Every creative journey starts with nothing, and then from nothing comes something. A moment of inspiration. A theme, a melody or a lyric. This, in essence, is what Alexander Ronsdorf captures in his Marshall Headphones branded short White Blank Page. It chronicles the creative journey of a songwriter as he goes from the very first few notes of a song through to the complete arrangement with a live band. Ronsdorf tells this journey swiftly, through a strong colour palette, raw and scrappy montage editing, and precise camerawork. These elements all point inward towards its core story of the creative spirit and they allow the piece to feel vital. Directors Notes joined Ronsdorf for an in-depth chat about his short film where he revealed the step-by-step planning that went into the shoot, the joyous constraints he found in shooting on film, and his conscious approach to being hands-on in post-production.
What was the motivation behind making a short about the genesis of a creative idea?
I moved to Berlin around one and a half years ago and I was meeting up with Luke Noa, a friend of mine, to catch up after a couple of years. He’s not only a friend but also an amazing artist. When I was first trying filmmaking, I did a little film with him and now we were catching up around six years later, talking about our processes, paths and career choices and it was amazing to see how we had both developed, where we were at and also where we both wanted to go. I feel like I’m always inspired by other people doing their craft with all they got. Taking risks, being patient and going the extra mile with no fear of blood, sweat and tears. It always motivates me to do the same.
Luke is definitely one of those people and I remember, that after one coffee chat we had, he was showing me some new music he was working on and I had the idea to do a little piece on him. I wanted to show his process of creating a song and piece it together piece by piece, layer by layer, throughout the film. At that time I was, and still am working on my reel, so I thought I’d package the whole thing like a branded piece for Marshall Headphones.
Of course inspiration plays a role and so does luck but in the end, I feel like it comes down to consistency, practice and patience.
There’s this pervasive concept of creativity arriving in a sudden flash fully formed and I enjoyed how White Blank Page dispels that unattainable myth.
My goal was to show the creative process in a more down-to-earth way. I feel sometimes we think of it as this romantic fairytale of inspiration hitting you between the eyes, then you enter a trance-like flow state and voila, you just created greatness. For me, reality looks a bit different. I have to sit down, get rid of distractions and really put in hard and consistent work, and yes, push through when I don’t feel like it. Of course, inspiration plays a role and so does luck but in the end, I feel like it comes down to consistency, practice and patience. Especially when it comes to projects that you just made up yourself and nobody asked you to do. The process can be rocky, but the reward is promising. My goal was to bring this world of creating to light and show it from the first little hum, that might become the leading melody, to a full set band blasting the finished song.
How did you prepare for the shoot? What were the first steps in putting it together practically?
The first thing in preproduction was to find a song in Luke’s repertoire that fit the vibe I had in mind. I wanted something a bit more gritty and straightforward. After we found that, we back-engineered the song into bits and pieces so I could work them into a dynamic structure for the film. I knew I wanted it to start just with humming and work in instrumental layers. I wanted it to feel like he is looking for lines till the film breaks down into an a-cappella/on set audio part, that gives space to the first line of lyrics and then builds itself up to the final full band part.
I feel most of my work consists of some sort of metaphysical level, so I wanted to use the headphones as a gateway into Luke’s ‘creative meta space’ where he can create and work without distractions. For me, one of the most important parts is to work this whole idea into a well prepared and thought out shotlist. We also produced the song structure, with the hums and his lyrical tries beforehand, so we could work with that on set. I’d rather arrive on set over-prepared than underprepared.
The short has that gorgeous textured film look too, which plays into the whole timelessness of artistic creation. Were you always set on shooting on film? How did you decide on the look of the film with your DP?
Together with my good friend and DP Kyrill Ahlvers we decided to shoot the whole film on 35mm (4perf). I’m in love with that process of shooting. It gives you so much focus and energy as a team and especially as a director. You have to be crystal clear about what you want, and what you don’t want. For me, it feels like every shot has value. It’s a special thing, you should try it. I love being on set, the energy it has and how every shoot is a little adventure. You know there will be problems, but you figure them out on the way. For example, the drummer for that last band piece could not come last minute, so I had to jump in and play the drums in my own film.
And what equipment enabled you to achieve that?
As said above, I’m a big advocate for shooting on film. The whole process from start to finish just creates an environment where my creativity thrives. The timeless look is self-explanatory. The film was scanned on a brand new scanner prototype by Silbersalz35 in Stuttgart, Germany. They scan the negative with 14k resolution which makes for insane image quality. Of course we had to work around some things. The ARRI235 is not a muted camera, which means it makes noise, while the motors are running, so you can’t record audio during a take. This means we recorded some takes with and without the camera rolling. Especially in that middle a-cappella section.
I’m in love with that process of shooting. It gives you so much focus and energy as a team and especially as a director.
The visual style is a mixture of hand camera, Steadicam and one top shot, which was so much work for a few seconds of film. The 235 on a Steadicam was also a little dream I had for a while and it was an amazing workflow. I think it’s an encouraging thing to set little goals like this, so you can track your progress for future projects. Now that I’ve done that I have more and bigger things planned for the future.
How involved were you in the post-production of this short?
When it comes to post production I always try to be as hands on as possible. For this project I worked with some very talented people, from pre to post-production! In post I feel like it’s best to work with someone who can look at your project with fresh eyes and help you reshape some of the parts that just did not turn out as you imagined them. Sound design was also a very important topic, I wanted the visual, song and VFX world to feel like one thing, and I feel we really achieved that.
And from those initial conversations with Luke through to the final day of post, how long were you working on it?
I met with Luke end of ’21 and had the idea for the film in January ’22. I told Kyrill and asked if he would DP the whole thing and when he was on board, I worked out a treatment to bounce the idea to Luke and some crew members. The whole shoot was scheduled for three days of shooting in the middle of march, we had a pretty big location schedule all over Berlin, but that worked out fine. What took quite a while was the scanning process, cause it was the first project that would go through that scanner, we had some workflow hiccups. So from the concept phase to release it took around four months.
What have you been working on since finishing White Blank Page?
Since then the core team of that project worked on two music videos for Luke’s upcoming EP which were also shot on 35mm film. Very different projects than this one, with more vignettes and several protagonists. Right now I’m working on a personal passion project, scheduled for this fall. I want to tackle the topic of absent fatherhood and emotional distance in families, especially between sons and fathers. A short piece about a father and his son trying to get over that seemingly uncrossable distance between them. It’s something I’ve been pondering for a while and I think it’s time to let it out.
With every project I consciously try to think of steps I can make and storytelling techniques I can improve on.
As I’m looking back on this year, all the work I did was a big step forward compared to the years before but I also know there is still so much room to improve on and still a very long journey ahead. I say that from a healthy standpoint, one step at a time but with every project I consciously try to think of steps I can make and storytelling techniques I can improve on. So, for this one, it will definitely be working with actors and on set dialogue all while shooting on film. Also, from a musical perspective I want to use little-to-no music. If everything works as planned, I could think of a release before the end of the year but we’ll see how that goes.
Meanwhile, I’m also trying to get my foot more and more into the commercial directing world, so if you’re reading this and would like to work with me, feel free to hit me up.