DAMAGE CONTROL: While surprising his fiancée with a newly inherited property, a man is forced by a mysterious woman to confront his past behavior.
Hey, what’s up? I am Ryan Oksenberg. I’m a writer/director. Right off the top I wanted to thank Film Courage for giving me the opportunity to share with you some directing lessons that I learned making DAMAGE CONTROL.
DAMAGE CONTROL is about a man who surprises his fiancée with a new property and he’s forced to confront his past behavior. It’s a classic morality play about karma coming around in the vein of The Twilight Zone.
I’ve been making movies since I was a kid. I used to have one of those Indiglo stopwatches and I would get all of my toys together and create these epics and then I would look at the watch. I’d hit stop and three hours would have passed. I would then go to a notepad and write down what those stories were.
I’ve always been engaged in making movies. I’ve made short films. I’ve made documentaries. I’ve shot things for non-profits, more of like the corporate thing, the bread-and-butter thing. But I’ve also always been writing. I’ve optioned scripts. I’ve been hired to adapt novels, I write with people, I write for people.
Directing is the most fun. That makes me feel the most alive. I love being on my feet. I love problem-solving in the moment and to do that you’d think, I’m going to prepare. That night before your shoot, you prepare like crazy. I just break down the shots, make my shot list, I imagine myself in the location, I write down little things I’m going to whisper in the actor’s ears. I’m a hundred and 10 percent prepared.
But on DAMAGE CONTROL what I didn’t prepare for was being unprepared.
Now I wanted to ask you…have you ever been in a situation, on set, where this unforeseeable thing happens and now everything is in disarray and you’re panicking because you may not have your movie, you may not make your day?
“The biggest lesson that I’ve learned and that I would say I am still learning is how to be what I call a malleable director. A director that could roll with all the punches. You have to take what the film Gods throw at you.”
The biggest lesson that I’ve learned and that I would say I am still learning is how to be what I call a malleable director. A director that could roll with all the punches. You have to take what the film Gods throw at you. It forces you any sort of restriction to be creative and who knows what could come out of it? Maybe there’s a gift on the other end of that?
The first thing that I learned on DAMAGE CONTROL about being a malleable director is letting go of the script. I had to show the whole history of a relationship up until this moment in eight minutes.
On set I realized that we didn’t have in the writing what this relationship was because we scrambled over in the writing not to have any expository information about them, that’s not interesting. What’s interesting is letting actors be in the moment in play and convey to us what the dialogue didn’t about who they are.
Elia Kazan said that the directing is in the casting and if you cast great people, that’s who your character is.
The next lesson on being a malleable director is sail with the wind, not against it. We had 10 hours to shoot 10 pages over two days and it was all in available light. So myself, the cinematographer Andy Chinn, grip and electric Joseph Tan, we strategically planned the order that we’re going to shoot things because DAMAGE CONTROL takes place in a single moment. It’s Alison’s lunch break when Drew surprises her with this new property.
The second day we shot out all the shack stuff. We reserved the entire morning for it and we were early. It went over brilliantly, but now we had an hour and a half until lunch. So I was like to Andy “Let’s shoot this now. Oh, now it doesn’t match before, let’s shoot this. The light’s not right, we’ve got to shoot it later.” And we were waisting time looking at the monitor and seeing the shots that we shot yesterday if they matched how the light looked now and that would determine which shot we would set up next and then I started worrying “Oh, we have to move all of our gear this way and then that way.” I didn’t know what to shoot?
“Being a malleable director is sailing with the wind, not against it.”
We spent a half hour talking about what we could have done and what I neglected to do was like “Okay, let’s shoot the inserts.” So you have to learn just how to just throw away your schedule and be a good editor. In your head you need to take tally of all the things that you had shot up until then and be able to piece it all together in your head because now you are shooting it piecemeal. It’s just as important as a director is now if you’re shooting things out of the order the actors anticipated, perhaps they didn’t do the preparation for that scene or they didn’t lead themselves up emotionally to it, it’s up to you to be the compass and guide them back to where they need to be.
Another phase in production where I learned to be a more malleable director is in editing. In my rough cut I was just using medium close-ups of Ana in the shack. I didn’t use any of the wides and I was pretty committed to it. I loved the vulnerability that she could express on her face without saying anything. I just had an idea of what she had been through and what she is trying to communicate to Drew in the shack. And what I did was I was cutting just to close-ups of her and then what I was getting was a lack of mystery and this came from the writer’s note [Matthew Wygodny]. He was like “Keep Ana back.” And I did and then it was like I’m going to build up to that close-up shot, I’m going to find the best moment to do it and I did and it worked way better.
“You have to serve the story in the edit rather than the shots you love or the movie that you had in your head before or else you are going to not work with the natural rhythms of what this movie is.”
You have to serve the story in the edit rather than the shots you love or the movie that you had in your head before or else you are going to not work with the natural rhythms of what this movie is and you are also going to be pretty down on yourself because you have this expectation of what it’s supposed to be. But it’s really this, so you have to make this work.
I used to be pretty rigid making my movies. I used to be pretty insular. I used to not share my rough cuts with friends. I used to be afraid to ask crew members “What does this mean?” Or “What does this do?” And on DAMAGE CONTROL was the time where I just completely let go and I’d like to hear stories from you guys about gifts (great things) that came out of problems and how you solve them and how your movie and yourself as a director benefited from them.
I hope you guys found this video helpful. Talking about it is even helpful to me and working out just how I approach directing and manage my expectations. But when all of those elements come together, when the performance is spot-on, the camera movement is spot-on, the sound is great, just everything is working operatically and you’re the conductor of it all, there is no other feeling like it…Watch the video interview on Youtube here
About Ryan Oksenberg:
Ryan Oksenberg graduated with a BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago – one of the last remaining schools to shoot and cut on film
His brain is always coming up with stories so as result, he’s written 50+ scripts for himself and others. Some have been optioned, some were work for hire and some are collecting virtual dust.
Directing is Ryan’s true love. Being in the trenches alongside his team is thrilling and rewarding to him. He directs as much as he can to keep that muscle strong. You can find him geeking out to Youtube interviews of his favorite directors, including: Kubrick, Kurosawa, Tarantino, Spielberg, Ford and Peckinpah.
Ryan got started in documentaries. His series Life Line Booth aired on Participant Media’s TV division, Pivot. He also made a “cult favorite” doc exploring the music motive to the Manson murders called Cease to Exist, which continues to be re-uploaded today by fans whenever Youtube takes it down. You can find those works, his short films and music videos on Vimeo and Amazon Prime.
Going on worldly adventures, backpacking and camping keeps him inspired and grounds an overactive imagination he’s had since he can remember.
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