Friday, February 17, 2017

Watch out, world.

Low-budget...hand-made...artisanal. Those were the adjectives I used to introduce Wooden Toy Productions during a recent meet-up with members of New York Women in Film and Television. Artisanal: a high quality or distinctive product made in small quantities usually by hand or using traditional methods.

Take 2008's Considering an Exhibition, above. With projected text that I'd written in response to a grant rejection, it creates its own world largely thanks to David Thomson's low-key performance and Jake Goldwasser's black and white cinematography. My friends in Pittsfield donated the attic they call "the Jane Eyre suite" and the 3-person cast/crew slept and ate at my parents' house. I was director, art director and post-production team. The only unusual expense was royalties to 2 photographers whose work I'd found online and a friend's talented daughter Saiya Miller. Music was contributed by renowned composer, William Finn.  Total Budget: under $4,000

Almost ten years later, at almost the same cost per minute, the hour-long Her Magnum Opus already looked downright gorgeous on the big screen at Jacob Burns Film Center this past October.  Since then colorist Jason Bahling has worked his magic to make it look more fluid and luminous. It will soon have a similar overhaul of the sound. At the NYWIFT meet-up, I told someone that Opus was likely not dance-y enough for some, not narrative enough for others. But I made what I intended to make: the hand-made, the "distinctive."

Sure, I wasn't trained as a filmmaker when I started this trajectory. But I was no kid: having made dances for 30 years, I already had a voice, and a worldview. Reading through my old newsletters recently, I smiled to see that they promoted "small is beautiful" and "virtuosity is not my goal." The same is true today. Also, I've kept near me a great collection of performers, whose history and authenticity is part of what makes Opus special. 

So my goal when it's finished - soon, soon! - is to add a budget line to really get my artisanal product out there. For which I could always use your hands, helping in any way you can. 

Watch out, world. 
Low-budget, hand-made, and coming soon to a theater near you!

Friday, January 13, 2017

What's Next ?

You mean, what's on the horizon in terms of upcoming screenings? 

That's an easy one:

January 28 + 29  -
Incident at Chekhov Creek - Dance on Screen  Graz, Austria

March 3 + 4
890 Broadway - Philadelphia Screendance Festival Phil, PA

March 21-26 
Plow Plant Reap  Short Waves Festival  Poznan, Poland

Good for you. But what's the next project?

That's a little harder to answer. The long-awaited completion of my feature-length Her Magnum Opus is still a-waiting. It's taken me forever to learn a lesson about using music requiring a license: sometimes they say no - and sometimes it takes them many months to do so. In December, after 3 months of waiting, I got a very blithe no which sent me back to the drawing board for 3 scenes.

Luckily, I immediately contacted  Ljova (Lev Zhurbin) who'd already given me permission to use his evocative music in the same-sex fireside tango from Opus. (Think Zorba the Greek meets Fiddler on the Roof.) Ljova has already begun creating replacement music for the 3 short scenes, so the sound mix will truly be wrapped by mid-February. Not only that, I expect the Opus soundtrack will be much more cohesive thereby. Lesson learned.

Fine, but what are you actually working on?

I'm thinking. I'm thinking! Give me a minute, ok?

This period between projects can be frustratingly fallow and yet mysteriously productive. Anything is possible but nothing is cooking. I'm making lists - possible locations, possible cast members, possible shots, possible movement ideas.

What I do know:

it will be under 10 minutes
shooting this summer
a cast of 2 - 4
a location in New England

I know from recent experience that the process of editing a film is whittling, whittling, waiting and more whittling.  But how do I describe the process of imagining something that's still gestating? Is it a blob of clay with chunks being added gradually? Or maybe an aerial view that hones in more and more on a specific character/place? Or is it a collection of index cards that get blown into a random order - one landing in a direction I hadn't anticipated, redesigning the whole constellation somehow.

In my last post I was hankering for time spent creating live work. So it's entirely possible that this one will begin as a live dance, even though I describe it as having "a location". Which brings me to the Archive I've selected for this post.  Blow by Blow was a live quartet made at The Yard on Martha's Vineyard in just a few rehearsals.

What I knew:

I'd invited a cast of 2 men and 2 women
it should be about 15 minutes long
it was called "An evening with Martha Myers" -  so someone believed I could do it!

