We're back! Together! Episode 012 of the Daughter of Godcast, I'm still unapologetically, Dan Kelly, writer and director and you're guide across the river to the dead and forgotten past, 11 years to be exact, though after 12 weeks we've whittled away almost a year, so now there's only 10 years between the here and NOW. Whether your streaming this from India, China, the Pleiades or just plain old Beulah, Michigan, USA. Welcome.
Meanwhile, here in the time capsule, the tiny treasure that unlocks the utopian yearning, glints and fascinates.
Dan Kelly, how can you, of all people, continue to fixate on this bauble from the past while right now, America is quaking with transformation? Shouldn't you be out in the streets? Friends, I've been there and yes, I might go into the streets again, to revel in the energy and exhilaration of shared, strong desire. I do love a powerful focused gathering. Check out the links on Episode 002 for in Arrest of TC 8 and 500k in 10 minutes.
By the time you watch or listen to this episode, re-released Episode 010 with the new introduction. I talk about, "history and present events as the playing out of an epic clash between occluded forces." We may not be able to know what's really going on by following news links on the www. For me, the American political experience is grand theater staged to either lull citizens into complacency or set us at each others throats. Because I am adept at hiding in plain sight, a scruffy angel sporting a hefty bag poncho, or maybe less metaphorically, a cosmic commando presenting as a straight white male trust fund baby, I notice what others just can't or won't see. I have an antennae for conspiracy. Plus I can't stop rhyming.
I'm a world builder, have been since my days of high school Dungeon Mastering. We each build our world, every day. Sometimes, we get stuck and need a little encouragement, we forget that encouragement is everywhere. That's what friends are for. Cat friends, tree friends and maybe if you're lucky people friends. Our experience is ultimately our responsibility. I suppose I should be saying, I believe or I feel before these statements but gosh, so many extra words. I'm a rabbit and this is my warren, dug down through the sweet cool earth, 12 weeks worth. Deeper we must go.
So how am I building my world? The influence of an enlivened spirit enlivens. Any ideal Earth must include our sparkling selves, yes? We imagine we could be happy and fulfilled if only conditions were such and such, thus and so. Or is an ideal earth the result of humans opening their hearts and getting in the flow of ever available encouragement? I mean, which comes first, the conditions that inspire happiness or the happiness that inspires conditions?
Yep, you already know my answer. This bauble from the past and my retelling a bit each week is a happy practice. Our intent focus is magicking the world into a just, compassionate and sustainable shape within and around us. Can you feel this?
Episode 012 Two Rooms
The DOG script was simple, we only needed two rooms. Here's a synopsis. Scene 1, Christina is visited by her dead uncle, who tells her that she is going to give birth to the Daughter of God. Scene 2, Christina appeals to her neighbor Gerry for help. 5 pages of screenplay for each scene.
Scene 1 and Scene 2 were essential. Since these scenes happened in cabins aboard a big boat, establishing shots of the big boat would be important.
The big boat offered so many fascinating possibilities. There was an engine room, a bridge, a mess, tons of cabins some decrepit and others livable, it was amazing. Not to mention the exterior decks and surrounding open water.
The establishing shots would include exteriors of the Alexander Henry with Christina and/or Gerry and if time permitted, a steadicam shot of Christina clomping through the hatches and passages. So these establishing shots became Scene 3.
I had a couple of extra ideas that would be easy to pull off. Scene 4 was envisioned as a sort of intermission between scenes 1 and 2, Christina deciding what to wear before talking to Gerry. Carmen in character trying on different costumes for about 40 minutes before a fixed camera. This shot was to be speed ramped up in post so she'd go through her entire wardrobe in about 30 seconds.
Finally scene 5, an improvisation between Gerry and Christina that would be a fun twist to stick into the credits.
So five scenes. Scenes 1-3 involved multiple camera angles, Scenes 4-5 just one each.
I had budgeted 2 days each for scenes 1 and 2, and another day or so for scenes 3-5. Actual production could be compressed into 5 days. 1 day of settling in and a 1/2 day to pack up. 6.5 days needed total. We arrived late morning of 4/11/06, Tuesday and would have to be done by the end of 4/20/06, Thursday. 9 full days available minus the 6.5 days needed = 2.5 days of breathing room.
I spoke about lollygagging in episode 011. Initially, there didn't seem to be much going on. What's Dan doing? He's tinkering with cameras and lights, opening and closing doors, playing with props. Lollygagging is an engagement with totality transcending effort. During the first few days, I invited my super conscious to sponge up the possibilities, all the variables, opportunities and potential disasters. Then, with time running out, I jammed into gear and the solutions flowed.
So let's talk about the key elements.
Daughter of God is a post apocalyptic universe, people are for the most part missing. Where they went is unclear, we're they raptured away by a benign deity, scooped up into slavery or worse by interstellar conquistadors, rendered into their constituent elements by clouds of doomsday nanobots?
