Moment’s Work.

Posted June 14th, 2014 by Ben

Cinema has a provocative relationship with time, especially when you are filming pick-ups.

Returning to a location a year after first filming there, we replicate an image. A girl in a bedroom. By this point I have seen this room almost daily for the past year, without returning once. We replicate our lighting, make improvements, our actress gives a performance, we discuss, she suggests a change, we film her again, our costume designer suggests something, our make-up artist tweaks the actress’ hair, we go again, call cut, thank everyone and joke about doing this all again in a year’s time. “No”, says our producer firmly “this is the last time we will ever be in this room.”

She laughs, but isn’t joking. Having already moved heaven and earth to get us back here once, this really is the very last time we will run these events. The finality of that, running so contrary to the malleable, replayable, rewindable nature of film is worth thinking about.

Filming Nina Forever

Cinema works in direct contrast to how time is, yet is exactly like how time feels. We like to forget that our lives are comprised of billions upon billions of entirely unrepeatable instances. An old fashioned strip of film is a perfect metaphor for this. The action of a second when frozen in 24 photographs will seem, if each is compared only to those adjacent, to be a collection of exact copies. One 24th of a smile is almost indistinguishable from any other 24th. Yet seen in sequence, or comparing first to last, we see the smile – one that can be copied but never truly repeated.

The confusion between replication and repetition is amongst the great solaces that keep us pottering through our days. We base our lives in routine, replications of actions that make our days almost indistinguishable from each other. This draws our attention away from how each repeat is actually a unique instance of a limited set.

When things are tough on set the essential fear is the knowledge that as soon as you say you are happy, you will likely never again have a chance to capture this moment. To get to this point has taken years of thought. The image, the words, the walls, the light, all are constructed and intended, all rehearsed and repeated in pursuit of some perfection of insight or emotion. All that work ends when you nod quiescence to the First AD’s urging that you move on. From that moment on this thing stops being repeatable, yet of course, it never was.

As a filmmaker, especially as an editor, you live in the past in a way not possible before this technology existed. This encourages you to think incorrectly about the nature of time. The choice of 5 takes is a stricture that can bewilder but is infinitely more comprehensible than the action of our lives, our moments spooling unrewindably onto the cutting room floor.

Filming pick-ups really made me realise that we should respect our moments more.

Comments are closed.