Thursday, 21 June 2018

Interview w/ filmmaker, Michael Woods (USA)

New York-raised, Los Angeles-based "media terrorist", Michael Woods, studied Film & TV Production at New York University and is now Head of Immersive Media at Studio Arts in LA. He is a Represented Artist at LACDA (Los Angeles Centre for Digital Art) and creates his own work under the banner, Disassociative Productions. He also spends a great deal of his spare time helping the homeless on skid row and campaigning against the Trumpist philosophies of the American Right. We became fully aware of Michael Woods' phenomenal body of work - wild, inventive films which are usually deeply political and always experimental - when he and we had our 60-second silent films included in TUFF (Toronto Urban Film Festival) in 2016.

AK: Who are you? Where did you grow up and where are you now based?

MW: My name is Michael Woods, but for creative purposes I go by M. Woods. I was born in New York City to a single mom. My mother was born in Costa Rica; my grandmother being originally from Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, and my grandfather and his family are from Ambato, Ecuador. I went to most of grade school and high school in Evanston, IL (where Northwestern University is located), before returning back to New York City to attend NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, majoring in film production. I’m now based in Los Angeles, where I work, teach, exhibit, and make my creative work with whatever time I have left.

AK: Could you give us a brief history of your involvement with creating work involving still or moving images?

MW: As a kid, I was bullied incessantly from the age of 6, so I used movies as a sort of retreat/escape. My step-father (who I regard as my father) introduced me to writers like Edgar Allan Poe and Franz Kafka at an early age, while also introducing me to 2001: A Space Odyssey at the age of 9. The experience of the Stargate sequence initially sparked my interest in making films – to recreate the sort of transcendental experience I did not have the words to express at the time. I continued a rabid addiction to movies, until I watched Mulholland Drive at the age of 13. That was the experience that sparked my pessimism towards motion picture and allowed me to become conscious of the way in which my personality was an amalgamation of motion picture simulation. That I did not feel like an authentic self. The movie communicated to me on a ground I had never experienced before and may never experience again; but if Lynch pulls the rug out of the movie, he is similarly attempting to pull the false reality out from underneath the spectator, so as to direct their consciousness towards the spectator/spectacle relationship, while simultaneously drawing the viewer towards a practice of self-reflection that helps to spark consciousness. 

Once I was convinced that this consciousness could be spread through media, I embarked on a project called The Numb Spiral. The origins of the Numb Spiral also reflected my state of drug addiction and self-destructive behaviour. At the age of 15/16, I began to experience bullying that was so constant and aggressive that I began to drink, smoke marijuana, abuse prescription pills like Vicodin and Adderall, but most pathetically, I began to consume cough syrup on an almost daily basis. The cough syrup in question had only one active ingredient – Dextromethorphan – which is a disassociative anaesthetic. A disassociative anaesthetic creates a feeling of total numbness, which causes the illusion of “out-of-body” experience when taken at higher doses. Conscious of my own descent into a place divorced from physical reality, I tried to channel my addiction into a creative obsession, and as I became clean, I created a “production company” – essentially a label for all of my films – which would become Disassociative Productions. The first and only project that Disassociative Productions has been working on is an art cycle known as The Numb Spiral. The "Numb Spiral” is a term I use to describe the parasitic nothingness at the heart of American culture. This is a nothingness that can be broadcast, ingested, used as the basis for societal norms and conventions; it is at the heart of currency, politics, corporate culture, and racial hierarchies. This corrosive nothingness operates similarly to The Precession of the Simulacra as illustrated by Baudrillard, the Spectacle as illustrated by Guy Debord, and is further elucidated in Being and Nothingness by Sartre. I began using the work of Freud and Jung to better come to grips with the way in which this nothingness has evolved to augment the original psychical models they introduced. In short, the "Numb Spiral” is the moment in which consciousness falls into Sartrean “Bad Faith”. In this “Bad Faith” model, nothingness or illusion is taken to be as “real” as the facticity of physical reality. (Facticity being a term that Sartre coins to define the ground of physical reality that exists despite and as the fountain of human existence.) The “Numb Spiral” is the moment in which human consciousness completely loses that ground, and the super ego projects an illusion of reality – the individual succumbing to the heart of hyperreality. In my own experience of this “Numb Spiral”, a sort of void fills reality that enables consciousness to posit nothingness over everything, and in doing so the false lure of completely malleable existence entices the conscious mind. 

What I found, however, is that experiences like Mulholland Drive are able to counteract the hyperreal; media, most importantly motion picture and immersive media, posit themselves as real when they are instead falsehoods. They are false representations of reality meant to force the spectator into a real reaction towards the illusion. In the work of Lynch, for instance, Lynch uses this construct to build a formidable illusion, but every one of them begins to fall prey to its own falsehood. In this way, Lynch is creating consciousness with motion picture. Just as human beings posit nothingness in order to allocate themselves as being here in everything, Lynch uses the false reality of motion picture to point back at its own negative structure. In doing so, in telling the whole truth through an artificial construct, Lynch is terrorizing the media. It was with this in mind that I began using all art to accomplish the same goal; I am a media terrorist, aimed at exposing the nihilism at the heart of the artifice, while expressing through it in order to transcend and reverse the effects of hyperreality. It is a Quixotic quest, and on my work desk I have small figurines of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza clearly visible to remind me of my naivete along the way. But using both digital and analog means allows me to explore the different dimensions of media; in adopting a hybrid media practice, I’m able to call upon the nostalgias and memories associated with different media types/film gauges. While the main thrust of my work remains the same throughout this 13 year + period of the Numb Spiral, I experiment with different ways of recording illusions and then intervening through direct and digital manipulation. At first my work was not overtly political, but through the past decade I have grown more aware, especially as a White-passing Latino, of the need to include racial politics in my work, especially as we continue to trudge through Trump’s ham-handed hyperreality. Especially Aldo Tambellini and Spike Lee have driven me to make my politics more visible. If anything, the politics have started to catch up to my work, and Trump is now a very fitting backdrop to the sort of surrealism that pervades my work.

AK: What were the major influences in the arts and in life which encouraged you to become involved with this field?

