Auteur vs Scriptwriting Team

Television drama.

Contemplating those two almost contradictory terms brings numerous pictures into my head. The first is of some American channel executive seeking to maximize advertising income by breaking anything resembling drama into bite sized segments, punctuated with advertisements – not to mention product placements dominating every scene. Perhaps the most irritating aspect of American television is its need for repetition. Reiteration. Encore. Saying the same thing over again, in different ways.

British television is different. Dramatic moments with John Thaw as Endeavour Morse sitting, concentrated and listening to opera; Diana Rigg as Emma Peel standing poised in her jump suit or minidress prepared to defend herself and Patrick Macnee, in his role as John Steed.

Dani Lurle (photo) 2006 John Bates1965 Jean Varon mindress
One of the real stars of the Avengers, a John Bates minidress for Jean Varon Avengerswear collection from 1965. This particular design was for Diana Rigg as Emma Peel (photo: Dani Lurle, 2006, Fashion Museum, Bath)

Entertainment becomes escapism.

Of course, television is dead. Late adapters are the only people still alive who have not discovered this truth. Life cannot be compressed into a single forty minute hour. At least the Swedes know that it takes ten forty-two minute hours (seven full hours) to commit and solve a crime, and to comment on the social factors precipitating it.

In March I have watched Modus (1) and Modus 2. Based on crime novels by Norwegian author, and former justice minister, Anna Holt. The screenplay was written by Mai Brostrøm and Peter Thorsboe. It is, of course, this scriptwriting team that has had the most impact on the final product. It is not the director, or the marketing executive. This is why Scandinavian crime drama has been so successful, despite closed captions.

My first exposure to Scandinavian crime was in the early 1970s, reading novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, that featured Martin Beck, the protagonist Swedish homicide detective. Both authors plotted and researched each book together and then wrote alternate chapters. The books are renowned for their extensive character and setting development, planed in detail by the authors.

Hollywood, Bollywood and other film factories throughout the world have no chance of exploiting these virtues. With one and a half to two hours, they cannot develop character in any meaningful way. With the exception of a few rebel directors, like Michael Moore, they seem unable to offer meaningful social criticism. While the first factory location relies increasingly on extensive visual effects extolling violence, the second relies on extensive audio effects extolling love or at least sex, found in what can only be described as musical and choreographic set pieces.

Many of the most prominent directors described as auteurs, have been exposed by the #meToo movement. Hopefully, the narcissistic auteur is finally dead, and a more democratic, team based approach to video production can be pursued.

Fred Schepisi: “Auteur theory just denigrates everyone else’s job.”

Alan Parker: “[Auteur theory was] cooked up by a bunch of Frenchmen with an exercise book and a 16mm camera, perpetuated by the people who write about film, and fed by the insatiable vanities of us directors”.

Andrew Sarris: “Every director has to show his wild visual style in order to establish himself and blaze a trail immediately.”

 

 

Unit One: Origins & Frustrations

When I first began writing this blog in 2016, its focus was on the production of guerrilla videos. That is still one of my major interests and goals. The name Unit One was a reference to a smaller video production organization. Many major films employ both a first and a second unit. “The functions of the second unit vary, but typically the first unit films the key face-to-face drama between the principal actors.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_unit

In the 1930s, there were several prominent film organizations, that used unit in their names, including the General Post Office Film Unit, in the United Kingdom, and the National Film Unit in New Zealand. Another source of inspiration was British Transport Films, that existed from 1949 to 1982, making documentary films, included training films, travelogues and industrial films, many about the British railway network. The name, Unit One, also paid homage to the original Unit One, an influential modern art movement that existed from 1933 to 1935 featuring Paul Nash, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Edward Wadsworth and  Herbert Read. It is noted for revitalised British art in the inter-war period. The idea was that this Unit One could (re)vitalise video production in Inderøy.

The concept was that a small production facility using 20 square meters of space, and a spartan crew, could produce videos with a social conscience for assorted groups, including those working under the name Joyous Marmot Creations. At the time, it could also considering making videos at and for inmates at Verdal Prison, as well as for the local Friends of the Earth group in Inderøy. Because of this, I felt it was appropriate to separate the technical facilities from the more artistic ones.

marmot-logo
Joyous Marmot Creations was started in 2013.

The main reason neither Joyous Marmot Creations nor Unit One – as a video producer – got off the ground was a lack of dedication, although one serious misunderstanding was a contributing factor. Since I’m not particularly good at taking responsibility for my actions, I’ll ignore the hippopotamus in the river, and comment on a failed equipment investment.

