My most recent project for my Raindance MA was a Research Methods Report. For this, I researched the Film Communities currently available to London-based filmmakers. This was aimed to help me place Action On The Side within the market, and to determine its USP (Unique Selling Point, or Value Proposition). My overall MA goal is to develop AOTS into a sustainable short film business model.
After doing all the research, I had a large appendix with details on film organisations. And why not share that information?
Here is a list of the London Film Communities…
Of course, since writing the report, new communities have cropped up, or I found ones I should have included. Please add a comment if you see any errors or omissions and I will amend them accordingly.
This blog has been written as part of my MA degree for Raindance
Master of Mise-en-scène
In 2005, as part of my undergraduate Film degree, I had one course remaining. The only option was a course in Contemporary South Korean Cinema. It turned out to be one of the best courses I had ever taken.
During the course, we were introduced to a wealth of cinema. Starting with IM Kwon-Taek’s ‘Sopyeonje’ (2000), the course introduced us to the work of directors LEE Chang-Dong (Peppermint Candy, (2000)), KIM Ki-Duk (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring (2003)), BONG Joo-Ho (The Host, (2006)), KIM Ji-Woon, (A Tale Of Two Sisters, (2003)), and the work of one of my favourite director’s of all time, PARK Chan-Wook.
The first film of his to which I was introduced was ‘J.S.A. Joint Security Area’ (2000), a thriller based in the DMZ. We ended the course with a screening of ‘Oldboy’ (2003), one week before the film was due to screen for the first time in New Zealand at the International Film Festival.
I had such a phenomenological response to the film that for one whole month after seeing it, I would flash back to its penultimate scene, (involving scissors and a body part), as though a nightmare was haunting me. I have not, to this day, been as affected by a film as I was with that.
Until I saw Cut, his section of The Three Extremes (2004), an anthology horror film with shorts from Takeshi Miike and Fruit Chan.
What attracted me to the work of Park Chan-Wook was not just the violence in his films – those who know me can attest to my love of all things violent in films. I think there should be more violence in films. I love it. MOAR! – but his mastery of mise-en-scène.
During the production course as part of my Honours degree, 2010, our teacher, Alex Funke, gave the class an exercise that Sergei Eisenstein gave to his students in 1933.
“He required his pupils at the USSR Film School to stage the scene from Crime and Punishment in which Raskolnikov murders the old pawnbroker. He added a crucial proviso: it had to be filmed in one shot and from a fixed camera position.”
– Bordwell, 2005, pp. 17-18
It was a challenge. The actors entered had an interaction at a door, moved into the room, came towards the only window, one bent down to pick something up, another murdered them from behind, and we saw the lifeless body on the ground. All of this had to be seen from one angle.
After trying so many different angles and lens lengths, we were finally shown the way the scene was shot.The exercise was to find the one angle to shoot and block the actors so that all the action could be seen. What we learnt was to focus on the actors, direct their movements to help tell the story. We also learnt, again, that our default reaction as young filmmakers is to come up with a long list of shots, rather than telling the story in an efficient and concise way.
This exercise was borne from Eisenstein’s research into mise-en-scène and mise-en-cadre (otherwise known as mise-en-shot).
Ever since being introduced to Eisenstein’s exercise, I have wanted to analyse Park’s films through the lens of Eisenstein’s research into mise-en-scène.
Mise-en-scène translates to “putting on stage”, and has been used within film to denote the placement of key elements within a scene. It includes blocking, camera angles, camera movement, lighting, art design, props, costume. The stage is the screen in cinema. Mise-en-shot, by comparison, is the shot composition; what is placed specifically within the frame of a shot.
In ‘Sympathy For Mr Vengeance’ (2002), the first film of his Vengeance Trilogy, I noticed that he was using shot setups and character blocking in a way that enhanced his telling of the story, and in a way that I had not seen before. In one scene, deaf-mute Ryu tries to get Yu-Sun, the young girl he and his sister have kidnapped, into crying so he can take a photo to send to her father for ransom. This was done in one shot (31’26 to 33’36), with Yu-Sun running off-camera, Ryu chasing her but remaining within the frame, taking a photo of her off-camera, and she runs back into frame.
The director’s choice of how to tell the story includes setting up the frame and directing the actors Every one of Park’s films includes stunning setups and shot compositions that aid in telling the story. His framing and blocking actors are quite simply beautiful and show a mastery of filmic vocabulary.
In one of the classes for my undergraduate film degree, in 2003 or so, we were given a shooting exercise. Take the below script excerpt – a piece between two characters – and, in groups, shoot it with a maximum of four static set-ups. The excerpt was from ‘Lone Star’ (dir. John Sayles, 1996, see Appendix One below).
All of the groups struggled with keeping to four set-ups. We all had wide shots, close-ups, a mixture of 2 shots. Then we were shown the scene as it was shot in the film.
It was one shot. One static shot.
The purpose of the exercise was to show us that new filmmakers always use too many shots, more than are needed. Simplicity is important; choosing the best shot, rather than too much coverage. Let the actors dictate the performance rather than your camera shots.
There is a famous scene in ‘Oldboy’, clip below. In it, our protagonist, Dae-Su attempts to escape and has to fight through a corridor of henchmen, armed only with a hammer.
Many directors, when faced with an action scene like this, would have come up with a long list of shots. An action scene always takes a long time to film, as there are so many different movements and angles to capture. Park did shoot different angles, but in the edit, decided to go with this – which is much more exciting and effective.
Park likes film “where stories mostly take place in a confined space, turning it into a small universe unto itself.” (RedCarpetNews Extra), and, in the same interview, films that have little dialogue. This affords him the ability to tell the story visually, with mise-en-scène, rather than with words.
