Taff_for_wikisite_2.jpgPhilip Gross and Wyn Masonare working together on a poetry-film collaboration on the banks of the River Taff.

PHILIP 10.01.12:
On one level, the point of this collaboration was to make a poetry film - something Wyn and I discussed for a while. On another level, it is to preserve the evidence of its making, to become material for people thinking about the way the process works across the border between one medium and another. In that spirit, here are the early stages from my point of view. You'll see some duplication as one day's notes get digested in another's. If you're not interested in that level of detail, skip straight to poetry-film PG NARRATIVE (below)

anna'n_ffilmio_Philip_a_fi.jpgThe starting point - our proposal for the project:
poetry-film PROPOSAL

I already had my own relationship with the Taff, from living by it, higher up the valley, at Quakers Yard:
Philip and the Taff - an earlier encounter

I visited the site (Tesco's car park on the banks of the Taff) by myself on June 25th, making short poem-noteson my new iPhone, e-mailing them home as I went:
poetry-film PG RECCE

On July 20th, we had our day of filming, with Wyn and the camera and sound crew, all observed by Alice and Kevin from an objective distance. The notes I added to my collection then are here - more poem-notes, and (if my version is to be trusted) some traces of a conversation between Wyn and me:
poetry-film PG July 20

In the days after that, it just came naturally to me to start jiggling the fragments I had gathered, together with ideas of Wyn's, to see how many of them might cohere around what I'd started imagining as a film. See Wyn's article Mobilising Stillness (which I read several months later, in December) to see how our processes might have been moving out of sync at that point. So as not to pre-empt anything, I titled my piece Not-The-Shooting-Script... though of course privately I was shooting it already in my head:

poetry-film PG NARRATIVE

To see this with its proper layout (which matters to me), look at it in Word:

At this point I stand back, with that first flush cooling, but watching with interest to see what the day's material will become in Wyn's film... though my response to seeing some of Wyn's rushes at the end of August came in the form of a poem, seeing for the first time what other people had strayed into our filming, each with unknown stories, real or imaginary, of their own:
poetry-film PG POEM ON FILMING

WYN 19.1.12
philip_a_fi_yn_y_bambw.jpgPhilip, above, refers to my yet to be published article, Mobilising Stillness, which I'm posting below. It explores the notion of 'database filmmaking', i.e. first compiling a database of images from which a narrative can be formulated, and takes Crossing (2008), a collaboration with colleague, Ian Wiblin, as a case study. The approach taken in filming with Philip in July 2011 was informed by Crossing, in that we also used stills and moving images. Writing the article proved useful for me in terms of theorising my methodology. At a later point it would be interesting to compare our working methods, because there are both similarities and differences. On the day of the shoot, we were both operating in a script-less manner, arriving on set with minds and eyes wide open, without pre-determined ideas, but responding directly to whatever drew our attention on location on the day - in effect, compiling a database (Philip: snippets of text, me: sound and images), later to be processed and edited into a cohesive statement. However, the individual/collaborative nature of working, along with a time-scale difference are two obvious differences between working on a poem and working on a film.

Philip has hinted * at how he has problems with the term 'database', because it sounds too cold, orderly and methodological, and fails to capture the more intuitive way we both work. He suggests that we may, through dialogue, be able to coin an alternative and more accurate term.

* [PHILIP pastes in his step in this conversation, below.]

*PHILIP 26.01.12
Thanks for your chapter, Wyn – a really useful read for me. It’s a glimpse into the world of film-practice-research and your own interests… and into the work we’ve done and will do together. I had a small aha! moment about what fits / misfits in your process and mine. The fact that some things misfit isn’t a criticism or a problem; it’ll probably turn out to be where interesting findings and unexpected creative outcomes happen.

So… Aha! Of course there was friction in our working on the Tesco day. You want me to be part of your database. In some ways I am, but I was already resisting it (playfully, I hope). Or maybe I was wanting to have more of that quality – roaming round and plucking images from here and there, by serendipity. The need to get it properly on film (in the database) so you’d have the material to work on later meant a degree of planning and staging that one man with a notebook doesn’t need or want. I’d never appreciated quite so palpably before that film work means stuff – weighty equipment, and a team of people. It means setting shots up, slow reactions, missed moments and can-we-do-that-again.

And yet, what I do is closer to the ‘database’ principle than it is to ‘narrative’.

I have a bone to pick with the word ‘database’. Manovich coins it as part of an argument, and it feels like rhetoric: it plays up the dry and factual (and contemporary) implications of that word to set up an opposition to the taste for story. I suspect that it misleads, too, if only by suggesting that these two principles are the only ones at work.

I think you saw how I worked – lots of random jottings, no advance planning… then soon afterwards jiggling the images round in my head and notebook till they start to form associations. When they form patterns of feeling and thought, they coalesce in poems. In a stage beyond that, jiggling the poems plus the character thoughts you’d mentioned, I suggested a possible story thread that implicated almost all of it.

But what I was compiling at the start wasn’t database. A database is information organised by logical principles – alphabetic, chronological, numerical, whatever - for the purpose of retrieval. What I need is just the opposite. Some of the games I play, creatively, are to do with disorganising information, so that unexpected patterns (possibly, not mainly, narrative) can emerge.

So what do we call that? (Matrix? Flux? Chaos, in the original sense of the word?) It isn’t a compromise between database and narrative; it’s a third principle. Find the term, I’m guessing, and it may closer to the way that you work, too.

philip_a_kevin.jpgOff to one side, there are conversations between me and Kevin, too. His theory on all this is to do with the words flow and frame. For him, that’s (unknowable) reality, and the operations of language and the mind. Predictably, I find myself saying that the interesting things occur in neither one nor the other but in the patterns (interference patterns?) formed between them.

