I shudder to think what strange, dystopian nightmares would be revealed if you were to map the internal topography of my inner thoughts. Thankfully (for us all), when artist Paul Kaiser approached Director John Charter about the creation of a film for his latest photography series, instead of plumbing the depths of my mind, he instead chose to head out to the California desert to shoot Exile – an art film which explores the clash between miniature terrain and expansive vistas, fleeting motion against stillness, and digital clarity versus aged film. We invited Charter to tell DN how his hypnotic trip of inward exploration came in to being.

The project came about when Artist Paul Kaiser asked me if I wanted to make a companion film for his Chocolate Polaroid photography series. I’m a fan so it wasn’t a tough sell to get me on board. For the concept I chose to experiment with how the use of motion could bring a different perspective on the themes in his photography and with a reimagined use of some of his art props.

The idea was to stir up this unsettling feeling from the mind’s eye of an exile through starkly contrasting visuals. For example, the varied desert grounds were meant to appear as natural miniature sets that the camera flies over in a way to feel even more expansive than real vistas. This led to similar clashes between color and sepia, motion and stillness, as well as murky 8mm film and uncompressed digital clarity. Internally this represents a meditative grappling with dark forces. Externally we explore this new foreign world while being stalked by inescapable demons of the past.

Every moment felt hyperreal to the point that our one day felt like weeks. This mindset brought out an improvised style.

It was a one day shoot that took place in and around the Trona Pinnacles in the California desert. There were three of us on the crew. We drove up the night before on a full moon and hiked to the top of a pinnacle, put our sleeping bags down and watched the stars until the wee hours. Leading up to the shoot I had this pent up creative energy from slogging through a series of less interesting “for the money” projects. Once there I felt like a kid discovering every detail of this foreign planet for the first time. Every moment felt hyperreal to the point that our one day felt like weeks. This mindset brought out an improvised style.

Exile was shot on a 5D Mark III with Magic Lantern RAW uncompressed footage. The only lens I used was a Leica R Series 50mm. For the flying over miniature landscapes I handheld the bottom of a monopod with the camera upside down as it “flew” over the mini terrain. Paul knew where all the good locations were from his previous photo shoots so there were no delays when it came to finding all this diverse scenery.

Post took several weeks since I was moonlighting this between other gigs. I did the edit in Premiere, color grade with DaVinci, and some minor VFX in After Effects. After this I filmed the video off my laptop with Super 8mm film. Then it was processed and transferred so that I could re-edit in some of the shots as film for added contrast. Using unpredictable real film instead of a grain filter made it feel more alive and integrated. Graphic Designer Clara Lidström hand drew the titles. Then I added the purple-ish frayed Chocolate Polaroid boarders from Paul’s photos to the inside of the text.

We knew from the beginning that we would use one of Paul’s songs as the score. There were a few contenders and the one we chose became clear as we were driving back from the shoot. Paul then re-mixed his experimental ambient song to bring out certain transitions and soundscapes that play off the edit. The haunting score has an especially wide dynamic range so I suggest headphones to get all the audio layers and nuances.

Currently I’m working on a new short film called Shut-In. Paul and I are collaborating on this one too. We’ve already spent months making these far out art creature costumes and we have several scenes in the can. This time I’m working with DP Rainer Lipski and the dailies are looking beautiful.

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