Director Henry Barrial gave us an in depth interview about the making of his film Some Body. It was the first digital feature to be shown digitally in competition at the Sundance Film Festival last January (2001). Some Body was Barrial's first adventure into the DV realm. Barrial with teammates lead actress, co-writer, and producer Stephanie Bennett and cinematographer, composer, editor, and producer Geoffrey Pepos achieved an emotional resonance through a distinctive shooting style. They used a particular method of improvisational acting throughout production and never had a shooting script. The Sundance program guide offered this description: "If there is still any question about whether the digital revolution will produce a new aesthetic in filmmaking, the potency and power of Some Body is a clear vote in its favor." - John Cooper, Sundance Festival Programmer
Tara Veneruso: Did you set out to make a feature or did it evolve into that?
Henry Barrial: I really wasn╠t interested in the idea of doing another short. I had shot a Super 16mm short called The Lonelys. It had done very well at certain festivals and won some awards but I was still in the same position I was before except I was $20,000 in the hole. Even though the editing was free and I got a lot of freebies it still ended up costing $20,000. Some Body wound up costing a fraction of that so it seemed like a no-brainer to me. After discussing the lessons we learned making my short film we began to discuss the aesthetic we wanted to achieve. As we began shooting parts of the movie we went into the edit room to review the footage. When I noticed errors or mistakes we would just go back out and shoot more. It just seemed so easy because you can buy the MiniDV tapes anywhere. I bought the tapes in bulk to save money.
TV: How did you determine if you were going to shoot on film or video?
HB: I knew I didn╠t want to try to approximate anything that would be beautiful or have traditional or classical moviemaking values. A lot of those issues went away because we went in there with these cameras and began shooting. The main aesthetic issues we considered was how far we wanted to go with the image and how grungy we wanted it to look. Basically, we decided to be like a couple of tourists. Most of my choices revolved around the improvisational acting style I was pursuing. I was mainly concerned with the situations dealing with the actors.
TV: How did you begin working with the actors?
HB: Stephanie and many of the other actors knew each other from Playhouse West, which is a theater company and school in North Hollywood. They have been around for a long time with Jeff Goldblum and Robert Carnegie. Going there put things into perspective for me as an artist. It gave me an artistic base as far as becoming a judge of reality and talent and what constituted good acting. I immersed myself in that and was an actor at the time. The main thing I learned from Robert Carnegie, who has had a great influence on me, was how he╠d stop somebody within 20 seconds if it wasn╠t ¤happeningË. It was good that he would tell you that you suck when you did suck. He wasn╠t lying to you. In other words, you hurt me more as an artist if you are a master and you lie to me instead of telling me the truth. It may be more hurtful in the moment, but then I can learn from it and develop my own sense of what constitutes good acting. I was impressed by Stephanie╠s bravery and willingness to go further than other actors to do a project. For me it was exciting and meant that we might get an experience here that was more than just your regular movie experience¸ I wanted to tap into something new or very primal. I really wanted to capture an experience that is universal to my generation. Most people my age can relate to the situations Stephanie╠s character experiences.
TV: How did Geoff get involved with the project?
HB: Stephanie and I needed somebody who could cover the other bases that we weren╠t covering. I called Geoff up in Montana. He had done the sound and music on my short film. We made the agreement that I had final cut but that we would all make creative decisions together. Geoff came for the shoot and moved to LA with his editing system. We made a contract with a lawyer. It was smart and would suggest it to anybody. That was the best thing that we did.
TV: Did you research a lot of digital video equipment before you began shooting?
HB: I bought the Canon XL1 camera that Geoff had so we could match images and quality. We didn╠t have a conversation about PAL vs. NTSC because Geoff already owned an NTSC camera and neither one of us wanted to put more money on our credit cards.
TV: Did you make backups tapes of the masters while shooting?
HB: We had about 80 hours of footage that we shot over a two-week period. I took Geoff╠s PC7 and my XL1 and made backups through FireWire. I didn╠t backup all 80 hours. Instead, I was narrowing the footage down to about 45 hours and making some editing choices. I was always nervous because until we made the back-up tapes I knew that this little tiny tape contained was my whole movie.
TV: What system did you edit on?
HB: Geoff has Discreet Edit, which is user friendly. I became the capture guy and Geoff was the editor. I eventually want to buy my own system because I enjoyed the process.
TV: How long did you edit for? Did you have the luxury of being able to reshoot after seeing some of your movie edited?
HB: We didn╠t really ever re-shoot. It was more like ¤that doesn╠t really work so let╠s shoot something elseË. We edited for 8 months at Geoff╠s house after work.
TV: Many filmmakers ask what tape format they should put their edited movie onto directly from the computer. This tape is essentially the master of your movie. What format did you choose?
HB: Geoff had a DV deck and so we made a DVcam master. We didn╠t do make a Digibeta master until we had an online version of the movie and completed audio. The next step was making a High-Definition (HD) master through a process of up-converting our Digibeta tape. [Currently, filmmakers are making HD masters of their movie in order to project digitally at film festivals. This HD master is also used when the filmmaker is ready to make a film print for traditional theatrical projection.]
