THE TAPE has been inactive. It was last seen covered in golden runes, bearing a message of warning. Those warnings were not heeded. The journey of the tape continues. In the second installment of this two-part series (read part one here), I will outline the process of creating the latest film.
THE TAPE, as you may know, is an ongoing correspondence between myself and Vvinni Gagnepain. Since 2009, we have been mailing a VHS tape back and forth in packages of ever-increasing complexity, each time adding an experimental short film to the tape. For the full background, you’ll want to read up on this collaboration in the archives: THE TAPE and on Vvinni’s blog: A Complicated Web of Paper and Lies. You can read Vvinni’s reaction to this latest film here: Missing.
Vvinni’s last video ended with a photograph of me and the caption “MISSING.” That was three years ago. The reason I couldn’t respond was because, in fact, I was missing, and I still am.
Powerful Magics was the logical terminus of the conversation we seemed to have established. The montage section functioned as an editorial symphony, beginning with a remix of a scene from The Room and passing through a series of movements comprising a survey of my extant work and others’ reactions to it. It left me with some complicated emotions. For one, it demonstrated a level of mastery in non-diegetic montage that is so far removed from my own work that it almost seems like a different language. Also, it’s flattering to know that somebody—anybody—has paid close enough attention to my work to be able to analyze it and pick it apart in such detail, but it bothered me to have my work so cleanly summed up in a few minutes of screen time. In one sense, Vvinni was right: there are certainly conventions that my films follow pretty consistently. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that Vvinni’s analysis was superficial, and ignored the stark, genuine honesty that I have been able to bring to my best work, justifying the existence of some otherwise pretty stylistically unremarkable movies.
I had begun to understand the overall arc of our dialog. It, to this point, had gone something like this:
- Andrew (I Got the Poops): Let’s have a conversation!
- Vvinni (In Fridge): Okay!
- Andrew (Happy Birthday, Murderer!): YOU.
- Vvinni (Powerful Magics): No, YOU.
I had two options: I could either deflect the conversation from myself and back at Vvinni (“Nuh-uh, YOU!”), or I could say “Okay… me.” I chose the latter approach, meaning that I would have to make… AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY. I’d never before considered doing an autobiography, because it seemed self-centered and indulgent. But what was THE TAPE if not self-centered and indulgent?
I knew I would have my work cut out for me, because every single volley in our conversation had grown more sophisticated and complex. We were speaking to each other in a coded language, and as we traded films, that language had begun to develop its own peculiar syntax. It was clear to me that this film, in order to be successful, would need to be deeply, almost inaccessibly personal.
My original plan involved a much more traditional narrative. Not long after receiving Powerful Magics, I began to write. But as I wrote, I found myself banging my head against the same old conventions that Vvinni had so easily identified in his montage. The script petered out, but I found myself intuitively shooting and collecting material for what would ultimately become Missing: a series of nesting episodes reflecting of the many ways in which I am both literally and figuratively lost.
I cut and recut. I shot a bunch of really great material, then my hard drive died and I lost most of it. By the spring of 2011, I felt close to a finished cut. Then everything changed, and I had to re-cut. I decided to add in some 16mm. More cutting. Everything changed again when I moved to Iowa. Finally, in December, I redoubled my efforts to finish Missing and mail THE TAPE once again. The film was too good to languish, mostly-finished, on an external hard drive. At its best, it goes farther towards explaining my creative impulse than anything else I have ever made. At its worst, it is an insulting caricature of the person I am trying very hard not to be.
The long process of producing this film coincided with a pivotal period of my life. I received Powerful Magics a few short months before graduating from college. I spent the next two years as an underemployed and personally unfulfilled freelancer, struggling with my own identity. I traveled across the country for no reason. I got a front-row seat to an awful tragedy. I wrote and directed a feature film. I had my heart broken more than once. I finished Missing a few short months after landing a steady job and moving to Sioux City. The years 2010 through 2012 were perhaps the most eventful, formative years of my life, and the ongoing production of Missing bears that out. Much as erosion eats away at soft stone to expose the intricate latticework of harder elements beneath, Missing now stands as a testament to my transformation over the course of these three sometimes traumatic, sometimes exhilarating years.
Showing Missing to anyone is frightening to me, let alone putting it up online. There are things in this film that I do not want anyone to know—sections that carry a great deal of personal meaning for me, but which nobody else—not even Vvinni—will ever understand.
But if you want, you can watch it below:
The film ends with a call to action—or perhaps a reckless dare?
What are you going to do?
I guess I’ll just have to wait and find out.