On Creativity and Video Art: Refuse the Hollywood Frame

This article could be used as a manifesto for the artist, or the filmmaker. It’s core objects are to stress the otiose pursuit for top gear equipment in filmmaking, and to reject the academia and long formal educations when it comes to creativity.

This text is also a call to all artists out there, no matter the artistic area, to get together and start sharing ideas, discussing projects and team up.

Written by Robin Färdig

I could start this article almost anywhere, but I choose to start in Mbale, the place where I as a nineteen year old development student at a major European university, decided to start film making. This was in 1999 and there were only mere bicycle bodabodas and only one internet connected public computer in all of Mbale.

This was also before the so-called democratization of film equipment. I found I needed a way to tell my people back home about this place and the people living there. I had no idea of how, when or where to start my new life.

When film equipment started to get digitalized, it also got less expensive. This development has been referred to as “the democratization of filmmaking”. But it was only half the truth: Yes, people got access to cheaper cameras or editing stations, but storytelling was still something you had to be taught to know how to do, and that kind of education was still only for the few.

Even though focus still is on the equipment, now anybody who gets his or her own camera believe to have the road to Hollywood mapped.

A trip that most people will find harder than “the democratization” had promised.

A still image from Robin Färdig experimental movie filmed with a mobile phone camera.

Forgetting the story

This point of view have two major flaws: The stories are forgotten, and Hollywood is consolidated as the only goal for a filmmaker.

And with the lack of stories creativity became forgotten as well; anyone kept coming up with the boy-meets-girl, the revenge, the heist or the supernatural stories. Since the art of speculation in arts was nil and void the filmmakers was stuck with old ideas.

My metaphor is that a great idea is great even when it’s drawn with a stick in the dust — the cheapest equipment you will find — but a lousy idea is still lousy even with the most costly equipment you may find on the market. This “democratization” is a chimera, an illusion.

Trying to find new ways and trying to disregard the constant bustle for the latest equipment, could mean that the refusal of Hollywood as the only goal, and the reinforcement of creativity, will mould you as an artist. This is what I found a decade after my decision to get into the movies.

I learnt to distrust anyone who says there is a need to top up the equipment. There is never this desperate need. Maybe if you’re already settled when it comes to content and creativity, and can afford a brand new camera, you will do that. But to top up the creativity aspects is always the main objective for a true artist. Amateurs seldom see it this way.

In the same way amateurs tend to have too much trust in the academic interpretation of the arts that already exist. Of course, as a filmmaker you need to watch films, but I think that your need to read novels is greater.

Film analysis is to the filmmaker as watching buildings would be to the architect , or for a gardener to take a stroll in a botanical garden — mere personal interest.

It is only when you have put a brick on top of another, or have put the seed in the earth and felt the soil between your fingers, that you know how it is to create. People tend to rely upon the myth that the academic way is the only one, especially since universities have such prestige. This applies especially to western people. Their way is the only one, even though they never felt the soil with their own hands.

Art is practical

You can be an expert in arts or cinema, but that doesn’t make you an artist or a filmmaker — it makes you a critic or a cinematic. Nothing wrong about that, but don’t let anybody fool you and say that it is enough to be an artist. I’ve met quite a number of westerners in Eastern and Southern Africa who emphasize theory in their teaching, and tell students that this will be sufficient to make them filmmakers. It seldom happens.

Art is practical. It’s about hard work and purpose.

I usually say that what I teach you, you cannot find with Google. Everything that is theoretical knowledge, like the name of a certain lens or what kind of layout your script needs, are stuff you can find by googling. To get to know these things you shouldn’t waste more than the Shs500 it costs you to get an hour at an internet café.

To use my metaphor about construction: The feeling of the weight of that brick in your hand and the sweat on your brow, the feeling of the wooden handle on your trowel and the sound of mortar being mixed; you may never google to find these things out.

You have to do it! Let’s start build that house!

But how then?

A new network

I have created a network in East Africa/northern Europe called Video Art Online. The humble beginning is only a well-connected network in a Facebook group since it has been important to keep the project as accessible as possible, even for those who may not have the best internet connection. There are a couple of obvious objectives to this.

The aim of Video Art Online is mainly artistic. Those who search an academic view on arts and the way to create, may find this elsewhere. Not said that an academic view is useless, but the goal is to develop artists — not critics.

Another aim is to challenge our way to look at and to create art. Most of us, either you are born in Africa or Europe, are educated in a Western tradition, and we tell stories by Western tradition. and because of that we mostly listen and watch stories from a Western tradition.

The third aim of Video Art Online is to connect artists around the world. In the beginning we start with my own contacts from East Africa and Northern Europe. Participants are former students of mine, or artist I think may gain from this kind of network. Networks are always good and exchange programs are fruitful by nature.

People who meet and talk about their mutual interests will develop in these areas. We may be living in different contexts, working with different stuff, studying different topics, but when we join up in a shared artistic drive, it will lead to wonders.

Cell phone filmmaking

Another less obvious objective is something that I want to share, and that get us back to the first part of this article. Most of us have — or know someone who has — the equipment needed to create movies already in their pocket: the cell phone camera!

I have myself created video art that has toured the world, shot simply by my very old and very cheap cell phone. (There have even been some feature length films shot merely by cellphones, e.g. An Extraordinary Study in Human Degradation. And some of them have even won awards and made the makers celebrities … if that’s what you’re after).

Step One when creating with your cellphone camera, is to remember that your creation does not have to look like films you have seen on film analysis courses or at the theatre. Your film should look like your film.

The most common story is one with a beginning, a middle and an end. Try to do something else. Try to shoot only the middle part of a story.

Step Two is to let go of all the rules you learnt at that scriptwriting course and start to use the rules as tools in a later phase of your filmmaking. Oppose the common demand of context, sequence and consistence in your story.

Step Three is to start from where you are: If you don’t have an editing station, try to make a short film — let’s say 1-3 minutes — in one shot.

And if it’s easier for you, give yourself a theme: Love, runners, faces, or anything! It doesn’t really matter how you name it.

Finally, you should constantly bear in mind that your most valuable capital is your ideas. Don’t walk the safe way — walk a new way. You cannot dig a new hole by digging the same hole deeper.

Robin Färdig is a Swedish director and writer for film & theater; continously travelling the world to make art, and to lecture in the areas of creativity, content and storytelling. He considers Uganda to be his second home. He can be contacted by email: robinfardig at gmail dot com.