Unfulfilled Promises

The essence of the problem is that Canon, Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, Microsoft, Apple and Adobe all want to profit from my interest in video. Yet, they are doing nothing to ensure that their products all work seamlessly together to ensure that this happens.

In 2013, I thought I had made a prudent purchase when I bought a Canon XA-10 camcorder. I was aware that it used AVCHD file formats for recording. I was also aware that Sony and Panasonic developed this format, which was introduced in 2006, primarily for high definition consumer camcorders. Note the term used, consumer. Unlike many other camcorders, the XA-10 allowed one to record on removable SD cards. Other cameras used DVDs, mini-DVDs, HDDs (Hard Disk Drives), propitiatory memory cards and non-removable solid state memory.

The advantages of SD cards are their compactness and light weight. They contains no moving parts, their operation is (almost) silent. They allow the camera to be more compact and less prone to mechanical damage.They do not need time to spin-up and initialization. They are immune to variations in magnetic fields. They tolerate a wide range of temperatures, air pressures, humidity and vibrations. They can be backed up easily. They can store a wide variety of media content. A wide variety of devices, including computers, TV sets, Blu-ray players, and media players have built-in card readers and can play AVCHD video directly from a card.

Despite this there are some disadvantages. They are more expensive per minute of recording than some other formats. They are unreliable for long term storage and may wear out. This applies to cards made with MLC technology. Static electricity and high temperatures can pose problems. Data corruption from a bad memory card can result in a loss of clips.

Despite having a licenced version of Adobe Premiere Pro 6 provided by my employer on a HP laptop computer running Windows 7, with a 500 GB Samsung EVO Solid State Drive, the program would not edit my files, regardless of what I tried.

Searching the internet for answers, one finds comments like this one from Ease Fab ( https://www.easefab.com/topic-avchd/import-mts-files-to-premiere-pro.html ): “…it not easy to import MTS [an ACVHD file format] to Premiere Pro. Although Adobe claimed that Premiere Pro CS5 and above (Premiere CS6, CC) offer much better native AVCHD support than it predecessor, there are still some video, audio codec problems like the common missing audio tracks when opening and editing AVCHD MTS clips in Premiere Pro. Plus, even the Premiere Pro can ingest your MTS files directly, it takes a long time for rendering.  Fortunately, there is an easy way to fix the issues. The easy workaround is to convert MTS to Premiere Pro supported file formats like MPEG-2, MOV or WMV with a MTS AVCHD Converter.”

In other words Ease Fab’s solution is for me to spend money on a converter, then edit in a sub-optimal format.

Another part of the problem is the processing power required. Compared to HDV format, AVCHD requires two to four times the processing power for real time playback. While being sold as a consumer high-definition format, AVCHD demands professional (read very expensive) equipment, in terms of memory, CPU and graphics cards.

At Leksvik senior secondary school, where I also worked, I had access to a Mac machine, with a licensed version of Final Cut Pro. This machine and software could not edit AVCHD clips directly, but converted them into the Apple Intermediate Codec format, which consumed exorbitant amounts of hard disk space (40GB per hour). The result was also sub-optimal. I also tried using another Apple machine given to me by my daughter. Again, it was not up to the task.

OpenShot

The OpenShot video editor is open-source, available for FreeBSD, Linux, macOS and Windows. Jonathan Thomas started work on the project in 2008. He wanted to provide a stable, free and user friendly video editor. OpenShot supports the AVCHD codec.

Unfortunately, by the time I was about to edit video films in 2013, OpenShot was criticized for its unreliability. Developers said that this came from the instability of the MLT library and GTK Timeline. Since then newer versions of OpenShot use their own library for video processing, making the software more stable (read, reliable). OpenShot uses AppImage for distribution of its Linux versions. This provides a single binary that can be run on most modern Linux distributions.

In 2018, the situation for using AVCHD has vastly improved. Multi-core CPUs and more powerful graphic processors allow AVCHD to be edited on consumer desktop and laptop machines. Unfortunately, this development has happened about five years too late, which brings us back to the Rhinoceros on the Savanna, and my lack of dedication.

Unit One: Woodworking Work Space

Since 2017 my interests have changed direction. I am returning to an interest in woodworking, that I first developed as a young teenager in 1962. While video remains one of my interests, Unit One is no longer involved in video production.

 

 

To Hell with Anna!

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Hell Station, Norway. Photo: Alasdair McLellan, 2008

J.D. Vance gave a passionate appeal in a TED talk about America’s forgotten working class.

Vance is a working class person who was given a break, and was able to pull himself upwards into the middle class, as a Yale educated lawyer. He has not forgotten his roots.

