Film: Human Nature

Human Nature was a commission through a department of the NHS that deals with mental health in Devon. It was very low budget, covering one days filming and two days editing (plus expenses).

Our interpretation of the brief was to trace a line from the south coast to the north coast in a single day, approaching random strangers we encountered on the way and asking them an approximation of the following question:

“What is your philosophy on life?”

 

We paused halfway and filmed the sky until the sun broke through. We had planned that much. Why? Well, because that was what the day suggested to us, and because there is beauty in the sky, and it is symbolic of thought, and the sun breaking through the clouds works as a metaphor, and so do the silver linings on the clouds, and the camera left on auto going in and out of focus. It wasn’t planned that way. We shot it like that because it felt like the right thing to do. Pretensions to cleverness can abound in the wake of such moments of inspiration. It can be all too easy to take credit for something, that in truth was suggested by the world, by the subconscious responding to it; the intersection of elements, time and space conspiring.

It was a good day. If nothing else it reminded us of how generous people can be, how open and how genuine. How we have all overcome something to get to where we are. What value there is to be found in reflection and what beauty in the stories of lives.

 

Yours in reminiscence,

Mr X

 

                        all material © 2014

The Magic of Film: Children of the Tide

Back in 2005 I became involved in a collaborative arts project with Phil Smith and Maggi Squires located at Shaldon Primary School, which sits at the mouth of the river Teign in South Devon. We worked with them for a week running a series of workshops that included a mythogeographic survey of the village, the creation of a puppets from gathered materials, poetry making and the creation of a piece of music. These creative explorations culminated in a ritual act of performance which saw 130 children process their puppet avatars to the sea shore and set messages, folded into paper boats, afloat on the waters for the tide to take away to the waiting world. Sadly, due to a omission of planning on our part, the tide, which was coming in, washed straight back onto the red sand in waterlogged clumps, but the sentiment was there, and the rest of the day went as smoothy as these things can.

My role, in part, was to provide a document of the performance in the shape of a film. Of course, I declined to make this a straight forward affair and attempted to integrate as much of the process into some sort of narrative, shaped by the general theme,  described by the children narrating the film.

One month later we returned to show the finished film at the school. We drove through torrential rain to get there, only to discover that the school and much of the village had been evacuated due to a freak flash flood combined with a high tide. Once you have seen the film you will be better placed to understand why this felt quite so significant. It was not until we collectively viewed the film a couple of weeks later that the significance of the films theme came home. It felt  as though we had collectively, albeit unintentionally, designed a magical act that would summon the sea to us in an act of unity.

Of course the whole thing was just a coincidence. Yes, of course it was. Cinema is not a magic act. There just happened to be a high tide combined with a flash flood on the day we planned to show the film. Nothing strange there. Nothing strange at all. Other than the film perhaps. I can’t remember what the children thought of it. I seem to remember a lot of fairly blank stares. I do remember one of the parents telling me that they felt it was a cross between a David Lynch movie and the Blair Witch Project but I can’t remember whether is was supposed to be a critique or a threat. I took as a compliment and have kept it to this day, to share it with you, here.

 

 

Yours dubiously,

Mr X

 

 

                        all material © 2014

 

Play

Something I learned today was that in order to motivate the Korean soccer team to play better during the world cup their coach brought in Starcraft Brood War professional gamers to their locker room before they went out on the pitch in order that they might be directly inspired by their heroes.

This a fascinating fact came from a fascinating film. ‘Free To Play’ documents the first computer game tournament to have a top prize in excess of $1,000,000. It follows the lives of a handful of the individuals playing in the tournament, pitching them as the committed hopefuls they truly are. Their backgrounds each revealing varying degrees of support, exclusion and personal hardship that they had to confront and overcome (and in some cases use computer gaming to distract themselves from) in order to get a chance at the top prize.

