While creating work samples for a storyboarding internship last fall, Chelsea DeMott sought a better way to convey her artistic vision. She envisioned an interactive, web-based computer program that allowed filmmakers to test virtual equipment like lighting and cameras, create actor avatars and make storyboarding a more dynamic, useful process.
DeMott continued to refine and develop her storyboarding program idea as her senior capstone project in Digital Media Convergence. Instructed by Lecturer Joseph Vlachos, the course taught students how to use multiple media platforms, such as smart phones, tablets, gaming systems and websites, to market and promote new products. DeMott named her creation, “Cuenta,” or “story” in Spanish, to reflect the simplicity of a multi-platform program that could be used by professional filmmakers as well as by movie buffs of all ages.
For her project business plan, DeMott devised two versions of Cuenta, a free version, available on smart phones, and the subscription-based Cuenta 180, which could be used on computers, Xboxes and tablets. Both versions allow users to generate their own “possibles,” or possible blocking, of scenes based on a variety of film genres, inducing film noir, musical, fantasy, romantic comedy, and horror. Each “possible” shows blocking, lighting, microphone and camera placements for scenes based on classic movie examples.
Blocking refers to both the blocking of cameras and the physical blocking of actors. DeMott cites the film Requiem for a Dream as an example of innovative camera blocking. Characters have upward-facing cameras attached to them to convey a sense of unease and disorientation.
The scene in Forrest Gump which shows Forrest on a cross-country run demonstrates a classic example of physical blocking of actors. “We get an over the shoulder shot of the group far in the back and to the side. This helps to show how indifferent he is toward them versus how much of a big deal they seem to think he is,” noted Cuenta. “If you watch a good film on mute, little placements of people within a frame will tell you, more or less, exactly what’s going on. It’s actually pretty poetic.”
Cuenta references film scenes to provide users familiar examples and inspiration to continue one’s film education. “You have to read a lot in order to write well; the same is true for film,” noted DeMott.
For a subscription of $20 a month, Cuenta 180 allows users to enter a virtual movie studio where they can experiment with digital versions of real cameras, lights and microphones. Gone are the simple avatars of Cuenta’s free version, replaced with customizable, fully animateable avatars that can be made to walk to a mark or change position within a scene.
On sets, actor stand-ins who are similar in height, complexion, and hair color to actors allow crews to test lighting and blocking options prior to production. “Cuenta would save a lot of time this way so that we would virtually already know the gist of how to light the actor. We would probably only need the stand-in for a little while as a quick ‘make-sure,’” DeMott explained.
Other innovative features of Cuenta include a live marketplace where writers can share their scripts with others and multiple contests that promote excitement for the filmmaking process. “Contests help get people involved. It makes them interact not only with the site, but potentially with each other,” said DeMott. “I haven’t really heard of any great film that was made by just one person. Filmmakers need to meet other filmmakers and appreciate each other’s work in order for good film to continue to be made.”
DeMott dates her love of filmmaking back to age 15, when she purchased a video camera with Christmas money. Though DeMott initially considered making films a hobby, a Sophomore Fiction into Film class taught by Associate Professor of English Christopher Link, convinced her that it was her calling. “I still think that was the best class I’ve ever taken,” she said. “It was then that I realized how much I really just wanted to learn about and make film. I love it.”
DeMott, a Digitial Media Production major who graduates this spring, currently interns for local director Joe Muszynski, director of Rhymes with Banana. She would eventually like to assist in creating Cuenta, though probably more on the developing than the programming end.
“I love the concept and everyone in my major that I’ve mentioned it to has told me how fantastic it would be if it actually existed,” she said.