Experiments in filmmaking has a long tradition as a way of exploring new technologies, forms and methods. There is nothing new to it – experimental film has always nudged status quo and challenged conventions, dominating or traditional narratives, as well as methods of working. This paper covers Artistic Research involving an experimental method where I as an artist explore the potential and the limitations for experimental films in the existing film developing system. The Artistic Research is based on four film projects I have developed on so far within the system, and then one film I have done outside the system, on my own without funding. I have noticed that when I develop a film within the film funding system, I end up with a product very much defined by the system. A system that doesn’t recognize filmmaking focusing on experiments.
The following paper is based on interviews with selected persons from a many layered film industry: filmmakers, teachers, decision makers, film consultants, film critics, publishers, curators and persons curious to look at the system within and around film making, searching for mistakes and experiments.
In the paper I will unfold thematic aspects related to: the audience, the film system, open processes, the production value, the space in between (art and film, documentary and fiction), something about language, the mistake, experiments, the ugly, and expectations on format.
I am writing this while on one hand looking at a system and at the same time being a part of that system myself.
It has been my wish to make room for voices and perspectives from the field around the production of film as well as my own voice. The paper will lead to a reflection in a final open nonclusion” based on the research, and outline possible perspectives of developing new research.
I see a tendency that my films made within the system are not films that allow the experimental process: to combine different visual styles, to work fragmented, and associatively. And then there are the images. I use methods that twist reality and challenge existing structures. It is a tool to deconstruct and re-define form and film language.
When I work within the system, I meet many non-understandings and questions being posed to “why experiment with the form so much?”, and for that reason, I end up falling between two stools, doing neither a commercial film, nor a filmic experiment. (It is of course always a possibility to end up with non-experimental projects, system or not, but in this I will try to point out problematic structures and qualify my reasons for seeing them as a challenge to the experimental.
“We do have a funding system based on governmental cultural support, and the way the funding system is being structured, affects which content is being prioritized and realized. For us, the problem is that you can’t meet this system as a creator. You are obliged to let go of the rights to your own (art)work, and you are often asked to change the projects for them to better fit into the apparatus. You are spending a long time developing, and then you possibly end up with something you didn’t want anyway. (…) There is a lot of meddling taking place in a way it would never happen in e.g. the Arts Council. Part of the point for us was to create a new structure that made us able to start a conversation with the system”(the Norwegian Film Institute)”
Extract from interview for rushprint.no, with Katja Eyde Jacobsen, film director and part of a new production company in Norway, Alternativet Produksjon A/S and head of Nordland School of Arts and Film (NKFS), translation from Norwegian.
I am curious to look closer at the systems created around the film developing process, to see if we could if we could release more of the potential to be found in the language of film?
We have gained a lot of technical knowledge and become good at the plotted storyline, that´s true, but did we miss something else on that way?
Taking the symptoms listed above as a baseline, I am curious to find out:
Is there a space for experimenting within the system? and if, then I want to look deeper at that space or see if the eventually missing space is something to try and develop or further develop?
And do we create enough mistakes within the film industry?
My experience from working in the field of film is that the common film language is (or has become) first of all a story-driven language.
The National Danish Film School did take that story-choice back in the beginning of the ‘90s, and of course as a natural consequence of how it looked for Danish film at that time:
“What I see as the weakness in Danish film is the story-telling part. That has also been the case at the Film School in the past. That’s why we have done a lot to make sure the education in scriptwriting at the film school is of the highest caliber, with a focus on teaching the basic concepts of storytelling. And also form the idea that the story in film is not only something for the scriptwriter students and the director students. It is something that is taught to every student at the film school, each week. And to that I want to say that Danish film suffers from bad scripts.”
Extract, Poul Nesgaard in conversation with Lars Daneskov from the Danish broadcast program “Strax”, 13.12.1993, translation from Danish
We also see it in the massive influence from the TV Series move-in, (HBO, NETFLIX, etc.), the fact that the plot has a major priority.
I am sure the strong storyline was a needed development back then, but the question I will raise in this Artistic Research is:
Did we turn out so good at telling a story that we forgot to make visual experiments during that trip?
Imagine if the two could be united and give to each other instead of existing as two very separate things.
Was the reception from the audience on the good story so positive that it became difficult to allow making mistakes and take risks within the film funding system, as well as on the numerous media platforms?
THE AUDIENCE and OPEN PROCESSES
I come from visual art, with an add-on title: film director.
At the time when I was only doing visual arts, I had problems with the fact that the audience was almost non-existent, and then when I decided to try digging into film, I sure was confronted with a very fixed understanding of the concept “audiences”.
A new problem showed up:
I had to let go of working around the films I really wanted to do, because I was expected to think the films into the film system and the fixed idea of an audience that is embedded in the system.
Audiences indeed is a focal point in the funding system, however often only in the context of the product, and not the experimental process. It seems to contradict the principle of an experimental process to come up with ready-made formulas and answers at a premature state of the film developing. Based on this very narrow audience concept I experienced that everyone had an opinion about my film and its filmic qualities right from the beginning, and even before I knew about it myself.
“I think that when working and teaching in the hybrid field between visual arts and film-making, a central question is the question of how to build and maintain an open process. Open process have almost become exclusive for visual arts, since other art-forms (theatre, film, architecture, etc.) often have so much money involved, they need to know exactly what they do, before they even begin. (Actually, literature and writers often work with open processes as well!). Visual arts is known for its openness: An artist can begin a process, and change and develop direction and methodology several times before finalising. Why is this possible for visual arts, when it is so difficult for other artforms? One answer is unfortunately exactly economy: The visual artists pay for the open process themselves. They rarely count their hours, and most often they don’t get paid anyway. But it is also this kind of process that is capable of challenging the work itself, and allows for mistakes that can be learned from – and that can improve a project over time, in ways that are unthinkable for most other art-forms. This way of working is rare and precious today. It is hardly seen anywhere, since effectivization and rationality makes it impossible. My point is that it only exists still today, because visual artists insist on it. And pay for it, themselves. We have to remember that.”
Quoted from conversation with Katya Sander, visual artist and professor at Nordland School of Arts and Film (NKFS), translation from Danish
Where I was not expected to communicate to a wider audience, as a visual artist before the film school, since the film school I am expected to, and interested in, communicating, and also curious to find out who would appreciate my film works and for what reason?
I talked to Maria Bordroff, one part of the duo Astrup/Bordorff about open processes and the wish to look at the way we think the art process within the system in a new way.
She mentions an example of a process they had with an actor, Danica Curcic, in a video piece made for SMK, The National Gallery of Denmark. They spent a long time and a big budget to film Danica hanging in chains from the ceiling, while pouring painting on the marble floor. And that to express the tired artist as a symptom. But after all it didn’t work the way they imagined, and they had to do a new try, even though they already spent the budget on that one recording of the performance.
“...those kinds of things can be difficult to imagine beforehand... it would of course have been easier and cheaper to just do it like it was planned... those processes changing along the way need to be given space within the system”
And she continues:
“When Mette Bock  was our cultural minister, in the beginning she wanted to make a needs analysis to find out what kind of culture the Danes needed, and then the culture needed should be the one to support governmentally, and to me that’s an exact example of where it goes all wrong:
1) Can you find out what people need? I don't know
2) You don't get to create that thing people didn't know they were in need of.
(…) You have to make room for this surplus production (...) We need to accept mistakes, the production of irrelevant things…because in this production, you will find something you need but you didn’t know you needed”
Quoted from conversation with Maria Bordroff, visual artist and musician, translation from Danish
THE FILM SYSTEM
I am now a part of a film system, and that system for sure has an intention to produce good films. You can ask the question in different places, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, The Danish Film Institute, the audience. The question is just, what is the definition of good, what is the definition of successful?
"I was interviewed by a Dutch journalist the other day, who wanted to know why Danish film is so successful and why it's doing so good. I also recently attended an online seminar posing the same question. What I found interesting was that nobody defined what they meant by success, what criteria did they ask from? It becomes very diffuse. Of course, we can all be happy that there is an image about Danish film doing really well in the world, but it would be a good idea also to define what “good” and “successful” really mean…”
Quote, Nanna Frank Rasmussen, film journalist and president of Danish Film critics association, and part of Critical Friends from a conversation in the advisory board Critical Friends, translation from Danish
And Tine Fischer continues:
“When you get the idea that Danish film is doing extremely well, since we have now for several years received nominations and won Oscars, but if we then look at what kind of films get support, and how are they actually doing, how does the picture look then?
The Danish films are doing good on a domestic market, we have one of the biggest domestic market shares in Europe…but what is the special capability of Danish film artistically, how are we doing on the international art house scene?
Is it actually the case that the artistic rethinking that among others Lars von Trier and the Dogma-movement stood for back in the ‘90s, now is to be found in a new form? In that case, it becomes more difficult to see a picture emerge. And that’s why it is important to take film as an art genre serious. (...)
It demands something from within the whole system, all the way from the film school to the producers, the funding system, the distributing institutions and to the press and other dissemination platforms"
Quote, Tine Fischer, head of the National Film School of Denmark and earlier head of Copenhagen Dox, part of Critical Friends. from a conversation in the advisory board Critical Friends, translation from Danish.
We have developed a strong codex for filmmaking. Maybe it is not written down as a set of rules, but if we look at the films being produced, we could find at least these unwritten rules as examples:
- we take a lot of our inspiration from real life, when it comes to the production design in a film
- we are interested in connecting/identifying with the main characters, and that with great pleasure from the use of close-up shots
- we put the film through a layer of something we call postproduction, in which we color grade the film, often with the wish to make the characters stand out, or with filters similar to the presets in Instagram.
- we often work with a natural perspective in the picture, so that the background is fading (the same way our eyes are doing it with something far away)
- we want to be able to use the camera with all the possible techniques invented (drone shots, dolly shots etc.)
“And all these, let’s say, existing rules: How do you make a good film? …I have experienced that the way we produce is the biggest mistake in this whole system. When producing 50 films, maybe one is good. My theory is, I can make 10 times as many films, if I were to distribute the money on to people who approach the film making in more alternative ways. So let’s say I divide the money among 10 persons and will get 5 times more successful films out of it…You know this whole thing would be no problem if it was private money, but since we are talking governmental support, it is a problem”
Quoted from conversation with Ulu Braun, visual artist, former graffiti artist and film director, translation from German.
“It may be conventions of specific narrative patterns, the standardized character and layout of the film image, or the predominantly anthropocentric focus of the film. And this furthermore entails a direction and a limit to what is the focus of the experience and what is unintended “noise”, as well as how much of this noise is acceptable in the experience. Combined, these conditions create a backdrop for the perception of which elements are central and which are circumstantial, and thus mark out implied guidelines for what it means to experience the film in the “right” way.”
Extract from the essay, “What is a format?”, Søchting & Schmidt, 2018, translation from Danish.
Those unwritten rules are echoing through most films being produced within the system, and that is something we are used to from all parts of the system when we develop. We, the audience, are used to this. And we who produce the films are used to this.
"(…) the problem about conditions (…) talking about writing, and writing as linear process (…) There is no logical structure to the images you see in the media”
Extract from c-span.org video interview with Neil Postman, 1988
The noise of which we cannot accept too much in a film, as Søchting & Schmidt mentions, is the noise that I am now missing in the films produced within the film funding system and those being shown by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation and in the cinemas too, but also, it is very difficult to define noise. What exactly does it mean when we talk film and the expectations to the film format?
In this Artistic Research, I will try to define this noise, or experiment.
“There's a loooong way between the interesting pieces, and I think it has to do with the fact that we have become so very talented, (…) we have become so clever at making documentaries that the level and the criterion of success is so high, and that many people kind of aim at that (…) And then that’s why so many things end up looking the same. In that sense it is all very professional and clever etc. etc. But where do we then find the crazy, the experimental?
(…) everyone wants to perform. And everyone wants to play safe.
(…) and then the quirky and odd ones, like yourself, Carina, you end up standing very alone …”
Quote, Frank P. Poulsen, film consultant, Danish Film Institute, from a conversation in the advisory board Critical Friends, translation from Danish.
HIGH PRODUCTION VALUE vs LOW PRODUCTION VALUE?
In visual art high production value is understood differently than in the film world. That’s my experience.
Does it have to do with the way we use mistakes in different ways in the final works, depending on whether we are visual artists or film makers?
In the film industry, we could talk about mistakes as something that can be framed under for example technical choices.
In the time of the first fantasy/sci-fi movies, it was accepted that the audience could tell that a spaceship (the first “Star Wars” films, e.g. the opening), was a construction, something animated.
Another example can be seen in “The Never-Ending Story”.
Now we look at those traces from the process as mistakes. We can do better because the technical equipment allows us to. We can easily reach a high production value.
But is it all we want the film to be, something with a high production value? And can we do something to help the filmmakers make more mistakes and the film system to help making it happen?
And could there be some learning for us to find in the approach often used in the visual art practice, the open process? (I will unfold this open process, in the chapter “BETWEEN VISUAL ART AND FILM, a method?”)
To be able to pass on the knowledge that I might end up with during this Artistic Research, I will try to describe:
Where and under which circumstances does film develop in a flow without fear of taking chances?
Is it possible, that when it flows, we as filmmakers listen to the way we really want to go with a project, and is that process leading to more diverse visual approaches?
And does the system have any openings that can be found and explored to change the way they look at the film development process and the end result?
It is the wish to 1) open up my own process with this Artistic Research, 2) get an idea about how to approach the wish to create space in the film development process to make more of the mistakes we don’t allow at the moment.
When a project is evaluated with conventional expectations many times during a film development (producer, the rest of the team, the funding person, and the display platform) it tends to copy what we see most, because then you know what you get, and that’s a safe place to be.
Can we help the film system to have more faith in the filmmakers during a development and production process?
What are the risks to the system? And could a way eventually be to expect the mistake as a result, as well as giving more projects less production money?
Hans-Erik Philip, who as a teacher and consultant over a decade has seen a large number of projects during his connection to the National Film School of Denmark, says that in his experience, halfway through the education, the so-called mid-way films, are generally more experimental than the final films, the ones the students end up with.
That’s an experience I had myself during my time at the Film School, and the question is: Is what Hans-Erik Philip talks about as a symptom for the way we approach filmmaking when we work within the system in general? (Remembering that the Film School is also just a part of a system)
The fact that we might do experiments during the film development process, but when we are to deliver, the money involved in the project, as well as the expectations, make us be afraid to integrate the experiment all the way to the final product.
“When all is said and done, it's a matter of what is important to us, and to how we take care of our language and our culture?”
Quote, Frank P. Poulsen, film consultant, The Danish Film Institute and part of Critical Friends, translation from Danish.
And Maria Bordorff follows up (translation from Danish):
“I believe that a true welfare society that takes its culture seriously will know that when you support culture, you also give money to some amount of surplus production – and included in this there will be some faulty manufacture, but really, some stuff will appear that has been allowed to emerge on different terms.”
 To develop a project within the film funding system doesn’t mean finishing a film within the system, but each of the four projects have been through a long developing process and also received some funding, “Jeg Begyndte Sådan Set Bare At Gå” (“I Just Started Walking”, TV series concept for tweens), “Et Familieforetagende” (“A Family Business”, short fiction, finished film within the system), “Statister” (“Extras” documentary, received development support within the system), “Pensionsalder” ( “Pensioner”, received development support within the system, waiting for a production possibility) Only “Et Familieforetagende” wasn’t depending on a broadcaster. The others did get interest but NO from the Danish Broadcasting Corporation.
 “Det Uopnåelige” (“The Unachievable”), was done without funding. Rock’n’roll style, small team, little time.
 When I write “the film funding system” it is referring to The Danish Film Institute. That’s the system I have experienced myself. But through this research, I have talked to filmmakers who have dealt with also the German and the Norwegian film funding system, and therefore I also allow myself to involve that information in the assumption that the film funding system in Denmark shares a construction comparable to the ones in at least Germany and Norway.
 This is the result of six months of Artistic Research conducted at The National Film School of Denmark funded by The Ministry of Culture and The National Film School of Denmark.
 When I write “the systems created around the film developing system” it is referring to the procedures that you meet when you develop a film within the system. That would be the expectations from the teachers at the filmschool, from the film crew, from the consultant meeting your film at the Film Institute, from the premiering platform to show your film, from the audience. And the film critics/the review context.
 "However, while this technological progression has been linear, it has not necessarily coincided with a similar evolution of quality; the skill of a filmmaker should not be judged by the technological complexity of the production, but by the ability of the filmmaker to wield the technology of the time and of his or her choosing to effectively and clearly convey a narrative, evoke an emotion, or make an impression.”, from The Technological Evolution of Filmmaking and its Relation to Quality in Cinema by Ryan A. Piccirillo, 2011
 Nordland Kunst - og Filmhøgskole builds its school on these elements: “å handle ut i fra viten, kunstnerisk erfaring og intuisjon”
 Kirsten Astrup (f. 1983) og Maria Bordorff (f. 1988) officially became a duo in 2018 after a long collaboration. They work in the field of film, music and performance and has found their primary expression in the film cabaret genre. Their works has been showed in several museums.
 Cultural- and church minister, 2016-2019
 Critical Friends is a name I have adopted from the theatre Betty Nansen, who uses this in their collective development method. The Critical Friends involved with this Artistic Research consists of film persons from the industry, who have shown curiosity on the experimental and what can be called mistakes. (Decision maker, broadcaster, film critique, film consultant)
 ”Dogme 95” was a filmmaking movement started in 1995 by the Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, who created the "Dogme 95 Manifesto" and the "Vows of Chastity" (Danish: kyskhedsløfter). These were rules to create films based on the traditional values of story, acting, and theme, and excluding the use of elaborate special effects or technology (Wikipedia, visited 28.02.2022)
 ”Hvad er et format?”
 Neil Postman was an american critic, author and educator, and a Professor New York University in Culture and Communication with a focus on the communications technology in relation to society
 Composer and connected to the National Film School of Denmark since 1975 as a teacher mainly with focus on music and sound design. Also he made a wide range of extensive interviews with international directors, cinematographers, composers, editors, production designers, sound designers and re-recording mixers.