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.”
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.
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
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.