Collaboration: journal 31 October 2013

Chris, Helen and I went to Devil’s Dyke on Sunday 27 October to film. Chris wore a business suit and Helen was dressed appropriately for the weather in a North Face jacket, leggings, Hunter wellingtons and a hat and scarf. Chris brought his tent with him and we were to film them trying to put it up in the derelict building at the top of Devil’s Dyke.  I asked them to use dialogue as little as possible (I wanted gestures and facial expressions rather than dialogue), but if it felt truthful to the emerging narrative then speaking would be fine. They spoke during most of the filming and were unable to realise the purpose I’d imagined for the film.

I asked Helen and Chris to research and let me know about their characters’ backgrounds before the day of the shoot but had received no response from Helen and Chris gave a little information before suggesting we talk about it in the car on the way to Devil’s Dyke. In the car, Chris shared the backstory for his character, Hugo: the land belonged to him – a legacy from his father, who was an abusive man – and, as a child, he used to go there to get away from the violence at home. Helen’s character, Cate, it was decided, is Hugo’s sister-in-law and her husband killed himself after their divorce. Her income has dwindled and she is considering downsizing to a smaller house with her three children, who she pulled out of boarding school before the divorce. Neither Helen nor Chris could understand why their characters would self reflect and come to take responsibility for their parts in the unfair socioeconomic system.

A narrative was created whereby Hugo asked Cate to move in with him and his elderly mother; he needed someone he could trust to look after her. Cate felt affronted at becoming a “glorified housekeeper” while living rent-free. Later, Hugo stated he has a terminal illness, which he’d like to keep secret from his mother because the death of another ‘child’ would “break her heart”. He tries to coerce Cate into pretending he has gone on a long business trip but Cate refuses; she gives him an ultimatum: if he does not tell his mother, she will. He agrees.

This narrative ties in with the idea of ‘woman at the heart of the home’, but it is not the narrative I wanted to work with. There were some ideas around money present in the dialogue, particularly with Cate telling Hugo she doesn’t care about money – truth is more important to her. Death seems to be an important theme and it is a subject I wanted to explore in film, so I’m going to play with that and see what I can do with the material I recorded. I’m not sure, at the moment, how this film relates to the Homemaking and Unmaking module or whether it should be included for assessment for that module. As an aside, the seminar was upsetting; it was about home as an unsafe place, and the nature of exile and displacement. The artist, Mona Hatoum, struck me; she made things to represent the feeling of living in a refugee camp. The things looked like household objects but they were slightly off in ways that were potentially dangerous.

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Collaboration: Facebook email conversation Wednesday 30 October 2013

Julia Fry:

Hi guys,

This is in response to a text from Helen and my reply grew into a reflection on the filming process so I thought I’d move it here instead and open it to comments:

“Hey Helen, I don’t know about “should”. Is there a correct way to feel? My mum used to think so and, of course, the way I was feeling was always incorrect. I know the way I was feeling on Mon morning (a bit down) and the way I felt on Mon night (inspired by the Wim Wenders film) and both of those were appropriate. I’m quite good at finding ways of coping and working with what I’ve got instead of insisting on my vision when I work with people. I think, if I hadn’t felt so time pressured I would have spent more time in conversation with you guys to find ways to create understanding about what I wanted because the economic unfairness is something I feel strongly about. But we have this material and it’s about death and that’s a subject I wanted to explore anyway. Jan Svankmajer ( Czech filmmaker) thinks it best to approach a subject with ambivalence and I certainly have that about death. We didn’t have much conversation before the shoot so I guess I didn’t know your views about the current economic and political systems, which meant I didn’t know if you’d bought into my idea for the film. I think it was obvious that neither you nor Chris had bought into it in the car going up to the dyke. Last year Big Chris took his character in another direction to the one I wanted for my film. I managed to edit it in a way that allowed me to be true to the purpose of the film but it was a lot of work – hours of listening and cutting the soundtrack. Anyway, I might be able to get some reflection of the economic unfairness in the edit; we’ll see. I think comedy improvising is very different from film improvising – there’s more freedom in comedy improvising. We could have had a conversation about that at the beginning (this reflection is going to help me fill out my self assessment form at the end of the project, I realise) so that we were all on the same page in that in film improvising I see the improvising as the director giving the actors a starting and end point and the actors improvise how they get from start to end, whereas comedy improvisation seems more open and the actors don’t have an explicit end goal.

