As an artist and producer, I work in many media – digital filmmaking, photography, critical and creative writing – but despite the mode of address and the tools I am employing to create, it often seems to come down to one thing for me: the strength of the narrative. To produce a media message is to tell a story. In even the most experimental and avant-garde works, a narrative is at work – it’s likely an unconventional narrative, one created through a partnership between the audience and the artist, but it’s still a sort of “sense-making” attempted on both sides. It’s a meeting of intention (or lack of) and interpretation.
I work most extensively in digital cinema only because I feel it is the medium through which I am best equipped to tell the kinds of stories I wish to tell. My obsession with the fundamentals of storytelling has manifested itself not only in my production work, but also in my research interests in oral histories and evolving narratives, particularly in Irish culture, and in multiple-perspective media production.
Risk-taking, for me, is the most enjoyable aspect of working in production. The potential for falling on your face, or for making something no one has seen that really works, provide for me the rush of creating. I make the pieces I make because no one else is producing them, and I want to see if they’ll work, and what I can learn from making them. This is the Godardian spirit of fearlessness (but note – I’m not comparing myself to him, just marking that he’s an inspiration). This isn’t to say that I put the audience completely out of my mind. But at a certain point I surrender the concept of the audience to the piece, and let the work become what it is to become.
I think that every artist should consider his/her relationship to his/her tools. I am as much a tech-nerd as one can be – I enjoy experimenting with all of the newest cameras and post-production processes. But while the fashionable declaration seems to be that “technology is just a tool,” I think there’s much more to it than that. The invention of still cameras changed painting and portraiture and prompted a focus on the idea of “capturing the moment” that also changed what people decided to paint. And going even further back, the introduction of the paint tube enabled the rise of landscape painting because painters could go outside into any environment. The tool will not take over the process or the work, but it can certainly change who chooses to create media (this is one reason the democracy of digital media is so exciting), and how those people approach their processes. For example, on the narrative films that I direct, I allow the actors to diverge from the scripts and improvise entire takes, because the low cost and flexibility of digital cinema allows for that. Creativity responds to opportunity, and ever-evolving technologies contribute to providing that opportunity.
And so perhaps it can be reduced to that – as a media artist, I exercise my creativity in search of, in facilitation of, and in response to opportunity. The opportunity comes in many forms. Sometimes, it’s the opportunity to experiment with a new process, technique, or technology. Or it could be the opportunity to comment on something about which I feel passionate, as in my narrative feature, Everything Went Down, which presents a strong case for the value of music and art therapies. Sometimes, it is the opportunity to look at something with an outside perspective, as in my photo essay, Stealing Ireland, which uses specific compositional and color-corrective strategies to separate the tourist vision of the Irish landscape from “the real thing” (whatever that is). Or it could be the opportunity to answer questions, as in my anthology of short films, Firinne: Searching for Ireland, which seeks to discover what informs the contemporary Irish identity through inquisitions about the church, immigration, art and information, and decades of violence and political turmoil. Or it might be the opportunity to investigate an unusual subculture, like my documentary Laptop, which took me into the colorful world of club-based live digital music performance. I also make work to further explore my own creative processes, as in my cinema-centered web series Film versus Film, and the two books I’ve written, which focus on techniques and philosophies of media production (Producing for TV and New Media), and on acting for the stage and screen (Conversations with Kathleen Turner).
Opportunity presents itself to the person with an open mind. And that’s what I strive to have as a media creator – I hope that through my work I can come to understand the world in which I live, and as a result, live better.