Vance says working class youth need help in two areas.

The first, is to provided with “social capital” (or what I would classify as informational capital). Perhaps they don’t need to know how to make a bed. They do need to know how to wash bedding, and to do it regularly. There are probably a thousand other life skills that need to be learned as well.
The second is more difficult. They need a trauma free environment. They need someone to ensure that they are not beaten or abused in any way. Sometimes it is as simple as finding a quiet space for homework. Sometimes it is considerably more complex. The most important line in the talk described childhood trauma as “the gift that keeps on giving.” There has to be some way to stop the generational transfer of childhood abuse.
Fiction, in the form of a novel, play or film is one way to provide help to youth with the above needs. One suggestion is “To Hell with Anna”, set in the village of Hell, Norway, ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hell,_Norway ). At the start a dysfunctional Anna, living in squalor, finds a temporary solace in alcohol. The story documents her transformation from addict to plumber.
The main purpose of writing this work is to help young people make their own personal transformations. Of course, it should be written, performed as theatre, or performed on video by youth themselves.

Lost Tribes of Inderøy

“Lost Tribes of Inderøy” is the title of a comic videography about five tribes living in Inderøy, rural Norway.It is being produced by Jade Marmot.

Jade

Joyful Marmot Creations is an unusual family business. Its genius is that anyone can become a member of the Marmot family, and thus a stakeholder in the video project. The only requirement is that participants choose a unique “marmot name” and work on the project. Even scriptwriter Qwerty Asdf has been forced into using a Marmot name, Qwerty Marmot.

A little more about … Joyful Marmot Creations and “Lost Tribes of Inderøy”
marmot-logo

Slogan: Inclusive multimedia storytelling
Mission: The purpose of the JMC is for people to have fun. While hoping to avoid financial losses, projects are not designed for commercial success. Everyone, especially locals, immigrants, people with mental and somatic health challenges are welcome. To avoid wearing people out, a long working day is limited to four hours (with breaks).

The production is based on the five tribes of Inderøy. Below is an overview of some of the the codes that describe the members of each tribe.

Attribute A B C D E
Area Utøy Sandvollan Straumen Røra Mosvik
Values Traditional Ecological Upper Crust Metal Geek
Hobby Crafts Gardening Bridge Motorcycles Data
Fashion National costume Jeans Haute couture Leather Relaxed
Food «Sodd» Vegetarian French cuisine Meat Pizza
Drink Coffee Water Wine Beer Cola
Car Veteran Volvo EV Mercedes American Bicycle
Dance Rhinelander Swing Ballet Raw No
Music Fiddle Pink Floyd Classic Heavy metal Electronic
Art Tidemand & Gude Teodor Kittelsen Edvard Munch Anders Kjær Marianne Aulie
Housing Farmhouse Plain Luxury Workshop Apartment
Pet Dog Cat Aquarium fish Snake No

Not all participants are ethnic Norwegian. For example, upper crusters could have a Sudanese origin, while their servants could be ethnic Norwegian. Living in Sandvollan, for example, does not mean you have to play a role featuring ecological values. Even people from Leksvik, Steinkjer, Verdal or Ontario can be given temporarily Inderøy citizenship, allowing them to participate.

Note: Sodd is a traditional meat soup eaten in Inderøy. The artists are (in)famous Scandinavian artists. Billi Sodd has offered to create fake works that show some of the qualities that make the works (in)famous.

Plot: The plot mirrors headlines in the local newspaper and other media, with all the tribes wanting to preserve their own local school, and waring against all the other tribes. About the only thing the five tribes have in common is that all enjoy the natural environment, and want to protect the municipal eagle population. When foreigners climb up into an eagle’s nest and steal eagle eggs, then tribes unite. The historic wooden sailing vessel Pauline (referred to as the Royal Yacht) and the hamlet of Kjerknesvågen represent a centre where all the tribes can meet. The remainder of the film becomes a hunt for the culprits along the roads criss-crossing the municipality, where all sorts of vehicles (historic and otherwise) are used to track the thieves. When thieves finally stop for a meal, locals replace the stolen eggs with imitations. They then return the eggs to the eagle’s nest. The film ends with the foreign thieves despairing that their “eggs” will not hatch, while alternate images of the hatched eagle chicks in the wild.

rora_station_2
Rora Station. Røra is home to Inderøy’s Metal tribe. Photo: Alasdair McLellan

There is also a sixth tribe, the Vikings. Initially, they are only found in Kjerknesvågen and aboard the “Royal Yacht”. However, by the end of the film, all of the participants dress in their Viking uniforms – the lost tribes are united.

