Director collaborates with poet Hollie McNish once again on a remarkable piece of experimental filmmaking
The opening to this year’s Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors’ Showcase at Cannes Lions, which was produced in partnership with MPC, featured a powerful short film by director Jake Dypka and British poet Hollie McNish. The duo’s previous film, Embarrassed, was featured as part of the New Directors’ Showcase in 2016. ‘Open Your Eyes’, a project that Saatchi & Saatchi directly approached both Hollie and Jake to work on, is an absolutely gorgeous, powerful three-minute film that examines gender, stereotypes and how society tries to force us into neat, gendered boxes. It does this by projecting two almost mirror-image 2D films onto a 3D screen, while custom-made glasses with either two ‘left’ lenses (blue) or two ‘right’ lenses (red) allow viewers to flick flawlessly between films. Each film depicts either the ‘male’ or ‘female’ experience of gender stereotyping.
After its premiere in Cannes in June, the film has finally been released for general viewing, so LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with director Jake to find out more.
LBB> What were you thinking when the opportunity to work with Hollie McNish came about?
JD> A lot of thoughts ran through my mind but my very first thought was how am I going to follow up Embarrassed? There was an overwhelmingly positive reaction to that film so following it up was always going to involve some internal pressure. Aside from that I genuinely thought how fantastic it was for Saatchi’s to come and ask us to do something. It’s still incredibly rare for me to get an opportunity to make films that really mean something to me personally, where I get that level of creative control. So, it was mostly a very positive reaction from me.
LBB> Using 3D technology in this way isn’t something I’ve seen before - had you before this job came to you?
JD> In short no. This part of the idea came from the creative team at Saatchi and for me it is not the kind of technique I would normally write into a treatment. I am a huge advocate of very simple straightforward techniques in filmmaking as I think it’s the best way to emote something. So, when they described the technique I knew I’d be operating well outside of my comfort zone, but what immediately resonated with me was how well the technique was suited to the theme of gender. What I loved was the fact that the technique is, in itself, binary, an association many people still have with gender. We are using this binary technique of two films and switching between the two, a kind of boy and girl version which is a myth of gender anyway, and the film is about destroying that myth. That was very exciting to me.
LBB> You must have had to work closely with MPC to ensure everything correlated together - can you talk more about that?
JD> MPC were fantastic to work with - it’s rare I get the support of such a formidable technical and creative team. What is quite surprising about the technique is that, actually, there are very little technical elements involved in the filmmaking process at all. You are shooting on normal cameras, in very traditional ways, and in fact it’s only really the matching of framing and performance that were essential to the final technique working successfully. Essentially, I was directing two films that needed to mirror each other extremely closely. The rest is done just at the very final stage in how the films are projected. It made a huge difference to me knowing I had MPC for support and I got to work with a great colourist in Richard Fearon.
LBB> Can you tell us in a bit more detail how it all works in terms of production and the actual screening?
JD> The technique works like any other 3D projected film. With 3D you shoot a stereoscopic image of one scene, two cameras from slightly different perspectives to mirror how our eyes take in a scene in real life. Then in the cinema those two images are projected over the top of one another and you are given glasses that use polarising filters to only allow your right eye to see the right camera and your left eye the left. Your brain pieces it back together. What, then, if rather than shooting the same scene from two different perspectives you shoot completely different scenes, and rather than using one lens for your left eye and the other for your right you had two left lenses and two right? That allows you to filter out an entirely different scene altogether. The issue then is about creating images that allow you to switch between without confusing the brain.
We had an incredibly short turnaround time so we couldn’t test the technique properly. I was extremely fortunate to be taken through the technique by Chris Vincze, who had used the same technique in his own film and I think pioneered the concept. Our realisation of how to use the technique came out very different but his information was priceless as we couldn’t do any technical testing ourselves within the timeframe. I was extremely keen that the technique itself didn’t limit or spoil the traditional elements of filmmaking that I love so much, like the simple cutting between images and the rhythm and pace of an edit. So I tried to find as many ways as possible for the technique itself to not overpower and shape the film too much, or at least only in positive ways.
LBB> How closely did you work with Hollie on the poem? Because this must have influenced the themes within the film…
JD> The poem is all Hollie, and her words and thoughts inspire everything we see in the film. I was very adamant that the perspective on gender should come entirely from her because no one can frame a topic quite like Hollie, and I felt the more space she had to operate and be herself the better the film would be.
Having said that, the process was very different from Embarrassed. Really, that was me turning a pre-existing piece of poetry into visual form. This time we were making a film from scratch so the poem was being written for the purpose of something visual. I was very keen this time that the imagery was given the space to breathe and I was talking to Hollie right from the start about timings and how sounds and images should influence her writing.
For me it’s an amazing experience to collaborate with someone like Hollie; both of our worlds overlap when we make a film together and there is a real push and pull between us. There were visual parts of the film that she was adamant about, in terms of casting, and then there were influences I had on her poem. There was one particularly uncomfortable moment for me when I had to call her up to explain that I had been through her poem and cut it down by about a third. I can’t imagine a lot of writers responding the way she did, and I hope to think a kind of trust had developed between us after Embarrassed that allowed that kind of creative intrusion on each other’s roles.
