Posts tagged Adam Westbrook
Posts tagged Adam Westbrook
Here’s a new video essay I’ve been working on this summer, published by Fusion.
It explores the idea of the Universal Basic Income, a future where the government pays citizens just for being alive, regardless of whether they have a job.
And it touches on the nature of work and the meaning it brings into our lives.
Essential summer reading.
I’ve spent the last few days in the film archives searching for imagery for the next video essay.
And I stumbled on some amazing futuristic landscapes - as well as some wonderful colours.
My latest video essay collaboration with Fusion was published last week.
Subscribers to the newsletter will know it’s been a challenging story. Here is the final version of the script (version number 7!)
It’s one of the most popular and powerful stories of our time …that in a universe of immeasurable size…in a galaxy filled with 300 billion stars….on one of millions of planets that can sustain life…filled with 7 billion human beings… living in 2800 cities in 196 countries…that among all this…we will all…one day…meet our soul-mate.
And if you don’t believe it, then you’re the minority.
I saw one survey that said that 84 percent of young Americans believe The One is out there somewhere.
Look at Google’s archive of books and you see the word has exploded in popularity in the last 100 years.
But go back before 1900 and the word is hardly used at all…and you know why? Because it didn’t exist!
This guy - Samuel Taylor Coleridge - invented it in 1822.
So the word isn’t even 200 years old but 84 percent of us are so certain the concept’s real.
But love it turns out is a little bit more complicated…
Here’s a tender scene from one of the oldest love stories ever told. On the right is Achilles - the mythical warrior and the tragic love story between him and Petraculus is central to the plot of Homer’s epic poem The Illiad.
But there’s a great twist…something that didn’t get repeated for a long time…because Petraculus you might have noticed…is a dude.
People still argue about whether there was anything sexual between these guys, but really it doesn’t matter - the bromance was real.
And in ancient greece - a country pretty much always at war - the bond between brothers in arms was what really mattered.
People still fell in love…but romance as we know it..it’s hard to imagine but it really didn’t exist at all..and it certainly wasn’t celebrated.
That is, until a new love story came along…
So there’s this guy called William of Aquitaine…he was a Duke in the south of france in the middle ages… but when he wasn’t jousting he fancied himself as a Troubadour - a sort of medieval singer/songwriter.
And his songs sound nice enough…but they were mostly about tricking women into having sex with him, or comparing them to horses. Charming.
Then - probably stealing ideas from some Arabic poetry which was popular at the time - he switched the roles and made the woman the powerful character - so desirable any man would dedicate his life to her.
For the first time (in the West anyway) the idea of romantic love between a man and a woman became an ideal - a fantasy.. from Rapunzel to Romeo and Juliet love stories celebrated men pursuing unattainable women.
So yes, our entire idea of romance was invented by a sexist douchebag.
But now the love stories we told looked completely different…and the bromance the greeks believed in..well that was made illegal for a very long time.
Society now celebrated love and romance - with anyone really…as long as they weren’t your husband or wife!
Yes, as strange as it sounds, for most of history marriages have been more like a business arrangement, and you didn’t want feelings to get in the way.
These are wedding portraits amazingly and they’re not exactly full of passion.
Then a Dutch artist called Frans Hals painted this. And it tells us everything about how marriage changed.
Couples married for love, they held hands and kissed in public -things that had never been seen in Europe before.
Right, but then it changed again!
Because nearly 700 years later, Europe was obsessed with a novel about a young artist who falls in love with his friend Charlotte.
The only problem - and I’m sure you’ve heard this one before - is that Charlotte is already engaged to someone else
The young artist’s solution to the problem has a big impact - literally.
The Sorrows of Young Werther published by Wolfgang von Goethe in 1744 was like 50 Shades of Grey without the handcuffs. It was insanely popular - men started dressing like the main character - and some even shot themselves, in what’s considered to be the first case of copycat suicides in history.
This all helped launch the romantic movement - the most passionate but also dark version of love we’d ever seen. We assume the romantic movement was - well, romantic, but the reality was different.
Gave us some of our best art though - Keats, Beethoven, Blake…and a young poet called Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who in 1822 wrote in a letter to a friend: “To be happy in married life, one must have…a soul mate.”
We think the concept of love is something eternal and universal…but it changes all the time!
And it’s funny… each time, it seems to come from the stories we’re telling…
And isn’t that more true NOW than ever…?
Unlike epic poems or novels, movies and TV shows work best with simple stories…
And while the idea of romance has been around for a long time, now it’s been transformed into the most simple and idealistic version of all.
And now we expect our lover, our best friend, our companion AND the best sex we ever had…in one person!
Thing is…it’s not just movies…
For a hundred years companies have used this story to sell us things…
And in our age of consumerism we’ve somehow turned love itself into a shopping trip…
Swipe left, swipe right…always keeping our eyes open for an upgrade..
But with such simple and idealistic expectations are putting too much pressure on other people? And on ourselves?
So our version of love is not the first, and you know what, it’s probably not the last..
In a hundred years we might be telling a completely different love story - all we’re waiting for, is for someone to write it.
I’m very happy to share a brand new video essay that I have been working on in collaboration with Fusion.
It’s a short history of love, from ancient Greece to the modern rom-com and asks if it’s time to invent a new kind of love for the 21st century.
It’s packed with some bizarre stories about how people thought of love in the past, including the french sexist who invented romance, and the book that sparked the first ever case of copycat suicides.