 

jekta_pauline
The Jekt Pauline, being considered for a role as the Royal Yacht in Lost Tribes of Inderøy. Photo: Ivar Svare Holand

If you are interested in working with Jade Marmot and everyone in the Marmot family, contact Jade’s agent: brock.mclellan@gmail.com

 

Institutional Cinema Theory

Institutional cinema’s mission is to pacify spectators. People congregate in a theatre or living room, but do not to act together or to talk to each other. They sit silently, in isolation. Institutional cinema is essentially a money machine. The public puts in money, directly (tickets) or indirectly (ads) and out pops entertainment.

Joyful Marmot Productions wants to change that cinema experience. Videos should not just be entertaining. There should be a more serious mission, social change. To do this, they have to be very aware of the pacifying qualities of institutional cinema, and other modes of representation that can be used.

André Bazin (1918-1958) regards the “myth of total cinema” as a desire of filmmakers to represent reality as completely as possible. This has resulted in many cinema innovations, including sound, color, widescreen as well as editing techniques.It has not led to much social change.

Since 1914, the institutional mode of representation (IMR) has dominated film construction. Almost all contemporary films are IMR. Two other modes are the Primitive (PMR) used before 1914 and Deconstructionist (Here, DMR), which is used experimentally.  There are others, but these three are sufficient to indicate alternative ways of construction and viewing. Within all three there are also many styles – some dominant, others less so.

Noël Burch (1932-) presented the PMR concept in Praxis du cinéma (1969) [Theory of Film Practice (1973)]. PMR demands “autarchy of the tableau, horizontal and frontal camera placement, maintenance of long shop and centrifugality.” (p. 188) There are some big words, but what they mean is that one finds a (small) set, puts a camera in front of it, and starts filming. As was the case with Lumiere films, each shot ended when there was no film left in the camera.  Another aspect of PMR: “It is as if story and characters were assumed to be familiar to the audience, or this knowledge was to be provided for them during the projection.” In the period prior to 1908, intertitles were used in silent film that eliminated any possible suspense. PMR was really only be used for serious subjects, often with punitive endings.

Voyage to the Moon
Georges Méliès, Le Voyage dans la Lune [A Trip to the Moon] (1902) was made using the primitive mode of representation.
Burch’s focus is not PMR, but IMR. He argues that IMR is a bourgeois cinematic representation that creates an illusion of reality, an entirely closed fictional world on screen. Spectators are isolated physically to enhance their imaginative involvement. This contrasts with other modes where the film is an object for inspection. Burch notes that IMR is no more elaborate or realistic a system than its alternatives.

The key to IMR is the spectators identification with a ubiquitous camera. Various techniques (the “language of cinema”) were developed to accomplish this. First, films consist of a sequence of shots, each of which presents the spectator with one piece of information. Second, a 3D space is created. This involves rules of perspective, and cinematic techniques such as editing and lighting. Third, psychological depth is created. The narrative is driven by character psychology. Spectators are invited to interpret character motivations. Theatrical acting methods, and the psychological individualization of characters enhance this.

Close-ups are used in IMR, in contrast to PMR where they are lacking. To preserve the illusion of spatial integrity, which was lost with the introduction of close-ups, eye-line and directional matches were introduced.

psycho-psycho-34282508-1302-705
While Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) uses the institutional mode of representation, it is absent from the notorious shower scene. In IMR continuity editing is used to smooth over any discontinuities. Editing is used to make time look like it is flowing at a normal and realistic pace. Psycho challenges this In the shower scene time does not flow.

Burch described other modes of representation, including the pre-WWII Japanese mode,  discussed in: To the Dist ant Observer: Form and Meaning in Japanese Cinema. (1979) [Pour un observateur lointain (1983)].

Moving on to a deconstructive mode of representation, one could begin philosophically by naming Jacques Derrida De la grammatologie (1967) [Of Grammatology (1976)], and the relationship between text (which in this context would include film) and meaning. I could, but I won’t, because what is needed is a more pragmatic deconstruction.

Tom Tykwer’s Lola rennt (1998) [Run Lola Run] is a good example of a deconstructive film. It consists of three iterations of a woman’s run (and associated actions) centering on her need to obtain 100 000 Deutsche Mark in twenty minutes to save her boyfriend’s life. Philosophically, the film comments on free will vs. determinism, the role of chance in people’s destiny, and cause-effect relationships. Flash-forward is used effectively.

Run Lola Run
Tom Tykwer’s Lola rannt (1998) is a film in the deconstructive mode of representation.

