Splinter: The process behind the story

Cinematography Oct 16, 2020

The topics discussed in this article reference the short film Splinter, shown above.

When I watch a short film, I love searching for what the creative intent is. What made that person want to pick up a camera and film something of substance? Why do they want to share it with the rest of the world? In Splinter, I try to push the boundaries of how I tell a story using a camera (and hopefully how you can too). Let's peel back the layers and start from the top.

The spark that started this project was not one of free will; it was a homework assignment. I had just started my first year at UIC and I decided to pick up an Intro to Filmmaking class. Even though I was studying computer science, I thought this class aligned with my interests in cinematography and gave me a break from the CS curriculum. In this class, we were assigned tons of experimental film to watch and critiqued them as a group. Then the first big assignment came: generate a creative response to one of the films.

One particular film stuck out to me. It was a film of a troubled construction worker’s day-to-day life with nearly no dialogue used to tell the story. The sheer simplicity struck a chord with me, so I decided to take a shot at it.

The first thing I thought about was the plot. What was my character supposed to be going through? In this case, I wanted something that made the character "turn his life around", but eventually loses due to chance. The best option (that I could realistically pull off) was the introduction of a baby into the character's life.

The second thing I needed was a project that represented the working capacity of the character. At first I was thinking about going to a warehouse and having the character work on some pipe (similar to the original film). That plan was scrapped due to availability and time constraints, so I had to improvise. Now I was planning on using my woodworking shop at home where the character would make what? A bird house? No, too small. A crate? Nah, repetitive to film. A bench? Sounds good!

These were the kind of thoughts that were going through my head before I even got near the camera. It made me realize that you have to pour over the meaning of your work or else it might not have the impact you intend. So after writing up a 3 page storyboard of what scenes I want and where, I finally set out into my garage.

From there it felt like an ok-oiled machine. It was nice to have a timeline of scenes, but I almost felt lost in my own work. I think most amateur filmmakers feel this way, mainly because this is something new and unfamiliar. Like I knew the plot inside and out but I found myself wanting to change the story halfway through (which I learned is ok).

On this same token, planning out the plot allowed me to focus purely on the composition of the shots. For example, let’s take a look at the scene where the character's blood drips on a pile of sawdust. By slowing down, I was able to focus on the auditory slap of the drops on the pile through a different microphone setup. If I made up the plot as I went, I might of missed this detail that I wanted to represent in my work.

Working without any dialogue was also pretty difficult. Even with most of the films I watch, the usage of dialogue is critical and I find myself skipping back to make sure I didn't miss a line. In Splinter, I wanted to challenge this concept by telling a story only through the images that you see on the screen (plus background noise). Although this can make the film seem a bit boring, I hope the visuals conveyed the story I was trying to tell.

All in all, I found this experience to scratch just the right spot and fuel my drive towards filmmaking. It also taught me a lot and proves that this film is far from perfect. Maybe I could have tried to make the loss of the baby more clear. Perhaps the connection between the status of his bandage and dedication towards the baby didn't click for some. Regardless, it is something that I have to work on.

So why am I telling you all this? I am challenging you to go out and make a film of your own. It doesn't have to be anything crazy, and your smartphone should do the trick. You get to challenge your own creative process and create a story about literally anything. The world is your oyster.

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Radison Akerman

A man of many interests. You might find me dabbling with computer science, business, photography, cinematography, graphic design, and electronics.

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