THE INVISIBLE FOREST
(images are links) updated 1/25/10
© 2007/08/09/10 Antero Alli
ANTERO ALLI (photo: Sylvi Alli)
The Director Gushes on his Actors
APRIL 9, 2007. Preproduction continues successfully. The role of Artaud has been cast for the wildly talented Clody Cates, a delightful French-Canadian actress I had the utter joy of working with in "Under a Shipwrecked Moon". Sylvi's versatile vocal talents will join forces with siren Robin Coomer (Loop!Station) and the formidable JoJo Razor (Vox Maids) as the Three Singing Muses; music of the spheres to my ears.
Aikido sensei Nick Walker and I have been working together in paratheatre for over ten years now (as well as playing a gleeful psychopath in my last film). I am tickled pink to have him as a silent creature-like version of Oberon, King of the Faeires and Protector of the Forest.
After seeing his hilarious-yet-fraught-with-pathos portrayal of the ghost of Isaac Newton in my 1999 2-act play "Hungry Ghosts of Albion", I'm thrilled by veteran improvisor/actor Dan Wilson's decision to play Prospero the sorcerer. To distract Dan, I have cast the dangerously cheerful and kinetically innovative Jessica Bockler as Prospero's daughter, Miranda. Jessica arrives from Liverpool UK, where she lives and works, the day before our pre-shoot workshop starts.
Currently attending American Conservatory Theatre towards his MFA in acting, James Wagner's audition for "Hermes the amnesiac god" knocked me out. James hides a very edgy comic talent. That he confessed afterwards that his performance felt substandard (how many times have I heard actors say that!) was all the more promising to me. James, you nailed it without realizing it; that's talent overwhelming the censor.
I first laid eyes on the enchanting Juliet Tanner when she arrived to audition for the ghost of Juliet. Though she did very well, I knew right away the audition would be mere protocol; she IS the ghost of Juliet. David Gauntlett appeared in my last film as a character dumber and less attractive than he actually is (praise god, this man has no vanity!); I was very impressed by his willingness to do almost anything. Casting him as the beautiful tragic ghost of Romeo was a no-brainer.
And finally, there's me. Thirty-five years ago I started performing and only very gradually moved onto writing and directing. The task of embodying "Alex the Director" is both daunting and terribly exciting for me. If I knew anyone else who I thought could nail this role better than me (and who would agree to do it for free), I would give it up but I don't. Bring it on!
This Project Contains Hidden Variables
APRIL 16. I am developing an investor's page to attract additional funding to this project. This fascinating film project is made moreso by certain hidden variables. Though some actors have lines and basic structures will be set for certain scenes, essentially we will be shooting without a script. Nobody knows how and where the story ends yet, not even me. This project is very developmental in that way. The story won't be discovered and written (with voice-over narratives of Alex and the Psychotherapist) until after the summer shoot and footage is reviewed very extensively. When the story is discovered and set I will start putting the word out via various publicity strategies. Besides reviewing the footage from three separate cameras, there will also be heavy CGI (digital effects) to develop for the forest dream sequences. The way I see it now, our film may not be cut and ready to screen until early 2008. This film feels like a fine wine; it needs time to age and so nothing will be rushed for the sake of ambition or impatience.
Searching for A Forest...
JULY 6. A lot has happened since my last post three months ago. We found an ideal forest location and then, after a couple months of celebrating our good luck, the situation suddenly falls through; hate when that happens. But usually these losses come with gifts and so, I let it go and open my arms to the vast potential before me. And then, Sylvi and I are invited to visit friends who own land in the forests of Sonoma to see if we can shoot there. Could this be magic ? We visit their land tomorrow and I will report back here Monday with that news.
David Gauntlett as "The Ghost of Romeo"
The weekly rehearsals -- Romeo & Juliet, Prospero, Hermes -- are coming along swimmingly, with each meeting unearthing new discoveries, colors and devices for expressing the essence of these characters. Antonin Artaud himself will appear under the glamorous persona of a high fashion model -- portrayed by Clody Cates -- in these reoccuring dreams that Alex (me) has. This character will also speak Artaud's actual words and in French (with subtitles, of course). Garret Dailey, an actor I have been wanting to work with for years, has been cast as the Psychotherapist who helps my character, Alex, to stop his annoying dreams.
I have also decided to go with a very high speed color Super-8 film (ASA T-500) for at least one-third of this entire feature (along with mini-dv and HDV) and am pleased to be working with my friend Sean Blosl who helped me shoot the wonderful Super-8 scenes of the poet Rilke in THE GREATER CIRCULATION. What else ? I am growing a beard for the role of Alex.
JULY 11. The land we visited over the weekend looks very promising. With a diversity of topography and an intriguing set of elements for our film, the only possible setback might be the mid-summer blaze of heat (which can really zap our energy if we are not extra careful). I have submitted a proposal to this group, which calls itself the Green Valley Village; a small eco-community on a few hundred acres of forested terrain in Sonoma county. We probably won't know for another week or so if they accept our bid. In the meantime, Sylvi and I are following other leads. Tomorrow we head out to Stinson Beach and the Bolinas area for a look-see at an altogether different region, atmosphere and setting.
