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Amrywiaethau Cafflogion #3

R Gerallt Jones (1934-1999): Words
Roger Owen, Aberystwyth University: Performance
Dafydd Sills-Jones, Auckland University of Technology : Camera, Editing

Title of work: Amrywiaethau Cafflogion #3: Uniongyrchol, Esgair Fraith, Alun (Cafflogion Variations #3: Vertical, Esgair Fraith, Alun) 
Year: 2022
Length: 12 minutes and 19 seconds

RESEARCH STATEMENT

Introduction 
This short film is the third in a series of variations on a novella written in Cymraeg (Welsh) in 1979. It tells the story of an off-grid settlement under the shadow of a totalitarian, urban civilisation (Jones, 1979). In order to adopt an emerging, evolutionary practice, we have used mobile, agile and low-fi media making tools, in this instance, using an iphone 13 pro max to examine the potentialities of vertical filmmaking. 


Research Background 
‘Classical’ adaptation (Hutcheon 2012), requires what Stam calls an “extractable essence,” at the centre of a narrative, which is illusory, as the “literary text is not a closed, but an open structure... to be reworked by boundless context” (Stam 2000, 57). We took up Stam’s implicit challenge, to remain true to an ‘origin’, without being tied to an ‘essence,’ through the application of the iterative model of practice research outlined by Smith and Dean (2009, 20), and turned orthodox adaptation into a set of free-wheeling variations where each ‘translation’ of material into forms, platforms and planes of engagement, sparked off different questions, and reached new findings. 


Contribution 
After variation one (feature film script) and variation two (interactive game script), the third variation attempts to cope with the dense narrative weave of Cafflogion and the problem it presents for the crucial interplay between character and theme (Batty 2015). It does this by looking at the interplay between the grammatical possibilities of vertical composition, and the situated literary performance of part of the Cafflogion text. We experimented with various vertical framings, in order to disrupt the usual sense of foreground and background (Ross 2020, 105), and to emphasise the performer’s body over and above the primacy of eye-lines (Bordwell 2009). We also sought to play with this disruption, by reintroducing elements of horizontality in split-screen editing. 


Significance 
We found that the vertical frame reorientates the viewer’s understanding of the relationship between landscape and figure, by disrupting the usual contextualisation of figure within a potentially understandable and static landscape, especially when the camera is panned through landscape. This induces a gaze that requires constant re-contextualisation. The vertical also invites intimacy, the complete body expressing a different kind of temporal and spatial presence. Horizontal split-screens in the vertical format complicate this immediacy, and the picturesque reading of the landscape that the ruined farmstead clearly invites. What results is a multi-gear use of the vertical frame; sometimes creating meanings within a new emerging grammar, and sometimes absorbing and remediating the pleasures of the once dominant horizontal frame. 


Overall, the experiment shows how an essential aspect of mobile filmmaking – the vertical frame – makes many things possible at once: the disruption of landscape and foreground; an intimate spatial-temporal experience; the multiple possibilities of narrative drive through interpretation. The vertical frame is far from being the ‘wrong’ aspect ratio it was once considered (Menotti 2019), and because of its intimate relationship to mobile filmmaking, its use is likely to continue to evolve. 
 

PEER REVIEW 1

This research presents an interesting and innovative exploration of vertical filmmaking through the adaptation of a Welsh novella into a short film. The author's investigation of the impact of vertical composition on narrative, landscape, and character dynamics provides a valuable contribution to the growing field of mobile filmmaking.

This research background effectively contextualizes the study within the broader field of adaptation studies, noting the challenges of "classical" adaptation and the importance of exploring new methods of narrative translation. The iterative model of practice research by Smith and Dean (2009) is cited as a valuable framework for the study. The statement clearly outlines the contribution of this research by detailing how the third variation attempts to address the interplay between character and theme through the use of vertical composition. The experimental process is well-described, with a focus on the grammatical possibilities of vertical framing and its impact on the understanding of landscape and figure.

The significance of the study is well-articulated, with an emphasis on the disruption of landscape and foreground, the intimate spatial-temporal experience, and the multiple possibilities of narrative drive through interpretation. The findings highlight the potential for the vertical frame to contribute to a new emerging grammar in filmmaking.

While the research statement explores the impact of vertical framing on landscape and figure, it would be helpful to provide a more in-depth analysis of how this impacts the narrative structure and character development. Additionally, the relationship between the vertical frame and the novella's themes could be further explored to strengthen the connection between the source material and the adaptation.

