Dreams of Electric Shadows

The whole of human history is built on stories. Fabricated or substantiated, be it told through the spoken word, the stricken stone or the inked page the telling of stories constructed an age old narrative illustrating the wonders and mundanities of the human paradigm. Like the prose of a Greek epic there is a stanzaic rhythm to the rise and fall of a human life. There are characters, motivations, story beats and action beats. Beginnings, middles and ends; from life to life the story continues and it has fascinated me since as far as I could remember. I came from a family of storytellers. Familial gatherings were a swap-meet of people, places and events traded hand to hand like cards in a children’s game. Being more of an introvert when compared to my extended family, I’ve long since assumed the written word as the vessel through which I tell my stories. However I have another preoccupation that has existed within me since childhood: a love of film. The written word made manifest with color, sound and substance in mystifying spectacle. As such, that is what I’ve chosen as my means of making a living telling my stories. My name is Philip Grippi and I dream of electric shadows.
Before I explain what electric shadows means, as I’m sure that’ll be confusing, at least initially for any potential readers, I’d like to tell a small story about an afternoon in my life. It a few years ago, possibly my high school senior year if my memory serves me correctly. It was good friend of mine’s birthday, and as was common with the friend he didn’t see fit to tell me about his party until the afternoon before. Luckily I was home on vacation so I took a walk to the local Dollar Store to pick him up a card with whatever pocket money I had left over from Christmas. While there I came across a few items that I decided to pick up for other people in my life, paid and left. Aside from the card I purchased a set of steak knives for my sister’s new house and a funky glass owl for my Grandmother (she likes owls). During the walk home I pondered over the contents of the plastic shopping bag slung over my arm and came to two thoughts; the first being that if I were to be mugged I’d probably owe that mugger an explanation. The second thought was slightly more profound. I realized that my life, at that moment, all the changes and shifts in status quo that were occurring, were being held in that bag. The card was for my friend’s 18th birthday…only a few months before my own, then to be swiftly followed by graduation. The steak knives were for my sister, with whom I share a close relationship, who had moved away from home not too long before that day. I bought the owl for my grandmother because she was grieving, along with the entirety of my family, over the loss of my Grandfather only a few months prior. So many changes had occurred or were about to occur in my life that year, and these changes seemed to have been wrapped up in the plastic bag slung over my elbow. The idea of symbolism in real life was revelatory to me. I had always enjoyed hearing and telling stories (I had already decided to be a film maker) but I have never looked at life as a story until that day. It changed my understanding of everything and only served to strengthen my resolve to make my stories known. Now back to electric shadows.
The term “electric shadows,” according to Yingjin Zhang’s “Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai”, is an English translation of the mandarin phrase “Dian ying,” the Chinese term for movies. This fact is among many that I have accumulated throughout my ongoing education on the analysis of film as an continuously evolving art form. In terms of an institutional acquisition of knowledge my education began in the fall of 2010 with the first of four consecutive semesters at Suffolk County Community College. I started in a community college because of it’s affordability, having been accepted to Five Towns College (well known for it’s in depth film programs) and not wanting to be in crippling debt in a career that is so difficult to break into. It was at SCCC that I met a number of like minded friends upon joining the campus’ Digital Filmmaking Club with whom I’ve formed a network of potential professional contacts. On top of have four core film analysis classes took under their liberal arts program (with a Cinema Studies emphasis) I also took a few digital film making classes where I learned a basic understanding of there technical functions of the film making process under Professor Earnst Starr. I learned about shot composition and general rules of cinematography like the 180 degree rule (according to Boss Foss’s “Filmmaking: Narrative & Structural Techniques the 180 degree line represents and invisible point of reference for when cutting to various perspective of a shot. So as to not create visual confusion the shots cannot cross that line unless the camera physically dolly’s-moves fluidly-over the line). I also learned historical movements in film that would shape the ways in which I would seek to approach my storytelling. For example, in Gerald Mast and Bruce Kawin’s “A Short History of the movies,” they tell of the german expressionist movements and the Russian Kuleshov workshops. German Expressionism, as the name would suggest, was a movement in the early twentieth century Germany that involved the externalization of the internal on film: in laymen terms abstractions like thought or emotion were represented through artistic visuals, most plainly seen films like the “Cabinet of Doctor Caligeri” and “Nosferatu.” The Kuleshov experiments were enacted by Russian Film theorists to test the effects montage (the sequential cutting and editing of images) would have on the an audiences viewing, resulting in films like “Battleship Potemkin.”
After two years I transferred to Stony Brook University (again, because it’s cheaper than film school) and enrolled in their Cinema and Cultural Studies major, the department of which is headed by Professor Rainford Guins. While Stony Brook’s CCS curriculum doesn’t break much ground in the ways of film production education, I have taken a number of enlightening film analysis/history courses such as Chinese Cinema (where I learned the “electric shadows” tidbit), cinema and the ancient world (which analyzed the ways in which film reflected the stories and aesthetics of ancient civilizations in relationship contemporary sociopolitical climates), writing about cinema and theorizing cinema (in which I wrote many analytical papers on topics ranging from meta-fiction, horror, mob and sports film cliches, and even made a short film entitled “The Pirate and the Scribe”). Through these classes I gained a more intimate understanding of the sociopolitical subtexts of film and how it can act as a reflection of society as well as the dynamic relationship between a film and it’s audience. I’ve also broadened my studies to a wider scale of entertainment media. Classes like Media Analysis have taught me to look towards television and even the social networking capabilities of the internet to distribute the materials I seek to create.
