DVC14 - Fish Like to Travel in Pairs - Joseph Tran at DVinfo.net

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Old November 21st, 2008, 01:39 PM   #1
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DVC14 - Fish Like to Travel in Pairs - Joseph Tran

So this is my third DVC, and I'm happy to say that this is a bit of a departure from my previous two shorts. I'm always trying something different with my DVC projects, especially with all the talent and inspiration from you fellow dvinfo'ers. This time, I chose to tell a story without dialogue, and boy was that a tough thing to do while keeping the story logistics in check! Shot in two days (technically three, but the footage from the third day didn't make this cut), and made a lot of new friends.

Oh, and if you tried watching the piece on YouTube on Monday... apparently, YouTube chewed up my video when it tried to render to HQ... it's fixed, so go back and see it again (or for the first time).

Anyway, I present to you, my colleagues: "Fish Like to Travel in Pairs".
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Old November 21st, 2008, 01:46 PM   #2
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Another great film from you ! To be able to set those shots up, with trains in and out, riding on board, and with potential for passengers ruining the shot--- it was a great job. Loved the scene where he was posting the found notice. Great cinematic shots, and very entertaining, too.

Did the fish make it all the way ? Story was a bit predictable and sappy..... just the way I like it !!
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Old November 21st, 2008, 02:12 PM   #3
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Haha, who doesn't like a sappy story now and then?

As to predictability, well, there were a few endings. We decided that the fish couldn't die, and, in turn, that the boy and girl have to eventually find each other. It also worked out that way, because I was running near my 5-min limit as well. Nancy, who played the girl in the film, said, "Just like Ross and Rachel have to get back together, these two people have to meet!"

Ultimately, I wanted the fish and the humans to be parallel metaphors for each other. Did anyone get that? Or did I read into it too deeply when I wrote it?

The trains and people were nearly a logistical nightmare. Our agreement with the MTA was that we couldn't stop the normal activities of the subway system. Plus the loading area was between two separate tracks, so to keep the continuity between the background and foreground was quite a challenge. Extras were mostly our crew going in and out of the shots and/or people we had asked prior to any particular shot. Shot near and in Hollywood, so everyone felt they were a part of a big movie, perhaps. Again, we made plenty of new friends.

And similarly to my first piece -- no animals were harmed in the making of this film. We actually got 8 fish for the piece -- three pairs were assigned for different shots, and a fourth was always resting nearby in case another pair got tired. After the production, the Girl, our two camera guys, and our background actor in the subway all got to go home with a pair of fish!
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Old November 21st, 2008, 04:05 PM   #4
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Joseph, ever since your Metamorphosis entry, I loved the way you tell the story. This one, while predictable, was very entertaining, especially the shot where you try to explain to the girl how you had to drink the water from the bottle etc, so funny and sweet, just perfect for this :)

Well, other than that...

"They must never know..."

:)
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Old November 21st, 2008, 05:33 PM   #5
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Joseph,

Even thought we all knew where the story was going, you made it such an interesting ride we happily went a long. You have an unmatched eye for shot composition, and I think your magician background has taught you how to direct the viewers eye. I loved the yellow wall and the camera angles used in the subway.

As an actor you have so much sensitivity and expressiveness in your face, you could sit and do nothing, and we would watch. The sudden urgency of the discovery of the fish, the rush, the rapid cuts in sync with the music, and then the change of pace to the acceptance that you had these fish on your hands.

The joy of retelling the story with your hands, the beautiful shot at the lake, the small gesture of the girl taking your hand, you are a master story teller.

Then you ended it with my favorite shot, the fish being put into the water.

Beautiful.
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Old November 21st, 2008, 05:35 PM   #6
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And I did get that the two fish were a metaphor for the couple.
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Old November 21st, 2008, 05:52 PM   #7
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Yes. What Dick said in post #5…that’s the perfect reply.

But how can I leave it at that? I’ve been long-winded several other places, might as well continue.

Joseph, you’ll have to pardon me for this, but the older women get, it seems the more they think they can say whatever they want. Anyway…You are soooooo cute!!! You have a great smile. (Sensitivity and expressiveness just didn't quite cover it.) :)

Now for a few *more technical* observations:

I liked the scene where you passed time by trying to communicate with the fish. Blinking through the bag was pretty funny!

What I really liked? When you awoke on the train and first saw the girl’s reflection rather than turning and seeing her. That was cool.

So how many instant pictures did you take? I think I saw at least five. Your uneasiness in the restroom with the camera was hilarious, by the way. Oh, and I didn't even count the number of shirt changes.

To most people this is just another really good short. To those of us who know what you had to go through with the train nightmare it was an amazing feat! I can’t imagine it--my stomach would have been in knots.

