Monday, 5 July 2010

The Monkey in the Middle of the Shelves...

...or how continuity errors, a non-linear narrative and a cursed prop have driven this particular filmmaker to the edge of insanity.*

So there's this Ray Bradbury story called The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl - it's a reworking of Poe's Tell-Tale Heart. A guy commits a murder, then realises he needs to wipe his fingerprints off everything he touched. Except the more stuff he cleans the more things he realises he might've touched and the more things he goes about cleaning until it becomes an obsession and he's still cleaning the house when the police arrive to arrest him. Here's my version...

So it was about 4pm on Sunday and we had two more shots left to film. They weren't easy shots - our protagonist is talking to camera as we follow her into another room where there's an exchange with another character. It means lighting two rooms, making sure you can record sound wherever the actors go and at the same time being careful not to have any of the lighting or sound equipment visible in the shot. Tricky at the best of times.

We'd filmed for eleven hours on the Saturday, and had been filming since 8am on the Sunday. So everyone involved is pretty exhausted and now we're filming this really complicated shot with all this stuff we need to look out for. At the same time we don't have a monitor so I can't really see what the camera sees until it's been filmed and then I watch it back on the tiny screen on the back of the camera.

Anyway, we film both shots, the actors do a great job with the dialogue and hitting their marks, it seems like we've nailed it. But just as we're packing up and sending everyone home I go and review some of the footage with Darren as it's being uploaded onto the computer. And that's when Darren says 'Oh look, there's the monkey.' And I say, 'Oh bugger, that's not supposed to be there.'

There's a moment in the shot when the camera enters the room and turns past some bookshelves. I knew we'd see the shelves but figured it wouldn't be a problem as we'd never see what was actually on them. On one of the shelves is the monkey. This is the opening scene of the film. The characters aren't supposed to know about the monkey yet. He's not supposed to be there, but there he is. It's so obvious he may as well be waving at the camera.

It's then that I realise the monkey must be cursed. I think it's out to get me because we cut off its paw. I thought I'd be okay - Brother Pete cut off the paw, not me. Surely he should be the one who's cursed. But these ancient monkey curses are more complicated than you think. I've been targeted. It knows I was the one who initiated the amputation and it's out to get me.

Darren assures me it will be fine. It's only on screen for a couple of frames. It's unlikely anyone will notice it, but even if it is particularly obvious he can sort it out in post. The thing is I've heard that before. I worked on a short film once that had a similar problem but the 'sorting it out in post' caused so many delays the film was never finished. The only other option is to reshoot it, except I've already got a growing list of things we either need to reshoot or never got around to shooting in the first place.

For the rest of the evening Andrea and Darren kept trying to change the subject and I would respond with 'What are we going to do about the monkey on the shelves?' I tried watching TV to take my mind off it, but I kept looking for the monkey in the background of shots, hoping to find proof that others had suffered at the hands of the same curse. If they had maybe I could track them down, find out if there was a way to break the curse. But no, it seemed like the monkey only appeared in the back of my shots.

At work this morning I was e-mailing someone about an insurance matter and at the end of the e-mail found myself typing 'In addition, please can you confirm whether it makes any difference if you can see the monkey in the opening scenes of the film?'

But then I remember that although the scene is at the beginning of the film, it actually takes place at the end of the timeline. So it's possible the monkey would be on the shelf anyway. Maybe. At a stretch. Then I realise it's not the beginning at all, in fact it takes place inside the protagonist's imagination so isn't even based in reality. And then I start trying to figure out if the protagonist would imagine her flat with the monkey on that shelf at that particular time. And am I just covering to avoid having to reshoot, or will this genuinely work?

But wait just one minute - if the scene isn't based in reality, then it never really happened, and that means we never really filmed it! And if we never really filmed it, the monkey wasn't there after all!! But the monkey is real, because it's still sitting on that same shelf!!!!!


I don't know what's real anymore. I just know that when I close my eyes all I see is this...

*Please note, this is mostly a joke and I am not actually insane. However, if you happen to see the monkey anywhere it shouldn't be in the finished film I would ask that people do not approach me with comments like 'Did you realise you could see the monkey in that shot?' as this may push me over the edge.


Pete Regan said...

i think waht you saidabout it being on the end of the timelein actually makes sens so I say leave it in there.

Anonymous said...

You should change the story entirely and instead do a sheridan le fenu adaptation and just wear the monkey on your back whilst making a documentary about green tea.