THE OTHER CINEMA
I began the Other Cinema unit intending to submit a written journal, however as the project progressed I felt a blog would be better suited to my own personal workflow and the amount of multimedia I wanted to include in my journal. What follows are annotated scans of my notes up until I decided to switch.
02/11/2015 - TEST FOOTAGE
Today I decided to take advantage of the mist around Farnham and shoot some test footage for what I am now tentatively calling the "Witch of Winterslow." I don't necessarily intend to use this footage, it's more for me to get a sense of the tone and style of the film.
The eerie image of a misty forest is one I want to incorporate into the film in some form or other (likely during the recreations). I imagine the hunter pacing cautiously amongst the trees, trying to make as little sound as possible. He sees movement in the bushes and shoots. The echo of a gunshot rings out. I realise this touches on many film tropes, and intend to refine and develop it as I receive feedback from tutors.
Below are several images I've drawn inspiration from (tonally and visually).
09/11/2015 - STATEMENT OF INTENT
Here is my statement of intent for the "Witch of Winterslow" idea:
I am related to a witch, apparently. My great, great, great, great (etc.)... aunt Lydia Shears was well known in the town of Winterslow for having the ability to change into a hare at will and generally dabbling in witchcraft. She would lure other hares away from farmers’ hunting dogs and promptly disappear, depriving them of a kill. Eventually, a local farmer sought the counsel of a priest, who advised to him to smelt a silver coin into a bullet and shoot the hare. The farmer did so and a short while later, Lydia Shears was found dead in her home with a silver bullet in her heart. I was told this story by my mother many years ago and found it fascinating, not least because at the time I thought I may have inherited some of her supernatural powers, and think its more strange elements have great potential for unique and unusual film.
My approach to this story involves combining documentary and fiction elements with an experimental aesthetic to convey how terrified I was by this story as a child. Whilst I am currently unsure of the film’s exact structure, it will include interview footage of my grandparents and extended family talking about the legend and a recreation of the shooting itself interwoven in the style of Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure (2008) and Bart Layton’s The Imposter (2012). That is, with frequent cutaways and sound cues to maximise the impact of what is being said. For the recreation I intend to break down the story into a series of key images and sounds (e.g. melting of the silver coin, loading the bullet, shooting the hare) that can be shown quickly and repeatedly as needed.
Tonally, I hope to emulate the slowly escalating dread and eeriness of It Follows (2014), with lingering shots and a constant sense of unease. The recreation itself will also borrow elements from the 2013 Evil Dead remake. Specifically: misty forests with dark, wet, dirty aesthetic. These stylistic choices are not to depict the event in a purely authentic manner. Rather, the horror elements are an attempt to capture how I felt upon hearing this story for the first time, as well as to make it more entertaining to an audience.
The title is “The Witch of Winterslow.” The filming and delivery format will be digital 1080p 25fps. The running time will be approximately 3-4 minutes. Filming has already begun and I intend to continue in Winterslow on an as yet undetermined weekend before Christmas. Budget will consist of travel costs and potentially film stock if I choose to shoot 35mm stills. The main location will be Winterslow (Bentley Wood, site of Lydia Shears’ old house, grandparents’ house etc.) where the story originates, with additional B-roll footage shot in Farnham. I will be the only crew member on this shoot.
I intend to visit my grandparents in the coming weeks to shoot footage for the film in and around Winterslow, where the supposed witch lived.
23/11/2015 - TUTORIAL
Today I had my first Other Cinema tutorial with Lisa.
The session was short but she brought up several things I should bear in mind:
1. To further explore my childhood perception of the witch story
2. To keep an open mind about the specifics of the documentary
3. To slip in unexpected questions when interviewing my extended family to catch them off-guard
4. To consider whether I thought I was in any way a wizard
It was a memorable meeting to say the least. I'll consider these when shooting in Winterslow next week.
30/11/2015 - FILMING IN WINTERSLOW
This weekend I spent time at my grandparents house in Winterslow to shoot footage for "The Witch of Winterslow." I had three key film elements I intended to get: interviews with grandparents & extended family about the legend, the recreation of the shooting, and miscellaneous B-roll footage of the property & surrounding countryside. Here are some stills from what I shot:
I also did a quick colour experiment in Adobe Premiere to see how I could alter the footage to better suit the tone of the film.
