Filmmaking in the Academy 2021
Sightlines Journal, Issue 3: 2021
Welcome to the third issue of Sightlines: Filmmaking in the Academy Journal. This is the first of two issues following the third Sightlines Conference held at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) from 2 to 4 December, 2019. In this issue, we feature a range of screen works and additionally, we include three screenplays as an important dimension of screen production. While several of the 14 works in this issue were earlier presented at the Sightlines Conference, we also include a number of previously unseen projects. For the first time, for this and the following issue, journal submissions were not tied to presentations made at the conference, meaning participation by a wide range of scholar-practitioners across the globe, following a call for works in June 2020. As per previous issues of Sightlines, the practitioners featured are mostly academic staff or PhD candidates based in screen production disciplines. Most of the screen works featured in this issue were made prior to the onset of COVID-19 with some exceptions.
Also per previous issues of Sightlines Journal, each submission contains a research statement, creative work, two peer reviews and a final response from contributors. In some cases, this final response includes a revised research statement that clarifies the aims, objectives or methodologies of the screen work.
Creative practice research is about the doing and making works for screen production. As the discipline develops, we are largely no longer looking only at the eligibility of creative practice research to be considered as research but can focus on the quality of research. This enables more sustained discussions around rigour, methods and methodology, and contributions to the field.
The research statements of contributions show different ways of approaching screen production as a way of researching — some experimenting with new forms whereas others experimenting with content and production methods. It is clear that as the discipline has become more comfortable with producing and articulating creative works as research, we are seeing an expansion in the forms being offered. For example, while in previous issues — and indeed, in the history of screen production research more broadly — we have seen what might be considered ‘traditional’ film and screenplay works, in this issue, we have an expansion in forms that include experimental drama, video essay and virtual reality. For example, Angie Black’s The First Provocation, accompanied by the shooting script 02: BRIDGET, engages practice-led research to explore how live performance can be captured to create a narrative fiction film. Through improvisation and experimental approaches to character performance and direction, Black provides an intimate, raw, and compelling example of how her innovative methodology is translated to screen. Meanwhile, David Moore’s The Kino Paper Vs. the Digital Paper Vs. the Video Essay … An evolution in digital writing contributes to the growing field of research advocating the video essay format as a valid and valuable method for communicating academic findings through creative practice research.
Looking briefly at other contributions, we include Stephen Connolly’s Machine Space, which provides further testimony to our observations about expansions and form and methodology. Machine Space reads social relationships within the city of Detroit as a material form. It presents a poetic palimpsest that is made up of people and places and the negotiated interactions that happen in urban spaces.
Pavel Prokopic’s Non-human Flow engages with affect theory and the materiality of cameras and light. The film explores non-human intimacy through encounters between the camera lens and the body. The project is a fine example of how blurring the boundaries of human and non-human agents can expand the field of screen production research.
Patrick Kelly’s The Trouble seeks to engage with the problematics of what a queer screen production practice might look like. He does this deftly through an approach to screen production that embraces the possibility of failure and incorporates this into his practice through self-reflexivity. There is an iterative process where queer theory informs a screen practice that draws on autoethnography as its central methodology.
Trish FitzSimons’ Fabric of War: Why Wool?, commissioned by AWI expands the field of documentary to incorporate a multidisciplinary approach. The film has been screened for a wide variety of audiences inside and outside of the academy and demonstrates how filmmaking can contribute to knowledge across different discipline areas such as history and museum studies. It is an excellent example of how documentary can become a method of inquiry, as well as a non-traditional research output for transdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research projects.
Jennifer Oey argues for films as being formal adaptations of screenplays and offers five independently produced short films by five different directors, all created from the same original screenplay for a comparative investigation of adaptation through creative practice.
James Thompson’s I Work for the Devil employs a heuretic framework and a decidedly experimental approach in exploring an early cinematic literary adaptation of Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher by Jean Epstein.
In terms of the three screenplay contributions, Chris Neilan explores unconventional and fragmented narrative structures in an action genre with A Reverie. Taking a different focus, Brenda Robles draws upon humanistic psychology to develop characters in Greta Ruiz and the Signs of Love. Finally, Indranil Chakravarty presents a feature-length biopic of Suresh Biswas (1861-1905), a little-known adventurer from a remote part of India who later became a Captain in the Brazilian army. In this work, Chakravarty explores the challenges and opportunities of telling stories of historical figures for whom there is scant information available in the archives.
