I thought it might be good to take a look back at Soulmaker as a frame of reference, comparing what I've done to what I'm doing now. Even the early pictures I took while gathering materials and building this new set seem eerily the same as my posted images for Soulmaker.

Already, I've realized a few things. The set will be similar in size. In fact, looking back at these production pictures the new set will be almost exactly the same dimensions as the Soulmaker set, 12 feet by 13 feet. Why is this? The obvious reason is budget. I'm not working with a lot of monetary resources, which is fine. It's good for creativity, and what I do have I am very grateful for. I'm only one person. Part of the challenge I've set for myself and in reality mandated by the pandemic is that I'm doing all the work. I can do only so much by myself and have to keep my expectations in check, though I would give anything for higher ceilings.

Shooting location. I was fortunate to be given access to the basement of the sculpture building at Southern Illinois University Carbondale to shoot Soulmaker. The basement was not generally accessible to the public, so I could leave it up as long as I needed. Today, I am shooting this new film in the basement of my house. It too provides instant access for filming at anytime that an idea might strike. It also affords me the freedom to not worry about accommodating others needing to use a shared space. This is a luxury I relish and it certainly aids or enables depending on how you look at it, my working process. It's probably a bit of both, but I do take my time.

These reasons are technical in nature, but there is more to it than just the technical. Themes are similar too. Entrapment and the desire for escape seem to run through both stories. During the Covid-19 pandemic we've all been sequestered, sheltering in place, removed from the world around us. The Soulmaker was stuck in his workshop, aware of the outside world, of others moving beyond his walls and desiring to push to the other side, another plane of existence. For months we too watched from afar as the world spun out of control. For some it was or still is, devastating, for others not much changed in the day to day lives. Many of us continue to be careful and courteous refusing to throw caution to the wind.

I'm sure the type of relationship we each have with social media plays an important role in how we receive and process our information. It is too obvious that sometimes this is not a good thing. It is a difficult and sometimes destructive addiction that masquerades as being helpful and necessary. Of course it can actually be helpful. I know this first hand, but at what cost? There will always be a love hate relationship with social media. I often wonder how much more I would accomplish, how less frustrated and demoralized I would be about my own creative process if I wasn't acutely aware of others' creative progress, by how much is being created by others every day. Time to focus on what I do well, even if it is a slow process.

Parting quote from Robert Bresson which I find relates to my own cinematic image making. I'm sure I'll reference this quote again in the future.

A sigh, a silence, a word, a sentence, a din, a hand, the whole of your model, his face, in repose, in movement, in profile, full face, an immense view, a restricted space...Each thing exactly in its place: your only resources.

The majority of my cinematic work has been experimental, realized with very little up front production costs and mostly realized through the editing process. It has made things "easy," but I have longed to return to narrative filmmaking. Of course when I say narrative that is a fairly loose interpretation. The experimental is never too far away, and it certainly continues to drive my images and story. Since my initial experience shooting a narrative in 2003, I have tried a few times to return to narrative filmmaking often being held back by excuses more than anything else, but I think it's about time to get rid of those excuses and begin again.

Soulmaker was my first and last narrative film. It was shot and completed on 16mm. I conformed the negative myself, which was probably the most difficult and scary part of the production. So much so because I still bring it up apparently. During the making of that film, I learned a lot about how I work and what I like and don't like about filmmaking, and I pretty much like it all, except for conforming negatives. I like the ability to bring all of my different skills to the table. I like being able to move from one stage of the process to another as needed. Soulmaker started with a basic idea inspired by an object, but the film only began to take shape as I designed and built the set which was prior to the completion of any script. This is certainly not the Hollywood way of working. Still, this helped me understand the character, and the world where the character lived. It provided a firm foundation from which the story grew and made things more knowable, provided answers when sometimes questions couldn't even be verbalized.

I didn't know about Victor Shlovsky then, but this quote from him has long been something that I turn to when thinking about my own creative process. "...art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony." – from his 1917 text ‘Art as Technique’. I've selectively picked a part of a much longer quote and there's a lot that can be unpacked in his writing, but for me the process of creating and building helped me to recover the sensation of life.

Soulmaker started with a very specific image and prop, a nautilus shell. The growth of the shell, a gift from my wife, implied continued growth and change, as well as the corporeal and the spirit. The film was built around this object and these ideas. My new film starts here, with this telephone. Another gift from my wife. It is a vintage Bakelite crank phone from Belgrade circa 1965.

Connections, those missed or vital to our lives, direct lines in times of need and tethering - lifelines extended and held onto, anchor this film. I'm looking forward to this beginning.

All content © 2019 by Phil Hastings all rights reserved.