I also recorded a sit-down interview with my grandfather about Lydia Shears. He admitted his knowledge of the legend was limited and, despite my best efforts, tended to go off on tangents.
I ended up with very little usable footage. This moment in particular has led me to doubt the ultimate success of this film. Whilst the story is interesting, the material I have is far from what it needs to be. I also don't believe it has as much relevance to me as I previously thought.
I'm therefore faced with a difficult choice: to continue with an idea I have little faith in or cast aside all previous work and start afresh. I will carefully consider both options and come to a decision in the coming days.
02/12/2015 - A NEW START
I've decided on a new idea. The old idea simply wasn't coming together as I'd hoped and, rather than attempt to salvage what I could, I've developed a new concept drawing together several previous ideas into something far more personal and feasible.
I began with the Joseph Jungo mini-documentary idea. My biggest problem with it, and the reason I didn't choose it in the first place, was that I felt it had little connection to me personally in the here and now. I never met my great grandfather nor had any idea he existed until my father showed me the documents he left behind. This got me thinking. When I die, and my great grandchildren see all I leave behind (all of the modelling photos, videos, passports, documents etc.), what will they think of me? Who will they think I was? The idea that someone's whole life could be reduced to a pile of documents seemed like a strong thematic basis upon which to construct a film.
I therefore began collecting and scanning as much material on Joseph Jungo as I could find. A lot of these documents are in German so I'll have to correspond with my father to determine what they are.
His Swiss passport, valid until 1981.
A certificate pledging his life to the protection of Switzerland.
His army dog-tags.
A letter written to Joseph Jungo by his brother stationed on the Swiss border during WWII. From what I understand, he recounts shooting an enemy soldier amongst other things. I find this letter particularly interesting, and will try to incorporate it (perhaps a reading in German w/subtitles?).
My preliminary structure for the film is thus:
1. Show gathered materials (incl. VO). I imagine the documents spread out on softly lit table.
2. Introduce the idea that these documents are all that's left of Joseph Jungo
3. Segue into my own life, and what I will leave behind
I'm aware that this unit encourages students to take 'experimental' approaches to their films, and will consider alternative ways of structuring the film.
03/12/2015 - EDMODO UPDATE
I posted a brief update on the status of the project on Edmodo:
Since the statement of intent I have changed my Other Cinema idea. I did spend a weekend shooting footage in Salisbury for the old idea and it just wasn't coming together, so I've opted for an idea that is both feasible and more personal.
A portrait of my great grandfather Joseph Jungo constructed through images and documents acquired earlier this year. Despite knowing many details about his life, I don’t know who Joseph was as a person. This leads me to question who someone would think I was based on what I leave behind.
I also uploaded my production approval form:
08/12/2015 - PROGRESS
I have corresponded with my father regarding Joseph Jungo's documents and he is willing to help me translate and understand them. My family lives in Singapore and I am going home for Christmas on the 15th. Part of the film, I have decided, will involve my father going through the documents and explaining what they are to me (we converse in French at home). I plan to film this when I'm in Singapore. The tone of this scene will be quiet and intimate, with the camera focused only on the table of documents, as if to create a tiny world. I have also planned to visually convey the idea of my own future 'table of documents' with a single USB drive on a white table to create visual contrast.
I've also begun to think about what my 'table of documents' would consist of. There is a great deal of home video footage of me as a child I plan to use. I also have the modelling pictures and other assorted media. I've asked my parents to send various things to me through google drive, some of which I found quite funny:
I think "shut down that camera" would make a fitting end to the film.
I also edited a rough test using the document scans, basic keyframe animation, and some voice-over narration. I'm not yet sure if I want to have myself talking throughout the film, but I am happy with how the visuals are working.
29/12/2015 - FILMING
Today I filmed the majority of my currently untitled Other Cinema film. I laid all of the documents on a table and had my father go through them. I Set my Canon 60D at a high angle looking down and recorded his voice using a Zoom H5. I was limited in terms of lighting, so I used a single table-side lamp with shade removed to achieve a soft, naturalistic look.
I then had my father re-do some of the actions for close-ups and cutaways.
I really like the shallow depth of field and muted lighting. It makes what would otherwise be ordinary documents very cinematic.
02/01/2016 - EDITING
All of today was spent making an early cut of the film.
05/01/2016 - SELF EVALUATION
(a) Did you meet the objectives you set out for the project?
