Fin Manjoo: Capturing the ‘unfilmable’ in Woodwind

Director Fin Manjoo writes about how the treatment of the cinematography, music and performance all combined to create one of the most magical scenes in Woodwind.

About nine months before the shoot of Woodwind, I was discussing the approach to the art of the film with crew members, when I spoke to a very good Russian cinematographer (out of respect I won’t name him). He had previously won best Director of Photography in the European Film Awards so I respected his advice too, and he was inspired by the way Woodwind’s screenplay ‘captures the soul of man’ (according to his interpretation), an ideal he’s always wanted to devote his time to.

He was determined to poetically capture the essence of Woodwind as our 2nd unit camera operator and I really admired his devotion. However he couldn’t speak English and we’d spend a few hours with a translator to go back and forth on highly complex ideas during the pre-production. I suppose that with the translations we would’ve needed five more months than usual. In India we had to work in a fast moving environment on a tight schedule, so for that reason I chose a different 2nd unit camera operator.

Despite that and various further unrelated obstacles in the 2nd unit, we amazingly achieved our objective in capturing the ‘unfilmable’ in due time. We didn’t need to overdo it with complicated techniques. Cinematographer Nicolas Joray’s four decades of experience resulted in some really innovative simple solutions that he often hand built himself.

Beyond that, there’s the question of whether certain artistic concepts are only representable on paper. Stanley Kubrick used to boast that he could film anything, until he came across Patrick Suskind’s Perfume. Kubrick struggled to find a solution to capture the metaphysical cave scene in Perfume, so he decided not to make the film. When director Tom Tykwer made Perfume, his solution was to ignore the scene and so he didn’t even shoot it. This raised the question in the film community, of whether certain scenarios are not filmable and we discussed the subject too.

One of the many points I discussed with Joray nine months before the shoot, was that the answer to our own challenge, was naturally, through the music. We simply had to employ the philosophical approach of the music of Bonifaz, when capturing the visuals. This meant that we’d use minimalism in the cinematography too. Without giving away the details to you now, this worked perfectly and there’s no better way of making Woodwind.

On the day of shooting THE key scene of this discussion, we endured the added trouble of dealing with high speed winds that could potentially knock over the gear we setup all over the set. One option was to postpone for another day, but we were on a tight schedule and the set availability had a short window too. So, thanks to our team, they did a super job in weathering the elements, taking a number of hours to set everything up against the forces of the wind at 11pm for what was artistically the most difficult act in the film.

The visual challenge was one thing, but the most difficult task was left to our lead actor, Leandro Taub in pulling off what had to be an extraordinary performance. From the time I wrote the scene, at least 18 months earlier in an advanced form, from the original story formed another eight years before that, I always knew that this was going to be the make or break scene… everything weighed in on the power of this scene. Though, it didn’t scare me. Why? Because, we’d discussed the approach months in advance with Joray, and I placed my faith in Leandro Taub for the part. I believed he was the man to pull it off.

Only with this belief, it was possible to confidently withstand all challenges. I can’t explain the scenario until you watch the film, but let me tell you at least this: after hours of technical preparation, I called ‘Action!’ and Taub pulled off this amazing performance for eight minutes nonstop – absolutely perfectly!

Any lesser actor would require many more hours, if not days, to get it right to satisfaction. Taub nailed it perfectly in one take. I rushed through the wind, gear and lights, went up to Taub and hugged him. I knew in that moment that he had achieved the key to the film, that we had created the magic of Bonifaz. Then, for good measure and to allow us options in the editing phase, we of course did it a few more times from the various angles we planned.

This is the scene I believe many viewers would always look forward to, but one would have to wait about 50 minutes to arrive at it… and we must experience the journey as Bonifaz does. Though, I think the movie keeps getting better all the way but let’s just talk about this scene here for now.

Part of the magic of cinema is that even with this great performance by Leandro, and having executed the visual treatment to the T with Joray, there was another crucial factor in the scene, the music. I really can’t give away why it’s unique and the methodology we used to make it happen, just as it was written. I would say that it took months until we finally felt the sound and music of this scene totally captured the moment, due to the ingenuity of our music composer Stefan Fraunberger. The post production sound team with Marcel Duvenage and Alec Mackay, we put our heads together and knew: this is it.

So, yes, the challenge of capturing the unfilmable relates as much to the sound as it does to the pictures and performance. I had already written on the artist as an instrument and will paste the relevant section here:

In Woodwind, music composer Bonifaz learns the age-old secrets of the power of sound in tune with the magic of real nature and ancient languages. A mysterious source of knowledge teaches Bonifaz how to heighten our perception of reality through his compositions.

Initially when searching for the best sound artists to inspire the sound of the ages, contemporary recordists assume that the difficult part of composing our music is that I wanted it to sound as if the music originated from an omnipotent force. This creation is only difficult when you believe it’s impossible. All a recorder needed to do is take the microphone, headphone and then open his ears. He becomes an instrument and all the music would be created naturally for him. Together with the highest quality sound gear possible, recorders naturally know how to channel the fields of sound and in turn the audience can feel the music of this wind. When you compare how simple the process proves to be, to how difficult one might initially assume the direction, we underline one of the secret arts of Woodwind, the beauty of minimalism.

Watch the trailer here.

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