As the days grow shorter and colder I’m glad to be back in Glasgow after my travels with Voyageuse. Glad too because I’m able to focus on my latest project, Tilo in Real Life, which after months of thinking, writing, re-writing and testing I’m confident can work as a film, or at least a film I’m able (and want) to make within my meagre resource. How do I know this? I don’t, but I trust my instincts more than I trust my government.
Chances are you’re reading this via a link on social media which these days is essential for any independent filmmaker even though it’s hard to be heard above the noise of all the other filmmakers, writers and artists plying their wares.
Here I marvel at the chutzpah of my peers and the apparent ease with which they promote themselves, their goals and achievements, from winning awards to shaking down followers on crowdfunding campaigns. If only I had the nerve, I tell myself, to make bolder claims for my work.
But no. On Twitter I skip lightly around my ambition, pin-tweeting how Tilo is ‘about life, death and the demise of consumer capitalism – and is funny (I hope).’ My talent for self-deprecation is second only to my intuition because, being a marginal player, I know the stakes are low. If mainstream multi-million dollar films can – and do – vanish within days if not weeks of release, just how invisible are independent films that don’t get released at all?
So why bother? For me, the test of Tilo is to build on my previous work by making a virtue of my limited means and by taking risks on what cinematic storytelling can be because formally most motion pictures haven’t evolved much beyond theatre – generally it comes down to two people talking, fighting or fornicating in a room.
Recently I came across an old item in The Verge about the evolution of plot and character in the games sector and the complex relationship between storyteller and player, notably the challenges arising from giving agency to the latter. In the piece George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg differentiate between film and games and discuss how attempts to create ’empathic pathways’ in game narratives are sabotaged at the moment when a player takes the controls and reduces their quest to mere point-scoring.
As I’ve found while writing Tilo, simple is complicated. An inspiration for the project is the original 1812 edition of The Complete Folk and Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm. Gathered from an oral tradition this form of storytelling, according to their collectors, ‘struck only where poetry has enjoyed a lively reception and where the imagination has not yet been obliterated by the perversities of life.’
By writing an original story, as opposed to one based on actual persons or events, I’ve created an entire world so grounded in the ordinary that – ironically – has freed me to invent an alternative world filled with fantastic, even absurd possibilities.
Yet even the most fertile imagination couldn’t have predicted what occurred only a few weeks ago. During the summer I shot a test sequence in a block of flats close to where I live, a place once occupied by my great aunt Chrissie who died only a few years ago.
Long vacant, the building seemed reasonably sound – in fact, all the surrounding blocks are still inhabited, so I deemed it a perfectly viable place to shoot. And it was, apart from the presence of shady drug dealers and local kids seeking adventure during the school break.
Having shot and edited the sequence, only a few weeks later I had a palpable shock to find the block reduced to mounds of rubble. Watching the diggers and bulldozers at work I also knew it was too good an opportunity to pass up so last week I returned to the location to shoot the last part of the demolition.
Whether it makes the cut is moot but at least I took advantage of this unforeseen event, an event that in any other situation – i.e. one requiring a crew of people – would have been impossible. The lesson? Life is often surprising and perverse, so I may as well trust my instincts – even with an incomplete script.
The above image is of the flats in question, Maxwell Oval, shot during the summer. Today the site looks very different.