No Context in Retrospect.

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It’s been three weeks since No Context ended. In case you missed it, No Context was my 400 day long project that consisted of a thirty second video every single day. In the real world that means that for over a year I looked at the world almost exclusively as something to film, edit and publish. The project spanned a house move, a university change, two stolen phones, two film festivals, three editing programs, at least five cameras (mainly due to previously stated phone theft) and a good number of important personal developments. In other terms, I started this project in a pre-Brexit, pre-Trump world.

I want to take this moment to thank the people around me who put up with incessant filming for all this time, and the people who watched the videos regularly (I noticed and appreciated it, honest) but especially to the people I’ve met since I started and who have never known me without a camera in hand and a twenty-four-hour deadline to meet. I promise that it won’t always be the case but you have been very patient. There’s also about ten people that made it into more than twenty videos each. I commend you.

What’s happened in the last three weeks has been a strangely liberating process. The sun has set twenty one times in streaks of lovely colour and I have not filmed it once. Nights in with my friends watching dvds and debating the merits of social action or standing on a balcony in a heatwave, as well as nights out with my friends playing music in bars have passed by calmly and not been turned into frenetic montages. I’ve been in good moods and bad moods and turned none of them into aesthetic, and before I decided to write this sentence the only people who knew about my new tattoo were those who’d seen it person. I’ve been able to go to bed without touching editing software and not be wracked with guilt. I’ve also had the time to develop and film more complete, longer projects, which has been something I’ve had to patiently wait for until this point and am hugely enjoying.

I do, however, somewhat miss the urgency and purpose that this gave every single day. Yes it was difficult to find things and time to film during exam weeks and when I wasn’t doing anything dynamic, but the challenge was part of the fun. Looking back at the project I barely recognize the style or content of the first hundred or so videos, they already feel like a drastically different person filmed them. I’m sure that in time this same veil will descend over the most recent videos, the last two or three months that almost feel like I’m still living them when I watch them back. All in all, I think it’s good to no longer have this way to spy on my past self or to have to produce and publicise my day-to-day existence anymore. I think I deeply underestimated the time this project would take and the effect it would have on how I live and experience my own life. I just jumped in with all the naivety I could muster (not much) and while I don’t think I’d do it again, I’m glad I saw it through to the end.

This is the final chapter of No Context, but not the last of the project.

 

No Context at 200

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‘Paths Well Worn’ – my 200th video

I have now published 6000 seconds (or more simply, 100 minutes) of my life in my project No Context. It’s a wild ride that’s still not stopping but I’m taking another moment to gather my thoughts on this milestone.

Firstly, I’m really grateful to the people that watch these little videos, who tell me what they think of them and who notice when I’m filming and respectfully fall silent, or even the ones that belligerently refuse to quieten down and make the videos more interesting.

One of my English friends said to me that they felt like they could get to know my friends in these short snippets but somehow I didn’t seem to be there. I found it strange since the only thing they all have in common, by definition, is that I was there and there was a camera. I can’t even say that I shot all of them since there are (rare) occasions when a friend takes control of the equipment around me. So it’s true that  all my friends come through very clearly, but then again, people keep saying that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with, so they must reflect something of me.

Something I’ve done more of is watch my own videos back. For the first four months or so I never gave these videos a backwards glance and there were honestly times when I would forget entirely what I had filmed or what the final video looked like. However, recently people have been telling me that it’s somehow more interesting, and oddly meditative, to watch them in a chunk, in order or out of order. I gave this a try. Personally, I watch them in order since I know exactly what sequence of feelings and thoughts correspond to each 30 seconds and watching them out of order feels like some kind of dizzying time warp happens between every video. What I noticed is how other people and places seem to weave in and out of the story at different rates and intervals. There are people who are inescapable, roads that I’ve somehow found a million ways to film and well, my apartment. Then there are people that aren’t there often but appear every so often like a thread in a tapestry that just comes to the forefront before settling into the background. Then there are the things that were there and then vanish, places I saw on holiday and then never again or people that pass by strongly and fade out quickly.

The real challenge I’ve faced since my last post about No Context has been a challenge to the very core of the project: the idea of recording something beautiful or interesting each day. This worked great for a time. I recorded a whole wild summer which, despite a couple of low points was exciting and different. Now that I’m back in Paris where the project started a lot of the decors are the same. Thankfully it’s not the same university so a new neighbourhood has come into play (and studying films all day has had a huge influence on my style and ideas). I worry that sometimes the things I love around me are all the same things that I’ve already put out there. That only becomes more and more probable now that I’ve developed and settled into my new routine.

Aside from that, which was a risk from the start, I’ve had to confront what happens when there was nothing I wanted to record. Bad days happen. Bad weeks happen. There are days you never want to think about ever again let alone have to go back and confront through your own images. How are you supposed to edit a bad day and still make it something you’d want to watch? More urgently how do you film the innate beauty of your life when you’re not feeling all that optimistic? I was lucky because te project started when I was on such a high note I never really considered what would happen in this case. So I’m still working on it. Working on somehow still seeing the little things, or the big things that are worth filming but knowing how not to film them through rose-tinted glasses. I’m still creating No Context and I still want it to be a faithful and true vision of my life every day.

Check out the last few chapters in these playlists:

Theatricals

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Trust me this picture is as weird to you as it is to me and I’m in it.

I think a great test of whether or not you could truly love doing something as a job for the rest of your life is to do it for a really long time every day and see if you want to run away screaming. Unless it’s your life’s passion this will most likely be the case. I know from experience that weeks of four films a day in uncomfortable cinema seats, 12 hour shoots and 18 hour editing marathons as well as endless paperwork have not turned me away from my film-based dreams. Theatre, however, is a different story.

A lot of people seem to think theatre and film work must be similar environments. I mean I suppose both are entertainment mediums and involve actors so there are undeniably things in common. Personally, I feel the relationship is more like the one between the two very definitely opposite and differently formed sides of a coin.
Now don’t get me wrong, I really like theatre. The distinction I’m making here is that I don’t think I could dedicate my life to it (but then I’ve got such problems being consistent that I’m too scared to buy a plant in case I get bored of it – so this may change) For the last six months I’ve been surrounded by more theatre than I ever could have expected. Granted, a lot of this was because I was filming and editing live theatre performances (which, by the way I recommend as an experience to any aspiring director) It’s a strange task that puts you halfway between crew and spectator. You have a job to do but that job involves watching the performance and, if the performance is good, it’s relatively impossible not to end up enjoying it and being moved like any other audience member. In two months I had filmed seven different student plays ranging from the bizarrely provocative to the sublime and at least twice was brought to tears by what I was seeing. There were some truly amazing shows in there that I would otherwise never got an opportunity to watch.
During this time I’ve remembered or maybe rediscovered a lot of things that lay dormant since my amateur theatre days. Because yes, I too, had a time when I performed on a stage. I wasn’t a revelation, I was far more interested in the lighting box and bossing people around. Besides, my theatre group wasn’t exactly the Cambridge Footlights but I’ll be damned if we didn’t have fun. There’s a joy in the backstage that doesn’t exist in any other place. My first discovery was that if you have to ask “am I allowed to go there?” the answer is no. Within a professional working theatre me and the shooting team quickly found our boundaries. The auditorium? Free rein, even with a red rope across it. Stage manager’s box? Fine, so long as the stage manager’s in there. Offices and equipment store? Basically our terrain. Green Room? NO. Are you INSANE? The ARTISTES are in there. Enter at own risk or if invited specifically by a friendly company member.
My next foray into theatre land has been a little more prolonged, and I’ve had the pleasure of being witness to, if not entirely part of, a rehearsal team and residential from the very start of a theatre project. I’m working on the video-projection for a production and so I was invited to the residential to see the production come together. (If the director happens to be reading this, yes I am actively working on this, yes it is slow, I am more than aware). I was thrown in at the deep end to the world and habits of actors. I was once very in touch with this atmosphere and even good at the kinds of games and physical exercices that are used as warm-ups. Somewhere along the line, however, all of this became associated with the feeling of a very specific time and place and being younger. I was almost shocked to find that there are people to whom this is still normal, everyday life. It certainly resembles nothing I currently know.
This whole theatre immersion came to a head when I spent two consecutive nights at theatre events, the first of which was an introductory presentation of the most recent play from a famous French theatre director. It was an opportunity I couldn’t quite believe to be able to attend and I listened attentively to everything said, excited to be hearing it at all. The next night I went to see that old theatre group of mine (by my calculations I spent over 10 hours on trains that weekend – someone remind me why I thought moving was a practical long-term arrangement?), or at least what the next generation of them has become. They’re far better now than they were when I was there and I was moved to tears by a show for the third time in six months. The group is now directed by a friend I had while I was there. The play I’m working on in Paris also happens to be directed by a member of that same group. My experiences and impressions of backstage life are pretty inextricably linked to that little local theatre. While I’m very happy to see these plays or even be involved in as much as I can, this recent theatrical immersion has mainly served to inspire and point me back towards a cinema and a camera, equipped with new skills friends and ideas that I wouldn’t have got from anywhere else.

No Context in retrospect | What I’ve learned from 100 days of videos.

 

If you’ve landed here from my facebook (hello) you’ve probably seen or heard about my project No Context. If not, No Context is the ongoing project where I film, edit and post online 30 seconds of my life every single day. Yesterday, the 9th August I posted my 100th video in this series and I want to share some of the things I’ve learned in starting this and seeing it through up to now.

The first thing to know is that this project came from a place where I felt I didn’t have the skills to use my equipment. I had changed cameras in December and still felt, four months later, that I did not know how to use it. This was compounded by having to change editing software since Final Cut 7 finally became incompatible with my OS in January. (Just let that sink in: I was using software released in 2009 in 2016). One of my primary goals was therefore to learn to use my camera and find what editing software suited me – and I did! After a dalliance with Premiere Pro (CS5 in case anyone’s curious) I settled into a regular rhythm of using Final Cut X for editing then colour grading in Da Vinci Resolve. I’d say over 60 of the 100 videos so far were created in that workflow but I recently got the hang of the (highly unintuitive at first) colour correction capabilities of Final Cut X. I remember the days when I swore blind I would never use Final Cut X. I now use it literally every day. All it took was some patience.

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(RIP FCP7)

A difficult thing about this project is that, although it’s only 30 seconds a day, there are days when even that seems too much. One rule I set myself is to not use footage filmed for another purpose in No Context. Mainly this avoids running into any issues where organisations who I have worked with could claim I used footage produced for them but it’s also a good personal integrity failsafe. I never feel like I can just cheat a day and re-use some footage. The effect of this has been that there have been days where I have been solidly filming for hours on end but struggled to film No Context. The other occasions when this project seems huge is when life simply gets too much. This happens rarely but every so often I will have to make what feels like a monumental effort to produce something whereas the day after I could be sorting through three possible edits of a day. Life isn’t equally spread out but part of the fun is seeing through the ups and downs and watching the periods of rush and calm that come out in the project as a whole.

But these are technical goals and challenges. More than anything this project is about creating something and sharing something of myself and my life. That’s been beyond eye-opening. These last 100 days have been divided between three primary locations, spent with a huge variety of people and included one of the happiest weeks of my life, as well as a very difficult moment that I had to deal with. The videos that mean the most to me are often those that others find impenetrable or simply boring. On the other hand a video that took hours to edit and never seemed right at any point thanks to footage I didn’t like or a day when I felt like I had nothing to film have often been the videos that had the best reactions. It’s endlessly mysterious to me but I guess it’s in the nature of the project that it varies between pure aesthetic and more personality or story driven extracts.

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Case in point: one of my favourite days

People have told me they find the project voyeuristic, others have said it’s calming. I’m still not sure what it is yet but I’m sure I still have more to learn just from making sure I am creative and aware of my surroundings every day.

I said this in one of the videos and it was the idea that pushed me into this project so I leave you with the thought:

If I don’t spend 30 seconds of any given day in front of something beautiful or worth recording I should change what I’m doing with my days.

See the project from the start in the playlist below and subscribe to the channel if you want to see more. I’m still going.