Screenwriter and project co-director Antoine Le Bos shares the passion behind the Cross Channel Film Lab: exploring 3D as the route to a new poetic and narrative experience in cinema.

A fourth guest post as part of our research series.  To find out more about our Stereo 3D training scheme, CCFL Training, visit here: deadline for applications: 27 March 2015.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy name is Antoine Le Bos and I’ve been a scriptwriter since 1995, sometime director, and  philosopher by training.  Since the beginning of the 21st century, I’ve been increasingly asked to work as a script consultant by writers and producers of independent cinema, firstly in France and then increasingly all over Europe and beyond.  It’s an exciting experience working with emerging talent in a world watching its certainties being blown apart.

And since 2002/3, I have felt increasingly frustrated doing this work in France in a context which is both professional and rich but which only pays limited attention to writing as a way of thinking deeply about the whys and hows of this “creation of a world”, which is the essence of cinema.  Furthermore, when all is said and done, it also shows little interest in exploring storytelling as the art of that link woven between writer and viewer, and shows no more interest in the emergence of new forms of sensations.  There is a lack of investigation into what constitutes an “immersive experience” for the audience, and latent inaction in the guise of respect for writers.  It’s as though the imprint left by the New Wave remains the dominant and paralysing paradigm more than half a century after its thunderous arrival.  And so, the need for air.

At the westerly point of Finistère, on the shores of Brittany, we decided to try a new experiment.  Far from Paris, at this “edge of the world” on the Breton coastline, with a small core of experienced writers, we are taking the bull by the horns.  At the start of the adventure I had at my side Marcel Beaulieu, a Quebec French scriptwriter and a sort of older brother to Canadian scriptwriters, and Yann Apperry, a wonderful novelist (Medici Prize, amongst others) and playwright but also deep down a scriptwriter.  Both share an appetite for renewed creativity in the cinema of the future, by means of what we could pompously call a “new humanism” in cinematographic writing, focusing on the experience of the viewer.  All Groupe Ouest writing residences from 2008 onwards have been guided by this.

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And so, right from the start, Groupe Ouest has set itself the challenge not to separate the basic struggle for the future of independent European cinema through writing from prospective collaborations with the world of research, aiming to create new ways in which to enrich this sacred relationship between writer and viewer.  Could there be new “phenomena”?  Could we simultaneously rely upon the human beings’ constant need for a story and produce new poetic and profoundly immersive forms for the viewer?

It is with this in mind that, in 2009, the Groupe Ouest team played a central role in a project involving the French research hub Pole Images & Réseaux: the 1fois5 project.  It involved working alongside research labs and technicians to explore the link between different technological ways of producing and broadcasting films, and the writing methods within them.  It was a highly captivating experience but, above all, the starting point of a fascination which we have held since then.

Amongst the technological methods (explored in 1fois5) we looked at 3D and, in particular, Stereo 3D.  A few months earlier the Avatar  “experience” had happened: I, like many parents, had sat in the cinema stunned at the sight of my seven year-old son trying to catch the floating “spirits” invented by James Cameron with his hands, those little cottony particles wafting in the air …  First alarm bell: something is happening here.  Something which draws us in but, for now, we are completely unable to name or describe effectively.  Seeing the third dimension as an addition to the two habitual dimensions gives us only a point of reference which, though mathematically correct, is phenomenologically poor.

Antoine Le Bos presents 1 Fois 5 at first CCFL Partners' LabAnd so the 1fois5 experiment was above all, the springboard for a collaboration the likes of which is not often seen: one with Alain Derobe, considered to be the father of a European 3D renaissance, and one of the few cinematographers to have dedicated their life to exploring the “phenomenon” that is the shooting, post-production and projection of 3D films.

20 years before Avatar, Alain was already fine-tuning a way of filming which would lead to Wim Wenders’ 3D Pina, the European tour de force.  One day, in full preparation for filming the 1fois5 3D tests, I was talking about editing with Alain and he showed me a long shot of the Rite of Spring extract from Pina in which he was calibrating the Stereo 3D.  And there it was: shock.  Shock in a range of sensations that I found impossible to describe, shock despite the little anaglyph cardboard glasses straight from a box of cornflakes, one eye blue and the other red …, and despite the computer screen that was too small, I had this indescribable feeling, again.  No words to describe it.  Those damn words to delineate our sensory markers.  Start of the obsession: to find the words.

