RT in the Edit Suite: Tell Tale

We witness short film history with photographer Greg Williams

by | March 25, 2010 | Comments

Greg Williams has given us good reason to buy an iPad. The renowned photographer, who’s shot more A-list names than most A-list directors, is telling RT about his latest shoot. The feature will run in LA Times Magazine, with cover star Carla Gugino gazing sultrily past the masthead in a suitably noir-like pose.

And if you’re still fond of ink and paper, that’s about all she’ll do. But this particular issue, launching the day after the iPad hits North American shelves, has a digital cousin. In this edition, downloaded to your iPad, Gugino will come to life, mouthing, “Welcome to LA.” On the pages within, her boa will flutter in a gentle breeze.

The technique, which aims to make best use of the iPad’s digital display and change the experience of reading a magazine, is one pioneered by Williams, and was most famously put to work on a series of digital campaigns for Quantum of Solace (see an example here). It’s called a Moto – a motion photo – and it’s been made possible only recently, by the advent of super high-definition digital video cameras from which magazine-quality images can be extracted. It’ll look like a photo shoot, but move like a film.

It’s all in aid of Tell Tale, a 7-minute short noir thriller starring Gugino and Adam Arkin. Part detective story, part twisted romance, it follows a couple whose attempt at erotic experimentation ends up in a police interrogation room. Accused of the murder of a police informant — a lover Gugino’s femme fatale character picks up, played by Jesse Spencer — the couple remains cool under pressure. But when they return home, they’re troubled by nightmares of what happened, and by an endless heartbeat reaching up from beneath the floorboards…

Discussions with Gugino and screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez about Edgar Allen Poe’s The Telltale Heart, on which the film is based, were the catalyst for the project. “Originally Carla and I were just going to do some Motos together,” explains Williams. “Then we thought we’d give it a bit of narrative and it just grew and grew. Sebastian went away and wrote the script — literally that night.”


Williams’ film is, much like his photographic work, exquisitely shot — every frame an iconic image. “When we were shooting the interrogation scene, Greg described it as being a photographic essay,” explains producer Bob Ford. “He started out as a photojournalist and tried to take a similar approach. We covered it with 11 camera positions and it was interesting to see what made the cut.”

The film has been shot on high-definition RED cameras, which have fast earned a reputation as the best way to shoot digital film. It’s these that make the Moto images possible, and this is the first project ever to be shot with the company’s game-changing new Epic camera. “The new camera we’ve been using, once it’s in its final state, is without a doubt going to revolutionise film,” says Williams. “I started taking it on all my editorial shoots, with people like Megan Fox, Jude Law and Robert DeNiro. What I was making weren’t films, but they weren’t stills either. The stills that you pull from it are fantastic, but it also meant I was pulling performances out of actors while I was shooting them. They weren’t posing for the strobe light, they were acting.”

Williams hopes the results will be worth investing in. Challenging the notion that short films don’t make money, Tell Tale will be distributed on iTunes for a nominal fee. The plan is to discover if audiences are ready to pay for high-quality short-form content. “I didn’t think about it as a way to recoup costs,” he tells RT, “but people have always said you don’t make money out of short films and I wanted to test that theory! I think it’s technologically a world-first and I think that will excite a lot of people. Plus, we’re promoting it in a way that’ll really make use of this new device, the iPad, so I hope it’ll reach a lot of people.”

When we watch the film — with Williams providing an audio commentary for the sound effects which have yet to be laid at the time of our visit — it’s pretty clear the project’s production values are high, but what’s really exciting is the potential on screen. Williams plans to return with more shorts — another is already in the can – and tells RT that a feature may follow eventually.

And it’s not just the manner of distribution that Tell Tale plans to do differently. The iPad plays a big role, not just in the LA Times Magazine spreads, but in the idea that filmed entertainment can be enjoyed outside of the cinema or the home theatre. It’s not a new idea, and indeed it has been floated in the past to varying degrees of success. Whether Apple’s device will, like much of their technological innovations in the past, fill a void we didn’t even realise existed remains to be seen. But what’s certain is that Williams will be amongst the first of a new breed of filmmakers willing to put that theory to the test.

Tell Tale‘s LA Times Magazine spread launches on Easter Sunday, 4th April. Keep an eye on Greg Williams’s official website for more info.

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