Wednesday, 2 October 2013

SEARCH ME: A Final Reflection on EYES

"The you of today is a survivor, a very close survivor, of the you of yesterday. It is a survivor, though a slightly more distant survivor, of the you of last week, and a much more distant survivor of the you of last year. In a single body is not one person one self or person, but a succession of selves, a river of selves, each one a survivor of the one that went before. To the extent we can talk of the self, we are talking of something that has the character of a river, a process, not a thing."

- The River of Selves from The Philosopher at the End of the Universe.

"Memories - you're talking about memories."

- Rick Deckard, Blade Runner

Anxiety and Boredom: June 2012 – September 2012

This project started life in the spring of 2012 as a short film and was something that I did a great of deal of preparation for during my summer break. The short film idea that I toyed with throughout the summer was called A&B (which stands for ‘Anxiety and Boredom’) and it was hugely influenced by the experimental art house film Radio On

However, while A&B was a very strong visual idea that would have intensely explored the themes of anxiety and boredom, it lacked a clear narrative to express those themes. I certainly was all for creating a very strong visual presentation in acknowledgement of all the films that had nurtured me and which I had come to fully appreciate through my academic ventures in Film Studies, but as my degree was also concerned with creative writing, I felt that it was only fair that I honour both sides of my degree by delivering a final product that was visually very strong and complimented by an equally strong narrative. As such, I abandoned A&B and started again.

Look familiar?
Coinciding with the initiation of my final year in September 2012 I hit on a new idea – an idea that concerned itself with a character called Boris who liked to collect photographs of peoples’ eyes and this became the EYES short film idea. This Idea I certainly appreciated much more so than the A&B idea as it provided a better starting point from which to develop a narrative. I even toyed with the potential of doing it as a mockumentary! Very early on I could see that the basic premise of the idea was building on my Busybody script; a script that I had submitted for my short filmmaking module in the previous year and which also concerned itself with the process of looking as it had been a script about voyeurism. The starting idea for Busybody was of a landlord who installs hidden cameras into all of his properties; from that basic premise I was able to develop a narrative that dealt with two characters who liked to engage in voyeurism. Clearly I had a subconscious agenda to look at the gaze, as this same theme came up in my other two final year projects Ways of Being and Fencing

However, as I now had a clear starting idea that offered both visual and narrative potential, I was confident that I could produce a strong short film out of it – a calling card for myself.

And then I listened to my doubts.

Storytelling and Experimentation: October 2012 – November 2012

The redeeming feature of the Creative Enterprise Project module is that it provides each student with a blank canvass on which they can paint whatever project they like; it is also a module designed to get the students out into the industry they want to work in, so that when they graduate they can get employment in that industry. To this end, I wondered if there was something better I could do than a short film. The reason why I wanted to do a short film is because I felt that the short films I had helped produce in Planning and Making a Film, my filmmaking module from the previous year, were only marginally representative of my potential and, now that I had access to the necessary resources, I saw the Creative Enterprise Project module as a chance to rectify previous errors and produce a short film that absolutely expressed my potential, opposed to being a botch-up. However, at the end of it all, I was really just making a short film for myself, because it had always been something I had wanted to do to a high level. The industry initiative was secondary. Therefore, I felt that I owed it to myself to do something that would be highly beneficial to my career aspirations and would directly assist me in securing a job once I had graduated. 

It was always about looking for a new approach.

To this end, I sought advice from the person who had tutored me in Planning and Making a Film: Mike Johnston. Mike was the person who suggested that I could do a web series project that would entail the construction of a series bible document and a pilot episode. He suggested this as a better option because it would more fully exploited the full range of skills that I had nurtured over the course of my degree. Furthermore, the ability to tell an ongoing story, opposed to the self-contained narrative of a short film is much more appealing to the industry. Today in the industry, there is much more emphasis on television and movie franchises and stories that are told in multiple parts.

The marvel cinematic universe is a key example of this shift towards mulit-part stories.