And a fortnight later, after having filmed the Stereo 3D tests in the Dantesque surroundings of Kerlouan on the Breton coast (a granite chaos and wreckers’ paradise until the beginning of the 20th century) we followed Alain’s orders to the letter.  Keep the camera moving, even imperceptibly, gently dolly in and out, sideways and vertically, let the perspective shift slowly.  And there, in the editing suite, renewed fascination: before our eyes, those blocks of granite, that mineral force, seemed to take precedence over the human presence, which becomes almost incidental, as if relegated.  It’s as if matter has come alive, as if the granite could no longer manage to conceal its power!

Tro Fanch beachIn 2009, bearing in mind our extreme geographical location, we cast a bottle into the sea towards the British coast seeking European cross-border projects.  The idea was to create a bridge of collaboration and research with our neighbours on the other side of the Channel.  Conceptually it was about collaboration between continental European vision in writing, inherited from auteur cinema, and the savoir-faire which comes from Anglo-Saxon pragmatism … and a response came our way from Cornwall, the “end of the world” like Finistère, from a certain Pippa Best, also a script consultant (or story editor, as the English would say) and previous director of Cornwall Film.

After a few months of incessant brainstorming meetings, compiling material for European Inter­reg applications, the adventure slowly started to gain an exciting pace with the observation that, beyond writing, two distinct and complementary skill sets seemed to be taking shape very happily in the two zones: on one side Brittany and, on the other, the south coast of England.  The Breton side focusing on immersive image, alongside lots of work in research labs, and the English side on visual effects and digital imaging.

As a result, the Cross Channel Film Lab was launched in 2012 and in the spring the first face-to-face brainstorming sessions between filmmakers and researchers took place at Falmouth University.  After an initial uncomfortable stage (both camps fearful of not speaking the other’s language), people started to open up on both sides.  The scriptwriters had a vague feeling that all their certainties were crumbling, and the young researchers were particularly excited by the discovery that their field of study opened up opportunities to create new worlds.  And then the group viewing of Pina in 3D.  As the credits rolled, I realised that I had been sitting open-mouthed for quite a while.  And around me something difficult to describe happened; something like a re-enchantment!  And then the deluge of questions, the most important of which being “what is happening?”  Why this idea that it is basically the same as watching a “flat” film and that at the same time they have nothing in common?

Searching for words

NooCarnet-Stereo-033This preparatory year allowed a thorough exploration of foundation texts in search of reference points which might help us qualify the phenomenon at work.  Qualify it in order to try and understand it, to find a common language so as finally to escape this very discouraging idea that, when it comes to the 3D image, completely subjective opinions and shallow remarks are permissible.  It was as if we were ill-equipped to offer any explanation whatsoever of what we had just watched.  As if the world of “flat” images had drummed into us a sort of inescapable myopia.

Too few texts, too few research projects focus on “this strange sensation” until, amongst all of the foundation texts about the feelings of the audience vis-à-vis the exploration of the scenic box, we stumble upon this New Zealand choreographer.  And there it was, some proof.  The miracle of cross-disciplinary meetings.  Must re-read Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Not the Merleau-Ponty of his Phenomenology of Perception, offspring of Husserl, but the post-war one which he would leave unfinished with Le Visible et l’Invisible.  The core of his theory/vision consists of notes for his lectures at College de France: The sensitive world and the world of expression, which I embarked on fascinated for a week’s immersive reading in the countryside.  According to him, depth is “that guided step towards a privileged state, the resolution of tension, a response to the patchy character of the perceived being, search and expectation, consent and abandon.  Vision of depth is in deep connection with our ability to move, imagine, desire.

So Merleau-Ponty had attached words, finally some words, to these indescribable feelings.

And so on to the Russian filmmaker encountered at Cannes.  Another person obsessed with these feelings, who is trying to exhume in Moscow that which the old soviet masters of cinema managed to bring to light.  But the old Russian 3D masters have disappeared one by one in a mist of indifference.

