Decisions Decisions Decisions


In this office, we make many tiny decisions every time we set off to make a film. It is a necessary part of the process. As a filmmaker, you will be confronted with questions: Where shall we sit the interviewee? Are they relaxed? If not, why not? What is the weather doing? Should we change the schedule because it’s going to rain this afternoon? What order shall I ask the questions in? Is there one big question? Where in the interview shall I ask it? What is the beginning of the film going to be? What I thought was going to be an opening suddenly won’t work. Maybe the beginning is the end? Let’s get on with it and solve it later – better have options though.

This process of rapid-fire decision-making has been going on since the first meeting with the client. The process is the same for a low budget five-minute film, an Instagram clip or a ten-part feature documentary series. The process of interior suggestions (in our heads) and the self-rejection of those suggestions has been whirring away in all our waking moments, the ideas; altered, adjusted and sometimes shot down by the client or colleagues. By the time we get to the shoot we have a suite of options all standing politely in line in our subconscious, waiting to live or die as necessary, a bit like the sperms in that Woody Allen film. Some might say, “Why not write a script”? – get it approved by the client and proceed in an orderly manner, ticking off the shots and the points in the brief answered therein? The truth is most of documentary or factual work is totally unpredictable. The shoot day and the edit day stretch out before us, full of unknowns – a possible story of success and failure, of extreme highs and bowel-churning lows. Only our ability to make creative decisions can save us. We live and die by them. Okay, it’s not on the level of, “Shall we invade Iraq?” or “Let’s ask the country about leaving Europe?” but we are used to making decisions without committee. In the heat of the moment, there are no “stakeholders” – just a stark, flashing neon sign that says, STORY? What’s the STORY? How can I tell the story?

 

We have been making a feature length documentary about the abstract painter John McLean. The film is set mostly in his studio where we see him engaged in making decisions, tiny decisions to do with shape and distance and colour and size. There is constant success and failure in the story of him making a painting. Underneath the finished work are layers of decisions, corrected, obliterated, re-thought. In fact, living with a painting by John is to be aware of this journey he has taken. It should be said, McLean rarely agonises over these decisions. He delights in the cliff-hanger moment, the brush poised over the canvas, the moment of the mark… it might be exactly right and there again… absolutely wrong, or partly right and partly wrong and therefore in need of an adjustment solution, that in turn will bring forth more questions. Like all artists, John McLean knows that without risk there can be no art. The possibility of failure is ever present. Of course, if McLean knew it was going to “work” every time, there would be no point in doing it. His work is a continuous exploration; a research project with no solution or conclusion. The by-products of this happen to be… beautiful paintings.

 

In our processes we rarely court “failure”. We have become adept in having a store of material or strategies that give another spin or can provide another way of telling the story. Indeed sometimes the second or third version of a film is infinitely better than the first (sometime it is not). The process of re-exploring the material and thinking it through some more, even shooting additional scenes, finding new music, taking out the music and letting the sound effects come to the fore can change the experience for the viewer and help supply the messages the piece was designed for. There are no rules and there are no pat solutions.

With Instagram and Twitter and Facebook we are confronted with media “windows” for our work that didn’t exist a few years ago. This is actually quite exciting to people like us because the storytelling challenge, for all these new outlets, needs other kinds of solutions. We plan for these new windows and platforms and we believe that we are uniquely placed to advise. We are experts in the moving image and how pictures can tell a story, silent with captions or with sound.

Now, here is a challenge, and it is to do with trust. In the many films we have made since we started this venture in 2004, millions of little decisions have been made on the behalf of our clients. Honestly, only about 10% of those decisions are visible. It is in the apparently invisible that this company’s real skill lies. The challenge is… trust us and we can do something really great for you.

 

Michael Proudfoot

 

 

 


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