MW: The folks above, definitely, but also all of the real avant-gardes: Dada, Surrealism, Lettrists/Situationists Intl, Hip-Hop. The RZA and J Dilla, as samplers, are extremely necessary to my work. Wu-Tang Clan in general has a similar model in hip-hop, theoretically, to what I’m exploring in motion picture, and I have adopted some elements of their business plan as well. De Beauvoir, Malcolm X, William S. Burroughs, Jodorowsky, Deren, Menken, Anger, Bergman, Akerman, Breillat, Bunuel, Godard, Rivette, etc… numerous obviously, but all approach their art with a similar set of ethos and politics. My direct mentors have been Jason Halprin, Fred Worden, Bruce McClure, Aldo Tambellini, Pipilotti Rist, Lynne Sachs, Marco Williams, and Darrell Wilson, all of whom have shown me different ways of looking at motion picture and performance, documentary vs. narrative, experimental, video art… etc…

AK: What does the word “experimental” mean to you?

MW: Experimental to me simply signifies a new way of expressing that has not been forged before, or at least there is an implication that the experimenter is taking an uncharted route down a previously explored path. To work in experimental film does not mean to acknowledge and hold dear those previously heralded or currently thought of as the most important. I think the term “experimental” implies avant-garde, but not in the current configuration of academic “experimental film.” Academia defined “experimental film” and the related film festivals often choose work that does not experiment, but rather re-treads down the same path for the purpose of fitting in with trends defined by those in power. My work is often not shown at “experimental” film festivals as a result of it not fitting the programming – especially as the scene in the United States celebrates work that is sometimes outright boring. In general, I do not like Structuralist work, though there are a few artists like Ernie Gehr, who interest me despite the goals being radically different from my own. I think the Structuralist movements view “experimental” in the way a scientist would as opposed to the brazen artists I am most interested in. When it comes to art, I do not have time for subtleties anymore, especially as we live in a world that is so obscene. I find them to be inauthentic and representative of the bourgeois state of “experimental film.”

AK: At Avant Kinema we have a particular interest in low budget, DIY or LoFi forms of creativity. What are your thoughts on films, music, zines or other artworks created in this way? Is this a way that you personally like working?

MW: I do not treat working low-budget or DIY as a badge of honor, but rather as a necessity. I am not capable of buying or receiving the same resources as many other “experimental filmmakers” so I’ve had to draw out my process over the course of a decade. Sometimes that means not having the money or the wherewithal to process film to months or years later. Sometimes that means not having the resources to complete a scene or a movie until years later. I think the plight of the underground filmmakers, the working filmmakers, those who have to make work in their free time – because we do not have the opportunities of our bourgeoisie counterparts – is not something to celebrate necessarily. It is just the way we have to do things. If I’m given a budget, I will immediately take the money. I want as much money as possible. The ideas I have are feature films, ones that I want shot on 35 & 16mm. I don’t buy the premise that more money means less creativity. I think we sometimes have a tendency to use low budget or DIY as a badge of honor. In reality, at least for me, it is a constant struggle, and if I had the resources that I see a lot of our bourgeoisie counterparts have, I would be more prolific and more easily able to put out the work that has otherwise taken me 13 years to bring to fruition. However, the thing that binds us – those of us bound to create despite these limitations – is an inherent ingenuity, and an obsession that transcends our financial situation. Even I, however, recognize that despite living paycheck to paycheck (if that), I have more resources and more opportunity than many who remain voiceless because they do not have the wherewithal to contribute to our art. In that sense, I am a champion for underground and emerging art, especially from those who share the struggle to make their work.

AK: What was your earliest experience of using analogue film, video or photographic equipment?

MW: My first experience using analog film was in a Fisher-Price toy 35mm camera when I was a child, but I began to use it seriously at the age of 17 when I was an intern at Chicago Filmmakers – which hosts the Onion City Experimental Film Festival. I learned how to use Super-8 from playing around with an old Elmo Super-8 and that footage served as the basis for my upcoming feature film, Disneyworld. I was taught to use 16mm by Jason Halprin, initially, and then at NYU I made my first 16mm shorts in Joanne Savio’s Sight and Sound Film Class under the tutelage of Geoffrey Erb, a cinematographer who had worked on Law & Order. He’s now passed away, but a lot of my cinematographic tricks come from Geoff. I started on an Arri-S while I was in school, but soon began working with the school’s Arri-SR, and I managed to purchase my own Beaulieu R16, and later a Bolex when the R16 broke. I still shoot 16mm on a nearly daily basis – having hoarded film when I was eligible for a student discount. I also shoot super-8 with a Beaulieu 4008 ZMII, which I love. Because I am a film scanner at my day job, I can scan my own 16mm for free, but super-8 is actually an added expense. In 2013/2014 I began to process my own film using the facilities at Negativland in Brooklyn, and while I mostly lab-process my footage these days, I’ll occasionally bucket-process, especially for Kodak 7363 Hi-Con B&W stock, as it is quite simple to do so. My favorite film stock is 16mm Ektachrome, and I’m rapidly depleting my stock, but I am quite happy to do so. I used to be precious about my film reserves, but I now realize there’s no time to wait. Just shoot.

AK: Where did these initial steps lead?

MW: Because I began to use 16mm on a regular basis, inevitably I was shooting more than I was capable of processing or scanning, until I was lucky enough to land a job as a film scanner. Having cut out that expense, I was able to transfer a decade’s worth of 16mm in 2016, and that led to the completion of 16+ short films that were in limbo awaiting finishing funds. I have four feature films – three of which are in post-production. All of which mainly use 16mm or super 8 film as the medium, with 35mm, 2.5K, and other video formats mixed in. The first, I just released, Dailies from Dumpland, will be premiering in Europe in October, but this summer I’m looking to complete the next titles, Commodity Trading: Dies Irae & Disneyworld. The fourth feature, Melencolia, is the one I’ve been working on the longest, based on a novel I started writing at 15, and it will be released sometime in 2019 after 12 years of production. My use of 16mm has evolved to include a lot of in-camera editing, multiple-exposures and other effects, and I’ve continued my practice of constantly changing framerates, usually switching between the extremes of single frame, 12FPS, and 64 FPS. I use a Blackmagic Cinema Camera for any scenes requiring sync sound, and by sending letters and a prospectus I was able to use an Arri 535B Sync 35mm camera for the climax of my film, Melencolia. In addition, I exercised some stock options from my time as an Apple retail employee to purchase an Arri 35 IIC camera. (Once I get some funding, I plan to put that camera to good use.)

