For the first project of the semester, we were to create a 1 minute film involving a monologue or dialogue of our own alter egos. It is a deeply reflexive project as I really had to search deep within myself as to who I was – both on the outside and on the inside.
To get us started on finding our alter egos, we were given various tasks, of which are all shown below:
Task One – Three
List 5 fictional characters, 5 public figures, and 5 people you know in real life that you have an affinity with
This list was a little challenging to come up with, because I had to go through all the people and characters I’ve known my whole life and identify a few I have strong connections with. It was even more important to look beyond the surface of the character / person, and think about what drew me to these characters, and how I identified with them.
After coming up with the list, we were to pick 2 from each list of 5 and write a brief description about them and why they appealed to me. For this, I listed the first thing that came to my mind about the characters, and also did some research on their personalities, especially for the fictional characters and public figures.
I actually had a lot of problems thinking of what to write about the listed 2 characters / people I had chosen, because although they were characters I felt an affinity with and were extremely inspirational to me, I did not know how they were a reflection of myself. It was probably because I could only see them for who they were (including their personalities, backgrounds, attitudes etc.), not who I would see myself to be. It took me many songs related to the character (like the Moana soundtrack) to get me to write about what and how I was drawn to the characters, as well as how certain experiences of mine were reflected in the characters’. I then circled the points I felt were my strongest affinities to the characters.
Finally, we had to choose 1 character from the list that represented our alter egos – an alternate version of myself (or a reflection of myself).
For this, I chose Mike Wazowski from Monsters University, as he was the character I felt had the strongest tie to my own life experience as a student about to enter college. Like Mike, I wasn’t someone who stood out in the crowd, but had big dreams. For him, it was to get into the prestigious Scaring Program at Monsters University. For me, an aspiring animator, I wished to go to CalArts to pursue a degree in animation. CalArts was the university any animator would want to go to if they wanted to have a chance to work in esteemed animation studios like Disney or Pixar. And so like Mike, I worked extremely hard to attempt to enter it. At the time Monsters University premiered in the cinemas, I was in the midst of preparing my portfolio and Mike as a character was extremely inspirational. Seeing him receive his acceptance letter and stepping through the gates of his dream university – that was the experience I hoped to get. But of course, things sometimes don’t work out and I was rejected from CalArts just as how Mike was expelled from the Scarer’s Program and the university.
But even though his ‘thorough plan’ of becoming the ‘best scarer in the world’ fell through, Mike didn’t let that stop him. Instead, he moved on and away from his rigid plan and found an alternative of still being involved in the Scarers world – by getting a job in the mail room of the esteemed Monsters Inc. Seeing him still giving his 110% into his work even though it wasn’t something of his first choice, was extremely inspirational at that point of time. And it is actually because of Mike that I am now more open to other opportunities and ways I get still be involved in the animation industry. The most important lesson he taught me was probably the fact that “where you go doesn’t matter. It is what you do with your own potential that determines how far you’ll go”.
When I had found my affinity with Mike, I now had to draw out his psyche and personality in order to find out the core of his character. This would then be easier for me to conceptualise how my film would turn out. I did this by re-watching Monsters University and doing a character study on Mike.
The characteristics I drew out from Mike that I too do as well was how we wouldn’t let what others say about get to us, we both dream big dreams, extremely focused and most importantly – a perfectionist. This is a trait that was probably both our saving grace and downfall, because it allowed us to get what we wanted easily (through hard work), but also leaves us with even higher expectations of ourselves.
Writing the Monologue
Scripting out words that both our personalities would say was extremely hard, because I had to keep reminding myself that I was not Mike, I was not just myself, but we were one entity. We were given an in-class assignment to help us: Writing a Letter from our character’s point of view. This was extremely helpful, because it helped me forget my own characteristics and get into the character of Mike Wazowski – the way he thought, spoke, behaved etc. It really did help me find the common personality traits him and I shared.
The letter I chose to wrote from Mike’s point of view was to his mother – at the point he was just expelled from Monsters University. I thought it would be the most apt situation to write about, because this was the incident that first drew me to Mike.
I then did more research in order to draw out the core of Mike’s character by finding song lyrics that described his experiences. In doing so, I kept asking myself “What kind of character would say this (song lyric)?” in order to further delve into Mike’s character. The songs I felt were most apt were “Go the Distance” from Hercules, “Winner Takes it All” from Mamma Mia, and “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from Cinderella.
“Go the Distance” was probably the most apt song for both Mike and I, because it was a song of hope, and the guarantee that you would reach your final destination.
