Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The Film Set

As some of you may have discerned from my posts, my experience in Torino has been intimately intertwined with cinematic production. My friend and fellow au pair Rae and I know an actor, two directors, an electrician/cameraman and a number of other people who pop in and out as extras. We have explored the Mole Antonelliana, the cinema museum of Torino, seen a plethora of films in Italian, and most interestingly, we once visited a set for a commercial on which our friends Marco and Federico were working. Since I didn't write in detail about my experience on the set, this will be the theme for this particular post!

Initially, my friend Rae and I figured it would be impossible to go. After all, how do two au pair girls without a car, a ride, or a sense of direction even begin to attempt to find a studio hidden in a back alley in some obscure part of Torino? It was by good fortune that our director friend Mathieu, who was originally supposed to work with Marco on the set, had a car and a couple of hours to spare to take us there, and after what seemed like hours of stopping and starting on the dusky backstreets, we finally came to a halt.

I would never have imagined that a set could have existed inside the building in front of which we stopped. It seemed there wasn't an entrance in sight, save a large, rusty garage door which looked as if it hadn't been opened in decades, and a number of barred windows lining the sad, grey walls. I watched Mathieu's shadowy figure a little doubtfully as he made a few phone calls, and was about to ask if we were really in the right place when a faint voice sounded from the top floor of the flat. It was our signal to enter, and we did so through the rickety garage door, which when opened, flooded the street with a cascade of light. Then it was a lengthy ride up the miniature elevator, and a long walk along a narrow corridor before we began to see traces of a set in action - a camera, a flood light, funny costumes, and people buzzing around solely on the power of late night coffee. Two of those people, we soon saw, were Marco and Federico, looking weary from the day but happy to see us at long last. We were finally at the set.

Since filming was about to recommence, Rae and I were ushered silently to the back of the dark room where I was reunited with Max, the director of the commercial, who I had met at the Halloween party. In front of him was a large camera with a screen smaller than a postcard. On it, I could see Federico shuffling his papers at a desk. "We are preparing a commercial dealing with investments," someone whispered in my ear, "and Fede is the main character." I nodded. This would be an interesting lesson in Italian, I thought.

And indeed it was. I never realized until this night exactly how many times a commercial had to be shot, and re-shot. I knew almost all of the dialogue off by heart by the end of the night. And there were so many variables -- obvious ones such as the position of the lights, the quality of the acting, and the speed at which the camera moves along the track -- and not so obvious ones such as the inevitable disagreements that occur between the actors and the director, the number of video cameras of which the director needs to simultaneously keep track, and the amount of mist that should be sprayed into the air to reflect and subsequently spread out and soften the lighting. I couldn't help but laugh when Marco was forced to dig out a massive sheet of cardboard to blow away the excess mist that loomed over a slightly annoyed Federico's shoulders as they were waiting to shoot. It looked as if they were filming a commercial for fire safety rather than insurance!

I was also impressed by the incredibly affable relationship that exists between Max and the people that work under him. Apparently, while most directors assume an air of superiority, Max treats everyone as an equal. (Perhaps a little too much at times -- I cannot help but recall the time when a cheeky cameraman decided to sick a piece of duct tape to Max's arm, which he couldn't remove without the kind of yelp you would only hear at a woman's beauty salon!) It was obvious to me that everyone relished being involved, and made it even more clear to me that if you are going to have a profession in life, it has to be something you love.

Rae and I spent only an hour and a half on the set, but it was enough to make me realize how physically draining yet intellectually stimulating the film business can be. Creativity is required at every step, and if you don't have the money or resources to make something work, you improvise. (Take for instance the camera track that Max made out of a skateboard, a pillow, and a piece of wood - "cheap, fun and easy to use" is what we dubbed it, without the slightest bit of sexual innuendo intended!) Though the life of a film maker isn't for me personally, it is fascinating to watch and I stand in admiration of anyone in the business.

1 comment:

Erin! said...

The film industry (along with the whole entertainment industry really) does rely on a whole ton of people to function, and it doesn't surprise me how demanding the takes and jobs can be. But you can end up seeing some of the most creative atmospheres in the world thanks to that industry, where innovation is absolute king.

Sounds like it was a very interesting studio visit! ;)

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