The forests of Mount Tamalpais (photo: Dan Wilson)
We're Going Camping
JULY 17. After much waffling between camping near the outdoor shoot location or driving out there every day, I have decided on camping. Two amazing locations have materialized with nearby camping facilities: the forests of Mount Tamalpais (see above image) and a secluded seashore off Bolinas. Sylvi and I have been recently scouting these regions and the possibilities here are endless in terms of shooting locations. As my vision for this film comes into sharper focus, it is clear to me that all the scenes we shoot outdoors are actually fragments of dreams contained within four larger dream sequences of this film (with the ghost of Artaud as a fashion model). After nine days of workshopping and interior shooting (July 19-27), Saturday the 28th will be a rest day but also a day where final costume elements are consolidated. We head out to the seashore early Sunday morning July 29th to shoot the beach scenes (hopefully with fog) and later, camp on private property of our new Bolinas friends, Julia and Jutta. Monday and Tuesday, July 30/31, we camp in Muir Woods on the southside of Mt. Tamalpais at (see above image).
Tonight Jessica Bockler ("Miranda") arrives from LIverpool UK to stay in our home for the first week. After that, she will stay in S.F. with Robin Coomer ("The Lunar Muses"). For the last four weeks I have been meeting weekly with the actors for one-on-one rehearsals in preparation for the upcoming 9-day workshop intensive which starts in two days on Thursday July 19th (also when most of the cast meets for the first time together in the same place). I am a little nervous but more excited at the upcoming challenges which I approach with a cautious eye and a fierce heart.
THE LUNAR MUSES: JOJO RAZOR, ROBIN COOMER, and SYLVI ALLI
(photo: Dan Wilson)
The 9-day Workshop and the First Stage of Shooting
JULY 20. Two very intense rehearsals down; seven more to go. After just two meetings we have already begun to see and develop two or three dramatic scenarios that I think are definitely worth filming. I won't disclose them here because I am superstitious in that theatrical way, of exposing things before they're ready and unwittingly draining their power. Let's just say I am very encouraged by the commitment and talent demonstrated by our little ragtag, Artaud-obsessed theatre troupe. We are searching for -- and sometimes finding -- extreme actions to communicate the extreme states of each character. Aratud's theatre of cruelty is not a mean-spirited theatre but a fierce dramatization of extremes, vivid and passionate, spasmodic and explosive. And we are on our way to finding the combustive components for our incendiary experiment. We are approaching the realization of an impossible dream.
JULY 27. The first stage of interior shooting is done. After three days in a row, the troupe rehearsal scenes are finally in the can. The second stage starts Sunday July 29th at the seashore and runs through August 1st. The third stage starts August 14th and continues every day through the 19th with the Green Screen shoots and the Psychotherapist session shoots. One very intense month of rehearsals and shoots. My favorite scene today was the last thing we did. We sat in a circle and argued about Antonin Artaud and how what we were doing was and was not representing his vision of theatre.
A lively discussion erupted spontaneously as each person (except David who chose to remain silent) voiced their support and/or protest about the theatre work we were creating. Many thanks to Frank Janzad for his patient and attentive audio assistance and for the great vegetarian wraps and tabbouie he prepared and served us all. All in all about four hours of Video tape were shot during these three afternoons using two Sony Z-1 HDV cameras. From these four hours, I will probably use anywhere from fifteen to twenty minutes in the approx. 90-minute feature. Later today at 2pm we meet for the final day of our 9-day workshop intensive. No cameras; just us in the open space of Wildcat Studios.
JAMES WAGNER gets hyroglyphed by ROBIN COOMER
photo by Dan Wilson
Between the Forest and the Sea; the Second Stage of Shooting
AUGUST 2. I'm finally winding down after a thirteen-day whirlwind of characterization workshops, camping and filming. The second stage of shooting is done. Though I have not reviewed the footage I felt both forest and beach shoots went very well. On Sunday July 29 we camped in tents under a full moon atop the Bolinas cliffs overlooking the vast open sea. We also had the use of an old wooden house to dine in and tend to other civilities such as cheerful conversation and use of the toilet.
In the evening light, we shot a series of four enchanting dream scenes involving Miranda, Hermes, Prospero and Ariel (two with the backdrop of the vast oceanic horizon). The next morning, we hiked down to the seashore (at its lowest tide) and shot all the characters in a variety of unlikely arrangements against the rocks, the shore and the wisp of fog.
the view from the cliffs of Bolinas mmmmmmmV nnnnnVmmmmANTERO, NICK, SYLVI, and DAN at Mt. Tam
(both photos by David Gauntlett)
Monday afternoon we arrived at the Mount Tamalpais campsite and shot for a couple hours after dinner. Over these three nights, our amazing outdoors chef Barbara Martin prepared and delivered three delicious vegetarian dinners alongside her delectable (wicked) desserts; everyone swooned. Truly nutritious and tasty food makes a world of difference in group morale on any production set and this was no exception. Thank you, Barbara. After shooting, we all headed back to base camp, made a fire and let off steam as only performers can do (noisily) until we all collapsed inside our tents for the night.
Tuesday saw our most intensive shooting schedule with four hours of nonstop filming of the Funeral and Wedding scenarios (developed in the workshop) plus half a dozen smaller scenes I created on site. We all knew we had a very limited amount of time and energy to perform these and everyone gave their all when it counted. After dinner James, Nick and Juliet chose to return to their SF area homes while the rest of us headed to base camp for a fascinating and lively campfire where we discussed the elusive nature of Time, consciousness, virtuality vs."direct experience", Philip K. Dick, the current political nightmare and our very first memories of life on this planet. And then we went to sleep.
ROBIN COOMER and DAN WILSON nnnnnnnbbnnnnnnnnnSEAN BLOSL, super-8 film cameraman
The next morning I shot Alex's "video journal" footage alone in a tent. Here Alex awakens from the reoccuring dream of Artaud badgering him. Alex talks into the camera trying to sort it out when Martin (Dan Wilson) pokes his big white-bearded face into the tent window asking him where he can find more sharpies for Hermes' head. This interaction was as hilarious as it was poignient with Alex struggling to maintain his calm director's front for Martin before he finally breaks down.
