Making ‘The Bicylce Trilogy’ videos

One of the assignments for the MDA1300 module was to “[…] create a one-shot interior scene in which two characters interact without speaking.

Shoot the scene 2 times: once creating a ‘natural’ look making use of daylight, and the second time using only tungsten lights. The locations of the two scenes need not be the same, although the action must be the same (the actors, however, can be different in each scene).”

This was one of my missed assignments in the first year of the course, which is a shame. Since I had to come back to Hungary for summer, I needed to shoot this assignment here in Budapest. Sadly I couldn’t contact my classmates here, so I contacted one of my ‘finest collaborators’, a friend of mine, who studies cinematography on a Hungarian university for the second year now. He’s Peter Miskolczi and he helped me creating these short videos and also the longer ones, but I’ll talk about those in an upcoming post.

Now, this scene needed two characters, one single action and one single shot. What I wanted to come up with is something that is very close to my own personal “taste” in filmmaking. I’d like to make films in the future that are very “free” of certain rules and logic, something that creates absurdity, but on a reasonable level. I’m a huge fan of the Monty Python series and films, and I’m not saying I’m trying to copy them, I just feel that they didn’t always need to think about certain things. Let me explain this through my own example.

For some reason I found it amusing to use only one human character. Also it would be obvious to feature two human beings as character A and B, I wanted to use this bicycle of my friend Peter. At first I wanted to create a story that gives a logical reason to why a bicylce would be character B in this whole situation. I was thinking about a story that involves riding a bicycle or buying one, or something like that, but then I realized a very important thought to me: why should this whole story have a reason? I think that’s the main thing I always loved in Flying Circus, for example. They came up with something they thought would be funny and appropriate, even if it made no sense et all. This was the case with me and the bicycle, too.

So the story goes like this: a man (played by me) plays some sort of Poker with a bicycle (played by a bicycle). In this short sequence the man shows his cards to the bike with great proud – he’s certain he would win with the cards in his hand. Then it’s the bike’s turn, but he’s not able to put its cards on the ground because it has no hands. So the guy helps it and takes its cards out of its front wheel. He examines the cards of the bicycle himself and realizes that the bike had the winning hand. He becomes extremely angry, throwes the cards at the bicycle and leaves the room.

In the first version we had to light our scenery with natural lights, so we looked for a very bright room. We found it in the house were Peter lived. A cold and bald, white room with a huge door at the back. After finding the perfect place where the camera could be placed, and after creating the perfect image for us, we placed a reflector sheet in front of me (out of camera, obviously) to reflect the light coming behind me. This way my face wouldn’t be dark. Creating this scenery and set-up wasn’t that hard as I found playing around with natural lights extremely easy and satisfying – who needs a lamp when you have the hugest and stronges lamp ever discovered by mankind: the Sun.

Moving on to the other version, we had to create the same exact scene with only artifical lights used as lighting. We went to the bicycle storeroom in Peter’s home, where it was pretty dark. We moved a lot of bicycles (hence the room’s name: bicycle store room) away to have some space where we could shoot this. Peter brought three different kind of Tungsten lights, but we only used two of them. One as the main light coming from above (we together with Peter like to call this kind of lighting set-up the ‘Mr. Bean lighting’, I’m sure you remember the opening of the Mr. Bean episodes…), and the other one acting as a reflector, once again to have my face covered in a mild light and also to cover up certain sharp shadows on the walls and other objects. Additionally and accidentally the ridiculously huge cards in my hands could be used as reflector sheets, too, you can see the lights bouncing off the cards right on my face in the video, too. We shot this approximately 35-40 seconds long scene easily, then I edited them in the same way so they can be compared to each other comfortably.

So let’s compare them. Here’s one with the natural lights:

And one with the artifical lighting:

When I said ‘The Bicycle Trilogy’ in the title of this post, I meant these two videos I just discussed plus another one for another assignment. This other assignment said: “[…] shoot and edit a non-dialogue scene consisting of not more than 10 (production) shots (ie, set-ups) in which one character (‘A’) enters a location and gives an object to a second character (‘B’). The scene must begin and end with character A in a separate space from character B. The scene is to be shot in continuity style.”

I was so pleased with the acting skills of Peter’s bicylce that I wanted to use it more! So here we have a very clichéd story of a mysterious man in sunglasses walking up to someone with a suspicious briefcase. They meet and character A gives the briefcase to character B, then character A leaves. Nothing special, although in our chase character B is the bicycle. It pops up behind from a tree, then character A (me) goes up to it, gives it the briefcase (at least he tries many times to do so), and leaves the scene. Character A is very pleased with the whole thing and how it went down without any problems. He wants to call his employer to tell him that everything went well, when suddenly a bicycle thief pops up behind character A and goes away with the poor bicycle (and the briefcase).

Everything is pretty standard with this film, except for one single and funny scene where the bicycle comes out behind from the tree. We put the camera on a tripod in front of a nice tree. We decided that the bike would come out on the right side of the screen, so at first we recorded this. I pushed the bike from the left side of the screen to the right. Then we recorded only the tree with nothing behind it. After that came a little trick with the editing software at home and voilá: you have a bicycle almost growing out of a tree. I think it has a ridiculous effect, which is good for me.

Peter decided to have certain scenes shot from a great distance, or from behind a tree and it’s leaves – this would give the sense that someone is watching this whole scenario from far away. And that gives the sense that this meeting is very secretive: feeling, as a viewer, that you are hiding from the main characters, is a really interesting thing I think. You immediately have the idea that you shouldn’t be there, or that the characters should not find about that you’re watching them. It all creates this feeling that everything is very secretive about this scene. Now the only thing left for you is to check out this assignment of mine called ‘The Bicycle Thieves’!

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