A writer observes the making of her friend's movie: watching Moze Mossanen's Canadian dance film, Roxana, come to life.

Location: Ontario, Canada

A Canadian writer, story editor and teacher of film and theology. Looking to integrate spirituality and the arts in a celebration and love of visual and written language.

Monday, January 30, 2006

mary & madeleine

Of course, those who spent time on the set of Roxana will know Mary and Madeleine as the film's inspired make-up and hair design team. One of the great things about a blog is always having the opportunity to go back and take a closer look at some of the work that has been running in the background of a project like this one and no less valuable to its end result. In considering the visual aspects of Roxana, I have taken time out in the past to chat with Rhonda Moscoe and Debra Hanson about set and costumes. Now as we wait for the opportunity to report on how post-production is moving, there is time to explore the work of others. Where better to start than hair and make-up? Madeleine Russell and Mary Monforte designed the look of the transportive and emotional faces we will see in tight close-ups of the film. Besides the actors themselves, the work of these artists will be what creates an indelible impression.

I caught up with the divine Miss(es) "M" and here are their thoughts:

How would you describe the hair and make-up look of Roxana, in terms of defining style?

Mary: This is a stylized look reminiscent of the 50s and 60s.
Madeleine: (that's her, just visible attending to Greta on set at left) Hair styles in the 50's were defined by a distinctive look such as hair close to the head, curls, softness around the face and waves. Hair in the 60s was bigger: flips,Vidal Sasoon geometric cuts, beehives, more hairspray and teasing .

How does the work of each of you affect the choices the other makes?

Mary: they must coincide with each other and compliment the entire look, including the clothing as well. For instance, the outfit should somehow blend with make up colours and avoid an obvious clash. Also, in period looks, certain colours are more distinct to that era. These are things that are common knowledge to the costume/make-up departments during research and prep for the piece.
Madeleine: On each hair and make-up change, Mary and I worked closely and consulted each other on what we had planned for each scene, making sure both were suitable for the story and complmentary to the actor.

What are/were the challenges of creating a look for a project such as this one?

Madeleine: The challenge before the shoot was the reseach: spending many hours over books and also collecting data from the internet, then deciding all the period hairstyles for the principle actors and dancers which took days to acomplish. What wigs and hairpieces to use, colours and length of hair as final choices.
Mary: keeping the looks in sync with the period was a definite challenge, yet keeping them stylized as per Moze's request.

What cues did you receive from Moze and/or how do you generally interact with the director of a project?

Madeleine: First let me tell you Moze is a dream director and fun to work with! After our collected reseearch, Mary and I met with Moze to discuss the look he wanted for the show which was highly stylized and edgey. He described each character to us and in general his vision for Roxana, and during production we consulted many times and found we were on the same page.
Mary: Part of the job is being able to accomodate the director's vision as well as keeping the talent happy. Moze wanted Roxana's look to always be a little overdone as per her character.

How much are you impacted (generally, in any situation) by the work being done by the costume designer?

Madeleine: For me the costume designer is very important. I have to see the costume before I can get a clear vision of a hairstyle. The collars and necklines are very important, as I must incorporate a workable style. There has to be a good balance in hair and costume.
Mary: The costume designer has the power to change any looks which do not meet with their designs in general: in dance pieces, the costumes may impact the make-up because fabric may be rubbing against the face and become soiled, smudging the make-up also. These things are always a concern for both departments and I am constantly aware and ready to make any adjustments/repairs.

Roxana covers a number of different eras, closely connected. How did you manage to make each feel so distinct?

Mary: Roxana's looks are always glamorous, so the hair really helped to define different eras as well as the clothing. Madeleine: I chose very distinct hair designs for the three periods we were in: 1957, 1962 and 1967.

Which character in the movie was the easiest to find a look for? Which was the hardest?

Madeleine: The male actors were the easiest to design for. Greta (Roxana) was the most challenging because she was in every scene and every era. I used hairpieces and wigs for her various dances and scenes. In some of the love scenes we used her own hair for softer sexier looks.
Mary: the easiest was Roxana's young daughter (Susan) who required minimal make-up. In general, I didn't find any other of the character's looks really hard.