Any films made by Joyful Marmot Productions will have elements of deconstruction in them.

 

 

 

Filmmaking with a social conscience

Over the next few weeks Unit One will share exclusive comments by Jade Marmot on the V&P film project. Today’s topic is low-cost filmmaking approaches.

Jade

To understand filmmaking a person has to watch a variety of film types. A good place to start are these four films: Citizen Kane (1941), Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), The Celebration (1998) and Sicko (2007). These go over more than 65 years. Admittedly some are more low-cost than others, with Sicko costing $9 million.

François Truffaut (1932-1984) devised auteur theory in the mid-1950s. It stated that the director was the “author” of his work. Great directors, such as Jean Renoir (1894–1979) or Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980), have distinct styles and themes that permeate their films. While this invokes a filmmaking style that focuses on artistic intent, it concentrates on a director’s personal creative vision, denying the other participants (cast as well as crew) artistic integrity. Orson Welles’ (1915-1985) Citizen Kane (1941) is a textbook example of an auteur film. Truffaut made his feature film debut with Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959) [The 400 Blows].

 

Citizen-Kane-Welles-Podium
Kane (Orson Welles) makes a campaign speech at Madison Square Garden. Citizen Kane

 

In 2006 David Kipen wrote The Schreiber Theory: A Radical Rewrite of American Film History. He argues that auteur theory has wrongly skewed analysis towards a director-centred view of film. Kipen believes that the screenwriter has a greater influence on the quality of a finished work. Much of Scandinavian television production uses this approach in their 10 episode thrillers, with a number of directors being responsible for one or more of the episodes, but with a co-operating script-writing team.

Many low-budget film colleagues refer to themselves as guerrilla filmmakers. Guerrilla filmmaking involves corporate independence, low budgets, skeleton crews, and simple props. They shoot scenes quickly in real locations without permits, permission or warning. Corporate independence means that the filmmakers are not accountable to anyone but themselves.

“Guerrilla filmmaking is driven by passion with whatever means at hand”, said Mark Hill, Yukon Film Commission Manager. Guerrilla filmmaking focuses too much on technique, rather than on content. For pacifists, there are also problems with the military connotations of the title. Film critic Roger Ebert described Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) written, produced, scored, directed by, and starring Melvin Van Peebles (1932-), as “a textbook on guerrilla filmmaking.” If you cannot find this film, an equivalent example is Robert Rodriguez’ (1968-) El Mariachi (1992). It cost about $7,000 to make, with money partially raised by volunteering in medical research studies. While originally intended for the Spanish-language low-budget home-video market, it received international distribution. Rodriguez described his filmmaking experiences in his book Rebel Without a Crew. The book and film continue to inspire filmmakers to make no-budget films.

Sweet-Sweetbacks-Baadasssss-Song
Sweet Sweetback (Melvin Van Peebles). Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song

 

The Dogme 95 approach to filmmaking turns auteur theory upside down. It codifies filmmaking in a 10-point Vow of Chastity written by Lars von Trier (1956-) and Thomas Vinterberg (1969-) that prohibits expensive and spectacular special effects, post-production modifications and other technical ploys. Filmmaking concentrates on content: the story and actors’ performances. Here the director is a nameless servant; at best a coordinator. One of the most powerful films is Vinterberg’s Festen (1998) [The Celebration]. Note: It can be a bit too powerful for people with assorted family issues that can be triggered. For those people Italiensk for begyndere (2000) [Italian for Beginners] a Danish romantic comedy, written and directed by Lone Scherfig (1959-) is more appropriate.

Festen

Political cinema may refer to films that do not hide their political stance, but this does not mean that they are pure propaganda. Most films are political, including escapist films offering entertainment. In Nazi Germany, the authorities organized a large production of deliberately escapist movies. Today, Hollywood cinema misrepresents black, women, gays, working-class people, and others frequently in the form of stereotypes. Michael Moore (1954-) is one of many political filmmakers, with Sicko (2007) being one of his most popular, and lucrative. It investigates American health care, with a focus on health insurance and pharmaceuticals. The movie compares the for-profit, non-universal U.S. system with the non-profit universal health care systems of Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Cuba. Moore rejects the label of political activism as redundant in a democracy, “I and you and everyone else has to be a political activist. If we’re not politically active, it [presumably USA] ceases to be a democracy.”

That’s it for today!

Come back next time, when Jade Marmot writes about the institution of cinema itself, and its mission to pacify spectators, and how Joyful Marmot Productions aims to change this. Until then, think about the cinema, and how people congregate but do not to act together or to talk to each other, but sit silently, and isolated from each other.