A3: Visual reference material

I began by looking back at some films that might fit with my film’s message and captured screenshots of things that stood out for me.

I have a general sense of what I am looking for, but working in this way is helping me to refine the vague picture I had in my head. Interestingly, it has provided me with options I hadn’t thought of before.

This is a time consuming, but extremely fruitful process.

I also looked at Christopher Kenworthy’s series of ‘Master Shots’ books. There are currently three books in the series, each one a thorough manual on how to think about cinematic storytelling from the camera’s perspective.

Taking the script as my blueprint for the moving image, I went through each scene in my screenplay looking for ways to tell the story in a way that would be visually interesting and compelling for the viewer.

 

Opening Scene (scene 1) – Two women on a sofa

One idea I have for the opening scene is to shoot the entire action in one long take.

Using a wide shot and shooting a long take would allow the viewer to read the subtext behind the action without the camera telling them where to look and who to look at.

Some notable examples of this style can be found in films by Roy Anderson, Jim Jarmusch and Joann Hogg.

 

Car Sequence (scenes 2, 3 & 4)

I also looked at more specific ways of designing the shots for the car sequence at the start of the film, by looking at some of the ways in which other filmmakers have approached shooting dialogue scenes in cars.

I think it would be nice to match shot the image of the mother and daughter on the sofa (scene 1) with them in the car (scene 2). Mother on the left and daughter on the right. Both silent, locked in their own individual worlds.

Fig. 1

The first was a two shot through the windscreen. A fairly common camera set-up. But it was only after placing two shots from two films by Richard Linklater side by side, that I realised the shots (fig. 2) contained very subtle differences in camera set-up.

At first glance, you could be mistaken for thinking the camera was placed in the centre of the car’s bonnet. On closer analysis, it becomes clear that the camera is placed to one side of the bonnet. While the actors are positioned symmetrically within the frame, the shot itself is not a full-on symmetrical image. There is a slight angle on the z-axis. This subtle shift in camera placement changes the emphasis of the image.

In the shot from ‘Before Midnight’, the camera is positioned on the left side of the bonnet, in line with the passenger. While in the shot from ‘Boyhood’, the camera is positioned on the right side of the bonnet, in line with the driver. This results in a subtle difference in the feel of each shot. As a viewer, I felt ‘closer’ to the actor in line with the camera.

In ‘Before Midnight’, we are listening to the female character, while watching the male character’s reactions to what she is saying. In ‘Boyhood’, we are watching the male character’s response to the female character talking. In each case, the emphasis is placed upon whichever character is ‘closer’ to the camera. A very subtle difference in camera set-up, resulting in a specific emotional response in the viewer.

However, to set-up this shot would require using a car-mount on the bonnet.

An alternative way of shooting dialogue scenes inside a car, suggested by Christopher Kenworthy (2012), is to place the camera in the back seat and position the camera on the opposite side of the car to the actor (fig. 3).

Fig. 2

This camera set-up avoids the need for a car-mount on the bonnet. When framing these shots, the driver needs to be framed hard on the left, and the passenger needs to be framed hard on the right. Kenworthy suggests giving the actors ‘plenty of motivation to look at each other; this shouldn’t be a casual chat, but a conversation that forces them to make eye contact’ (Kenworthy 2012, p.160).

Fig. 3

The car sequence in this assignment film ends with the daughter getting out of the car and the mother calling her back. Again, Kenworthy suggests a way of shooting a scene in which one character is inside the car and the other is outside (fig. 4).

 

 

The Look

A film with a similar look and feel to that which I am aiming to achieve is Certain Women (2017), directed by Kelly Reichardt. I re-watched the film paying particular attention to Reichardt’s approach to composition and her use of colour and light.

Fig. 4

Fig. 5

 

 

 


List of References

Kenworthy, C. 2011 Master Shots Volume 2: 100 ways to shoot great dialogue scenes Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions

Kenworthy, C. 2012 Master Shots: 100 advanced camera techniques 2nd edition. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions

LaRovere, N. [n.d.] ‘The visual planning process that will make or break your film’ On: filmmakerfreedom.com At: https://filmmakerfreedom.com/blog/visual-planning [Accessed on 31 July 2018]

Torgovnik May, K. 2017 ‘How color helps a movie tell its story’ On: Ted, April 5, 2017 [Website] At: https//ideas.ted.com/how-color-helps-a-movie-tell-its-story [Accessed on 31 May 2018]

Van Duersen, L. & de Vries, M. 2013 Robbie Muller: Cinematography JRP Ringier

 

List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Visual reference material. Annotated screenshots from ‘Before Midnight’ (2013) and ‘Boyhood’ (2014) Dir. Richard Linklater.

