Follow stupid rules and you get a stupid film.

Something I’d like to build into my filmmaking practice in time for the third year of my Moving Image degree is time for reflection before presenting the ‘finished’ film to tutors and fellow students (I imagine this practice will continue but I don’t know for sure). It’s now a week since I presented House Boat Train and I have come to realise this: follow stupid rules and you get a stupid film. I based my process on John Cage’s process, but the reflection has taught me something: avoiding or distancing is like doing nothing. I was avoiding making decisions in this final project after reading the feedback on the project before in which the acting was criticised. I suppose I felt the criticism was unfair (and it wasn’t mentioned in the final critique) and it wasn’t supported with evidence of what ‘good’ acting is. I chose to distance myself from the film in order to avoid that sort of criticism. To be fair, it was a very busy time and I was feeling the pressure to make a decision on what my dissertation would be about at the same time.

This reflection has shown me something interesting about following stupid rules. I don’t like my film. It doesn’t do much but it does show me that following stupid rules is pointless in editing, and also in other areas of life so in that respect it was a success.

Anyway, here’s the film:

Rules for editing film

After reflecting on John Cage’s musical compositional style, I decided to create some rules to compose my film edit. I brushed up on reading musical notation by looking at Ken Davies’ website and Music Mind website. I labelled each of my forty six film clips with a number: 01 to 46. I took the first four beats from each clip and placed them in a ‘raw footage’ sequence in Adobe Premiere Pro. Here are photos describing the process I used to make my film:

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I used six musical notes to decide on the length of clip; three of them were silent to represent black screen.

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I cut out paper squares.

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I wrote the numbers of clips and drew the musical notes on the squares of paper.

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I folded the squares and placed them in cups (separate cups for film clip numbers and musical notes).

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I pulled a number from one cup and a note from another until I felt I had enough for a short film sequence.

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I added the clips to the visual track and if the note was silent I made the clip transparent (you can see this by the position of the yellow line).

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I marked off each note so that I knew where I was in the process.

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I did the same for the audio track.

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I wrote some of the thoughts that I had whilst carrying out the monotonous repetitive work:

“as I drag the opaque bar down to zero, making the image disappear, a panic clutches me.”

“relief: the next note is not silent.”

“I imagine the final crit and Matthew dismissing the work in some way.”

“John Cage: “I have nothing to say and I am saying it”. His 4’33″ consisted of actual musical silences and a pianist sat at a piano and read the music until it was finished.”

“doing this with the film footage might render my journey to obtain it pointless.”

“seems perverse.”

“I recognise some of the shots as ones I like and feel sad they won’t be seen.”

“I wonder what this will be like to watch.”

“I wonder if I will make meaning from the result.”

“it doesn’t matter how it turns out. It’s just a bunch of numbers and notes.”

“it’s just a series of repetitions: look at number and note type, select number of notes, copy them, paste them, turn opaque down if instructed, mark paper to show where I’ve got to.”

“I wonder how long the film will be.”

“images can be manipulated to show things that aren’t/weren’t there.”

“I know what that image is!”

“some of these tiny images look beautiful.”

“I’m near the end!”

“John in Bristol.”

“folly. This is folly. And so is everything else but stuff that’s purposeful appears not to be folly when it is.”

“motorbike sound outside: remembering the anticipation of John arriving on his motorcycle.”

“Edmund in his lycra outfit scootering around Enterprise Point.”

“Lauren in fairy wings scootering around Enterprise Point.”

“Father Christmas.”

I watched the visual track once I’d added the notes. I wrote this: “it’s a bit like setting up a line of dominoes; the anticipation has been building during the editing process.”

 

Tutorial

I didn’t have much to show in my tutorial. Last night I edited all the film clips I had together in a line, which amounted to 15 minutes in length. My tutor seemed disgruntled that I hadn’t gotten any further with it since last week; however, I’ve been reading lots and reflecting and that is just as important in a process as doing.

Ways of editing / disseminating film

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I could make two short films, showing one after the other: the house in Basingstoke could be set against sounds that grow in intensity before giving way to the boat in Oxford with gentler sounds. Then I could do the same thing the other way around.

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A way of exhibiting/disseminating that mirrors exclusion in capitalism: make a set of rules that require a need for a smartphone to capture a QR code to watch the film.

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Another way of exhibiting: create two structures inside an art gallery; one is a house and the other a boat. Inside the structures show video of a house and a boat (the boat in the house and the house in the boat). I looked up dictionary definitions of “investigate” and “explore”:

Investigate: to inquire into to study in order to ascertain facts or information.

Explore: 1. to seek for something or after someone. 2. To examine or investigate something systematically. 3. To travel somewhere in search of discovery. 4. To examine diagnostically. 5. To (seek) experience first hand. 6. To be engaged exploring in any of the above senses. 7. To wander without any particular aim or purpose.

 

Watch “American Masters John Cage- I Have Nothing to Say…” on YouTube

This is a documentary about John Cage and his musical practice. I watched it after watching the video of a performance of Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra. During the documentary a performance of 4’33″ is given: a pianist sits at a piano and reads the notes; each note is silent. John Cage composed these silent notes. The audience sits and watches the pianist read the music.

I didn’t know before there was an actual musical composition consisting of silent notes. It makes the piece very interesting. How do we know the pianist is reading the notes and not thinking about his dinner? What if he loses concentration? The piece might last longer. It’s intriguing that he opens and closes the piano lid during the performance. I wonder what that’s about. John Cage’s music seems haphazard when listening to it, but his instructions are very precise. He uses chance (the i-Ching) to devise the compositions. It seems like a concentrated, repetitious way of working.

John Cage – Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra

I watched this video after reading John Cage’s Queer Silence by Jonathan D. Katz in Writings Through John Cage’s Music, Poetry, and Art edited by David W. Berstein and Christopher Hatch (2001, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press). Katz mentions the Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra a few times in his essay, highlighting the use of silence. Cage recognised “silence is coterminous with sound” (p: 51).

I wanted to experience his music and I found it pleasing, disturbing, and thought-provoking.