Resident Video is a monthly series that provides exclusive access to films from emerging artists. This month we bring you Ryan Ohm’s Finn and the Sea of Noise.
Finn and the Sea of Noise, this month’s resident video, is a coming of age story in a similar vein as Penelope Spheeris’ Suburbia. Finn and his friends, locally known in their hometown for their hard-partying lifestyle, are spending the summer reinforcing their reputation when a tragic event unexpectedly unfolds before their eyes. The experience doesn’t seem to affect the group, except Finn, whose life may never be the same.
Shot on HD video and Hi-8 tape, Finn and the Sea of Noise is a fantastic first feature film from previous Resident Video filmmaker, Ryan Ohm. The film showcases great performances along with intricate cinematography that transports us to a simpler time of being young and careless. Sporting an original score and a soundtrack featuring rising indie rock bands such as Twin Peaks, Empires, and Eagulls, Ohm’s debut feature film has the ability to take you somewhere warmer this winter. So postpone the fifth viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life, roast some chestnuts on an open fire, and enjoy this month’s resident video, Finn and the Sea of Noise.
In the interview below, we speak with the Ryan Ohm (writer, director, editor), Hersh Chabra (musical score), Jackson James (director of photography) and Scotty Smith (producer) about their inspiration and experiences working on the film.
Found footage is a technique popularized by horror films but accomplishes something similar in Finn & the Sea of Noise by making the film feel more “real.” What drove you to include this style of filmmaking in a coming-of-age drama?
Ryan Ohm (writer/director/editor): It felt way more real to me. Being a big fan of smaller budget cinema and horror, I always admired found footage techniques and how they could be cheap but effective. But, overall the realness and just plain rawness is what always hit me strongest. This was also my first time directing and writing for long-form storytelling – so I think using found footage, as well as what we deemed the ‘Dadcam’ (aka a hi-8 camera where the actors would shoot the scenes themselves while the crew hid off-screen), really gave the film a bit of an unhinged tone, that perhaps otherwise wouldn’t be possible.
After witnessing a drive-by shooting, Finn’s relatively safe suburban existence comes face-to-face with the horrors of the real world. In a sense, this collision of realities is the crux of Finn’s personal crisis. Do you find that disenchantment is a necessary ritual or rite of passage for someone to truly grow up?
RO: Yes and no. I started writing Finn when I was 19 or so. I was not grown up. I’m still working on it, really. So, I can’t really answer that definitively, but it’s a very likely theory. Definitely leaving what’s comfortable and entering a new place is a big part of it for a lot of folks, whether it’s physically moving or a mental shift. In Finn’s case, he was so frozen in a hazy house party of a snowstorm that he needed something so intense but organic as death to shake heat into his bones. He made the shift mentally first and then finally realized he needed the physical move to keep engaging himself forward, even if it meant leaving some heavy comfort behind.
Time is a bit strange in the film. It’s hard to figure out if some scenes were shot at dusk or dawn, creating the sense of a never-ending day. This, along with the foggy look to certain scenes, really drives home the sense of Finn’s lack of control. What other techniques did you use to bring out the right look and feel of Finn’s story?
RO: Jackson James, our Director of Photography, and I wanted to create this feeling where the audience is left unsure if hours or days have passed since the last scene. An endless, drifting hangover stuck at dusk or dawn or somewhere in between. Jackson used a softening filter (sometimes cleverly gaff taped to the lens in lieu of us having a fitting matte box the whole shoot) and we tried to shoot during the ‘magic’ hour as much as possible, as well as the moments before and after. Basically, any chunk of natural light that sounded nice: dusk, dawn, twilight, magic hour, golden hour, etc. haha. Then, in the edit, a lot of these scenes were placed back to back without heavy concern if ‘time’ makes sense, leaving some transitions a bit more open ended on a larger time scale than others. On the image end of post, I wanted to create a weird world of saturation and a dirty, organic kind of image quality, like a fresh sunburn coated in mud. So there’s a lot of fun and experimentation going on in the color grade, definitely pushing the footage as far as we can.