In short, not entirely. As per my 50-word synopsis, my aim with this project was to create a “portrait of my great grandfather Joseph Jungo constructed through images and documents acquired earlier this year… [which] leads me to question who someone would think I was based on what I leave behind.”
Whilst I believe I did create a somewhat effective portrait of Joseph Jungo, I ultimately failed to fully develop the theme of ‘what one leaves behind’ and how it relates to me. As it stands, I feel the two parts, whilst individually strong, are somewhat disjointed and lack a clear thematic connection. The ending comes somewhat unexpectedly and finishes before the audience has had time to fully process it.
The film did, however, meet my personal aesthetic and technical objectives. Having applied for the cinematography specialism, I was very happy with the consistent level of image quality I managed to achieve with limited time and equipment. The sound quality is likewise of a very high standard throughout, if a bit ‘poppy’ in a few areas.
(b) How does your finished piece relate to the theme of the unit?
If I understand it correctly, the theme of the unit is appreciating unconventional and alternative ways of filmmaking and, from that, developing one’s own personal style. I believe my film has an element of “otherness” in its lack of conventional narrative and avoidance of generic documentary conventions (i.e. no sit-down interviews, camera angles deliberately obscuring the subject etc.). Despite the weaknesses of the ending, it does employ what might be called ‘experimental’ editing techniques to condense my entire life up to this point into a 10-second sequence. This unit definitely has challenged me to explore alternative ways of conceiving, shooting, and editing films.
(c) How effectively did the finished work communicate its ideas; were the formal strategies employed appropriate?
As stated I believe the communication of the film’s key theme was somewhat flawed. I feel as though the dialogue as my father goes through all the documents manages to effectively create at the feeling of intimacy and warmth I was aiming for. My distaste for performing voice-over narration likely contributed to the lack of clarity towards the end, as a few succinct lines relating the Joseph’s documents to my life would have mitigated the abruptness of the final sequence.
(d) How could the result have been improved?
A more obviously chronological arrangement of Joseph’s life events (from birth to death) as described by my father would’ve created a tangible narrative thread that the audience would want to follow to the end. It would also enhance the theme of ‘what we leave behind is all that’s left of us’ if the viewer literally saw his entire life play out from that table.
As stated, additional voice-over narration performed by me would’ve helped clarify my thematic intent and better contextualise the ending. I was conscious throughout of how voice-over is often used as a expository shortcut, instead hoping to emulate the naturalistic style of Frederick Wiseman. Unfortunately, in doing so I may have made the thematic content too oblique and difficult to extract.
I also think a structural re-evaluation, taking into consideration the weaknesses of the ending, would’ve benefited the pacing and overall clarity of the film. During the editing process the decision of how long to devote to the final sequence was the most difficult I faced. I didn’t want to create an odd two-act story, but at the same time I was aware of how important the second part was to the overall theme. I experimented with cross-cutting between the two however this felt even more disjointed. A comprehensive re-evaluation of the structure would’ve improved the film immeasurably.
(e) What did you feel you learned from the project and from the unit?
I made many mistakes on this project. There were points where I was frustrated that the film wasn't coming together as I planned (made worse by my original idea not working at all) and I am far from completely happy with the final product, however this has ultimately been a tremendous learning experience.
I learned that personal projects are far more difficult and emotionally involved than I previously thought. I’ve made films alone before, but never whose content was this personal to me or whose success mattered so much (if only to please the people who helped me with it).
I learned that I internally hold myself to an incredibly high standard I seldom manage to reach. This can be motivating but also paralysing. I need to work on not necessarily lowering my standards but making them more realistic and accepting that, as a student, I don’t really have a proper grasp on what I’m doing yet and will inevitably make mistakes.
I learned that beginning a project, particularly of this nature (w/ so many media elements combined), without a clear and detailed plan/storyboard (my approach was more in line with Agnes Varda’s idea of “collection”) can lead to frustration in the editing room and the ultimate failure of the film.
I learned that music has an even bigger influence on tone that I previously thought. As I experimented with music I was surprised at how the nature of the film completely changed from one track to another. One made it appear as though I was dead and the film was in my memory. Another gave it sickly-sweet, daytime-television feel. In the end I chose something subdued yet ostensibly positive.
I learned the importance of firmly deciding on an artistic/thematic direction and following said direction to the end. The amount of ways I could’ve used the material was paralysing, and in the end I think trying to include too much prevented the major theme from showing through.
06/01/2016 - FINAL SUBMISSION