Transference

It’s a lone beautiful night in LA. One of those grayer days that makes me so happy. It hasn’t rained in what feels like a whole year…and today, the entire city and all the highways were wet.

I was chatting with Alex, the 1st AC for NUNE the other day, he asked me what I was up to. It was 9 in the morning and I told him I couldn’t talk anymore because I had to get to bed. He asked, “What are you in China? Or did you party too hard on Thursday night?”

I told him, “Yeah, I partied all night with Final Cut Pro” (video editing program). He said, “Oh, I see.” I added, “That’s the extent of my sex life…that, and staring at images of Brianna Joy Chomer all day.”

“I see” he said.

LOL.

Carl Jung says that “the creative mind plays with the object it loves” and that is what scientists and artists do all day: they stare at their subjects and turn it in all directions until they understand their masterpiece and their experiments thoroughly.

I love looking at Brianna ‘cause of the Nune character that she played so well. She helped me manifest her with effulgence. I am Brianna’s biggest fan in that regard. And I hope that people will also fall in love with the character.

I’ve been looking at the dailies (raw footage) we filmed of NUNE. They take me places. Even before they are edited, they transport me to a beautiful, ecstatic place. My DP [Director of Photography], Ioana Vasile, was able to intuitively capture the scenes how I wanted. I love working with artists that have a very strong compositional eye and a high regard for aesthetics. She did really beautiful work.

Combined with the imagery is the acting. Some of the scene were carried so well that you could see very clear “sound bites” for a provocative and powerful trailer.

While looking through the dailies, I came across a scene we filmed MOS (without sound) at a subway station. It is one of my favorite images of Brianna sitting on the staircase and it’s so dreamlike. It feels and looks like a dream world because the staircase has words on them: like an Alice in Wonderland sort of thing.

One of the words engraved on the steps said, “Transference.” Pretty heavy, huh?

This is why it was such a cool coincidence:

A while back when we were rehearsing for NUNE, I would go through introductions with actors. The first two girls I originally cast for Nune and Briana, I broke in a different way than I did with Brianna and Jessica (who replaced them). The original leads did not have the maturity to grasp the idea of Transference so I never told them about it. I knew it would freak them out. Maybe not, but I didn’t want to chance it.

With Brianna and Jessica, however, I had a feeling they were spiritually elevated and emotionally evolved…and this evolution is something you can’t teach. You can only recognize it and bring it out.

I told Jessica and Brianna about Transference and at first, they didn’t know what it was but were receptive. Under normal circumstances, it is an extremely UNCOMFORTABLE topic to discuss. But I felt that they could handle it and besides: I’m not normal.

The term “transference” is not very well understood among laymen. When you look it up on wiki, it gives a very heady explanation of it and isn’t very experiential or empirical.

Anyone who has experienced transference will know that it goes something like this:

  • You have a therapist and he or she becomes your ideal. You fall in love with him or her; you start seeing a mother, father figure or Godly deity, Savior or Saint Theresa figure in them—or whatever it is you imagine. The therapist projects the same thing onto you and you fall in love. The power of it lies behind the strength of the ideal “projected” onto the person.
  • You work in a kitchen. It’s hot as hell in there. Everyone works so very closely. The physical energy, the yelling, the intimacy of working in a creatively intense space has no outlet. Suddenly the dishwasher looks cute, so does the chef and the waitress. No one is particularly attractive. But because it’s such a closed environment, everyone falls in love with one another. They get transference over the power play that happens in the kitchen. It happens anytime you have an authority figure in the role of teacher or manager.
  • You’re in prison, a school, a classroom or a small town. It’s where you spend all your time day in and day out. Suddenly, everyone is having sex, yes, even incest. You don’t have to get drunk for someone to start looking cute: you just don’t have an option—so everything starts to look very attractive. You paint ideals onto people whom you’re working closely with. That’s transference. Then you wonder why men start fucking each other up the ass in prison. It’s not just because it’s rape. It’s transference.