Two contributions innovatively employ virtual reality technologies to bring screen ideas to fruition. Louise Harvey, Mark Douglas Williams and Peter Moyes explore music-animation relations in Ascendance, while Jill Bennett, Volker Kuchelmeister, Gail Kenning, Natasha Ginnivan, Christopher Papadopoulos and Melissa Neidorf interrogate the experience of women living with dementia in The Visit. Both of these works consider the affordances of 360-degree media to deliver spatialised experiences.
As previously stated, each submission received two peer reviews. This peer review process (occurring in late 2020 and early 2021) was a significant undertaking, and we thank the many reviewers for making time to participate in this process while they were also dealing with increased workloads and other pressures due to the impacts of COVID-19.
A maturity in understanding of screen production research is also evident in the peer reviews, as you will see, where it is clear that peer reviewers are increasingly confident in discussing creative works through the lens of research. This is indeed a progression since 2015, when many of the peer reviews at that time — understandably, given the emerging discourse on screen production research — appraised films as films predominantly, not as an outcome of research.
In previous issues, peer reviewers were named and after extensive deliberations, we decided to anonymise this issue’s peer reviews in line with the practice of peer reviewing in journals. We also decided to allow researchers to revise their creative submissions as well as their statements in response to peer review. This serves to emphasise the importance of films and screenplays as non-traditional research outputs and filmmaking, including screenwriting, as both a research method and methodology.
We thought hard about whether original research statements should be displayed alongside the revised versions, and decided that this was necessary for the peer reviews to be contextualised. Ross Gibson (2018) describes creative practice research as a cognitive two-step between theory and practice and proposes that articulating the methodology and research questions underlying the practice is crucial to the kinds of systematic enquiry that are regarded as research by the academy. Here, we follow Gibson’s position on the necessity for verbally articulating the creative works as research situated within a disciplinary body of knowledge as well as a community of practice. For this reason, we include the original and revised research statements so that readers can see for themselves how creative works are being framed as research.
As well as revising research statements, a small number of submitters have chosen to revise their creative work in response to peer review feedback. A note has been added to individual submissions where this has occurred. Post publication peer review can be inherently difficult for both reviewers and submitting researchers, as some material does not lend itself to revision after mastering due to budget or other issues.
As a whole, we believe that this issue reflects a significant evolution of screen production research, and it is our pleasure to share it with the wider scholarly community. Thanks go to research assistant Kim Munro for her work on bringing the issue to fruition. We hope that you enjoy watching and reading the submissions and supporting material.
Gibson, Ross. 2018. “Foreword: Cognitive two-steps,” in Screen production research: creative practice as a mode of enquiry, edited by Craig Batty and Susan Kerrigan London, iv-xii. Palgrave Macmillan.
Issue 3, 2021
Australian Screen Production Education and Research Association
ISSN: 2653-1801 (Online)
Craig Batty, University of South Australia
Marsha Berry, RMIT University
Kath Dooley, Curtin University
Bettina Frankham, University of Technology Sydney
Margaret McHugh, University of Technology Sydney
James Verdon, Swinburne University of Technology
The First Provocation
Angie Black: Producer, Director, Researcher
Length: 6.58 mins
The First Provocation (2015) and the shooting script 02: BRIDGET combine to demonstrate practice- led research into how to expand on the process of crafting and capturing performance on film. The enquiry was framed by the question: How might it be possible to mediate a live performance work into a narrative fiction film to engage an audience beyond the intended performance audience of the original? What approaches can a director adopt to elicit spontaneous and intimate emotional responses that are captured for the screen? A close examination of the filmmaking processes used by Miranda July (live performance) and Mike Leigh (character-based improvisation) informed the production process undertaken for the creative practice.
Hometowns: A Biopic on Suresh Biswas
Indranil Chakravarty: Writer, Researcher
This is an original biopic screenplay titled Hometowns, written by Indranil Chakravarty (Indian), submitted in March 2020 as part of a Creative Practice PhD thesis in Film (Screenplay) at Victoria University of Wellington (NZ). The thesis is titled: “Constructing a Biopic Screenplay: Fictional Invention in the Biopic with Scant Historical Evidence”. The degree was awarded in August 2020.
