Production

Pre-Production: Director Statement

More than 10,000 Attorney prepared forms

Camera approach & influence

Identification with Vera

My main aim for directing The Universe Is A Goldfish Bowl is to have the audience identify with Vera, since I wrote the film with the intention of basing the story around her struggles when she meets a version of herself from a parallel universe – Roni – since she is the main character.
To promote this identification throughout the film, I intend to use slow push ins, tracking shots, shots which convey Vera’s emotions – such as upside down shots and static shots – close ups of her reactions, framing her in a closer shot size than Roni, and camera movement so the audience feel as if they experience the journey of the film with Vera.
For this reason, I intend for this identification to be established in the film’s opening sequence, when Vera is introduced to the audience and her tendency to overwork, as well as her scientific career, are shown.
To do this, I will use a continuous tracking shot – inspired by how these are used by Alfonso Cuarón  in Gravity to give the audience a sense of watching the events of the film unfold in real time, and Damien Chazelle in La La Land to create emotional involvement with the character. Thus, I plan to open with a wide shot of Vera from behind, sitting and writing, this slowly pushing in, and tracking around to her face, slowly revealing more about her to the audience as they see her face in close up.
This is similar to how Chazelle directs his tracking shot during the pier sequence in La La Land, as he pans around to his character’s face to make this the moment where the audience’s emotional involvement with the character culminates. However, I intend to do this, not for emotion, but so that the audience are introduced to Vera, and see her as their point of identification, being the first character they see.
I then plan for this shot to continue tracking as Vera leaves the room to come around to a full shot of her whiteboard explaining the concept of the multiverse. This gives the audience an idea of what Vera is working on, but by not breaking the shot viewers can see that Vera and this concept are connected, and not two separate elements within the story. Yet, I also intend to not break the shot to give the sequence a sense of real time, establishing a sense of realism as soon as the film opens that will help ground the science – similar to Cuarón’s use of tracking shots in Gravity (more on this below).
I also intend to use slow push ins in other moments during the film to highlight what Vera is feeling in that moment by encouraging the audience to concentrate on this. This was inspired by J.C. Chandor’s film A Most Violent Year, and how he uses slow push ins throughout the film to create tension, as these push ins are so slow – often lasting a minute or more – the audience can be unaware they are happening, but aware of the tense feeling they create (see fig. 1 & 2).

Fig. 1 Slow push in from A Most Violent Year (2014)

Fig. 2 Slow push in from A Most Violent Year (2014)
Thus, there are moments in The Universe Is A Goldfish Bowl where I intend to create this same kind of tension, such as when Roni first arrives, and Vera – and the audience – hear her voice but do not see her yet. However, I intend for this push in to stop when Vera comes face to face with Roni and freezes – Vera sees Roni but the audience do not yet. This is because I want the audience to also be frozen with Vera in this moment, as they take in her shock, but wonder what she is looking at.
Hence, I also aim to use camera movement to show Vera’s emotions, and encourage the audience to feel the same. For example, when Vera gives up on her work I plan for the camera to follow her as she exits – almost like it’s going after her to stop her from giving up – but then stop moving and let her go as she gets further away, as it can be seen that Vera has firmly made up her mind to give up. This is because I want to almost encourage the audience to feel as if they don’t want Vera to give up by putting them in the place of the camera.
Nonetheless, to initially show how much Vera’s work means to her, I aim to use a shot, such as fig. 3 from Arrival (directed by Denis Villeneuve), where Vera’s head is framed by the screen she stands in front of in the lab, to show how much her work consumes her thoughts – by using the screen to frame her head, Vera seems literally trapped by the screen, and thus her work.
Fig. 3 Arrival (2016)
This foreshadows how Vera will later react when she realises that her overworking isn’t achieving anything but making herself ill, causing her to give up. Because her work means so much to her, giving up turns her world upside down by taking her away from, and changing her normal life. 
I intend to show how overwhelming her initial realisation is at what her overworking is doing to her through a slow push in on her reflection, coming in from a two shot comparing her and Roni’s reflections which show the differences between their health through their complexions – Vera pale, exhausted; Roni wide eyed, and awake – to a single shot of Vera’s reflection, since what is happening to Vera is the main focus. This shot idea was inspired by how J.J. Abrams uses camera movement in a similar way to focus on characters’ emotions, such as in Super 8.
J.J. Abrams’ trademark of using upside down shots, as well as how Shane Carruth uses shots to distort the perception of space in Primer influenced me to plan to use an upside down shot to frame Vera when she lays down on her bed and gives up, because of how she feels as if her life has been turned upside down, and thus her perception of the world has begun to change. Thus, changing the audience’s perception of the film’s world in this moment encourages them to identify with her.
Hence, it can be seen that my main goal with my directing style when concentrating on the audience’s identification with Vera is for the shots to help convey or concentrate on her emotions.
For this reason, I intend for frames focusing on Vera to be tighter than those focusing on Roni, to not only encourage audience identification by focusing viewers on Vera’s reactions, but also to show how Vera is more trapped than Roni, as she is determined to work out how Roni got to this universe, and is thus trapped by her impossible task and her tendency to overwork.
Because of how this causes exhaustion in Vera, I intend to use a close-up shot of her eyes as she struggles to keep them open in the middle of the film to emphasise her exhaustion, since it is an important part of why she later decides to give up. This was inspired by J.J. Abrams’ work on the TV show Lost, during which episodes frequently opened with close-ups of a characters’ eyes (see fig. 4). I also chose to use this shot in a similar way during the transition unit, influenced by Patty Jenkins’ use of a close-up of eyes in Wonder Woman (see fig. 5).