I feel like I nailed these video blog scenes but I also think they'll depend on the actual dream scenes that show the viewer why I look and feel like such a train wreck. Knowing what Clody Cates and I have in mind for the "Artaud" dream scenes, I think the viewer will understand what happened and why. Sean also shot some sweet moments of Alex and Martin walking, sitting and talking together in the forest (Alex has chosen Martin as a confidant).
All in all, we shot 24 cartridges of Super-8 film (75 minutes) and about two and a half hours of digital video tape (Sean Blosl flew down from Seattle to shoot the film and I shot all the video). Tomorrow I ship off the film to be processed and then, anxiously await its return (in digital video format) within ten days from now. It feels like an awful lot has happened these past three days and nights (check out the Cast Photo page). I so look forward to these few days of downtime before meeting Garret Dailey for the Psychotherapist rehearsals this Sunday August 5th. That will be interesting. Our rehearsals lead up to the third stage and final of shooting which starts August 14th and runs every day through August 19th. There is much to reflect on now.
I'm Hearing Voices, Two Visions Acting On Each Other
AUGUST 8. It now seems that Artaud's presence insists on appearing with more consistency in this story. This internal pressure has moved me to start writing a series of brief narrative commentaries for the voice of Artaud (Clody Cates), spoken in English with a heavy French accent. These voice-overs will allow viewers to see the action through Artaud's eyes, as well as Alex's, with their contrary views of what is actually happening. This idea of the collision between two disparate narratives appeared very early on in the developmental stages of this project and was then dropped. And now, it is here, again. Clody has been listening carefully to actual recordings of the voice of Antonin Artaud so she can approach his distinctive tone more honestly. Artaud's vocal tonalties are wild. They stretch and bend in pitch and timbre, sounding at times like a little child and an old man or some dark faery tale version of a very, very wicked witch.
JAMES WAGNER as "Hermes" (photo: Sean Blosl)
AUGUST 12. The super-8 color film (75 minutes worth) has returned from the processor. This is ASA 500 35mm film stock that was sliced into Super-8mm strips and spun into cartridges for easy shooting with our two trusty Minolta XL-401 cameras. I just watched it with Sylvi and it looks amazing. All the footage Sean and I shot actually came out (nothing too over-exposed or under-exposed). And at least fifteen minutes of it is quite astonishing; half of it looks like it will end up in the final movie (see above image and click it for more samples).
With all the theatre group scenes in the can, I am slowly reviewing all the footage we have shot so far. I am looking for the story. I understand that certain story elements were planned or speculated beforehand, and also while we were shooting, but since there is no screenplay to follow I feel compelled to realize my original intention of finding the story in post-production. So I am letting go of as much mental preconception as possible and looking to the footage itself to inspire and inform the story and the writing of the narratives.
From the 14th through the 19th we will shoot the Artaud dreams and the Psychotherapist session. In the Artaud dreams, Clody will perform lines by the historical Artaud himself (in French with English subtitles) plus a few lines I have written. These constitude four specific dreams, more like beautifully strange nightmares, where Artaud appears to Alex in a series of different visages, personas and dreamscapes.
CLODY CATES as "the ghost of Artaud"
(photo: Antero Alli)
Alex cannot stop these disturbing dreams and decides to remain awake and not sleep. I am playing Alex as extremely sleep-deprived -- on the verge of either hallucinating and/or trancing out -- when I arrive to meet the Psychotherapist. Though he enters psychotherapy in the hopes of stopping these dreams, Alex avoids talking about them in detail. Dr. Broderick (Garret Dailey) thinks these dreams may be too important to ignore and asks Alex to be hypnotized so he may revisit them and recall their imagery.
For shooting purposes, this Psychotherapist session will be broken up into three stages (one night each; Aug. 17, 18, 19), each segwaying into and out of the Artaud dreams and also Alex's memories of the actors in their forest experiment. The first stage is about discussing the problem with some hypnotic regression. The second stage is mostly hypnosis with some discussion. In the third stage, Dr. Broderick realizes that discussion and hypnotic regression is not enough to get to the root of Alex's problem and he introduces an esoteric dreaming ritual he learned while living with an Aborigine tribe years ago. This ritual catalyzes a powerful transformation in Alex, one that stops those dreams and changes his life. That's all I am allowed to say now. It is such a tall order to fill that I quake in my skin even as I write this. But I know it will be fun to perform. Scary fun.
GARRET DAILEY and ANTERO ALLI
(photo: Chris Rasmussen)
AUGUST 20. Thanks to Garret Dailey's professionalism, Chris Rasmussen's responsive camerawork and Frank Janzad's able production assistance, the Psychotherapist scenes all went without a hitch. Three nights in a row. On an aside, we all could not help but notice the marked transformation of Alex's appearance between the first session and the next two (the "Before and After" photos to be posted soon) as he tries to impress Dr. Broderick (Garret Dailey) with his new self-image. Needless to say, the doctor was not impressed and proceeded to induct Alex into a series of hypnotic regressions to find the root of his real problems. Alex just wants the doctor to stop his bad dreams; Dr. Broderick just wants Alex to face his demons. Aurgghhh!
