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QUANTUM NOIR: JAMES KERWIN ON YESTERDAY WAS A LIE

by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [May 20, 2010]

 

 

 

[HollywoodInvestigator.com]  A noir detective, haunted by a broken love affair, seeks a notebook fill with quantum physics formulae. Then detective runs into a blonde femme fatale -- who is less a threat than a doppleganger, since the detective herself is a blonde, albeit wearing a suit.

Pseudo-science fantasy thrillers mixing mathematics, time travel, and quantum physics are nothing new in film. Pi, Primer and The Lathe of Heaven come to mind. 

Add a noir style (reminiscent of Blade Runner and Circuitry Man), and you have Yesterday Was a Lie, released on DVD this past April.

Writer/director James Kerwin says of his background: "I got my film degree at TCU, majoring in film and astronomy/physics. But then I realized I'd be in college till I was 31. So I stuck to film."

Kerwin then worked on short films, music videos, and corporate videos, and directed theater in Los Angeles. But he remains interested in science, and keeps up to date. "Those themes pervade my work on stage and screen. I'm saddened by the unfortunate distortion and misappropriation of the word 'science' that's been foisted on the populace by certain self-proclaimed 'skeptical' organizations, some of which are just facades for intolerance and suppression of legitimate inquiry.

"That's one of the struggles that [detective] Hoyle deals with -- her fear-based resistance to looking at things with an open mind, all the while telling herself that she's being logical and rational. The noir motifs came into play, in part, because I thought having elements of that period in the story would serve as a potent symbol of her psychological journey.

Detective Hoyle is played by the young Kipleigh Brown. Was Kerwin worried that his lead actress was too young to be a hard-boiled, cynical, world-weary noir detective?

"Not really," says Kerwin. "That's because Hoyle probably isn't a hard-boiled, cynical, world-weary noir detective. Without giving too much away, the reality of the film -- the setting, cars, clothes -- is an archetypal symbol for her journey through her unconscious. One could come to the conclusion that this persona -- this detective, or cop, or reporter, or whatever she is; we never really find out -- could be something that she's constructed. The way she envisions herself in this part of her journey.

"In noir, you've got the gruff, masculine, trenchcoat- and fedora-wearing man's man. You've got the bathycolpian blonde with the gams and glad rags who can flaunt it. The goal was to cast an actress who could play both at the same time. Somebody who can look like a million in an evening gown with a neckline to her navel, but turn around without missing a beat and pump lead from her Smith and Wesson with a flask of bourbon. A 'name' actress couldn't have done it. That would've brought too many preconceptions to the character. We needed somebody who hadn't played a major role before, so the audience could start with a blank slate from the first frame."

 

 

 

 

Yesterday Was a Lie was shot on HD video. Some people say that video can't capture the rich deep blacks and stark whites of film, the high contrasts that noir requires. Was that a concern?

"Before directing this, I was a bit of a film snob," says Kerwin. "I couldn't imagine shooting on video.  But in recent years, image acquisition has improved so much, it's difficult to tell the difference. We shot with the Panavised CineAlta -- the camera that Sony and Panavision invented for Lucas to shoot the Star Wars prequels. Rodriguez uses it all the time -- it was used for Sin City. It's been used in Sky Captain, Avatar, and Ultraviolet, where the visuals are highly stylized.

"It's a stretch to call that 'video.' You're acquiring 24 progressive, high-resolution images per second, with a top-of-the-line Panavision lens and a huge CCD, and storing it as digital data. 'Video' is a bit of a misnomer -- it's more like 'digital film.' 

"I doubt we could have achieved the look of this movie by shooting on film. It would've had to be scanned and heavily manipulated. Film stocks and lenses in the noir period captured images in a way that cameras no longer do. In the 1940s, there was light falloff which resulted in vignetting, and light bouncing off the film base which resulted in halos. That doesn't happen any more.

"The other problem is that innovations in black-and-white film stopped once color came into common use in the 1960s. Black-and-white film stocks today are still very grainy. That's why most modern black-and-white films -- Man Who Wasn't There, Sin City -- shoot in color (either on film or digitally) and then post in black-and-white.  

"Shooting digitally allowed us to do fun stuff in post. We shot with weird or extreme colors on clothing, sets, and even hair. Then Jason Cochard, our DP, color-timed the footage. He adjusted the individual RGB channels before desaturating, so he could make anything in a shot really pop. Like Mik's mustache. He also subtly vignetted the footage.

"After he delivered the graded shots, I duplicated the timeline on top of itself, applied a Gaussian blur, and turned down the opacity of the 'doubled' footage. This simulated the gauzy, dreamy, glowy halo look.

Kewsin says Yesterday Was a Lie cost $200,000 in cash, plus "free stuff" that was donated. "We had 24 days, plus a couple pick-up days, to shoot some 50 locations in Los Angeles, which is theoretically impossible. Many producers either bailed or refused to work on it. They said it couldn't be done. Chase Masterson, who plays the Singer, wound up producing by default -- with line producer Robb Thomas and UPM Thomas Rasera -- because nobody else would touch it.

 

 

Kerwin says Yesterday Was a Lie played "like 55 festivals; and I think we won 25 awards, about a dozen of which were 'Best Feature.' But it took a while for distributors to take a shot at it, because it's a difficult film to categorize. Then it took several months to work out the commercial music licenses, since Chase sings some pre-existing jazz songs in the movie. We're still looking to sell international distribution rights.

"Next is a graphic novel adaptation, from the Abyss Walker Comics imprint of Wandering Sage books, which licensed the rights."

 

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