Fig. 4 Lost (2004)


Fig. 5 Wonder Woman (2017)

This is because a characters’ eyes can portray a lot of emotion – such as being shocked (as in Lost) or determined (as in Wonder Woman), and are also where Vera’s exhaustion would be most prominent due to dark circles, and her struggle to keep them open.

Shots conveying power

Fig. 6 Extreme wide shot from La La Land (2016)
Fig. 7 Extreme wide shot from Lost in Translation (2003)

Nonetheless, I also intend to show Vera’s struggles through shots which convey power, such as an extreme wide shot – inspired by Chazelle (see fig. 6) and also Sofia Coppola (whose work I researched during the directions unit – see fig. 7) – which shows Vera surrounded by her work (papers, books, equipment), to convey how swamped she is by it.
This is because Vera is trapped by the task she has set herself – to find out how Roni got here, or Roni must be a hallucination – which is impossible. To show the contrast between Roni and Vera in this sense, since Roni holds the answers, and Vera is setting out to find them, I intend to frame Roni in a low angle shot, and Vera in a high angle shot when Vera states her intention to work out how Roni got here, and Roni tries to convince her it’s not possible without a lab, or even in this universe. This is because in this moment Vera is vulnerable, about to make herself ill by overworking, and Roni is powerful, having the knowledge which can help Vera.
The idea to use high/low angle shots was inspired by Once Upon A Time – the show I chose to focus on for the directions unit in the first year – as one of the directorial trademarks of the show is to use these to convey power.
Because of this seeming imbalance of power between them, Roni and Vera are opposed as each is trying to convince the other that their goal is the one they need to reach. Due to this, they are both trapped by each other. Thus, I aim for the framing to reflect this, by positioning them in moments when they are trying to convince each other directly opposite one another, and then filming them from a 90 degree angle, so they are directly opposed. This was inspired by Steven Spielberg, as I found this was one of his directorial trademarks during the directions unit (see fig. 8), but also by Carruth’s use of this type of shot in Primer, when the two main characters fall out as they have opposing morals.

Fig. 8 Opposition in The Colour Purple (1985)

However, I also found this can be done by placing the characters as each facing in the opposite direction – seen in an episode of Shonda Rhimes’ show Scandal (directed by Tony Goldwyn) – (see fig. 9). Doing this can allow for a starker opposition, especially since the characters can be closer together, allowing for a tighter, more closed frame which traps them, thus I intend to use this during a moment when Vera really doesn’t believe Roni is real and the opposition between them is at its peak, either when Roni first arrives, or when Vera gives up.

Fig. 9 Opposition in Scandal (2014)

Yet, this opposition begins to disappear as the story of The Universe Is A Goldfish Bowl progresses, and Vera becomes ill. During the first scene where Vera is ill, I wrote the scene as Vera being off screen and the audience focusing on Roni – what she hears, and how she reacts.
For this reason, I intend for the camera to hold on Roni, even when Vera brushes past her and leaves the scene, causing a shift in identification for a moment as I want the audience to question what Roni will do, and if she will help Vera. Letting the camera linger in this way was influenced by Chazelle – as he lets the camera linger in La La Land so details on the pier (street lights, a dancing couple) can be noticed by the audience – but also by documentary filmmaker Lauren Greenfield, whose work I focused on during the documentary unit. She lets the camera linger in her documentaries so that the audience are encouraged to question what they are seeing – such as in The Queen of Versailles when she lets the camera linger on excess, posing the question, do the family featured have too much money? – (see fig. 10).

