Don't have the time to read my correspondence below with a new fan who wrote after seeing the well-attended and very satisfying Jacob Burns screening of Her Magnum Opus? For you, I've posted a short and sweet calendar in which you'll notice that Opus continues its pattern of a-screening-a-month:
In April I've been invited to be the keynote speaker at the Iowa International Screendance Festival in Iowa City. And this summer I'll spend a day or so in Pittsburgh with Jennifer Keller scouting locations. Four years ago I collaborated on Plow Plant Reap with Jennifer and students from the dance department at Slippery Rock University. For our next project, this fall, I'm planning to make something as urban as Plow was bucolic.
Between these activities, I'll be putting finishing touches on the Brazil footage which was featured as a sneak peek in the last post. Oh, and also digging into the footage from the Treehouse shoot in Richmond, Virginia where the lovely Ching-I Chang (of 890 Broadway fame) invited me to shoot something unplanned with her. This one is so improvised that I may be forced to create a voiceover to give it context ...
(And now the correspondence:)
We saw your film last night at the Jacob Burns Theatre and just loved the overall film - it was dreamlike - a reverie away from the cookie cutter form of so much of today's cinema. The non-linear structure and minimal dialogue allowed us to focus on the tone and rhythm of each sequence and the overall tone of the whole. Just beautiful.
My husband had some questions for you. During the filming did you pre-plan the sequences or was it completely improvisational, and was the dancing performed without any scratch sound. Also during post-production how was the piece scored. Was music added after all the sequences were edited and what drove the decisions on music selection. There's more...if you have time to continue the discussion, would you email me? I grew up in Upper Nyack (Highmount Ave) and spent much of my childhood and teenage years along the Hudson. The beautiful property along the river made for a wonderful metaphor with the movement and the water flowing. This was intentional I assume? Again, we really loved your film.
So wonderful to see your message on my Facebook page.
The Hudson is practically a character in OPUS, isn’t it? I was startled when one viewer referred to it as a “lake” - but then, she was from Chicago.
As to your questions about the music:
In general, the scenes were planned in advance, especially when I had to organize more than one dancer to get to Nyack!
Your husband may find the written answer to his un-asked question overkill, but I’ve attached the Treatment and some shot lists for comparison with what you saw last night. There’s a plan - and then it's what my friend Sakina called “combustible" - spontaneous improvisation on the part of cast and crew.
Additions to the Treatment were:
the “prince” alone in the woods, for which the impulse was: the forest is perfect for another few days, let’s go!
the “architect” alone in the little house, for which the impulse was an abandoned house I knew was soon to be unavailable
As for the music, it was different for different scenes.
There was no music for the first party, except for Aileen’s pseudo-flamenco solo, for which she developed her own movement.
The last scene where Aileen walks on the ground was shot with no scratch music playing. I originally edited it to Iris Dement (whom I adore) but eventually decided it was TOO sentimental (which is exactly what I adore about her music) so I asked Ljova to repeat on solo viola the Dvorak string quartet that opens the film.
While shooting the rather odd reverie with the woman in a green dress on the table, there was mood music (from the soundtrack for WHITE, a Polish film), to which I edited as well. But when I didn’t get permission to use that music, Ljova composed some wonderful replacement music for that scene and a few others. It took me a while to get used to the “new” music, and now I can’t hear it otherwise.
Comments and curiosity like yours make me feel there’s something special there.
[To continue the music saga ... now that I'm preparing to launch a wider release of Her Magnum Opus, I'll need broader music permissions. In the case of Benjamin Britten's Deo Gracias, I decided that further licensing was too costly. Back to Ljova, who composed a beautiful new minute of music for harp and soprano. Maybe next time I'll begin like real filmmakers do, by asking a composer to score the whole soundtrack - instead of doing it piecemeal, ass-backwards - like this filmmaker does!]