The Tourist

ocotillo & meNotes on The Tourist

I was originally inspired by the dream sequence in Sherlock Jr., where Buster Keaton walks into a “movie”, and the scene keeps changing behind him. His scene is one of the most brilliant and original scenes in movies, because it plays with the convention of the nature of film so cleverly by playing with the single most basic effect in film-making: the cut. Keaton had several advantages over me: he had a cameraman and crew, he obviously preplanned the sequence of events, so he could move around the frame more freely, and did not need to return to the original “transition” point, and, well, he was Buster Keaton, one of the greatest silent film actor/comedians of all time. So, I hesitate to even mention Sherlock Jr. as an inspiration, it is a rather high standard to aspire!

 The Tourist was shot entirely with a Nikon D70S Digital SLR, using a “Time Machine” (www.bmumford.com) as an intervalometer. All the shots in The Tourist were time-lapse scenes shot on 2 second intervals (or 30 frames per minute). Most of the shots are played back at 24fps, some of them are “fussed with” to achieve certain effects.

The Tourist was also a challenge because I was not only the actor (no formal training), I was the cameraman also. I was constantly shifting back and forth between looking through the camera and then placing myself in the frame and shooting test shots (using the self timer) to determine where I would be positioned in the shot. I had some help on only a few scenes: at the Brooklyn Bridge where I recruited a friend, Bonnie Josephson, to interact with me in the shot (taking my picture). The scene where the truck approaches me from behind, obviously, needed some help provided by Bob Federighi. Seawood Camera (San Anselmo, California), was gracious enough to allow me to film in their store, and also agreed to interact with me. Same with Lagunitas Deli & Grocery (Lagunitas, California). Finally, David Biedny assisted on some scenes in New York City.

I did a little test one day where I shot 3 scenes, in different locations, to see if the “effect” might work. On that first day, I determined that I would stand in the middle of the frame, facing the camera for the “loop” points. I wore a distinctive costume, which helped lock the viewers eye into my character easily. One thing which very quickly became obvious was lighting: I needed to make sure my face was lit at the transition points, because it was obvious that this was the “point of interest” in each shot. Following the face really helps you through the transitions.

I placed myself 17 feet from the camera (I used a tape measure), and mostly kept the camera at the same position above the ground, perpendicular to me. However, this was fudged on several scenes, where I am higher than the camera, or for some reason, the camera was lower on the tripod. Later, in post-production, I could more accurately line up everything up using After Effects. The main thing was the eye line and making sure the face was positioned in the same spot.

If you look carefully (actually, it’s pretty obvious in most every shot), you can see some sort of marking on the ground/floor where I lined up my feet. Some have complained about this, but I find solace in imperfection.

Depending on the shooting conditions, and my proximity to the camera, I (hopefully) could hear the camera being triggered. Then I could get the best results. If I could not hear the camera (location noise, too far from camera), well, I just did the best I could. Most of the action was improvised once shooting began.

After the credits, if you stick with it, there are a few additional scenes, including one where I pick up some large mounted pictures (actually shot on location!), and hang them on a plain white wall (doubling for an art gallery), which I then stand back and admire. Those large prints cost me $190, making this the most expensive scene in The Tourist.

Seriously, there was no script, the film just grew on its own. I collected shots over a 2 year period, during the course of which my hair length varies, my glasses change and my weight fluctuates. In the beginning, the only criteria was that the shots had the start and finish point, each scene essentially a loop. I experimented with different juxtapositions of the scenes, saw what worked, and new ideas came out of it. It’s actually not a great way to make a movie, that is, if you ever have a mind to finish it. The longer you work on it, the more unhappy and obsessed you can become with the results. So, one day, I decided to end The Tourist. I refined the edit a couple of times, and that was that. There is a saying I heard once from a friend “you never really finish a film, you abandon it”, and such was the case with The Tourist.