Mike made a compelling case for undertaking a web series project and he even suggested that I take it down the transmedia route, but I was hesitant to do this as it would have created more work. However, I was pretty sold on the web series idea because it would still allow me to conduct filmmaking in the form of the Pilot; as well as allowing me to express my creative writing and contemporary industry awareness. It was also a challenge as I knew virtually nothing about the relatively new web series medium, but challenges generate a great deal of creativity. 

I seem to be obsessed with looking.

The next step was taking the story idea for the EYES short film and moulding it into something that could be an ongoing story. Fortunately, as the EYES short film idea had only recently been formed it was still a proto-idea and, therefore, was very ripe to be shaped into any form or medium. During the process of creating the web series story idea it became obvious that what I needed was an overarching concept that would carry the web series identity and allow each episode to develop its own stories based around that common concept. Another problem arose that I was running out of time and by this point I was already going into November and I knew that if I was going to pull this project off I would need to get the pre-production phase largely done before Christmas! Therefore, I took to recycling previous Ideas that I had used in past projects. P.S. was the first short film script that I had written for submission in the Planning and Making a Film module, but had decided against submitting it as it was very complicated – it was complicated because it dealt with telepathy.

Imagine a world where all human consciousness was connected together like wifi.

I had written P.S. about telepathy because telepathy is something that has always interested me and I have always wondered what the world would be like if it actually existed. Therefore, as it was an abandoned script I felt that it made sense to give that concept a second chance and I realised that the complicated nature of something like telepathy meant that there were innumerable stories that could be told about it – therefore, it would serve as an exceedingly good overarching concept for an ongoing story. Also, the idea of putting thinking and looking together immediately seemed like a very natural idea. Telepathy is also a very unconventional subject that does not get covered much and I saw it as offering the potential for experimentation in the way that a story could be told around it. I was sold.

Gods and Monsters: November 2012 – March 2013 

While I did have an overall story concept full of potential, the specifics of the story still eluded me and I began to feel that the idea of a person who collects photographs of people’s eyes would not work in an ongoing form; rather, that was a story idea that was meant to be told as a standalone short film. Therefore, I abandoned this idea and kept Boris in the telepathy-EYES idea and re-worked it from there. I decided to bring in a cousin character (who originally was an highly immature adolescent male). The idea of focusing the show on two cousins came about because I knew I had to have only a small amount of characters because the web series is a much smaller medium. Also the idea of two family members at odds was something that I had kind of entertained before in an idea called Double Act, a sitcom about two brothers (Double Act was also going to be the name of episode two of EYES, but I never got round to writing it). However, I decided to give Boris a cousin, opposed to a sibling  make because that is less common and to complicate things further I gave Boris a female cousin who I named Lianne. With EYES I wanted to do the different and the unusual; In my mind, EYES was always about the uncommon.

EYES is heavily influenced by Twin Peaks, a groundbreaking television series I had binge-watched during the summer of 2012.

Blade Runner and its meditation on what it means to be human was another integral influence on EYES.

Being Human and the troubled dynamic of the three main characters - a vampire, a wherewolf and a ghost who have a houseshare - was the third primary influence for EYES and, certainly, had a strong influence on the tension between Boris and Lianne. 

During the initial stage of planning I referred to EYES as Twin Peaks meets Blade Runner meets Being Human

Conceiving of the inherent dynamic and tension that would exist between Boris and Lianne was actually quite easy. On the other hand, though, I had a great deal of trouble conceiving of a Pilot script idea with which I was fully satisfied. The main cause of this problem was the fact that I did not have a enough time to allow an intricate concept to develop – the workload of the entirety of my final year was jam-packed! The situation was simple; if I wanted to actually make the Pilot then I needed to get the script done before Christmas. This put a great deal of strain on my creative energies and prevented me from fully employing the five step process. 

The five step process had never let me down in the past.

