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Friday, July 15, 2011

Gabriel’s Electronic Cinema

imageGabriel Munoz-Calene is an aspiring filmmaker based in Northern Florida. He’s lived all over the world - Mexico, Japan, Philippines, the Netherlands and Iraq, to name a few of the highlights - and is now back home finishing his law degree. He originally studied film at NYU in New York City, in a small program called the Gallatin School for Individualized Study, blending film production and theory, along with video art, philosophy and politics. He graduated in 2002 with a degree in “Video as a Tool for Social Change”.

Gabriel then enlisted in the Marines for the next 4 years, and on his return took advantage of the G.I. Bill to continue his studies. He describes law school as a “bittersweet experience” and explains why.  “It has proven really insightful regarding the business and intellectual property aspects of filmmaking, but it also has been this massive commitment. After being in artist mode, always pushing the envelope, legal culture is very slow to embrace change. I definitely grew fearful that I was drifting away from my dream of being a filmmaker, but the detour has provided a lot of experience that will hopefully serve me in the future.” He also points to what he learned in the Marines. “Military service actually was really beneficial to my filmmaking: work ethic, team leadership, using technology to accomplish an objective, operating under tough conditions… all that.”

In 2007, Gabriel discovered Moviestorm when flipping through a magazine in Borders, comparing Moviestorm, Antics3D and iClone. “I immediately went home and downloaded Moviestorm. I have been hooked ever since,” he says with a smile. “I have always been interested in the craft of filmmaking not as it is, but as it ought to be. When I was at NYU, digital video was blossoming in such an exciting way. I mean, I started out old school, shooting 16mm and editing on a Steenbeck - literally cutting the film physically and splicing pieces together with tape. Now, this was amazing as a foundation in the craft, but 16mm cost like $30 for a 2 minutes worth of film, with tons of other expenses to get your work seen. That made filmmaking a very exclusive art-form, accessible to only a select few. Then, digital video changed everything. $10 for an hour of tape, and the development of digital nonlinear editing on a personal computer. A total democratization of the medium. I was radically transformed, and meditated on how to take it to the next level.”

“My senior year I backpacked through Mexico, my father’s homeland. I had a digital video camera and laptop with Final Cut Pro in my rucksack. “I ran into a dilemma, however. With video, you need actors who are willing to help you realize your vision. This led to a lot of documentary experimentation, or using me and my friends as actors. But I became uncomfortable with documentary work. All these issues with exploitation of the subject or propaganda pushing this view or that. Then I found Moviestorm, and it was as if the medium was revolutionized again. One person able to create many characters and sets. An individual at a computer making a complete film. It still blows my mind after a few years of contemplating ways to take full advantage of this tool.”

Early experiments

His early experiments with Moviestorm involved some interesting ideas. “Since I am interested in film as it ought to be, I embrace multimedia communication beyond just narrative filmmaking. Film as a tool. The language of juxtaposed sights and sounds. When I found Moviestorm, I entered an extended period of experimentation. My first big project was a digital interactive resume - basically, a character in a suit discussing my credentials. After a short intro, the focus was on having different prongs you could explore by selecting different topics from a menu.” He laughs wryly. “I don’t think the law firms I sent it to knew what to do with it!”

His other experiments were also somewhat unconventional. “My wife is also an artist with a painting background who is focusing on collage work, and collaborating with me on several Moviestorm projects.  We I took dialogue from a public domain Hitchcock movie and made the characters sci-fi aliens. It’s a great learning tool and you don’t need to track down voice actors. I also have always enjoyed engaging in Socratic-type dialogues with professors and mentors. I experimented with recording my conversations and then setting them in Moviestorm environments. A great lesson in trying to communicate the concepts we were discussing through multimedia, it ended up kind of like a cable-news aesthetic.”


Some of Gabriel’s early experimental work

Developing the Electronic Cinema

These days, Gabriel isn’t just using Moviestorm to make movies in a conventional way. Influenced by Francis Ford Coppola’s Electronic Cinema concept, he’s developing a unique approach to movie-making, and using Moviestorm to fit in with that. “My dream is narrative films - stories - so I turned to the “master” in search of guidance, George Lucas.  I saw the documentary A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope on the bonus disc of THX 1138.  It’s the best doc on filmmakers I have ever seen. Coppola is famous for his grand, over the top style, but he’s also a true visionary. The stuff he was doing in the 70’s and 80’s provides a blueprint for what I am trying to build today.”

The key to Gabriel’s enlightenment was a book called Droidmaker. “Coppola was developing early pre-viz around 1980. He would first story-board his script and video it. Then he took polaroids of his actors and laid it over the storyboard. Then he shot video and laid it over the stills. The whole time he’s laying down music and voices. The idea is that at any given point in the process you can watch an entire draft of the movie. What really blew my mind was that he commented on how this process took filmmaking away from a painterly method rooted in photography, and worked more like sculpture where you are constantly refining this block of clay into its final form. I immediately realized that Moviestorm was perfectly suited for a method like this and began developing a similar workflow. I feel it is a very powerful method for filmmakers at any level. You can use a free storyboarding program like CELTX to organize your work in a really polished way.” 

Inspiration image sourced through Google

Moviestorm representation of the image

Gabriel pulls out some samples to show us how he works.  “I do it like this. First, take the script and develop a stick-figure storyboard. Then I use Google to find images that provide the composition or feel I am looking for. It can be from a painting, another movie, or just a random image. I lay this out in Celtx. Next I take it into Moviestorm; I usually drop a Prism right on my set with the photograph for easy reference, and create my scene using the image for guidance on set design, lighting, camera angle, etc. I take a still image of my Moviestorm project using a screen capture software, or just rendering a short clip of footage. I put that in Celtx, next to the inspiration image. This process works regardless if Moviestorm is the final medium or if you are going to go onto live action. The greatest thing about this is that an individual with an idea can make more progress in creating a film than ever before. An individual can make a movie and that is amazing.”

Celtx storyboard using inspiration images and Moviestorm

He hasn’t posted much of his work so far, but we can expect to see something from him soon. “I have several projects I have been developing for a while now and I am just going to go for it. The exciting thing is that I have the tools available to me right now to do it. My projects fall into 2 major categories, original work and adaptations of public domain work. My plan is to develop my adaptations first, because popular works have greater potential to draw in an audience. I mean, that’s basically what Disney did. I also like the idea of taking a cultural legend and contributing my interpretation of it. I am working mostly in Sci-Fi, using works by folks like Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe.”

Gabriel is definite about one thing: his commitment to quality. He wants to be a professional film-maker, and wants to be sure he’s putting out the best work he can manage. “Of course I dream big,” he grins, “but I am focusing on one project at a time. I have a short I should finish this year, and then a full feature.  My focus right now is on quality. I want to produce the most polished piece I can and see where that takes me.”



(1) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Jayne on 11/10 at 08:28 PM

Good point. I hadn’t thouhgt about it quite that way. smile

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