Nashville, Tennessee filmmaker, Jeff Wedding, finds inspiration for his work from a wide variety of areas. His catholic upbringing, his love of photography, and his brief education in architecture, to name a few. His experiences have all played roles in igniting his passion for Super 8 mm filmmaking.
We think Jeff says it best when he says, "Super-8 mm remains the single format available that cannot be mistaken for anything else". We agree and we thank Jeff for taking the time to answer a few questions for us.
| Jeff Wedding |
Tell us about your background. When did you decide you wanted to become a cinematographer? Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in the southwestern part of Indiana, in a town called Evansville. I grew up Catholic and thematically I have incorporated much of that experience into my work. Initially I wanted to be an architect-I had a two & ½ year stint studying that stuff and it sincerely felt like my brain was being fed through a meat grinder-truly. I realized my boredom and immediately became aware my creativity was not being quenched. So I dropped out. I've always been a film lover and I grew up watching pictures since I can remember, but it wasn't until I dropped out of architecture school that I really pursued filmmaking. Architecture is still special to me in many significant ways, the symmetry and framework to a structure is very similar to shot compositions in photography. I had also grown up being an avid writer, which led me to want to direct, to see my vision through-who doesn't want to direct, right? I have since relocated to Nashville, Tennessee where I've lived for going on nine years. Cinematography entered my life as a bit of a default. I certainly love photography and enjoy taking 35mm stills. My usual DP, David Mellow, has been a great mentor and has encouraged me over the years to be experimental, to shoot all I can-that's the only real way to learn anything. Get your hands in there and get them filthy dirty.
Tell us about Gracie: The Diary of a Coma Patient . What is the film about? What was the inspiration behind the project? Where did the idea come from?
In short, Gracie is a dark romance in which a dying coma patient (the result of a failed suicide) is doomed to a perpetual cycle of nightmares and dreams, some of them real, others not. The film itself is book-ended with a priest and a nun waiting at the patient's bedside, prepared to deliver him his Last Rites, his expiration only moments away. It is during this brief time that we, the viewer, step inside the patient's mind for a glimpse of his madness. Again, ultimately we're telling a love story, albeit an untraditional one, but the heart of the story is rooted deep within the obsession of this man, this patient, a coal miner, and his obsession with a love he could never have, but we allow the viewer to see the lengths he is willing to go to free himself of it. There is nothing supernatural about the piece. Everything onscreen happens each day in the minds of those unstable all around the world. The genesis of Gracie is actually quite simple. As I mentioned before, I am an avid writer, but consider myself a director first and foremost. But like so many artists out there in possession of creative minds, we're constantly churning the same stories over and over in our heads until finally we bleed them out somehow, whether it be via paint brush, an ink pen, chalk or pencil, a keyboard, camera lens and celluloid, whatever. Gracie: The Diary of a Coma Patient was a short piece of fiction I had written aptly titled Gracie. Katie Groshong, the picture's producer and lead actress was living in Los Angeles at the time and would read everything I wrote whether it be short fiction, an unpublished novel, an un-produced screenplay, anything I sent her. From the very moment she read Gracie she developed an affinity for it and encouraged me to transplant the words and images into the visual medium of film. Because the story is comprised of a coma patient's broken thought process, and because much of the narrative is introduced and unraveled through his comatose mind and told in the first-person future-tense as a prediction of his wishes, I was a bit terrified in the beginning about how I would approach such a task and keep the audience interested. But with Jaco Booyens (The Patient) and Katie Groshong (Gracie) performing, I knew they would make up for any mistakes I might make.
| The patient (Jaco Booyens) chases Gracie ( Katie Groshong) |
What was the "look" or mood you wanted to achieve? Can you describe your method of photographing a particular scene that illustrates that "look", including what lights, gels, camera movement, exposure, and lens that you used?
My location was set from day one when I decided to sit down and write a script version of Gracie. The location was a farmhouse in a tiny town called Viola, Tennessee which required very little set dressing. Everything I needed from an atmospheric standpoint was pre-existent, which is crucial while making a low to no-budget film. We obviously shot the picture on Super 8 mm, twenty-eight rolls of Kodak Plus-X (7265) & four rolls of the now extinct Kodachrome 40-both reversal stocks that I underexposed by a third to half a stop to maintain a dense piece of film. I achieved a high contrast look by employing a yellow filter throughout most of the picture to really crush the blacks down and blow out some of the highlights. During a few exterior shots, provided the sky was nice and blue, I would use a red filter which renders a black sky when using black & white stocks (but in return eats up two stops of light). I lit the picture using all tungsten sources that consisted of several 650 watt sun guns, a couple 250 watt bulbs fixed within standard Home Depot style clamp work lamps as well as a 1K, our largest light, which is a pretty simple unit considering the amount of night work we did working at 80ASA. I had to do quite a bit of flagging to cut and shape the light since the units I was using gave a fairly broad beam spread and I didn't want any walls to appear "flat" by being overlit. The only gels used were 1/2 CTO to represent firelight and if memory serves me correctly I used full CTB for backlight and also to mimic moonlight (on the Kodachrome work, of course). Occasionally I used some tracing paper to knock down the power of the light sources, almost using it as a silk, but for the most part I went for single-source hard lighting, often from one side to create sharp, crisp shadows. The final look of the film is stunning and I must say that I owe a great deal of that accomplishment to Cinelab (www.cinelab.com) up in Fall River, MA. All footage was processed normally and transferred to Beta SP on a Rank Cintel-Dav Turbo telecine. Those guys truly worked miracles for this film and continue to do so on a music video I'm currently shooting.
