There are a few possible directions for a documentary film. When the idea for my FMP was initially conceived, I was considering making a more information-heavy film, talking to specialists, digging deep into the topic of Creative Commons, copyright, rights management in music, independent music production, etc. I was discussing my first ideas with lecturers, and of course depending on their own interests, they were suggesting various directions. I was assured I can be put in touch with influential people from the industry, to get their view, commentary, etc. I was looking at films such as PressPausePlay and Cry Baby: The Pedal that Rocks the World, for inspiration in the music documentary genre. However, the more I dug into this, the more I felt reluctant to go in this direction.
The truth is if I had made a film like this, it would have not been my voice. It would have been one more voice saying ‘yes that’s so true’ and voicing the opinions of the old, traditional, music producers and label owners, people from the industry terrified by the rise of the digital era, and looking at the processes with the ‘old’ in mind. I didn’t want to critique the digital music scene, especially from the outside. I decided I wanted to dig deeper into what is happening now, to see the good sides, the positive trends and, ultimately, to express my view as a dedicated fan and user. I didn’t want to make a film just because that was the ‘trendy’ type of film to make – I wanted to make a film because I feel like it.
One suggestion I heard (I think again from a lecturer) was to ‘simplify’ the idea, and to give it more human identity. Indeed, my early notes were looking too random and unfocused, trying to say too many things. What this suggestion helped me to do was to focus my idea, to make a more ‘portrait’-like film – looking at one specific case study, and then extend and give relevant examples.
I was considering the observational documentary style – following a specific event, or trying to show as much action as possible, only being a spectator in it. Due to my lack of experience and limited resources, I figured that would be too risky, and had the potential to not work at all. What is more, after the much-needed ‘recce’ I made last August (when I just went to Varna for a few hours to meet with Mitko), I found out there was nothing to ‘show’ there. All he does happens on a computer, in a very techie kind of software interface, which is not only visually boring, but it can also be annoying for the viewer to be staring at a screen that is showing another screen.
A variation of the ‘portrait’ idea was to introduce Mitko as a character and let the audience inside his world, his day-to-day life, etc. One big problem with this idea was the fact I didn’t have easy access to Varna – meaning I couldn’t get to know his surroundings and day-to-day life well enough to do this authentically. I did, however feel like the idea of showing him ‘at work’ in his day job might have worked – he works in traffic lights maintenance which would have been a nice visual touch, trying to relate it to the engineering in music. The problem, of course, was that I couldn’t afford to spend so much time in Varna, and, what is more, I didn’t want to intrude in his life that much. There was a big risk of making a film ‘how freaky this person is’ which is the last thing I want to do, but is a big risk when you’re inexperienced. What is more, I’ve found my weakest point is visual storytelling, so I was going to struggle on my own, and I didn’t seem to have a good Director / DoP to join in.
So both because of logistics, but also for purely editorial reasons, it was decided the film would be a simple interview. I wanted to make the interview work, and if there could be more to it, to build upon it – but start off small and simple. This would allow me to still have the chance to introduce Mitko’s character, to tell a few stories if possible, and to have a strong enough point.
Now that the film is finished, I can try and analyse what worked and what didn’t and why.
I think the strongest point in the film is told in the sound tracks. Not only because the interview is there – the music is telling a story and helping ‘chapterise’ the film nicely. It also sets the pace and directs the viewer’s attention to specific points, helps keep the viewer in the right mood, sets the atmosphere, etc. In my opinion, it was a ‘defect turned into effect’ when it was decided to put a ‘seawaves’ looping file throughout the whole film. It almost feels meditative at times – when the music is calm and relaxed, and quiet enough to hear the waves.
In terms of story, the film starts off by stating facts and figures, but it soon starts to develop a character. There are a few nice touches to the way Mitko describes certain things – his passion music, his attitude towards his job, his opinion on copyright protection, his ‘to-the-point’ views on the business models… One of my concerns in going ahead with the project was that these people might be disconnected from reality, living in their own fantasy world where everything is free and peaceful, until they enter the big bad world. It turned out though they are living in the present, they are very much aware of what is happening – one might say, they have extreme awareness – and they have also managed to find their own spot there. It’s not a disconnection from reality – quite the opposite really – they are seeing the world as it is, and then trying to have their own spot where they fit and feel good. Instead of complaining about problems in digital music production and distribution, they’ve made this the central point in their lives. What is more, they are helping others ‘see the truth’, so they can embrace this reality.
The weakest point in the film are the visuals. No doubt. They are there just to ‘document’, there are weird cutaways that rarely make a point, some of them barely fit the style of the film… The result of not enough understanding and not enough research and preparation.