By James Hughes
In Los Angeles on a Saturday morning, a crew of 10 students from Hollywood High School — helmed by 17-year-old director Celine Gimpirea — were transforming a corner of the Calgary Cemetery into a movie set. In The Box, a boy slips inside a cardboard box and finds himself transported to other realms. On this well-manicured lawn, among rows of flat, black granite grave markers, are rows of flat, black camera cases holding Red cameras, DIT stations, iPads and MacBook Pros.
Gimpirea’s is one of three teams of filmmakers involved in a month-long filmmaking workshop connecting creative pros with emerging talent. The teams worked with tools from Apple, including the MacBook Pro, iMac and Final Cut Pro X, as well as the Red Raven camera for shooting. LA-based independent filmmaking collective We Make Movies provided post supervision. They used a workflow very similar to that of the feature film Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which was shot on Red and edited in FCP X.
In the documentary La Buena Muerte produced by instructors from the Mobile Film Classroom, a non-profit that provides digital media workshops to youth in under-resourced communities, the filmmakers examine mortality and family bonds surrounding the Day of the Dead, the Mexican holiday honoring lost loved ones. And in The Dancer, director Krista Amigone channels her background in theater to tell a personal story about a dancer confronting the afterlife.
During a two-week post period, teams received feedback from a rotating cast of surprise guests and mentors from across the industry, each a professional working in the field of film and television production.
Among the first mentors to view The Dancer was Sean Baker, director of 2017’s critically acclaimed The Florida Project and the 2015 feature Tangerine, shot entirely on iPhone 5S. Baker, who edits his own films, surveyed clips from Amigone’s shoot. Each take had been marked with the Movie Slate app on an iPad, which automatically stores and logs the timecode data. Together, they discussed Amigone’s backstory as well. A stay-at-home mother of a three-year-old daughter, she is no stranger to maximizing time and resources. She not only served as writer and director, but also star and choreographer.
Meanwhile, the La Buena Muerte crew, headed by executive producer Manon Banta, were editing their piece. Reviewing the volume of interviews and B-roll, all captured by cinematographer Elle Schneider on the 4.5K Red Raven camera, initially felt like a daunting task. Fortunately, their metadata was automatically organized after being imported straight into Final Cut Pro X from Shot Notes X and Lumberjack, along with the secondary source audio via Sync-N-Link X, which spared days of hand syncing.
Perhaps the most constructive feedback about story structure came from TJ Martin, director of LA92 and Undefeated, the Oscar-winner for Best Documentary Feature in 2012, which director Jean Balest has used as teaching material in the Mobile Film Classroom. Midway through the cut, Martin was struck by a plot point he felt required precision placement up front: A daughter is introduced while presiding over a conceptual art altar alongside her mother, who reveals she’s coping with her own pending death after a stage four cancer diagnosis.
Reshoots were vital to The Box. The dream world Gimpirea created — she cites Christopher Nolan’s Inception as an influence — required some clarification. During a visit from Valerie Faris, the Oscar-nominated co-director of Little Miss Sunshine and Battle of the Sexes, Gimpirea listened intently as she offered advice for pickup shots. Faris urged Gimpirea to keep the story focused on the point of view of her young lead during his travels. “There’s a lot told in his body and seeing him from behind,” Faris said. “In some ways, I’m more with him when I’m traveling behind him and seeing what he’s seeing.”
Gimpirea’s collaborative nature was evident throughout post. She was helped out by Antonio Manriquez, a video production teacher at Hollywood High, as well as her crew. Kais Karram was the film’s assistant director, and twin brother Zane was cinematographer. The brothers’ athleticism was an asset on-set, particularly during a day-long shoot in Griffith Park where they executed numerous tracking shots behind the film’s fleet-footed star as he navigated a walkway they had cleared of park visitors.
The selection of music was crucial, particularly for Amigone. For her main theme, she wanted a sound reminiscent of John Coltrane’s “After The Rain” and Claude Debussy’s “Clair De Lune.” She chose an original nocturne by John Mickevich, a composer and fellow member of the collective We Make Movies, whose founder/CEO Sam Mestman is also the CEO of LumaForge, developer of the Jellyfish Mobile — a “portable cloud,” as he put it — which, along with two MacBook Pros, were storing and syncing Amigone’s footage on location. Mestman believes “post should live on set.” As proof, a half-day of work for the editing team was done before the dance studio shoot had even wrapped.
During his mentor visit, Aaron Kaufman, director and longtime producing partner of filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, encouraged the teams to not be precious about losing shots in service of story. The documentary team certainly heeded this advice, as did Gimpirea, who cut a whole scene from Calvary Cemetery from her film.
As the project was winding down, Gimpirea reflected on her experience. “Knowing all the possibilities that I have in post now, it allows me to look completely differently at production and pre-production, and to pick out, more precisely, what I want,” she said.
Main Image: Shooting with the Red Raven at the Calvary Cemetery.
James Hughes is a writer and editor based in Chicago.