Director’s Notes for Blood Coloured Moon

Time is always at a premium in short films and as a result character development tends to suffer but not with Blood Coloured Moon. This film, with its three strong characters, one location and continuous time, creates an instant dramatic and emotional connection with the audience.  Like Paul, the wanderer in the story, we enter briefly into this isolated world, full of romance and promise and then, just as quickly, we are gone.

Dramatically, the style will allude to the ‘Crofter’s Wife’ scene in Hitchcock’s “39 Steps” where the protagonist, on the run, throws himself on the mercy of a farmer’s wife in an isolated village in Scotland. The sense of danger, sexual tension and romance inform the characters every interaction.

In terms of an aesthetic, the film will have the look and sound predominantly that of magic realism. Jenny, the bar owner’s wife speaks down to the wanderer as if she were a maid trapped in a tower. The wanderer appears from the darkness as if by magic. His poem will be coupled with complimentary poetic images, a montage that works as a visual companion to his words. Aspects of the house and the night will reference fairy tales in terms of lighting and production design.

Camera movement will play a key role in underscoring the poetics of the piece. Toward the latter end of the film, when Paul is wooing Jenny, the camera will start to free itself from its earth-bound moorings. To visualise their connection beyond the physical world, the camera will glide and soar around the characters. Music too will be essential in communicating the sub-textual development. Both scored music and songs will create for the audience a sense of loss, of romance, of hope, of nostalgia and of love.

By the time the Wanderer recites his Blood Coloured Moon poem, the aspiration is to emulate the emotional impact of Donal McCann’s final of speech in John Huston’s “The Dead”.

Camera & Lighting:

We will shoot on High Definition Video using the state-of-the-art RED camera (http://www.red.com/).  I intend to use long takes as this helps the performance. Using a digital format allows everyone’s energy to focus on getting it right rather than preserving film stock. I plan to use predominantly static compositions, with the controlled use of a floating camera. I feel the stiller frame suggests the slower time of rural Ireland 40 years ago, it will also enhance the tensions between the characters. To spend time and attention creating a few beautifully lit, dressed, and composed shots wherein the performers can ‘do their thing’ is the right approach for Blood Coloured Moon.

In regard to the colour palette, I would hope to capture the light and tones of the muted Irish countryside. Browns, greys, blues, and greens will dominate.  Introduction of more lively colours will occur almost imperceptibly as the story moves towards the final passion of Paul’s poem. Here, through subtle lighting changes, we will introduce reds, yellows and purples as Paul injects some life into this world. The colours surrounding Pl will suggest, a world asleep, potential unrealised, desires unexpressed, a restrained, even repressed quality. There is, however, one element that lies outside this flat world; that is the colour of Paul’s costume, a brownish red suit that will be substituted by subdued red suit which changes to a vibrant red suit as the story and his passion for Jenny grows. This technique of colour substitution sounds implausible in print, but as visual design expert Bruce Block will attest, these kinds of changes are only apparent to a viewer on subconscious level due to the lack of colour memory we possess. The audience will be too wrapped up in the moment to notice the change, but they will feel it.

There will also be a poetic use of lighting and colour motivated by the action in the script, for example; Paul arrives with the blur of the countryside zipping by him, it is as if a whirlwind has brought him here, Jenny lit from behind and framed by her window will appear like a beacon in the night, seen through the various windows, the silhouette of Charlie rampaging the house looking for his gun will be conveyed like shadow-puppet show, and the cool ambient light cast by the moonlight will become red as Paul declares his love.

Irish feature films that are closest to my intended visual approach; would be Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s December Bride or Goran Paskaljevic’s How Harry Became a Tree. While an international reference might be the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, such as, Nostalgia and Sacrifice (though the slow pace and poetic symbolism of his films are obviously much more pronounced than would be the case in this short.)

Music and Sound Design:

The sound design will attempt to realise the sensual themes lying below the surface of this film. The story is riven with passion, though the characters are still. Here lies the fundamental tension in the film. Outwardly very little action takes place, however, like the old saying goes: still waters run deep. The drama is set in the heart of the country; an inherently sensual environment. And though the environment may seem inert, almost dead, it is only dormant. On this rural context the characters very existence depends on a fertile earth, on the flux of the seasons, the husbandry of living things. The sound design reflects this constant, invisible mutability. The sound design will be animated counter-point to the stasis of the frame. The sound design will capture the trudge of Paul’s boots on the pathway to the door, the rummage of Charlie searching for his gun inside the house, the revving of Paul’s car, the wind through the branches, the lonely hoot of the owl, the distant lowing.  Sound design in this film will be the conduit to past events and subterranean drives and actions. Used elegantly this technique draws in the audience in a subliminal manner, and enriches the experience without the necessity to be overt.