When I run the Action On The Side projects, one of the exercises that I give directors is to write out the shot list and draw storyboards. Inevitably, as with any project, the director wants more shots than they need. I tell them to cut the shot list by half. It is better to combine shots now than on set. My rationale comes from my classes on mise-en-scène and from the work of Park Chan-Wook. He has inspired me to develop my visual vocabulary and have amazing mise-en-scène in my own projects. I now challenge every director to really think about their shots and how to use the information held within to tell the story.
And if you want your own inspiration, turn to the work of Park Chan-Wook.
The below is my first assignment for the Raindance MA degree. The assignment is to write an introductory blog post on ‘a significant film’.
A Chacun Son Cinéma
The authorial voice in a significant film
The New Zealand International Film Festival. 2008. Sitting in the back of The New Zealand Film Archive cinema. Excitement fills the darkened room. Granted, this could have been mainly from me, about to see something I had been eagerly anticipating. The screen fills with a series of three-minute short films from 35 auteurs from around the world, an anthology of films on Film: a series of love letters to the Cinema.
For my first assignment for my MA programme, I have been asked to write a blog post on ‘My significant film’. This could be the film that compelled me to become a filmmaker; the film that inspired me; a film with deep and resounding significance.
I am not writing about that film. Because I do not have one significant film. There is not one film that compelled me to become a filmmaker, nor is there one film that compelled me to become a Producer. There are many films. Or rather, there is Film.
Instead I am writing about a film that represents FILM, and the love of Film.
This is ‘A Chacun Son Cinéma / To Each His Own Cinema’ (2007). The extended title continues with “ou Ce petit coup au coeur quand la lumière s’éteint et que le film commence”, or “or the beat the heart skips when the lights go down and the film starts” (‘To Each His Own Cinema’, IMDb).
This anthology was produced for the 60th Festival To Cannes as a Love Letter to cinema. The directors were from around the world, giving a global representative voice to the project.The 33 shorts were made by recognisable directors with acclaimed bodies of work; in the case of the Coen and Dardenne brothers, these were directing teams.
Every one of the filmmakers are recognised as an Auteur.
The word auteur in French translates to author; however the academic term ‘Auteur’ bears new meaning. The concept of Auteur was born from Les Cahiers Du Cinéma, a French film criticism magazine, started in 1951 (now online at cahiersducinema.com). In the January 1954 article ‘Une certain tendence du cinéma français’, François Truffaut proposed a ‘politique des auteurs’ – “a policy of focusing criticism primarily upon directors and specifically upon chosen directors whose individuality of style qualified them, in the eye of the Cahiers team, as ‘auteurs’” (Sarris, 1963). Andrew Sarris, in his article ‘Notes On The Auteur Theory in 1962’, shortened and translated this ‘politique des auteurs’ to ‘Auteur Theory’ (Buscombe, 1973).
Auteur Theory bases itself in the idea that an author is the key creative voice in the production of a text; in cinematic terms, this is the director being the author, or auteur, of the film. Les Cahiers du Cinéma stated that not all directors reach the echelon of Auteur, staying within the realm of metteur-en-scène (someone who simply places within the stage), rather than being distinctive and recognisable as an Auteur. Their collection of Auteurs were considered the ultimate list, although regularly revised and revisited. Certain directors met their list of auteurs; these being predominantly European. The critics further extended their analyses to include John Ford, suggesting that his work within the Hollywood Studio System shows a directorial voice despite the system’s restrictions, thus making him an auteur: thereby “Ford” can be both read in the film text and positioned outside it as author (Wollen, 1972).
Back in the Film Archive in 2008, the screen opened on an empty cinema. A static camera one-shot from the back of the cinema. A film plays on the diegetic screen with actor’s off-screen voices. An ethereal surreal horror film about a dancer. Giant scissors cut the on-screen screen. Images exploded from the screen into the cinema. It is hard to describe. The short faded to black. The audience erupted into applause and laugher when all was explained with the following…
A David Lynch Film
Lynch’s avant-garde surrealist style was evident in his short, ‘Absurda’ (Lynch, 2007); if not during the short, then once his name appeared on screen, for those who know his oeuvre.
Other films were similarly recognisable by their directors: Ken Loach’s naturalistic conversation in ‘Happy Ending’ (Loach, 2007); Lars von Trier’s violence in ‘Occupations’ (von Trier, 2007); Wong Kar-Wai’s luscious visuals in ‘I Travelled 9000 km To Give It To You’ (Wong, 2007). The entire oeuvre is a representation of the Auteur Theory. Here we have master filmmakers showing their craft in concise three-minute short films.
The most significant of the shorts was, for me, that of a filmmaker whom I have studied since first studying film: the quintessential Australasian female auteur, the only female and the only Antipodean to have been invited to make a short as part of this project, Kiwi director, Jane Campion. From the opening of her short ‘The Lady Bug’ (Campion, 2007), I recognised her work. It is sometimes hard to dictate what makes a text recognisably of one person. For me, it could have been the colours, the shot composition, the female character, the location (a school hall similar to all those I have ever been in). I don’t know. But what I do know is that the short was recognisably a Campion film.
‘A Chacun Son Cinéma’ represents, for me, an opportunity to see the Auteur Theory in practice. These directors are masters in their field. The anthology is a masterclass in directorial voice, an exercise in mastery of the short form from talented authors. It was an introduction to new storytellers, as a taster of their style, as well as an opportunity to revisit the work of known filmmakers. I recommend ‘A Chacun Son Cinéma’ for every short film maker to see how it is done.