Watching Tenet During the Pandemic

It’s been a weird year. But even for 2020, September 9 was an outlier as the sky turned orange in Berkeley because of the ash from the California wildfires. There’s just something undeniably surreal when the entirety of your world looks completely different from anything you’ve ever seen before.

Like a lot of people, I’d been struggling with the challenges of 2020 and September hit me particularly hard. We weren’t even done with the year and then the whole state catches fire?! But something about the weirdness of that day made me … well, not exactly hopeful, but it did make me feel like change was in the air. And I felt like I wanted to do something adventurous.

So I decided to drive my family an hour and a half to a drive-in theater in Sacramento to go watch Tenet.

It was amazing. The movie was everything I was hoping for. More than that, I felt like the world was still full of possibilities. And for the first time in a long time, I felt inspired to work on another personal project: a video about Tenet using the time travel mechanics of that movie’s universe.

This was going to be one of my most ambitious videos so I had to do a huge amount of planning. I had to plan out all the time-streams and figure out where to break them so I could splice them back together. I also needed to be precise about stage directions because I had to shoot everything in a single day so that my camera would be consistent for all the shots.

But another huge challenge was that I needed to do the main section in a single take. That meant memorizing and performing a couple minutes of dialog and action without making any mistakes. It was particularly hard because I had to pause and react to imaginary versions of myself. Also, I’m not the greatest at memorizing dialog and motions, so I had to rehearse a bunch and did many, many takes.

In the end, I managed to get a few decent takes and then came all the editing. A green screen or some software to automatically extract the background would have been great, but I didn’t have those so I manually rotoscoped a bunch of stuff for hours in Final Cut Pro X. In the process, I discovered that my camera had moved slightly in between and the lighting changed significantly while shooting.

But you know what? I’m pretty happy with the result. It’s not perfect and I don’t think a lot of people are going to see it, but I accomplished what I had set out to do: make a video with cool time travel mechanics about a movie that I delighted in experiencing.

If you’re curious and you’ve seen the movie, here’s my final video. If you’ve seen the video, here’s some director commentary:

  • The scene where I get the hat? I performed it backwards so that I dropped it after wiggling my fingers. Then I reversed it in the edit so that it would look like I wiggled my fingers and it popped into my hand.
  • The second time the hat pops into my hand, I’m actually using my other hand from offscreen to throw it.
  • The “oxygen mask” is actually just an N95 mask taped to an extension cord.

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