Figure 2. Visual reference material. Annotated screenshots from ‘White Oleander’ (2002) Dir. Peter Kosminsky.

Figure 3. Visual reference material. Annotated screenshots from ‘Murder by Numbers’ (2002) Dir. Barbet Schroeder.

Figure 4. Still from Certain Women (2017) Dir. Kelly Reichardt. At: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4468634/mediaviewer/rm3608941824 [Accessed on 2 September 2018]

Figure 5. Still from Certain Women (2017) Dir. Kelly Reichardt. At: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4468634/mediaviewer/rm3608941824 [Accessed on 2 September 2018]

 

A3: Screenplay

Background

This screenplay captures a single moment in time in the lives of a single mother and her teenage daughter. A moment in which things don’t go quite as expected for either of them.

The assignment brief required me to ‘create a short narrative film with a clearly defined conflict showing the main protagonist attempting to overcome or solve the conflict.’ At five and a half pages, it’s a very short screenplay. Everything takes place in a single day. But, all the structural elements are there (opening image, theme stated, set-up, catalyst, midpoint, climax, final image) and the conflict is clearly defined, in that both characters objectives are clearly stated: Mother wants her daughter to finish school and go to university; Daughter wants to take a gap year. We also see the main protagonist (Mother) attempt to solve the conflict, if in a somewhat unusual way.

I have intentionally left it open-ended, in that we don’t know what will become of Mother and Daughter, though we are aware things may never be the same again. It is also a narrative which I think captures the essence of the short film’s ability to ‘deliver a short, intense burst of emotion’ (Nash 2012, p.110).

What captured my imagination about this idea is Mother’s response to finding the letter in Daughter’s pocket – on discovering the deceit, she lets her daughter have a nice meal, then serves the letter up in a dessert specially prepared for the occasion. It reminds me of Ernestine Ulmer’s quote ‘Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.’ I can’t remember where or when she said this, but I have since seen it on the walls or pavement boards of several Dublin cafes.

I like the idea of combining the ‘uncertainty’ and the ‘dessert’ in some way, of making a moving image that taps into both the concrete and the less tangible, abstract aspects of life – ‘Eat dessert’ is a fairly concrete action; while ‘Life is uncertain’ is an existential outlook on what it means to be human. If that makes any sense.

I have chosen pavlova for the dessert because, although a simple recipe, it is often something that is served during celebratory and holiday meals. I think this will add an element of irony to the scene as, in Mother’s eyes, there is nothing celebratory about the meal.

I see this script as just a blueprint for the finished moving image. I have purposely kept descriptions to a minimum, giving only the basic information needed to help the reader to get a sense of the story – characters, locations, actions. A lot will depend on how well I can stage the actors, light the scenes, and compose and frame the shots.

Looking back over the script, I notice there are several ways in which ‘uncertainty’ is embodied within the text: none of the characters are given names; the father’s presence is vague and undefined; why Mother decides to ‘confront’ Daughter with a dessert is unclear; the subtext beneath the Mother-Daughter relationship is vague; the open-ended ending leaves the viewer wondering what will happen between Mother and Daughter. All of this will add to the sense of ‘uncertainty’ within the film.

 

Screenplay (final draft)

 

Revision – 21/09/18

I put the screenplay up for peer review.

One observation about the ending was particularly interesting, in that the reviewer said she ‘knew what the mother might do, but the daughter is more unknown’ (Emma 516689, 2018). Her suggestion ‘I wonder if it would be worth investigating the daughter’s reaction at the end, rather than the mother’s’ made me re-think the effectiveness of the ending.

This was very helpful. I added another scene to the end of the film, in which we see the daughter’s reaction to the events at home.

 

To accommodate this change to the ending, in which we see the Daughter at the bus stop reading the letter, I altered the description at the end of the kitchen scene to show her picking up the letter as she storms out of the room.