Fig. 10 Letting the camera linger in The Queen of Versailles (2012)

With this shift in identification to Roni for a moment, I aim to foreshadow how she will later help Vera – shown through the use of two shots when Roni does begin helping Vera, signifying they are both reaching for a common goal now, to get to other universes, and thus are no longer opposed.

Withholding information

Although, despite aiming to use shots in these ways to reveal information about the characters’ agendas and emotions, I also aim to use shots to withhold information, inspired by Abrams and how he uses mystery throughout his work.
For example, when Roni first arrives and approaches Vera, I intend to hold the shot on Vera until she escapes back into the lab and leaves the scene, only then revealing Roni, allowing Vera’s reaction to build the audience’s expectations and create tension due to the uncertainty. This was inspired by Spielberg’s trademark of doing this when the characters first see something/someone extraordinary, such as dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, or E.T. in E.T.. This thus signifies to the audience that Vera has seen something which is not typical, making Roni’s appearance, after Vera’s reaction, less jarring, allowing it make more sense for the audience. This also furthers identification with Vera by focusing on her reaction.
Yet, Abrams use of mystery also influenced me to include a moment in the script where Roni tells Vera how she got to this universe, but the audience do not hear her, only seeing Vera’s reaction. This is because I intend to frame this shot as a full shot from behind the goldfish bowl, so that the audience are placed behind the goldfish – almost in its place – since all the sound drains as if viewers are underwater with it in the bowl. I decided to do this due to Abrams’ belief that not hearing or seeing something allows viewers to imagine their own possibilities for what it could be, which I think will make this moment more intriguing than having Roni explaining science, which could alienate some of the audience by being complicated and hard to understand.

Realism

Nevertheless, I also intended to withhold some information to help add more realism to the film, by letting the characters turn away from the camera on occasion – such as when Vera believes Roni’s arrival signifies that she’s finally gone insane, because this is hard for her to handle – as, in real life, people do not constantly face each other.
To further this, I also plan to use some stationary wide shots, such as when Vera trudges around the lab packing up after working too late because she didn’t realise the time, even if this means she leaves the frame, so that the audience almost feels as if they are watching her in real time – creating a documentary like feel. Hence, this was influenced by Sofia Coppola and how she uses wide shots as master shots to cover whole scenes (see fig. 11).
Fig. 11 Whole scene as wide shot from Lost in Translation (2003)

Although I don’t intend to use a stationary wide shot to cover a whole scene, I think this still helps add to the realism of the film by creating the impression that the audience could be in the same room with the characters, watching them.
Using shots to give my directing style a somewhat realistic feel is important to the story of The Universe Is A Goldfish Bowl because I aim to ground the science in reality to make it more believable for the audience.
This is why I intend to open the film with the continuous tracking shot – to give the audience a sense of real time and space because it is unbroken and thus not as affected by the conventions of film as cutting between shots would be, establishing a sense of realism and grounding the science from the beginning. Cuarón does this in Gravity to place the audience with the characters, so I think this will further back up my intention from using stationary wide shots to create the impression that the audience are with the characters, watching them.
Yet, when writing the script, I decided to begin the film with the sound of an alarm clock over black to give the audience the impression that they were about to see a character waking up in the morning and fading in would symbolise this. However, I decided to have Vera already working, showing her tendency to overwork straight away. Although, to further show how Vera overworks, I intend to have the camera pan with her as she leaves the house to go to work – revealing that it is still the dead of night outside, and 4:30 in the morning. Panning to reveal this was inspired by TV director Harry Winer – who I also researched during the directions unit – since he uses panning and tilting in this way to change the pace of scenes, and reveal information without cutting to another shot.
Nonetheless, my idea of trying to make the audience believe it was morning from Vera getting ready to go to work, and then revealing it’s actually still the middle of the night was influenced by the opening scene of La La Land, as Chazelle has his characters sing about another day of sun in bright colours – and then reveals using a caption that it is really the winter. I thought this was important to do within an opening scene as a way to interest viewers by challenging their expectations since, as believed by Chazelle, an opening scene needs to get viewers’ attention so they stay to watch the rest of the film, while also establishing what the premise is right from the beginning so the audience know what type of film they are watching.

