Director Henry Barrial gave us an in depth interview about the making of his film Some Body. It was the first digital feature to be shown digitally in competition at the Sundance Film Festival last January (2001). Some Body was Barrial's first adventure into the DV realm. Barrial with teammates lead actress, co-writer, and producer Stephanie Bennett and cinematographer, composer, editor, and producer Geoffrey Pepos achieved an emotional resonance through a distinctive shooting style. They used a particular method of improvisational acting throughout production and never had a shooting script. The Sundance program guide offered this description: "If there is still any question about whether the digital revolution will produce a new aesthetic in filmmaking, the potency and power of Some Body is a clear vote in its favor." - John Cooper, Sundance Festival Programmer
Did you set out to make a feature or did it evolve into that?
I really wasn╠t interested in the idea of doing another short. I had shot
a Super 16mm short called The Lonelys. It had done very well at certain
festivals and won some awards but I was still in the same position I was
before except I was $20,000 in the hole. Even though the editing was free
and I got a lot of freebies it still ended up costing $20,000. Some Body
wound up costing a fraction of that so it seemed like a no-brainer to
me. After discussing the lessons we learned making my short film we began
to discuss the aesthetic we wanted to achieve. As we began shooting parts
of the movie we went into the edit room to review the footage. When I
noticed errors or mistakes we would just go back out and shoot more. It
just seemed so easy because you can buy the MiniDV tapes anywhere. I bought
the tapes in bulk to save money.
TV: How did
you determine if you were going to shoot on film or video?
HB: I knew
I didn╠t want to try to approximate anything that would be beautiful or
have traditional or classical moviemaking values. A lot of those issues
went away because we went in there with these cameras and began shooting.
The main aesthetic issues we considered was how far we wanted to go with
the image and how grungy we wanted it to look. Basically, we decided to
be like a couple of tourists. Most of my choices revolved around the improvisational
acting style I was pursuing. I was mainly concerned with the situations
dealing with the actors.
TV: How did
you begin working with the actors?
and many of the other actors knew each other from Playhouse West, which
is a theater company and school in North Hollywood. They have been around
for a long time with Jeff Goldblum and Robert Carnegie. Going there put
things into perspective for me as an artist. It gave me an artistic base
as far as becoming a judge of reality and talent and what constituted
good acting. I immersed myself in that and was an actor at the time. The
main thing I learned from Robert Carnegie, who has had a great influence
on me, was how he╠d stop somebody within 20 seconds if it wasn╠t ¤happeningË.
It was good that he would tell you that you suck when you did suck. He
wasn╠t lying to you. In other words, you hurt me more as an artist if
you are a master and you lie to me instead of telling me the truth. It
may be more hurtful in the moment, but then I can learn from it and develop
my own sense of what constitutes good acting. I was impressed by Stephanie╠s
bravery and willingness to go further than other actors to do a project.
For me it was exciting and meant that we might get an experience here
that was more than just your regular movie experience¸ I wanted to tap
into something new or very primal. I really wanted to capture an experience
that is universal to my generation. Most people my age can relate to the
situations Stephanie╠s character experiences.
TV: How did
Geoff get involved with the project?
and I needed somebody who could cover the other bases that we weren╠t
covering. I called Geoff up in Montana. He had done the sound and music
on my short film. We made the agreement that I had final cut but that
we would all make creative decisions together. Geoff came for the shoot
and moved to LA with his editing system. We made a contract with a lawyer.
It was smart and would suggest it to anybody. That was the best thing
that we did.
TV: Did you
research a lot of digital video equipment before you began shooting?
HB: I bought
the Canon XL1 camera that Geoff had so we could match images and quality.
We didn╠t have a conversation about PAL vs. NTSC because Geoff already
owned an NTSC camera and neither one of us wanted to put more money on
our credit cards.
TV: Did you
make backups tapes of the masters while shooting?
HB: We had
about 80 hours of footage that we shot over a two-week period. I took
Geoff╠s PC7 and my XL1 and made backups through FireWire. I didn╠t backup
all 80 hours. Instead, I was narrowing the footage down to about 45 hours
and making some editing choices. I was always nervous because until we
made the back-up tapes I knew that this little tiny tape contained was
my whole movie.
TV: What system
did you edit on?
HB: Geoff has
Discreet Edit, which is user friendly. I became the capture guy and Geoff
was the editor. I eventually want to buy my own system because I enjoyed
TV: How long
did you edit for? Did you have the luxury of being able to reshoot after
seeing some of your movie edited?
HB: We didn╠t
really ever re-shoot. It was more like ¤that doesn╠t really work so let╠s
shoot something elseË. We edited for 8 months at Geoff╠s house after work.
TV: Many filmmakers
ask what tape format they should put their edited movie onto directly
from the computer. This tape is essentially the master of your movie.
What format did you choose?
had a DV deck and so we made a DVcam master. We didn╠t do make a Digibeta
master until we had an online version of the movie and completed audio.
