I’m starting to think about new video projects.
My first time-based work was animation, and that was a good training in the focus and repetition that I use in all of my work to this day. When I was animating, I basically either drew the same thing over and over again with minor variation; or I moved little puppets around tiny stages in infinitesimal increments. That’s animation, friends. Now they have computer programs that do a lot of the work for you, and maybe I will learn some of them someday. But I doubt they make animation any easier.
I moved from animation to video when I decided that I wanted to get more done. Animation just takes way too much work to make things that are way too short, or anyway that was my line of thinking. So I took a performance art class to teach me how to work with other living beings.
That was a very daring thing for me to do at the time. I don’t put a lot of stock generally in the introvert/extrovert dichotomy, but I honestly don’t think I would have ever been able to be a teacher if it hadn’t been for that performance class. It taught me all about the delicate and ever-changing balance of preparation and improvisation, and the art of becoming someone else for the purpose of doing something that frightens you. And because of teaching, which terrified me every day I did it for almost ten years, I have been able to continually bust out of my shell and do countless other things.
The first time I directed a film (it was a feature length arty piece for a very arty grad program), I had the great fortune to work with two experienced lead actresses. One had studied dance and appeared in films already, and one was a performance artist with exquisite and subtle taste in movement and aesthetics. Both of them were personally beautiful as well; they seemed to be lit from within.
I could hardly believe my luck. I pretty much couldn’t find anything wrong with whatever they did in front of the camera. I would have them do incredibly long takes two or three times in a row, mostly I think just to see what they would do when they became uncomfortable in the spaces between what we had planned. Maybe that makes me a jerk director? I don’t know. I think I just liked giving the performers a suggestion with the script, and trusting them to take it from there.
I realize now that I might do this because I am so used to doing everything myself. When I write and shoot and direct I am also already thinking about editing, so not everything makes sense in the moment. Does it ever when you’re shooting a film? I don’t know. I am constantly composing the piece in my head during production, and of course nobody else has any way of knowing that. So it might just make me look like I don’t know what I’m doing, which is also a little bit true but might be a strength as well.
I’ve never gelled with the idea of an exact and finely tuned script, exhaustive and perfect casting, and relentless takes that plod mercilessly toward some flawless rendition of whatever is in the director’s mind. Screw that; mine is an organic cinema.
My new video work will star some of my friends. I have a tendency to idealize people I know, to form fantasy narratives (don’t worry not in a creepy way) about what they would do as a character in a film. I think there is a long tradition of this in independent cinema. You work with what and whom you have around you. Of course you need to be respectful of people, make sure they’re cool with how you want to portray them. But I guess that’s where the script “suggestion” and do-your-own-thing directing style comes into play.
Anyway, get ready for some new video.