Chris Neilan: Writer, Researcher
Screenplay: A Reverie
Dancyger & Rush term the typical, conventional three-act narrative film model “restorative three-act structure” (2002, 22), because it restores parity to a disordered world. The protagonist’s life, disrupted by an inciting incident, sent into the woods (Yorke 2014) by the first act turning point, brought face-to-face with death or some form of it in the midpoint (Vogler 2007), sent plummeting to a crisis (Yorke 2014) at the second act turning point, brought to confrontation with a powerful antagonist and the source of all the narrative conflict at the dramatic climax, is restored to some form of balance by the point of resolution. Redemption has been offered, tragedy has been shown to be rooted within their own character, and all significant questions have been answered. Order and knowledge have been restored. Whether or not we feel surprise, or shock, or sadness, or elation at the narrative-specific turn of events and the ultimate revelation of the protagonist’s fate, any shock or surprise is limited, short-lived, revealed ultimately to be in perfect keeping with the narrative’s previous events, symbols, dialogue exchanges.
The Box: Five Short Films
Jennifer Oey: Producer, Researcher
Steve Philipson: Director, The Box, 3:25 mins
Martin Tease: Director, The Box, 2:51 mins
Emily Payne: Director,The Box, 3:32 mins
Jennifer Oey: Director, The Box, 2:15 mins
Tania Freimuth: Director, Burrows Road, 5:40 mins
This collection of five films was produced as an exploration of filmmaking as research for my PhD thesis entitled, Practicing Adaptation: One Screenplay, Five Films. My intention with this thesis was to examine the relationship between a screenplay and the films made from it. This project tested the hypothesis that a film based on an original (not adapted from an existing text) screenplay is an adaptation of this screenplay. In order to investigate the potential range of adaptations that occur during the process of film production, I commissioned a short screenplay which was made into a film five times, by five different production teams, each entirely independent of one another. Utilising these films as my primary set of data, I engaged in comparative analysis of the screenplay to the five films and of each of the five films to one another. My framework for analysis is grounded in adaptation studies, which has engaged in close comparative analysis of novel to film, but has not made significant inquiry into the discrete phase of adaptation between screenplay and film. Additionally, I argue that an investigation into the relationship between written and filmed creative work is ideally conducted by engaging with practice and practitioners. My thesis is therefore comprised of duel written and filmed components. As such, the screenplay may be of interest in this case, despite this being a ‘film’ submission and therefore also provided.
Greta Ruiz and the Signs of Love
Brenda J. Robles: Writer, Researcher
Screenplay: Greta Ruiz and the Signs of Love
How classic literary methods and psychology have an impact on character motivation in non-a priori creation of complex dramatic characters for modern television screenwriting. This practice-based artistic research explores complex character creation through psychologically charged scene writing for television. It features an intersection of Humanistic Psychology, Literary Studies and Screenwriting Theory
Patrick Kelly: Producer, Researcher
Length: 8 minutes
The Trouble is an 8-minute film resulting from my queer practice-led research through screen production. This methodology (Baker 2011) embraces notions of performativity (Haseman 2007; Butler 1990) and self-bricolage (Rabinow 1997) in its application. Drawing on Foucault (1978) and Rabinow (1997), Baker positions creative practice, research and subjectivity as “intertwined and mutually informing each other” (2011, 34). As such, my film (and this statement) aims to intertwine my own creative practice, research and subjectivity, whilst exploring the notions of failure, camp and normality.
Stephen Connolly: Image, Edit, Sound
Length: 24.22 minutes
The film Machine Space is the outcome of a practice-as-research project; a spatial exploration, on film, of the city of Detroit. The film animated the space of part of the metropolis by vehicular movement. Its journey drew on the historical palimpsest of maps, charts and aerial images that trace the spaces of the city, a reading of social relationships as material form. On the soundtrack, Detroiters narrate how they negotiate their cityscape as contested urban terrain. Entitled Machine Space, the film registers the experience of this city as in motion yet freighted with jeopardy; and reads the city as an urban assemblage of people, material and space. It was shown at Sightlines 2019, RMIT, Melbourne, Australia.
The Kino Paper Vs. the Digital Paper Vs. the Video Essay … An evolution in digital writing
David Moore: Producer, Researcher
Length: 16.24 minutes
In the world of academia, knowledge has traditionally been reduced to text – but with the rise of creative practice research in recent years, there has been a growing movement pushing the boundaries of what knowledge looks like and how it is consumed. This short film represents an early stage in my screenwriting/screen production PhD in progress, exploring a form of knowledge production and dissemination that I entitle the kino paper – a medium to push through traditional boundaries of research, in a form that evolves from the video essay to encompass an intersection of artful intentionality of imagery whilst simultaneously exploring my research.
Fabric of War: Why Wool?
Trish FitzSimons: Director, Producer, Researcher
Madelyn Shaw: Lead Researcher and Key Interviewee
Length: 12 minutes 16 seconds
Fabric of War: Why Wool? is an intrinsically multi-disciplinary work, incorporating documentary filmmaking – including archiveology (Russell 2018) and digital media; museology; social history, political economy and fibre science. It is the product of collaboration between the then textile curator of the National Museum of American History (Madelyn Shaw); an Australian screen academic (Trish FitzSimons) and Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) – the representative body for wool growers. It was commissioned by AWI, drawing on both their research and marketing budgets, after a direct approach from the filmmaker. AWI’s particular request was that the film have a strong digital media aesthetic and that it address an American as well as an Australian audience.
I Work for the Devil
James Thompson: Director, Producer, Researcher
Length: 14.54 minutes
Jean Epstein’s seminal film La Chute de la mais on Usher (The Fall of the House of Usher; 1928; France), is an adaptation that combines two of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories; The Fall of the House of Usher (1839), and The Oval Portrait (1842). This project is a reappraisal of both Jean Epstein’s cinematic method and philosophy, articulated best under the term Photogénie (Epstein 1923), the legacy of this film, and the adaptability of Poe’s literary output to the cinema more generally. The study of this intersection of Epstein and Poe has led to the production of my film I Work for the Devil. The film I have produced is not a direct remake, nor a treatment of the original source material. Instead, it is crafted from a series of sketches produced as a response to the various themes, ideas, tangents, and revelations discovered during the research process. This sketching process is reflective of what Robert B. Ray describes as a ‘heuretic’ theory of film (2001, 4)
Ascendance: an experiment in colour music for VR
Louise Harvey, Mark Douglas Williams, Peter Moyes: Audio-visual concepts
Louise Harvey: Graphics and animation
Mark Douglas Williams: Music and 3D audio spatialisation
Peter Moyes: Producer
Length: 6.56 minutes
This research project is a collaboration between composers of music and vision for 360 cinematic VR. Colour or Visual Music boasts a strong tradition in the field of abstract animation including luminaries such as Oskar Fischinger, Jordan Belson, Norman McLaren, Mary Ellen Bute, John and James Whitney, etc. Often these practitioners worked on pre-recorded music in applying form, colour and movement to an interpretation of sonic scores. Sometimes the audio-visual synergy was the result of genuine collaboration between animator and musician. The uniqueness of the Ascendance project lies in the challenges the VR canvas presented in its seemingly limitless spatial affordances, and in the genuine cross-disciplinary collaboration required to effectively meet these demands. An original musical score was revisited for re-composing in VR space in anticipation of its animated visual expression, and in consideration of the viewer’s experience. The musical composer and animator worked together to consider how musical aspects such as pitch, volume and tempo might inform both audio and visual staging, and the visual aspects of colour, form and movement.
Nonhuman Flow: Audio-visual Affects and the Expressive Potential of Film
Pavel Prokopic: Director, Researcher
Length: 5.44 minutes
Nonhuman Flow emerged from a wider AHRC-funded research in Affective Cinema, which seeks to experiment with and explore the unique expressive potential of film linked to its direct capturing of the real (light); as Shaviro puts it, “the automatism and non-selectivity of mechanical reproduction make it possible for cinema to break with traditional hierarchies of representation and enter directly into a realm of matter, life, and movement” (1993, 31). Narrative and representation can be loosened by the process of defamiliarisation: capturing things “as they are perceived and not as they are known” (Shklovsky 1997, 4). This can give rise to affects: impersonal, undifferentiated-yet-singular, nonhuman sensations and feelings contained in the work, as opposed to the human world of meaning and language (Deleuze and Guattari 1994). The research synthesises various sources in film theory and philosophy, making them the guiding principle of the practice; this results in original works of film art, expands the understanding of the theory and leads to the development of innovatory film production techniques, such as the complex lighting experiments demonstrated in the visuals of Nonhuman Flow.
Jill Bennett, Volker Kuchelmeister, Gail Kenning, Natasha Ginnivan, Christopher Papadopoulos, Melissa Neidorf: Researchers
Length: 13 – 15 mins
The Visit is an interactive real-time video installation and Virtual Reality experience, developed from a ground-breaking interdisciplinary research project conducted by artists and psychologists working with women living with dementia. Visitors are invited to sit with Viv, a life-sized, realistic animated character, drawing us into a world of perceptual uncertainty, while at the same time confounding stereotypes and confronting fears about dementia. The characterisation has scientific validity but also the qualities of a rich, emotion-driven film narrative. The point of the work is to draw the viewer into the emotional/perceptual world of Viv.