My personal “self-education” in the field of film has been ongoing since middle school when I discovered that my similarly aged cousins Ryan and Nick made movies in their spare time. Through them, my cousin Ryan specifically, I rationalized my loves of storytelling and movies into a singular prospective career path. Having grown up on high-concept fantasy/ science fiction fare like Star Wars, Monster Movies and comic books I’ve grown and studied with thought of making the kinds of movies that I would want to see, tell the stories that I’d want to be told. These tastes go beyond giant monsters and space battles however. The films I dream of making represents people and characters that reflect what I want to see in the world. Film maker Kevin Smith, in his Campus Q & A Tour “An Evening with Kevin Smith,” perfectly illustrates how I view the art of film making:
“I always like to think of it as like, I’ve got ’em sittin’ there, whip a little message at ’em. Whip a little moral at ’em. Whip a little of what my view of the world is. Because that’s what every good filmmaker does. You can’t change the world. You can’t cure the world. All you can do is be like, “This is it through my eyes. Do you agree or not agree?”
My only ambition is for my own values and philosophies (progressive gender politics, equal rights, ect.) to be reflected in my work without alienating it’s viewers. My first priority must be to entertain, maintaining a balance between spectacle and substance. My cinematic self-education has even occupied the professional spheres of my life for the past four years. My first job out of High school was in my town’s Blockbuster where I worked for about a year before leaving because of the company’s bankruptcy. After leaving Blockbuster I found a job at the local Multiplex Island 16 where I’ve been working as a Box Office Cashier for three years and counting while I attended school. The perks of free, unimpeded access to movies new and old, commercial and independent/arthouse allowed me a wide selection from which to form an expansive and cultured knowledge-base of the medium beyond the theories and time-lines taught in school textbooks and lectures.
In my own time I’ve studies the mechanics of screenwriting with various books like Syd Field’s “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting” where I learned the importance of the three act structure in film as well as how to formulate 3-dimensional characters through an in-depth planning process before actually penning a draft. I’ve also studied the mechanics of storytelling in general through Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” In this book Joseph Campbell dissects the recurring archetypes and themes throughout the various myths and legends and even written fictions throughout history into today. He calls this concept the “monomyth,” citing one particular recurring theme called “the Hero’s Journey.” The Hero’s Journey follows a chain of events and character growth undertaken by most fictitious heroes in some way or another (Heracles, Jesus Christ, Bilbo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, ect). With this research in mind I’ve written various short films like “The Pirate and the Scribe” which I mentioned earlier and one that remains un-filmed entitled “Theatricality.” I’ve involved myself in the projects of friends that I’ve made in class at both Suffolk Community College and Stony Brook University. I’ve also worked backstage for a “Pat-Med Idol 2011” show at my old High School and helped coordinate a film festival on the SB campus in Fall of 2013. at my For the past few months I’ve been maintaining an online blog (DapperFowl.wordpress.com) for the purpose of writing critical reviews for various Television shows and Films that I watch (Occasionally I’ll post a general paper on film/TV theory) or even a stage show (like a telecast of the opera “Eugene Onegin” that I saw that last Fall).
Now with my time enrolled under Stony Brook University’s growing nearer to it’s conclusion I find myself evaluating the path’s I’ve taken and will need to take in the future that lies in the rapidly shrinking distance. I believe the city is the right place to start. New York City is haven for the uninitiated, playing host to several television studios such as NBC, AMC and the various properties of VIACOM. I feel like television is the best place to start as it represents a more steady flow work rather than living screenplay to screenplay, without the certainty of actual revenue. In television there are internships and positions among entire teams of writers for popular shows. I started my aforementioned blog to satisfy the requirements of a media introductory course at Stony Brook but have since maintained it for the purposes of building up a portfolio of written journalistic endeavors so that if the hunt for internships turns up little reward I can try finding work as a film critic. I’ll have to spread my feelers throughout the network of friends I’ve made (some of whom already operate in the city, including both of my cousins). However I do recognize the reality that I will eventually have to travel to California if I want my career to gain any significant traction, as Hollywood is obviously the epicenter of film activity in the United States. I’ve also considered Vancouver, Candada as possible future destination due to it’s high circulation of television production work.
Wherever I’m necessitated to go, it’s quickly becoming time for me to branch out and make a media persona. I must take the body of work I’ve amassed over these past five or so years, as well as the knowledge I’ve acquired by ways of personal experience as well as through institutional means, to establish myself as a recognizable asset and commodity to studio executives and audiences. It’s time for my stories to be told.

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