What's All This Then?
What's All This Then?
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A General Theory of Creative Relativity.
Jim's talk at 2008's SXSW.
If a look at our archives tells you anything, it's probably that we're more than a little obsessed with Stanley Kubrick around here. So, like most every other group of fans on the planet, we were understandably excited when Channel 4 in the UK had scheduled a Kubrick Season in mid-July, which included a handful of original films about Kubrick's work, like Armen Antranikian's eponymously-titled, Kubrick. We'd linked up his film and when he dropped us a line asking if we'd like to talk more about it, we said sure. So, by e-mail, we had the following conversation:
Can you let us know a little about yourself?
I am a young director based in London. I grew up in Germany and made my first films during schooldays in my hometown near Hamburg. After graduating from high school and working in the industry for a bit, I came to London in early 2006 to study film. After completing a one-year course at the Met Film School, I enrolled in a film course at the Skillset Screen Academy at LCC, which is part of the University of the Arts London. I am now doing my last year there whilst working on several film projects. I've made a couple of shorts films to date, two of which were picked up for distribution and, of course, my latest short film titled Kubrick, which was broadcasted on UK television.
How did your short film come about? A commission? Or you were eager to make a Kubrick film and More4 and Channel 4 came up with a project at about the same time?
I think it all started with Jon Ronson deciding to do a documentary about Stanley Kubrick and the many boxes he has left behind. If you watched his film Stanley Kubrick's Boxes, you know that Kubrick stored over 1,000 boxes in his estate in St. Albans. They are filled with amazing things related to his work, including scripts, props, costumes, photographs, fan letters, all sorts of things. Stanley Kubrick collected, filed, and organised everything in boxes! So there you have over thousand boxes that complement the films of one of the most influential filmmakers ever. Now, obviously the Kubrick family didn't want to throw them away, but they couldn't keep them on their estate forever either. They decided to give everything to the University of the Arts London, which is where I study. In March 2007, they brought the boxes to the university and put them in a temperature-controlled area newly built for The Stanley Kubrick Archive. I went there a couple of times and they've designed the reception area similar to the Hilton hotel in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is amazing, especially when you see things in boxes as Kubrick has left them behind. So you open one of the boxes and find Danny's jumper or Jack's novel from The Shining, or another box with the original call-sheets of Dr. Strangelove.
Jon Ronson was completing his film for Channel 4 and they decided to make a whole Kubrick season. They decided to produce short films that go along with the season. The Channel 4 series "3 Minute Wonder" presented the films and they labelled them as Stanley Kubrick's Small Boxes. They asked film students to pitch their ideas for films related to The Stanley Kubrick Archive. My idea was one of the few that got the green light. We were given a relatively small budget and were introduced to Would of Wonders, the company that supervised the production. Everything else went from there. The film premiered as part of the Stanley Kubrick season on More4 on July 16, 2008 and was shown the day after on Channel 4.
How did you come up with the film?
I discovered a funny thing about people having a conversation about a Kubrick film. They rarely just talk about the film itself. They always share their actual memory of watching the film. When people talk about a Kubrick film it often feels less like a film that they have seen, but an event that they've attended, even if it was just at home. I think it is very rare that films stay so vivid in people's minds. Even though I am an absolute Kubrick fan myself, I couldn't really tell what it was that made his films turn into full experiences. And that's what I hoped to explore with my film. I wanted to make a film about Kubrick's audience, where fans share their personal experiences.
Who are the people in the film and how did you convince them to appear?
We didn't have much pre-production time and I wanted a wide variety of people, an international audience, not just Kubrick fanatics. So it wasn't easy. What helped was that Stanley Kubrick is very well known in the UK, so almost everyone has something to say about his films. My producer, Alexandra Michaels, was a great help in finding all the people. We printed almost 5,000 flyers which promoted a website where fans could get in touch with us. We distributed the flyers to cinemas, bookshops, and cafes in London. Within a couple of days, many people got back to us, already writing about their personal memories. They ranged from Kubrick fans who saw many of his films on the first day of theatrical release, up to a younger audience who were introduced to his films on television or DVD. Some had just seen his films recently, others had been obsessed by his films since childhood. We had about 30 people coming to our film shoot, including the Steadicam operator from The Shining as well as American History X director Tony Kaye.
