With Or Without Limitations

It started with me wanting to make a film without a script. I had made a short film the year before, scripted and storyboarded, which was shot and edited by the letter. I now needed to work in a freer fashion. I wanted to shoot something that was spontaneous, intuitive, improvised. So I asked some friends of mine if they wanted to help me improvise the action of a film. I had the basic idea, and I knew where I wanted to shoot.How ever, I didn’t want to make a free form, abstract film. I wanted there to be a tangible story, an action the audience could follow that would give to a certain extent meaning, and with characters the audience could relate to.

My basic premise for the film was to have one flowing action, in one continuos take; a film without any need for cutting and editing. And I wanted to use a room – the beautiful mirrored dining room in the Hotel Britannia in Trondheim, Norway, a famous continental style hotel – to stress the tension between the three characters.

So, over a couple of evenings in this room the four of us improvised a very simple choreography, based on the relationship between the three characters, using the room and its mirrors to give the relationship between the characters an added depth.

We shot the material on a Sunday afternoon in March 2005; it took us 18 takes to get it on tape before we wrapped it up.

My original idea was to make this as a dance film, as two of the three actors are dancers, but instead we ended up playing around with different movements, speeds and developing the tension of the relationship. The third actor is a writer and schoolteacher; having experience with working with non-actors before I simply told him not to act, but just do what he was supposed to do, something he did superbly.

I had made a deal with a composer friend of mine, to have him make the music. He got the film and for close to three months I didn’t hear from him. I had given clear instructions as to what kind of music I wanted. But when he finally delivered it was not even close. It was a total mismatch. I told him to do it again and waited. But no new music came.

So I found my self with the material for a film but no film.

Many years ago I had an idea for a film project. I would get a lot of artists to make music for a short film; the same film with different musical expression. I never got around doing it, because I never found a visual idea strong enough to carry the concept.

It struck me now while waiting for the music that never came, that I sat on the material for this project. But I wanted to add to the challenge. I wanted to explore more of the possibility in the «story». And I came up with the idea to let the music decide the expression for each film; each film based on the same film material would take on a different expression based on or against the music. This also allowed me to play around and experiment more with the possibilities inherent in Final Cut.

So I invited a lot of artists to submit music to my «new» films; most of them said yes.

A key factor when working with this project from the start was working with and against limitations. For one thing, the film material was limited to one continuos action in a room, some 100 seconds long, no editing needed. Another limitation had to do with the absence of dialogue and location sound; all sounds would be contributed by the composer. And the films would be made on Final Cut Express, the consumer version of the high end editing suite, lacking much of the filters and effects found in the professional version.

The project soon became a rehearsal in constructive thinking: How to get the most out of the syntheses of the films action and the music. A kind of a film school, if you will, where each film constituted a unique esthetical and practical problem.

The films are a fusion of simple tricks and a good ol’ fashioned analogue mindset. They were all made with no use of filters or Final Cut effects other than those needed for adjusting the colour and contrast. And absolutely no After Effects; no easy way out. Think of the most cumbersome way you can imagine and you’ll be close to knowing how I did it.

The basic idea, as stated, was to let the music dictate the general expression for each film. So as the music came with the mail, I sat down to listen and take notes of the images I got in my head.

This worked out beautifully for several of the films. Anla Courtis and Maria Paz Levinson sent me music made on wineglasses, an ethereal quality marred by a lot of friction. So I played around and found a visual style to emulate the music’s expression, slurring the images, giving it a flowing quality where the images lags behind the action.

When given the music by The Golden Serenades – who by the way wasn’t originally asked but the music was given to me by Lasse Marhaug, who had it laying around as a left over piece from a CD-compilation released together with my documentary on noise music, Nor Noise – a mere 30 seconds of harsh noise, I did something that I didn’t really want to do: I did a hard core M-TV style cut up piece. The music so suited the expression that I simply had to have a go. The result is an even lower respect for this kind of visual expression; it’s mind-numbingly simple to do!

Lasse Marhaug suggested I should invite Oren Ambarchi. I didn’t really know his music at the time, but he sent me a beautiful and simple piece, with a strange but compelling crystalline quality. As with Courtis and Levinson it immediately gave me the visual idea for film. The rest was painstakingly slow work. Doing all the editing work on a Mac Mini – with a 512 Mb internal memory – this was by far the most arduous film to do simply because of the sheer time it took to set up the film in video layers, crop each layer to make the squared effect, make adjustments to alter the time, make adjustments to fit the music, and for the hellish long time it took to render and print out the QT movie files.

Making this film on a slow Mac Mini gave me some limitations I didn’t ask for, but there you go. If you ask for limitations there are no limits to what you’ll get. So I learned the hard way that you either work with what you’ve got or you don’t work at all.

I had as a rule that the music would dictate the expression, but as soon as I got the idea for the music-dictates-the-visual-expression, I got ideas for visual styles. So of course I cheated.

When Michael Duch sent me his dark, brooding drone style piece I was very happy to get the opportunity to make a «silent movie» style film. The music fitted the expression perfectly, making this one of the easiest films to do.

