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Student video bridges film and theater

By Emily Salloway
On February 6, 2012

At the staff desk in the Getz Media Lab, Myles Tyrer-Vasell '12 and Joanna Nix '14 are laughing together. Tyrer-Vasell throws out a list of films he considers classics and proceeds to tease Nix for never having seen The Godfather. To an outsider, it would appear that these two are old pals, but they have only known each other for a few weeks. Their friendship was born in a whirlwind of paint, bright lights and carpentry, alongside the creation of Tyrer-Vasell's music video for folk band Iron & Wine's "Communion Cups and Someone's Coat."

"[Sam Beam of Iron & Wine] puts emphasis on the emotions and not so much … [on] specific details," Tyrer-Vasell said of his interpretation of the song's lyrics, which center on a man's love for a girl he thinks is too good for him. "There's violence and anger, … but [he] just brush[es] it off, and that's something everyone can identify with. It's really vague but really romantic to me."

The two-minute video is a first-time collaboration between Brandeis Television and Brandeis Ensemble Theatre, utilizing both the aesthetics of the stage and a whole lot of filmmaking magic. Said Tyrer-Vasell, "I really liked the feel of the set of the theater … it's more skeletal and more … stripped down than a film set."

Until he started the two week building process, it hadn't quite dawned on Tyrer-Vasell how much manpower it would take to get the look he wanted. "Most of the time in … BTV you find a location and you just … shoot it, whereas in theater you have to make everything. … Someone put 25 minutes of thought into how to paint a door for the set for this video, … and that doesn't ever happen in film."

That someone was Jessica Rassp '13, who along with Adrienne Karlovsky '12, served as set designer. Rassp and Karlovsky had big ideas: "They started asking me all these questions about the characters," Tyrer-Vasell said, "like what's her favorite color … Is he a shy person or is he much more outgoing?"

Although Tyrer-Vasell admits, "I'm just an unorganized person naturally," he still pre-empted the building of the set with the creation of storyboards, in order to answer some of these questions for his more detail-oriented crew. "The people in the theater had never seen storyboarding. So I brought that to them which is kind of cool that I could finally teach them something instead of them teaching me everything."

And, admittedly, they did teach him a lot. Costume designer April Kolb '12, for example, taught him about how to dress his characters and put up with him when he changed his mind at the last minute: "Two days before we were going to shoot, I said, ‘Wait. Instead of a blue dress, what if we had a red dress?'"

Robbie Steinberg '13 dealt with Tyrer-Vasell's indecisions too. "[Steinberg was] very accommodating of me saying, ‘No, no, wait. I'm sorry you have to change all your lights.'"

Tyrer-Vasell wasn't the only one venturing into new territory with this project. Undergraduate Theater Collective coordinator Katherine Teeter '12, who had never worked on a film set before, planned the logistics for building the six-room set in the Shapiro Campus Center Theater.

"The audience of a play sees the entire set, so everything must look clean cut and intentional," Teeter, who also served as master carpenter, wrote in an email to justArts. "[This] wasn't too different from building a set for a show except I didn't have to worry about what the camera wouldn't see."

But in "Communion Cups and Someone's Coat," it turned out there wasn't a lot that the camera wouldn't see. Tyrer-Vasell wanted to see how far he could push himself by opting to film the entire video in one shot. He was successful after about 50 takes over the course of a day, with actors running from room to room and the sounds of Iron & Wine blasting on repeat over the loudspeaker.

"In some ways it was very theatrical because it was all in one take," Nix, who portrayed the female lead, told justArts. "So you still got that continuous acting the entire time it's filming … like how you are on stage."

Tyrer-Vasell added, "You could tell in auditions who was a theater actor and who was a film actor. … For what I was doing you kind of had to be both."

Nix has been acting for theater since she was little and continued her passion at Brandeis when she starred in Hillel Theater Group's production of The Last Night of Ballyhoo this past fall. But she found it a unique experience acting for film, especially when the film lacked dialogue: "[We had to] just use our eyes and our body language. I think [the] film … was fun for me and I know there's a lot of theater people who would want to do projects like this," Nix said. "I think it would be very cool to have [a] collaboration [between film and theater] happen more often."

Before his project, Tyrer-Vasell's interaction with the Brandeis theater community was extremely limited, but, he said, "Now I feel like there's a lot of people [I know] if I need any kind of artistic resources … I have a nice network."

"I think the two worlds merged well," Teeter agreed.

Click here to see the video for "Communion Cups and Someone's Coat."

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