It was a grand success, largely thanks to the four adorable, game, highly talented of dancers I'd assembled. 

Below is an edited souvenir of that project - not precisely a "dance film"-  using footage from the live performance.  The song which became its title was composed by long-time friend Steve Elson (with lyrics by long-time husband Daniel Wolff) so licensing was a cinch. The dancers - who have since appeared elsewhere in my work, on Broadway and in the Mark Morris Company - are credited in the goofy animations which I was teaching myself to use.

Although seen only 3 times in the charming but small theater at the Yard,  little old Cartoon Love has gotten more hits on YouTube than anything else I've made.  

Lesson? Just put "cartoon" in the title!

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Take the long view

You may have noticed that a big upset occurred in the USA in November, so my posting the usual personal musings on my brilliant career seemed a bit non-essential. So here it is December, with the inevitable end of year wrap-up that has me thinking about the past year, past projects, the past in general.

Archiving old mini-DV tapes - the long view - I stumbled on Femme, a dance that got a certain amount of mileage as I was beginning to move away from live performances in my b.c. (see above).  Femme may not be earth-shattering, but it has some killer performances by the all-female cast. It also reminds me that:

1. pop music was not something I used to ironic purpose
2. character, narrative, social relationships drew me before concept
3. no one else seemed to want to make the dances I made - for better or worse
4. we had a grand time together

My guess is that most of you won't take the time to watch even the full two-minute excerpt below - though I expect you'll enjoy hearing Baby It's You. And you may be intrigued by the baseball announcer that follows, whose use is ironic. 

Femme (excerpt) from Marta Renzi on Vimeo.

Taking the time to take the long view isn't easy, especially nowadays. There's a lot of competition for our attention, and we all seem to have accepted that without too much of a fight. It turns out that my long-awaited hour-long Her Magnum Opus is a paean to time-out-of-time: a life-time, the seasons of a year, party time, the 9 months it takes for a baby to be born, time and tide. It's due out in early 2017 - the time it takes to complete a feature film...

It makes me think it's time to return to sharing live dances again. Long live the anachronism of actually being stuck in a theater letting the thing take its course - with all its mystery, apparent foibles and shortcuts, including the opportunity to daydream in the dark. Like the way that email conversation, for example, has obviated more interactive listening, maybe film has diminished the patient reception needed for one human to witness another's singular expression.

Whoa! I started with the end of an old year, moved toward the end of an era, and ended up with the end of communication as we know it?!?

However, as with my brilliant career, sometimes it's instructive to take the long view. Now, as to climate change, is it already too late?

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Media Blitz


I'm posting news about Her Magnum Opus all over - here on the blog, on Facebook and even on Instagram.  If you haven't yet stumbled on the website for this long-awaited first feature, please do visit. There are gorgeous photos, mostly by Robert Vergara, of cast and crew. There's some wonderful music to whet your appetite - including tunes by artists like David Pulkingham, Lev 'Ljova' Zhurbin, Kitty Brazelton - and Lorenzo Wolff! And there's a synopsis that sounds like the work of someone you'll probably recognize.

With the possible exception of this blog, I usually soft-pedal the self-promotion. But I've decided Opus is just too brave and lovely to hide under a bushel. So please share the above trailer widely. And when there's news of screenings, I hope you'll shout them from the rooftops.  I sure will.

In the small festivals where my work shows, sometimes year after year, reviews in the press  are rare. So I cherish comments from programmers like Steve Cleberg of Autumn Shorts in Kentucky who previously screened Her Children Mourn and Roxie. When sending news this year that Besties was selected, he wrote:

it'll be nice to screen another one of your little masterpieces at the fest.

Similarly, Breaking 8 in Sardegna Italy has chosen to share 4 of those "little masterpieces" over the past 4 years. In an email just now saying they'd selected Honeymoon for this year's festAlessandra wrote:

Abbiamo apprezzato moltissimo i tuoi lavoro! 
(We absolutely loved your work!)

I know you'll join me in hoping I get a warm response - in many languages - for this bigger masterpiece. 

While we're waiting and hoping, please join me at the New York area screening of Besties as part of a program called Films de Femmes:

YoFi Film Fest 
Sunday October 23 at noon

See you there!