This accounts for my dissatisfaction with the first three drafts of the Pilot script; even when I was writing them I was never happy with them – they just felt like a botched and clichéd job! The first three drafts were just two very long dialogue scenes that were not very visual; the first three drafts largely lacked the multi-layered narrative, Rubik cube complexity of the final draft. However, I kept writing them because I did not have anything else and I needed to get the ball rolling in regards to casting, something I had ideally wanted to get done before Christmas. Deep down I hoped that the brilliance of the five step process that had never failed me before would kick in over the Christmas break and would deliver me with a vastly more satisfying script and overall concept.

The auditions and rehearsal sessions where invaluable in the development of the Pilot script.

However, a large part of my redemption with the script came about as a result of the auditions, or rather lack of auditions, because I stole Mykel and Claire from the auditions we were conducting for Remember This (much to the annoyance of Matt). In Mykel and Claire I saw two highly talented performers who were able to project a great range. They both had potential and they both started to write themselves onto the proto-characters of Boris and Lianne after I had seen their initial performances for Remember This. They were informing the way I was writing the characters and I very quickly emailed them both to ask them to come in for an audition for EYES, just to make sure they had what was required. 

However, in addition to asking for them to perform an audition, I also asked them to tell me about themselves, about their backgrounds. This was me double checking, because following on from their first rehearsals I had seen certain things in the ways that they handled their characters that made me suspect there were certain aspects to both Mykel’s and Claire’s real-life personalities that would lend themselves very well to the character of Boris and Claire. 

Despite the strangeness of the overall concept, Lianne and Boris needed to feel real.

If they already had multiple aspects in common with the characters it would mean I would have to spend less time directing them towards what I needed. What I needed from my performers were actors who could just get on with it. This sounds very cold, but I did it with the best intentions in mind – I was trying to be highly effective with my time management. When I started the Creative Enterprise Project module, whatever I ended up doing, I would not have enough time over the final academic year to complete it!

When the script Idea did reform itself inside my head (after about two months of worrying) - when the Rubik cube and the Pilot merged together as one - for the first time since initiating the project I felt as though I had a solid idea that could become a highly engaging and intriguing web series presentation! As such, it relieved a great deal of stress as I now felt like I was in charge of the idea and the revelation of this reformulation is testimony to the effectiveness of the five step process. As I have already said, a large part of the influence for this reformulation came from the input of Claire and Mykel and the rehearsals I did with them using the first three drafts, but another major influence came from myself. One of the major advantages of creating the Fencing documentary alongside EYES is that process of being a documentarian requires you to be highly reflective upon your subject and upon your own approach towards the subject – it requires you to look inwards and to search yourself. While we were filming the Fencing documentary this technique I applied to EYES and through it I discovered something that I had consciously missed, but I could see had been a subconscious influence on the EYES project right from its conception. It was a film called Gods and Monsters. It was a film that had had a huge influence on me during my adolescence and I still maintain that it is one of the best films I have ever seen. 

The film's title shot.

The film is a part factual, part fictional account of the final days of James Whale, the man who directed Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, in which the Frankenstein monster is played by Boris Karloff. If you read the script for the Pilot you will know that Boris is a fan of Boris Karloff, hence why he chose Boris as his name. 

Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein monster. Boris Karloff's real name was William Henry Pratt.

However, Gods and Monsters had a huge impact on me when I first watched it because I was struck by how powerful the film was even though it was a small character focused affair and it is fair to say that it aligned with my emo-adolescent state of mind very comfortably. The film has a masterful use of film form that gives it a cerebral quality making the viewer feel like they are in the mind of the characters. 

James Whale had a distinctive style and was a filmmaker who was ahead of his time. However, the reason why Gods and Monsters, Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein permeated so much with the EYES pilot is because of the nature of Boris character and this is where it would be really informative to read the series bible. Okay, so it is as Boris says in the Pilot he is not Henry, literally. Henry and Boris are in fact two separate people and they were friends to begin with who then became enemies. At the time of the Pilot Boris is occupying Henry’s body because the real Henry set fire to Boris’ original body and because Boris is telepathic his conscious migrated into Henry’s head and suppressed the Henry’s conscious. However, Henry is still there, he is just asleep beneath the surface. This concept takes the whole Rubik cube metaphor to a new level. 

However, like the Frankenstein monster as played by Boris Karloff, Boris is a consciousness in a different head and in the series bible I talk about how the this would go on to develop a serious problem when Henry’s body started to reject the Boris consciousness as Henry gradually woke up. Equally, Boris fragmented state of mind holds many parallels with that of James Whale and is post-stroke condition in Gods and Monsters, which in turn is parelled with the Frankenstein Monster from Whale’s films. I realised the connection and the influence was so strong that I lent Mykel my copy of Gods and Monsters so that he could further understand the direction I wanted him to in with Boris – Boris is quite literally a muddled man who is a ghost of his former self. 

Not only does the final sequence pay homage to final scene of Gods and Monsters, but... also pays homage to the final scene of the Twin Peaks pilot. 

The 7th draft was only completed a few days before our first shoot, but I was glad that it had taken so long to formulate what I found to be a hugely satisfying and intriguing story and presentation idea. I would rather have spent two and a half months pulling my hair out coming out with a really good idea that formed a solid foundation than having settled for the very unstable first three drafts.

Production and Exploration: March 2013 

When it came to the filming period I intentionally planned to film more than I needed to and this is one of the reasons I spread the filming out over three weeks with each Wednesday being the filming day. I also spread the filming out over three weeks because right from the get-go I had expressed a desire to avoid the manic rush to get everything filmed, that I had experienced with the short films I had helped create in the Planning and Making a Film module the previous academic year. 


Additionally, I also scheduled three days based over three weeks so that I would have a back-up day, as I had initially planned to get the filming done in three blocks - the lower weir, the upper weir and the Jazz Café. Therefore, the lower weir and Upper Weir sequences I had scheduled for the first Wednesday and the Jazz Café I had scheduled for the following Wednesday.

The lead up to the first day of filming was so stressful for me that I actually gave myself a cold and then lost my voice on the first day of filming! However, this was overcome just by pushing forward and by having Matt relay my rasping instructions. I am glad this happened because it served as a good example later on for the other members of the production to stick with things: when Claire got her cold on the final day of shooting and when we were filming the Upper Weir scene in the excruciating cold. The director really needs to set the standard and, if not him, certainly the producer.

Despite the stress, we still managed to have fun.

In the grand scheme of things and considering all of the other potential problems we could have been plagued with what did go wrong was relatively minor. The first problem we encountered was one of the radio mics ceasing to work, but this was easily averted by moving that block of filming to the back-up day. We also encountered a weather problem with the clouds and not being afforded enough clearance to have the sun exposed for long enough to successfully film the Boris and Turner lower weir scene. However, this was actually a blessing because by the time the sun did come out and stay out it was the golden hour; the lighting of which looks unbelievably amazing and which I had always wanted to film in. 

Skin tones are especially emphasised in the golden hour.

The only problem that really bothers me and which was my doing is that some of the shots are in focus on the wrong thing. However, with the instances of the Claire’s shots on the upper weir with her out of focus and the Abbey in focus in the background this actually works to the strength of the story, because I am making a strong point about the Abbey throughout the whole Pilot

Always remember to set your focus!

I had planned as meticulously as I could in the lead up to the filming period, but the filming period still had a strong feel of spontaneity and exploiting the energy of the moment. With the production I took on the roles of directing, director of photography and largely sound as well because I wanted an opportunity to demonstrate that had those skills and I also wanted to explore what it would be like doing those as one package. Largely, I regret doing all three of those roles because it meant that my attention was more so focused on the technical aspects opposed to actually directing my actors. 

Rehearsing the Jazz Cafe scene.

As I have already explained I cast Mykel and Claire because I knew I could trust them to just get on with it and deliver what I wanted from them. However, they said they still felt a little lost throughout the process of filming and I can see now that a large part of the director’s job is just reassuring the actors and letting them know they are going in the right direction. Certainly, this is something I am going to look to refine in future projects.

Editing and Reformulation: March 2013 – Sep 2013 

The editing phase had been the part of the process that I had been most looking forward to because I had learnt from various previous editing experiences that the editing phase is when the greatest experimentation occurs in the formation of what will become the final story. Editing is something that I have heavily enrolled myself in for a number of years now; I have always referred to editing as the adult version of playing with Lego and I loved playing with Lego when I was younger. To this end, I had also written the script from an editor’s point of view and, by this, I mean that I intentionally put a plethora of material into the script to ensure that I would have an excess of material to play with in the edit. For instance, in the final cut the opening scene plays over dialogue from the following Jazz Café sequence and this was something I had always envisioned while writing the script; however, I did not write this into the script and kept the two scenes as two separate elements so that I would have options in the edit. As the web series form was something that I had not grappled with before, I always saw the project as being a highly experimental endeavour and I was very keen for the editing phase to be just so.

Also, from the spectator’s point of view, EYES is to be figured out and the same was true from my point of view while I was creating the project. The editing phase was when I took all of the abstract elements of the Pilot and pieced them together into a logical, cohesive whole; even if that appears not to be the case with the finished product, but that is precisely the point of it! 

It was rare throughout the project that I felt as though I had a firm conscious grasp on what the project actually was. As I have already commented in one of the vlogs, I just had an intuitive grasp of the concept which is to say, subconsciously, I knew it through and through, but, consciously, I was just following my instincts – I followed what felt like the right thing to do. This is also a pretty apt description of what an editor does; while they do follow the script and the director’s dictations, it is also their job to re-think the material and bring it together into a unified form that not only works as a whole, but which feels right: every spectacle creates an impression – a general feeling or tone - within the spectator and that feeling needs to be spot on in regards to the story being told. 

The style of editing needed to represent the presentation of a cognitive process and of connections being made between the characters' different cognitive perspectives.

The editing was spread out over five months alongside everything else I was working on and it actually took me a while to properly sit down to edit the Pilot, because I was still in the process of editing the Fencing documentary when I entered the postproduction phase of EYES. My editing focus was too much concerned with the Fencing documentary and I was not able to really approach EYES with a fresh perspective, as I was exhausted from having edited the Fencing documentary for nearly two months. However, when the co-creator took over the remainder of the editing for the documentary I was able to shift my focus on to EYES. 

Editing EYES.

If I had been able to devote my time fully to editing EYES, I suspect that it would only have taken me two months, maybe two and a half months. However, I am actually grateful that it ended up taking five months because it meant I was really able to consider all of the editing options available in my experimentation and allowed me to produce stronger results due to some long periods away from the edit that, again, allowed me to employ the five step process to its full potential. 

With One Door Opened, the short film that I had been marked on for Planning and Making a Film, I had been quite annoyed that we had not really employed any music or sound effects with the edit and this was something that I was determined to correct with EYES. Therefore, I very actively got Daniel (sound designer) involved in the project very early on; I met up with him in the beginning of January and gave him my impression of the project and what I wanted to achieve with the sound design for the Pilot. As the sound design of EYES was going to greatly inform its final impression then the sound design needed to be spot on! My instructions to Daniel were simple EYES was heavily influenced by Twin Peaks and, as such, I was looking for a very David Lynchian soundscape. 

I could tell Daniel was on the right track when he recommended Berberian Sound Studio to me. This film went on to heavily influence me and the editing of EYES.

If I am being honest, I would have liked to have had more personal contact with Daniel and to be with him in the studio while he created the sound design – we only managed to meet in the studio once. That experience was definitely the way I wanted to continue the shaping of the sound design. 

Daniel at work on the sound design.

However, the commitment to each of our final year projects really just prevented us from being able to make the time to do so. Therefore, every now and then I would send Daniel some notes or thoughts that I had jotted down while doing the editing and, likewise, he would send me a sample of what he was working on and then I would send him feedback, etc, etc. This was the process we kept going through for the remainder of the sound design and it only really changed once I had locked the picture for the edit (I still went back and tweaked a few things later on) and gave Daniel the edit so that he could more precisely match up everything he had done with the edit. However, even Daniel did not have time to fully complete the sound design up to my specifications, to this end, I had to incorporate various elements that he made for an initial sketch (this was included with all the other materials I submitted back in May). Therefore, the sound design of the Pilot has all been created by Daniel, it is just that in a few instances I added some of his other elements into the mix. 

