Tell an actor that you’re directing methodology is reliant on the Stanaslavski System (heavy on improvisation) and they’ll probably get it. It’s something one of our founding HYPEREAL collective members, David Bark Jones (film/TV actor and STARVECROW co-creator) teaches as part of our HYPEREAL production workshops. It’s also a key component of most acting courses, but for the HYPEREAL filmmaking process to work, it needs to be taken a little further.
There are two key elements that need to be addressed. The first is to take a very minimalist approach to the traditional Stanaslavski System (not be confused with the Stanaslavski Method or ‘method acting’) of breaking a script down into units and bits, i.e. Smaller objectives within a scene that when coupled together, provide the overall flow of the direction.
To get the necessary reality of HYPEREAL, we’ve experimented with scripts as simple as handing each actor an envelope with a simple sentence describing their objective for the scene, for example “your character tells their friend they love them”. With a bit of training and workshopping of this technique, the story that emerges captures a very natural, lifelogging feel.
The second issue is the filming process that needs to happen simultaneously. One actor needs to hold the camera. This creates some basic blocking/staging issues that take a bit of working out. For example, a conversation face to face needs a third person perspective, a longer shot and an angle that relates to the nature of HYPEREAL, so head height or seated. It’s quite intuitive really, if the actors have ever filmed their mates down the pub, they know the feel of this kind of shot. The same if it’s a personal moment, filmed in a mirror or with the camera face flipped, close angle, talking directly to it. (We’ve all made that video, from vlogging to sending Mum a birthday message, again it’s something most actors can relate to).
One thing we’ve noticed is how still the camera can be in personal videos. People leave their cameras propped-up on the arms of chairs, pint glasses on tables, on the edge of a bath or sink and perform to it. In HYPEREAL, this adds to the familiarity and realism of the shot. It also works as a great counterpoint in edits where it contrasts very effectively with the jerky motion of moving smartphone shots. For the director and editor, this contrast provides a useful tool to change the pace of the story.
The one thing to bear in mind is there’s no pressure on capturing the footage. For STARVECROW we generated over 70hrs of clips. In many respects, the art of HYPEREAL storytelling is in the edit, constructing a narrative from a huge variety of material. In that sense, the traditional notion of a script, scenes and shooting schedule become meaningless. The story is constructed and written from the footage, rather than the other way round.
It’s almost like working with no sense of the narrative as the shoot progresses. Through the inputs you give the actors at the outset you can define the approximate shape of the finished film, but the edit is an intrinsic part of the writing process in HYPEREAL films. Perhaps that’s the core essence of this approach, the merging of editing and writing is what approximates the real, live, unscripted movies we produce and post on Facebook.
It’s without doubt a new way of working an in many respects, a very different kind of discipline from traditional filmmaking. However the end result is the same. Every director sets out to present a compelling story, to evoke emotions and please the audience (even if that means scaring the pants off them, leaving them in floods of tears or laughing so hard they break a rib). Which takes us back to the relationship between self-shot vids on Youtube and cinema. After all, we’ve all experienced that personal clip that made us laugh, cry or shriek that wasn’t a scripted film, just a slice of someone’s life captured as it happened.
If you’re interested in this kind of filmmaking, we’ll be organising a series of workshops with David Bark-Jones on the process, Stanaslavski System and HYPEREAL production techniques… sign-up for the mailing list for updates.