Do you believe in soul mates?
I love reading up on Hitchcock’s technique, he was such a diligent craftsman.
Today I learned he would often employ what he called a constructionist - a term I have never heard anyone else use in the film industry. This was a person solely responsible for the construction of a story - the story design!
One of his early collaborators was the playwright Charles Bennett. In Bennett’s own words:
“Possibly, I suppose, I was the best-known constructionist in the world at that time. I am not being conceited but I was awfully bloody good. I was a first class constructionist. I’m not saying I was the best dialogue writer in the world. Sometimes we had to bring in dialogue writers.
“…But the important thing - and Hitch always knew this - was construction. Get your story, get your architecture right, and you can always add your dialogue afterwards. That was always the Hitchcock attitude right up to the day of his death.”
It seems that in the early studio system, screenwriting was almost split into three roles: a story designer (constructionist) who would build the narrative and the key events; the director (or storyboard artist) who would visualise each event; and then a dialogue writer who would add lines where the images could not themselves convey the idea.
Now these seem to have been blurred into one, but what a wonderful way to work.
Also, props to Bennett for this exchange:
Interviewer: All this foolery with credits didn’t bother you in those days?
Bennett: Nothing bothered me in those days. I was young and very good looking.
It’s great to see more people writing about storytelling technique in reference to nonfiction.
I’ve just finished Shawn Coyne’s book on storytelling which although aimed at authors is still useful for the nonfiction storyteller. Here he discusses how a fiction requirement - character wants and needs - can be transferred to nonfiction stories.
From the cutting room floor…
I’ve been working on a new video essay which is almost done. As usual, once a rough cut is done I end up reshaping and cutting shots and even whole sequences.
I’m still spending as much time as I can refining my process. One of the things I have realised just recently is that I have been mixing the creation and analysis stages of making a video essay together, which is a big no-no.
So I’ll often begin analysing a story design before I’ve even made a draft of it, and I’ll try and create and analyse on the same day. Your brain can’t switch from one to the other so easily, so now I’m updating my process to make sure church and state remain separated.
Here are a couple of shots which I dropped on Monday, after realising they weren’t essential to the story.
Deep into production on my next video essay for Fusion. I’m hoping to deliver a draft early next week.
Here are some snapshots of the story designs I’ve been working on for the story, including a script and thumbnail storyboard.
I’ve written a detailed story design analysis of the most recent video essay I published a few weeks ago.
I’ll do more of them if you’re interested!
You can read the full interview on their website, and here are a couple of my favourite questions:
You describe your website as being a quiet part of the internet, this is a good introduction to your work, which expresses ideas in a clear but contemplative way. Do you think that the internet is noisy with content because we haven’t worked out how best to use it for expression, or because we have so much to express and we haven’t learned how best to present it? Is it the internet or the users which lack clarity?
I think about this idea a lot at the moment. Stepping back a little, we can see that right now we are in the middle of what people call The Social Web. What matters at the moment is how popular you are - how many people share your work. So the people and companies that are successful (Buzzfeed is the prime example) have cleverly worked out how to engineer their content to be shared widely. All the major platforms we use, from Facebook to YouTube, reward people who are popular; everyone dreams of ‘going viral’. This inherently changes the dynamic of creation: to be successful on YouTube, for example, you must create a lot, which is why things are so noisy.
The way I see it, this obsession with popularity is a hangover from the 20th century age of mass marketing, which we haven’t quite got over yet. I also don’t think The Social Web will last forever - ten years perhaps, which means we are already half way through.
So I describe delve as being a quiet part of the Internet because I don’t try at all to make my videos popular (and, relatively, they’re not!) Instead I try really hard to make them objectively good. This attitude isn’t encouraged or rewarded by the Internet at the moment. Who knows what will come after The Social Web, but I hope it is an ecosystem that rewards quality not quantity; that is what I am building delve for.
Creative people view the world as a construct and so are able to play about with it, producing work that makes truth more palatable. Can you tell us a bit about your preference for video as a medium to produce palatable truths?
What a great question! I think all motion picture, whether it’s on a cinema screen, a TV screen or an online video is ultimately a medium of emotion. You could call it e-motion pictures. You can convey information of course, but video’s real power is in making people feel. Although my video essays are set up as educational, I am always trying to give people an emotional experience, maybe feeling inspired about their creative journey, surprised that computers are run on such a simple concept, or maybe even guilty that their habits of consumption hurt the poorest people. On the Internet most video makers use the medium in a very literal way: when they talk about a horse, they show a horse etc; but video is so powerful because it can be abstract and suggestive. You can make people feel an emotion by the use of almost invisible techniques in editing and image selection.
All storytelling, in any medium, when it is done well, is about manipulating the audience’s assumptions and ideas. But you do it to help people see a greater truth. And the best truths are emotional ones because they are so complicated and hard to define. I want to tell complicated truths; life isn’t simple and I think we do a disservice when we try and package life into self-contained blocks.
Here are some shots from my latest video essay made in collaboration with Fusion.
The opening shot, showing the bombing of Hiroshima from the point of view of the bomb itself was an attempt to solve the problem of visualising an anecdote when you have no actual footage.
As well as solving this problem, the point of view creates an added layer of suspense, as the audience guesses what is about to happen. It also subtly punctuates the theme of the story, that history is only seen from the point of view of the victors.