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film as process

The moment when written word meets filmed image. Fleeting yet significant. Thoughts on writing, thoughts on filming.

by Miki Ambrózy

disengaging the word

September 2015

On Writing & Experimental Film

Writing for experimental film has been my singlemost rewarding activity ever since I read Writing Down the Bone. Yet, writing is not film, and film is not writing.

On the way from the capital to the countryside, I was chatting with my partner about my new film. As we talked, I kept returning to the idea that writing should be the basis of a film. Let's notice the ideological bias wrapped in that should.

She gently reminded me that the film's current version is simple and light.

I responded by saying what a relief that would be if it stayed that way.

Simple and light. What a relief.

Very little has gone into this version in terms of "script".

So that other voice, the voice of should, started babbling. But what about all the ideas, uncontrolled and wild like a jungle or rough sea, that I have been accumulating in my notebooks? These are chaotic, beautiful notes and they do something extremely important for my film practice.

How come that the idea of disengaging my writing from my films sounded like a relief?

Experimental film requires that we experiment. Writing can be part of it, but for me film constitutes the larger part. Let's repeat the obvious: the medium of film and video are sensorially different from anything written. The role of imagination makes that difference.The mode of engagement with that imagination as a viewer/reader of work is different in multiple ways. The role of imagination, association, language, time and so on - the list is long.

I can write a descriptive text for a scene which talks about what I will feel when I see that scene. But to film this scene, I need to stand up, walk, search, rewind, expose, develop, project, think, edit and stand up again.

There is, inevitably, an eternal gap between writing and filming.

There are films without writing, and writing without film. (Of course!?) There is writing for screen. And more importantly perhaps: writing on screen. There is filmmaking which starts from writing. There are texts which attract adaptations for cinema.

Writing is the residue of thinking. Film, however, is the action that precedes and follows this residue. No thinking will expose a reel of film: a decision is required, an action, an intention.

The only mistaken take is the one that has not been filmed. This is what Mekas means when he titles his film Outtakes from the Life of a Happy Man. In his concept of film outtakes are the film.

The film is what passes through the filter of the hands: what gets filmed, re-filmed, constructed, and not what gets written will be the film. Ironically, the same goes for that most logical and blunt device: the voiceover. Its stability is an ideological lie, it's been written to be changed and adjusted while recording, breaking the seemingly direct link between writing and recording.

Yet, writing can never become what cinema is. Equally, film will never replace writing. And as I type this, I am reminded of the notebooks I filled in the past two years, in preparation for an almost infinite number of films.

I've come to think of my writing as a sub-conscious form of creating films. There are the obvious reflections, discursive in nature, on my film practice. There are the usual self-critical voices about working too slow. There are insights related to being too romantic, too self-conscious.

Then there are moments of clarity: little poems, short notes to record ideas that come and go, little drawings with far-reaching consequences, for my hand understands them better than my mind.

Therefore I decided to change tactics: I will write backwards, looking at what the hand did in relation to the writing of those notebook, the drawings, the cognition and language.

The quick and assured choices of the hand will form the script of an experimental film, and not the unquestioning process of editing texts into preset formats. The tests for exposure, the words that ended up on the film strip, the tryouts - these are the gestures to trust, because they carry with them "what is not known in advance to the filmmaker", to quote Trinh T. Minh-Ha.

The hand that writes is the hand that films. And that's the point where the similarities between writing and experimental film end.