Thursday, January 25, 2007

My First Live-Action Film


"The Civilization of Maxwell Bright" is my first effort at production design for a live-action film. It was one of those low budget "labor of love" projects where the director mortgages his house to raise the budget capital, etc. Although it won some awards, including a Grand Prize at the Florida Film Festival and a Best Actor award for lead actor Patrick Warburton at some other festival, it's hard to find a place to see it. I don't think it is out on DVD yet. A Vancouver BC company called Industry Works is the distributor. Click HERE to view the trailer. The following is the synopsis from the Austin Film Festival:

"Boasting standout performances from Warburton and Roberts, the film tells the story of electronics salesman Maxwell Bright. His relationships with women are explosive and cruel, so he resolves to find his fantasy woman: demure, submissive and obedient. Ultimately he decides to buy a Chinese mail-order bride. When Mai Ling arrives, she attempts to awaken the peaceful Buddha in Max while he introduces her to American luxury, carnality and freedom. Max's entire world spirals out of control when Mai Ling suddenly becomes his only foundation."

23 comments:

Steve Moore said...

Hey Fred,
I'm curious to see some of your work from this film. What was the difference in working with live action?

Fred Cline said...

Hi Steve,
The long answer to your question is:
This film had no budget and relatively no lead time, so the design was a matter of establishing a plan - which in this case started with a breakdown of moments in the story and notes detailing what I wanted to do with all the visual elements for every moment: color, shape, space, texture, lighting, order/chaos, symbolic metaphors, etc. So the initial idea process is similar to the way I would approach an animated film. The next step, in a film with a big budget would be to do some design concepts/illustrations which would then be interpreted into real sets etc. We did not build sets, we scouted and chose existing sets - some were houses and offices that belonged to the producers, etc. - donated to save production money. So I did not do illustrations of any kind. My work of selecting and arranging the visual elements can only be seen in the actual film. As we chose sets, costumes, props, etc. we would do what we could to make sure everything conformed/supported the design plan. If we came across sets that did not conform to these ideas, we would repaint, redress, rearrange, or shoot the scene in a way that would emphasize the things that supported the design idea and frame out the things that distracted from or worked against the design idea. I did build some flats that were used as temporary walls to hide parts of the interiors that were visually unwanted. We would paint and dress the flats so they integrated with the existing interiors. My entire art department budget was (I kid you not - don't fall over dead) $3500.00 The producer would call favors to provide things for which we could not pay.
The difference in animation is that there are relatively few physical or financial limitations inhibiting animation visuals. Although the tight schedule and low budget of this film did give me carte blanche within the severe limitations. The director and producer trusted me to do my thing. In animation, the budgets and schedules seem at times to be unlimited. This gives producers and directors the luxury of being able to venture into the realm of everyone else's areas of expertise. This often causes expensive chaos which disappoints everyone - including the audience. I was fortunate that the director and I were in sync with how I planned the visuals to support the dramatic needs of the story. Having gone through the experience, I can see why some people prefer independent film to big studio productions - just for the fact that they get more focused ideas of a singular creative vision.

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