The dream of professional gaming is pitched as a worthy one. As one participant remarks, “Getting the chance to be the best at something in life is a rare opportunity.” There is a palpable sense in that moment where one can feel every avid gamer across the land, stung with the prospect of success, sinks their imagination deep into a 6 figure bank account and prays to whatever Gods are capable of indulging them with the dexterity of mind and fingers that will lead them to the ultimate victory.

It is not that I am against dreaming. I still believe that I have what it takes to continue making a living as a creative filmmaker, the difference is that as delusional as I may or may not be I am not being sold the prospect by camera manufacturers.

‘Free to Play’ has been produced by Valve Corporation, a developer of digital games and a distributor – coincidentally they are the developers and distributors of DOTA2, the game around which the tournament in the film is played.

So the cynic in me has to ask the question, to what degree is this corporation marketing gaming as a sport and to what degree will it’s revenue streams increase in the next 10 years as a result? Or are they just identifying a trend and wanting to share the idea with us because, well because they are beneficent and who doesn’t want to hear a story of the individual surmounting the vicissitudes of life against the odds, especially when there is a over half a million quid waiting for you at the end of it. Just for playing computer games?

In defence of the filmmakers they are clear to say that we are not their yet. If you want to get paid you need to win, and keep winning, and their ain’t much going for you past 26, so don’t give up your day job just yet. There is no second league. But the whole thing feels like a long term pitch when one of the coaches mentions that when the gamers of today have children they will be far more inclined to encourage them to pursue a gaming career.

It still begs the question, how many jobs can a professional gaming industry support? Ticket prices for the DOTA2 international ranged between $99 and $499 dollars, and we are talking and arena with capacity for 17,000 people, plus merchandising, hot dogs and cleaners, well, you can do the math, but that is not what I mean. Sure the organises get rich and the staff will get a basic wage, but what I am curious about is the players. How many professional players can this industry support?

Clearly Valve will continue to make a decent living. More gamers playing more of their games on their distribution platform leads to more gamers playing games on their distribution platform.

Sadly I see this industry functioning like so many of the creative and sports industries, well, actually like any industry that isn’t based in a cottage. It is the committed that provide the resources and the energy that then gets harnessed by a few savvy producers and distributors. Like publishers with authors, financiers with filmmakers, record companies with musicians, invariably the same story persists. A handful of creatives make it rich and get held up as the bench mark of what can be achieved “Look at JK, woman’s a billionaire! Book about child wizards! Easy! What are you waiting for?” So while a few persist in attempting to second guess the next zeitgeist in fiction the rest subsist on the vapours that remain of their initial dreams to strive towards the pinnacle of their own creative expression until the harsh realities of life force them to ‘get a proper job.’

What is most telling for me is how stories such as these expose a notion of how society validates play in commercial terms: ‘Players of computer games can now earn $1,000,000. Therefore computer games are a valid use of time.’ And yes, money needs to be earned – or rather, more specifically, we need to convert labour into the material that will facilitate our survival. But are we here just to survive? Once we have learned to survive we naturally improve on the function of our survival and it’s meaning. We attempt to improve. This is the nature and foundation of prosperity, and play is an integral part of prosperity because with perpetual survival comes a sense of safety and security. Play facilitates exploration, and invention. When we loose it, or abandon it, or sacrifice it to survival we have lost an integral part of our capacity as a person: we become diminished. And collectively we have all the means necessary to survive and to prosper. What stops us is the imposed economic measures of governments, the interest rates of banks, the profiteering of megalithic corporations and, to a lesser degree, the lack of our own imaginations. But I digress.

This film does not validate gaming as a devise of play, of exploration, it validates gaming as a commercial enterprise. It validates commercialisation as a means of validation.

But it doesn’t just do that, regardless of how divisive it may or may not be, it does tell an interesting story. As ever, I’ll leave you to make up your own mind.

Definitely worth a watch.

 

Yours effusively,

Mr X

© all material 2014

SCRIPT: Lucky

I wanted to share this with you. It’s not an astonishing piece of work but I do think it is worth a look. I wrote it when I was learning to write film scripts. For me it works because I can still see the film playing out, scene to scene. It is easy to imagine. in part I believe that is due to the writing. It leaves just enough room for the Imagination to fill in the bits left unwritten.