 


List of references

Nash, P. 2012 Short Films: Writing the Screenplay Harpenden, UK: Camera Books

OCA Critiques Discussion Forum (2019) https://discuss.oca-student.com/t/can-anyone-critique-my-script-for-moving-image-assignment-3-on-conflict-please/8140/7 (Accessed on 16 September 2018)

 

A3: Finding and developing the story

Assignment Brief

Create a short narrative film with a clearly defined conflict showing the main protagonist attempting to overcome or solve the conflict.

 

Gathering ideas

I started the writing process by looking for ideas that would challenge me creatively and be practical enough to make into a short film. In particular, I was looking for ideas that were grounded in real life situations, preferably some kind of life struggle involving two characters that could translate into an authentically told story on screen.

I began by gathering ideas for the assignment from a range of sources, including newspapers, online magazines and human interest websites, and even found objects. After I had gathered a dozen or so ideas, I sifted through them, discarding anything too complex and more suited to a longer film, too superficial, uninspiring or lacking in scope visually.

This left me with two potential ideas: one based on a found object and another drawn from a story on ‘Humans of New York’ website.

Taking these two initial stimuli, I then generated further ideas by clustering, a strategy suggested by Linda Anderson (2005). The first ‘cluster’ on the found object, a coil of cassette tape found at the side of the road while walking the dog, and then a second ‘cluster’ on the story of a mother and daughter I had discovered on the Humans of New York Facebook page towards the end of the gathering process.

Idea #1 – ‘Cassette Tape’

Logbook 4, pages 195-196

This idea is the result of finding and photographing the insides of an old cassette tape found at the side of the road.

Brainstorming around the found object generated several lines of creative enquiry:

  1. memory, recalled sensations and the act of remembering;
  2. an anonymous package;
  3. the cassette tape/mix tape;
  4. Neo-noir and David Lynch’s psychogenic fugue ‘Lost Highway’;
  5. a dangerous world, malevolent presence or parallel universe;
  6. Samuel Beckett’s play ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’.

I like the idea of a Neo-noir story built around memory and the act of remembering. Drawing upon some of these ideas could make a visually interesting moving image with quite dark undertones. It could also result in a film that challenges the viewer intellectually.

Idea #2 – ‘Mother and Daughter’

Logbook 4, pages 209-210

This idea is based on a story posted by Humans of New York (2018) on its Facebook page.

Brainstorming around the story of the mother and daughter generated a very different set of ideas than those of the old cassette tape. One that was in keeping with my original notion of using a real life situation.

  1. two contrasting characters
  2. a clearly defined conflict
  3. a family confrontation
  4. a life problem
  5. the need for the protagonist to confront their life problem
  6. a rite of passage

I liked the idea of the mother cooking dinner for her daughter, letting ‘her have a nice meal’ and then serving ‘the letter for dessert’. I would probably not use the bike ride. Containing the story within the family home rather than taking it outdoors would create a more pressured feel to the moving image.

Both stories have potential for being developed into a moving image.

Weighing one idea against the other, I decided to file the ‘cassette tape’ idea away for future project film development and focus on the story about the mother and daughter.

 

‘Mother and Daughter’ – Developing the story

There were two things I particularly liked about this idea: the image of the mother serving her daughter with a letter for ‘dessert’ and the rite of passage inherent within the story.

The mother’s rite of passage is the realisation that her child is now a young woman with a life of her own. The daughter’s rite of passage is that of personal freedom. There are several layers of conflict within this scenario. There is an inner conflict within each of the two characters. There is also a conflict between the two characters.

I found a couple of points in Patrick Nash’s book on writing short films particularly helpful at this stage.

‘A well-scripted short film can deliver a short, intense burst of emotion’ (Nash 2012, p.110). What drew me to the original idea was the slow build up to an intense burst of emotion in the mother and daughter’s argument and the daughter’s final outburst and storming out of the house.

‘The character has little or no time to change significantly except for perhaps a dramatic revelation or sudden insight into his condition at the end. Interestingly, in some shorts the protagonist actually causes other characters to change while he himself remains relatively unchanged’ (Nash 2012, p.92). This idea was useful in that it fits the story in ‘Mother and Daughter’. It quickly became clear that in this particular story that, through her actions, Mother causes Daughter to ‘change’.

Logline

The first step in developing the story was to write a logline.

