I first attempted to make The Nest (2003) along with my second script Esophagus (2004) in the late 90s while in post-production on my second feature Migrating Forms (1999). Both efforts fell apart and the two pre-productions mutated into what would become my film Back Against the Wall (2000).


The film stemmed from an idea that if one member of a marriage suffered through a traumatic experience (in this case the wife) – could the partner sublimate the energy of the event or would the psychic forces be so powerful to destroy the union. Along with this was an idea of human beings projecting a rationalized illusive reality and lurking behind it, the true reality, existing as powerful swirling chaos. The ability to function in everyday life is by creating an external phantom-order to one’s inner state. But what if the internal symbols shatter through that order? And not just unconscious manifestations, but literally – as if collective symbols (or creatures) penetrate through a holographic wall-of-order. As tension in one’s life mounts – these objects or beings swirling in a parallel dimension of uncontained freedom break through into the world’s consensual reality.


Around 2000 a friend was helping me with the optical printing on Back Against the Wall and mentioned that he possessed some ruined Kodak film stock.  His freezer had broken down that summer and melted ice all over the unexposed film.  It was the phased out 500-ASA stocks, which had been replaced by the Vision stocks. A chip test had been done and it determined the gamma was messed up, so he was going to dispose of the ruined 45 minutes.  I told him I would take it and from this damaged outdated unexposed negative, I began to structure the visuals of The Nest = I isolated the narrative’s inner-world on this film and then spun the rest of structure outward from there, using fresh new film stocks.


I took about six months building the props and piecing the film’s pre-production together (which was my usually time-frame in this period). Simultaneously I was putting together my feature Families (2002) which was a much different type of film (large cast, black-and-white, many locations), but I doubled up and bled together the resources between both films and in late October of 2001 shot Families (2002). Then using the same crew and equipment in early December, The Nest was shot in six days.


After completion of post-production on Families, I went to work throughout 2002 on The Nest’s optical effects and sound.


By this time I had been working extensively in video and for me the gulf between the two productions methods, video vs. film, where becoming vaster.


So with The Nest I wanted to make a total “film-work” to counter the video process.
A “complete film” in a way, drawing upon all the physical methods that were the opposite of what I was doing with video. I think of the idea as “end-to-end” and by that I mean literally:  cutting film end-to-end, sound tape end-to-end and leaving it at that – and in-between those ends, is where the energy would take place = in the film-space, the production-space = all textures had to be consciously created during production or using methods such as in-camera effects (I had been doing this naturally on my prior film works, but now wanted to do it very deliberately and with total awareness). No timing, no sound mixing – but yet still achieving and controlling all the effects and filmic manipulation I wanted.  And in a sense, an element of the video psychology crept it  = the layering – which I never did as much with on film, but had been doing quite heavily in video.  But this time by double exposing the film in-camera (as well as other film techniques), thus thrusting the video layering up against the blocky heavy film grammar and production.


(I initially was going to shoot Christabel [2001] on film, but the extent to which I wanted to superimpose the image would have destroyed the 16mm negative in the optical printing process – so I shifted the majority of the piece to video)


To fuse and equate the psychology of the film grammar with that of subject, I wanted the film to fall apart by the third reel.  Lending to this idea of a “complete film” the reels were the exact size of my Steenbeck-platter and were structured to collapse systematically and slowly over the first two. By the third reel, I didn’t even want it to be graceful = just badly fall apart


The drawings and paintings in the film were by the animator Jim Tranior. I had drawn out images for him to re-draw and paint. He asked me why I didn’t just draw them myself – I explained that at this time I didn’t want something so basic and personal as a drawing of my own to appear in the film’s world. I needed someone else’s drawing within the space of the film – as if it broke into the atmosphere I was creating (I felt I was “drawing” with the film pieces, the grammar – therefore I couldn’t have a literal physical drawing of my own appear within that). I felt an affinity with Jim’s work, so I thought it was both different enough from my own imagery, but with enough of a thread of similarity to make his style’s appearance feel natural within the film’s whole.


(From my essay on Sound):

The Nest (2003) was the culmination of a many things …

In terms of sound – I wanted to not go through a mix at all.  I imagined like early sound films doing everything on stage = when an orchestra would play the music live during the filming of the scenes. I set out to create complete “machine work” of image and sound.  I just wanted to cut the magnetic tape end to end – which is what I did. Everything as much as possible was to be done in camera or in the recording – and just having the lab run off the final print un-timed (all exposures final in camera), magnetic tape no mix with splices transferred to the optical.  I handed Zack a list of sounds to collect (ie. laughing man, mice in paper bags, etc.) We would create atmospheres on the four-track and then dump them to magnetic tape. It was the total divorce of sound and image operating as different collapsing universes – a series of images that fell apart and a soundtrack that fell apart with it.  There is no true synch in the film – because at the time I was thinking that that there was no true synch in real life … so why have it in a film?  This film also could be the most vivid realization of the Welles interest – for example in a film like Mr. Arkadin (1955) where the sound is a flat perspectiveless derelict world – related to the image, but slightly separated – with it own technical logic. The Nest builds on this.

James Fotopoulos


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