From the discussions we had been having over the first few weeks, the program mentors noticed two prominent themes: the complexity and strength of women. The girls agreed that while these themes are somewhat vague and overarching, they allow enough of a direction as well as flexibility to be explored through film. The girls then split into two groups and started to brainstorm how they would address their respective themes. Seeing that the program is under a time crunch, the mentors decided to give the groups obstructions in order to limit their movies into manageable projects given the short amount of production time they have. The first obstruction pertains to what type of film the groups wanted to make. They had the opportunity to choose between documentary, experimental, or a narrative film. The rest of the obstructions dealt with semantics of the film such as their length (5 minutes or less) or the amount of characters (1-3 people unless given an exception). The main point being driven home here is the idea of simplicity – work with what you have and keep it simple.
In order to get the creative juices flowing, each team started their creative process by taking a walk around Chinatown in order to observe their surroundings as well as get inspiration for how they wanted to film their movies. The purpose of this exercise surpassed mere location scouting. The extreme business of Chinatown forced the girls to take into consideration the multi-dimensionality of film. It’s not just what you see, it’s what you hear, how you see, how you move, etcetera. Having to take into account the busy foot traffic, loud noises, and variability of a normal Chinatown sidewalk brings up many issues that we have to take into account during filming.
The next step in the brainstorming process is to focus on the actual message of the film. Each group had a different approach to this step. The Strength group started by posing questions for themselves such as “what does it mean to be a woman?” or “What do you find in a strong woman?” These questions helped them streamline their ideas and allowed their film to start taking shape. They decided on filming in a documentary style where they would interview women and girls close to them (such as their mothers and sisters). To further push the process, the mentors encouraged the girls to each think of 3 questions that they would ask during their interview besides what’s your name, where are you from, and what do you do? By creating these questions the girls weren’t only preparing for the actual filming process, but they were seeing what questions they cared about and what questions they wanted their film to address.
The Complexity group took a lot of inspiration from the “Break Free” music video and decided to go for a more experimental style for their film. They brainstormed a lot about imagery, symbolism, and how different props can convey different things. Their focus was really towards “how do we manipulate the audience” as they didn’t want their story to be straightforward, but rather revealed by the spectator. Ciara, a mentor for the MMTM camp, reminded them, “Film isn’t just what you see or hear, its all of it put together”. While this is a general rule for all film, it held particular weight with the complexity group because their film relied heavier on the impact of the sum of the films variables rather than the importance of the individual facets (i.e. shots, dialogue, sound).
As the weeks wore on, each team’s brainstorming evolved and expanded. Once the Strength team had decided on a documentary, they had a lot of technical aspects they had to address. They had to contact all the subjects they wanted to interview and make sure they were willing and able during our production time to be able to come in to interview. Then they had to ask themselves why they wanted to interview these certain people and what they wanted to learn from them. From there, they formulated their discussion questions in a way that would allow them to elicit the story they want from their subject. Next they had to find a place to film and take into account all the variables that would effect the subject such as heat or noise. They had to do a crash course tutorial on how to interview a person and what you have to worry about when filming a single person sitting and talking to a person just to the right of the camera. And finally, they had to divvy up the responsibilities to make sure that all the jobs were covered and everyone knew how to do their job.
The Complexity group took a more trial and error approach. They tossed around and sketched a lot of ideas and endlessly rearranged them until they were put into a semi-cohesive order. Every decision they made had a purpose. For example, when the suggestion of the actress in the film wearing a mask came up, they heavily debated the importance of the mask – What does it mean? Why do you need to hide the face? What message does it send?
As the groups only had a few days dedicated to the brainstorming process before they had to start shooting, the process was hectic. It’s hard to be able to whittle your ideas down into a few minutes of film, but as the girls continued to collaborate with each other, their movies really started to take shape. Soon they had sketched storyboards and written up shot lists and were ready to bring their ideas to fruition.