Any details on the shoot? Time involved, the camera you used, the studio you shot it in, etc.?
We shot the film last winter at Broadley Studios in London. Even though we didn't have a lot of money for a studio they did an amazing favour for us, even providing us with gaffers and lighting equipment. We shot over the course of two days and sometimes interviewed individuals up to an hour. We used the Panasonic HVX200 camera to shoot the film on P2 cards. The workflow was great. Since we didn't shoot on tape we were able to download the entire footage straight to a hard-drive and easily review the footage on set.
How much planning was involved with what you'd ask them? Did you go in knowing that each person would have something interesting to say about a particular film or would you just go in and have a conversation, running down the list of each of Kubrick's films and seeing what you'd get?
From the beginning I wanted people to look straight into the camera so that it would create a more intimate connection between the audience in front the camera and the audience in front of the television, but I know that it can feel scary to look straight into a camera lens. I was worried not to get what I was looking for, as I had never really done proper interviews before. It seemed like it could turn out to be a disaster until two days before shoot when we were introduced to the so-called "Interrotron," which was developed by Erroll Morris. The device is similar to a telepromter and the concept is very simple. Whilst I am talking into another camera, the subject is looking at my image projected in front of the actual camera lens. This made the process much easier and allowed the individuals to express themselves to the lens without being too conscious of it. Eventually, they were just talking to a projection of my face and we were able to have a normal conversation.
In terms of the interview itself, even though I knew roughly what I wanted, we would just have a conversation about the films and go from there. I talked to the individuals alone before bringing them into the studio environment. I gave them the general focus, purpose, and rough angle of the interview. My aim was to get the individuals mentally into that situation where they see their favourite Kubrick film. It was important to me that they would find some images or details to hold on to, so I often asked them to go back to their memory and say what they see, hear, feel, and think. Once their memories came alive, I was mostly just listening to their stories.
The transitions in the film are great, because it's never announced that we're going to start hearing about a different film and the viewer gets to catch on ("Oh, now we're on Clockwork Orange!"). Was that something that was planned from the beginning or figured out along the way in the edit?
I was not really sure how I wanted to structure the film until I got to the editing suite. However, I was pretty confident as I knew that I would discover the film through the editing process. That's why I decided to edit the film myself instead of leaving it to a another editor. It made eventually sense not to mention the film titles as it triggers something I was looking for from the beginning. It allows viewers to think about their own memories and have a dialogue with the film instead of just consuming it.
What was the editing process like? Anything you wished you could have left in, but just could quite make it fit?
The editing was the most difficult part. We had about 15 hours of footage and it needed to come together in three minutes and still make sense. Obviously, it is always difficult to leave amazing footage behind. We ended up using small bits from different interviews, that in the end would give the best summary of how audiences remember the films of Stanley Kubrick. The editing and the music are key aspects of the film. The poetic score that composer Andrea Caro delivered was just perfect to underline the various memories that individuals were sharing.
We recorded a lot of amazing stories, which told over the course of several minutes made perfect sense, but couldn't be used within the time constraints we had. One good example is the interview with Tony Kaye. Even though his ape story is hilarious, there was no way it could fit into the final film. That's why I have decided to upload his entire interview to YouTube. He actually wants to do more interviews now, about about Francis Ford Coppola and Van Gogh. Another interview which I might release soon is the one with the Steadicam operator that filmed the famous tricycle scene in The Shining.
Any word back from any Kubrick fans, or members of his estate about your film?
Yes, the film received great feedback, including members of the Kubrick estate. Stanley Kubrick's producer Jan Harlan really likes the film.
What's next for you?
I am currently working on a short film about a female robot, love, and the future. I am sure it is somehow inspired by Stanley Kubrick's work. Details should be available on my website soon. Also, I am in the early development stage of my first feature project based in UK and Germany. The film will explore themes of alienation in modern society. I would also like to work in the States. Let's see what the future brings.
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