LBB> And how closely did you work with Saatchi’s? Was it quite a standard agency / director relationship or different?
JD> It was different in the sense that they had come to Hollie and myself and commissioned a film based on previous work we had done together. This was a passion project for me as it was for Saatchi & Saatchi so the relationship was different in a lot a of ways, as was the process. I think the team at Saatchi were absolutely fantastic in the support they gave Hollie and myself to make them something untainted by the traditional client process. That gave myself and the creative team at Saatchi the freedom to push things a little bit.
An actual theme in my treatment was to ‘treat’ Saatchi to imagery that any client would immediately throw out the door. We had this fantastic moment in the process where Joe Binks (my producer) and myself went to Saatchi’s for a PPM that no one was allowed to call a ‘PPM’. I sat there and took them through my plans for the film scene-by-scene. It went a little something like this: “…and now we see a girl pull down her skirt and period blood appears and runs down her leg, next is a dominatrix with a man on a chain, a man and woman about to masturbate, so on and so forth…” There was a quiet pause when I finished and Kate Stanners [Global CCO, Saatchi & Saatchi] just looked at me and said, “This is going to be awesome isn’t it?” That gave me a lot of confidence and made the process for me much more enjoyable knowing I had her full support.
One final point on that is that as I describe these scenes, it could sound like I was attempting to make something graphic, but I genuinely never saw it like that. The funny thing is ‘why’ do we see these scenes as graphic? I hope we managed to capture these things in a way that shows us that most of these things are not only normal but beautiful.
LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you tackle them?
JD> By far the hardest thing was the turnaround time and the technique itself. We didn’t have any time for testing. The technique is, in many ways, extremely restrictive to a filmmaker. Suddenly you find yourself in a position where any camera movement is extremely risky; even movement from people on camera becomes high risk. I love to give people plenty of freedom in front of the lens to be themselves and express themselves, but if you find yourself in a position where you are trying to match performance and movement with other scenes you have shot you can imagine how scary this might become for a director like me.
I felt a little bit alone with my fears on the shoot - everything was working extremely well on camera, the mood in the studio from the whole team was incredibly upbeat but I kept thinking to myself, “Yes, I know this frame looks cool but there is absolutely no guarantee that it is all going to work when I try and put it together”. That said I did really enjoy the shoot, and I developed a coping mechanism in the way of a mantra that I kept repeating to anyone who would listen. It went: “The technique is very forgiving though, isn’t it? The technique, it’s very forgiving.” Repeat 100 times.
LBB> Only 7% of commercials directors of females - what does the industry need to do to change this?
JD> It’s a really important question and a really difficult one to answer. I think one of the huge challenges is that the problem probably isn’t just in our industry but a fundamental flaw embedded deep in our society.
Personally I think our education system has a lot to answer for as well as the industry itself. How do parents and teachers, siblings and peers influence these things? What is clear is that the filmmaking industry needs to do everything in its power to help support and nurture the female voice.
As Kate Stanners put it, a film is often the voice of a director, an individual’s way of seeing the world. If we are missing such a vast input from women there is something extremely wrong and very upsetting in our lack of female directors. Not to mention the lack of diversity and people without the financial support of their parents finding it hard to break into the industry. One of the themes of the film is about raising the question of how society imprints ideals about gender on us from birth. Some of these things are impossible to see – at one point Hollie and I discussed the idea that baby boys can be held differently than girls, and it’s very hard for anyone to say how all of these help define how we behave in later life. But you can guarantee all of them have a huge accumulative effect.
LBB> There are initiatives like Free The Bid - what are your thoughts on this?
JD> I think it’s a great start. I think it really helps raise awareness and hopefully helps us to create more films with a female voice. I hope we can also find more ways to discover the root of these problems and do more to bring about change.
LBB> It seemed like diversity was a really big talking point at Cannes this year - it has been for many years, but something seemed different - perhaps more solid - this year. Would you agree with that?
JD> I didn’t attend a great deal at Cannes but it is great to hear that diversity was high on the agenda. In advertising, the desire to bring about change, to do and say something positive is emerging at a rapid rate.
Brands have and always will want to sell things, but there are many ways to do that. We still see many examples of gender stereotyping and body shaming, all sorts of techniques that have a negative effect on society, but we are also seeing this huge shift towards companies wanting to bring about positive change in order to strengthen their brand. Whatever way you look at it that can’t be a bad thing, depending on what you are selling I suppose. But it is certainly better than what has come before.
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
JD> There are a ton of people who helped make this film - if I try and list them all you probably won’t print it, but I am extremely thankful to all those people that helped make it. I do have to mention Jon Clarke and the guys at Factory because the sound is such a huge part of this piece. Everything you hear other than Hollie’s voice comes from Jon; he even let me come to his house so we could work on stuff with the synths that he has in his home studio. I almost gave him a nervous breakdown that day and his lovely wife brought tea and biscuits.