What are the unique challenges of doing your work in combination with dance?

Mary: Ensuring that the make-up stays on while the dancer is on camera performing and sweating.
Madeleine: Making sure that wigs and hairpieces are secure on the heads for the dances.

What will you remember most in relationship to your work on Roxana..?

Madeleine: That it was such a beautiful production to watch during filming. The cast was amazing to work with. Working with Moze and helping to bring his vision to life.
Mary: I love dance. I studied modern dance in my younger years, so it's always been a passion of mine. It's always a great experience to meet these artists and collaborate with them, the outcome being a great performance.

Monday, January 16, 2006

roxana party & music notes

January plods on and this strange mild winter seems determined to stay despite all odds. Walking up Parliament on Saturday to meet Moze for dinner prior to the Roxana wrap party, I marvelled at the temperature - cold, but the cold of late autumn or early Spring. The occasional Christmas light was a quick reminder of the season that has only just passed and through a window I saw a Christmas tree, still bejewelled and twinkling despite the date.

Strolling past the Winchester Hotel, I glanced up at the second floor, home of the Laurentian Room where the wrap party would occur in just a few hours. (These are all pix from the party.) Known for its art deco markings and possibly the longest bar in the city, it also features a weekend burlesque show. A bouncer was already standing outside the side door, shivering and bouncing to stay warm.

Over dinner, Moze brought me up to speed on the early post-production of Roxana. He and editor Jeff Bessner (that's him on the right in the picture above)and Roberto met with composers Alexina Louie and Alex Pauk this week to talk about what comes next.

We screened each dance sequence and discussed the important beats and choreographic flourishes that Alex and Alexina will need to keep in mind when composing the new music, including tempo, mood, colour and texture: For the Chez Paree sequence, for instance, we discussed a more Latin feel along the lines of Luis Prima who was very propular in clubs at the time; a less foreboding and more bittersweet approach to Amy’s Solo and Mattress Quintet; and a smaller orchestral sound for the first Roxana/Susan duet.

He went on to explain that both Amy’s Solo and the Mattress Quintet are being held back until they are edited as they will be radically changed when the intercutting material is woven in. For Amy’s Solo, it is her point of view of Roxana and the Landlord making love which, in fact, informs her gestures, he explained, while in the Mattress Quintet it is Amy’s point of view again as she watches and takes photographs of Roxana’s lovemaking with Eliot and a coterie of other lovers. As the editing of these sequences might radically change both the content and length of the dances, we decided that it would be best to treat them as part of the dramatic scoring which will be done when the film is locked.

Specific musical themes for characters were discussed, particularly for Roxana and Susan. In Susan’s case, we will be taking our cue from the jewellery music box from which Roxana pulls out Susan’s photo as a young girl and remembers to herself the child she had given up. This theme would also be worked into each of the scenes (dance and drama) with Roxana and Susan. In the waltz section, I suggested that the two waltz duets (the first with Ted and the second with Rex) following the big waltz in the ballroom each need to be treated with a deepening sense of anxiety, as if things were spiraling out of control. As Roxana gets a taste of the good life and sacrifices nearly everything for material possessions, I wanted the music to reflect this feeling of moral compromise.

Although this order of creative development is highly unusual in a dance film project (most of the time, the music comes first and is the inspiration for the dance), the experimentation of this process allows for some very exciting discoveries. Moze remarked on the general level of excitement and everyone's universal feeling about how strong the footage seems to be.

