Behind the Curtain

... is just another curtain

The quarantine continues... and so does my honeymoon with VU JA DE. It’s been fantastic hearing your reactions to DREAM, as well as the response to this project as a whole. It’s relieving, gratifying, and more than anything, makes me want to get started on the next piece.

So today, I'll wrap up this Wizard of Oz chapter with a short “making-of” video. This is a 2-minute snapshot of the ideas and influences that got this ball rolling, the toil in bringing them to life, plus some creative wisdom sprinkled in from David Lynch, Mister Rogers, and others. So without further ado, enjoy the DREAM process reel:

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Arguably, The Wizard of Oz’s most meme-ified moment is the “pulling back the curtain” scene, when Dorothy uncovers the true nature of Oz and the charlatan supposedly running it. Today, this curtain-pulling trope appears all over pop culture — from podcast titles to Drake lyrics. In common speak, the saying behind the curtain typifies all that has been deceptively obscured or hidden from us — whether by Trump, Zuck, or David Blaine. You pull the curtain on any entity meddling with your reality bubble, like the school bully, the rap game, the White House, or the “fake-news-liberal-media.” In any case, there's one thing you probably wouldn't pull the curtain on: yourself.

My aim with DREAM was to reveal the people and myths pulling the levers of our digital world. But even if it succeeded in doing that, the argument was yet another narrative carefully manufactured behind a curtain. Painstakingly constructed out of sight from you viewers, DREAM is my own version of reality rendered in the tools available — namely, dramatic music, clip selections, juxtaposition, and other tactics of cinema. All of which collectively implies: "Trust me, I'll show you the way."

In a similar charade, the "Great Oz" preserves his governing power through balls of fire, an artificially booming voice, and the awe-demanding Emerald City. Literal smoke and mirrors. Likewise, DREAM, albeit more honest in spirit than that of the Wizard, is an artifice. Behind dazzling clips and fancy edits is just a guy staring at a screen, pushing buttons to manipulate your viewing experience. So with this process reel (a fabrication in its own rite) I wanted to pull the curtain on myself.

My favorite resurrection of Oz's curtain-pulling energy in a modern context is The Truman Show, which is why I chose it to be the skeleton of my process reel for DREAM. If you haven't seen the movie, it's a Matrix-esque "waking up" tale of Truman Burbank, who unwittingly discovers he's the star of a reality show. The film's sapience on today's digital-endemic anxieties is stunning, but I'll spare you of that here (watch it yourself and report back!).

Having spent his entire life on idyllic Seahaven Island, Truman repeatedly expresses a desire to travel to Fiji. Like Dorothy's imagined land over the rainbow, Fiji is Truman's stand-in for the nebulous world beyond his limited existence. But his longing is always met with faux-bewilderment: "Why would you want to do that Truman?"

Literally out of the blue, Truman receives a tangible signal of that other world. Seemingly falling from sky, a studio light crashes down on the pavement outside of his house. A curious artifact to say the least, this light serves as Truman's proof of the world beyond Seahaven — as well as his license to go out and find it.

As the cracks in Truman's reality begin to show, the film's central questions emerge: how do we know what's real and what's not? What's behind the curtain, and how do we get there? DREAM grew out of the same line of inquiry, though far more amorphous in the beginning. Galvanized by work from Kirby Ferguson, Maria Popova, and Negativland to name a few, I realized I didn't need to go out and shoot something to answer my questions. So when the Oz allegory idea arrived out of the blue, like a light out from the sky, I couldn't help but to search for the rest.

From a young age, Truman had been conditioned to fear the open water — to prevent him from wanting to leave Seahaven. So when he finally makes up his mind to set sail, he really means it. But of course, Truman’s escape to Fiji isn’t going to be easy. The show’s executive producer summons a vicious storm to stop him in his path (very Wicked Witch-esque, wouldn’t you say?). Awash tides of my own making, I slogged through notebook scribbles, word docs, and Premiere sequences. Like Truman, I began to lose control of my ship, but I was also the producer summoning the storm. So by the time my bow crashed into the wall, I was practically ready to delete the whole thing. But thanks to guidance from USC's incredible MA+P faculty and advice from friends, the ship somehow stayed afloat.

Thankfully, my process has changed a lot since starting on DREAM. In fact, it was a necessity in making it to the finish line. But I’m happy to have documented my workflow at that point in time, as well as the entire cycle that emerged out of it — from the peaks of idea infatuation, down through trenches of drudgery and self-doubt.

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So this is, hold your breath... a video about the making of another video that’s based on movie, told through the lens of another movie. And yes, even this video exhibits my process precisely the way I want you to see it. I hope you’re critical of it, and more importantly, feel compelled to find your own curtains to pull. So with that, I’d like to finally draw the DREAM curtains to a close. I’ll see you soon with the next installment of VU JA DE.