AK: Did you have any guidance in using this technology or did you work it all out for yourself?

MW: I definitely had guidance from some folks as I mentioned above, but even those who mentored me knew that the only way you learn to shoot film is to mess up, to learn for yourself, learn your own set of rules for how to light or work with available light, etc… and so I feel they guided me to all of the basics, but gave me enough encouragement to figure out the more important parts on my own. I am typically a very shy and reluctant person – especially when it comes to anything that could cost a lot of money – so I needed the push from these other filmmakers to throw caution to the wind. Now I shoot with confidence – enough to experiment regularly and push the limitations of the medium.

AK: What was it that drew you to analogue as a creative tool?

MW: Initially I was drawn to analog because of the false sense of nostalgia I could evoke, by the ability to change framerates and shutter angle easily, by the ability to hand-manipulate, decay, age, and otherwise intervene with the physical medium. There are a few reasons I think film still handles better than digital – in terms of creating an illusion of a physical location/experience. The fact that the grain is three dimensional, despite being so minute in scale, creates a depth in the shot image that is otherwise not recreated with a digital sensor. The organic process, the randomization of the grain as opposed to the grid of pixels, the ability to animate by hand… all factors in my decision to continue in analog. That being said, because of limitations in resources, I am not precious about finishing in analog. I have a few pieces that do, but it does not make financial sense for me to create prints, IPs/INs etc… and I am not lucky enough to have ready access to an optical printer or contact printer. Instead upon scanning in film, I retain many of the characteristics I’ve described above, but I’m also able to mix freely, explore editing the film and digital manipulation in a way that is under-utilized in the world of “experimental film.” There are some venues that are particularly dogmatic about film, but for me it is like oil painting is to acrylic. There are uses for both, and I like to make messy collages.

AK: What specific models of analogue equipment / stock do you favour, and why?

MW: Mentioned above! But I love the Bolex for its lack of battery and its ability to simulate a mechanomorphic consciousness. I think of my Bolex as an extension of myself now. I’ve got a beautil Rex-5 I found for $200, and it’s my 4/5 Bolex. I really wore out my previous ones. My new favorite stock – other than Ektachrome – is the Kodak 50D & 250 D, but I still do a lot of multiple exposure work on 500T. I’m using up the last of my Fuji reserves, which is sad, because Fuji green/red is a beautiful combo. But I am more than content shooting on those Kodak stocks. Especially the 50D and 250D seem to have so many stops of latitude that my multiple exposure experiments come out just as I imagine them.

AK: In what other ways to you experiment with analogue film?

MW: One thing I haven’t spoken on is my hand-manipulation. I use a mixture of Synchromatic transparent dyes, india inks, scotch tape, acrylics, liquid acrylics, razor blades, X-acto knives, and bleach. Sometimes I’ll use other household cleaners to degrade film – Windex and Ammonia soaked and then washed off and dried. On 16mm and 35mm films I collage in Super 8 & fragments of 16mm/35mm frames. I’ll use both motion picture as well as still picture for this practice. The resultant collage creates several frames with the illusion of motion. This is seen most prominently in my films Disneyworld, Post-Panoptic Gazing, and Commodity Trading. Currently I’m working with 120mm film which I’m scanning in a flatbed scanner – 4-6 frames at a time – after having directly manipulated the film; I’m collaging in Aldo Tambellini’s Black TV & Black Plus X – two films he gifted to me as prints in order to use as collage material for my upcoming movie Commodity Trading: Dies Irae. I’m using E-6000 glue to adhere the film. What’s best about that is if you glue super 8 onto 16mm motion picture, it will still project, so long as you’re careful with the amount of adhesive used. It’s definitely a difficult and tedious technique, but the results of multiple film gauges running at once within the frame creates an oscillating effect between materiality and the illusion that jumps from it. It reminds me of the shot into the projector gate at the beginning of Bergman’s Persona. Seeing the material jump to imaginary life and then fall back into material.

AK: Have you shared any of your skills in the Analogue Arts with others through workshops, tutorials or other forms of training? How was this experience?

MW: I actually wish I could, but whenever I reach out to places in the US they don’t seem interested in me! Lol. I teach evil digital moviemaking – Adobe Premiere and Virtual Reality. I’ve never gotten the opportunity to share my analog stuff!

AK: You also use digital technologies and processes extensively. Could you talk us through your involvement with these and how you use them?

MW: I think of the digital as being my new optical printer. I don’t heavily stack effects or anything like that. I’m not heavy into compositing, but I still heavily digitally manipulate work. I like to stick to certain processes – for instance, quick cutting between multiple lines of action, using blend-modes to pull apart an image into its positive and negative twin, data moshing and corrupting files to create keyframe errors (or eliminating the keyframes altogether), resequencing picture… I often times employ these methods – almost as if they were employed in a film lab. There’s a certain automation. For instance, when I data-mosh, I’ll data mosh an entire movie, then layer that data-moshed movie ontop of its previous iteration and begin to selectively edit. I take a process very similar to William S. Burroughs and Francis Bacon. There are layers and layers of brutal expression. Layers of automation – for instance datamoshing is an automatic process once you remove the keyframes or alter the code & similarly layers of chance/randomness – there’s chance in the destruction of the elements, there’s a randomness to a certain degree no matter how well you compose a multiple exposure, or if you bucket-process the film, the resultant scratches and nicks in the emulsion. Upon allowing in some chance/randomness/automation, I’ll then edit, to regain control over the image. And 99% of my work follows this process. Writing is the same way. Painting is the same way. I never come out with something that’s just perfect for me. I need to beat the shit out of my work.

AK: The Digital Revolution has opened up the World of High Quality, Low Cost filmmaking and photography for a lot of people. It's still relatively expensive to use analogue movie or stills stock and it's also generally a more time-consuming and complicated way of working. So, what's the attraction? What is it that makes the expense and effort worthwhile in the 21st Century?

MW: Actually, I disagree. If you factor in the cost of hard drives, and shooting on a Black Magic Cinema Camera – for digital right now, at least in my opinion, there’s really one viable option. Shooting RAW. And RAW is huge!! So even in the digital space there’s a lot of expense. I go through hard drives in no time. With film, I’m more economical. The restriction of the roll forces me to think about what I want to shoot, and the juxtapositions on the roll serve as my in-camera edits. I don’t have as much room for error and it’s like my brain kicks in. If you’re driving in a video game, you tend to make more mistakes than when you know your life is on the line. Now I cannot understate the privilege I have of access to a film scanner. The film scanner has changed my entire work. It is the sole reason many people know who I am now, or know any of my work. I had no way to scan thousands of feet of 16mm. So, mind you, I’m coming from the perspective of a person who can get film scanned for free. But beyond that, I really do think good quality digital is ridiculously expensive. (I use my iphone, of course, but with the intention of compromising the quality or using it for still-image stop motion and the like. Truth is, I still feel I have more control over the image I create in analog than in the RAW digital capture.)

 AK: What kind of future do you see for analogue creativity in a digital world? We can see analogue-digital hybrid art becoming an interesting new form that filmmakers and artists can experiment with. Is this something you like to do with your own work?

MW: For this I have to shout out to my good friend, Karissa Hahn. Karissa shoots analog films with digital subjects and finishes analog typically. I shoot analog and digital hybrids trying to arrive at an organic reality, and often depicting mechanomorphic and digital degradation, which is then matched by my process of automation/randomness/corruption/brutal re-ordering. I think we have complimentary processes in that way. I think the truth is we live in a hybrid world. Digital will always have to negotiate the analog/organic, and the analog/organic is too tedious for humans to replicate as material, so digital has its benefits in simplifying and codifying the infinitude of our being. Both are fatally flawed – and in that way both represent characteristics of human consciousness. Both methods degrade no matter what. The analog is needed, however, as a foil for the ever-digital world. The objecthood of an analog piece is a statement – although sometimes a nostalgic one – against the infinite serialization of the digital “object”. I think these are like oil and acrylic, though their DNA is slightly more complicated; but I use them for their strengths, I exploit their weaknesses, and then I try to manipulate my audience based on their aesthetic/emotional attachments to various media. We all have an individualized understanding of what it is to be experiencing super 8 or 16mm or 35mm, though many folks cannot verbalize it – and many cannot even perceive the difference. But I do believe there is an unconscious connection we have to these varieties of motion picture, and, for those of us who shoot, we begin to see the nuances of cameras, lenses, stock choice, etc… In the end, I want as many tools at my disposal as possible. If I’m dirt broke and all I have is an iphone I’ll use that, but, for instance, if I want to create an all-encompassing illusion, with a density to it, with the perception of “being there” in the film, I’m going to go for 35mm or 16mm. If I wanna shoot all day without worrying too much about cost, digital is the happy medium. And it’s so much easier to record sync sound to. Super-8 gives me a tool for playing with nostalgia, placing an illusion out of a contemporary context; the ability to wear it down. But, in conclusion, the medium itself is of no matter. It’s the main thrust of the piece that chooses the medium for me, and all of those aesthetic considerations are taken into account based on a wholistic approach to the work and the thematic/philosophical underpinnings that have brought it forth in my consciousness. Beyond that, the medium coordinates with the meaning, and it is through that symbiosis that I create. I never make aesthetic considerations above thematical/theoretical decisions. They should happen in tandem. For better or for worse, a tree or flower does not grow the way it does for its own aesthetic admiration. It grows as part of its function; in the same way I view art as a process reflective of the innate function; without the function, there’s no point to discussing the medium or the aesthetic tools used. 

AK: Thank you very much, Michael, for taking the time to answer our questions.


Friday, 8 June 2018

Interview w/ filmmakers, Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais (England/Portugal)

Studio Diary (2018)

As part of a series of interviews and articles on processes of Creative Collaboration, we spoke to our friends, Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais, who create lavish, startling, dreamlike, unsettling, wonderful feature films and shorts under the banner of The Underground Film Studio. The duo are also behind Film Panic zine, the definitive journal of contemporary underground and experimental cinema.
Clara and Daniel are two of the most industrious, creative, innovative, genuine and generous people we know. We had the pleasure of first meeting them in February 2017 when they invited us to screen our short film, Orphine (2014), in the beautiful city of Porto in Northern Portugal. They were perfect hosts for the three days we visited with our son, helping find us free accommodation, showing us all around Porto, Gaia and the seaside town of Espinho where we collaborated on an impromptu Surrealist black & white Super 8 film, starring Daniel and Clara, which we entitled, In The Arbor of the Bitter Orange (2017).
Soon afterwards, Clara and Daniel came over to the UK for a short British-wide tour to promote their films. All four of us put on an event, MoonMoths at the MacArts Church, in Galashiels, an Avant Kinema / Film Panic co-production, which featured experimental short films, comedy and music, plus a special screening of Daniel and Clara's first collaboration, the feature Savage Witches (2012). A couple of days later we put on a double bill screening of work by all four of us at Edinburgh's Vegan-friendly arts cafe, The Forest.
Being life-long aficionados of the art of collaboration we thought that Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais would be ideal subjects for our investigations into Creative Collaboration.

INTRODUCTION: Become Who You Are
AVANT KINEMA: Daniel and Clara: let's pretend for a few minutes that we've never met. Would you start by introducing yourself? Could you give us a brief introduction to who you are, where you grew up and where you are now?

DANIEL: I was in born in 1982 in a village called Layer De La Haye in Essex. I grew up in a wonderful and mysterious 500 year old cottage that stood on the grounds of a large house which my dad worked for as a gardener. My childhood was spent running around in the countryside making tree houses, birdwatching and creating fantasies about goblins and ghosts. I started making films in my mid-teens shooting at first on Hi8 and VHS cameras, creating personal poetic explorations inspired by painting and also playful films with friends of dressing up and improvised play. In many ways I am doing exactly the same thing now as I was twenty years ago! I've made 8 feature length films and around 100 short films, and since 2011 I have been working in a collaboration with Clara Pais under the banner of The Underground Film Studio where we produce films, performances, video installations and a magazine. We work as two halves of one artist and to understand our work it must be considered in this light, as manifesting both from us as individuals but also from that mysterious third being that is formed within the space between us.

CLARA: As a child, my favourite things were drawing, reading mythology and watching movies. Everyone in my family loved cinema and attached particular significance to the act of watching movies, but I probably drove everyone mad with my movie obsession, I feel like I used to have films playing at home all the time, and I'd be singing the songs and reciting the lines along with the movie, I was possessed by cinema! I was introduced to many films by my brother, who is 9 years older, and by age 10 I was a big fan of Hitchcock films, especially Rear Window and Shadow of a Doubt. We had a Hi8 camera that I used to snatch away from my brother on holidays and weekends, I liked looking at things through it and played with it all the time. I never thought about editing then, it was only about looking, and sometimes performing with my cousins and friends. I was born in Porto, a city in the north of Portugal that sits between the river Douro and the sea. It's a very atmospheric place, very rainy and misty in winter, there is a feeling of ancientness there and the weight of countless generations toiling next to the river. Portugal's history is very much related to the sea as well, tinged always with a certain wistfulness but full of stories of sea adventures, worldwide exploration and terrifying encounters with monsters and giants. I always felt the pull to leave and explore, so when I was 18 I moved to the UK to study cinema.

AVANT KINEMA: What were the major influences in the arts and in life which led to your desire to make films?

DANIEL: I have two uncles who are artists and from a young age they taught me about art history and painting techniques. As a child I wanted to become a special FX artist and to create masks and monsters for movies, then in my teens I wanted to be a painter but when I was around 15 one of my uncles showed me Derek Jarman's film The Garden (1991) and by the time it was over everything had changed, I knew I wanted to make my own films, to create my very own personal universe within the magical dimension of cinema. Before seeing Jarman's films I didn't realise cinema was an art-form but once I understood that my path in life was set!

CLARA: I was about 13 when it suddenly dawned on me that I could become a filmmaker, I was in the backseat of the car with my parents as we were driving back home one evening from the cinema and I remember that moment as nothing less than a totally overwhelming and ecstatic revelation, as if my life opened up before me. I didn't know what kind of films I wanted to make, I didn't think of it that way then, I just wanted to learn how it was all created. I watched the 10-hour The Lord of The Rings making of documentary several times and I also watched the Heart of Darkness documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now many times before I even watched the film, that's how I started learning about filmmaking. But the greatest influences in my early teens came from reading books, I was especially impressed by Robinson Crusoe, Tolkien's Silmarillion and Oscar Wilde's The Portrait of Dorian Gray, and I was deeply fascinated by Virginia Woolf's writings.

AVANT KINEMA: What was it that gave you the confidence to try it out for yourself?

DANIEL: For me this was never something I thought about, I lacked confidence in a lot of areas but making art was always the one thing I never hesitated at, I felt that it belonged to me and that if I wanted to make art I could and I just needed to get on with it. I knew that not having technical skills was only a matter of discipline and practice that came over time. I think this attitude was helped by growing up around artists and creative people, most of my family, myself included, suffered all the way through school, I failed every single GCSE exam and was bullied every day of primary and secondary school, but outside of school my life was very rich with activity and interesting people. Everyone in my family has hobbies of one sort or another, we are all amateurs, so this attitude of following your interests and simply giving things a go was passed on to me.

CLARA: My feeling about making films was so strong that I didn't really consider any other options. I just had to find my way step by step, and even though I often felt so inadequate and in the dark about what I was doing I took that as a good sign because I felt very strongly that life is a unique path for everyone and should always be an exploration. If you hesitate or back down because you're afraid you only rob yourself of the opportunity to make it happen, it all depends on you. I was also very lucky to have parents who never tried to impose on me or tell me what I should be doing, they always encouraged me to follow my own path and tried to help me as much as they could, even if they were unsure themselves.

AVANT KINEMA: What were your first experiences of working with filmmaking equipment?

DANIEL: My earliest experiments can be divided into two groups: visual experimentation and performance films. Very early on I became excited by the painterly qualities of video, in fact this is still present in everything I am doing even to this day, so from the beginning I was experimenting with ways to create interesting colour and texture with the equipment. One thing I found was that by transferring the footage from Hi8 tapes to VHS and copying it several times I could create beautiful unexpected colours and textures. I also played around with re-filming footage played through the TV. The performance films were often about creating costumes from junk and old clothes and improvising stream of consciousness dialogue and poetry or playing absurdist characters.

CLARA: For years all I had was the Hi8 camera and my filmmaking was very loose, any kind of “special event” was an opportunity for filming and I often got lost in a reverie just looking through the camera and feeling my perception and sense of space change by the lens. I'd then just plug the camera into the TV and watch back usually by myself, no one else was that interested. Sometimes I'd shoot something more like reportage style with some special editing formula done in camera, like starting and stopping very quickly to create single portraits of everyone and everything involved in that moment, things like that. Sometimes we'd do reenactments, fictions and puppet shows involving family and friends. I also used to record spoken plays that I invented on my tape recorder, by myself or with my cousins, but I never put the images and the sound together until much later.

AVANT KINEMA: How did you go about editing those first fledgling attempts at creating moving image artworks?

DANIEL: Most of my first films were edited in camera, I did do some very primitive editing by recording to VHS tapes, stoping and starting it to insert shots but I was never that happy with how it turned out. I only really got involved with editing several years later when I got my first Mini-DV camera and that started a whole new phase of experiments and exploration.

CLARA: At this time I didn't really see any of this as creating single works necessarily to be watched later so I guess that's why I wasn't very involved in editing, or only the most minimal kind, of following a chain of thoughts and events through images. It was all about the filming in the moment, how the act of filming made that moment more special for me, more fun or more meaningful.

AVANT KINEMA: Where and how did you learn the crafts needed to create your films?

DANIEL: It all came by hitting record on the camera and seeing what happens. Lack of access to professional technology was a benefit, I had one Hi8 camera, a VCR, a cassette recorder/player and a TV and that was it, so anything I wanted to do had to be created with those tools. My first 50 or so films were made on this equipment, I think the main thing I learnt from this was how to turn limitations into tools and creative opportunities. The most exciting and interesting things seemed to happen when things didn't go to plan!

Studio Diary (2018)

 CLARA: When I was 15 I went to a school that was dedicated to the arts, it was the first time that art making became real to me and it immediately made sense, I felt relieved to discover a framework for what I felt I needed to be doing. It might sound absurd but even though I was exposed to painting and arts a lot, the actual processes and the craft and thinking behind art making was a mystery to me, I didn't know anyone who was a real artist, so all that I knew came from what I read in books. But going to this school was the best thing I could've done, besides learning the basics of filmmaking, I got to try out various crafts like ceramics, screen-printing and photography, and also did drawing and learned about art history and philosophy, and just generally was encouraged to think about art 100% of the time and to consider everything in my life as part of my art. This experience was a great period of incubation and developing my foundations as an artist. Cinema became just like one of the arts, I never just think of it in the context of cinema itself but in the context of the whole of art history, and everything that is possible to explore in other mediums can be possible for cinema too.


AVANT KINEMA: What does the word “collaboration” mean to you?

DANIEL & CLARA: Collaboration is about reaching beyond yourself, it is a way of creating that is about surrendering to something bigger than oneself while simultaneously serving your individual creative needs. A successful collaboration both serves the best in yourself and pulls you beyond your ego, it can have the effect of opening doors within yourself that you may never have accessed if working alone. A good collaboration creates a third space that is neither you or the other but both combined, as all our work is made as a collaboration we surrender to this mysterious third state and this is often why we refer to ourselves as two halves of a single artist.

AVANT KINEMA: What were your earliest creative collaborations as individuals, and what did these involve?

DANIEL: When I was in my last year of primary school my friends and I became obsessed with horror films, we watched Child's Play, Nightmare On Elm Street and Halloween and even though I was absolutely terrified by these films I was also really excited by them and desperately wanted to make my own horror films. So I got together with my friends and we set about creating a film that was an amalgamation of bits of existing horror movie plots, mostly of films we hadn't seen but we lifted the details from the synopsis on the back of the VHS box at the local video shop. We then spent a day at the woods acting it out, going through it scene by scene. I was the camera man and my four friends were in it. It was a story of a serial killer who died and was buried under an old oak tree and his spirit possessed the bodies of two lovers who kissed under the tree. It was great fun running around the woods with a kitchen knife, screaming and shouting in terror and passionately talking through every dramatic moment: the possession, the first murder, the chase and the kiss! The only downside was that we didn't actually have a video camera so even though the film existed for those moments it has now been lost to time and lingers only as a memory! But this was my first experience of a moment when childhood play became a creative project, it was incredibly exciting to me, the first time I had the feeling that by joining together with friends on a joint project we could really make something happen. That excitement of collaborating, getting a gang of friends together and playing at making movies has never left me.

CLARA: In my final year of mid-school we had about 6 hours a week where we could work on a group project about any subject we chose, at the end of the year we would present these projects to the class. So my friend Ana and I gathered a couple of friends together and convinced the teacher to let us make a film, what we thought was going to be a grand comical expos̩ of the blurred line between fact and fiction inherent in films and TV, starring everyone in the group. We had the best time for the first couple of months writing the scenes and dialogue, we had great laughs and great arguments and enjoyed every minute of it, it was like payoff for all the hours we had to spend sitting on those same terribly uncomfortable chairs, bored, but now we were having fun. We shot on location in the area where we lived and then some scenes at each of our houses, everyone got to do both camera and acting. The scenes included news style reports of events that happened in other movies, cut with our own version of advertisements with a surrealist turn, and reenactments of scenes in movies like Jaws with one of us acting like the shark and explaining to the terrified victims that sharks wouldn't act like that, and other such things. It was very silly but we had a lot of fun. Everything was shot on a Hi8 camera, I had some editing software with which I could capture the footage and edit, but I think it was the first time I did that. I can't remember what that software was called, it was very hard to make sense of it and difficult to make precise cuts, we ended up having to reshoot some things so they could be edited in camera and included directly into the main timeline. I think the software struggled as much with me as I did with it because in the end the whole thing crashed and I lost all of my edit. It was devastating, I cried all night! I couldn't believe that could happen right near our deadline after all that work Рbut that's filmmaking! In the end it was all good because we'd had such a great time doing it and we knew it all by heart, so for our presentation we just described to everyone what the film would have been like, performing bits of the script for them as live scenes. I think the tapes with all the footage must still be somewhere, but I haven't seen them for many years.

AVANT KINEMA: Were these mostly positive experiences? Were all parties involved happy with the results, or were there negative aspects to any of these ventures?

DANIEL & CLARA: We've experienced all manner of collaborations over the years, some major personal conflicts as well as the most joyous harmonious collaborations. In general the negative experiences have been when there is a lack of clear communication or when one party has expectations of the other which are different. Over time though we've learnt about what works for us and what doesn't, there are certain things we expect from our collaborators and we try to only work with people who can offer that. Also when we participate in someone else's project we will only agree to do it if we know we can give them what they need, and also if they can give us what we need to be able to do a good job. Communication and trust are essential. To take part in someone else's project requires total surrender to their creative process, this is not always easy, people have different creative processes, different timings and different ideas about what they want to achieve. We would never want to become a hindrance to someone else's creativity or let them down, or waste our time and energy on something that we don't believe in. But if we say yes to taking part in something then we give ourselves entirely to it and for this reason we only work with artists whose work we admire and who we trust. Maybe a certain project might help our career or give us some money, but we can't operate like that, we want to spend our time working on things we truly believe in surrounded by people who we respect and are inspired by.

AVANT KINEMA: Which collaborative projects, in film or the wider arts, by the filmmakers and artists you admire, do you see as influential on your own collaborative practices? In what ways?

DANIEL & CLARA: Derek Jarman is certainly one of our guiding lights. His approach to collaboration was amazing, he'd get everybody involved and manage to make completely uncompromising works of art that clearly come from his personal vision but at the same time he'd create an atmosphere where everyone would have fun and contribute to the projects. Jeff Keen's approach is very similar, there is an element of play to both of them, gathering together of friends and creating something but in neither situation is it a free-for-all, the director is always the one who decides what is right for the film and what is not, they are still manifestations of a single artistic vision.

We also really love the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and we feel a strong connection with the kind of films they were making and their aspirations for what cinema could be. The way they worked together is very interesting and although different to us there are some connections. When reading about them you get the feeling that their collaboration comes from a deep respect for each other and also an excitement by what each can bring to the project. They inspired us to not fuss over crediting who does what and simply create all our films under “A Motion Picture by”. We also like how they seemed to have a particularly international approach to filmmaking, integrating in their core creative team highly skilled collaborators from various parts of Europe. Somehow you can feel it in their films, they have a boldness and openness that comes from an environment of exchange between people of different backgrounds. Our dream is that The Underground Film Studio can be like The Archers, a label that points to a certain kind of creative universe, free from all restraints and compromises, bound only by a love of art and a dedication to craft. We've read somewhere they took the name The Archers for themselves after reading this funny little poem by James Agate:

The arrow was pure gold
But somehow missed the target.
But as all Golden Arrow trippers know,
It’s better to miss Naples than hit Margate.

Another two of our heroes are Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, on screen they play characters who are at odds with the world and each other but tied together on a journey through life. To see them destroy an entire house in a dance of seeming chaos is such a delight, they express a sense of being in a total disharmony with the world but when you see them move through a space together you see that they are in total harmony with themselves and each other, it is beautiful! Sometimes we feel at odds with the world too and like Stan and Ollie the more we try to fit in the more things go wrong, so we have learnt over time that we have to be true to our own instincts and rhythm and dance the dance that only we can dance!

There is also the artists Gilbert & George, whom we admire because of the way in which their entire lives are structured and organised to serve their art making. We approach our lives in the same way, everything is in service of our work, where we live, how we eat, how we organise our day etc, because all we are interested in is to make art and it's a full time occupation. Like Gilbert & George, we also soon realised that what we are interested in making is not the fashionable kind of art at the moment and it doesn't draw much interest, so we have to protect ourselves and our work and make sure we are here for the long haul, so in some ways the structured approach is as much a survival technique as a natural tendency for us. All of these artists are completely uncompromising individuals who've managed to find ways to make their work without compromising their creative freedom and artistic integrity, and in our eyes if you can do that, it's a success!

AVANT KINEMA: Can you tell us about how you began collaborating with each other?

Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais reading Film Panic magazine

DANIEL & CLARA: We met at the end of 2010 and only a few weeks after first meeting we began work on our first feature film together Savage Witches. We'd both collaborated with lots of people before but it wasn't until meeting each other that we found someone with which we could in work in such a deep and explorative way in such an equal partnership. From working together our craft has improved, our ideas have become refined and we can push each other to go beyond our personal limitations. Somehow in the first few weeks of meeting we knew this on an instinctive level and we got started pretty much straight away, we've been collaborating every day now for 8 years and it has just flashed by!

 AVANT KINEMA: How did this collaboration work at the beginning? Was it easy to decide who should do what in this newly formed creative relationship? Did you have to set ground-rules and discuss the mechanics of how it should work, or was it a more organic, instinctual process?

DANIEL & CLARA: It was probably through the whole journey of writing, shooting and editing Savage Witches that we fully worked out how our collaboration would be, at the very start we talked about dividing the roles but it quickly became clear that it wouldn't be like that, we both do everything, there is little division and we generally pass things back and forth and both do whatever it takes to make the film. Our approach is to lay everything on the table, every idea gets put into the space between us and we work on it, we are not precious about anything, it doesn't matter who thinks of the ideas, once they materialise they belong to both of us equally. When writing Savage Witches we would spend hours talking through the ideas then pass the script back and forth adding to it and editing what each other had written until we felt it was complete. We rarely disagree, usually we find that we reach the same idea at the same moment but on those rare moments when we have different ideas about something then we see this as a sign that there is still more work to do and we then seek another way. We never try to assert one will over another and we never settle on something until we are both 100% happy. Neither of us ever compromises, we simply keep exploring and digging deeper until we find the thing that feels right to both of us.

AVANT KINEMA: For your first film together, the feature Savage Witches (2012), this collaboration was extended to include the involvement of your actors, Christina Wood and Victoria Smith. How did this work? What results came about through that way of making a film, both the positives and the negatives?

DANIEL & CLARA: Our collaboration with the actresses wan't the same as the way we collaborate with each other. We are the directors of the project so we have to decide what it is and be the guardians of that vision and process. The actresses were cast and directed much like in a conventional movie, the main difference is we gradually washed away the line between the character and the actress. In the final edit we included elements of the behind the scenes process into the narrative but also this is a part of the fantasy too, there is no clear divide between fact and fiction, sometimes what seems like document is in fact fiction and what seems like fiction is in fact a document - in Savage Witches they are one and the same. So the film was not a collaboration with the actresses in the sense that they had any creative control over what the film was or what the scenes would be but within the framework of the scenes they were able to improvise and react and what they gave us became the material and subject of our work. 

Savage Witches (2012) 

AVANT KINEMA: Have you collaborated with any other actors or crew members in ways similar to this for your subsequent films?

DANIEL & CLARA: I think in general the way we work with performers is relatively consistent, but it will be tailored to the specifics of the project or to the performer. We nearly always shoot silently and add sound effects and dubbing in post-production. We do this because we like to talk the actor through the scenes while we are shooting, it is like a dance between us and them, we tell them where to move, to speed up or slow down and they react and do something and we direct further, it's a dialogue in a way. Increasingly we are finding that we do less takes and that we like to work with the first take that the actor gives, even if it is awkward or not what we expected. There is something about that moment when something isn't fully formed that is currently of great interest to us. Savage Witches involved several months of rehearsals and workshops, learning the lines and investigating the characters so that the onscreen performances could be very precise but also have the feeling of spontaneity. One of our more recent films The Kingdom Of Shadows had no rehearsals and most of the actors only found out the specifics of what their role would be when they arrived on location for the shoot.

We don't often have a crew, we usually end up doing everything ourselves, we occasionally have a couple of assistants to help with general things but we rarely have technicians, we are always on the look out for good crew to collaborate but we are very cautious as our process is very particular and tailored to our creative needs and if we did collaborate with a crew they would have to completely surrender to that process. We have found on the whole that technicians with film school training or industry experience have too fixed ideas about what cinema is and what is good and bad and it becomes too much of a struggle to uneducate them and tune them into our process. Saying all that though there is one person we have worked with many times and that is sound designer Simon Keep, we have collaborated with him on several feature length and short films and his contribution to those projects both creatively and technically has been invaluable. He is someone who is very open to unusual processes and very much shares our approach to finding the right process for a particular project rather than imposing a preexisting system just because that's how it is usually done.

AVANT KINEMA: I know you both usually work together on the soundtracks for your films. Did the creation of the music in Savage Witches also involve collaboration?

DANIEL & CLARA: The music for Savage Witches was created by singer songwriter Fiona Bevan, Daniel has known her for many years and they had often planned to collaborate. When we started planning the film we knew she'd be the right person for the job, she was able to evoke the right spirit of playfulness, experimentation, dreaminess and a constantly shifting atmosphere. As we've mentioned earlier we always edit our films silently then add sound design, dubbing and music last, so once the edit was complete we spent a day with Fiona watching the film and discussing ideas and looking at which scenes could use music. We then left her alone for a couple of weeks and she began creating pieces. She was keen to mirror in the music some of the processes we used for the images, she mixed old and new technology, electronic and acoustic instruments and various recording devices. Once she had a few tracks she'd send them to us and we'd place them in the edit, cut them up, move them around and then give her some feedback. We didn't re-record any of her tracks, the first takes she gave us mostly worked, usually the only change would be that they'd often end up being used on different scenes to those originally intended. We spent a couple of months working like this, passing it back and forth, letting her create without interference and then giving her some small feedback until it was done. We adore the soundtrack, there are a couple of pieces she wrote that are just pure bliss, the piece for organ and violin at the end of the film is stunning and deeply moving!

AVANT KINEMA: How did your collaboration with each other develop after Savage Witches? Could you talk us through a brief history of your work together and its many branches?

DANIEL & CLARA: Savage Witches was the foundation from which all our subsequent projects grow, in essence everything was established there. After Savage Witches we got deeply involved in the study of dreams, alchemy, mythology and tarot and this lead us to a couple of years where we didn't film much and we mostly focused on writing. We wrote about 20 feature films over a couple years and stirred to the surface so many ideas, images and stories which we have now started to bring to life in films. In 2015 we shot The Kingdom Of Shadows, a feature film inspired by family history and dreams which is also a retelling of the bible stories of Adam and Eve and Cain and Able.

The Kingdom of Shadows (2016)

In Search of the Exile (2016)
Black Sun (2017)

After that we got into a very productive period where we shot several feature films and a number of shorts as well as doing some expanded cinema performances. Between us we've made now 8 feature films and over 100 short films plus a few video installations. Alongside the production of our film work we also publish Film Panic magazine and have programmed screenings in the UK and Portugal.

This year we have a launched a new project called the Studio Diary Series which will eventually consist of 101 films: 100 shorts and 1 feature length film.The Studio Diaries are intended to capture moments of our daily work and are considered to be similar in function to a written diary but rather than words on a page we use the tools of moving images and sound design.

 AVANT KINEMA: What, in your opinion, makes for a successful collaboration?

DANIEL & CLARA: Our collaboration works because of a deep respect for each other but an even deeper respect for creativity, it is not about either of us individually but about a total surrender to the creative process.

AVANT KINEMA: Any creative person involved in a collaborative project is surely hoping that the sum will be greater than the parts. Is this usually the case, in your opinion? Feel free to plunder the history of collaboration in the wider arts for examples to highlight your points here.

DANIEL & CLARA: Whether this is the case for others we can not say but it certainly is for us. What we create together could not have come from either of us individually, our work is the child of our personalities and creativity combined. What is interesting is that every collaboration will have different results, the coming together of two or more parties for a joint creation is a magical thing and will always give unexpected results.

Rouzbeh Rashidi

AVANT KINEMA: Who is Rouzbeh Rashidi? Could you tell us the story and list the highlights of your various collaborations with him?

DANIEL & CLARA: Rouzbeh Rashidi is one of the most exciting filmmakers working today, he is the founder of the Dublin based company Experimental Film Society which produces, screens and distributes films, and he has made over 30 feature films. He is a dear friend of ours and we share a lot of ideas and personal philosophies about filmmaking, we all have a passion for cinema of all kinds. We have been collaborating on projects together since 2015, the first time we worked together was when we invited him to play a role in The Kingdom Of Shadows. This film was shot on location in Portugal and is our personal retelling of the story of Adam & Eve and their descendants. Rouzbeh plays the Inspector, a mysterious and slightly humorous detective who turns up half way through the film to investigate the crimes of the family and stir out some skeletons from their closets. He was fantastic in the role and we all had such a great time together! While he was in Portugal he also shot a few sequences for his own film TRAILERS which is an absolutely incredible mind-melting 3 hour film filled with images of cosmic transformations and post-human rituals, it's a delirious homage to sci-fi cinema presented as a hypnagogic-cinematic-dream!

In 2017 we spent two weeks in Ireland playing the lead roles in his latest feature film Phantom Islands, we play a tormented couple adrift in the wild landscape. It's a stunning film and was such a great experience to work on and to push ourselves as performers. We really enjoyed acting and hopefully we'll have more opportunities do so. We have also collaborated with Rouzbeh on some publications, short films and screenings and we have lots more plans together for the next couple of years, including the return of Inspector!

AVANT KINEMA: Who is Bradley Tuck? Could you, likewise, please discuss your shared history with him as a collaborator?

 Bradley Tuck in Sacrificium Intellectus (2012)

DANIEL & CLARA: Bradley is a writer, theorist and performer, he runs a website called Exploding Appendix through which he publishes articles on philosophy, politics and culture. We've know Bradley for many years, we worked together at One+One Filmmakers Journal and we have shot lots of films together, he can be seen in our films Splendor Solis and Sacrificium Intellectus. This year we are artists in residence at his website and are collaborating on an epic year-long conversation about our work, covering all our films and related projects. It is published monthly online and then in 2019 it will be published as a book. It's been an amazing experience so far, although it's been incredibly intense and hard work to have to dig into each project with such depth and to try to articulate things that between ourselves we can speak of very easily as we have our own short-hand phrases that we understand but to bridge the gap and explain them to others is quite a challenge. But a challenge we are rising to and finding infinitely rewarding and through this process it is opening up lots of new ideas!

We have two films in the pipeline which Bradley will be performing in, one is a short dance film (Bradley is an exceptional dancer) and the other is a feature film called Dream Pavilion which we are shooting in the UK later this year.

AVANT KINEMA: Do you have any advice for filmmakers and artists new to collaboration who want to try out this way of working?

DANIEL & CLARA: Everyone will need to find the right way that is unique to them, it's very hard to offer advice and what works in one moment might not work in another. As we grow and change the dynamic of our collaboration grows and changes also. We never planned to be so much collaborators, we both envisioned that we would make art as individual artists but we have been lucky to find another person to whom we feel a meaningful connection and shared attitude and process, somehow there is a balance between us and it works and while it works we shall continue on this path together.

AVANT KINEMA: Thank you both very much for taking the time to answer our questions, Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais.