Posted on March 25, 2014

By Matthew Skala

The Look of Harmonia – making an experimental film

Frame Grab from Harmonia - making an experimental film

I recently finished making an experimental film with director Bogdan Darev. It will serve as his first feature film and we are calling it Harmonia. This was my second collaboration with the Bulgarian director, his metaphorical short film–Listenwhich explored themes of social oppression–was the first. Harmonia dives into similar waters, focusing on a brother and sisters’ journey out of an oppressive educational system into a world of awakening.

Darev writes, “What happens when we dare to forget about the social status quo, imposed vices, vanity, and stereotypes and just be? When do we dare to experience the world the way children see it? Without preconceptions and common division by labeling. To acknowledge how kids avoid and debunk the rules through touch and play, through dance and genuine curiosity. Why are their minds so tranquil and independent and why do our adult minds become so rational that we lose touch with spontaneity, the joys of discovery and life itself?”

What makes this an experimental film is an intent to create a metaphorical poem and an unconventional way of working. We didn’t have a script and we approached it all at once–prep, production, and post were all happening in concert. We started with the above themes, the siblings, a journey, and an idea for one or two scenes. Bogdan wanted the outcome of each scene to determine what we did next. In effect, each scene was like its own production and we averaged about one scene per week. The entire process took us about 3 months.

In approaching the look of the film we focused on the themes and arcs in both story and character–we knew where we wanted the story and characters to go but we improvised as to how to get there. We assigned a color to each character to invoke their personality and role throughout the journey. We dressed them in their color because that was something we had the most control over. When scouting locations, the knowledge of these colors helped inform our decisions. And in addition to their emotional state, the colors often influenced us when scheduling time of day and waiting for certain weather conditions.

I assigned atmosphere, tones, and lighting ratios to reflect and enhance their emotional states. And we maintained emotion maps for each character as the story materialized throughout the shoot. These maps turned out to be essential in navigating our progress through the story and helped determine what to do next. 

The film is still in the workshop but here are some frame grabs. 

Frame grab from Harmonia - Making an experimental filmPhilip Abadjiev and Lily Gabbro in HarmoniaLily Gabbro in HarmoniaLily Gabbro in HarmoniaPhilip Abadjiev and Lily Gabbro in HarmoniaFrame grab of a magic hour Aerial from the feature film Harmonia Phillip Abadjiev in the feature film Harmonia Philip Abadjiev and Lily Gabbro in the film HarmoniaPhilip Abadjiev and Lily Gabbro in the film HarmoniaFrame grab from the film HarmoniaViktor Samsonov in the film Harmonia

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