Why did you use Super 8 mm film?
As mentioned already, the purest and most honest aesthetic choice for this film was to shoot Super 8 mm. That was something ingrained from the start. Even while writing the short fiction I saw the spool of yarn loosening in black & white imagery-with the exception of the Kodachrome scene that called for color, which involves one of the few moments in the film where there is hope-I can't really expound too much on that topic without blowing the lid off the entire thing. I'm in love with Super 8 mm and it's no secret to anyone, however, I would never jeopardize a production by shooting this small gauge if it weren't fitting for a particular piece. I've been fortunate enough thus far to have the chance to incorporate it in most of my work in one way or another. I've been quoted in the past as saying that Super 8 mm remains the single format available that cannot be mistaken for anything else. I'll stand by that comment until I'm proven otherwise and something tells me that won't be anytime soon.
Why did you choose to shoot your project on film? How does that decision fit in with your overall visual approach?
Frankly I don't like the look of video. I submit to the fact that much of it looks very good, I'd go so far to say I've seen it look great. But it's just not for me. HD's too clean, too crispy around the edges. I don't like that. Hollywood cinematographers have been fighting for years to put stuff in front of the lens to hide blemishes on actresses, to dull sharpness-we use digital tools to remove those flaws. Why introduce a format that needs to be dumbed-down to look acceptable? It could be I'm just not educated enough on the format, but to me it seems senseless, although I understand it's a cheaper route and does well in dimly lit areas, but those ugly highlights aren't a fair enough trade-off for me. I'm aware of the digital evolution cycle and I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't a bit resistant of it. High-Definition is certainly a life-saver for effects driven pictures, but again, just not my cup of tea. I like grain, I like "patina". I don't mind seeing a back wall boil from the grain of a print as it moves incessantly, each frame maintaining its own identity. There's nothing like shining light through images that are your own creations. To boot, I love Super 8 mm at 18fps as opposed to 24fps. There's something classic about the motion, something antiquated and indescribable.
How have advancements in technology - for example, film stocks, lenses, camera mounts, etc., changed the way you direct or shoot a project?
Not to be hypocritical, but without the advancement in both digital editing and digital transfers it would be close to, if not entirely, impossible to create a project on Super 8 mm and have a decent product in the end. However, I've never had anything against digital post-production, it's fantastic, as long as film is the origination format, or, in this case Super 8 mm. That being said, I embrace digital editing, transfers and the digital intermediate. In addition to the technological advancements made to transfer high quality Super 8 mm images, we would have no images to transfer if Kodak had not supplied us with all these great new stocks that have recently emerged and changed things for the better. I would go so far as to say Kodak has single-handedly saved a sinking ship of Super 8 mm shooters and are responsible for the resurgence of the format. Without Kodak we'd have no official supplier of film to load. We are now able to take these thirty-year-old cameras that were long forgotten in attics across the world, and put them to use again in ways that far exceed "home movies". Moving on to the subject of optics, there are some cameras out there that have fixed zoom lenses that are very nice (Canon 1014XLS & 814-XLS, Nikon R10 to name a few). Then, of course there are Beaulieus that have C-mounts just like a 16mm Bolex. Get a C-mount adapter and you can shoot with any number of high quality 35mm SLR lenses.
| The patient (Jaco Booyens) carries his beloved Gracie ( Katie Groshong) |
Where do you look for inspiration? Which other director or cinematographers' work do you admire and why?
I look for inspiration everywhere. Not just from other directors & cinematographers, but also writers, painters and of course architects. To name a few from these areas, I don't think there has ever been a better American filmmaker than Stanley Kubrick. His eye was precise, exacting and impeccable. Ingmar Bergman's work is meticulous and often deals in religion: a great draw for me. His "trilogy" films were hugely influential during pre-production on Gracie as was Dreyer's work on The Passion of Joan of Arc . The list goes on: Fellini for his visuals, Fritz Lang and Michael Powell for their fearlessness, Stan Brakhage and Harmony Korine for their experimentation, and obviously Hitchcock for his sheer brilliance at telling a story and ability of putting you on the edge of your seat without you ever knowing. John Landis is huge, I really think he may have given birth to, or at least catapulted black humor into the mainstream with An American Werewolf in London . I look forward to anything from Darren Aronofsky and I've got my eye on Craig Brewer ( Hustle and Flow, Black Snake Moan ) who happens to be a Tennessee (Memphis) native. I have a guilty pleasure for all horror films, particularly Italian "giallo" pictures, especially Dario Argento. Cinematographers: The late Sven Nykvist will never be replaced, nor will Conrad L. Hall. Jack Cardiff's Rembrandt inspired work, Matthew Libatique is pretty untouchable when you factor in his youth. Paul Cameron's work on Man on Fire , this is really agonizing, there are too many; John Fowles is the best fiction writer of all time (T he Magus & The Collector ). I'm not sure anyone could design a better dwelling or business structure at the speed and quality as could Frank Lloyd Wright (Fallingwater). Oh, and Salvador Dali's work is remarkable although at times difficult to comprehend.
Where can we see the film next? Theatres, TV, DVD, internet, another festival?
Currently we are submitting to various festivals around the globe and are optimistic of acceptance from a good portion of them. We truly feel we have something unique to offer in this film. As far as television, DVD and the internet are concerned, we'll wait out our festival run until entertaining those options.
What is your next project going to be?
I'm currently completing a feature-length screenplay called A Blistering Silence , which I plan to direct. The project has already attracted a number of producers and we hope to be in production by fall.