[For a glimpse of conversations between P and K - a whole poetry-film-critical strand, click on poetry-film-critical ]

But the interesting mis-fitting between our working? Quite practical, I think - a matter of gearing. I can have my word-and-image stew in hours, sometimes minutes, and poems coalescing by next morning. Narrative ideas, almost in passing, by next week. That’s no creative virtue on my part, simply the lighter equipment involved in the craft. No wonder you might feel I was pre-empting things. You were still assembling the raw materials you need – I was jumping in, maybe interfering with the freedom of your creative play.

What do you think? Is there anything in this? If so, how do we find a way to gear our work and play together? What I’m saying isn’t a critique of the chapter, which seems good to me, as far as I can judge. Maybe it’s a bridge from that work back to our collaboration.

WYN 15.2.12

Here is the poetry-documentary of Philip and I looking around the first location at Tesco's:

Land of Hinter Part 1

Once this was completed we then moved on to start working on a story idea for this location.

I recently came across the term 'contemplative' or 'slow cinema'. And, realising that the style of filmmaking I've been developing of late very much fits this description, I now define myself as a slow cinema-maker. One of my favourite example of this type of cinema is Carlos Reygadas's wonderful Silent Light (2007), which I saw for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I showed it to Philip and he also appreciated it very much.

Inspired by this, we started working on the opening sequence of Perdita, which is the working title we're giving our fiction film. We wrote it by bouncing the text back and forth between us, offering suggestions and making amendments as we went along. We now have a first draft, consisting of about 8 pages. In imagining it being shot in a slow cinema style, this could amount to about the first 15-mins of the film. Here's a copy of the script:

We do not know at this point where the story is heading. All we know is that the drama will take place along the banks of the Taff, at various locations up and down the river. It is certainly an unusual way of writing, i.e. scripting a completed sequence at one location first, before moving on to the next. One of the advantages of this method of working is that it slows down the entire process, enabling us (and others) to later track the collaboration carefully. Of course, once we finally reach the end of the story, we will inevitably need to go back and re-draft earlier sequences.

WYN 2.3.12

Fortunately, at this point of the development process, we still have a substantial part of our budget unspent and now face various options on how best to spend it. For example, one option would be to film a pilot. It would be useful for us in terms of developing our particular slow cinema style, and of course it could also function as an aid (alongside a completed treatment/screenplay) to raise further finance for the project. Another option, maybe initially as an intermediary stage, would be to involve a couple of actors in the story development process. These workshop with the actors could also be filmed and incorporated into the 'writing of' documentary (which might eventually find a home as a DVD extra).

I recently discussed some of these thoughts with film producer and colleague, Richard Staniforth. After reading our script he was of the opinion that maybe we didn't have enough of a budget to do as much justice to our vision of the script as desired. His suggestion was spending our budget on the 'writing of' documentary, as we continue with our visits to different locations along the river, and to incorporate the unfolding drama narrative into this film. So, rather than creating a short, pilot project to help raise finance, to make a full-length documentary instead, which would ultimately serve more than one function: both as a research record of a creative collaboration and also as a fund-raising tool.

Still unsure how best to proceed, it seemed worthwhile (because it was relatively straightforward to achieve and inexpensive) to give this idea a go, using still photography and a voice-over based on the Perdita screenplay. So, over the last couple of weeks I ventured out and walked up the Taff at night, from Cardiff city centre to Tesco's, taking long exposure photographs along the way, these, along with a voice over, have now been intercut with the poetry-documentary (somewhat crudely, I should add, slightly rushed in order to be able to screen it to the rest of the team and our critical friends on the 3rd of March colloquium). Here it is:

Hinter 1.3.12

WYN 7.6.12
Screening the above clip to our 'critical friends' in March turned out to be both a frustrating and a very useful experience . Frustrating because the film clearly wasn't working and wasn't in fact at all ready to be screened to an audience, but useful because it forced us to distance ourselves from the project somewhat, to sit back and reconsider our direction. Essentially it was clear that the work we were producing didn't seem to be heading towards neither cinema nor TV nor even a DVD to accompany a poetry collection. We were as confused about our general direction after the colloquim as we were before hand.

Later in March I went to the i-Docs 2012 symposium held at the Watershed, Bristol (http://i-docs.org/idocs-2012/), which focused on producing interactive documentaries using HTML5 technology. This proved inspirational because it suggested a new way forward - why not re-concieve of our project as an interactive webased poetry-film? The 'track changes' exchanges based around the Heraclitus poem that Philip and Kevin had worked on lent itself very well to what HTML5 allows, i.e. linking web pages to a video's timecode. How might it look if a poetry-film were produced which included a textual exchange between poet and critic about the poem, which would flicker around the edges of the web page as the video played? This idea has caught our imaginations and we would like to realise it, which in one sense represents a major turning point in the project, as it entails abandoning much of the footage we've already shot, but in another sense it would be a logical and elegant outcome to the ground already covered. Such a developement, it must be stated, is very much in keeping with the spirit of the entire project, which is that of a genuine collaboration, a voyage of discovery based on an on-going, open, creative conversation. Currently we are looking for a web designer with the right kind of skills to collaborate with.

Meanwhile, Alice has been concerned that, due to various external pressures upon her research time, she has been unable to invest as much time into our project as she would have liked and that this was not likely to change in the foreseeable future, so with this in mind she was keen to share with us her thoughts on our work to date. We decided that the most efficient way for this to occur was for her to present her thoughts verbally and for this to be recorded. This took place at the Atrium on April the 12th. Philip, Kevin and I were present, listened with great interest and responded with some questions at the end. Here's the audio recording, which runs for about 1 hour 40 mins:

Alice Entwistle in conversation with Wyn Mason and Philip Gross by smallnationsmedia