Opening & closing images

This is why the film’s opening image is important. Therefore, to establish Vera’s overworking straight away, I decided during writing that the opening image of The Universe Is A Goldfish Bowl would be Vera working despite it being the time of morning where her alarm clock is going off to wake her up. This is because as a character this is Vera’s defining attribute, as what Vera learns during the events of her film is that working too much can be counterproductive.
Directing this, I aim to frame this so the camera slowly pushes in from behind Vera, beginning the continuous tracking shot.
However, I intend to frame the closing image in the same way – from behind Vera, Roni and the version of them they meet in another universe, Veronica – because this shows how Vera has changed. Thus the closing image is the opposite of the opening image of Vera, showing her taking a break from work by watching TV with Roni and Veronica, showing how the events of the story have affected Vera due to what she has learnt about herself.
Due to this change, I intend to have the camera track out, instead of in – especially since tracking in can bring viewers into a film, whereas tracking out can take them out of a film, signifying the end by leaving the characters.

Lighting/aesthetic

Because of my main aim for the audience to identify with Vera, I intend to try and use natural light as much as possible within the film. This is because I aim to ground her scientific ambitions in an everyday setting to make them more believable and thus, Vera’s struggles due to them, more relatable. For this reason, I aim for the look of the film to not be too stylised. 
Despite this, by setting the film at night I intended to use the daylight appearing from the darkness to mirror Vera’s realisation of what her overworking is doing in a similar way to how cinematography is used to do this in Arrival, since this creates a way to show how Vera has changed which is connected to her surroundings instead of being related to her appearance.
Thus, when Vera is working in the lab I like the idea that she could be in darkness, illuminated only by the light of the screen she is working on – because Vera hasn’t yet realised what the work is doing to her. However, as she realises and the sun comes up, the natural light could allow for the film to take on more of a style like that of Sofia Coppola’s work. Her films use natural daylight to achieve a washed out, dreamlike and fragile effect. I think this could work for these later scenes in The Universe Is A Goldfish Bowl because Vera realises Roni is real – making it dreamlike because this is close to what Vera has always wanted – but because of how the situation is reversed Roni is now exhausted like Vera was (washed out) and Vera has to prove she has changed to overcome the obstacle of convincing Roni to take her to another universe, making the situation fragile because of the stakes.

Editing style

Also due to my focus on Vera and the audience identifying with her, I intend for the characters to motivate the cuts, as Chazelle does – for example, when Vera is frantically packing up her stuff in the lab after Roni arrives, I aim for the cuts to be fast to show how fast her thoughts are going in this moment when she is unsure whether Roni is real or not.
However, I also intend to use a transition inspired by Marriage Story, where a plane cuts across the frame and motivates the dissolve to the shot of it.
Fig. 12 Marriage Story Transition (2019)
I intend to do this in a similar way by using superimposition of several other universes within which we see other Veronicas going about their daily lives to motivate the cut to Roni with a holographic map of the multiverse through the borders of the superimposed universes glowing red before we see the glowing red holographic map. I think this will give the audience a better idea of the multiverse by showing it to them.

List of Illustrations

Figure 1 & 2. Slow push in from A Most Violent Year (2014) [Film still, DVD] In: A Most Violent Year. New York: A24.

Figure 3. Arrival. (2016) [Film still, DVD] In: Arrival. USA: Twentieth Century Fox.
Figure 4. Lost (2004) [Television still, DVD] In: Lost: Season 1. New York: ABC Studios.
Figure 5. Wonder Woman (2017) [Film still, DVD] In: Wonder Woman. California: Warner Bros.
Figure 6.  Extreme wide shot from La La Land (2016) [Film still, DVD] In: La La Land. California: Summit Entertainment.
Figure 7. Extreme wide shot from Lost in Translation (2003) [Film still, DVD] In: Lost in Translation. New York: Focus Features.

Figure 8. Opposition in The Colour Purple (1985)  [Film still, DVD] In: The Colour Purple. California: Amblin Entertainment.
Figure 9.  Opposition in Scandal (2014) [Television still, DVD] In: Scandal: Season 3. New York: ABC Studios.
Figure 10. Letting the camera linger in The Queen of Versailles (2012) [Film still, DVD] In: The Queen of Versailles. California: Evergreen Pictures.
Figure 11. Whole scene as wide shot from Lost in Translation (2003) [Film still, DVD] In: Lost in Translation. New York: Focus Features.

Figure 12. Marriage Story Transition (2019) [Film still, Netflix] In: Marriage Story. California: Netflix.

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