February 25, 2004
I am, as you know, in the middle of reporting chaos. Haiti seems to
be falling apart. Therefore I have had no time to concentrate on writing
a new essay for FLM, but instead I suggest that they choose
between two texts, already written.
One is a few paragraphs from a longer piece I wrote for the Rotterdam
film festival (printed in Dutch translation) just a month ago: Notebook
as film, film as poem.
The other possibility is one or two poems that I wrote after the Obstructions–
conversations with Lars von Trier. That was something he asked me to
do, as part of the deal. They have not been used yet, but will probably
be part of my next collection of poetry.
NOTEBOOK AS FILM, FILM AS POEM
When I am writing a book about the Tour de France, or when I write
my memoirs of life, I make a list of items I need to cover, stories
I don’t want to forget.
And then I choose to start with what I feel an appetite to write about.
I write one chapter, then another one, I take from my list what inspires
me at the moment.
I send my stories, or the chapters, as they are written, one after
another to my editor. Finally the book is written. I mean there are
enough letters, enough words. Enough volume.
Then I discuss with the editors, and they would maybe say that now
we need to put some editorial touches to the writing, filling out, leading
from one thing to another,
making it reasonable.
I don’t agree with that and I reject it. I tell my editor that
the order of sequences is the order in which they received my stories.
I don’t want to do any beautifying additional writing. I like
the rawness, or, if you like, the authenticity of the way it was written.
I like to celebrate the process itself.
And I tell them as an argument that this is also the way I prefer my
films to be edited.
This of course is an approximate method. But with my films I know that
my editor Camilla Skousen will respect that I don’t have a preferred
storyline. She can do what she likes with the material. As long as it
doesn’t become too rational, too reasonable.
I never tell her this scene is the opening scene. I prefer to see what
she proposes. I prefer to wait for her to come up with something.
Then at one point I might step in and discuss certain elements to be
put in other places.
It is a cardinal point that material is material. The
process is nature or something like that. I don’t want this to
sound religious. Because really, I just write, I just produce.
• • •
I always work with lists. When I work on a new film, I
make a list of scenes I want to have. And when I view the rushes with
my editor we each make our own list. I put stars, one-two-three, for
preferences. Then I go to Haiti and leave her to do the job. Later she
will send me a first cut, and I might accept it as the near-final cut
immediately. Or I might tell her I need to have this and this scene
because I like it too much to leave it out. She might think that it
will be difficult to place it in the context, but she knows that she
must try to make me happy.
I believe very much in my notebook. I take notes all the
time when I am getting into a project. Sometimes I take notes for several
projects simultaneously. Why is note taking important? Because you don’t
want to forget what you have seen or what you have thought. I don’t
trust my memory. I know a thing is there when it is there. I want to
write it down. Plus I like the aesthetics of notes. I like the spartan
way of writing down your ideas. Sometimes I can use this raw language
as it is, in poems, or in films.
Notebooks are the most important tool for me. I teach
the usefulness of note taking at film school. I show examples, how three
words can be lifted out and used directly. Less is better than more.
There is more to it. I like notes because they represent
unstructured material. They come as they come. They come out of nothing,
out of moods—good or bad—they are points in blank space.
They are absolutely born without storyline. That’s the beauty
of notes. I like that notebooks seem loose, I take notes of things that
are insignificant, and things which are more solid right there. I admired
The Beach Boys for the looseness of their songs, suddenly fading out
in murmurs and whispers, and then tightening in choral harmonics. They
have been one of my idols. Another has been the composer John Cage who
worked with silence punctuated by sudden sounds. I want my films to
be like notebooks. To keep the spontaneity, the sudden changes, the
• • •
Anyway, I learned everything from writing poetry. I like
to say that my films learn from my poems.
The magical thing with writing poetry is that you simply
start from the upper left corner with some word, and then continue down
the page. I never know where it will lead me. If there is some hidden
sense. It’s all surprise and exploration. When a poem is finished
I don’t touch it again. This again is not a religious notion.
It is simply that the poem seems finished right away.
I would like to transfer this way of working to films.
That’s why I insist on reducing the technical complexities to
a minimum. I want to be able to create right out in the blank space
with no hold-back. I want it to be as simple as writing. There is nothing
there, and then there is suddenly something.
It may be misleading to attribute all this to a mysterious
belief in chance. What I really believe in is that I am here.
I have arranged a situation, I have put up the frames
for something to happen. Then I will just wait for something to happen
within this frame. I am very patient with time. I like to have time
passing through the camera. And I like to wait for something to appear
in a given space. Something to happen. I will wait for the moment.
Jacmel, Haiti 2004