Jackson James (director of photography): There’s a certain type of movement I think I kind of absorbed from Ryan in the time we’ve worked together that certainly found its way in, which is this sort of swirling and directionless camera movement. Pushing in and out slightly, or even taking half-steps in a circular motion throughout a shot are things I think had been pretty essential to a lot of the videos we had done at that time, and that particular practice definitely found its home in Finn. It helped, in my opinion, create that sort of sense of idleness in a very practical way, having the camera almost fidgeting in each scene in this way that gives a scene or shot a sort of brooding, dramatic tension that just goes back and forth, never going anywhere but just swirling in one spot.
Filtration definitely played a role in the look for sure, along with shooting the majority of the film a stop underexposed to be brought up in post. There were very less-than-creative reasons for doing so (e.g. we just really liked how foggy a Black Promist 2 filter looked or we didn’t have fast enough lenses to shoot in natural light) but those elements I think added something, as (slightly) unintentional as they were at the time. It created, like you said, this sort of never-ending day. I think the sort of burnt out, hazy, and dim visuals kept everything a bit ambiguous, and made the story feel a bit like it was being recalled from the memory of someone who drinks a lot.
The hand-held camcorder footage added a very interesting dimension to the film, and while the acting was very natural throughout, they have an added sense of “authenticity.” How much planning went into the camcorder scenes?
JJ: None at all, really. Well, they were scripted loosely but not much at all, and they definitely didn’t stick to the script too much. We basically would just give them the Hi-8 camera and have everyone on the crew go to the backyard or hide upstairs. We didn’t really know where they’d point the camera and when so it was easier to just give them their space. In hindsight, think it obviously helped the scene feel more genuine, as well, to not have a bunch of crew standing around. John, Tyson, Abbas and Michael had control of every aspect the scene, and they did a great job with it!
On some level, Finn’s life is like a Descendants record – fast, fun, and full of suburban ennui. The music of your score is intermixed with the soundtrack reflects this really well, with tracks from Chicago-based bands Twin Peaks and Empires, as well as Eagulls from across the pond. Can you talk about how the score and soundtrack coexist in the film?
Hersh Chabra (score composer & recordist): Ryan was really the one who finalized the soundtrack in the way of juxtaposing my compositions with the rock music. We definitely discussed the intentionality of having the score be without too much rhythmic motion, and it sort of created the “color” or backdrop sonically while the rock songs gave the film more of the “motion”. This worked really nicely for pushing an emotional gap between things like being out, in social situations, being sort of overstimulated in large groups of people, with drugs and the sort of slowness of everyday life, of love, of being hungover and wasting away.
Nostalgia is something we all experience but not something that can be created so easily. For example, it’s simple to trigger feelings of the 80’s by using synthesizers or the 70’s with groovy bass lines. However, the score to Finn & the Sea of Noise feels unfastened to any specific decade. What was your process behind creating a score that captures the zeitgeist of our teenage years?
HC: The soundtrack for Finn was written almost exclusively on two cheap synthesizers and a looping pedal, all based on improvisations. Playing a keyed instrument was something I am familiar with, but not technically proficient at, and that’s definitely something that informed the pieces used in the film. The majority of the score was edited by Ryan, he would come to my space, we would drink a lot of coffee and go through some of the improvisations, he would give me some input, and I’d rework it – generally just starting with a loop, adding layers and then recording that for as long as I wanted, then dubbing more layers on top, taking layers and loops in and out on the computer and finalizing a composition that way. I didn’t have a good audio interface or software at the time so we would watch the film on VLC media player and I would create as much of the music in real time, trying my best to capture the feeling it gave me.
What made working on Finn memorable or stick out as unique to you?
Scotty Smith (producer): The biggest thing I took away from ‘Finn’, was how it all started with trying to make a feature film on a small budget but immediately turned into a summer camp. While we worked day-in and day-out, whether it be budgeting, scheduling, transportation logistics; it always came back to having a good time and taking in the day. We all created an environment where if we worked long days and nights, it didn’t matter. You always wanted to come back to set the next day. It felt like we were taking on the themes of the film and cherishing these moments of freedom that only independent guerrilla filmmaking can offer. I learned more about filmmaking that summer than my entire four years at film school. It also reminded me why I got into filmmaking in the first place.
A super rad limited VHS edition of Finn and the Sea of Noise is available through Weird Life Films, check it out here.
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Resident Video series. While the films are no longer available, the interviews remain. Forever.