In the online article ‘How to Write a Logline: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide’ (Script Reader Pro, 2018), the logline is described as the story’s core conflict summed up in one sentence, containing three elements: ‘Protagonist + Struggle with Antagonist + Death Stakes’.

The article goes on to say that ‘what’s important is that there is a three-way triangle of conflict that gives a sense of the pressure the antagonist is going to put the protagonist under and why we should care…It’s this three-way power struggle between the protagonist and antagonist both fighting in direct opposition over something big at stake (usually personified in a stakes character)—that gives a screenplay its power.’

However, crafting the logline with this in mind was not as easy as it looked and required a considerable amount of trial and error to write. Identifying the ‘Protagonist’ and ‘Struggle with Antagonist’ was fairly straightforward. Finding the ‘Death Stakes’ was harder. It was only after I realised that the core conflict in this story was teenage personal freedom, that I was able to see what the stakes within the story were.

After several drafts, I settled on the following logline:

‘An over-protective single mother clashes with her teenage daughter after discovering she lied about applying for a place at university, challenging her personal freedom.’

Although I don’t think it is perfectly phrased, it does contain the three key elements required of the logline and gives a sense of the protagonist, their struggle with the antagonist and the stakes involved.

Step Outline

Taking the logline as the core, I drafted a rough outline for the story by sketching out a simple flow diagram of the key moments within the plot. A bit like a jigsaw. It didn’t have to be right at this stage. It just had to be complete.

‘Mother and Daughter’ flow diagram

Using a flow diagram to sketch out the bare bones of the narrative in this way helped me to see visually what I had and what was missing in the original idea, and how well everything would fit together before committing to a more detailed step outline.

I then prepared a more detailed step outline.

‘Mother and Daughter’ Step Outline

The twelve steps within this outline are loosely based on Blake Snyder’s 15-point structure of beats (Snyder, 2005).

What’s interesting about Snyder’s approach to screenwriting is its flexibility. The fifteen ‘beats’ correspond to the key moments within a screenplay and the order in which they occur. Each beat shows something happening to the main protagonist and serves to move the story forward.

I began by looking at the first and last ‘beats’ – the ‘Opening Image’, which Snyder describes as ‘the very first impression of what a movie is – its tone, its mood, the type and scope of the film…a “before” snapshot’ (Snyder 2005, p.72) and the ‘Final Image’, which is ‘the opposite of the opening image. The proof that change has occurred and that it’s real’ (Snyder 2005, p.90).

As this story is based on a conflict between a mother and daughter, I decided to open with an image of two characters, Mother and Daughter, together on a sofa, relaxed at the end of the day, and close with the opposite image of Mother alone on the sofa at the end of the day. Contrasting images of the same place, featuring the Mother figure in opposite states of mind.

I then looked at the intervening steps of the story and how Snyder’s 15-point structure of beats might help inform the way in which I could write my first draft.

The ‘Stated Theme’ beat was particularly useful when it came to shaping the opening scenes in the car. Snyder suggests that somewhere near the beginning ‘someone (usually not the main character) will pose a question or make a statement (usually to the main character) that is the theme of the movie…it will be conversational, an offhand remark that the main character doesn’t get at the moment – but which will have far-reaching and meaningful impact later’ (2005, p.73). This is great advice. I gave Daughter the line ‘Mam, will you stop fussing, and just let me be me’ in response to Mother’s nagging as she heads off to school. The phrase ‘let me be me’ serving as both a rebuff to Mother and a subtle reference to the theme of teenage personal freedom.

I conflated the ‘Stated Theme’ beat with the ‘Set-up’ beat. The set-up, which corresponds to Act 1, the ‘beginning’ of the film, is where the characters are introduced to the viewer, and where ‘we exhibit every behaviour that needs to be addressed later on, and show how and why the hero need will need to change in order to win’ (Snyder 2005, p.75). In this story, we are introduced to the characters in a car on the way to school, in which we see Mother as domineering and Daughter as long-suffering and on the verge of resisting her mother’s wishes for her.

The next beat, the ‘Catalyst’ moment, is a life-changing event ‘disguised as bad news’ (Snyder 2005, p. 77). Mother finds the letter saying her daughter has missed the university admission deadline. This is the moment she realises Daughter has lied to her. The moment in which Mother decides to confront Daughter’s deceit.

