Making a Film for the Really Small Screen

Maria Maggenti, photographed at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

Maria Maggenti, photographed at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Mark Mainz/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Mainz/Getty Images

Filmmaker Maria Maggenti, director of the upcoming big-screen film Puccini for Beginners is one of six filmmakers tapped by Robert Redford's Sundance Institute to produce a short film for mobile phones. She talks about the transition to the very small screen, during a visit to the local electronics store.

"I held the phones up and looked through them to see what it looked like, to see what faces looked like and depth of field," Maggenti tells Renee Montagne, kicking off their interview. "From there I decided that, although both my films feature people who talk, the best way to handle this was to have no dialogue."

I'm holding up the phone right now, and wondering, just what can you see?

I looked around my house, actually, and I thought what can you see here in the house that might work on a small screen. I decided on my seven pound rescue dog, a dog's face. It's a very simple story of dog whose owner goes to work and then the dog takes a tour of Los Angeles. He has a nemesis, which is another dog, also mine. They have an encounter in a scary alley and then my small dog takes off and flies. His name is King Tiny and he is perfect for this kind of film because he has no expression whatsoever, which means I could go back to a very kind of primal film making exercise. Film making is all about editing; it's a juxtaposition of images. The name of my short film is Los Viajes de King Tiny, which means "The Travels of King Tiny."

So the elements are a simple narrative, no or little dialogue, visuals that are very clear and more or less fill up the screen, and easily readable. I guess not a great deal of character development.

It's funny you say that. My editor did say, "Don't forget, we're cutting for performance." How do you cut for performance with a small dog who has virtually no expression on his face? There's not a lot of character development. I was so skeptical of this idea. I was so terrified of it, because I thought this is part of a larger atomization of people, and that means no one gets together, and I really believe in cinema. But I have to say it turned out to be so much fun. I found that people share this material the way they would if they were in a cinema.

They pass it around?

Exactly, they either gather around and look at the phone, or they send it to each other. That means that everyone is having this kind of collective experience.

Though separately?

Though separately. It's a very strange and interesting shift in the transmission of ideas. You can't go away from it and pretend it doesn't exist.

When you read up on this new technology, there are now new words that have entered the lexicon, like "cellywood" and "mobisodes"... now, that one [mobisodes] doesn't sound like it's gonna fly...

I hope not, "cellywood" is funny though. I guess I'm part of "cellywood." ( laughter)

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