After reviewing the footage, I was relieved (and a tad impressed) with my own performances as Alex and tickled pink by Garret's deft portrayal of the complicated Dr. Broderick. It was a lot of fun playing opposite him. He is a very good listener (and knows how to act as if he is really listening, hehe) and thinks on his feet, exactly the talents we needed for these improvised scenes. I've always wanted to work with Garret and am glad we finally made it happen.
m officially exhausted. One month of intense film production is now coming to a close. With the exception of one more Artaud green screen scene (to be shot in a month) and several voice-over sessions, film production is over. Very soon, Sylvi and I will head out to Stinson Beach for a few days and nights to clear our heads. We will also shoot a little more super-8 film of the settings we frequented earlier with the cast. And around all this, I am crashing. Crashing like the waves I will be watching while sitting on the beach very soon. Crashing. Very soon.
Stalking the Story... in this Film and in my Life
SEPTEMBER 3. It's exciting to know that this movie will be made over the next four months. This past week I have begun reviewing the footage and I am quite pleased with what I have seen and heard so far. I can already tell it will be difficult to let some of this footage go to best serve the story of the film, whatever that is. Though I know the beginning and end of the story, the development is still something I am tracking. Since I see much of this elusive story unfolding through Alex's hypnotic regressions, memories and dreams, I must remain committed to serving the tone, expression and rhythms of subconscious processes, though there will be certain linear daytime anchors -- such as Alex's video blog and his sessions with Dr. Broderick -- to bookend the deeper stuff. I am reminded of one of my favorite guiding quotes:
"The only Art created by Conscious Mind is dead Art."
Throughout the month of September all sixteen hours of footage will be reviewed for selections. I will be selecting only those clips that show the highest levels of actor talent and technical (audio and visual) competence; this footage will probably amount to two to three hours. Since there is no screenplay, this selects will also form the basis of the story for this film. Then, in October I plan on writing additional narratives for Artaud, Alex and Dr. Broderick and recording them. By the end of October, I also hope to have my first (very) rough cut to assist Sylvi with her soundtrack development. Of all the many stages of filmmaking -- writing, shooting, acting, directing, editing, etc. -- I'd have to say editing is probably the most creative; it's really where the movie magically appears in full form out of the chaos of so much preparation. The month of November is about finalizing the rough cut so that in December, I can be fully prepared to work with my online editor, Chris Odell, to achieve the final cut (on Final Cut Pro). Throughout these four months, I will also be collaborating with my CGI FX guy, Michael McWhirter, to capture the beauty and terror of the Artaud nightmare sequences.
ALEX (Antero Alli) waking up to another dream
SEPTEMBER 12. Over the years I have heard people wonder and gasp outloud, "how do you get your films made so quickly?" What these people fail to understand is that this is actually what I do. I have owned my own time for almost forty years. My first and last "normal" day job was as a teenager pumping gas and after that, I vowed to become self-employed no matter what. I also came to the conclusion very early on that my time holds infinitely more value than money. Time = Freedom. To be sure, money can buy a certain amount of freedom just as money can also buy a cage and a death sentence for Creativity and its feral lovechild, Art.
The only other day job I have held since pumping gas was at Berkeley's UC Theatre when I was 25 years old. I was the guy who showed up for an hour at 11pm every day and climbed the ladder to change the letters on the outdoor marquis that announced the next day's double featuer. An auspicious gig, especially since that's where I met Chris Rasmussen, D.P/cameraman for this film, who sold tickets in the booth directly below the marquis.
Whatever life I am living -- the existing conditions of that life -- always forms the living material out of which I create art. And so my whole life serves my art, my work, and filmmaking has been my chosen artistic medium for the last twelve years. I don't know if filmmaking will remain my chosen medium for much longer, as I am feeling the need for a deep change in my life rooted in a hunger for radical transformation within myself. I'm not saying that THE INVISIBLE FOREST will be my last film but it could be. This sense of finality is arousing more care and passion for this project than maybe any other film I have made before. Time will tell if any of this makes a difference to anyone but myself.
SEPTEMBER 27. After reviewing all sixteen hours of footage for the past month or so (tedium, elation, tedium, frustration, tedium, despair, elation, depression, relief, etc.), I am finally discovering what looks and feels to me like the story. I am too close to it now to write or talk about it for fear it will go away. It is total superstition. Creation, in all its bluster and magnificance, can also be such a fragile flowering thing. And right now, this flora needs more shade than light. Once thing I can share is how this has become a writing project. My character, Alex, has two voices. The voice he speaks as his conscious ego in the scenes with other speaking characters and the sometimes fainter voice of his deeper self navigating the turbulent and twisted internal landscape without a map or a compass. Well, not exactly. This deeper self's intuition is becoming a farily effective compass, especially the way it follows tangents that run against the grain and assumptions of the frustrated and irritable conscious ego. Stalking this story is a little like deep sea diving with the Psychotherapist scenes acting as life buoys serving the vital purpose of surfacing for air. It makes diving so much more fun knowing there is always some way of returning to surface.
ARTAUD (Clody Cates) calling from the infinite abyss
OCTOBER 20. I have been living in a cave (the very dark room where I review, edit and write) for the last two months or so. This is where the source of all my joy and sorrow have resided and where all my revelations and frustrations have taken hold. After much archeology of the internal landscape that is this movie, I now know how it starts, where it's going and how it ends. I have found the story. I have also completed a very rough first cut of the movie. This means that 90% of the video and film sequences are now in sequence, from start to finish, with sloppy transitions to be cleaned up later.
About 30% of the soundtrack is decided on but the "Artaud" and "Alex" voice-overs are yet to be written and recorded. That will be done over the next four weeks or so. None of the four special effects scenes (see above) are included in this first rough cut. However, I have been receiving several amazing quiktime clips from Michael McWhirter, my FX wizard in Austin Texas, proofs of what will become some truly extraordinary dream scenes (the final one clocks in somewhere between 5-7 minutes!).
