I saw Gus Vant Sant’s film Elephant in Italy whilst on holiday with my girlfriend of the time. It was not long after the film had come out and we were lucky enough to find a cinema that hadn’t dubbed it; they had simply put the Italian in sub-titles in instead. It was of course a beautiful, warm evening and the film, despite it’s delicate and dark subject matter, also left me with the most beautiful, warm feeling. Now Elephant certainly had it’s political undercurrents and was more topical than a film like Pavilion, but the sensation it created of simply following, watching and remaining detached from the events portrayed gave me an almost paralyzing feeling of powerlessness. It felt as if for a moment the film might actually miss the action that was so central to its genesis and leave me feeling as if it was one of those dreams you have where you can never quite see someone’s face, no matter what you try. Quite why this felt so good, I couldn’t tell you. It did however leave me wanting more.
Pavilion, from this year’s IFP crop, is one of these types of films. In fact had it not been for seeing Elephant that day, and then later seeing Terrence Malick’s The New World, then perhaps the hot and sweaty July day when director Tim Sutton screened Pavilion for us in my living room, might have been all the more uncomfortable. It was too late though, I’d already fallen hook line and sinker for films of this kind, and the fact that I knew this director wanted us to help him with this project meant that the trip to the bathroom and back, the moment the film finished, was a very exciting one. All 25 feet of it.
My co-worker Zach referred me once to a film (Portrait of Jason, 1967) where a man is sitting there smoking a cigarette for pretty much the entire film. That’s it. Talking about this on the way to get lunch one day we agreed that in a film like that, where that’s all that happens, the small things turn into huge events. Zach then stopped, scratched his head and thought for a moment, whispering to the air in front of him, “what was it that happened in that one…”. I stopped too, waited, and then finally he said “Ah yes, he ran out of gas on his lighter. Huge deal!” We both laughed and then stepped inside Jimmy’s, our regular lunch joint.
So to reiterate, Pavilion really is one of those exact films. It’s almost fair to say that if you blink or cough, you could miss the entire ‘reveal’ at the end of it. There are tiny fragmented shards of dialogue that tell you what’s happening whilst all the while you’re watching the most detached, beautiful and mesmerizing footage of kids feeling out the moments in those long, long, useless days of our youth. In fact what I said when I came back from the bathroom after Tim had screened his movie for us was ‘congratulations’. Congratulations for capturing that feeling of the abstract, aimless ennui of what it was to be young, with almost no sense of responsibility at all.
Tim then explained that he wanted a website and film posters from us, and we ended up all walking back along a hot Front Street in Brooklyn, talking all sorts of nonsense. Eventually he had to go one way, and we the other, but Pavilion wasn’t going to let us stray too far from each other in the coming months.
The next part, the actual design process, was tough. It’s always tough but this was particularly hard because we really wanted to nail it. Not because this was our ‘big chance’. Chances are people won’t see Pavilion ‘en masse’ until Tim’s next film is out and everyone is freaking out about how good he is. Then they’ll be picking up ‘that risky first movie’, you know, ‘to give it another chance’. No, we really wanted to nail this because the film demanded it. It was begging us to explain to someone who only saw the poster or visited the website for a second, what the film was about without of course explicitly telling them. You know, without a tagline even. It was such an abstract concept and relied so much on a feeling, that we felt it to be an exciting challenge. That said, we also of course didn’t want to oversell it. When very little happens, you can easily make a website or poster that promises too much. That too was a no no.
So the design work began and I sat huddled over my computer for several days in that nervous funk I always get into when I know I can do it and will do it, but it’s just not happening yet. Then, soon, like trying to pee when you’re really drunk, really full of booze, and have been holding it in for too long, things began to trickle out. Then moments later they all just came out together. Pretty soon I had a list of ideas spilled out on the page and sent them to Giles (best friend and Version Industries co-founder) for his thoughts.
He was into it.
For the website we agreed that animated GIFs, living movie stills, or what people are now calling cinemagraphs, were the right direction. There aren’t many truly captivating, art-for-the-sake-of-art websites on the internet, but of the few my favourite is easily if we don’t, remember me. Take a look. If you don’t know the site already (and already love it), you soon will. The only difficulty with Pavilion is that a lot of it is shot with a moving / handheld camera, and IWDRM has the luxury of picking out the movies with all the beautiful static shots in them. Nevertheless, the laid back, audio-less, ethereal quality of these was absolutely spot on for this project and so all we had to do was convince Tim.
Tim was down.
For the posters there were a bunch of things I’d scribbled on paper scraps lying half on and half off my couch in my living room the night before. These I’d typed up and emailed myself and then hated the next morning. However one or two of them triggered new ideas and we realized that effectively taking an idea from the most unlikely of sources – Robert Zemeckis’s 1985 film Back to the Future - was very possibly the solution to this film’s supporting printwork. So we quickly started putting together some demos using a low-quality quicktime of the film Tim had linked us to.
The extent of Tim’s enthusiasm for our ideas in the coming days was enough to get me through the coldest of winters, let alone the balmy week in July that it was. He wrote us back a long email analyzing each concept and explaining why each one worked for him in different ways. We then encouraged him to choose his top 2-3 concepts so that we could start working on the final editions. As I touched on in last month’s article – there’s being paid for doing some work and then there’s meeting the approval of someone who you respect. These two things are completely different, and the energy you get from one far exceeds the other. There was a fantastic feeling in the Version Industries studio the weeks that followed, hard at work as we were hard on the site and a final set of posters.
Some days into the production Tim wrote another excited email stating that he was so in love with the type treatment on the posters that he wanted us to do all the type for the actual film’s credit sequences. The hot pink, italic, capital letters had hit a chord with him (as we’d hoped it might), and had now dethroned the more restrained, plain, black, capitalized Futura he’d been using up until that point.
The only part that still concerns me slightly as we prepare to reveal the work we’ve been doing here is that it all still somehow doesn’t feel involved enough on some cursory level. I think this is because as a company we’re used to coming at a concept from several angles and layering up the visuals where possible. However, in being true to this very unusual film we knew that in every way less was more, and that meaning and impact were to be obtained from the most subtle and imperceptible touches. Furthermore when watching the film you realize the footage is almost untouched out of the camera, and this too informed the very raw and simple feel of all the work we produced in support of it.
So, without further ado, here is the Pavilion website -
And here are two of my favourites from the selection of posters we produced for the film -
We won’t spoil the details of the film by explaining our exact reasoning for the various elements of each design. We do hope however that each speaks for itself and that everything I’ve said gives you some insight into the process from start to finish, as well as leaving you with some unanswered questions of course …