VCUarts Cinema throws blood on the silver screen

Austin Walker
Staff Writer

The Department of Cinema’s complex production of one of the most gruesome Shakespeare classics, the story of the power-hungry Macbeth, has moved into the editing phase following months of filming.

Crewed by students and shot on 35mm motion picture film, the feature-length, single-location movie is to be presented at festivals in the second half of 2015. The script was adapted for film and directed by the department’s Artist in Residence Angus Macfadyen. Some of his most notable works include “Turn,” “Braveheart” and “Saw III.” Under his scrutiny, the film has been produced with his own flair, and members of the crew said they’ve enjoyed his artistic insight.

Adam Stynchula, one of two production designers for the show, said, “(Macfadyen) had a clear vision from the very beginning, because he’s been working on the film since August, and we only signed on at about mid-October.”

As a production designer, Stynchula oversaw many of the smaller artistic departments including set decoration, props, hair and makeup and wardrobe. In a typical cinema production, there is only a single production designer, but the scope of this project was so large that the producers chose to appoint two.

Jamie King, who worked as line producer for the project, said it was “one of the scariest things” he’s ever done.

“The first day I met Angus I was instantly terrified, I instantly recognized him,” King said.

King’s work includes overseeing every aspect of the production, working alongside the directors and actors and being a general problem-solver on set. His work will continue in post-production, where he will manage the editors and ensure that the finished product is satisfactory.

Faculty members and students from the theatre, music and sculpture departments are taking part as well. The score will be composed and performed by the music department, and the realistic severed head of one of the main characters was sculpted by sculpture students. Some student actors came on in supporting roles. However, all leading roles are being played by professional actors who have been hired solely for this film.

What will set the film apart from other renditions of the Shakespearean classic is the fact that the majority of scenes take place within a single setting. Nearly all the scenes happen within a limousine that the department found and purchased from Craigslist.

“I would say about 80 percent of the film is inside of it,” said Stynchula. “The other 20 percent is right outside of the limousine. Regardless, the limo is in every shot, whether inside or just outside of it.”

The limousine serves as a visual metaphor for the mind of the main character, Macbeth, as he faces all of the difficult struggles that plague a tyrant. Macfayden intended the time period to be indefinite. Aspects of the show, from the character’s use of guns to their suits and materialistic desire for money, would seem to make the film contemporary. Contrasting this, medieval weaponry such as swords and axes will also make appearances within the limo. King said that the limousine was Macfayden’s idea.

“He kind of wanted to bring it more into the modern times while keeping it timeless. He thought that a limo was a modern representation of royalty,” King said.

The producers made the decision to shoot on 35mm film for the aesthetic appeal the format carries. In cinema today, there’s a clash between old and new as more filmmakers ditch the clunky old systems in favor of their digital counterparts. It gave the filmmakers some headaches.

Yet, as Stynchula said, “the best thing about 35mm film is it looks the best, to be honest. I’ve seen some of the dailies they came back with and it looks absolutely great.”

A daily is the unedited footage from a single day’s shooting, printed and synced to sound, to be viewed by the director the following day. This is one of the complications created by using film as opposed to digital. The camera operators and the director are unable to see the product until much later, which means that there’s an increased risk of wasted time.

“We only have a certain amount of film,” Stynchula said. “We had a certain budget, and they could only buy so much film. So, unlike digital where you can just keep shooting, having all of this data on a card for example, with this you only have a certain amount of footage. At first, I think we were all kind of naive about it. Towards the end, I kept hearing over and over, ‘how much film we got?’”

That limitation puts additional strain on the actors, who are unable to take more than two or three tries to land the scene perfectly.

Stynchula said that there’s a chance, now that the film is in post-production, they will need to return to the set to reshoot some scenes. Regardless, editing is taking place and the movie is set to be fully completed by the end of summer. Following that, it will be presented at film festivals in the hopes of being picked up by a distributor to get the movie into theaters.

Both King and Stynchula said their work on this project has given them great experience, and that they feel more prepared to enter a career in cinema after working on it.

King said that he’ll be in the city after graduating at the end of this semester. Regardless, he intends on working on the project, whether a student or graduate, until its completion.

“I’m still going to stake my name in the product until the end in case there’s any problems,” King said. “Not that I expect there to be, but I would feel sad if I had to walk away from the project because I’ve just done so much for it now.”

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