“No animals were harmed in the making of this film.” LOL! Your solution reminded me of the film industry using twins in movies involving a child so that when one gets tired the other one can step in. :) (I think that's a rule?)

Thanks for trying something new on us, yet again. You’ve done three films for this challenge and each one is fresh and different…and one just as wonderful as the next!
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Old November 21st, 2008, 05:54 PM   #8
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Joseph, shots like the subway pulling away must've been done in one take, right? If not, that would've been a huge reset time for take 2! Well planned and executed. No problems getting permission from the transit authority? It seems these days, it's not easy to have cameras in places that might be considered a security risk.

You've pulled off another charming story and did it without words this time. Nice choice in music as well. Do you have connections with those artists? Keep up the great work.
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Old November 21st, 2008, 06:04 PM   #9
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Hey Joseph,

Neat story. As others were saying, it is predictable.

Visually telling a story without dialog is difficult.

My favorite shots were in the restroom of you taking the photo, then the guy walking in and all the 'fish found' posters on the wall. That was great.

Two suggestions on editing.

At 2:38, you have a wide shot of you in front of a subway with people getting off, then you cut to the subway moving fast, but the shot doesn't change, it's pretty much the same wide shot, very jarring to me anyway. Maybe intentional. I would have shot a CU or something and cut to that.

This next one isn't a critique, just what I would have done.
At 4:08, you have someone walk by R-L while you're sitting on the bench. I would have started the shot off a little sooner, then used the person walking by as a transition to the next scene. But that's just me.

I noticed you thanked the LA Transportation and Sheriff's office in Los Angeles. Did you have to work through them to shoot in the subway? Way cool, added a LOT of production value.

I enjoyed watching it. Nicely done.
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Old November 21st, 2008, 07:41 PM   #10
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Practically everything has been said - a wonderfully entertaining sweet film with excellent composition and timing. Your choice of music really carried the visual elements well.... showing once again the importance of sound to the experience. The visual elements told the story, and the sound added the emotional element.

I was ready for a sappy ending. Thanks !

Great job.
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Old November 21st, 2008, 07:57 PM   #11
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I keep reading Pairs as Paris. I picture two fish on the subway, holding baguettes, twirling thin little mustaches, saying "oh ho ho" ("we all talk like Maurice Chevalier!"). Could be a hell of a story, I'm telling you.

Seriously, though, shooting in the subway? Damn. I would think that'd be a major problem for smaller productions like ours, but it sounds like it was relatively simple. To get permission, anyway, maybe not to actually shoot. Had you done anything with the MTA before, or was this a first for you?

The shot of you trying to walk down the up escalator seems a little odd, but I absolutely love the shot right before it, where your fish baggie won't stand up. Little things like that amuse me, I have no idea why.

I think an obvious, mushy ending is a nice break from a flood of twists, tragedies and all sorts of other 'edgy' setups you see so often. I like a twist, sure, but it's good to ease up once in a while. I like what you did here.
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Old November 23rd, 2008, 08:59 PM   #12
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Again, I thank everyone for their comments! I've read every comment very thoroughly, and value every bit of feedback.

So to give you some more answers and more background on the film:

This was our first production shootng on the MTA. It helps to be super nice and accomodating to everyone, especially since both the Sheriffs department and Homeland Security are here monitoring everyone (both physically and on cameras). And yes, we had to work with them very carefully. There are too many cameras in there for them not to know of our presence. In fact, we got stopped by Homeland because of a miscommunication between them and the MTA. Luckily, one of the sheriffs we befriended vouched for us, and our subsequent days of shooting went pretty smoothly.

In short, we called the MTA, and after a few back and forths, our agreement with them was that, 1. we were going to shoot without setups, tripods, etc, and 2. we wouldn't get in the way with the regular operation of the subway. James, my co-director, and I had discussed that most of the shoot would be handheld anyway, since I wanted a very voyeuristic feel to the piece (esp. with no dialogue). That also meant that we couldn't use any light setups, however -- all of the light you see was ambient and/or reflected off of our reflectors.

So, to get the cameramen, people holding reflectors, trains in background, correct fish, and extras in the right position, we had to dedicate an entire day to pre-production and choreography. CHOROEOGRAPHY was key in this one.

We did do multiple takes for the trains, but that had to be carefully mapped out. Essentially, the trains run every 10 minutes or so. So, every 10 minutes, we'd shoot a train sequence. In between the trains, we would shoot other sequences that didn't require the train in the background. Basically, we were always shooting something at some point -- when the train was there, we'd stop everything to shoot something requiring the train. When the train wasn't there, we'd shoot close-ups, arrivals, B-roll, etc. to take advantage of the train's 'reset time'. This could've been a logistical nightmare, but my (small) crew really came through on working together as a single unit. Again, choreography was key. That, and getting permission!

