Do you remember your first kiss? Think back to the thoughts that ran through your mind as your lips touched those of another for the first time, imagining different futures, possibilities or even a life together. The moment seemed to stretch on and on as her face approached yours, eyes locked together, as the world froze in place around you.
This feeling is exactly what Mark Davis, a fourth year Film and Animation student, has recreated with his new experimental film, “Color.” Tired of watching dull, boring experimental films, many of which were either figuratively or literally watching paint dry, Davis set out to create a short experimental film that people would genuinely enjoy. Combining cutting-edge technology and an emotional story with a perfectly synchronized light show, he created something more than a film. “Color” is an emotional experience that others have noticed; over the past several months, it has won numerous awards for its quirky, innovative style.
Describing himself as a bit of a romantic, Davis says he modeled the film after his own fantasy and experience of a first kiss, recalling the emotions he felt at that moment and stretching it out into a six-minute narrative, expressing those emotions through the film. “He likes the over-the-top, the cheesy, the greatness that movies can have, the way they emote emotions,” says fourth year Film and Animation student Katie LeVander, the art director for “Color.” She worked to make the colors fit the tone of the film as best she could. “It’s called “Color,” so obviously it had to be bright and great, everything that jumps out at you about color,” she says. “How fun it can be, how sad it can be — the emotions that range along with it.”
The plan for the movie was that each room would be one color, something that necessitated a great amount of detail, planning and expense. Davis and LeVander reached out to people they knew in the Rochester community, finding monochromatic kitchens and bedrooms they could use to film. Other areas were created in a studio setting, which needed even more detail in order to ensure the rooms had a lived-in feel to them, rather than appearing flat and lifeless.
“It was the most expensive six minutes of my life,” says Davis, who had to pay for all of the props, furniture, and costumes. LeVander, who selected each item to be bought, says the studio shoots were the hardest, because each room had to be constructed from scratch. According to her, they were also the most fun, because she had complete creative and imaginative control over the room. The hard part was finding and executing the items to go along with those plans. “You can design it all you want, and make it awesome and cool, but it’s just finding those items, and executing them, where the ‘from scratch’ really turns around and bites you in the back.”
The entire film was created last winter and spring. Davis first approached LeVander during winter quarter, and they had the entire film laid out by spring break. The pair met nearly every day to discuss the production, and they shot the film over five weekends during spring quarter.
The variety of locations proved to be a challenge for scheduling; during a usual movie, a set is prepared, which takes several hours, and then the scenes are shot there for 12 hours or more. Due to the continuously scrolling, one-shot per short scene style of “Color,” though, after two hours of setup, each of the film’s nine sets were only used for at most an hour of filming each. The post-production process took three weeks.
To film “Color,” Davis used a special camera called an ARRI D-21, an experimental camera that will output video at a resolution of 2880x2160 pixels. The high quality came with its own challenges: The camera had to be connected to its own set of hard drives, to store the 300 megabytes of data the camera produced each second. Maneuvering this camera, along with the power and data cables coming out of it produced its own challenges, especially in a movie like “Color,” which relies heavily on smooth horizontal movement.
In order to produce the consistent, coherent shot needed for the film, Davis constructed his own motorized motion control system that would always move at the same speed. The equipment was manned by Alex Pagliaro, a Motion Picture Science major who graduated last spring.
Davis says the film was a combination of his two favorite hobbies: light shows and filmmaking. He has been putting on complex Christmas light shows at his home for years, and has been making movies since the sixth grade. Davis also recently worked with fellow RIT students on “Call me Batman — (Call me Maybe Parody Rises),” which currently has over one million views on YouTube. He says he has known for close to a decade that he wanted to do cinematography for a career, and credits the experience he has gained through his hobbies for the past few years to enable him to make “Color” the way that he did.
Davis’ hard work has paid off. “Color” has recently received a growing list of awards. The film was an official selection at both the Chicago Reel International Film Festival and at the New York City Riverlight Film Festival. It has won Maverick movie awards for Best Student Picture and Best Production Design. It also won Best Student Experimental Film at the Independent’s Film Festival in Tampa Bay, Fla.
Davis and LeVander are both pleased with how the film turned out. LeVander says one of her favorite moments was when the actors “freeze“ near the beginning of the movie. The human error involved was huge, to get all the actors to freeze at the same time, but it wound up being almost perfect. She also likes the way the film as a whole came out, despite having her doubts about the story at first. “I think it came out really well, actually. The more I see it the more I like it, which usually doesn’t [happen] with a film.”
Davis wanted to give his audience one of the best screening experiences of RIT, even bringing in his own projector to allow for a larger screen, and staying up until dawn to get the light timing correct. He says that if he were to make the movie again, he would want to make the production larger, with more lights. He would want a bigger story and crazier camera moves, scaling the entire movie up, and increasing the audience’s interaction with his screen.
Watch “Color” online.