Have You Seen My Movie? – How I made my movie about movies about watching movies
A feast for film fans, Have You Seen My Movie? is compiled from scenes in which characters go to the cinema in classic films. Paul Anton Smith, who worked with Christian Marclay on The Clock, explains his process.
Making a movie – a word which has romantic connotations that film doesn’t – from other filmmakers’ movies was an obvious but irrational enterprise that occupied an embarrassing period of time. 14 or 15 hours worth of footage was ripped off hundreds of DVDs spanning the history of cinema, then condensed into a feature-length narrative about movies and the places we watch them.
You’d be amazed how many times moviemakers like to turn the camera on moviegoers. I watched or scanned through thousands of films looking for scenes that take place inside of a cinema, and these clips accumulated like blown-in pages torn from a screenplay, without order or any hint of a beginning, middle or end.
You have to give yourself to the movies if you want them to work their magic, so that meant that I had to be receptive to the colour – the heart – of these scenes, no matter if they were awful or vulgar or corny or beautiful, because then I would be true to the style, the genre, its protagonists, the feeling that the material was trying to get across.
The emotional resonance from a clip would light up associations – whether conscious or unconscious – with other clips, until a structure was formed and flowed the way I wanted it to, almost effortlessly.
This was my first feature, with no budget at all, but I was determined to have production value. I’m not much of a compromiser. Making a montage from existing footage that could feel like something else, something mine, seemed a promising solution for an oxymoronic desire. In the end I think my movie looks like a million bucks, though, maybe more…
It was about two months ago that the BFI stunned me with news that Have You Seen My Movie? had been selected for this year’s 60th London Film Festival. The picture was more or less locked, but the sound was unfinished. Coffee supplanted champagne as practical, if hardly preferred, fuel to see me through the following weeks, when I would drive my sound designers up a wall in search of the perfect sound to relate a double-decker cinema, the art house, drive-in, or triple-X.
Movie theatres, funnily enough, are acoustically dead; they don’t reverberate. And yet, when we watch a movie-within-a-movie, our brains want reverb, delay, different frequencies to sculpt indefinable spaces. Movies are rarely good if they’re striving for hard reality; they’re at their best when augmenting it into something artificial that doesn’t know it’s artificial.
Have You Seen My Movie? is also about watching; the screen, the strangers around you, the projector’s beam overhead. It also, of course, involves sitting on one’s ass for hours, and this may be the most romantic, dramatic, suspenseful, action-packed movie whose protagonists are, for the most part, totally sedentary.
The theatrical experience is the most crucial element in distinguishing a movie from television or video, and I hope that you all will join me in the cinema this month, enjoy yourselves, and contemplate the overwhelming power with which these motion pictures hold sway.