I wanted to convey a stillness and abandoned feeling. I was interested in striking tableaus, lush and mysterious cinematic paintings. Almost a security camera feel, but with robust color and detail. I planned to shoot most of the shots locked down, which means having the cameras fixed in place and not moving.
I am not a huge fan of the slightly shaky documentary style of shooting, although it's become almost ubiquitous and practically invisible nowadays. I wanted the simplicity of perspective, just staring into the moment, intent.
This choice also made production much easier. Frame, exposure, focus and record. Whenever possible, scenes were bathed in light and the camera aperture tightened for maximum depth of field. Having locked down shots with deep focus provided plenty of options in post production.
As I love editing, I was shooting for editorial and VFX. Strong color treatments, pull focus and camera shake can always be simulated later. Baking those choices in on location is limiting.
Aside from a single steadicam shot, I eventually tossed out trying even the most basic camera moves, preferring to let the action unfold without distraction.
The two cameras gave us matched performances in Gerry's cabin, tho a little tougher in Christina's, as the space was very tight, and two cameras wouldn't fit. The second camera in Christina's cabin peered in through the window.
My plan was to run each scene's dialogue completely through, letting the energy between the actors build or fade depending on the flow of the story.
Rehearsals in Brooklyn were mostly table reads. All 3 actors were asked to have their lines memorized before coming to Canada, which we all mostly did. We blocked movement and did full rehearsals only on location, so as to keep the kinesthetics fresh and uncluttered. I believe movement and emotion are inextricable, and always felt uncomfortable in theater performances blocking out action twice, once in rehearsal and then on stage. Distances are rarely matched between rehearsal and performance spaces, and unlearning movement feels like wasted energy.
Carmen and I work shopped our scene, where Uncle Joe visits Christina, feeling our way for the best energy... Carmen offered terrific ideas, only a couple of her physical gags for Christina ending up on the cutting room floor, like the stretchy bra that got out of control. She came up with scads of schticks and idiosyncracies that worked great, and created a solid dynamic between our characters.
Steve and Carmen work shopped their scene both by themselves and with me. I had some clear ideas about how I wanted the scene to go, and their choices were usually spot on. I asked Steve for some stylized responses that also hit the floor in post, but for the most part his performance was consistently great.
Scene 5, the surprise scene between Christina and Gerry was also a surprise to Steve and Carmen. I handed the script to them at the last minute more as an outline, their performance was mostly improvisation. I loved what they both did with the material! This scene has a vitality that contrasts well with the deliberate awkwardness of the rehearsed performance.
We worked on articulation and enunciation, to get the dialogue delivery clear.
The low ceilings of the cabins ruled out a shotgun mic and boom operator. Audio was recorded with lavaliers and radio transmitters. These presented a few rather hilarious problems, like where and how to hide the smart phone sized transmitter under Carmen's skimpy dress. There's a behind the scenes photo of Melonie helping place the transmitter that's better left in the archives.
There was only one significant prop element we brought to the big boat, boxes. In Brooklyn, I ordered several dozen 18" cubes from Uline, which Melonie assembled on location. The boxes were originally envisioned as stocks of supplies hoarded by the refugees, can goods, etc. The idea evolved into the boxes being air dropped by some far sighted relief organization. I wanted to have them stacked in every spare space on the boat, in the cabins, the passages. I ran out of time to design a suitable logo to print on the boxes, so I figured I'd handle that later too, in post. Famous last words. 🙂
The boxes became a rich vein of world building after I borrowed a concept from Neal Stephanson's Diamond Age, mediatronics. Here's an except of what's been leaking across in Signals from a Nearby Now regarding the boxes...
boxes of solar distillers
boxes of sprouting supplies
boxes of hygiene, poop composting even social games
with packs of cards and dice
boxes with practically everything
for civilization restart
and they glowed with mediatronics
so you could find them in the dark
we gathered and stashed those boxes
in every cranny and nook
we didn't have to fight for them
they were everywhere we looked
besides being packed with goodies
to ease our deprivation
their mediatronic surface
was rich with computation
And so on. The boxes were the first intentional rhythm, or repeating pattern that offers a specific feeling or idea about the world. We found other rhythms as we went, like reflections and squeaking doors.
Ann and Melonie also made a run to the local salvation army to prop Christina's and Gerry's cabins. Lots of weird little collectible ceramics were found for Christina and a plethora of antique tech for Gerry. Ann has a thing for animal skeletons and she found a desiccated bird on the upper decks of the boat which we added to Gerry's cabin. The bird was worked into a great performance gag and expanded the world building. That's the advantage of having plenty of creative people and room to breathe, to invent and improvise.
