Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Art Of Collaboration - some thoughts

They say writing novels is a lonely pursuit. Well in an age of digital and self-publishing this is no longer true. There are a myriad of online writing communities, where you can get craft, publishing and technical advice or trial your work. With social media you get to converse with your readers before they buy your book, as they buy it (since they can just share the fat of their Amazon purchase with one click, while I've had people tweet a photo of my front cover), while they're reading it I've three people reading my short stories who are tweeting to me about them as they progress through the book) and finally of course when they've finished reading and want to continue the engagement either through a review or just talking to you about it. If like me you can't even draw stickmen, then you'll need to reach out to a designer to design your book cover for you. While if you want a bespoke website but have no coding skills, again like me, then you need to collaborate with a web designer.

So digital publishing is the age of interaction and collaboration. Earlier this year I collaborated with Pixel Pixie Design on a video reading of one of my flash fiction stories, seeking to tell a story in a different way. We're about to launch into our second collaborative project making a second video.

I've been used to collaborating, since I formerly wrote plays for the stage. There I had the privilege of attending all rehearsals, doing the warm up games with the actors, participating in the impro tasks as the director found ways for them to discover their characters, without laying down too many pre and pro-scriptions. It was a real skill to allow everyone to bring their own creativity to the production, rather than just impose one person's vision. There may well have been things I wanted to say about the interpretation of 'my' play, but I didn't interrupt the process. I would never bring them up directly with the actors and only rarely would I have a sidebar chat with the director to feed in my input. I may have written the script, but the actors had to bring it alive up on stage and I felt it best to trust to their abilities rather than impose my own views. Any playwright who feels precious about every word that they write, ought to bear in mind that an actor may trip up over a word or line and just never get it right, for no logical reason at all. Then the writer just has to let the line go. If that can happen to any line in the play, then you realise that nothing is so precious as to be ring-fenced from being cut. There may be no rhyme or reason to it, but that's just how things can shake out.

What my theatre experiences taught me was it's vital to allow every creative partner the space to bring their talents and vision to the project. That way you maximise the chances for full synergy, that is the finished piece being greater than the original conception and bigger than the sum of the different creative parts that came together to produce it. I may have written a text, Pixel Pixie may have animated design skills, but hopefully the synthesis of our skills forged a piece that became more than a short story and more than a kinetic typography video. The kinetic typography would hopefully bring out things in the story less accessible to being read in print. While the text would hopefully inform and reinforce just why kinetic typography was being used as the medium and make the letters on screen resonate with meaning.

But that creative space for each to pitch in is hard to define. Unless you're all sat round a table with a blank piece of paper at the beginning, (less and less likely in these days of virtual communication), the someone will probably initiate the process with the concept. I had written my story and had a vision of how it would look in kinetic typography. And it can be hard to relinquish 'ownership' and throw it completely open to your partners to do what they will with it. I'm sure that the whole spectrum of creative working relationships exists, from the person with the brief so detailed and the control freakery to prevent their partner from deviating from a single detail, through to the person with a grain of an idea who turns to their partner and asks them to go away and magically conjure the whole finished piece. Clearly the ideal is somewhere between those two stifling poles.

There exists a further issue, that of different creative artists not speaking the same language in order to communicate their take on things and their vision. I can't even draw convincing stickmen with pen and paper, let alone wield any design software programmes. And yet the process with Pixel Pixie was without hiccup. The initial brief was no more than 6 lines long, and then the full 275 word text itself. There was a process of initial emails where we were just feeling around to understand each other's approach and conception. And language. Pixel asked me about fonts and colours, but I was keen for her to bring her own ideas to that. We talked about a voiceover of the story, but I explained I felt that since the piece is about the breakdown of language and the ability to recall words (due to developing asphasia), we needed to show the actual breakdown of words and their transformation into other words visually. We talked about morphing and transitions as I gradually learned the concepts involved in Pixel's art and she learned about how the story worked conceptually beyond the words that she was to transform and animate. Finally we talked about imagining the viewing experience for an audience not greatly exposed to this relatively new way of telling a story. (Most kinetic typography videos are either infographics for a product or service, or use song lyrics or film dialogue that are well know already).

So after these initial getting to know your art stages, Pixel Pixie went away and created! It was the equivalent of a first draft of any author's manuscript, only way more realised and closer to the final version. The points we discussed on this first draft were already about details, rather than overall conception. We did talk about colour, agreeing that the basic colour scheme was correct, but that it could just be broken up a bit more in places with other colour effects. The fonts we left untouched. The exciting thing was not only had Pixie Pixel come up with the 'doodle' images in the piece, but that these sparked off suggestions from both of us of other ones we could add. The sparking off of a creative partner you just don't get working on your own. Some of these image suggestions were tried, but I always couched them with the caveat if they proved too difficult technically, or messed up the transition, then to drop them as ideas. My training from the actors corpsing in rehearsals standing me in good stead. Indeed there was one really nice image idea we tried but had to abandon as it just didn't work into feeding into the next frame.

A second draft required very few changes, the third draft was for the soundtrack and we didn't make a single change to that. The fourth and final draft was for the credits and in the space of 11 days the video was complete from its starting blank screen. Even when it was finished, the swapping of ideas didn't end there. I asked about how she went about finding and applying the 'doodle' images as such information will inform my side of things for the next kinetic typography project we will hopefully collaborate on later in the year.

Here's the fruitful result of my collaboration with Pixel Pixie Design:


ganymeder said...

What an interesting project!

I do really enjoy the creative burst of a group collaboration. Your story ends up going places you'd never foreseen. :)

Sulci Collective said...

ooo many thanks Katherine xx