The statement mentions the use of an iPhone 13 Pro Max for the project, but it would be beneficial to discuss any limitations or challenges encountered in using this technology for vertical filmmaking. Additionally, a brief discussion of the editing process and any challenges associated with vertical framing would be informative.

 

This research statement offers a valuable exploration of the potential of vertical filmmaking in the context of adapting a Welsh novella. This study contributes to the growing field of mobile filmmaking and offers insights into the potential for vertical framing to revolutionise storytelling in the medium.

 

PEER REVIEW 2

I agree that vertical experimental videos/movies are still a novelty, especially compared to the number of widescreen counterparts. As a relatively new format, they can feel fresh to viewers who are used to more traditional horizontal viewings. I found some sections of esgair 9 10 22 isdeitlau engaging, although right from the beginning, the amount of on-screen text seriously compromised the immersion, particularly during the first minute of reading, where four lines of words and 100+ characters occupied the majority of my attention. Only after the third screening, I was able to absorb more details in the image in the sections containing narration. On that note, I would suggest the author use a larger font, spread the text from edge to edge, split sentences in half where possible, or use a shorter segment of the novella. 

Moving forward, the ruptures of screen space, such as moments visible at:

  • 2’10” – fixing the lapel mic

  • 2’55” – I have the wrong page comment

  • 3’36” – behind-the-camera comments about the setup

are pretty aggressive and in my opinion, break the fourth wall too many times for no apparent reason related to the narrative. Furthermore, the ghosting effect merged with a black screen and another intense rupture of the screen space at 5’14” produced a feeling that I’m looking at the rough cut of esgair 9 10 22 isdeitlau, not the final version. Equally important were some of the aesthetic choices regarding mise-en-scene. As the author stated, “The vertical also invites intimacy, the complete body expressing a different kind of temporal and spatial presence,” although two compositions housed in an extremely elongated 1:5 split screen visible at 3’10”, or 8’04” are just too wide and complex to be perceived as such, thus, challenging some of the key research premises.

  

The section around 6’30” was equally hard to follow due to changes in subtitle position and the lack of contrast between white text and black and white image. The delivery of words by the narrator Mr Owen improved the cohesion of the scene, but the choice to have a desaturated image against coloured ones seems random. The camera movement and editing decision visible in the section around 7’10” appears to be more justified in the context of the spoken words, but the issue of intensive camera movements combined with multiple split screens and changing positions of the text becomes apparent once again at 8’48”.

On the purely technical side, the mask behind the subtitles exhibited compression artefacts, making the reading of already busy text occasionally even harder. This might be due to an additional YouTube algorithm. I also couldn’t find a reference in the bibliography for the page two quote (Ross 2020: 105).


Vertical experimental movies sometimes push the boundaries of what is considered conventional or acceptable in cinematic storytelling, and I understand the motive to resort to a tall aspect ratio looking for a potentially higher mobile audience reach. That being said, I do not see esgair 9 10 22 isdeitlau bringing new elements into the realm of mobile or vertical filmmaking, and multiple changes need to be implemented in order to make it more coherent and visually engaging.

RESEARCHER RESPONSE

Many thanks to the reviewers for their comments and the questions that they pose that lead me to a wider consideration and contextualisation of this work.

 

Reviewer one raises the question as to what effect verticality had on the character development and narrative development of the novella. This is best explained through the context of the adaptation process itself, which is a larger project than the film presented here. Roger Owen and I had been struck by the under-developed nature of much of the thematic material in the novella, and rather than taking a reductive process from page to screen as is the mainstream practice, we saw this as an opportunity to practice a kind of ‘evolutionary adaptation,’ where we extrapolated out of the text. So, we’d identify a theme we’d like to follow, and then a method. So the earlier film script became a way of pursuing the eco-thriller aspects, an interactive narrative became a way of pursuing the many disrupted hero arcs within the text, and the vertical became a way of dealing with the theme of place. Other experiments with theatrical performance and A.I. are to follow. 

