Beginning and Ending of ‘Sisters’

Lights, camera, selfie!

‘Sisters’ opens with B-roll of Katie and Jenny interacting; Katie expresses frustration that Jenny does not want to be filmed, we hear Jenny’s nurse in the background saying “You’re a rockstar…you have to be filmed!” This takes us into our opening titles, with V/O from Katie introducing us to herself and her role as both a film student and a big sister. The ¬† V/O runs into Katie’s dad clapping the slate, which takes us into our title credit and then into the story proper.

We wrap up the story with B-roll of Katie entering Ex’pression and explaining that “imagination is the great love of my life” and expressing gratitude that she is able to pursue her artistic aspirations as an Ex’pression student. She says, “Jenny loves me unconditionally and there’s not much more you can ask for than that as a human being.” This takes us into our closing credits.

We will have appropriate musical cues for intro. and end credits.

Jenny's birthday shenanigans

Jenny’s birthday shenanigans

Final Cut Critique Notes

Overall, the feedback on the¬†final cut of the film was very positive. Jerry Smith said we did an “awesome job” and Mike Russell called our final cut a “quantum leap above [the] rough cut.” We definitely need to fix the audio levels; our instructor Jerry Smith had to “ride the fader” throughout the viewing. We need to shrink the Ex’pression logo at the end and make sure that it doesn’t share the screen with any other credits. The end credits felt a bit long and need to be sped up.

Classmate Nzynga Shakur liked our cold open and felt it established Jenny’s character well. (“She’s a drama queen.”)

Classmate Jule Dildine wanted us to hold a bit longer on “Jenny loves Katie” for dramatic effect.

Classmate Brandon Edmonds felt that our Ex’pression entrance B-roll became distracting and instructor Mike Russell suggested a “smoothing voiceover” that ties the end of the film together with the beginning. Mike felt very strongly that we should lose the blank screen and fill it with images, while leaving enough room to allow the story to “breathe” a bit.

Mike further suggested we use music and room tone to smooth audio transitions and help the pacing of the story.

We need to smooth out some of our stills (tighten up the Ken Burns, use dissolves). Jerry wanted us to balance our text effects, keeping in mind how long the effect lasts versus how long the title is complete and readable on screen. The picture-in-picutre effect over Katie’s first interview had an ugly composition and we may decide to lose that segment.

We received reminders from all around that every segment MUST support the core concept, and that each individual segment needs an arc.

Rough Cut (Critique Notes)

The feedback we got on our rough cut was pretty positive overall but there are still some major issues we need to tackle.

  • Clean up the audio (EQ & level everything, add room tone to make abrupt audio cuts less jarring.)
  • Jerry and Mike noted that what we have now is basically only the body of the film; we need to work on a strong intro. and conclusion.
  • The film lacks enough emotional intimacy with Katie; we need to see more of Katie and Jenny interacting, we need to move around “inside Katie and Jenny’s world”
  • All archival photos should conform to 16×9 aspect ratio, fill screen, use Ken Burns effect
  • Start with “Jenny’s relationship w/ Katie”
  • Use voice-over narration, more candid interview clips to give the feel more of Katie’s POV
  • Visuals need to more strongly support audio clips; we need more “behavior” shots of Jenny and Katie, separately and together
  • Katie needs to discuss her childhood, both in terms of Jenny’s disability and in terms of her depression.
  • Ideas: Shots of Katie at Ex’pression, shots of Katie’s personal effects, Jenny’s personal effects (posters on the wall, collages she’s made)
  • TOO STATIC: We need more motion (hand-held camera, follow Katie around, Katie and Jenny moving around the frame)
  • Find and add appropriate music and sound effects to support the story

Inciting Incident

Jennifer Atkinson was born in January 1990. Her parents Jo and Steve knew right away something about Jenny wasn’t quite right, but it took several months before they received her diagnosis. Jenny’s Cerebral Palsy manifests itself in her inability to walk or talk, and her having to be fed via G-tube. Jenny is 24 years old now, and still living at home with Jo, Steve, and her big sister Katie, who is currently attending Ex’pression College.

Katie and Jenny are very close, and Katie wanted to share Jenny’s story. To Katie, Jenny is much more than her CP; she is one of the most fascinating, positive people she knows. Katie was diagnosed with clinical depression when she was 13, and her depression has manifested in multiple hospitalizations. If it weren’t for Jenny, Katie doesn’t know how she would’ve gotten past those hard times. Jenny’s powerful bond with Katie has allowed her sister to see herself as Jenny does: a loving, worthwhile big sister.

Core Concept

Our film is about Jenny Atkinson, a 24-year old living with Cerebral Palsy, and her relationship with her big sister Katie, who suffers from severe depression, and how their relationship has positively impacted both of them.

Using interviews with Katie and her parents, B-roll of Jenny, and archival photographs of the family from childhood to current-day, ‘Sisters’ will remind its audience of the value of gratitude, laughter, and family in the face of extreme personal adversity.

Rough Cut (Thoughts On)

One of the difficulties we had with our rough cut was figuring out how to structure the story of Katie and Jenny’s relationship. Since our story is ongoing, it’s tough to nail down a good ending that leaves the viewer with a solid sense of Jenny’s personality and how her disability has affected the other member’s of her family.

One of the things that definitely needs to be more clearly addressed is Katie’s depression and how Jenny’s disability has changed her perspective on herself and on life in general. We may have to shoot more footage of Katie talking about her depression and how she has learned from Jenny.

We’ve had a hard time getting good candid footage of Jenny because she is very camera-shy and it’s hard to record her surreptitiously. Katie’s found many more archival photos of Jenny growing up, so we will definitely be incorporating those in the final cut.

Another difficulty is getting interview with Jenny’s other sister Sarah, who is currently hard at work as an Environmental Science major at UC Berkeley.

One of the most important things is finding a good balance between the more dramatic elements of the story (Jenny’s severe disability and limitations and the toll it’s taken on her family) and the more lighthearted segments (Jenny’s sparkling personality and the joy she brings to her family and her caregivers.)

We know that one of the biggest themes of our film, and one of our biggest goals, is to remind people not to take their lives for granted, or to make assumptions based on first glances about people like Jenny.

The stories that we tell ourselves matter, and as far as we’re concerned, Jenny’s disability is far from her most interesting characteristic, it’s just one facet of who she is.


Voiceover script

So I didn’t wind up using this for my pitch piece, because I thought I had some interview quotes that worked more effectively.

It changes your life to be a big sister. I was about two and a half when my sister Jenny was born. It took about six months for the doctors to confirm that something was wrong. Jenny has spastic quadriplegia. She’s unable to walk or talk and she eats via a gastronomy tube. She communicates via basic hand gestures: palm curled in up and down for yes, side to side for no. Despite her limitations, Jenny’s taught me so much about appreciating life and not taking things for granted. If my project continues forward into LMW 2, I will be sharing the light she brings by taking viewers on a journey through a day in her life, from waking up early in the morning to catch her AC/transit bus to scrap booking pictures of her many celebrity boyfriends with her nurse.


Interview Questions

1. When did you first suspect that something was wrong?

2. When did you get the diagnosis of CP?

3. What is CP and how does it affect your child (Jenny)?

4. How did you react to the diagnosis?

5. What has been the most challenging thing about raising a child with CP?

6. How has having a disabled child affected your marriage?

7. How has having a disabled child affected your relationship with your other children?

8. What kind of assistance does your child (Jenny) need?

9. What, if anything, has been a positive of having a child with severe disabilities?

10. What have you learned from your experiences raising a child with severe disabilities?