The lattes imbibed, the mufflers were wound round our necks again for the short walk back up to Winchester and the party. And what a party! One end of the bar had been saved for the group who quickly filled the space and disappeared into the darkness of the space only to be lit by the occasional flicker of glass catching light. At 11:00 p.m. a spotlight fixed on a hoop hung from the ceiling and a burlesque dancer climbed into, soon beginning a balletic striptease. More dancers followed: a woman lap danced a customer, a man gyrated on the floor. The act finished with a singer, singing a torchy song that ended with her dress dropping to the floor. In a strange way it was fitting - we were hurled into where the character Roxana begins her story - the Chez Paree number belonged to this very world in a different era. These folks had no idea they were surrounded by some of the best dancers and performers in the country - who all seemed quite rapt. Rapt. Wrapped. Roxana lives and moves on, reinventing and connecting all her past and future lives.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

a new year and a new phase

The tree is down, the last of the turkey soup is in the freezer, the new year is here and a new phase of production is underway for Roxana. Post-production has officially begun. After the adrenalin rush of the 13 day shoot in December, most of the principals slipped away into the holiday rush, whether here or on neighbouring farms, or off onto new projects or in the case of both Roberto and Greta separately - to Italy! The intensity of the shoot has played itself out against the festival haze of the holiday season. Suddenly, January is here and time to get back to the important work that awaits.

The footage has all been viewed by Moze and Jeff Bessner, the editor, and shipped off to Alexina Louie and Alex Pauk who are completing their work on the scoring for the film. Some time in the future Moze and Roberto and Jeff and Stephen will meet to discuss what the film will now look like, how it will hang together. Although the script is still the firm guide, each phase of a movie production involves a new stage of revisioning. Did the story get captured? Has the camera found the emotional line of the film? What should the pacing be? The answers to these fundamental questions are all known and also ready for reinvention.

I checked in with Moze on Tuesday to hear his thoughts. Meanwhile, partly as a nod to nostalgia (nostalgia after three weeks?) and also to keep a sense of connectedness to the whole process of the movie making, I've decided to put up here some of the pix I took during rehearsal and production that never made it into the blog.

Here's Moze:
The next stage will be, in fact, quite interesting as Alexina and Alex will be writing new music based on all the tracks we used for rehearsals and shooting. There’s likely going to be a great deal of adjustment through trial and error for everybody but given how well this process has gone in the past for me, I’m confident it’ll all turn out OK. Once the final music is recorded, Jeff will cut the dances to the new music. It’s a highly unusual and unorthodox way of working, as almost every film has the final music recorded or at least composed before shooting the dances. After this is over, I can really say “well, I’ve done it ALL!” Well…, not quite.

Editing will continue through January and February and the first half of March before the sound designer, Alan Geldart takes over. Alan will be responsible for re-recording all the dialogue (ADR) spoken in the film as is the custom these days and creating all the sound effects such as doors opening and closing, phones ringing, street noises, cars passing as well as other more abstract sound elements (distortions in ambient noises) that will create the unique soundscape that is Roxana’s alone.

Some of this work will also be shared by our Foley artist who will work on the foot sounds, including all those made by the dancers during their dancing. I’ve made a promise to myself to attend one of these sessions as I can’t imagine what that would look like – a man, most likely a non-dancer – looking at the screen and trying to duplicate the precise brushes, slides and staccato like noises of the dancers’ feet! At this time Alexina and Alex will also start composing all the interconnecting music which ties the dramatic and musical sequences together. This is a somewhat daunting task as they will have to find seamless ways of integrating all the dramatic music with the dance sections, an undertaking even more impressive when you realize the entire film is supported by music, much like a symphony. Eventually, all the sound elements – dialogue, music and sound effects – will get mixed to one master track and then married to the onlined, colour-corrected master of the picture. Our delivery date is scheduled for the middle of April 2006. And this will be the first year in a long, long time where the film hasn’t been directly broadcast after delivery which will give me the chance to enter it, hopefully, in some festivals. (As you may know, most festivals in Canada don’t screen material that have already been broadcast.).

So,... first up: the dramatic sequences. These mostly small scenes in which characters engage each other in corridors, bedrooms, sidewalks, are like little bridges holding the islands of the dance narrative together. They can be cut together without music and so can happen now. I can only imagine what it will be like after that to have the music suddenly fill the frame and the same characters animate and come more viscerally and physically to life. It won't likely happen til February - but I can't wait!