Originally published in June 1990 in Super Eight - the newsletter/magazine of the Melbourne Super 8 Film Group.
MARK C ZENNER TALKS TO MARK
LA ROSA ABOUT ‘ORIGINAL COPY’ AND OTHER STUFF.
did the idea for ‘Original Copy’ develop?
It developed just before the film was made in a very rudimentary
fashion. I had a vague idea about the narrative and then on about the third day
of shooting the final form it would take crystallized around the presence of
the actors and actual sets.
As for where I got the idea from, I really don’t know. It arose from
an old notion I had that I might try to show somebody whose image of himself at
any given moment is hopelessly out of time with what his actual image to others
is. Somebody whose reflection in the mirror doesn’t always square with the way
he thinks he looks.
image of George do we see on the screen?
It’s left ambiguous. It’s up to the
audience what they see. He might be dead. He might be dreamt by someone. Or he
might be dreaming.
did you work within the limitations of super 8 to achieve such a strong
expressionistic style, something not normally attempted on that gauge?
The idea for such effects as I had,
once they had crystallized on the third day of shooting, actually came from the
limitations of the medium. In other words, I had what I knew I could have. As for the lighting, you can use that expressionistically in any medium.
Perhaps the basic formal idea was
that you discover the limitations of the medium by pushing it, by trying for
something that usually isn’t tried and that seems a bit more difficult than
normal. You soon discover what you come up against. It’s a way of testing the
medium, it’s flex.
sort of things did you discover?
discovered that there’s no truth to the myth that you cannot get smooth pans on
There’s no truth to the myth that you cannot edit as much as you
please and have shots as short as you please. If spliced carefully they won’t
You can get very good quality, detailed images if you use fine grain
stock by virtue of the fact that you just can’t print them. It’s precisely the
fine-grain, high- resolution stocks in Super 8 colour that are impossible to
print because no suitable low-contrast reversal print material exists for
In Super 8 you get, relative to the distance from camera and
relative to other mediums, a higher depth of field. The smaller the film gauge,
the bigger the depth of field you can get without having to follow focus.
that some of the scenes in ‘Original Copy’ were shot using direct sound, how
did you overcome the problem of the one second sound delay when editing the
I used a rather rough and ready method. I transferred everything on
the mag stripe from the projector, through an amplifier and onto quarter inch
reel tape. Then, still using the pre-amp, I equalized that and retransferred it
in cases where an overlap would have been disturbing. I simply had to juggle
around the tape and the projector until I found dead synch, which at 18f.p.s.
is slightly easier than 24f.p.s.
compromises were you forced to make during the shooting of the film?
Initially I wanted the ending to be far more violent. I wanted the
cane broken over George’s face, and copious blood. But I’m not unhappy with the
ending as it is. Because the first idea would have been too
physical, too present somehow, and it would have detracted from the ghostly
sense of George’s character that I wanted to convey.
The limitations of Super 8 mainly
confine themselves to the sound quality you get. You have to be super careful
when filming indoors not to let even a quiet camera reverberate and reflect off
bare walls or highly reflective surfaces. And using a high quality microphone
doesn’t help you in these instances because the higher the quality the better
it will pick up that reflection. One must always blimp cameras, and blimp them
thoroughly when filming indoors. There simply is no way around that.
the filming of ‘Original Copy’ you didn’t have a fixed vision of what each and
every shot would look like before day 1. Instead, you maintained a flexibility and discovered possibilities in the midst of
actual shooting, much like Godard is said to have
done with ‘A Bout de Souffle’. Do you think this is
the way to go with super 8?
If you have a too precise vision of
what you want before a film is made you are much better advised to go into a
larger format, especially if opticals are involved.
On the other hand, if you know the
limitations and specific advantages of each gauge, and the well thought out
idea or theme fits within those limitations, then there’s no reason why within
them you can’t use what’s available to its maximum possible extension.
you have made a better version of ‘Original Copy’ on 16mm?
The question is neither here nor there because at this stage all I
can see are the film’s flaws, and if I was to do it again on 16mm it actually
wouldn’t be the same film. Whatever I did not quite right on Super 8 would be
done right on 16mm, so it actually wouldn’t be the same film. Technically it
would probably have a lot more polish, but you can never re-make a film exactly
on a larger format because that ‘re’ means you’re
repeating something, and by repeating it you’ll improve it. The question can
me about your other ideas for films you’d like to make, such as ‘The Vultures’.
‘The Vultures’ is basically the idea
of a love story, although of a particular kind. It would be about a person who
falls in love with another and who, in being totally preoccupied with that
other person, becomes psychically, spiritually, emotionally and finally
physically depleted. A diabolical element might or might not come into it, with
the ambiguity of whether the loved person is or is not aware of the effect he
or she is having upon the lover, and if he or she is not in fact exacerbating
precisely that effect to derive some mysterious advantage or feeling of power
from the thing. I envisage it as primarily an emotional advantage. It would add
to the intimate chamber quality of the idea, without in any way lessoning the
element of diabolism, parasitism, and perhaps vampirism involved.
Vampirism is an old theme. It goes
back to Byron and was adumbrated in a short novel by Henry James written in
1899 entitled “The Sacred Fount”, and, in short, it would be a good subject for
a film, if one could get the actors one needed.
Then there is an idea for a
documentary I wanted to entitle “Death at Work”. It was to involve finding a
real person with a terminal disease, probably cancer, and obtaining that
person’s permission to come in every day during the duration and up to the
termination of his illness, and briefly taking a film shot of him. Placed next
to this sequence of shots, which would of course illustrate graphically a kind
of time-lapse process of deterioration in the person’s face, there would be
snap shots of this same person juxtaposed at the beginning and end of the thing
as a form of brackets. And after a final view of that photo, go back to that
person as he is now, at the end, or very near the end.
It’s a documentary and also an
experiment in as much as I wanted to see if on that face anything besides
purely physical deterioration appears. That foreknowledge of what has to happen
and cannot not happen. A spiritual endeavour if
you will, or research.
Another idea I had was to illustrate
how a sudden and violent act has in a sense already been recuperated by the
possibilities of communicating that through various media.
For example, someone reads a
newspaper on a bench, awaiting an old friend in the grounds of a commission
flat. They have an argument, then a fight, and the other is killed by main
force. The idea I had was that with each subsequent scene in the piece the
picture would recede into the view of the grounds’ security camera. This would
be a television image and this would turn into a video tape that some reporters
or police would examine and a press conference would be in progress, and this
would turn into a voice coming out of a radio in a woman’s flat. The woman
would listen a while, keep on vacuuming, go over to the window and look down.
Suddenly, as if we were seeing ghosts, two men would meet. We’d go down to
them, then find out they weren’t the same two, they were just reporters who’d
come to take pictures of the place for the Sunday tabloids. So we’d go from
that into the photos they take and then these photos would be littering some
desk of exhibits in a news room, which would then again turn into a photo, and
so on. Finally a newspaper half-tone photo of the entire process would turn
into a newspaper being read by a man on a bench, the same man we saw at the
beginning, or possibly another, waiting for his friend. The man folds his
newspaper, throws it into a bin and begins to take his walk.
The basic idea is that no act, no
matter how sudden or capricious, unmediated, unforeseeable or unique, can exist
that hasn’t already found its proper form or image. That everything, in a
sense, has already happened and will continue to happen. It’s that cycle I
wanted to show.
do you make films?
I make them to please myself. The challenge of making something that
somehow stands as a structure and is unified is its own reward. If I, months
later, can come back and project the thing, and look at it and believe in that
world, then I’m happy. If audiences manage to get some kind of …well I don’t
know…entertainment, food for thought, thrills? Who knows what they get out of
films? Even the audiences don’t know …If they manage to get something out of it
too, particularly a strong, intense feeling that it was intended they should
have at a given point, that’s also a source of satisfaction. If you intend fear
and they feel it, you’ve done your job.
sketch, you write, but you love making films the most. What do you love about
It’s got everything. It’s got a visceral excitement, a power to
create spaces and atmosphere and moods that never existed. Characters
out of nothing. With that corporeality, it paradoxically allows you to
create everything out of absolutely nothing.
made some 16mm films in the early eighties. Would you like to work in that
you do have plans of making a 16mm film in the future?
I have nothing to lose by at least
submitting an application for a grant and submitting it more than once. But in
the event of that not going through, I have the option of being able to make it
independently by private means.
how would you go about getting the film exhibited?
lot of telephoning and running around I presume.
necessarily. I’m hoping to film the thing overseas. Screening a good film in
Melbourne is really like casting pearls before swine.
is Australian filmmaking so dull?
Because the mentalities of the
people making them are dull and the mentalities of the people issuing grants to
them are even duller. Plus the quality of the scripts is very poor. Most people
who attend film schools, on close examination, would be found to be
semi-literate, very badly read. And on the whole, people are afraid to take
imaginative chances because of the situation of money for filmmaking. In other words, filmmaking as such issuing from the fiat of
government funding bodies.
the case be the same in other countries?
Well, there are governments and
there are governments. Those in Australia are not noted for being up with the
times, or being particularly devoted to experiment.
me a hint of what your next super 8 project is going to be about.
It’s about how fear isolates.
Unusually for me it will be a sombre film, but also very romantic and dark. With a kind of magic invisibility shrouding everything. Much
of the film will be shot at night using a fast stock.
you give me the title?
‘3 AM.’ That
stands for ‘ante meridian’.
(This interview was recorded on the evening
of May 21, 1990)
Mark La Rosa, 1990
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