Michael E. Wood

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Flow: a thirty minute take

I never studied psychology but I’ve read about the term flow to describe (via wikipedia) “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” During this period, certain parts of our brains become hyper-activated and we become so singularly focused on the task at hand that we can lose a sense of time and even an awareness of ourselves. Musicians, athletes and other performers often describe this state as getting “into the zone" or "locked in”.

On the last film I shot, my classmate Jason Stefaniak’s thesis film ‘The Middle Ground’, I had a chance to experience this elusive state of flow as a cinematographer. In a completely improvised scene, two actors were play-fighting and cuddling on a bed while I filmed the action with a handheld camera. My 1st AC, the incomparable Jeff Brink, pulled focus for me while the sound team also followed the action. What resulted was nothing short of magical.

The director put on some music to set the mood and almost immediately, the actors and crew began what can best be described as a dance — the crew moving around the actors as we felt inspired by the music playing and the life unfolding in front of us. Looking through my camera’s viewfinder, I felt completely connected to the scene. My senses were entirely heightened. I was no longer just filming the actors but felt a visceral and emotional connection to what was happening before me. Without thinking at all, my instincts directed the movements of the camera like a ouija board. Time began to melt away and before I knew it, we had shot one take for 30 minutes straight. Despite the fact that my camera weighed 30 pounds and hurt my back throughout the shoot, I felt no pain whatsoever.

When the shot finished, I looked up at the crew and could see that everyone had experienced a similar thing. It was as if we had just been through a time warp together. For those 30 minutes, we had all been completely focused on our individual tasks and the feeling of finally coming up for air was almost disorienting. We had all just experienced flow in filmmaking and the process was more gratifying than any single shot I’ve ever photographed. You can see a few screen grabs from the uninterrupted 30 minute take above.

Koharubiyori (小春日和)

In early February, I had the amazing opportunity to shoot my classmate Toshimichi Saito’s thesis film in Japan. We filmed on the Arri Alexa for 8 days in Kobe, Osaka, and Okayama with a Japanese crew in some beautiful locations.

The project was particularly exciting as it was my first trip to Asia and Toshi was really open to explore unconventional ways of telling the story with the camera. ‘Koharubiyori’, which translates to English best as “Indian Summer”, tells the story of a disconnected family and several lonely urban dwellers who join together at a funeral in a small village in west Japan’s countryside. The film is a drama inspired by classic Japanese films like Kenji Mizoguchi’sUgetsu’ and culminates in an enchanting Nihon Buyo performance by a mysterious and spirited woman who unexpectedly helps the family with preparations for the funeral.

With an ambitious production scale and an almost entirely Japanese crew, the shoot posed some interesting challenges. For one, the set was run in Japanese and I needed a translator to let me know what was going on most of the time. On the first day, we were shooting guerrilla style inside the impossibly loud cargo hold of a commercial jet. While I was adjusting the iris on the camera, amidst a chaotic back and forth in Japanese, I was surprised to see in my viewfinder that we were recording a take! I hadn’t learned the terms for “picture’s up”, “camera speeding” or “we’re about to get kicked out this friggin’ plane!” at that point.

Thankfully, the craft of telling stories with images is way more universal than Japanese or English, and we were in no short order of talented filmmakers. The production was a thrilling experience of trying new things, working with old friends, and making new ones. We were in local newspapers, on national television, and while boarding the flight home, the smiling face of our lead actress bid us a final farewell from a Visa® billboard. The Japanese are great with warmhearted goodbyes.

Wrapped principal photography on ‘Last Night’, the debut short film by my dear friend, Cathy Yan. Cathy and I used to collaborate a bunch on dance choreography back in college so this project was a fun throwback to an old creative partnership. This production was particularly fun as most of the film was shot at our alter mater. Photos by the film’s producer, my dude, and fellow Princetonian, Wyatt Rockefeller.

Michael Jackson Documentary

For the last month, I’ve been working at Spike Lee’s production company on a documentary on Michael Jackson’s “Bad” album. For the next few months, I’ll be assisting Spike’s longtime editor, the incomparable Barry Alexander Brown, as we gear up this feature doc for it’s premiere to mark the 25th anniversary of the album’s release in the fall of 1987. Pretty excited to be working on this project as, like most of the world, I’m a huge MJ fan.

Grad Film Schowcase

My short film “Cross Your Heart” is now available to view online at NYU’s Grad Film website as part of their Grad Film Showcase. I made “Cross Your Heart” during my 2nd year of film school. While you’re there, you can see some other great shorts by a few of my classmates and other NYU graduates. You can check out the video here and find more information about the cast and crew on my website or on imdb.

Here’s a video I directed and photographed for my alma mater, Princeton’s Engineering School. Had a super lean but incredibly capable three person crew in my buddies Jeff Brink, Pepe Avila del Pino and Shiva Bajpai. Music is by Cameron McLain with a little bit of help from Jennifer Suhr on the cello. The video is narrated by the school’s dean and was commissioned in honor of the Engineering Quad’s 50th anniversary.

Here’s Princeton’s release on the video.

Redesigned News Section!

Hey Mom (and anyone else who reads this)! Thanks for stopping by. I’ve finally made a few updates to my site. This news section is now being “powered by tumblr”, as the kids say these days. This will make it much easier for me to keep up with. I should have some more news coming in the next few weeks so be sure to check back in or follow me on twitter for updates.

Lots of love,

Mike