Here's what Signals from a Nearby Now has to offers re birds.
don't hear any birds
not really sure why
nary a twitter or peep
a lot of them died
walk away if you find one
dead birds carry contagion
I'm going to discuss the scenes in roughly the same order as the movie. Starting with establishing shots of the big boat, where Christina and Gerry live.
I wanted the Alexander Henry at magic hour, which is when the sun is low on the horizon at dawn and dusk. This creates warm glowing light with long shadows. The morning was best because the sun rose on Lake Ontario and set on the city of Kingston, so the late light would have been blocked by the town.
For several mornings, I had either Carmen or Steve up before dawn, on and around the boat.
Christina returns to the boat. Initially I imagined this as early morning perhaps after being out all night, working, scavenging or whatever. Could be morning or the end of the day, vague.
The April Ontario mornings were consistently crisp, clear and gorgeous. We would arrive before first light, set up and then wait. Over several mornings, I shot Carmen approaching the boat from ground level and up high. I caught her both coming and going. I got her casting her long shadow on the hull and trudging up the gang plank.
I wanted Gerry doing some business up on top of the boat, waiting. Perhaps observing Christina's approach. Maybe just taking in the sunrise.
The establishing shots were consistently lovely. 70% of the shots worked, 20% were perfect.
When the sun got too high, we ended our magic hour exteriors and got into the cabins.
On the very last day of production, Carmen and I banged off a steadicam shot using the Glidecam. Christina enters the boat and clomps down the main deck passage, around a corner to stairs and then up to her cabin. Balancing Glidecams was a bit of a black art, and I was an nube steadicam wizard. This follow shot is best described as unsteadicam, with a drunken, drifty feel, common to unbalanced rigs, but Christina is sort of a woozy, whacky character anyway, so this worked.
So we've seen the boat, been introduced to the main characters and gotten Christina to her cabin.
Christina's cabin was tiny, approximately 8' x 16' with a sink, bunk bed, chest of drawers and a desk. We had other cabins to choose from, but I loved the cramped and cozy feeling for her.
I supplemented the natural light from the window (can't say porthole, cause it was square) and practical light from sink and mirror with Martijn's compact Dedos mounted at the ceiling and tucked amidst the clutter on the top bunk. As the neutral density filters I had brought were not big enough, I tried knocking the bright window down with a giant sheet of polarizer. This proved to be an inadequate solution and the window was slightly blown out when in frame. The lighting on the other camera angles worked well.
The mirror over the sink became a key to coverage in the cabin, allowing the camera to pull back for a wide shot. The mirror was framed to give a clear view of Christina and Uncle Joe's faces in the context of the tiny cabin. The mirror also suggests Alice through the looking glass and a reversed reality or alternate universe.
I thought of the cabins as analogous to the characters lives and the doors as threshold between what they are comfortable with and the unknown. When Uncle Joe returns from the dead and shows up at Christina's cabin door, opening the door becomes a really big deal. Cameras were placed on either side of the doorway, between life and death, between Christina's experience and her imagination. Christina opens the door with great care and not a little trepidation, cracking the door first to peer out stare into the mystery. This moment was carefully crafted and worked out beautifully.
Aside from the blown out window, there were a few problems.
We had an electric space heater in Christina's cabin, which trashed the audio on a couple of early takes when we forgot to turn it off.
We had lost focus on an important close-up with Christina and Joe. After setting focus for this shot, I must have bumped the camera. I deemed this take unusable until a breakthrough years later in post, when this shot was reclaimed.
I ended up having to cut around a gag that didn't fly. Physical comedy can be complicated. Carmen introduced a popcorn schtick that we built on and worked really well. Her bra gag had critical timing issues, which we tried to perfect during performance. Always good to play and experiment, but I would have been better off having this as an optional take. I didn't give myself a no bra option. I ended up doing major surgery in post to maintain the integrity of the scene.
Scene 4 Christina's dance
Now Uncle Joe has departed, and Christina prepares to enlist help from Gerry, the recluse who also lives on the ship. She is trying on different outfits. I originally just thought I'd speed this scene up so she'd rush around frantically putting on and throwing off clothing.
This scene was only intended to be a backdrop for audio exposition about the post apocalyptic world, via disembodied shortwave radio broadcasts. When my music arranger, Ndong the Gabonese cat gave me back the mix, I decided to do a more subtle treatment of the speed ramp, and this scene blossomed into an intoxicating dance, a reprise of iconic images from the industrial age.
If the cabins represent what is known and familiar to the characters, the passage between the cabins is the unknown, the smouldering light of a low birth, or hell, or the dim glow of exit signs in a dark theater, which takes us out of a cozy illusion and into the pelting, chill rain of a city sidewalk or suburban parking lot. Uncle Joe emerges from this stormy enigma into Christina's world, and Christina must dive into the enigma to reach Gerry's. If Gerry opens his door to her, he too will be permitting the enigmatic to swirl into his experience.
