“We Accidentally Made a Film About Addiction”

If you saw that odd film I posted last week you might have wondered what the heck it was and how such a thing got made without quite a lot of illegal substances. Despite the title of this writing, I assure you there was no drug abuse going on.

In case you haven’t seen it yet you should probably watch it or this explanation won’t make any sense. Conversely, the movie won’t make much sense without this explanation. But watch it first anyway.

The Production

This whole thing started more than two years ago after I had finished a big project. I wanted to make something smaller, shorter and with easier production logistics. I hate logistics. That’s why I don’t aspire to be a producer.

The original idea was to make a mock “art” film even though I have never seen a real art movie. I seem to have a propensity toward spoofing things of which I have only the loosest grasp. Having said that, I think this probably is the truest to the thing I’ve tried to satirize before. But that’s largely because the term “art film” doesn’t mean very much. You can slap any old crap together and call it an “art film,” right? The less understandable, the better.

To that end, I followed the principles set out in the TV Tropes article “True Art is Incomprehensible.” (By the way, don’t click on that link unless you’ve got hours to waste – it’s TV Tropes for goodness sake!) Basically our idea was this: sad, depressing, and stuffed tiger shark.

The tiger shark was given to me for my birthday several years ago around the time this idea was coming together. Andrew, the lead actor, and I thought it would be a good prop. I mean, what’s more artsy than a depressed guy carrying a tiger shark? Ooh. I know! A depressed guy carrying a tiger shark in black and white with only the tiger shark in color.

That selective color effect is what took the longest time to achieve. Selective color, as it turns out, is an immense pain. There are, I’m sure, easier and better ways to go about it than I did. Even so, it’s a very time consuming process. It basically involved me having to cut out the orange bits of the shark frame-by-frame and then lay them back on top of the black and white footage. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in my cutting back on the number of shots using this effect quite dramatically.

Way, way back at the conception of this project, it was supposed to be a longer piece with more of an obvious plot. It involved the main character having memories of a girlfriend or wife or something who was gone or dead. I donno. Some depressing nonsense like that. We ended up scrapping this part of the plot partially because we didn’t think it would be prudent to strike so close to real life but also because I wasn’t brave enough to ask any girls to be involved. This thing is hard enough to explain now that it’s made. How would I have pitched it then?

It’s interesting to note that the tone of the film started out as complete mockery during the planning stages. Neither me, nor Andrew were feeling depressed in the slightest at the time. But by the time we got around to shooting last summer, we were identifying with the tone of the film far more than we had originally thought possible. A lot of the depressed staring into the distance is not acting. At least that’s what I maintain.

We ended up doing the whole thing in just three shoots in two locations. As I said before, God is the best lighting technician because we just used natural, available light for the entire shoot. Man, did we get some nice days for it.

This was the last project I shot on my old Canon Vixia HV30: a good camera for the money, but not professional by any stretch. I was rather impressed by the results. Still am, actually. From a cinematography standpoint, I was merely trying to get the prettiest images possible when shooting.

The original draft was a minute or two longer than the final version. I knew people wouldn’t want to put up with that kind of runtime. I wouldn’t. A few shots were cut. A lot were shortened. I like the pacing of the film myself, but I know it’ much slower than the average attention span is used to.

In the second shoot we did “the Destroyers” sequence. My intention was to deliberately create a “Big Lipped Alligator Moment” (warning: it’s another TV Tropes link!) and stick it right in the middle of an otherwise totally serene film. So we gathered all the assorted stuffed animals we could get and went to the park. I think the scene turned out to be very Kubrick-esque in that it makes no sense at all but you might think that there was some sense to be made of it if you were really deranged.

After wrapping the final shoot I sat on the footage for a year. I edited and re-edited it. I was never quite happy with any of the edits and I wanted to do that color effect that was so time consuming.

At the beginning of the summer I decided I was finally going to finish the film. My last idea was to record some terrible voice over for the film. Something really faux-poetic that didn’t mean anything and only sort of corresponded with what was happening onscreen. That idea came from the narration that was added to the original theatrical version of Blade Runner. The story goes that Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford didn’t want to put it in the movie. The studio forced them to anyway so Harrison Ford purposefully did a poor job on the recording. Narration obviously isn’t necessary in la possession du requin tigre either. That’s the joke. I mean, there was nothing to understand in the first place.

Or is there? Might have been wrong. Maybe.

A Possible Meaning

After I inserted Andrew’s voice over into the film I realized something surprising. I texted him: “I think we accidentally made a film about addiction.”

That was never intentional. But it seemed really obvious to me as I watched what I’d put together. With the narration it all seemed to become clear. It came to me like the interpretation of a song or poem.

The tiger shark was addiction of some kind. The main character thinks the tiger shark is his only friend when in reality it is keeping him from the outside world. He exists in this bubble of depression. When someone comes along to break him out of it – perhaps a friend, perhaps a random passerby – i.e. “The Destroyer” his array of animals banishes him to another realm of existence. In the end, he realizes he has to give it up. He fears being without it. What will fill the void of his addiction? Will he be alone instead? But he leaves it behind and ascends into the sunset and a brighter day.

Or something like that.

Is this a crazy interpretation? I don’t know. Maybe.

Like I said, it certainly wasn’t intentional. Honestly.

I had Andrew pick a leaf and drop it because it seemed like a pathetically artsy thing to shoot. I had him walk into the sunset because it was cliche and looked pretty. I think if anything the original intent (besides humor) was about depression and recovery. But addiction seemed to bubble to the surface when I finished the film for whatever reason. And I think it fits better. Seeing the tiger shark as a recovery from depression doesn’t exactly explain the Destroyer scene in my mind.

Is it the height of pretension and arrogance that I’m discussing possible meanings of my own work? I hope not. I have nothing to be prideful about here and it was always my intention to make fun of pretension.

Still I think the fact that the meaning of this film got away from me and took on a bit of its own life is interesting.

I had an discussion with a friend some years ago about art interpretation. I was of the opinion that the viewer’s interpretation of a work is just as valid as the creator’s intent while he was arguing that, no, the author’s view is of the work is the most valid.

While I still generally hold to that opinion (although it is more nuanced than that brief explanation) I now find myself in the odd position of having created a work where my own authorial intent is no longer my primary interpretation. I guess that means I’m in disagreement with my past self which, given the process of making this film and the natural way in which time changes our perspectives, isn’t all that unusual. But it is an unusual phenomenon to live out in this way.

Of course the easiest thing to do is take this whole thing as a joke. Maybe it’s an unfunny highbrow joke; maybe it’s only funny if you know the people involved, but it’s a joke nonetheless. That’s how it was “supposed to be”.