What can I say about this film ? It is strange. I think most people who see my films think they are strange but this is even strange to me. It may not be as strange as David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE (which I think is more creepy than strange; I also love this film). What's strange about my new film is the way dreams are strange in that totally autonomous way they defy our control and comprehension with their own logic, force and momentum. I have relied on my own dreams to guide me here.
This is a journey film; THE INVISIBLE FOREST is a trip. It's a road movie for the imagination. You will meet familiar faces you think you know and then, find out you don't know them at all. Just like life, sometimes. Things don't always exist as they appear; that kind of strange. But what is this movie REALLY about ? It's about redemption from the bone-crushing boredom of overly-literalist thinking. It's about the razor's edge between madness and illumination. It's about an exchange of power between that which judges everything and that which still knows how to live. It's about waking up in the dream and dreaming yourself awake.
ALEX (Antero Alli) negotiates a deal with his nemesis
NOVEMBER 19. After five or six versions, the final rough cut is now done. After four months of constant reviewing of footage and assembling the scenes and shots manually (no computer used) at home (using two VHS decks, an audio/video mixer and my trusty Panasonic AG-1970 SVHS edit deck), the movie is ready for the next stage: online editing with Final Cut Pro. This is how I prepare all the movies I make. It's a massively tedious and deeply adventurous process that allows thorough access to the footage plus all the agonies and ecstacies of making every edit choice before I transfer it all as digital video into the computer. Post-production goes on the fast track this Wednesday the 21st when I meet with my online editor, Chris Odell, to create the final cut. Thanks to all the preparation and footwork already accomplished, I expect to have a final cut finished by mid-December (after 10-15 sessions of four hours each).
Friday night January 11th at 11pm (1/11 at 11pm!), Sylvi and I will host a semi-private screening for cast, crew and some friends (and maybe a few critics) at the California Theatre in downtown Berkeley. This screening will not be open to the public nor will it be promoted in the local media. This is a test screening. I need to see how our film projects on a really big screen and how it sounds over theatre speakers before inviting the public. Speaking of which, I have booked the official public premiere for Friday January 25th at 21 Grand in Oakland. The San Francisco premiere will follow in February or March (negotiations now in progress). Later in June, Sylvi and I will tour the film to Portland, Seattle and other cities (the Seattle premiere is already booked for June 15th at the Northwest Film Forum). DVDs will be available for cast and crew (as promised) possibly as early as the private cast screening and certainly by the Jan. 25th public premiere (where you must also invite all your friends and family).
NOVEMBER 29. OK, with the exception of several voice-over narratives (to be recorded this Monday night and inserted the following Tuesday), the first final cut is done. The movie clocks in at 111 minutes before the closing credits, which is a little weird seeing as that's exactly the number of minutes I thought it would be awhile ago. Thanks to all the offline hours I put in, we are ahead of schedule and I can start resting a little (and get back into the gym to burn off these sedentary "film editor" pounds). Sylvi and I have watched the film at home in awe of all the work that shows onscreen; the actors, the cinematography, the direction, the music, the editing...this is one gorgeous beast of an art film. It really is a beautiful movie and spooky in a neo-surreal (and hopefully charming) sort of way. This surrealist conceit has been secured in reality thanks to the four amazing dream sequences created by our Digital Effects Wizard, Michael McWhirter.
We are still on for a semi-private late night screening for cast, crew and friends here in Berkeley, Friday January 11th (1/11). Besides the January 25th public premiere at 21 Grand in Oakland, we are also now booked at A.T.A. in San Francisco for Friday March 14th, at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland on Friday June 6th and Sunday June 15th at Seattle's Northwest Film Forum; with more screenings to come. I am also researching certain select film festivals that might go for something as way out and dreamy as our film because I swear, it's further from the mainstream than anything I have created. And if I am wrong, sue me.
ALEX (Antero Alli) tells the Psychotherapist about the shining void
DECEMBER 1. All these positive and uplifting post-production editing experiences have left me spooked with self-doubt. What if I am self-deluded ? What if the movie is actually a big gorgeous mess ? What if the viewer gets lost in the dreamscape of this story and loses interest ? How can I know if I am really communicating anything ? I fear communication failure. Of course, the public screening will reveal all this and more but I need to solve this problem well before then. I feel like I need to focus more on what I am actually saying in this film, especially by the ending. I feel that I have been too caught up in the beauty and dazzle of everything. Though beauty is important to any good art and this film is exquisite to look at, it must move people beyond aesthetics. It must make us think and moreso, to see things in a new way. Anything less would, for me, a failure and not worthy of all the time and effort invested in this highly ambitious project.
Where does the central character, Alex, end up ? The last time we see Alex he is in a dreamscape telepathically conversing with his dream nemesis, Artaud; they are conducting some type of a high stakes negotiation (OK, I know what it is but I'm keeping that part secret). The last time we see Alex is in a dream. We don't see him wake up in the Psychotherapist's room. We don't know if his dreambody found another home besides his earthbody; we don't know if he just left his body and died or, what. It's ambiguous. We also don't know if Alex is crazy in a very big way or just a little nuts. Again, ambiguity. What we do know is that he has been coming out of hypnotic regression trance consistently whenever he hears the Doctor's command, "Alex...Alex...1...2...3", (and snaps his fingers). Except for the final dream, where we hear the Doctor's exit command over and over again, fading away. Alex is nowhere to be seen. Where did he go ? What the hell happened to Alex ?
