Director creates film following the history of experimental cinema
It was the result of a light-saber battle between two LSU professors, combined with students getting pulled over on their way to New Orleans, all seen from iPods and View-Masters. The mission? Create a non-traditional film.
The film, South of Lost, premiered at the LSU HopKins Black Box Theatre January 23 and gained immense popularity among its viewers in the mere two nights it was featured.
The film follows six characters as they create a movie. The audience gets to see how their lives work on and off set. South of Lost’s creator Joey Watson, a PhD candidate in Communication Studies, describes it as a “film within a film” as the plot revolves around the making of a movie.
Several LSU students in Communication Studies and interested in film participated in the cast and crew for the movie, along with students from the University of New Orleans, the University of Memphis, and New York University.
The way the film was presented, however, is equally as important as its plot. The film pulls from the history of experimental cinema, as it utilizes old and new technology such as cell phone, digital video, VHS, 16mm, and 8mm cameras.
The presentation relied on outside sources to complete its task to remain nontraditional. There was an actor posing as an usher present in the theatre audience who added to the experience. During the light-saber fight scene, the screen went blank forcing the usher to reveal he was projecting the movie from his iPhone, but had to answer a text message. The remainder of the scene was displayed through a View-Master.
Another scene Watson uses as an example, is when the characters are about to get pulled over while driving to New Orleans. Instead of the typical blue and red lights flashing behind them, a projector flashed the infamous lights on the wall opposite the movie screen.
“Certain media would interrupt,” Watson said. “It was meant to disrupt but also to supplement.”
Watson also used different cinematic techniques such as holding longer camera shots to test the audience’s patience.
“There were things done to disrupt your traditional movie-going experience with the live actor, the iPod, an occasional blank screen,” Watson said. “There is something that’s lost in the individual experience now. We are removed from it.”
Watson noted the difference of how we view media, with all of the options available—cell phones, iPods, computers, and television.
“It all comes back to how we watch media today,” he said. “It made people think. It made people contemplate how they watch media. At the end of the day I wanted that contemplation to happen.”
Watson recalled movie-going experiences from his life and from history, noting the change in the experience itself because of media interruptions.
“I go to the movies and I get nostalgic,” he said. “There are commercials, trailers, and reminders to silence our cell phones. Going to the movies will always be an experience with the popcorn and candy and seeing a film with a bunch of people.”
Watson mentioned the different media and the feeling involved when watching a movie in the theatre, at home, on an iPod, with friends, or alone.
“There is some content that fits a larger audience and some that doesn’t,” he said. “Sometimes it might just be the size of the screen.”
With the movie’s title and style, Watson paid homage to director Robert Altman by using a style that is rarely seen in films today.
“Robert Altman is dead and his style is dead,” Watson said. “We’ve lost these things.”
Like many film enthusiasts, Watson appreciates the form of the late director. Altman was known for betraying traditional direction in movie making. While he directed more than 50 films, documentaries, and television shows, Altman is remembered for his 1970 movie, M*A*S*H, and his 2002 film, Gosford Park.
Gosford Park was noted as one of Altman’s best films as it won an Oscar for Best Writing in Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. In 2006, Altman directed A Prairie Home Companion—a movie following characters backstage during the last broadcast of a radio show. A Prairie Home Companion was Altman’s last film, and Watson was going for a similar plot effect with South of Lost.
“There is a huge sense of loss in the film itself,” he said. “There is that element that something along the way has been lost in film-making and film-going. It is somewhere non-directional.”
Watson said he experimented with the content of the film by including controversial content such as sacrilegious humor and explicit language. Those attempts, however, went unnoticed by the audience.
“The only thing people really were bothered by was how it was presented,” Watson said. “Since the presentation was so different, I guess the content becomes secondary.”
The HopKins Black Box Theatre, located at 137 Coates Hall, is part of the Department of Communication Studies. It has a full season of public performances and is home to many undergraduate and graduate courses in performance studies.
“There are usually live performances there,” Watson said. “This type of multimedia fashion was different for the space, but it was still experimental work.”
South of Lost is Watson’s eleventh film, but it is his first experimental piece. His previous work is commercial, fictional, and traditional.
“I wanted to play,” Watson said. “When you’ve made movies the traditional way, you get shackled by it creatively. I could experiment and play a little more and didn’t have to worry about money or all the normal things I usually have to. It was completely liberating.”
Watson received his bachelor’s and master’s degree at the University of Memphis before working in Los Angeles in the film industry. Once he arrived at LSU to begin work on a PhD and soon recognized the need for a student space and was given permission to put a classroom together. What came of it was a space in Coates Hall known as Studio 151—not a classroom or a lab, but something more.
“I wanted it to be a place where students come, hang out, and have access to different resources,” he said. “It has been really neat. It seems like the original ethos is coming back to the students. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Studio 151 gives Communication Studies students an area to collaborate with friends and teachers on projects and assignments. Students are given access to various types of equipment and assistance.
There are talks of viewing South of Lost again, but possibly on a smaller scale in Studio 151. Watson’s colleagues are urging him to enter the film in this year’s National Communication Association Convention so it can be recognized in the communication field.
Watson teaches Film and Media Arts and taught a special topics course on Oliver Stone during intersession. During spring break, he has plans to travel to Italy and create a film based on experimental pieces inspired by Italian film director Federico Fellini. Watson also has to finish work for his PhD.
“Of course I still have to go to classes and do the work. All of my side projects and films don’t supplement the work,” he said. “I’m still a student, and I can’t forget about papers.
Holly Phillips | Writer | Office of Communications & University Relations