Tuesday, October 13, 2009


By Sherwin

It seems an opportune time to look back and dissect a particular aspect of our latest movie effort "Death in Venice". One decision that I personally believe to be crucial in setting the tone and mood was made about halfway - a month into production. At this time we had completed the first half of the movie, each scene separately filmed and connected to each other only in our minds. It was time to string these scenes together and see what beast we had created.

Our earlier mindset with the 10-20 minutes machinima "shorts" had been that the story had to be as efficient as possible. Kate crafted this script in 2006 which was lean and mean, in the sense that the information was fed to the viewer regularly and at an accelerated pace when compared to regular feature films. We were indeed cramming a lot of background information in a short period of time (e.g., five flashbacks within ten minutes), and expecting the viewers to keep up. Would this approach work?

In some movies in the past we plead to being guilty of information overload and expecting much from viewers. This is not a decision we've made casually, and it is one that we have debated and sometimes reverted. In case of "Death in Venice", we ended up slowing the pace for the first half of the movie to give the viewers a chance to breathe and catch up. The background information is necessary but it can be tasking. After all, this is the fragile point at which the viewer is still developing a connection with the characters and an understanding of the plot. Did our efforts fall short? It depends on who is watching and the attention they are granting the movie. It depends on the environment it is consumed in - low-end speakers or headphones, full screen or not, the bandwidth of the stream (or whether it is a download), the display monitor. These factors are out of our control, but we have to strive for balance and make a serious attempt at pleasing most viewers. The truth is, I cannot tell whether we succeeded or not, as I cannot watch this movie unspoiled as if for the first time. But I am glad we made the attempt.

Making a movie that doesn't connect to viewers can be a self-absorbed exercise in narcisism. At the same time, a 20-minutes drama machinima is not yet an established medium, one that some people still doubt even exists. I think of this movie making experience as an iterative and incremental experiment in which audience and filmmakers consciously or subconsciously adjust to each other, and meet in the middle where expectations are met and a connection is finally realized. "Death in Venice" was hopefully a step in the right direction for us.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Death in Venice soundtrack

I finally gathered all the Death in Venice original music files and sent it to TMOA. You can listen to it here as well (find the widget on the right side). :)

It is really fun to compose the music for the movie that you are helping to direct. We deliberately extended a few seconds here and there when we felt an extra little musical phrase would help. And of course there were long discussions on whether music is necessary at all in certain places.

There are a few recognizable recurring themes used throughout. One of them is a short motif from Verdi's La Forza overture which I found to be handy - this overture is the music you hear at the opening intro with the mask and that church on the other side of the Piazza San Marco - what's the name of that? There is also a 'revenge' theme, associated with Sebastian, and a 'love' theme - prominently played near the end of the movie.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Death in Venice Released

How do I feel now that it’s done?

I’m still a bit shaky I guess, from all the happenings of today. First, we were on the Ken and Roger Show, and then Death in Venice was premiered at the TMU theater. I was very nervous the whole time.

Well, the interview didn't go well. Ken lured me into discussions based on some of my blog entries, and I just fell right into that trap, forgetting the fact that I cannot talk and think at the same time. What can I say? Unfortunately, writing is my true mode of thought. :P Despite the stress and all the wrong things I said, it was very nice to be able to chat with these two nice gentlemen.

TMU Theatre is such a wonderful institution that enables people from anywhere to gather together and watch a movie (that is streaming on web a browser), chatting with each other in near real time. Having your movie premiered there is just an incredible experience and a true privilege. We thank D. L. Watson, a.k.a. Moonlight Pictures, for bringing such a wonderful gift to machinima makers.

For those of you who couldn’t make it to the premiere today, please find the movie on the right column.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Death in Venice

I guess my days of posing as a blogger are over! :) It has been a long time since I posted anything here. For the last few weeks, S and I have been working hard on our first MovieStorm machinima, Death in Venice.

Working together with your spouse on a creative project is an experience to have. Now that our joint efforts of last two months are about to come to fruition, I am excited and sad at the same time. I will certainly miss those countless late night discussions and dinner table debates.

The production process of this movie in particular was such a rich experience of creative collaboration, not only between S and I, but also with the initial involvement of NeoNoir, who was originally set to direct this movie. Even though he ended up dropping out of the project, he left a lot of his footprints in this. More than three years ago, he expressed his own interest in incorporating the motif of masks into a hit man movie after hearing a bunch of stories I pitched to him (including what became Death in Venice), and I subsequently wrote the mask motif into the script for him. Some of the mask-related parts are gone now, but the theme left its permanent mark on a deep place of the story. (Watch the movie, and you’ll see.) NeoNoir’s suggestion that we bring some spectacle to the movie by having the climax take place in a “piazza” (as well as his mentioning of “Venetian masks”) sealed the destination of Marc and Julia as well. When he brought up the possibility of having our first killing in a concert hall, Verdi's "Rigoletto" came to haunt the story and never left even after the concert hall turned into a restaurant.

After three years of hibernation and many week's intense labor, the story will be released at TMU Theater on October 4th (7:10 Eastern, 4:10 Pacific).