In summary, there seem to be these two things present for me: firstly, if I had done things differently we may have captured the subject I was interested in conveying, and, secondly, the film is about death and that is universal and something I wanted to make work about – it has highlighted a connection to the film I want to make about death as a character and how that might follow on nicely from this film. It also reminds how much I like working with story and weaving reality into that. So I guess what I’m saying is I’m feeling the loss of my original idea and I’m feeling the joy of this different idea; I’m holding the paradox of both these feelings.”

Chris Emerson:

hi Julia, I’m at work so I can’t give you a full reply but just to add my two cents. We probably do all have different political views. Mine certainly differ from Helen on a few issues but that’s not really a problem when it comes to acting. I think the problem lies in the approach we all took. With improvisation you need to have clear, concise and specific information to create a scene if you intend the story to go in a particular direction, otherwise the actors will end up deciding the plot. Effectively because you were encouraging us to create our own characters and history you were giving away control of the film to us. Hence why the footage might not reflect your original idea. That’s not a criticism, it’s just how improvised films work when the actors are given a lot of freedom to create. You can get some really interesting stories through this process, but the key is to abandon any preconceptions and to listen and build off the story that the actors create. In improv we talk about discovering rather than creating. If you want the improvisation to go in one particular direction to fit a preconceived plot or theme then you would need to be more hands on and tell us what you want between takes etc. Sunday was lots of fun and I was happy with how it all went. Just don’t get down because it resulted in a different outcome or footage than you expected. Be joyous, it’s a fantastic opportunity to learn for everyone! We are all new to this, and messing up and having things not go the way you wanted is all part of the process.

Helen Ball:

I am about to go to a sleep clinic for an odd afternoon of sleeping whilst being wired up & filmed. Scary. But I will respond later. Be good for us to have a chat over a beer. I agree with chris about our differing views on stuff. Thank god we are all different. I had a really good time on Sunday & enjoyed the process. More later. X x

Julia Fry:

Chris, I agree with you about the clear, concise and specific information that feeds into the characters and the plot. This is why I asked questions about your characters’ backgrounds and who you were modelling them on. I did this with Charlotte, who played Alice in my second film, and she thought deeply about the character and the character’s motivations. I believe my job as director is to provide the premise, the purpose and the direction of the film and get out of the way for the actors to research and build their characters from that. [Edit: 21 Nov 2103: I realised that right at the start of a collaboration it would be useful to have a discussion about roles and expectations so that we can agree a way of working, or agree not to work together.] With more time and discussion before shooting we could have reached a point where we were all aligned in our thinking. [edit: 21 Nov 2013: In retrospect, I’m not sure this is the case; I think it depends on the actor and how motivated they are (and how much time they have) in creating a character. Charlotte Josephine Taylor, who played Alice in Alice’s Adventures at Black Rock, was studying acting in London whilst we worked together on the Alice film and she thought deeply about her character from the premise I gave her. Chris Read, who played the pervy Uncle in the Alice film, found it hard to make his character do what I wanted; Chris had done some comedy improvisation and worked in computer programming. Both Helen and Chris Emerson work in non-acting related jobs and are members of a comedy improvisation troupe. A lot of their time is taken up with working; a small amount of time is spent performing on stage. A possible conclusion is that those who work in the art industry as their main focus have more time and motivation to invest in researching and creating characters than those who don’t. Also, comedy improvisation is very quick – characters are created instantly on stage; in films, more time can be spent creating characters, therefore comedy improvisation actors may not feel the need to research and build characters in-depth in advance.] 

Again, feeling down is okay and as much a part of life as joy and I feel both and don’t want to negate my down feelings. I did too much of that in childhood and it became a habit I spent a long time trying to break.