MIRANDA (Jessica Bockler) wakes up dreaming
DECEMBER 7. The preview print may be done; I think it's done. The preview print is the version I show cast and crew at the private screening and also where we test the film to see and hear how it plays on the big screen and through a big audio system. This version is very important as it allows for any last-minute editing changes reflecting gross oversights of my own and/or other technical problems that need fixing. The preview print is the last version before the final cut, what the public is allowed to see. I have also chosen to post brief clip of the film. It's not a trailer or a teaser but four uninterrupted mintes from the larger film. This clip shows a segment of a dream between two other dreams. Much of this film is structured in that kind of dream within a dream modality that I have seen in those beautifully-crafted, hollow Chinese dolls that contain smaller and smaller dolls inside each one.
DECEMBER 25. First news is that I have moved the project main web page to the new site. The old links to this project will still get you there but you may wish to update your bookmarks anyway. Over the past couple weeks I have invited a handful of people to watch the film in my home. These people were mostly unrelated to this project and willing to give me their honest feedback. For the most part, the film was a success in all their eyes and even for differing reasons. What was even more valuable to me was the overlapping critiques of where the film lagged or bogged down; mostly in the Therapist scenes. These scenes were all improvised and so there's always a certain development that takes place before we get to the point and, that development takes time and patience.
Some of this development feels very vital to me and not anything I would cut out. Then there's the dead time masquerading as "development" that I totally missed. So, I am grateful to catch that. I am also reminded just how different these scenes are from the more kinetic, colorful and lyrical dream scenes that dominate the screen time of this film. By themselves, the therapist scene don't lag to me but in context to all the dream scenes that flow in, around and out of these scenes, they do appear slower by comparison. Tricky stuff. Tomorrow, I return to the editing suite and make these minor yet significant changes.
The January 11th cast, crew and friends screening is officially on (the theatre contracts were signed and faxed last week). I will send you all e-mails in a week or so with more details; it will be in a downtown Berkeley theatre and we'll meet there around 11:11pm on 1/11. And guess what ? I will also have dvds for cast and crew that night! Note to the actors: you have my permission to extract and copy any scene you appear in this movie for your Actor's Reel. I will not do this for you but it is not difficult or complicated to do yourself or if you wish a professional, with especially low "artist rates" to do it for you, I highly recommend Chris Odell. His e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
ALEX (Antero Alli) approaching the Invisible Forest
JANUARY 14, 2008. The late night private cast and crew screening went without a hitch or a glitch. We saw the movie on the biggest screen of the California Theatre. I don't know how most of the twenty or so people who saw it felt about it (hint hint) as we had to clear the theatre pretty soon after it was over (thank you Garret and James for your follow-up communiques). For me the screening was an edifying experience and a relief. I am happy with the film as it is except for certain technical aspects I will correct this Thursday when I return to the edit bay. Some of the therapist scenes were too dark. Though we shot it to give it the look and feel of a dimly lit room, we may have gone too far in some of the scenes.
Part of the problem was also the great distance between projector itself and the screen; we projected from the very back of the large theatre and lost some luminosity that way. And so, I plan to create a special "brighter" dvd for future screenings with these type of circumstances (by the way, these therapist scenes are not too dark on most computer or TV monitors). The audio proved much better than I expected; audio can be tricky. The film and music sounded pretty good. There were two places where the audio popped too loud and I'll balance those on Thursday as well. I think the audio mixer that the theatre used also produced these weird popping sounds I don't remember ever hearing before and I have listened to this film a lot of times.
The public world premiere has been pushed forward to Friday February 8th at 21 Grand in Oakland and then, there's the San Francisco premiere Friday March 14th at A.T.A. (both shows start at 8pm). I am working to book screenings in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Nevada City CA, and Port Townsend WA. We have already booked Friday June 6th at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland and Sunday June 15th at the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle. I am also reviewing a handful of film festivals to determine if any of them might find this trippy little art film an audience. I am especially keen on finding European outlets for "The Invisible Forest" and am open to any and all suggestions about any or all of the above. Oh yeah. I was a little freaked out seeing my likeness projected so massively large onscreen but I will get over it.
FEBRUARY 3. Antonin Artaud (1895-1948) was a French playwright, poet, actor and director associated with the Surrealist movement of the 1920s (who later left to cut his own wilderness path). It is impossible to encapsulate Artaud’s vision of a magic theatre without grasping the central role imagination played. For Artaud, imagination was reality; dreams, thoughts and hallucinations were no less real than the "outside" world. His was a theatre of the Subconscious made conscious through the unforgiving lens of what he called The Theatre of Cruelty.
This was no literal use of the word cruelty but rather (in his words), "cruelty, as in the sense of an appetite for life, a cosmic rigor, an implacable necessity, in the gnostic sense of a living whirlwind that devours the darkness; it is the consequence of an act. Everything that acts is a cruelty. It is upon this idea of extreme action, pushed beyond all limits, that theatre must be rebuilt.“
Throughout his life Artaud endured abject poverty, frustrating the realization of his grand theatrical dreams and visions; he became bitter and enraged. His suffering worsened and eventually landed him in an asylum where for twelve years he was subject to experimental electroshock therapy. Though much of his writing was incomprehensible to the layman, his madness yielded occasional peaks of extraordinary lucidity and undeniable brilliance.
One such work, “New Revelations of Being” stood out to me as a great monologue for “Hermes, an amnesiac god”, a character I dreamt up (played by James Wagner) who acts as the dream ego for Alex, the sleep-deprived theatre director (played by myself). I also borrowed from Shakespeare’s plays, one dialogue (“Romeo & Juliet”) and two monologues (“The Tempest”), to give shape to the dream logos of a story rooted in the internal landscape of Alex’s memories and dreams as he undergoes hypnotic regression.
“The Invisible Forest” is a journey tale, a sojourn through the labrynthian maze of dreams within dreams within dreams. I share this journey with you as it came to me through a series of steps, leaps and stumbles into terra incognito where, like a dream itself, the meaning became secondary to the visions and spirits conjured.
