name names so my mother has someone to blame for my fictional death....

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Anonymous said...

Your thoughts about the reality/fiction line in mockumentary-making are always live for me: when you make a real doc you're always surprised about where and when the truth seems to pop and where reality seems staged.

paalomino said...

I agree that the reality/fiction aspect is most interesting. On this same topic, I saw an interesting doc at The Hammer last Saturday night, Sing Faster - The Stagehands' Ring Cycle (available on DVD). Jon Else used a hand-held 16 mm camera and one sound boom.

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