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This filmmaker directed my attention to some highly significant works, amongst which figured Fixing my Gaze by Susan R. Barry, neurologist.  Merleau-Ponty had got it right, then, by analysing these feelings in front of early 20th century 3D glass plates.  Something is happening there which wreaks total havoc with our relationship with the world.  Like the child bordering on autism who, once allowed to find stereoscopic vision again by correcting his sight issues, is fascinated to rediscover the world around him to the point of becoming an immediate fan of relationships with others!

Just as we were beginning to need our search for answers to delve into the dual field of “phenomenology/neuroscience”, along came a long-standing friend and research partner of Alain Derobe: François Garnier, 3D filmmaker, researcher and eminent professor at École Nationale des Arts Décoratifs (ANSAD – National School of Decorative Arts). François has the ability to build bridges between the makers of the 3D image and scientific or phenomenological research on the subject.  His collaboration on virtual worlds with Alain Berthoz, researcher at Collège de France, showed us a crucial comprehension pathway (see François Garnier and Fabienne Tsaï articles below).  During a Groupe Ouest workshop, François drew our attention to the notion of motor resonance, intuited by Merleau-Ponty.  That while watching stereoscopic images, this phenomenon sweeps over the viewer, stimulating imperceptibly all his muscle chains, a sort of standing to attention of his ability to grab, leap, caress …

We appeared to be, therefore, a stone’s throw from a decisive watershed, which would allow us to announce fearlessly to scriptwriters and filmmakers that they are facing a complete paradigm shift.  One for which we had scientific proof, thus creating the need for a complete overhaul of our inherited way of thinking about “flat” cinema.  For us, it represented the first fascinating step towards what  Falmouth researcher Ann Owen would confirm.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the preparatory year of 2012 we were able to outline our framework for artistic and scientific investigation and to prepare the ground for the arrival in our ecosystem of real feature-length projects, British and French, (four per year, two per country), which we would put through applied testing during the pre-production and writing stages, and which would also be used as a basis for tests for research within our partner scientific labs.

It is also sadly the year in which the incomparable Alain Derobe died mid-post-production of the 3D Asterix in England (ironically), work which his daughter Josephine picked up.

Ex-photographer turned stereographer and 3D fiction film researcher-maker, Josephine joined our adventure brimming with communicative passion (article below) and surrounded by a tightly-knit team of 3D technicians who had trained under her father, all blessed with a fascinating know-how gained both on theme park films and alongside a certain Wim Wenders: Thierry Pouffary, Hugo Barbier …

In 2013 we entered a more concrete phase, since each film project needed to undergo a stage of R & D tests, exploring both image and sound.  To help us in this critical stage, we were joined by ex-Warner producer Fabienne Tsaï, who has been fascinated by these strange feelings since producing a medium-length 3D animation.

_GWS3956From the start of 2013 we felt that the technology trap, this modern obsession with using new 3D technical tools, was making us run the risk of supressing any research into the fundamentals and writing.  However, during the last workshop in 2013, whilst watching the finished 3D tests of the Argentinian Pablo Agüero, and British filmmaker Henry Davies, something became evident: everything that was attempted following the rules of classic cinema was disappointing, and everything filmed and conceived in the spirit of “this strange slowing down”, true to the physiology of 3D, was captivating.

And during this same workshop, the first oculometric tests from the 3D Fovéa labs in Brest opened up a new perspective and reinforced our predictions, namely that the viewer’s ocular enquiry is of a fundamentally different nature.  And we also had the fascinating results from Ann Owen’s research informing us that 3D images stimulate a totally different part of the brain than 2D images …

The game was back on and in style!  At the end of 2013, therefore, the decision was made to strengthen our plan so that filmmakers and researchers could throw themselves into more investigation into “these strange feelings”, dubbed by Josephine “that link between the brain and the stomach”!  And excellent news: Fabienne Tsaï agreed to lead the French side of our research for 2014 (see her article below).

Objective: to confirm definitively that, through 3D, there is an exploratory pathway which is both consistent and fascinating and which European art cinema must follow in its quest to conquer new poetic territory, and in its desire to renew the “marvel-making machine”, as much for the creator him/herself as for tomorrow’s audiences.

Antoine Le Bos

The Cross Channel Film Lab is offering a free programme of Stereo 3D events in partnership with Falmouth University and Cornwall Film Festival from 11-13 November in Falmouth. For more information, browse our events page, or read more here.

 

Photography credit: Brigitte Bouillot

 

 

 

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