Collaboration: stills from film shoot at Devil’s Dyke

I made these stills from the video footage we shot today: two of them show the tent scenes, the third shows them inside the building, and the fourth shows Helen inside the car. In retrospect (21 Nov 2013) I see that I was creating the film’s aesthetic: the dark, moody video, and no dialogue. At the time, I was caught up in the narrative Helen and Chris had created and had no idea how I was going to use the material.

Cate and Hugo

Hugo with tent

Cate and Hugo sheltering from the wind

Cate in Hugo's car

We shot the film at Devil’s Dyke in 40mph wind. Chris wore a business suit. Helen wore clothes that prepared her for the weather. Chris and I had ‘spoken’ briefly about costume on Facebook and he said he would wear a ski suit. In retrospect (21 Nov 2013) I like their costumes: she is prepared and he isn’t. It reflects on a theory my ex-boyfriend has about our relationship, which is that I was ready for a relationship and he wasn’t.  I didn’t see this at the time of filming ‘though. The theory is incorrect, in any case; neither of us was ‘ready’.

In the car on the way up, both Helen and Chris had difficulty in seeing why these rich people would self-reflect and take ownership of their roles in the unfair economic system. I asked this in order to try to create understanding: have you ever self-reflected and come to a realisation that your role in a situation has created a painful outcome for someone else? Chris stated no, immediately, which surprised me – I thought everyone did this. Helen thought about it with regard to romantic relationships, which I thought was on the right track: a style of thinking is transferable into other areas of life. By the time we reached Devil’s Dyke I could see Chris couldn’t get his head around the idea of the rich person self-reflecting so decided to drop it and watch how their relationship evolved.  I filmed them walking to the derelict building, trying and failing to erect the tent in the strong wind and taking shelter in the building. I recorded sound during the tent and building scenes. We stopped when the cold conditions made it difficult for them to stay in character, and had hot chocolate in the pub to warm up. We recorded sound and film in the car to try to finish the narrative (around death and woman at the heart of the home) they’d created before heading home.

Chris and I shot more footage, not related to my film, at Brighton Marina, some of which was the unplanned footage of three guys wearing hoodies and black masks, which Chris thought was threatening. Whilst we were at the Marina, Chris stated he found it hard to let go of control and “just be an actor”, which I found illuminating.

Collaboration: Facebook email conversation Saturday 26 October 2013

Chris Emerson:

Hmmn, I’m not so sure that we will be able to get a tent up on Devils Dyke tomorrow. They are predicting winds of up to 90mph. We might have to play it by ear or make some alternative plans, although it could be pretty epic!

Julia Fry:

Yes somebody just told me there’s a storm coming. Let’s see in the morning. I was up there today taking photos and collecting ambient sounds. It was pretty windy but it seemed normal for that place.

Chris Emerson:

Tomorrow I feel will be very different

Julia Fry:

Could be an exhilarating experience

Apparently wind was 22mph in Brighton today and tomorrow 28mph expected. Monday 44mph!

Justine Smith:

an d just like a shareholder to believe they can pitch a tent in any condition!

Chris Emerson:

I’m just watching a documentary on the 1987 storm, looks pretty intense. We will have to see what tomorrow morning brings I guess

Julia Fry:

Storm warning is predicted for Sun night and Monday. Might be better to head up there earlier than 11am so we’re out of the way as the wind speed increases. How do you feel about an 8am start?

Chris Emerson:

the forecast says 60-80mph winds

Julia Fry:

Chris Emerson:

Chris Emerson:

ok so by the looks of it we can expect 30-50mph winds until about 9pm on Sunday, and it’s going to be pretty wet. It might be an idea to start earlier if we are going to film tomorrow as it will only get worse. I’m not adverse to it providing that it is safe enough to drive up to Devil’s dyke

Julia Fry:

Are you sure that’s sunday and not monday? The storm is sposed to be hitting here 5am monday morning.

