An Interview with Chris Milk

"THE LENSBABY LENSES SHOT WITH A WIDER APERTURE HAVE THAT BEAUTIFUL SOFTENING AT THE EDGES....YOU CAN ALSO MOVE THE LENS DURING THE SHOT AND CHANGE THE FOCUS AREA. LIKE YOU’RE SEARCHING FOR THE RIGHT PART OF THE MEMORY."

September 2009

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO MAKE THE FILM?

It was a film for something called the 42 Second Dream festival in Beijing China. 42 directors around the world each did a 42 second film based on dreams. David Lynch, Mike Figgis, Leos Carax, Larry Clark, Abel Ferrara, Floria Sigismondi, Jonas Mekas, Harmony Korine, Kenneth Anger, all contributed. I was thinking about what kind of story could be told in 42 seconds. That then evolved to what’s the biggest story you can tell in 42 seconds. And that led to trying to tell the story of one entire complete life from start to finish.

HOW DID YOU COME TO THE DECISION TO USE A LENSBABY ON THE PROJECT? DID YOU USE BOTH THE COMPOSER AND THE MUSE? IF SO, WERE THERE CERTAIN SHOTS THAT YOU HAD TO USE THE COMPOSER OR THE MUSE OR DID YOU FIND THEM TO BE FAIRLY INTERCHANGEABLE?

I thought a lot about how to visually represent moments of a person’s memories. I did not want to do the aged super 8 look for the older stuff that you see done quite a bit. It’s his personal POV you are seeing through, not home movies, so the visuals should be uniform. But since they are memories I thought there should be some degree of deterioration around the edges, like real memories would have. When you remember things, you probably don’t really have a clear image of the peripheral details. The Lensbaby lenses shot with a wider aperture have that beautiful softening at the edges. And the amazing bokeh you get hides things in the depth of the image. You can also move the lens during the shot and change the focus area. Like you’re searching for the right part of the memory. Also at the time this was before the 5d firmware update, so I really needed a lens that let me control the aperture manually.

I used all three lenses, the Muse, the Composer, and the 3G (the Control Freak was not available yet). I used the 3G the most often as it has the freeform capabilities of the Muse but you can control and fine tune it when you need to like the Composer. The Muse I used a couple times when I wanted to do abstract focus racks in the shot but didn’t want the microphone to pic up the noise you’d get if you did that with the 3G. I used the Composer in the underwater housing as it was the only one that worked with the housing’s focusing system.

HOW WAS SHOOTING WITH A 5D DIFFERENT FROM WORKING WITH A FILM CAMERA OR DIGITAL VIDEO CAMERA?

The 5D’s low light sensitivity allowed me to shoot the entire film without any movie lights. Everything was natural light with a bounce card or a silk here or there. For the scene in the back of a car at night I shot with a taped piece of paper over the car’s dome light to diffuse it a little. A scenario like that would not have been possible to shoot with a film-based camera.

The fact that the camera looks like a normal SLR allowed me to shoot freely wherever I wanted without calling any attention to our production. In LA, even shooting with a video camera can get you in trouble without a film permit. With the 5D you look like the run of the mill tourist. We shot everywhere and no one paid any attention to us.

Personally, if I had my choice, aesthetically I still prefer film. It has more depth and there is a built in subconscious cinematic tone it strikes in people. But shooting a full 35mm motion picture production is a huge ordeal with a matching price tag. For something like this, a personal short, shooting digital allowed me to actually produce it in the first place. It never would have been financially feasible to shoot it otherwise.

HOW DO YOU THINK THAT THE NEW SLRS WITH VIDEO CAPABILITIES ARE GOING TO CHANGE CONTEMPORARY MOVIE AND VIDEO MAKING?

The SLR is not a viable platform to shoot a professional feature length film on. It’s the wrong shape and balanced awkwardly. That’s not to say it can’t be done. But the form factor has to be completely built out to accommodate things like follow focus or handheld operating. For what I was doing in this film my shots were one second long so it didn’t really matter. But if you had longer shots, with actors, complicated blocking, focus racks, and camera moves, you’d for sure want a more robust platform.

I’m most excited about these new super sensitive 35mm gate sized sensors, and the ease of having a file come straight out of the camera and into the editing software. On my film I was unhappy with a shot on the last day of editing. I ran out and shot it again. No developing or film dailies to worry about. It was in the cut at full resolution an hour later.

I have no doubt digital will eventually surpass the quality of film. It’s a technological given. I’m looking forward to the day when I can shoot with barely any light, have my footage available instantly, AND have it look better than film.

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To view Last Day Dream, visit Chris's Vimeo page