Behind the Cinépoetry

Mood: lagging behind | Drinking:  Lipton’s

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Someone recently asked me to explain the poem-cinépoem relationship. As in, which comes first? Are poems written specifically for a shoot, or does the shoot use a particular poem that lends itself to visual aid?

The answer is Yes. Both happen.

There have been times when we just want to film a new cinépoem. So I’ll rifle through my stack of finished poetry until I find one that strikes my fancy. Maybe its one that reminds me of a certain place or scenery. Maybe it’s a topic that’s close to my heart at the time. Maybe it just sounds like something that would be interesting to interpret through moving pictures. Whatever it is that I’m looking for, one particular poem will usually rise to the top of the stack.

Other times, I know that I’m going on a shoot to a particular location, so I’ll write a poem with a shoot in mind, molding it to fit the scene. Or we’ll have a new shooting technique that we want to try, so I’ll write for that. This is something that’s happening right now, actually.

My cinépoem partner, Michelle, and I have been discussing a new method we’d like to try out on a cinépoem. The catch is that it requires a very specific type of poem, a poem that lends itself to multiple interpretations. So far I’ve got the first stanza nailed down. The rest of it is still percolating. Once I get all the words pried out of my brain and onto paper, we can start planning the shoot.

Which leads to the next question: Who directs the cinépoem shoot? How do you know what you’re going to be filming?

Because we use my poetry for the cinépoems, I’m the one who comes up with something that we call the “shoot sheet”. The shoot sheet breaks the poem down into visual bites, the poem on one side of the page, the corresponding scenes we want to shoot on the other.

Sometimes the shoot sheet is simply a guide for general ideas that we want to capture. Other times it is a line by line, shot by shot, very literal script that we follow.

Most cinépoem shoots last only one day, although the prepartion for the shoot may begin months in advance. In fact, the writing, preparation, location scouting, volunteer recruiting, prop scavenging part of the process is more time-consuming than the shoot itself.

Then, once we’ve got the raw footage in the can, we have to begin the other time-consuming process — editing. Michelle and I both have very busy schedules, but we always edit together. So finding time when we both can sit down in front of a deck of computers and start splicing scenes together is always tricky. But we always manage.

We usually lay down the vocal track first, and then the music track, if we have it. Then we pull out the shoot sheet again and begin lining up scenes with sections of poetry. Of course, this is after Michelle has combed through all of the footage and picked the best and brightest takes for our use.

Usually for a 2 to 3 minute cinépoem, we’ll shoot 2 to 4 hours of footage. Multiple takes, multiple angles, B-roll fill-in footage — there’s a lot going on in those cinépoems.

We spend several weeks on the editing process, and then once everything’s finally polished to (near) perfection, we send our new little hatchling out into the world to meet all of you.

Speaking of which, there’s a new cinépoem about halfway through the editing process called Bright Neon Love. That should be online within the next month or so. Then in May we’ll begin shooting scenes for the next cinépoem. It doesn’t have a name yet, but it does have two new cast members: Jimmy and Lindsay. You’ll meet them soon.

So. That’s a bit of a look behind the scenes at our little cinépoem factory. Hope you enjoyed the tour.

-Lo, procrastinating on the percolating.

(P.S. That’s Abattoir on the big screen at last year’s Berkeley Film & Video Fest.)

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