Cinematic antecedents:

Obviously a man proclaiming his love to woman who appears from her bedroom window and a couple who are destined to be forever kept apart has many resonances with the immortal scene from Shakespeare’s ‘star-crossed lovers’ play; however, there are other film references that are more pertinent in conveying the mood and tone of Blood Coloured Moon:

The two key cinematic references for Blood Coloured Moon are; The Crofter’s Wife scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps and the final scene from John Huston’s The Dead.  These two films are particularly apt for this film as, similarly, they deal with romantic love and married life; they deal with both the spoken and unspoken, they deal with the distances between people and they deal with yearning and loss.

The 39 Steps:

One of the most memorable sequences from the Hitchcock film comes when the hero Hannay, played by Robert Donat, stops off at the crofter’s house.  Hannay arrives at the isolated house in the Scottish highlands after having escaped capture from the police on a night train. The crofter (played with appropriate surliness by John Laurie) immediately dislikes Hannay but offers to put him up for the night for a price. When Hannay first meets the crofter’s wife, Margaret , there is an immediate, if oblique, sexual tension and a touching sense of loss. The scene adds little to the overall plot of the film but in the hands of Hitchcock the scene is one of the best in a classic film. The crofter’s wife is the only person throughout the film who trusts Hannay immediately. At the dinner scene, she catches Hannay intently reading a newspaper article about him being accused of a terrible crime. He shares a look with her trying to tell her silently that he didn’t do it. The jealous crofter, of course, mistakes this for them plotting an affair behind his back.

The main concept from the scene with the crofter’s wife is that desolation and loneliness of farm life, and the toll it can take on a young woman’s spirit. When Hannay is in the kitchen telling her about city life, she seems to get lost in the possibilities that urban life could afford her. Of course, the crofter crashes those dreams when he enters and grumbles the infamous line, “God made the country.” These are the very same tensions that are at play between Charlie, his wife Jenny and Paul the interloper in Blood Coloured Moon.

At the end of the ‘Crofter’ scene, Hannay is forced to flee the cottage, but Hitchcock holds on the crofter’s wife for one fleeting moment as she ponders the life she could have had.
This window motif resonates with an earlier incident where we look through the window of a crofter’s cottage from his point of view; within that tight frame, we witness the conspiratorial, silent “dialogue” between Hannay and Margaret. Similarly in Blood Coloured Moon the window acts as a visual metaphor for glimpses into these people’s world and for their glimpse of freedom.

The Dead:

The other filmic reference for Blood Coloured Moon is John Huston’s final movie, ‘The Dead’, an adaptation of James Joyce’s stirring short story. The Dead, sometimes called the greatest short story in the English language, takes place on a single night in turn-of-the-century Dublin, on the Feast of the Epiphany. There is a ritual gathering of old friends and the slow revelation of a secret that exposes the truth about the marriage of the two main characters. Gabriel (Donal McCann) confronts his wife Gretta (Angelica Huston) and she reveals that the song she just heard was once sung to her by a young lad named Michael Fury, who died of a broken heart for her when she was young. In this epiphany is the realization that there are inaccessible places in the heart, even for husband and wife.

“I suppose you were in love with this Michael Fury?” Gabriel asks with an ache in his heart. “I think he died for me,” Gretta answers, then collapses onto the bed in tears. Gabriel turns away, asking himself in the film’s mournful narrative track, ‘Why am I feeling this riot of emotion?

John Huston tells his story — as Joyce did — through an accretion of sensuous detail. Joyce conceived “The Dead” in part as a story about a marriage but in truth it may be a testament to the impossibility of any real union between man and woman. The Dead” is sonorous, moving and deeply funny — a work of great feeling and beauty. Huston, for his part, called the movie his love letter to Ireland. The film has a mellifluous simplicity, the images flow so easily and the film making is so self-effacing, so direct and economical, that its power to tap the emotional core of the viewer occurs at an almost imperceptible level.   Blood Coloured Moon, similarly, is an essay on the incommunicable space between husband and wife as it is about the romance of the arrival of a mysterious stranger. And the hoped for cinematic execution will reflect the graceful rhythm and pace of the Huston masterpiece.

Where The Dead occurs on the night of the epiphany, Blood Coloured Moon occurs on another significant Holy day; Good Friday. Where ironic usage of setting Joyce story on the feast of the epiphany reflects an annual dinner in which a great truth is revealed to the protagonist, in this short film the social construct of forbidding the consumption of alcohol on Good Friday reflects the social pressures being brought to bear on our two potential lovers; Paul and Jenny.

The Dead deals with universal difficulties of marriage, of growing older and loss as well as the particularly Irish qualities of melancholy, lyricism and evanescent memory; Blood Coloured Moon reflects similar themes. The lightness and joviality of earlier scenes in The Dead, the characterization and banter at the dinner table beautifully set up the pathos and elegiac quality of the resolution so too does the Blood Coloured Moon use comedy and typical Irish wisecracking to throw into stark relief the heartfelt poetic wooing of the end.

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