The Silver Apple Tree
MARCH 15. The first two public screenings -- the Feb. 8th world premiere in Oakland and last night's San Francisco premiere -- went very well with nearly full houses. The Oakland audience expressed a wonderful silence after the screening with very little to say in the Q&A. Over the years, I have faced many types of audience silence -- from the dreadful to the awestruck -- and this silence leaned towards the latter. I stood before them eyes open in this silence. An unusual moment. I remember feeling very separate that night in a spooky kind of way, like when Hermes (in the film) says, "I am not dead but I am... separated." Maybe I was just spooked by seeing my likeness blown up so large onscreen; don't think I'll ever get used to that.
The San Francisco audience was more actively responsive in the post-screening Q&A sending me questions about the movie and my process. I found myself wondering how I come off in these moments. Am I pretentious or too serious ? Am I odd or funny ? Do they like me ? Do they understand me ? One free spirited woman in the back row asked if she could come up front and read a poem she wrote. By all means! She stepped out and read an invocation of serious whimsy. Simply astonishing. Her words summoned the poetics of entering greater unknowns without trying to assign meaning to anything along the way, a process that mirrored my very experience in making this film and what I hope it conveys to others. What delight!
After two public screenings, I'm starting to get a better sense of what this film is; maybe not so much what it is but what it does. The film seems to act on the audience -- in greater and lesser degrees -- as a kind of trance induction. What I intuitively picked up from these two audiences is how they showed just enough patience and curiosity to watch the film without trying too hard to figure everything out, allowing for an openness to the influx of images, sounds and actions that -- as in dreams -- carry their own innate meanings and purpose. This idea is very close to my heart and I will try not to expect future audiences to "get" it but listen closely to their responses in my quest for more reality.
The next opportunity arrives 8pm, Friday March 21st in Berkeley at the Grace North Sanctuary. This is an old wooden church pastored by a rather radical elder named Father Richard who has been kind enough to let me screen there for the last eight months or so. Where the altar once stood there's now a screen and when the lights go out, you can't tell you're sitting in pews. The sound system and projection is decent and the ambience, warm and spacious. However, not many people know Grace North Sanctuary as an underground cinema. Ha ha! And so, it's been a pet project of mine to build this presence there in the hopes of expanding this opportunity to local underground filmmakers. Spread the word!
Nick Walker as Id Savant
APRIL 10. So far, the film has been seen by about 200 people. The third public screening at Grace North Sanctuary went very well. The post-screening Q&A raised some great comments and queries. It seemed that this audience was more comfortable with and excited by the dream-like flow of plot-free imagery and the uncertainty of not always having to know what was going on. My kind of people. I really enjoy the ambience of this sanctuary venue so I am bringing the film back there for its next screening, Saturday April 26th. This will be followed by a slew of screenings starting Friday May 9th in Stinson Beach with more to come in Eugene OR, Portland, Seattle, maybe Tacoma WA, and maybe Sacramento and Santa Cruz (I will post new shows on the main movie page).
MAY 24. The film received its first review from Cedrus Monte, a Jungian Analyst from Zurich Switzerland who has offered a more apt interpretation than I could ever hope for. Basically, she got the film; she saw what I was seeing when I made it. And this pleased me greatly; reassuring, actually. When plumbing the depths of one's own psyche as I have with this project, I was haunted by the daunting prospect that nobody would or could be able to follow me and see where I was headed. To be seen in those depths by someone at such a distance carries a kind of deep relief for me. It was as if she was already on, or had undergone, a similar journey and if "The Invisible Forest" is anything, it's a journey story. I especially liked her reference to the ending:
"Alli’s dreamstory winds itself through a rich tapestry of labyrinthine dreams within dreams, dreams that eventually carry us through to the shattering and regenerative conclusion where all dreamthreads converge, yet bring us beyond finality or conclusion. We are led, rather, to a psycho-genesis of the mind, a place where new life and vision begin."
Another Jungian analyst, Cydny Rothe, saw the film May 9th at Stinson Beach. She saw the film by way of a happy accident. Cydny came to the venue thinking she was attending a nature documentary (!) while on a vacation with her friend; imagine her surprise when the Psychotherapist scenes began! She also really got the film and expressed interest in using the film or parts of it for her teaching processes, which I agreed to; she bought a dvd. Ms. Rothe's area of research and expertise is with the archetypes of the Anima and Animus and also, with Dreamwork.
Sylvi and I start our 3-week west coast tour with the film on June 1st, visiting Eugene OR (June 5), Portland (June 6), Seattle (June 15), Bellingham (June 18) and Sacramento (June 27) with a possible stops in Salem OR on June 20 and other towns. All the details at the movie website. This will be our most exhaustive west coast tour to date; keeping up to date with all the publicity management has been challenging to say the least. Now I know why there are Professional Publicists; if I could only afford one. This website has become a crucial tool in this way; thank you Dreamweaver. I also recently gave a pretty good interview on the making of this film at: "A Deliberate Disorientation of the Senses". This will be my final blog entry for another month or so; keep checking the website for any screening updates and new reviews. Avoir and adios!
The amazing Hollywood Theatre in Portland OR
JUNE 24. We're back from our 3-week northwest tour. Our film saw four more premieres: Eugene OR (Diva Center), Portland OR (Hollywood Theatre), Seattle WA (Northwest Film Forum) and Bellingham WA (Pickford Cinema). We also had a special showing of "The Mind is a Liar and a Whore" at the Northern Lights Theatre Pub in Salem OR. While we were on the road the film picked up another review, this time from author Erik Davis which you can read here.