Chris Emerson:

monday morning it’ll be 60-80mph winds

Julia Fry:

Looking at the met site again, I see there’s rain about 9am but just cloud from 11am. Let’s stick to the original plan and start at 11am. Chris, are you picking both Helen and me up? If so, who first?

Also, I had an idea: as soon as we’re all together can you guys be in character and I’ll be as if I’m making a documentary film about you. What are your character names?

Chris Emerson:

I shall pick you up at 10.45ish and hHlen at 11?

*Helen

Julia Fry:

Fab. Thanks, Chris. What’s your character’s name?

Chris Emerson:

Hmmn, I’m not sure. I’m not sure what to wear either

I was thinking maybe some ski gear

Julia Fry:

to guard against the weather?

Chris Emerson:

yeah, it’s going to be pretty miserable

Julia Fry:

Fair enough. I’m bringing waterproofs with me.

What’s your character’s background?

Chris Emerson:

is this film going to be mostly silent or are we talking?

I’m going to be called Hugo.

Julia Fry:

It’s going to be quite hard to capture dialogue in the wind but we’ll give it a go. I’m going to record the conversation (with you two in character) in the car on the way up to the dyke) and may use some of that in the film. I’d like some realistic gestures and dialogue, if it feels truthful and right.

[edit 25 Nov 2013: I realise now the way my sentence was worded conflicted with my earlier challenge to them of “I’d like to invite you to use as little dialogue as possible.” What I meant, but communicated poorly, was I’d like minimal dialogue and only if it feels truthful and right.

 

Julia Fry:

Hugo. Good.

Chris Emerson:

so we’re supposed to be posh types?

Julia Fry:

Oh yes, will you bring your radio mics?

Chris Emerson:

sure, what kit are you bringing?

Julia Fry:

erm, that depends on your character’s background. what is your character’s background?

I’m bringing a 7d and a zoom and my trusty dictaphone

will you bring tripods?

I have two green patio chairs – will they fit in the car?

Chris Emerson:

i can get the chairs in if you ride separately

i can bring my tripod

Julia Fry:

Okay. and just wondering… what organisation(s) is Hugo a shareholder of?

And how do you and Helen’s character know each other? Are you shareholders in the same organisation?

Chris Emerson:

hmmn, should we perhaps discuss this in the car and then be in character once we’ve setup all the gear?

Julia Fry:

I think we won’t take the chairs as the premise is they’re taking a break and setting up camp for the weekend. So I’ll come in the car if that’s okay – also i’ll need to wear glasses so I can see the camera screen properly. Good idea re. discussing it in the car on the way up. when we arrive I’ll start filming you taking the tent to the building and deciding wear to put it and then erecting it.

Julia Fry:

All in character, of course.

Chris Emerson:

if it’s completely pissing down with rain are we going to go ahead with the tent?

Julia Fry:

yes 

Chris Emerson:

Julia, what lights do you use at uni?

Julia Fry:

I prefer natural light. There’s a photo on my blog that I particularly like for the aesthetic of this film – actually, there are two – the first and the last on this post: https://ooliatr.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/collaboration-photographs-of-derelict-building-at-devils-dyke/

Collaboration: journal 25 October 2013

I finished reading Ibsen’s A Doll’s House; it’s a play about a family in the nineteenth century. The husband infantilises the wife, and she goes along with this behavior until an event occurs that breaks them out of this dynamic. It ends with her questioning her role of wife and mother and deciding to live alone in order to find out what she thinks about society’s expectations and rules. It was groundbreaking at the time it was published because it broke with the tradition of showing the woman’s place as in the home, serving the family. I was particularly struck by the resolve of the female protagonist, once she clearly saw the dynamics of their relationship, to leave and discover her own points of view. I thought about the possibility of creating a small structure and recreating this play in it, as I read. I emailed the lead tutor of the wood department at the university to ask for help in designing and building a doll’s house or room, but received no reply.

