Chances are you’re reading this via a super-powered slab of glass and while it’s obviously a boon to your life that you can get DN on the go, it’s inarguable that our person distraction machines have become voracious attention thieves. In Fracture, an experimental study of the discomfort caused by the constant interruptions of the digital age, Cynical Smile (aka Karl Richter) manifests this mental turmoil in the physical – pairing at times violent movement with a growing cacophony of device-based sounds. We got the Los Angeles-based director to put his phone down long enough to tell us how he brought his passion for the art of sound design to bear on this project and why maintaining the flexibility to pivot during production opens up possibilities to capture something truly beautiful.

Fracture’s genesis was an image in my head of a homeless man throwing up nothing but sound on a sidewalk as people walk by him without regard.

I edit a lot of my own work and usually do at least a temp pass of sound design (if not the actual finished sounds) for short films or branded content. I’ve always worked out sound design myself first, even for music videos; where I would alter the track at a middle point by slowing it way down, or add an introduction using classical music, or even sound design for scenes in the video. It’s my way of putting a signature on the video that isn’t just visuals. All my fashion work has my sound design as the base and for certain projects I’ve collaborated with sound designers to take it somewhere I’m not skilled enough to know how to do.

With that in mind, I’m alive in 2020 and I know I have a problem with distraction by my phone. (So far I haven’t checked it once as of writing this!) I have to take deliberate action NOT to constantly check my phone and I have way too much to do to be on it all the time. Yet… I can feel the endorphins kick in as I get a chance to scroll my News Feed, all in the name of ‘learning’. But let’s be honest; I’m not learning anything I couldn’t figure out in one sitting later. Or tomorrow. Or next week. Or do I even need to know about that??

The point is, our digital age is a blessing and a curse. We have notifications ad nauseam everywhere, vibrating, beeping, sometimes singing… but it’s a ton of sounds and distractions that invade our brains. Maybe I’m alone in this, but it drives me crazy. I feel like I’m rotting my ability to think.

Fracture is a visual representation of that, using the human body to make it even more stressful. I wanted to show what it’s like to take it to where we’ve ingested it so much we finally have to eject it forcefully from our bodies. OR… in the case of the woman on the car, she hasn’t rejected it and now she’s the source of it (as she blinks) even though it may be killing her (battery dying sound.)

Though I’m not a choreographer, I gravitate toward what the human form can do.

It started with the homeless man throwing up a sound and from there I thought of other simple, surreal scenes that are simple yet signify stress, using movement. I’ve loved the dance renaissance that happened in music videos through the legendary Ryan Heffington (Sia’s 2x videos for Elastic Heart and Chandelier inspire me to this day.) Though I’m not a choreographer, I gravitate toward what the human form can do. I often seek out dancers to work with, or actors with dance experience and I’ll usually try and work with actors to get them to reeeeeeach.

(still haven’t checked my phone)

The last few years I’ve been Director/DP on most of my projects. It allows me to work faster right from pre-production; I can scout more easily, rehearse more easily and ultimately when I’m shooting adjust immediately if something isn’t correct. I’ve learned to really trust my instincts through that process, to feel out what I’m shooting more intimately. For a personal self-funded project like this, that trust is crucial. I kept the crew small (thanks Phil & Coy for the crew support, couldn’t have done it without you) and relied on natural light for everything, which is where the value of scouting pays off really well. My fav stylist Hannah Kendall hooked me up with some solid wardrobe options and we stole all the locations via early mornings and more remote spots (again, scouting is key). I shot on a RED Dragon 6K with the Kowa Anamorphic lenses (thank you Cinema Camera Rentals ) because the really slow slow-motion was a big part of how it was conceived and because I love anamorphic for almost everything. Those lenses are small and lightweight and are inherently soft, so the images are beautifully cinematic in their perfect imperfection.

Los Angeles is full of talent and the idea on paper was enough to lure quality performers. The only actor I had in mind while writing was Cherish Waters. She’s someone I had wanted to work with for a while and this was a perfect first project for the two of us. Roland DeLeon (underwear-stairs-guy) was someone I had seen in a previous audition for another project, Khalil (homeless dial-up) was new to LA and happened to be Phil’s roommate, Laura (parking garage) and Payton (chair-lean-back) were found through my very talented dancer/choreographer friend Nateli Ruiz.

I don’t storyboard unless it’s really technical or I know I can control everything. We were stealing locations (except for the Warehaas) and there was no time to rehearse, which means I’m letting things happen as they’ll happen with the actors based on the location. You have to roll with the punches. When you show up to an alley and there’s an actual homeless person there, you may have to find another alley cause they don’t want to be photographed. If we can ask them politely to move and they move, great! If not, I’ll readily afford them the dignity of finding somewhere else to shoot to respect their humanity. You have to be ready for those circumstances as they teach you a lot as a filmmaker because you have to know how to pivot. I’ve found the more regimented I am, the less realistic I can be about what I’m capturing and may miss something truly beautiful. I can dream up all the shots and perfection in the world prior to shooting, but it ends up being a waste of time because things have to remain fluid in terms of all the variables.

I’ve found the more regimented I am, the less realistic I can be about what I’m capturing and may miss something truly beautiful.

Ultimately no project is worth anything without the perfect cast. Something like this requires REAL commitment. It’s not every role you ask someone to roll around on the ground in their underwear in a parking garage or strip down to their bra on a city street right around the corner from possibly the largest homeless population in America. These were all quite vulnerable actions and each actor really committed. It’s entirely to their credit that Fracture is successful.

When I wrote the script I had planned for certain sounds, all device-based. Once I got into the edit, I realized I had to use iconic digital sounds and that some sounds just don’t work when slowed down, repeated or pitched differently. I was able to handle most of it but did enlist some assistance from my friend Yishay cause he’s on another level.

Otherwise, it was a fairly straight forward cut/color/finish. I cut in FCPX and use Davinci Resolve to color. I enjoy the look of film but I have yet to shoot it because digital is easier for me in terms of cost and post-workflow. Davinci allows me to experiment with different looks through variable grain textures and softness.

Many thanks to the cast and crew that made it a reality. I love every one of you. I’m excited to get into something else like this in the VERY near future, so keep your eyes peeled. 😉

Fracture is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.

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