The ‘Fun and Games’ beat was particularly enjoyable to work on. Snyder describes this part of the film as ‘where we aren’t as concerned with the forward progress of the story – the stakes won’t be raised until the midpoint – as we are concerned with having “fun” (2005, p.81). He also says that this is ‘the heart of the movie’ (2005, p.81) and the point at which ‘we take a break from the stakes of the story and see what the idea is about…I call it fun and games because this section is lighter in tone than other sections’ (2005, p.82). Taking Snyder at his work, I ‘played’ with the main idea that grabbed me in the original Humans of New York story, that of the mother serving up the letter as dessert. So I decided to develop a scene in which Mother was in the kitchen preparing the ingredients and assembling the dessert.

This leads naturally to the ‘Midpoint’ and the ‘All is Lost’ beats, in which the midpoint is a ‘false victory’ and the ‘All is Lost’ is the opposite (Snyder 2005, p.84) – Mother lets Daughter have a nice meal, then serves up ‘dessert’ (‘false victory’), followed by the argument in which Daughter reveals her intention to go on a gap year with her friend (the All is Lost opposite).

The story moves swiftly towards its conclusion in the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ beat, the ‘”Oh Lord, why has thou forsaken me?” beat’ (Snyder 2005, p.88) in which Mother realises she has miscalculated in confronting Daughter, maybe even lost her. Daughter storms out of the house, leaving Mother alone.

When it came to writing the end of the film, I found some useful advice in Patrick Nash’s book on writing short films: ‘In short films there is seldom much time for resolution scenes. It is often better to end on the dramatic climax, to go out on the ‘bang’ as it were’ (Nash, p.90).

Drawing upon Snyder’s description of the ‘Finale’ beat, in which we see ‘the turning over of the old world and a creation of a new world order – thanks to the hero’ (2005, p.90), the story ends on a dark note, with Mother alone in the house. I have left it open-ended, in that we don’t know what will become of Mother and Daughter. Though we are aware that things may never be the same again.

 

Script

‘Mother and Daughter’ 1st, 2nd & 3rd drafts

I found the process of working from logline to step outline to first drafts a very effective way of shaping the script. Resisting the temptation to jump straight in and write the first draft, pinning the idea down with a logline was a great way of thinking through and refining the idea in terms of the story’s protagonist, struggle and stakes. It’s not something I have tried before. Preparing a step outline helped provide a road map for writing the first draft.

When it came to writing the first draft, I followed the flow of ideas within the step outline, letting my imagination and the characters take over.

 

Conclusion

This part of the filmmaking process has been a fascinating experience. I’ve used a few techniques I haven’t tried before. Writing a logline and step outline before working on the script has particularly valuable. Techniques I will continue to use when working on future moving image projects.

However, finding, developing and writing the script has taken almost two months. Considerably longer than I had expected. I had hoped to have completed the film by early August.

What this has highlighted is that there is a weakness in my writing skills that needs to be addressed. Especially when it comes to finding and developing ideas for screenplays. One way of addressing this shortfall would be by enrolling on ‘Creative Writing 1: Scriptwriting’ and developing a better understanding of the building blocks of screenwriting

 


List of references

Anderson, L. ed. 2005 Creative Writing: a workbook with readings Abingdon, UK: Routledge and The Open University

Nash, P. 2012 Short Films: Writing the Screenplay Harpenden, UK: Camera Books

Snyder, B.  2005 Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions

Humans of New York 2018 ‘I had to take a bike ride to get away from my teenage daughter’, In: Humans of New York At: http://www.humansofnewyork.com/post/176666815436/i-had-to-take-a-bike-ride-to-get-away-from-my [Accessed on 5 August 2018]

Script Reader Pro 2018 ‘How to Write a Logline: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide’, In: Scriptreaderpro.com, July 17, 2018 At: https://www.scriptreaderpro.com/script-logline/ [Accessed on 9 August 2018]

 

Project 10: Kaleidoscope

‘Kaleidoscope’

 


Brief:

Collect a diverse range of shots of your chosen subject – long shots and close shots, low angle and high, moving shots and still shots. What you are searching for is anything that stands out a special to you – something with narrative potential or conceptual resonance or just an interesting shot or image.

Subject

My chosen subject was a journey on the DART. A journey I had not made before. Although many of the suburbs were familiar to me.

The DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) system serves the coastline and Dublin city centre, stretching from Greystones in County Wicklow  to Howth and Malahide in north County Dublin.

For the purposes of this project I decided to travel the full length of the southern stretch of the line between Pearse Street station in the city centre and Greystones in County Wicklow, as that would be manageable in a single day.

Filming

The project guidelines suggested I should ‘think of this as active visual research’ rather than making a finished film of a particular type.

As the country was in the midst of a heatwave, I decided to travel light and carry as little equipment as possible. So rather than take my usual full size camera with me, I decided to use the smaller Sony A6500 camera. This enabled me to move around quickly and unhindered by equipment. It also meant I could be more discreet in my approach when filming.

I used the camera without any additional add-ons or a tripod. I also decided to use the kit lens (Sony Zeiss 16mm-70mm f4) rather than carrying a bag of Samyang cine prime lenses. Using a telephoto lens rather than four individual lenses meant I could work quicker. The telephoto range of the kit lens is quite good, covering a wide range of focal lengths from wide angle to shorter telephoto.

I also attached a 0.9 ND filter to the front of the lens to enable me to shoot with a shallow depth of field. Though on the day, the sunlight was such that I rarely managed to get down to f4.

I spent the whole day capturing shots, starting in the area around Pearse Street station and then boarding the train and travelling south along the coast. I got off the train at several stations to capture shots from the platforms and left the station at two places to explore the surrounding areas.

The weather on the day was extremely hot and sunny. The light was so bright that it was difficult to see the LCD screen on the back of the camera, which made it almost impossible to find focus for the shots. Which meant working with the viewfinder only.

As I had chosen not to take a tripod, I was able to operate the camera handheld, which allowed me to move quickly and spontaneously both within and off the train. Which meant I could capture shots as and when I saw them.

One of the joys of this project was that I didn’t know what to expect. Thinking of this as an exercise in visual research was very liberating. I worked spontaneously, capturing things as and when I saw them.

Editing

I captured more than 150 shots in the day. Almost an hour of footage. However, some of the footage was not usable. This was partly due to inaccurate exposure or poor focusing, and to duplication – shots were too similar. Some shots didn’t feel right within the context of the film. Other shots were simply too dull, uninteresting or too static.

I began editing by looking for visual, conceptual and continuity connections.

I looked for a sequence of shots that would work together for the opening of the film. I selected several city shots: a long shot over the river Liffey with traffic crossing a bridge; a wide shot of a parked lorry with the the FM104 radio lorry passing in front; a series of shots of the DART train crossing bridges. My aim in selecting these shots was to set a slow, meditative tone and introduce the theme of the journey.

I then decided to cut to a dark, moody, eerily empty shot of the stairway inside Pearse Street station. I liked the emptiness it portrayed. This was something I was not expecting at the time on a weekday morning.

From there the film follows roughly the actual route of the journey. I realised there were two visual threads within the film: one inside the train; the second in the external locations along the route. So I built up the film by cross-cutting between these two threads.

What struck me about many of the shots I had captured was how empty they were of people. I decided to go with this and build sequences of quiet, empty spaces. Even the sea was quiet. There was a calmness and tranquility about the day and this comes across in many of the shots I captured.

So I decided to go for a more meditative film.

One of the first things I did was ditch all the camera sound and look for a piece of music that would give the film a meditative feel.

As I was filming, I had thought I would be using the camera sound to help tell the story. The sound of the train approaching the platform, the sound inside the carriage, the general background noises of the the various places on the journey. But I decided to ditch the lot.

Going instead for the pictures only, I found I was looking at shape, pattern, line, colour and, more interestingly, the contrast between stillness and movement within and between the shots.

I also noticed several motifs emerging: ‘keep behind the line’; platforms; water.

Some shots cut together to give a sense of where we are and what is happening. Such as on the platform in Pearse Street station. In other places I cut images together in order to create contrast. For example: at 1:10, the exterior shot of the DART contains a strong sense of movement and activity is juxtaposed with the interior shot of the empty stairs; at 2:53, the static shot of the glass building behind the platform is juxtaposed with the moving shot inside the train looking out through the window; at 4:37, the interior of the train is contrasts with the unusual design of the interior of the footbridge with a view over the sea.

