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In Features, Issues

FLOATERS • CUT RATE • DUE SOUTH

FLOATERS

Man’s impulse to fly can be traced to the mythical figure Icarus, who was as much a victim of hubris as of gravity. Although we have long since mastered the science of flight, our compulsion to defy gravity remains undiminished. If anything, it continues to grow. The experience of true weightlessness, however, remains the province of a chosen few – astronauts and waif-thin supermodels. The rest of us have had to settle for the poor simulations afforded by magic acts, amusement park rides, and movies such as Mars Attacks!, Armageddon and Mission to Mars.

Recently the White House announced its own Mars mission – to design a livable community for 100 people on that frozen red planet for the year 2030. But don’t call your travel agent yet. It’s merely another simulation, encouraging museums to partner with students and teachers in an interdisciplinary learning experience.

When man does finally colonize space, though, his dinner theater will likely come from, of all places, Eastern Europe. The Noordung Biomechanical Zero-Gravity Theater (named for the Slovenian scientist who conceived a wheel-shaped device that used centrifugal force to produce artificial gravity, after which Kubrick modeled the space station featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey) is already hard at work rehearsing on board a cosmonaut training plane flying parabolic arcs high above Star City, just outside Moscow. (Each arc provides 30 seconds of real zero gravity.) In December 1999 Michael Benson, an American filmmaker, documented the first performance by the Slovenian theater company – composed of both traditional and zero-gravity scenes – before a live audience.

"It totally broke down the age-old barrier between performer and audience," said Benson, who compared the experience to having sex for the first time. Benson (seen left, shooting with a Sony VX 1000 digital camera) is currently working on a documentary tracing the history of man’s flirtation with weightlessness. "If things go as planned," he added, "the audience for Zero will walk out of the movie theater feeling palpably lighter on their feet." (Contact: michael.benson@pristop.si) – S.G.

 

CUT RATE

Last April film editor Alan Oxman (Happiness, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Two Girls and a Guy) hit upon the concept for New York City’s new Edit Center. Much like a student barbershop, where novices learn by clipping the locks of actual customers, the Edit Center teaches digital editing by allowing students to work on real films. And filmmakers looking for a postproduction bargain will, in return for their footage and patience, leave the Edit Center with a nearly free rough cut. Of course, with each class lasting six weeks and inexperienced editors/students working at a snail’s pace, the Edit Center is not recommended for anyone rushing to make a deadline. Indeed, since its first class in November 1999 the Edit Center has only worked on two films – Edet Belzberg’s documentary Gymnast and Ethan Hawke’s digital feature The Last Word on Paradise.

Oxman, and his fellow supervising editors – Michael Levine (The Cruise), Anne McCabe (The Daytrippers, You Can Count on Me), and Jonathan Oppenheim (Paris is Burning, Arguing the World) – compare editing to the art of communication. And computer programs like Avid and Final Cut Pro are simply tools to that end. As such, the course (cost: $5,200) only spends the first week teaching the computer program itself. For the next five weeks each member of the six-student class works with the film’s director and a supervising editor to cut a different segment of the film. In this way, Oxman stresses learning through experience: "It wasn’t a boring exercise that everyone was doing, but a real movie. Their enthusiasm is what allowed the students to learn to use the equipment and really cut scenes." And when any student forgets a particular computer command, a supervising editor or a teaching assistant is nearby to help out. But perhaps the best thing for aspiring editors – besides collaborating with Ethan Hawke and cutting performances by Uma Thurman, Kris Kristofferson and Marisa Tomei – is that by graduation they have not only a diploma but a reel and a credit on a film. (Contact: www.theeditcenter.com) – Peter Bowen

 

DUE SOUTH

While labor costs have pushed some American productions north to Canada, director Richard Shepard (Oxygen) headed south to shoot his fourth independent feature, Mexico City, currently in postproduction.

Inspired by such exotic thrillers as Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and William Friedkin’s Sorcerer, Shepard sought to tap into the mix of excitement and terror inherent to foreign travel. Sheppard explains, "When I went [to Mexico City] for the first time nine years ago, it scared the living tar out of me. And I also couldn’t forget how beautiful it was."

Jorge Robles and Stacy Edwards in Mexico City. Photo courtesy of Paddy Wagon Productions.

Shepard started with an earlier scenario of a woman dealing with the death of her children, but then let the actual city assist him in finishing the script. He took several scouting trips, asking his guides to take him "to the scariest, creepiest places they knew, and it was through visiting these sites that the final story materialized." In the end he cast In the Company of Men’s Stacy Edwards as a distressed woman who travels to Mexico City to investigate her brother’s disappearance.

Shooting on location in a foreign city has its perks and its perils. On the one hand, Shepard was able to hire the electrical and grip crew from Titanic, as well as over 100 extras, for next to nothing. On the other hand, shooting in one of the world’s most dangerous cities posed unexpected difficulties. The filmmakers were forced to take out massive amounts of insurance, including a kidnapping policy, and to hire teams of security guards. But even these precautions did not always help. At one point, disgruntled off-duty police who had been hired as security guards kidnapped the last crew member on the set and held him hostage until their salaries were raised. (Contact: Jon Stern, tel: 718-254-0382) – P.B.

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