The next step was making a High-Definition (HD) master through a process
of up-converting our Digibeta tape. [Currently, filmmakers are making
HD masters of their movie in order to project digitally at film festivals.
This HD master is also used when the filmmaker is ready to make a film
print for traditional theatrical projection.]
TV: Did you
finish the audio mix in Geoff╠s computer?
HB: No, we
went to SER International, a sound and online facility, to do the sound
mix. Geoff presented them with an EDL [edit decision list] so they could
recreate our entire movie on their computers. They were great because
when we wanted to re-edit certain portions of the film we could do everything
TV: Let me
give them a bit of background here. While finishing the film you got a
phone call saying you were invited to the Sundance Film Festival. Did
you have time to make a film print?
HB: It was
never in our mind to make a film print for Sundance because we still wanted
to make changes to the movie. Our choice was to perfect our content first
then concern ourselves with the technical issues. We wanted to be very
careful with making the print. I didn╠t want to rush the process because
making the print costs a lot of money. It was never an option for us.
We gave Sundance an HD copy of our movie.
TV: The path
your film took is very interesting. You shot digitally and not only does
it get into competition at Sundance, but it also became the first digital
feature to also be projected digitally in competition. Did other accomplished
directors who are shooting digitally inspire you?
HB: We saw
The Celebration while we were editing. It breaks with a lot of aesthetic
traditions and we were excited. But I think it was Jim Jarmusch I heard
talking once about making a personal movie. He said that you should make
a movie that is distinct and personal to you. That became the concept
of making Some Body. We had no one looking over our shoulders. From the
start we decided to make the movie we wanted to make.
digitally is creating a freedom that directors do not get to experience
in the traditional studio filmmaking world. Filmmakers are finally being
able to tell their story without having to ask for permission. Did you
experience an incredible sense of freedom?
HB: I think
that we╠ll probably look back on this and say ¤wasn╠t it great when nobody
had an opinion about how we made our film and it was just us.Ë I think
that was great. We were learning filmmaking concepts are we were shooting.
We formed our own opinions based on our hands on experience.
TV: Do you
want to continue showing the film digitally or are you excited about showing
it traditionally on film?
HB: I would
love to continue showing the film digitally. I guess with technology we
are just not there yet. If we want to show in theaters we need to have
a film print, but I prefer to show it digitally.
TV: That is
really interesting to me and reminds me of an interview with Mike Figgis
where he stated he would also prefer to show digitally. Why would you
prefer to show digitally?
it is the true original format. I think it will look and sound better
digitally. I don╠t know actually Ď we╠ll see what it will look like. My
main point is that it was shot digitally and wouldn╠t it be great if it
could just play digitally. When you go to a non-native format you begin
introducing all sorts of variables.
TV: Were you
going for the film look or for a completely different aesthetic?
HB: We shot
in frame mode on the Canon XL1 specifically because it looked more like
film. We wanted to stay away from the super crisp video look where things
look fake. We wanted it to look like film. I just like the way it looks
now in digital format rather whereas with a film print I don╠t know how
it will look. It may look better for all I know.
TV: How did
you work with the actors without a script?
is improvisation and then there╠s improvisation. I feel there╠s a stigma
about improvisation. Some people feel it is cheating and amateurish if
it is not scripted. I think there╠s an art to improvising just as there
is by acting out a script. With improvisation you run into the trouble
of actors having diarrhea of the mouth. Many actors feel they are only
acting if they talk to draw attention to themselves. There is a certain
technique to improvising and it╠s not about talking. It is about living
truthfully under imaginary circumstances. That is what great actors do.
They live truthfully under imaginary circumstances. Casting is so important
with improvisation. I get this idea from studying as an actor. We did
this exercise called ¤a particularizationË at the theater company. The
idea was to come up with a situation in your life that will run parallel
to this scene so you can develop an understanding of how to live the scene
out. When people did this personal kind of particularization, I found
them so interesting to watch. It was much more interesting than watching
the actual scene because it was infused with such a specificity and an
understanding about the characters. That is what we were going for. Cassavettes
worked a lot in that arena casting by his wife. They would work together
because they could bring a specificity to the scene work. I wanted to
work in a similar manner except make the improvisations more accessible
to us. This is our version of it.
TV: Did you
have anything scripted before shooting?
HB: Yes, we
had an outline treatment. After we finished casting we never referred
to the script. In my short film we had a script and threw it away the
first day of shooting. I╠d like to go back to that because I think it
helps you not shoot 100 hours.
TV: How did
you hook up with Next Wave Films?
decided that we become IFP (Independent Feature Project) members. She
put an announcement in the IFP calendar. Next Wave Films called us after
reading the listing. Next Wave Films made a cold call and we mailed it
in to be screened. Then, after they saw the film they called us for a
TV: Do you
want to continue shooting digitally?
HB: Yes, it's
great because if I have another project I want to do - I will just do
it. There is nothing to stop me except for the effort that it involves.
I like the creative freedom of it and I'll do it again. The stigma is
going away about shooting digitally.