True, there have been a number of posts already about this film. However, this is the first one in a while and the first one since Gabe suggested we just simplify and call the thing Leonardo, in honor of the main character.
So, here it is, our latest film, this one produced for the Screen Wars Drama challenge. While filling out the submission form yesterday, I was forced to write a one-line blurb for the film. I wrote: "Roma, 1958. A professional killer receives his latest commission and is torn between duty and desire." Too dramatic? Too much of the obsession/love angle?
I think this film is significant in a couple of big ways and many smaller ones. First, it's a first big step in making films for ourselves, instead of making films for challenges. The challenge requires a three-minute film, but we went ahead and made the film at our pace and to our liking, and it ends up being about six minutes. We knew we could always cut it down to qualify for the challenge, but first and foremost we did it our way. So, I don't look at the long version as a Director's Cut, but just the real cut, and the short cut is the Screen Wars version.
Second, it was super ambitious in a number of small ways, but I think we pulled it off convincingly. I mean, c'mon, an Italian period piece shot in Phoenix!? Get real! Yet, we carefully selected our locations and took great care to minimize the modern influences that would betray the time period: the cafe scene on the Tucchetti patio, the car scenes with an actual 1950's Alfa Romeo, the apartment scene at the Hotel San Carlos, the grocery scene at Calabria, and the store room scene in Gabe's garage. There are a few straggling modern items in the shots (e.g., digital scale behind Eddie Davis in the grocery), but these will be cleaned up for the final cut.
We filled the locations with great props that evoked the place and time. The espresso cups, the weathered looking folder and envelope, the black and white photograph, the car(!), the old map of Rome, the holster, the dominos, and the old hats, to name a few. The issue of the Italian magazine Tempo from 1958 came just a few days too late, but would have been a great touch sitting on Leonardo's desk.
This film was also an experiment in cinematograpy for us. Prior to the film, I did some actual research on cinematography techniques, made notes, and then executed on them. Visually, the film was inspired by Gordon Willis' work on the Godfather trilogy. I got some help from some real cinematographers in figuring out just what that style really entailed. In a nutshell: underexpose 1 1/2 stops and push back a single stop in post, medium to long focal lengths, don't be afraid to leave things in shadows, high camera positions.
With the help of Ken Beals and the extra lights he was able to bring along, we were able to light all of the scenes really well, and stop down to where we needed to be. So, we were shooting dark scenes that weren't really dark on the set, so we got darkness without the noise or less of detail. We had 3-4K of wattage on nearly every shot.
Another thing I tried was using daylight white balance with tungsten light fixtures. This was something I read that Vitorio Storarro used in a number of films, to simulate a golden sunset glow. This worked, but we just didn't have the wattage to make it work as much as I would have liked (we could have used a 10K fixture if we had one), but I fixed it up in post to get the look I was going for.
Now, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the acting. I didn't know what to expect of Marco as a lead actor prior to the filming. Heck, I didn't even know if he was into this, or would stick it out with us through all the long shoots in different locations over a number of days. Not only did he stick it out, but he was terrific. In a film whose story is mainly told through voiceover, he was doing some great and unexpected physical acting that really captured the thought processes as expressed in the screenplay. On a number of occassions, he had Brock and I looking at each other during takes with what can only be described as absolute delight over what we were seeing. In the end, he was explaining the characters motivations to us more eloquently than we could explain it to him. Of course, Brock was responsible for coaching Marco, and whatever he was telling Marco obviously worked.
The film has a really unique pace and feel to it. Very European and simple, observational of the characters and their lives. To give you an idea, I was able to cut the film in half for the short cut without removing a single story element. Nearly all of the original shots are there (I think I cut out a grand total of three shots), just cut shorter.
Thanks to Gabe for his hard work, Ken for his hard work and truckload of gear, Angie for the makeup and support, and Marco, Joe, Bonnie, Luke, Larry, and Tim for playing their roles. THe cooperation from people outside of the Matter of Chance family, including Scott and John from Tucchetti, Maria, Carlo, and Eddie from Calabria, Bill and Terry from the Alfa Romeo Owner's Club was outstanding! We can't thank them enough.