Speaking of permission, yes, I have connections with the artists in some form or another. One of my jobs involves traveling around L.A. and listing to unsigned artists, and in turn recommending them to the catalogs that use the music for show montages. So, I either find music through that, knowing the artists themselves, through campus music fests, etc. I love a lot of the indie bands that I hear, so I'm always turning to them to score my shorts. It's a win, win for everyone.

On another note, I had a discussion with several people about "predictability" of this short, and I retract my support of that opinion. In fact, I believe it is unfair to call this piece, "predictable". One of my mentors says, "people will always call sappy stories predictable." Whether or not that is the case, this short does have a common trait in movies that is difficult to put into a short: the three act structure. The story does have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Can we say that most of the shorts we've seen in our lifetimes have some kind of wrap up? Sure it's another boy meets girl story, but how would you have felt if I had not closed the story? When I sat down with all the other story writers, we chose to close the story -- again, a difficult feet considering the pains that the Boy in the piece goes through in five minutes. It's okay for the boy to get the girl once in a while these days, and I agree with Robert -- sometimes we do need the break from all the twists and tragedies (with sometimes end too abruptly). How many Harry Met Sallys have we all seen? Did we sneer at the predictability, or did we sneer at the fact that the piece was mushy? The story is about the fish here -- if I had made something more happen between the boy and the girl, I would've had a 10 minute piece in my hands, at least. I chose to illustrate the Boy and the fish until the very last minute, and even that ran long the first time around. I couldn't have made the girl over 6' tall again, could I? I knew I wanted a sappy piece -- my biggest challenge, however, was to make us care enough for the Boy to want him to win. Anyway, not attacking anyone -- I respect everyone's opinion of such... but of I could sway one person away from that opinion, then this paragraph is a success.

James H. -- I'm gonna take a look at your editing suggestions and see if I can change the MS to MS shots around, thanks.

Instant pictures -- we took zero, actually. A pack of 10 polaroids cost twenty bucks, and the clarity is not all that great. So we took a few photos with my digital camera, photoshopped them to size, printed out some cheap 4x6's at the local drugstore, and cut them to size. Voila -- much better quality "polaroids". Add some sound effects in post, and none the wiser. (I'm rather proud of the money we saved on this one, but Lorinda's moving train illusion still tops the cake).

As to the acting, yes, my magician background certainly helps, along with my background in theatre. I also figure this is where I could get us to care about the Boy the most -- little nuances that make us feel like we are sitting next to him, waiting for the girl ourseves. I thank you for seeing the expressiveness -- that is, too, all subjective, and I have to rely on your thoughts on whether or not I've been successful in that aspect of the craft.

Lorinda, I'm blushing, btw ;)

Again, many thanks for your feedback. I feel I'm learning at an exponential rate because of the community here, and for that, I cannot thank everyone enough. Oh, and Robert -- I think I'm gonna make my sequel, "Fish Like to Travel in ParIS!"

See you all on the boards...
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Old November 24th, 2008, 01:40 AM   #13
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Oh man…someone should have been rolling for a behind-the-scenes documentary on this short! I mean it; that would have been quite a show in itself. Thanks for taking the time to give us insight on the challenges, Joseph.

To me, the issue is not about whether or not this film was predictable. The question I have, and feel like your statements support it, is why do we look at “predictable” as a bad thing? I certainly don’t. If all the predictable movies I’ve watched over the years weren’t, to one extent or another, I’d have been irritated. Most of the time I want a happy ending, and not just with “sappy love stories" but with westerns, war movies, sci-fi--you name it.

You make a good point about the story revolving around the boy and the fish. I’ll confess that, in terms of predictability, I was assuming the boy would find the girl and return the fish, so my mind wasn’t thinking about a love story; although, I wasn’t at all surprised when it turned out that way.

…Which then asks the question, do I have to be surprised??? NO!!!
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Old November 24th, 2008, 01:53 AM   #14
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I disagree that it was predicatable. In fact I wondered how it would end... and I was glad for a happy ending. All too often indies feel they have to make a film end badly for one character or another. a nice ending is something I think we could use more of.

Your film was a really well done, sweet, funny and yet poignant story. AND...told without any dialogue. Your theatre background and film-making ingenuity showed. This was one of my favorites amongst a stellar cast of films this round. Knowing the efforts you had to go through to shoot "on-location" as you did only magnifies the appreciation.

Bravo.

ps. Did anyone ask about a permit?
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Old November 24th, 2008, 06:44 AM   #15
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There was an under current of tension throughout the piece. Was I the only one thinking he might get hungry with all that waiting around and eat the fish?
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