There’s no recipe for creativity. In fact, the whole notion of creativity brings with it the implication that there are no rules to govern it, otherwise it becomes formulaic. But in reality, in the creative industries and media we have rules applied to many aspects of the work. They’re often there for practical purposes, like designing with gutters on a 2-page fold layout to avoid embarrassing type issues (like the above). We don’t load website backgrounds with hours of video. We don’t film TV ads with porn in them, design logos that need a magnifying glass to be read, use Comic Sans font for Investment Bank marketing materials and so on. The medium, whatever it is, demands a certain kind of treatment, a logic and framework within which the creativity is set. So then, what are the rules that govern HYPEREAL?
There’s more to open source filmmaking than meets the eye. In fact, the whole concept is a difficult one to turn into a practical working process. The concept of open source is easy to grasp and makes huge sense for software, by creating products that are “open” you grow a community of developers around it. It builds an ecosystem of helper apps, widgets and improves the interoperability of one piece of software with others which gives it better chance of success. It is a smart way of generating freemium sales, brand loyalty and, more broadly, producing better products. But for film, it’s a different ballgame.
Even if, for the sake of argument, you could show them an example of the genre, like The Blair Witch Project to illustrate the concept of (apparently) self-shot footage, the cinematography, the direction, acting and soundtrack would have been too alien back then. It would be an impossible clash of concepts, of expectations of what cinema actually was. Found footage is a filmmaking language that wouldn’t translate into the golden age of Hollywood.
In fact, blessed with 20:20 hindsight, it’s probably a genre that didn’t make sense to most of the Hollywood scene when The Blair Witch Project itself came out in 1999. That approach, the concept of low tech, simplified storytelling found a home in the broader genre of horror, influencing direct found footage works like Paranormal Activity and the outstanding REC, through to affecting the cinematography and direction of films like The Excorism of Emily Rose and low budget creature feature Monsters. It was a movement that just fifteen years later has become a bit of a cliché, but all the same, worthy of note.
Supposing you went to a distributor with a film that was produced by actors, improvising it as they went along? Made with no crew. Shot on average retail cameras, CCTV and smartphones. Edited by a group of enthusiastic film students from over 70hrs of raw footage captured as simply as you can get? Footage and soundscapes that could be given away to the online crowd to remix into their own creations? Open source filmmaking, creative commons licensing, for a distributed film?
That’s what the team behind HYPEREAL did with the first movie in the genre, STARVECROW. And did the distributor get it? In a word, yes. But why?
They saw that the HYPEREAL methodology, unlike found footage, isn’t a cleverly conceived film making device that enables low-budget production. Nor is it geared-up around a specific kind of story, which is one of the limitations of found footage (horror and creature features work well for found footage but a romantic comedy wouldn’t). HYPEREAL embraces a change in the way we relate to the moving image. It’s film storytelling in the modern sense of the selfie, which we can all recognise, even if we seldom stop to think about it.
Since the advent of cheap handheld video cameras (in smartphones) and easy video sharing sites (Youtube and Facebook), filmmaking has changed from being a clearly defined process (to produce entertainment) into a form of personal expression (check out this sick vid on my GoPro). HYPEREAL adopts that kind of expressive, intensely personal approach to creating moving images and applies it to the filmmaking process. The results are far from expected and far beyond the commercial mainstream, but the films aren’t arty or inaccessible. We recognise them and understand the format because we see it everyday on Facebook.
Technology doesn’t create genres of entertainment or art, but it stimulates innovation and changes our expectations. It encourages experimentation with traditional forms and the ability to explore new approaches and production techniques. That’s where new genres come from and where movements begin.
HYPEREAL is that kind of movement. We want the new generation of film makers who grew up with easy access to technology and an expectation to film anything to bring that mindset into the film industry, and see where it takes us. And that feels very familiar. After all, that’s how moving pictures started in the first place.