Making The Monk
From the moment she decided to devote herself to this project, Zoë knew she wanted to make the film as authentic as possible. Her unofficial goal became to make a film that could very effectively "pass" as a film from the 1920's - a film that had no evidence of being made in the 21st century.
In order to achieve this authentic look, Zoë chose to limit herself as much as possible to the technology available to filmmakers in the 1920s. Perhaps most importantly, this meant shooting on on real (reel) film. Through the Dartmouth Film Studies department, she was able to obtain a Arriflex 16 Camera from Western Germany and tested out several film stocks, eventually settling on 16mm Black and White Tri-X Reversal film. The Tri-X Reversal was best able to capture the deep saturated shadows and the glowy whites that she wanted.
Shooting on real film meant only three minutes of film per roll, changing rolls in complete darkness, memorizing how to string the film through the inside mechanisms of the camera without the aid of eyesight. It also meant not
knowing how a shot had just turned out – there is no ability to rewind or preview what had just been filmed. In terms of preparation and efficiency, real film holds your feet to the fire in a way that digital does not.
After filming, each roll was sent to a lab in Boston where it was processed and digitized, then sent back in the form of a reel and a file on a harddrive. The film was edited digitally – physically cutting the film was an option, but one that would have required more time and resources than was available. Because the film had been converted to digital, Zoë had the ability to edit on her laptop wherever she was.
Once a rough cut was put together, Zoë enlisted her good friend (and filmmaking partner from childhood) Elizabeth Boardman to compose an original score. Elizabeth had a near impossible task – to write a score for a 40-minute silent film that would not sound out of place in a 1920s expressionist horror film, and simultaneously be inspired by Medieval Spanish religious music. Not only was she working with this unweildy concept, she did so with very little time and external resources. Once the score was composed, Elizabeth and four other musicians graciously volunteered their time and talent to record a take of the score. This one-time recording is what is used in the film, and has been universally praised by those who have heard it.
For more information on the making of The Monk, see the Q&A video below: