The Long Take: Still to Moving Image

juliasound©2016 The Mango Lab – Film still from Pickerel 9

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We’re back! Those in our community who receive the MangoBytes newsletter have already heard our announcement that The Mango Lab is making the drive towards filming and producing more documentary film projects in 2016. Research and contacts we made in 2015 awarded us access to two stories we filmed in Canada over the last eight weeks. While we are excited about sharing them with you we will remain hush-hush until our entries are placed in the 2016 Raindance Film Festival. Deadline for entries is May 20th, 2016 so it will be a while. However what we would like to share is an account of the exciting evolution of our moving from the experience in still image making to moving image and sound.

There is something completely electric about this process. Maybe this feeling is due to our choice to shoot in a genre referred to as ‘ethnographic/ observational documentary’ (see films like Leviathan and Baraka). This required us to dance between both fly on the wall and immersive camera styles rather than the directorial and staged. But most importantly it gave us a chance to create the long take – something magical in its own right.

What EOD requires from the filmmakers (in this case us) is that while we are visitors we sign ourselves up to get as close to the experience as we are allowed. We are not so much investigative but curious, we give up the directorial for the experiential. The result is an exciting, organic, freeform dive deep into the routine of the lives being observed. We experience what they experience, live what they live, as the camera rolls.

One of the lads we were filming commented that they have been filmed a few times before us. Each time the photographer felt they got what they needed then asked to be driven back to their cars. We felt this to be a strange behaviour presented by the photographers, but then quickly realised that this is simply a matter of either economics and/or what the photographer feels they need to achieve through the imagery. In our case it was holding out for the details, letting the process of filming and the spending of time with our subjects to slowly melt away boundaries between us. The camera catches this, but there is an initiation process which takes place and that can be anything from simply spending the time with them to participating in an activity or ritual.

Visually, I feel this is the difference between ‘recording’ life and ‘painting’ life. As our internal clocks, increasingly wound tighter and running faster due to keeping pace with technology, the soundbite and Wiki fact suffices for knowledge and research.
For instance –  how many of you have read this far? Congratulations if you have.

The slow, elongated approach in filming in the manner of which we did feels like it slowed time down and gave us a chance to not only observe but be drawn in through the long take. The agenda feels very different from staccato motions and abbreviated slices of life which shoehorn themselves into ‘a defining moment’ found in stills. This was the surprising appeal of recording motion over still. At least for us. In the ‘skim-and-scan’ information age which we all now reside, the long take gives us a chance to observe and reflect. Breathe.

We move from seeing a moment constructed in a fraction of a second – what the camera freezes and more precisely what the camera ’sees’ – to witnessing something unfold over minutes. This shift from positioning ourselves for what the camera deconstructs from reality and reconstructs in the abstract through its mechanical eye to a more fluid, roll-on, unfolding banality punctuated with higher notes of excitement through sound, light, expression, or motion pulled something more out from us image makers. Much more existential and transcendental.

The rigour which lies ahead in managing through the steep learning curve in multiple areas of sound dubbing, sequencing, editing, storyline development, legal, possible additional trips, financing et al faces us now. In pulling a team together to bring our short docs to screen we feel excited that these next steps mean we are surrounded by creatives and industry experts who at some part in our day will speak to us about the process, raising our idea from a researched concept to (eventually) a screen experience.  The long take is more than a filming technique – it is a metaphor for us about the difference between film making and producing stills.