Marc Maurice – the Interview

In an earlier post I introduced Marc Maurice and his short film, “The Soundtrack of My Life.” I contacted Marc and he agreed to provide some additional background on his work.

Q1. Can you tell me something about your storytelling planning process? You mention using the iPhone to hold your preplanned shot list. Do you also use a storyboard — or is your planning mainly text?

Maurice: I start with a brainstorming, collecting my creative and technical ideas in one simple spreadsheet as text (I use APPLE NUMBERS) that ultimately builds the script. Here’s a small demo how it looks (click image for a larger version):

One minute you may have a voice over text idea, the next a camera movement idea, then you think of a location… it all goes into the spreadsheet. It will often need refinements: say you found a nice voice over sentence and connected a shot idea. Then you imagine an additional picture, split the voice over sentence over 2 lines and add the new picture idea etc. In this stage I tend to read the dialogue / voice over sentences over and over again and imagine the pictures for it. This helps to build the timing of the story at an early stage. I always try to visualize the finshed film as I would like to see it as a viewer.

Usually I start in a linear (storytelling) order and divide the lines in story-chapters. Once you finish the story you want to see different views of the sheet: for example beside the chronological order you want a version that shows all the scenes sorted by location or by actors. For this reason I copy the locations / names etc. to every line. Then I just mark the column I’m looking for (for example “Location”) and sort the column alphabetically, which rearranges to whole sheet. Before I do this I make sure that I filled the first column at the left with incremental line-numbers (can be done by marking two fields and dragging down with your mouse…). By this I can always sort back to my chonological order of the story. Of course you need to update the “story-order” numbers if you change the script.

During the shooting you might use a printed version of the sheet to check off the scenes you already shot. I like to use my iPhone with the the mobile version of NUMBERS to be able to edit the document: 1st for last-minute changes and 2nd for an additional column in which I enter “X”, to check off the finished scenes. I recommend an iPhone clamp to attach it on your rig. If your need to get the phone out of your pocket all the time its likely that you aren’t checking back often enough. If I work with a team, I prefer to use the iPad (if somebody else holds it).

SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE was shot under crazy time pressure… I was astonished that I could (well… almost) finish and edit the film in such a short timeframe: I believe a major reason was this way of planning details in advance. I would like to see the workflow of other producers… maybe they have better workflows. I guess my story planning is working best if you work either alone or in a small team that understands your “roughly described scenes”. I use my sheets for commercial projects as well, though I might show clients a filtered version with just the basic columns. I present the spreadsheets by reading and explaining them in a meeting. Instead of a storyboard I might just bring along some reference photos for important scenes. My clients might not be able to visualize the finished film in their mind in this presentation this, as we do as film-makers, but they usually can follow far enough to make sure that our vision is synchronized and approve the script.

Additional storyboard pictures for each / some lines of the spreadsheet are nice for bigger teams / projects. Instead of sketching a storyboard I like to use reference-photos I shoot by myself when I check the location. Sometimes I also use some photos I find with Google or at stock photo services etc. as a reference.

For less complex projects I started to use the shotlist tool in SMAPP, the terrific iPhone app for film-makers.

Q2. How did you develop your storytelling / preplanning skills?

Maurice: I admire great storytelling in all artforms (words, music, movies, photographs) and I have enjoyed telling stories by myself from an early age. So I was always curious how to keep up the attention of “the audience” (catch interest, build excitment, suprise, have the right timing,…). A big influence was songwriting. Songs — as little stories — need a dramatic strucuture. You follow rules that are very comparable to a filmscript: a song has an intro that wants to attract attention and maybe curiosity, than you develop the story (verse), calm down or increase the tension (bridge) and accel to a climax (chorus / middle section) etc.

I think the more stories you write the more you indirectly train your planning skills. You kind of have to learn to structure your ideas somehow. You might do this intuitively or –like me — more in a considered way, depending on your personality.

Q3. What were your thoughts as you searched for and incorporated the soundtrack into this piece?

Maurice: The song was part of the contest and caught my attention first. I guess without the inspiring song I wouldn’t have joined. While listening to the song my theme and the first pictures came to my mind. Regarding the sounds: I sorted my script sheet (see above) by the column SoundFX, prepared all the props and recorded them after the shooting with a TASCAM DR 100 recorder (just a few were ambient noise or came from samples libraries). Actually I planned to use quite a few more sounds but I coulnd’t make it in the short time I had.

Q4. You created this film for a contest. Was that valuable for you — did it change the way you work or planned for this film?

Maurice: I can’t express how valuable it was as a personal reflection and motivation to go for “my voice”! I started with film when the 5DII hit the market – films were one additional service next to music and photography. Since then I actually went for payed jobs only. Far too long I failed to reserve some time for creative freedom and to remember what emotionally connected me with film. STILLMOTION’s BIG SHORT contest was my first personal movie and it certainly infuenced my approach for upcoming commercial projects: instead of adapting my style to the project I’ll adapt the project to style I want to pursue…

It was also the first time I ever put something on VIMEO for a public discussion (yeah, I know – embarrassing…). I enjoy the interaction that arises from this a lot. STILLMOTION is so kind to to show the shortfilm on their workshop tour KNOW… I appreaciate the feedback a lot. Whatever come out from a contest: I’m sure it will somehow get you further… even if it is just for the fun and experience of it.

Q5. Are there any other filmmakers or multimedia artists that you’re following or can recommend?

Maurice: I find the best school are your favorite “big screen” movies / tv-dramas and documentations. I like national originalities as well: for example french and english movies can have very unique and inspiring atmospheres for me. In the DSLR / documentation world I follow a couple of websites: the Stillmotion Blog, Philip Bloom, Vincent Laforet, Shane Hurlbut, dsrlnewsshooter, and lately Audibleyeball :-), … and find all the insight and work samples you find there very inspiring.

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