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Film Festival Spotlight

Tae Andrews | Wednesday, January 23, 2008

“A Convenient Truth,” Rama Gottumukkala and Dan Moore

Why document when you can “mockument?”

“‘A Convenient Truth’ was actually not our first attempt at a documentary,” Rama Gottumukkala said.

Working alongside his friend and fellow filmmaker Dan Moore, Gottumukkala – a former Observer assistant managing editor – and company had originally planned on shooting an “art imitating art” project centered on the work of local South Bend filmmakers, both amateur and professional. When that idea fell through, the Gott Moore? duo began scrambling for a replacement.

In a polar opposite to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” a sobering documentary about the damaging effects of global warming, “A Convenient Truth” takes quite a different angle.

“Another classmate pitched the basic idea for a movie about someone who thought global warming was a good idea,” Moore said, “and then we took it and ran with it.”

“What really sold us on the idea was this great opportunity to create a character, along with our lead actor and friend Chris Cimino, who any warm-blooded human being could root for,” Gottumukkala said, “or at least pity, despite his outlandish actions.”

In the end, the production decided to scrap its original idea of a straight-up documentary in favor of a hybrid “mockumentary” – a narrative based on a ridiculous character, but told through interview and shot in the documentary film style.

“We decided to make it much more about the character and his journey,” Moore said. “It became more about a personality than the issue of global warming, really. But obviously I don’t endorse the behavior of the character in the film. I really just wanted to make a funny story for people to laugh at without taking any strong side in the global warming issue. The idea was fun.”

Although Moore hasn’t seen Al Gore’s original film to date, he nonetheless maintains that he has a “green streak” and admonishes children everywhere to “recycle your cans, kids!”

The pair, which wrote, directed and edited the film, also collaborated on another Notre Dame student film festival entry, last year’s “Unseen.” The two struck up a friendship during their first film class at Notre Dame, and concluded their careers in FTT in the Advanced Digital Production class, in which they shot and pieced together “Truth.”

“It was wonderful to work with Dan again, one of my closest friends at Notre Dame,” Gottumukkala said. “Our sensibilities and passions in film – as well as our style of humor – are quite similar, so it was easy to merge the two while producing this film.”

If nothing else, Gottumukkala said the team had a lot of fun making the film. “What greater, more satisfying feeling can you ask for than that one?” he said.

It would appear that Gott Moore? got it right the second time around.

“Wake Up,” Brian Doxtader and Matt Degnan

Appropriately enough, Brian Doxtader and Matt Degnan’s stark and dark film noir, “Wake Up,” revolves around a cup of coffee. That, and a plot including a femme fatale and black-and-white film – two staple features of the genre.

Degnan brewed up the original idea for “Wake Up.”

“He had the basic premise in mind and we sort of took it from there,” said Doxtader, a former Observer Scene editor. “I’ve always loved film noir as a genre and was really enthused about the possibility of making one, which was compounded by the fact that we shot black and white.”

Degnan and Doxtader collaborated on the script, which consists almost entirely of action given that “Wake Up” is silent film. Degnan then created a storyboard from Doxtader’s shot list.

One of the most defining features of film noir as a genre is its distinctive look. To this end, Doxtader watched several old film noirs in order to better grasp an understanding of the genre’s aesthetic.

“More than most genres, film noir emphasizes the lighting using a technique that is colloquially known as ‘pools of light,'” Doxtader said. “The high-contrast lighting and use of shadows and darkness was a big factor in how we approached the film, especially in one of the key scenes in the middle of the movie.”

Doxtader said that shooting with a limited amount of film and on a tight budget presented the production with the challenge of making adjustments on the fly in order to create a complete product on time.

“A big element of filmmaking is improvisation,” he said. “What’s funny is that you are only provided a certain amount of film and when it’s out, it’s gone, baby, gone. So you plan and plan and make sure you have shots and lighting and etcetera, perfectly set up and then you get to the set and things don’t go like you’d hoped.”

So much for best laid plans. On one day, a miscommunication resulted in a missing actress on the set, and the production was forced to substitute a member of the crew for the absent actress in order to complete the day of shooting. On another day, the crew accidentally took some shots with a gradient filter on the lens, resulting in unusable film and a reshoot on a different day.

Doxtader said the experience of planning, budgeting and shooting a film helped shed some light on the challenges of the film industry, for good and for bad.

“You are essentially your own writer, director, cinematographer and editor, and that allowed us to fully control every aspect of the process,” he said, although he also noted that assistance from classmates helped him complete his film.

“One thing that’s really great about the FTT department’s approach to production is that it is extremely hands-on and collaborative. Everyone worked on everyone else’s picture, which allowed us to really get a feel for filmmaking. The other members of the class were really helpful and creative.”

Contact Tae Andrews at tandrew1@nd.edu