See what you think.

Lucky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

@ All Material 2014

Ideoforming – Part One: Fresh Gravity

For those amongst you who are disposed towards simple explanations Ideoforming is the act of making something from an idea. An Ideoform is something that has been made in such a way.

This Manifesto was written prior to the advent of Mobile Phones possessing the technical capacity to capture decent videographic images and audible sound so might appear a bit out of date. At the time though it was so cutting edge practically everyone I knew ignored it. So it can be. All ideas have their time. It was designed to be a bit of fun and, like the best boundaries, it was self imposed and designed to provoke creative approaches to solving problems around making films on a low budget. It is provided here for academic purposes and in the in the vain hope that the application of obscure methodologies of filmmaking will help make the world a better place to which to live.

Spontaneous Regards,

Mr X

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An Alpinist Manifesto for Film.

‘Short is the little time which remains to thee of life. Live as on a mountain.’  Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

In 1954 the Austrian mountaineer Herman Bhul struck out for the summit of Nanga Parbat on his own. He carried no bottled oxygen, no tent, no sleeping bag and very little food. Returning to camp some 41 hours later, having soloed the summit, he was the first person to make an ‘Alpine style’ ascent of a Himalayan peak. Prior to this the strategy for climbing in the Himalaya was to lay siege a mountain, to edge ones way up a mountain, ferrying supplies up to ever higher camps until the summit could be reached.

Similarities can be draw to the act of filmmaking. At the time of writing The Fresh Gravity Film Manifesto Digital filmmaking was still in it’s infancy. It was just possible to edit the footage one had just shot on a laptop. No editing suit or movie studio was needed to lay siege to a story in quite the way it had for so many years before. And yes, there are plenty of examples of filmmakers working on the fly over the years but to focus to strongly on them would just spoil the conceit. So let us say, at least until the end of this page, that with the advent of digital technology, Alpinist filmmaking was born.

Tongue in cheek as it is, the manifesto is designed to stretch the skills and capability of the filmmaker, to force one to think ahead, to sharpen the focus and to attempt to maintain a strenuous pace from beginning to end.

The idea of making a film in 48 hours or less is not an uncommon condition for filmmaking competitions these days, and I imagine that severe time restraints are employed in film schools to a greater or lesser effect in pushing students to wards the boundaries of their own creative capabilities. However, The Fresh Gravity Film Manifesto goes a step or two further. Whether it will ever lead to the creation of a masterpiece remains to be seen. I suspect that we might have to wait some time. 

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THE FRESH GRAVITY FILM MANIFESTO

An Alpinist Manifesto for Film

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We live in a culture where, through hard work and persistence it is possible for almost anyone to attain the fundamental hardware to make movies.

The Alpinist film maker must aspire to become the holy trinity: Writer, Producer and Director.

As within the sphere of alpinism there are stylistic considerations to be made as some forms being said to be purer than others. Of the rules that follow only the first three are essential for a film to be called Alpinist. The further down the list one progresses the purer the end result might be said to be.

  1. You and your team must be able to carry all their equipment with them on their backs and will not return home until all filming is complete.
  2. Neither you or your team will receive support of any sort from outside the team.
  3. The production team must not exceed three people.
  4. Always aim to solo a film. The only time you should work in a team is when alternative shots are needed. Therefore every member of your production team will be found carrying a camera or sound recording equipment.
  5. You, your team and your equipment will have the capacity to film for as long as needs be.
  6. When faced with a decision on shooting you must always attempt to take the shot as directly as possible.
  7. Neither you or your team will re-shoot footage.
  8. No Tripod may be used.
  9. Do not change your environment to achieve a desired shot. Accept your conditions and adapt.
  10. Shoot in sequence.
  11. Edit your film before you return home.
  12. Do not sleep.

Respect personal freedom and privacy at all times.

Measure your achievements against yourself.

Test the limit of your being.

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All Material © Clive Austin 2014