~ technique ~

Marc Neys in front of the camera: The Swoon interviews

I visited Marc Neys this past July mostly for a social visit. We’d really hit it off the year before at the Filmpoem Festival in Dunbar, Scotland. Also, I’m a big fan of strange beers and Medieval history, and Belgium has plenty of both. (See my photo essay at Via Negativa, “Embodied Belgium.”)

But I certainly didn’t want to let the week go by without filming the filmmaker and getting Marc to talk about how he makes his videopoems. After all, he’s one of the most productive poetry filmmakers in the world right now; his work as Swoon is inescapable at international poetry film festivals, not to mention at Moving Poems.

Fortunately, Marc was game. I originally thought I would make a single, twenty-minute video — I’d shoot a couple hours’ worth of footage, then edit and condense the hell out of it. The problem is that Marc really had a lot of interesting things to say, and what I’ve ended up with instead is a 42-minute documentary split into four, semi-independent sections. These can be watched in any order, I think. I’ve put them all into an album on Vimeo for easy linking and sharing.

I’ve also added closed captioning to each of the four videos, as I do with all Moving Poems productions these days, to make them as accessible as possible — but also to facilitate translating. If anyone would like to translate the videos into other languages, please get in touch. Vimeo will host and serve as many subtitle files as we want to upload.

Swoon on Sound

Marc explains how he creates the soundscapes he uses in his videopoems and other projects, despite not being a musician. He then takes us up into the bell tower of the cathedral in Mechelen, Belgium, famed for its massive carillon.

Swoon at Home

Where the handle Swoon comes from, and why Marc’s home and city double as a film set for many of his videopoems.

Swoon’s Secrets to Filming No-Budget Videopoems

If you only have time to watch one of these, watch this one. Marc lays out his basic DIY approach to making art, talking about the usefulness of water footage and other home-made filter effects, filming to music, cheap editing software, and more.

Swoon on finding a new angle in videopoetry composition

Marc talks about a new direction he’s recently taken: composing videopoems with the poem in text on the screen rather than in the soundtrack. Along the way, he talks about the influence of theater and classic film, and why he never follows scripts and works mostly by instinct.

What comes first, the video or the poem?

…The videopoet’s version of the chicken-and-egg question. I was discussing this with my fellow amateur videopoet Brenda Clews over at a new online community site called Writing Our Way Home, where Brenda set up a videopoetry group, and I thought I’d pose the question here, too. Brenda wrote:

Do you plan out beforehand what you might create a videopoem out of, and then go looking for footage? Or do you take what you find and make something out of it?

I am fully in the latter camp, working with ‘found’ images, sort of ‘oh that looks good, can I videotape it, & then what can I do with this footage?’ though think to try to storyboard a little might be good just to see what that might produce.

My reply is a bit long-winded, but I guess it boils down to “sort of”:

I rarely plan anything in advance, and when I do, it doesn’t tend to work. For example, for that Egyptian poem, I thought it might be cool to start with some footage of the front of my woodburner, which has an isinglass window with bars on it — I thought the image of flames dancing behind steel bars would be interesting and suggestive. It wasn’t. Instead, I decided to make my first documentary-style videopoem, without hopefully getting unbearably literal: for example, when the poem says, “From Tunisia, to Egypt, to Lebanon and Yemen,” it would’ve been cheesy to flash shots of each of those countries — but I still had to do something to suggest movement. And I was pleased when, during my playing around with juxtapositions, images of police soaking a crowd with a water cannon coincided with the line about people becoming as combustible as dry wood.

But that was a rare-for-me example of a videopoem done on assignment. Usually I am working with my own footage in an ekphrastic manner: watching the raw footage prompts a poem — maybe right then, maybe a week later. When I’m satisfied with the text, I record and edit the audio. Then I start cutting video to fit and looking for other sounds or music to fill out the soundtrack. It is usually at this point that I become acutely conscious of my limitations as a visual artist…

I’d love to hear from other videopoets on this.