Am I pleased with the sound design? Very much so! As It stands I think it greatly encapsulates the David Lynchian feel I asked for and in intensifying the Pilot itself. Could we have developed the sound design further? Definitely. However, we were really too busy to be able to do this and I am happy with the sound design as it exists in the final cut. I have certainly fulfilled my wish to exploit sound design to a greater potential and I have no doubt that in my next filmmaking venture I will push this desire even further based on the experience I have had with Daniel on EYES. 

In many ways, the postproduction period on EYES was bliss and I am glad I had so much time to engage with it and to experiment with my interest in it. The postproduction period is when I took the Rubik cube of the overall project and figured it out. 

EYES of a Storyteller

When I started this blog in October 2012, as with all my other blogs, I was filled with a great enthusiasm towards the project that it would go on to chronicle and, as ever, it did not quite go the way that I had initially envisioned it. Originally, this blog was merely going to serve as a reflective platform for the project and the abandoned website would have become the project’s online portfolio. However, a lack of time caused this blog to evolve into the online portfolio for the project and now EYES of a Storyteller, like the concept proposal it chronicles, has a somewhat confusing and self-reflective relationship in its final hybrid blog/project portfolio form. 

Fluidity is an integral element of the project as a whole and my attitude towards it. As I have remarked in the reflective commentary for the pilot the recurring elements of water and rivers are representative of consciousness, a stream of conscious - of something that is always changing and being re-interpreted: “you can’t step in the same river twice”. While orchestrating the project, I never fully knew what it was going to end up being and It has only ended up in its final form due to my intuition forcing me to keep re-formulating the project and its concept. Ultimately, now that I do have a conscious grasp of what it is I was endeavouring to achieve with the project, I can satisfactorily say that this blog/portfolio accounts for all of my intentions.

Since its first manifestation as the A&B short film, I have been orchestrating this project for fifteen months now and throughout that period I have been able to very intricately experiment with my abilities as a storyteller. I am still somewhat shocked that the project was awarded the highest mark of the 2012-13 Creative Enterprise project module, but I am gratified none the less, as it serves as a justly reward for all the time and energy I and the other project members have invested into the project and I would like to thank the other members of the project - I would not have been able to have completed it without them! This recurrent need I seem to have to keep dissecting the spectator’s relationship with the spectacle is now an ongoing conscious pursuit on my part and is something on which I am gaining a greater intellectual grasp. All the time and energy I have invested in the EYES manifestation of this ongoing pursuit has not been for nothing and, certainly, every aspect of this project has enabled me to better understand our need for stories and my role in the world. The fifteen month process of orchestrating this project has been a hugely worthwhile process and investment; even if, at times, it proved to be something of a death-trip.

Just after I submitted the unfinished project for submission on the 20th May 2013.

When people ask me why the project is called EYES, they always ask this question from the wrong perspective. In their mind they believe EYES pertains to what is in the story-world of the web series and, while this is marginally true, the title of the project more so refers to the spectator of the project – us. This is the point of the entire project and, ultimately, my deep seated reasoning for wanting to undertake it – the project is a reflexive expression of the spectator’s relationship with the spectacle. This project – a creative enterprise project – fulfils the criteria of my final year undergraduate practical dissertation and like my theoretical dissertation, Ways of Being: The Spectator and the Spectacle, examines our need to enrol ourselves within narratives. 

The spectator and the spectacle - which is looking at which?

This accounts for the project’s highly experimental nature, as it served as a platform through which I was able to combine this specific theoretical focus with my other practical interests. It enabled me to re-learn what it is to be told a story and what it is to be a storyteller – it enabled me to re-learn our ways of being the spectator and the spectacle. If you want to understand EYES then what you need to do is simple - search me, search yourself: “If only you could see what I have seen with your eyes” (Roy Batty, Blade Runner).