 

The novella posits a rural/city binary, and the rural location is an off-grid community, living lawlessly in the supposedly abandoned countryside. So, the vertical became a way of problematising cinematic space, especially the balance between figure and setting. Verticality does this by cutting across the picturesque tendency in landscape framing of video/cinema, and in asking questions about the relationship of a body to a largely immovable and unchanging landscape ‘background.’ For example, in this treatment, the uncanniness of how a pan works with upright video in terms of the landscape takes away from a continuity of landscape and can build towards the suggestion that by this point in the Anthropocene, pretty much any landscape is to some extent constructed by humans. The limitations of vertical framing – i.e., how lateral, horizontal (natural) human movement across a landscape are harder to capture – became part of the motivation of the project. The process of editing, conducted through Premiere Pro, and the now-established abilities of such packages to deal with radically different aspect ratios, meant that there were no great technical difficulties. In addition, the decision to have a literary performance (reading) rather than a full re-enactment took us in the direction of placing the act of reading in a real place (rather than a fictionalised space), which as the pre-titles indicate has resonances to real-world tensions between urban capitalist exploitation of the forest as a resource, and a lyrical, idyllic or pastoral sense of life lived in a ‘natural’ countryside.  So, the verticality wasn’t as much a way of developing Alun, but of developing a theme within the novella, in our particular mode of ‘evolutionary adaptation.’

 

Reviewer two takes issue with the roughness and abruptness of some of the devices used, and I gladly admit that the work is intentionally ‘rough,’ and intentionally pushes some devices past the point of ‘working’ to see what happens in the vertical format. The idea of ‘engaging’ an audience, in a conventional mode, was deliberately challenged at times in the work. That is part of what I think this work presents as a ‘new element’ in mobile vertical filmmaking, where vertical media’s (recently) newly-formed ‘norms’ are being tested and pushed. The point was raised that some passages (around 03.10> & 08.04>) do not align themselves with part of the research statement’s assertion that the vertical creates a new kind of intimacy. I’d argue that those short passages were not attempting to align with the overall claim and by doing so, strengthened it. The vertical CAN invite a different kind of intimacy, it can also work in other, contrasting ways. 

 

This point about the work being ‘rough,’ and variable across the way visual devices work and are deployed is also at the heart of decisions around saturation that reviewer 2 also raises. The choice of a desaturated image cut with a saturated image at 06.30 was not random, and more to do with texture than theme. Having what amounted to two different screens living together in the same vertical space, moving almost together but not quite, was another test of the way that verticality could have ‘gears;’ at times aiming at a kind of heterogenous verticality, and sometimes harking back to the dominance of the horizontal (reflected in the tracking shot at 06.30). I take reviewer 2’s point that one reason for the adoption of the vertical may be to increase ‘audience reach’ due to the paradigmatic shift to mobile device use, but that was not the intention of this project. We were experimenting with an evolutionary, performative literary adaptation, and seeing how verticality could challenge the usual framing conventions, and provide visual metaphors of fragmentation and collision that the underlying project of the adaptation of the whole novella had been seeking in various ways.  I thank reviewer 2 for their technical points about aliasing and editing rhythm, so what is seen here is a slightly elongated and amended version of that originally submitted for review.


REFERENCES

Batty, Craig. 2015. “A Screenwriter's Journey into Theme, and How Creative Writing Research Might Help us to Define Screen Production Research.” Studies in Australasian Cinema 9, no. 2: 110-121. 

Bordwell, David. 2009. “Paolo Gioli’s Vertical Cinema.” David Bordwell’s Website on Cinema. Accessed October 4, 2022. http://www.davidbordwell.net/essays/gioli.php

Hutcheon, Linda. 2012. A Theory of Adaptation. 2nd ed. Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Routledge. 

Jones, Robert Gerallt. 1979. Cafflogion. Llandysul: Gwasg Gomer. 

Menotti, Gabriel. 2019. “Discourses Around Vertical Videos: An Archaeology of ‘Wrong’ Aspect Ratios.” ARS 17 (35): 147-165. 

Ross, Miriam. 2020. “Reconfigurations of Screen Borders: The New or Not-So-New Aspect Ratios.” In Screen Space Reconfigured, edited by Susanne Saether and Synne Tollerud Bull, 105-126. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Smith, Hazel, and Roger T. Smith. 2009. “Introduction: Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice - Towards the Iterative Cyclic Web.” In Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts, edited by Hazel Smith, 1-38. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Stam, Robert. 2000. “Beyond Fidelity: The Dialogics of Adaptation.” In Film Adaptation, edited by James Naremore, 54-76. New Brunswick: Rutgers.

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