Lessons Learned: Our First Lookbook

Note (2018): The movie is now complete and called ANYA.

Jacob and I just completed our first lookbook!  We’ve been toying with creating one for a while for our first fiction feature, LITTLE NARWHAL, and finally did it as a recommended supplement to a grant application. It’s a work in progress, to be sure, but it does seem to more effectively communicate tone and give a quick visual of the project than have prior text-only formats.

Creating the lookbook--a visual companion to the script--forced us to think in new ways about the movie we’re planning to film later this year. Not timelines, budgets, or dry artistic statements but the look, feel, and sound of a film that mixes an invented but believable culture and real cutting-edge genetics science.

 A sample page from our first lookbook.

A sample page from our first lookbook.

Creating the lookbook made us realize our former title, HUMANS AMONG HUMANS, did not evoke the playful, immersive tone with which we approach the story. We’d been using it as a working title so long that we hadn’t noticed that it seems too sci-fi, too hard around the edges. LITTLE NARWHAL better evokes the sense of place (an immigrant enclave community in Queens), quirkiness (wait, they obviously don’t mean the whales with horns that inspired myths of uniforms), and mystery (who are the Narwhal then).

Shifting our thinking from text to visuals has encouraged us to get more concrete about camera and lens selection, production design, costuming, tone, and soundscape.  The process of choosing images and paring down words also encouraged us to find and communicate the threads tying the film’s topics, themes, tone, and team. Not all of that is evident in the lookbook, but it’s part of the ‘production bible’ we’re now creating.

It’s not that we hadn’t been thinking visually. We did see the film in our minds as we wrote it. We’d always intended to direct and produce it ourselves and this no doubt shows on the page. I’d sketched out scenes (literally and badly) for our illustrator, Sara Kaiser, to turn into the wonderful black and white storyboard style sketches that grace our treatment and lookbook. That was our first experience in realizing that the visuals were more effective at communicating our tone and humor than were the script or synopses.

The lookbook made us start thinking even more deeply about filming style. By training, Jacob’s a documentarian, I’m an anthropologist, and our DP is a talented street photographer. We knew our style needed to make the most of this combination. We knew we wanted to create an immersive realism that would make viewers feel like they were walking the streets of Queens and Manhattan and feeling culture-shock alongside Libby and Marco, the protagonists of our love story. But now the conversation is more concrete: which camera, which lens, which distances, with or without sticks, how big a crew, etc.  

Jacob’s a director and DP, so communicating with images is second nature to him. It isn’t for me. I’ve been an amateur photographer since childhood and oil painter off and on since undergrad. I did some second camera work on PAINTING THE WAY TO THE MOON and our shorts. Despite having a visual side, my social science training strongly privileges words. Jacob recognized this while we were writing--particularly as I drafted another script, LAST DAYS OF DOGGER CITY--and occasionally encouraged me to stop writing and sketch out a scene. It helps. It frees my imagination and helps get us on the same page. To my pleasant surprise, the lookbook had a similar effect.

Concentrating on the visuals made us realize how little of the unusual soundscape was coming through. LITTLE NARWHAL is full of original music played on screen by “Narwhal” musicians as well as touches throughout of their uncanny ability to mimic sounds. As a result, we broke the “soundscape” into a separate page of the lookbook and recruited the jazz composer who worked on PAINTING THE WAY TO THE MOON to create the new sound for the Narwhal to play.

Another happy side-effect of making our first lookbook? We've moved the project forward and are more excited than ever to continue building our team and start filming!

If you’d like to take a peek at the lookbook or illustrated treatment, please drop me a line at carylanna@1efilms.com.