The hallway is introduced when we follow Christina up to her cabin, then when we meet Uncle Joe and finally when Christina knocks on Gerry's door.
Christina's cabin is the call to adventure and Gerry's cabin is the adventure. A way forward must be found, and that way is transformation for both characters.
The threshold between the call and the adventure was another rhythm, but when Gerry's door opens, his cabin is dark, lit by a single candle. He is silhouetted in the doorway. Christina has taken Joe's place as the harbinger of change, but she stands before a void, a shadow man.
I relished making these moments, painting with emotion and meaning. I didn't emphasize the passage's significance until months later, but I knew the space between the cabins was important and took special care to show this.
Next week we'll wrap production in Gerry's cabin. I'll offer some 20/20 hindsight on primary production and our adventure in Canada aboard the big boat. A little over a month until the year 2017. That's the Daughter of God year.
In episode 010, I assigned homework, to ponder the most recent FAQ question.
Another post apocalyptic movie? Aren’t there enough troubles in the real world without having to imagine more?
Why is this my very favorite question? Because 3 years into the making of Daughter of God I had a crisis. Why was I making a movie about apocalypse when I could/should be focusing all my energy on healing the earth, of waking up, of examining the suicidal decisions my fellow humans seemed to be making? I abandoned Daughter of God for almost ANOTHER 3 years because I didn’t have an answer. Now I do.
People get paralyzed by fear. I think the insecurity of whether or not there’s even going to be a future for humans on Earth is so scary that most people just shut down. OR, they feel it’s a matter of changing massive institutions like governments or corporations through the passing of laws, lobbying and voting.
My idea of excellence is being deliberate about how I feel and think, regardless of what others might feel or think, do or not do. Rapport with others starts with self rapport. If I am in tune with my needs, then I can better appreciate others' needs. This expands outward to include groups, society, institutions, culture. In short, if I want a more just, loving and courageous society, I must be first just, loving and courageous with myself.
That's all well and good, but patterns of thought and feeling can be pretty sticky. Words are often powerful triggers and can send us into an emotional spiral. Words like cunt, faggot or nigger, or white privilege. How about holocaust or dirty bomb? Terrorist? Should words have so much power over our experience?
The universe of Daughter of God is quirky, weird and with a little luck, audiences might find it funny. Daughter of God is not only post apocalyptic, it’s the most apocalyptic movie EVER.
Every awful scenario ever imagined in novels, on screen or by science has happened, over the top. Yet, life on Earth has adapted. Those who remain are getting by, dreaming and even falling in love. The words that stop us in our tracks, cause us to seize up and shut down, those words are drained of their power in Daughter of God. By passing through our worst fears and then moving way beyond, we can find better feelings in our present moment, our right now, and allow more creative thoughts and actions that move us not only towards survival, but thrive-vival.
I've had to learn how to thrive, every day I decide to. That might seem silly for a straight white guy to say, I've had every advantage, right? Well, I've also have a secret FBI record just for following my heart, so maybe birth status isn't the whole story, eh? Maybe our color or gender or sexual orientation shouldn't be the criteria by which we are judged as worthy or our opinions valid. Maybe judgements are generally problematic.
NOW I'm supposed to ask you to help me get the word out there about Daughter of God, but I know I don't need to do that. If you discover a yummy, you want to share with your favorite peeps, yes? So you've already told all the weirdos and deviants you know about this podcast. You've already whispered in the ears of your most savvy, hep and adventurous comrades. IF you're having fun listening to this podcast, resonating with Signals from a Nearby Now, or generally appreciating any of the crazy content pouring from this project, that is.
There has to be scads of weirdos out there waiting to find this! My dream is to have 1000 listeners by the new year. You can help, but please, they have to be cool people, I only want to be famous among cool people. Aside from talking this up with your allies, you can also rate and review the Daughter of Godcast on iTunes, like the Daughter of God Facebook page, follow Daughter of God on Twitter and join the mighty misfits on the mailing list.
And yes, swag is coming, just in time for Winter Solstice!
You've been listening to Daughter of Godcast podcast, episode 012. Thanks for sharing your cognition with me! A bit of movie, a little preaching, a smidgen of humor, a dash of science, some practical magic, omg now there's video, and of course leakage from the universe next door encrypted into poetry, we just keep amping up. More and more. I'm wondering what's next too.
Some of this is me, but I'm guessing there's a crowd of my favorite dead people supplementing the Daughter of God gentle release. Maybe having a seat right next to the dessert cart in heaven isn't half as fun as checking in on the soap opera down here, or after you've won a craft beer chugging contest with Jesus a half bazillion times you wonder what's going on back on good old earth, and whether you might throw a little monkey wrench into the gears of physicality. Dead people are funny like that. What to do while waiting in line to ride the roller coaster, again.