My friend, Chris, contacted me with an idea regarding the film: it could be a short, improvised film. He is a member of an improvised comedy troupe, along with another friend, Helen. Justine is also experienced in comedy improvisation and she plays the flute and the ukulele. I emailed all three to ask if they were willing to take part in the film and received agreement from each of them.

During the week, Russell Brand appeared on Jeremy Paxman’s Newsnight television programme and put forward his ideas about the unfairness of the current socioeconomic and political systems. I engaged in conversations about this topic on Facebook and, rather than revolution, I stated the need for conversations about what we would like instead of what we do not want any more. I decided the short improvised film would have the following premise: two shareholders, sensing the unrest of the under classes, set up camp at Devil’s Dyke for the weekend; they can feel a change coming. During the film I wanted a realisation of their roles in maintaining the unfair economic system to take place and an acknowledgement that they could not return to their old ways but were uncertain of how to live going forward.

Collaboration: facebook email conversation Friday 25 Oct 2013

  • Today
  • Julia Fry
    Julia Fry

    Hi Chris and Helen and Jus,

    So, I listened to some of the recording of my conversation with Chris and made notes – I’ll put photos of the notes on my blog, but the gist is: the film is called “Utopia”; the two characters are shareholders in a large corporation; they can sense the growing unrest and sense of outrage at the unfairness of the current economic system. They can also sense, but at the start of the film are in denial about it, their own part in maintaining this unfair system. The aim is to get the characters to a point where they fully see the unfairness and can no longer take part in the system.

    The first scene starts with a pan from the Utopia sign, across the chairs and chess board inside the derelict structure, to the tent the shareholders are in the process of erecting, having nearly finished doing so. I’ll have already taken close up shots of the tent being set up.

    Once the tent is set up we’ll stop filming and set up a camera inside the tent looking out. We can also keep most of the equipment inside the tent.

    As director, I’ll take aesthetic decisions and look after and operate the technical equipment. I’d like Helen and Chris to stay in character for as much of the time at Devil’s Dyke as possible. And, as an additional challenge I’d like to invite you to use as little dialogue as possible.

    I’ve booked time in my calendar from 11am until 3pm – is this okay for everyone?

    Depending on how the shoot goes I might need to get more footage at a later date – would you be up for that?

    I’ll bring a sign with Utopia scrawled across it.

    We’ll probably need warm clothing, food and drink with us for the shoot.

    I’m going to take photos at the location today.

    Looking forward to working with you all! X

    • Julia Fry

      Questions for Helen and Chris to consider:

      Which company are you shareholders of? What is involved in being a shareholder? What is your life like currently? Who will you model your character on?

    • Julia Fry
      Julia Fry

      Here is a first attempt at the film’s blurb:

      “England is approaching revolution; rich bankers and corporate shareholders are the target of the under classes’ wrath. Escaping the tension of London for the weekend, two multi millionaire shareholders set up camp on Devil’s Dyke. The future is coming; they can feel the change. What will they do?”

      What do you think? Bit Hollywoodesque?

    • Justine Smith
      Justine Smith

      Is good. you dont i feel need the question. I like the idea of watching them feel this.

    • Julia Fry
      Julia Fry

      Me too. I put the question in because I’m so conditioned by trailers (movie ones not camping ones). Thanks!

Collaboration: facebook conversation Thursday 24 Oct 2013

  • Thursday
  • Chris Emerson
    Chris Emerson

    So we’re aiming to pickup everyone at 11am on Sunday and then drive to devils dyke. Can anyone else drive? I can take some props if that is the case, if not then I can happily take four of us. I’ll pay for parking. Julia, can you sort out the utopia sign? I have no idea what this is going to be about but it will be lots of fun! Just ensure that you wrap up warm

  • Justine Smith
    Justine Smith

    Hi all i cant join on sunday but will be thinking of u and looking fwd to collaborating at a later stage. Have fun. X

  • Julia Fry
    Julia Fry

    Thanks Justine.

    Chris, if there isn’t room in the car we can load it up with chairs (from my balcony?) and other stuff and you and Helen and I can ride my motorcycle up there. Will email you all tomorrow. Helen, what’s your email address?