TV: Did you finish the audio mix in Geoff╠s computer?
HB: No, we went to SER International, a sound and online facility, to do the sound mix. Geoff presented them with an EDL [edit decision list] so they could recreate our entire movie on their computers. They were great because when we wanted to re-edit certain portions of the film we could do everything in-house.
TV: Let me give them a bit of background here. While finishing the film you got a phone call saying you were invited to the Sundance Film Festival. Did you have time to make a film print?
HB: It was never in our mind to make a film print for Sundance because we still wanted to make changes to the movie. Our choice was to perfect our content first then concern ourselves with the technical issues. We wanted to be very careful with making the print. I didn╠t want to rush the process because making the print costs a lot of money. It was never an option for us. We gave Sundance an HD copy of our movie.
TV: The path your film took is very interesting. You shot digitally and not only does it get into competition at Sundance, but it also became the first digital feature to also be projected digitally in competition. Did other accomplished directors who are shooting digitally inspire you?
HB: We saw The Celebration while we were editing. It breaks with a lot of aesthetic traditions and we were excited. But I think it was Jim Jarmusch I heard talking once about making a personal movie. He said that you should make a movie that is distinct and personal to you. That became the concept of making Some Body. We had no one looking over our shoulders. From the start we decided to make the movie we wanted to make.
TV: Shooting digitally is creating a freedom that directors do not get to experience in the traditional studio filmmaking world. Filmmakers are finally being able to tell their story without having to ask for permission. Did you experience an incredible sense of freedom?
HB: I think that we╠ll probably look back on this and say ¤wasn╠t it great when nobody had an opinion about how we made our film and it was just us.Ë I think that was great. We were learning filmmaking concepts are we were shooting. We formed our own opinions based on our hands on experience.
TV: Do you want to continue showing the film digitally or are you excited about showing it traditionally on film?
HB: I would love to continue showing the film digitally. I guess with technology we are just not there yet. If we want to show in theaters we need to have a film print, but I prefer to show it digitally.
TV: That is really interesting to me and reminds me of an interview with Mike Figgis where he stated he would also prefer to show digitally. Why would you prefer to show digitally?
HB: Because it is the true original format. I think it will look and sound better digitally. I don╠t know actually Ď we╠ll see what it will look like. My main point is that it was shot digitally and wouldn╠t it be great if it could just play digitally. When you go to a non-native format you begin introducing all sorts of variables.
TV: Were you going for the film look or for a completely different aesthetic?
HB: We shot in frame mode on the Canon XL1 specifically because it looked more like film. We wanted to stay away from the super crisp video look where things look fake. We wanted it to look like film. I just like the way it looks now in digital format rather whereas with a film print I don╠t know how it will look. It may look better for all I know.
TV: How did you work with the actors without a script?
HB: There is improvisation and then there╠s improvisation. I feel there╠s a stigma about improvisation. Some people feel it is cheating and amateurish if it is not scripted. I think there╠s an art to improvising just as there is by acting out a script. With improvisation you run into the trouble of actors having diarrhea of the mouth. Many actors feel they are only acting if they talk to draw attention to themselves. There is a certain technique to improvising and it╠s not about talking. It is about living truthfully under imaginary circumstances. That is what great actors do. They live truthfully under imaginary circumstances. Casting is so important with improvisation. I get this idea from studying as an actor. We did this exercise called ¤a particularizationË at the theater company. The idea was to come up with a situation in your life that will run parallel to this scene so you can develop an understanding of how to live the scene out. When people did this personal kind of particularization, I found them so interesting to watch. It was much more interesting than watching the actual scene because it was infused with such a specificity and an understanding about the characters. That is what we were going for. Cassavettes worked a lot in that arena casting by his wife. They would work together because they could bring a specificity to the scene work. I wanted to work in a similar manner except make the improvisations more accessible to us. This is our version of it.
TV: Did you have anything scripted before shooting?
HB: Yes, we had an outline treatment. After we finished casting we never referred to the script. In my short film we had a script and threw it away the first day of shooting. I╠d like to go back to that because I think it helps you not shoot 100 hours.
TV: How did you hook up with Next Wave Films?
HB: Stephanie decided that we become IFP (Independent Feature Project) members. She put an announcement in the IFP calendar. Next Wave Films called us after reading the listing. Next Wave Films made a cold call and we mailed it in to be screened. Then, after they saw the film they called us for a meeting.
TV: Do you want to continue shooting digitally?
HB: Yes, itÝs great because if I have another project I want to do - I will just do it. There is nothing to stop me except for the effort that it involves. I like the creative freedom of it and IÝll do it again. The stigma is going away about shooting digitally.
Next Wave Films is a company of The Independent Film Channel, a network of Rainbow Media Holdings, Inc. ę 2000 Next Wave Films