I'm still a bit dazed from all the delirium of driving almost 3000 miles. All in all, the journey was a success. Our first visit to DIVA Center attracted the smallest audience but their venue was awesome -- projection and sound system were first rate -- and we were asked to return whenever we wanted to. Eugene is a strange town. There's this genuine anarchist spirit there married to an almost jock mentality. At night, the main streets were abuzz and humming with techno-rave beats, dancing and cavorting into the wee hours. Yes, out in the actual streets. The motel we slept in that night felt like the set of an early David Lynch film, one of his more bizarre short films, like "The Grandmother". The next morning we hit the road to Portland for our audio=video tech before the screening later that night.
I love Portland; maybe my favorite city. There's a vital and fertile subculture thriving there now. Though I have been to Portland many times, I always forget how profusely the city is inundated with these massively gorgeous old growth trees, as if the city was born inside a sprawling forest. The force of the earth is very strong in Portland and brings a certain grace to the place, the people and the culture. Portland's Hollywood Theatre also saw our largest draw (and the biggest screen with great projection and sound) with about 50 in attendance and a fantastic Q & A. session. (I will return to Portland in October to talk on the "8-Circuit Brain" at the cyberpunk ESOZONE conference. More on Portland later.)
One week later. Our 2pm matinee screening at Seattle's prestigious Northwest Film Forum fell on the third of three sunny days after a three week stretch of cold rainy misery. If I lived in Seattle, I wouldn't want to go see a movie; I'd want to be out in the sun. Though attendance was small (about ten in all), they were highly responsive and found the film engaging. I was only disappointed by the poor video projection quality (the NWFF must upgrade their technology!); the picture had this subtle fluttering in luminosity that I'm sure the audience thought was just part of the movie. Arghhh.
Our show in Bellingham made up for the dim bulb of Seattle; what a delightful surprise! Not only did about 35 people show up on a Wednesday night (it's a small 65-seat theatre) but the projection and sound were of the highest quality on our entire tour. Their new digital projector is an InFocus 7210, native 720p and I want one! Seriously on my wish list. One more screening to go this Friday night in West Sacramento at the Shiny Object, an old warehouse coverted into an underground cinema; should be fun. And then back to Berkeley for rest and recovery.
The most startling experience on this journey had to be my full-on desire to move to Portland Oregon, a fantasy that has made a home in my psyche for the last two years. We both need a significant change now and a move to P-town seems to have all the right elements in place. But I need to first carefully assess many factors to see if and how "the pros" outweigh "the cons". Or vice versa. Portland acts on me like a siren's song, alluring and dangerous, and I really need to know why I want or need to move there; I mean, the deep down reasons and not just the classic siren and shipwrecked sailor saga.
Sigh. A gorgeous Portland house (in the Belmont area) we were counting on leasing for year fell through and so we're back to Berkeley and ground zero; wasn't meant to be. What to do ? Not time yet to make any hard decisions. And so, we lay low, listen and pay attention to the still small voice within that tells the truth and bypasses the rest.
One thing I have decided, after eighteen years of making films, is to take a break. Though I will still support public screenings of my films, I need to withdraw from the craziness of actual film production; for how long I cannot say. I look forward to to redirecting my energies and focus towards writing (I have at least two more books in me), teaching and continuing my lifelong commitment to paratheatre. I am in an auspicious period of deep review and reflection to determine where and how I wish to live out the rest of my fifties (I turn 56 on 11/11) while keeping track of the constellations above and their starry counterparts within.
JANUARY 25, 2010. Since its premiere, THE INVISIBLE FOREST screened about dozen times up and down the west coast with two more screenings scheduled this year: Jan. 29th at ATA in SF and February 5th at Grace North Church in Berkeley. The screenings have been a lot of fun and very informative. I was surprised by the consistently positive response to a film I assumed might be too esoteric to follow. In fact, THE INVISIBLE FOREST has probably seen the most positive response of all my films so far. Go figure. About Portland....the housing market crash of 2009 inhibited our planned move to magical Portland and so, we've decided to stay put in our cozy 100-plus year old north Berkeley house. And, we're glad we did. There's a lot going on for us here in the Bay area -- it would take at least a few years in a new city to even begin fulfilling our ravenous creative appetites.
For those who have seen THE INVISIBLE FOREST already, you may wonder what happened to my character Alex at the end. Does he die? Did he shift into another dimension? Is he dreaming another kind of dream? No easy answers. Ironically enough, the two years following the making of THE INVISIBLE FOREST had me (in real life) passing through a very similar kind of wormhole, an existential tunnel with no apparent outlet or return. I was a Tunnel Man without a flashlight and without a clue. I was starting to think that maybe the movie I made cast some kind of unintentional voodoo on me until I realized that I simply needed a big break from filmmaking.
THE INVISIBLE FOREST ended a ten year roller-coaster of nonstop film production -- I was burnt out without knowing it. During the down time of 2008 and 2009, I participated in paratheatre dreaming rituals through four separate group labs. I also wrote and published my next book, THE EIGHT-CIRCUIT BRAIN, while waiting around for the Muses to call or strike or whatever they do to get my attention. Well, they finally got my attention and due to their unflinching demands for secrecy, I'm not at liberty to discuss the visions they are sending me except to say, it looks like they are informing the writing of a screenplay towards the production of my next film. This feels to me like a 2010 project and so, I would not be surprised if it was ready for the cinema later this year, maybe the Autumn months. As time marches on, I will start a new web page and blog about this new mystery project; stay tuned!
BACK TO 'THE INVISIBLE FOREST' MAIN PAGE