Guilty Connector sent me a piece I at first didn’t really know what to do with. But on my list of I-would-like-to-make-a-film-like-this was the idea to steal the extreme visual style of the Austrian filmmaker Martin Arnold. His cut-up repetitious style has always baffled me and I had wanted to do something similar for years. But I didn’t want to do too extreme a version or too similar. I wanted to follow the «story» of my own material. So instead of repeating the same images continuously as Martin does, I repeated cuts of the action but using cuts from the various takes we did. So there are repetitions of the action but not the same action, the film utilising material from 6 or 7 of the other takes.

For a long time I have wanted to make a cut-out animation film, a very strong and graphic piece and as Hild Tafjord was latest to submit her material, I basically decided to do it to her music whether it fitted or not. Luckily it did. Hild is known for her harsh but playful noise, and I was very happy when she sent me a piece that in my head I knew would fit the expression I had in mind. I then exported 642 still images from the film, and after having cut out the characters and assembled the adjusted images as a film, the music was placed on the audio track and fitted perfectly at the first try. After more than two weeks of cutting out and adjusting the images, the finished film was assembled in less than two minutes.

Not all the work went as smoothly, how ever. I had expected something different from Tore Bøe when I asked him, than the track with Origami Tacet he sent me (and thus making Michael Duch the only one artist participating with music on two of the films). As Bøe is a collage artist by heart I had a vague idea of a collage style film but none of my initial ideas managed to utilise the film material well enough. It wasn’t until I had the idea to incorporate other images into the film, to cut up the action and – strongly influenced by Godards early work – use text and colour tinting, that the film happened to fin its form and then very quickly. I also did the same with the music, juxtaposing Origami Tactes music with Haydn, Otis Reading and a tango by Gardel, to emphasise the collage inspiration. As Godard and many of the French nouvelle vague films are very self conscious and may be seen as somewhat pretentious, I made the texts self-referring and a bit lofty; not to be parodic – because I love Godard and the French nouvelle vague – but as a good hearted pastiche. This film is dedicated to Pierrot Le Fou for a reason.

Lasse Marhaug’s music gave me the biggest problem, for two reasons. One was that I fooled myself by thinking I knew what he would send me – his signature hard, trashy, cut up noise. Instead he sent me an almost silent piece, a low dark rumble with sudden and violent outbursts of sonic energy. I also made the mistake of connecting a very strong visual idea to the music he didn’t send me – which simply didn’t fit the music he did send me, and which also proved to be to technically arduous and not to give the screen effect I had imagined. So after wasting a lot of time I had to go back to scratch. I started playing around with some ideas while finishing the other films but without getting anywhere.

Then it struck me that what I should do was to emulate the expression of his music – that is, as found in the music he didn’t send me – as an effect playing up against the «silent music» he did send me. I started out making the film image as noisy as I could without loosing the ability to follow the action. The result of this overload of digital noise is an expression that depicts a strangely organic sense of decay that I find very beautiful.

The premiere of the films took place in February in 2007 – one month short of two years after we shot the original material.

The film had absolutely no budget. If I remember correctly we had some sandwiches and coffee. But being a non-budget director also means getting away with taking the time you need to get it right. Also, working within strict limitations can be a fruitful way of exploring the outer realms of experimental film making.

And of course, making eight films from one spurs many ideas. Inspired by the experience, my next film will be something completely different all together.

Tom Løberg
December 2007



First of all: Thank you for participating on this project!

The idea is to get from 9 to 11 artists submitting music to the film on this CD-r.

I will in turn edit the film, manipulate its expression, after your music.

That’s to say, from 9 to 11 films, different in expression, different in sound. In a sense, 9-11 musical films based on the same visual source. Or «music videos» if you like.

The films will end up on a DVD-collection, hopefully released spring/summer next year.

The film, as you see it, is a result of a collaboratory improvisation with three dancers made earlier this year. How you interpret the action is all up to you. You do not have to follow the film’s «story line» if you don’t want to; you can focus on the mood, the emotions, the change in relationships, or what ever fancies your imagination. The film was made with this project in mind.

How the music ends up is totally up to you; all submissions will be accepted.

There are, though, some limitations and things to remember:

The score should be no shorter than 90 seconds, no longer than 4 minutes.

Please do NOT sync your music to the enclosed film; that is for viewing purposes only. Use it as a guide for what the «story» is all about, if you want to.

You have to say if the music is for the film only, or also for the credits; if so, this must be specified.

The music should be submitted to me on a CD-r, in AIFF-format. I can’t use compressed formats. The music should be readied for printing, i.o.w. I shouldn’t have to master it (and please remember db-levels, they will be cropped – badly – in the DVD-transfer process if to loud…)

The music must be submitted to me BEFORE X-MAS.


Look at the film, be inspired – or not – and make your music.

I’m looking forward to hearing what you do!


© Pastiche Films 2007

Feel free to quote or use excerpts from this essay but please state where you got it from.