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editorial | issue 01 | Dialogue

Responses to Issue 01:

From: Jo Ann Kaplan
Date: Thu, 31 May 2001
Subject: Editorial

I was interested to browse your editorial offerings and a curious question arose about Narrative...

On the one hand the people on the animate! selection panel were indicating with surprise that so many applicant projects were "narrative". And on the other hand Keith Griffiths is saying (I think) that digital media allows a loosening up of "narrative" or freedom from the industrial requirements of "story-telling”.

It may be that animate! applicants (or any other supplicants for funding) have been bashed by funders for so long about the necessity for "narrative" and "story-telling" (on the grounds of audience accessibility and budgetary predictability) that we simply do what's required to get the dough. Or is it?

The more interesting question is what we think of, indeed invent, as "narrative" or "story." Maybe a story's just a thread?

Maybe we should talk about this?

From: Sarah Cox
Date: Sun, 03 Jun 2001
Subject: recent trends in animate! proposals

[Sarah was a member of this years animate! independent selection panel]

The majority of recent shortlisted animate! proposals definitely possessed a strong narrative, sometimes even scripted, structure. When asked why I thought this was, my initial response was that it made Channel 4 very happy, which it certainly did. I do however think that there is more to this than just gratifying the funders.

The nature of putting in a proposal itself must surely affect the resulting structure of a film. A storyboard, an outline and a script are requested, all being components of the dominant narrative form. I wonder how many intangible concepts are discarded merely because they are so difficult to describe verbally.

The standard of proposal presentation nowadays is also very high (for those established animators with access to computers and good printers etc) and I often think as panel-members we can be seduced by a professional looking proposal with a neatly defined concept.

There was a distinct lack of proposals this year concerned purely with formal experiment, either on film or digital media. One reason could be that the use of software such as After Effects can so easily replicate the look of many abstract films that there is little formal challenge there. Does there needs to be a norm which is not yet established in digital filmmaking in order to react against it?

The animate! films selected for 2001 have embraced storytelling as the primary function of filmmaking yet still manage to differentiate themselves from mainstream animation, if only in the nature of their content. By telling darker and more marginal stories they retain their radical and experimental status. At least, as a panel, that’s how we justify our choices.

From: Jo Ann Kaplan
Date: Wed, 04 Jul 2001
Subject: Re: Recent trends in animate! proposals

I wasn’t really questioning Animate! decisions about what it funds, merely noting an interesting coincidence and trying to open out a conversation about “narrative” and “story-telling”.

The thing is, as you say yourself, “a storyboard, an outline and a script . . . (are) components of the dominant narrative form,” and indeed you “wonder how many intangible concepts are discarded because they are so difficult to describe verbally.” Why is so hard to understand these “intangible” concepts in some other way? Or is it to do with this industrial need to know what the thing is before it exists, thereby squeezing the life out of it? I must say that one of the most notable and consistent responses I’ve had to deal with as a film-maker, is the “but this is not what I thought it was going to be response,” even when, most especially when, I the film-maker think the thing looks uncannily like the outline/script/storyboard I presented in the first place. So, how did this big “hole” in perception occur? Is it maybe in the expectation of the beholder, not in some lack of the film-maker?

To me, there is also some connection between the “lack of proposals concerned with formal experiment” and the above assumption that storyboards etc only come one way (the “dominant “way) and that any other way is hard to understand. I don’t think the apparent lack of interest in formal experiment has anything to do with technology - a lot of the use of tools like Aftereffects is not at all concerned with form, but with style - and style in a very particular contemporary way - that is, icing on the cake, not a function of form.

So really I think formal experiment and narrative experiment are the same thing. What do you think is going on in a Godard film, or a Duras film, or either of the 2 “essay” films Keith Griffiths refers to, or Chris Petit’s work (and it’s notable Petit is a writer) if not both formal and narrative experiment? What is a story? I thought we already knew it isn’t necessarily what the conventional storyboard/outline/script says it is?

Personally, I have an attachment to the kind of story that is the “tell it over an over again” kind of story - one that is so familiar you only need to say “once upon a time” and the story is there, entire. What I like about this kind of story is exactly the room it gives you to invent, and I don’t think this kind of invention is merely “theme and variations” - not necessarily. As a viewer, I have to say that I’m not very attentive to things that seem to conventionally count as story - original twists of plot, for example, or “character” development. I lose track of the plot pretty easily and most characters don’t really involve me emotionally very much. I always seem to be looking at something else which is catching my attention or involving my heart. I’m not quite sure what these things are that I’m looking at, but I do think it is formal, and that the “story” is a hanger. As a maker, I find this “hanger” is very important, and it takes a long time to find it, and it does evolve, but it isn’t entirely the focus of attention. One is also working it out through a whole proliferation of things that are the bottom-line building blocks of cinema - that is, moving pictures + sound. That’s basically what you’ve got and you ain’t got a movie without them. And this isn’t anything to do with style - that is, merely how it looks or how it sounds. It’s how you make meaning in the cinema, no?

I’m sorry if this is a bit rambling and vague. Like I say, it’s just an attempt to provoke conversation. I think these concerns are on a lot of people’s minds.

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