I also completed sentence starters with words Mike would use to respond with:
Using the material I had, I finally started writing on my script. Inspired by the letter writing exercise, I took on Mike’s persona and wrote a letter of present Mike to the past Mike (present Mike – working in Monsters Inc.; past Mike – just expelled). However, during consultation, I realised that I was supposed to embody Mike’s personality into mine, not actually be Mike himself (as seen in First Draft below).
Even with all the material I had, I had troubles visualising how my film would look like without it being too literal that I wanted to talk about Mike’s and my experiences with university. During consultation, I narrowed down that my affinity with Mike was the experience of applying to university. It was suggested I use this as an inciting incident that triggered various scenarios for his granddaughter. I had to ask myself – what does this incident say about Mike? Is he easily defeated? Does he give up easily?
It was then suggested I could create a scenario in three different ways – a flashback, flashforward, or a recount. I could choose to talk about the incident to someone (can use the letter as a basis?), re-enacting the flashback, or having a stream of consciousness. I could choose to write a letter to myself (past character, where Mike would write a letter to past self. Visuals wise, I was thinking of taking scenes of nature to reflect my present state of mind. It was important for me to remember that the scenery was not ‘just the scenery’, but a representation of my emotional state of being.
It then suddenly came to me – if I want to show people that what I want was to get into CalArts with an animation portfolio, why not create an animation at the end of the film? This would be extremely relatable to me because my lifelong dream was to bring my character – Ayianna – to life. As for the narration, I thought about Mike telling his younger self to not worry even though things may not turn out the way he wanted them to.
I then came up with a rough storyboard, and planning the logistics as to what I would need at my filming location – Coney Island.
FILMING / EDITING WOES
It was very hard filming myself by myself because I did not have anyone to help me hold up the camera or focus it on the subject at hand. Coney Island was also especially touristy that day, which made it hard for me when I was filming something as people would walk into the frame. This was especially hard when I was recording sound, as their voices kept flowing in and out of nature’s voice. I was also not used to the tripod and had a lot of difficulty adjusting it, dragging the time I had to film longer. Time was an issue for me because I wanted my film to have a sort of melancholy, yet slightly optimistic mood, something that I was inspired by in one of the in-class assignments we had to do (10second video on stream of consciousness). The amount of light and colour of the footage would hence be very important. Thankfully, the day I filmed was a cloudy day (which was also bad because halfway through the shoot it started raining – especially when I had just adjusted the camera to get the perfect shot).
I also hardly referred to my storyboard because I felt I would be restricting myself by the pre-conceived visuals I wanted in the film. Instead, I decided to go with my ‘gut feeling’, trusting that as I walked around the island and saw something, I knew that would be the shot I wanted.
Storyboard for stream of consciousness video:
The stream of consciousness 10 second exercise was also very helpful in forcing me to abide by the 10 second rule and editing footage down to the very last frame in order not to overshoot the 1 minute duration given.
Figuring out how to animate the end of the film was also probably the most tedious, because I did not have any animation software. I resorted to using the timeline feature in Photoshop, of which I too was not familiar with. After a few tutorials and trail and errors, I finally got the hang of it and I must say I am very proud of the end product. However, the animation frame rate in the film and in photoshop was very different, the one in the film moving seemingly faster than the one in photoshop.
Video of animation (only):
When editing the footage and my narration together, I realised how important it was to know when I wanted the voice to work together with the image – emphasising or describing. In my film, since the narration was something a present Me says to the old Me (when I received my rejection letter from CalArts), I used footage of nature to represent my emotional state of being at that point of time. It could be as simple as emphasising the narration – such as when I say “Only for it to collapse”, an image of a fallen tree in the water is presented. Or, it could be a bit more metaphorical, such as when I say “to imagine and create things no one else would ever think of doing” – an image of spinning trees and me moving forward towards a lallang field before a black screen appears represents the awe and anticipatory feeling I get whenever I am creating or imagining something – whereby the black screen represents the many possibilities of creation. I also made sure to use “I” and “we” to differentiate between present Me talking to old Me, where when “I know” is used, it is from the present Me’s point of view, but when “we” is used, it is referring to both the old and present Me, whereby I am trying to let the audience know that “I” and “we” are the same person.
All in all, this was a throughly interesting project where I learnt a LOT about myself and connecting with my alter ego. I would have wished the duration of the film wouldn’t be capped at 1 minute, because it was hard for me to do a self-reflexive piece with so little time but so much content. This was probably why I felt my film was a bit rushed towards the end because there wasn’t enough time for me to pause (in the narration) for emphasis on a topic, or linger on an image for too long for its maximum effect. Nonetheless, I am proud of what I have, and all that I’ve learnt in this project!!
Thanks for reading 🙂