April 28, 1999

Flying to LA today for the wedding of some friends, and not feeling like paying for the headphones to watch YOU'VE GOT MAIL (which, judging from the images alone, looked as if it stuck pretty damned close to the plot of THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER), I pulled out paper and pen and listed in order the scenes in HONEYMOON, with a numerical rating of how well I liked each scene.  What started out as an obsessive-compulsive diversion turned out to be a productive self-examination: it's been over a year since post-production ended, and I guess that I've acquired some distance during that time, because I was able to see patterns and problems that had never crossed my mind before.

It was interesting that, with only a few exceptions, I liked almost every scene in the Pennsylvania honeymoon section of the film (which, fortunately, is about 75% of the movie), and was less than happy with almost every scene in the NYC-based prologue and epilogue sections.  I realized for the first time that the problem might have to do with the difference in the dramatic material I was dealing with.  The Pennsylvania section of the script has much more drama and tension, and each scene tends to provide motivation for the next, so that the scenes can be located in time pretty easily.  (I counted scenes today and found out that the honeymoon lasts seven days; I'd never worked it out during writing or shooting.)  By contrast, the NYC sections mostly show bits and pieces of everyday reality with little dramatic forward motion, and it's usually impossible to tell how much time is passing.  I seem to be fond of this kind of drama-free, prosaic way of beginning a story: in my last movie, POLLY PERVERSE STRIKES AGAIN!, much of the first half was devoted to this kind of material, and the drama didn't really take root until the midpoint.  And, in that case as well, I only like the second, dramatic half of the film.  It seems that something is wrong with my technique of setting up drama with low-key prosaic buildups.  My first thought is that my typically laid-back camera style, with little movement and lots of space around the actors, might be layering a little too much distance onto these already static passages.  I don't want to make rules for myself, but I definitely need to be careful when passages like this crop up in my scripts in the future, and not just automatically resort to my usual remote Europeanized method of breaking down these scenes when I'm storyboarding.

I had one other surprising insight.  Each movie I've done has one scene that bothers me with its conventional tone, and which I couldn't get right despite multiple retakes.  In HONEYMOON, it's the lakeside scene in which the newlyweds mull over their recent conflict, which I wasted a huge amount of film stock shooting and reshooting.  I thought back to POLLY PERVERSE and the scene that bugged me in that film, and I realized--it's the same scene!  In both cases, a couple discusses a recent blowup in an attempt to recapture a sense of closeness, just before the conflict escalates to the crisis point.  In both films, the actors tended to play the scenes with a little too much romantic affection, perhaps because the scripts gave them so few other opportunites to show the couples in romantic mode.  I wanted the actors to show a little discomfort and not revert completely to affection, but I am plainly unable to convey my intentions about this scene in its various incarnations.  Maybe I have to write it into another script to get it right!

As long as I seem to be talking about Things I'd Do Differently, maybe I'll take this opportunity to mention a few other tidbits that I may or may not have touched on in the diary.

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