I purposefully held some shots longer than expected. I did this to give the viewer a sense of how slowly time seems to pass on a rail journey and to help reinforce the meditative feel of the film. Four shots in particular were held longer than expected: 00:20 to 00:41 – the shot of the DART crossing the river is allowed to run long enough for the viewer to see all the carriages cross the bridge; 01:35 to 02:11 – the shot of the woman on the platform waiting for the train to arrive; 04:46 to 05:23 – the shot of people descending the station steps (also reduced in speed by 50%); 07:44 to 07:59 – the shot inside the carriage as it emerges from the tunnel.

The choice of background music was quite straightforward. I wanted something that felt meditative and found a piece of ambient music on premiumbeat.com that also had the sound of waves in the background. I thought this would be an unusual, but effective piece to use, as it enabled me to foreshadow the sea. The sound of waves at the start of the film does not match with the pictures on screen. It is only when we see the sea that it makes sense.

Choosing the final shot was the most difficult part of the editing process. Nothing really stood out to me. There wasn’t anything that made a bold, dramatic statement for the film to end on. I tested out a few different shots, but they didn’t flow very well with the rest of the film.

I then realised that I didn’t need a dramatic shot to finish with. Instead, as this was more of a meditation than a documentary, I decided to go for a wide shot of the beach and sea.

DVD: ‘Samsara’ (2012) Dir. Ron Fricke

Samsara is a Sanskrit word ‘used in a number of eastern religions to denote the endless cycle of life, death and rebirth’ (Bitel, 2012). Filmed in twenty five countries over five years, visiting sacred sites, disaster zones, industrial sites, cities and natural wonders, the film fuses together the ancient and the modern. There is no dialogue. There is no text. It is not a documentary in the traditional sense. Instead, the viewer is encouraged to draw their own interpretation from the flow of images and music.

The film adopts a circular structure, bookended between scenes of a group of monks forming and erasing a powder representation of the ‘wheel of life’, an emblem of the ‘transcience of the phenomenal world’ (Bitel, 2012). Between these scenes is a kaleidoscope of oppositions, such as nature and culture, spirituality and materiality, wealth and poverty, war and peace.

There is a noticeable absence of people in many of the film’s opening scenes. For example, in the fields of temples there is no one in sight; the empty expanses of desert; the sand filled rooms of an abandoned house in the desert; the derelict, storm damaged lounge, bedroom, supermarket, library and classroom in an abandoned town; the empty cathedral.

The film becomes more populated as it moves on. Such as the office employees, the African women, the tattooed man with a baby, the two spectacled employees, pole dancers, a geisha. Where people are present, the picture is not always a rosy one, such as the teenagers scavenging in a rubbish dump, men quarrying for yellow rock, the family at a funeral, men standing proudly with their guns. These images of materiality, poverty and war, of people in disparate parts of the world, are contained within the bookend images of the monks forming and erasing the ‘wheel of life’, reinforcing the idea of birth, death and rebirth, and giving a sense of hope in an otherwise bleak picture of the planet.

However, I think it is important to ‘read’ the film in much the same way you would read a poem. As a meditation on nature and humanity. The images flowing through a series of associations, like the imagery within a poem.

A.O. Scott (2012) describes the film’s structure as ‘like that of a poem or a sonata, a complex tissue of rhymes and motifs’. Like a poem, with its ‘complex tissue’ of rhyme and images, it’s only when you get to the end of the film that you have a sense of the full picture. Then, when it’s just within your grasp, you go back to the beginning and ‘re-read’ it again, maybe several times more, in order to get the most out of it.

Scott (2012) makes another very interesting point about the film. Referring to Susan Sontag’s plea for ‘an ecology of images’ (Sontag, 1979), he suggests that Samsara ‘presents a visual argument for slow looking, for careful meditative attention to what is seen.’ I like the idea of ‘slow looking’ and the need to pay ‘careful meditative attention’ to what is seen through the viewfinder.


References

Bitel, A., 2012 ‘Samsara’. Sight and Sound Number 22 Issue 9, page 110.

Samsara 2012 Directed by Ron Fricke [DVD]

Scott, A.O. 2012 ‘Around the World in 99 Minutes and Zero Words’ In: The New York Times At: https://nyti.ms/P54fr2 [Accessed on 15 June 2018]

Sontag, S. 1979 On Photography London: Penguin Books, page 180