Transference doesn’t always have to do with sex. But sex is creative energy, and creativity needs an outlet. Every time you find yourself in an enclosed space with people, there’s bound to be some form of energy exchanged; a repulsion that turns into an attraction, a fear that turns into love and so on. Then there is the “nightingale” complex, where you fall in love with your doctor, dentist, nurse or caregiver. And the Nightingale, I feel is probably the most tender of all Transference because it’s usually a caregiver that knows the deepest secrets of your physical and spiritual ailment than anyone else; they know about you more than you know yourself. And because of this, it is very easy to fall in love with a caregiver. This is probably explains why Larry Flynt ended up marrying his nurse; ‘cause who else could he trust but the person that changes his underwear right? That’s a very intimate thing. Other than yourself, if someone changes your underwear, they may as well have touched your very soul ’cause no one else goes there unless they have permission.

Then there is the Stockholm syndrome; where you fall in love with your perpetrator. All of this is transference.

Psychologists will probably disagree with my description of Transference. For me, the reason Transference in so important to understand in filmmaking is because it’s about the test of transcendence. If you’re able to hold the creative tension between yourself and those you’re working intimately with, you’ve mastered a level of professionalism and in a sense, a form of saintliness. You’ve risen above one totem pole of the human race.

Transference is a real thing. They don’t teach this to you in film, directing or acting classes. Maybe one day they will, I dunno. But I can say that it’s a real thing, so I try to break it to actors when I know I need to develop a very close and unique bond to them. When an actor isn’t prepared for this, the Transference gets to their ego and they feel worshiped or they get scared. Then you get into a power complex, a power play–and that’s bad and shuts down the creative line between the director and actor. For me, there needs to be a falling in love process that happens in the acting process, this is when the camera falls in love with an image. If a director’s eye does not fall in love with the image: it shows on film. There’s no life to the film. It’s just mechanical.

When you don’t know what transference is or that it’s happening: a lot of abuse of power happens and creative energy is wasted in the filmmaking process. People fall in love on film sets all the time. People also use the “casting couch” to get what they want because of transference. Whatever it is that the director projects onto the actor and vice versa is usually some form of transference.

The beauty of understanding transference is that if you realize it’s happening, you can transcend the power struggles. You learn how to catch it while it’s happening and divert the creative energy into the mission of the project, the work of art, or the job at hand. You put all the energy where it belongs.

Transference is a fleeting experience: like being on drugs or falling under an illusion—or a spell. And that spell can work in your favor if you consciously accept that it’s happening—and use it build the magic that’s necessary to achieve a goal.

When actors fall in love on set, or when the crew start fucking one another—there’s a big problem. It brings drama and emotion to the set and that’s always bad for the movie. It’s a bad idea to allow yourself to have these relationships on set if you’re serious about your career. The real use of Transference is to help you hold your space and focus and to transcend the tension—in order to grow.

When I spoke to Brianna and Jessica about it: I told them straight up that I was going to fall in love with them (as the characters) and I would allow myself to do it. I wanted to be clear by helping them understand where I was coming from; that it served my creativity to operate this way—to embrace Transference rather than to unconsciously fall into it. I told them that when it happens, to not be afraid and to try to embrace it. They were cool with it, and with that, I was given permission to stare at them like a cat falling in love with its master.

And when it happened, I knew that I was falling in love with the characters and not the actors because I loved the previous actors the same way. And once the soul of the characters left them and Brianna and Jessica took over, I began to fall in love with how they played Nune and Briana all over again. I acknowledge that the characters are always perfect, but the actors are not. And that is why I can stay in love with the characters.

When I talk about loving the character, it may seem like the actors don’t matter. The truth is, the actors are more than a shell that house the soul of the characters. When an actor makes the characters come alive, this is a very profound gift that I feel indebted toward. I see it as a tremendous offering of love and sacrifice. So I can’t help but love the actors for that.

When Brianna and I went to film the subway scene, I saw the word “Transference” engraved on the steps, I had to get a shot of her sitting there. It was just too perfect and was an inside joke between all of us. It was a priceless experience seeing how this beautiful word had come full circle.

What were the odds of us finding Transference on the steps and to appear in the movie itself? The odds were pretty rare. But equally rare is the ability to transcend Transference. I am proud of Brianna and Jessica. I am proud of us for respecting that delicate thin line that could have tripped us all up.

We Shall,
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