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.
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.
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.
It was windy and cloudy at Devil’s Dyke. I like the shots that look dark and moody – this will be part of the film’s aesthetic. I also recorded ambient sound on a Zoom recorder.
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.