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Jane Campion's Workshops # 4 – Participants Speak

Jane Campion, Circa Theatre 4 November 2013

My capacity to report my perceptions of Jane Campion's workshops was limited. So I asked some mates about their responses (plus Steve Barr because I enjoyed his tweet, below). I sent three questions–
Why did you go to the Jane Campion masterclass (this was before I understood why Jane Campion called these workshops)? Which session(s) did you choose? What did you get from it (them)?
And yes, the last one is a typical eight year old's birthday question: 'Whaddya get?' Embarrassing.

I was interested that those who responded to my call for help are those I think of primarily as writers and/or theatre workers, not those I think of primarily as filmmakers.

Many thanks to these kind people, here in alphabetical order, linked to their Twitter accounts if they have them. And thanks to the person who missed the No Cameras message and took the photo of Jane Campion onstage at Circa. I was at first ambivalent about including it. But it's already out there on the net and it gives you an idea of what the stage looks like; and of Jane's engagement with us, her seriousness within her play and her laughter.

I went to Jane's session on directing and writing for artists with some experience of making. I was most taken with her presence – an absolute attentiveness to the room and an aliveness to possibility – be that a profound revelation, question or a joke (at which she laughed freely and joyously.) Such a great sense of play whilst being grounded and meaningful. Very affecting.

Benedict Reid
Why did I go? As a writer, the best way to improve my craft is to write. However, I also think it’s important to take every opportunity to learn from other people’s experience (which is why I listen to podcasts such as The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith, UK Scriptwriters, The Tobolowsky Files, On the Page and BBC Books and Authors). When you get the opportunity to learn from someone who has made so many great pieces of film/tv, you have to take that opportunity... you’d be crazy not to.

I went to the first two sessions. I didn’t go to the third session partly because it was a difficult day to take that many hours off work, but also because I was more interested in the writing than the directing.

What did I get out of the sessions? I suppose the main thing I got was a reiteration of 'Nobody knows anything'... but it was interesting to once again see a successful writer/director talk about the fine line that needs to be walked in order to allow for useful collaborations to happen, while still remaining firmly attached to your own vision for the project.
I actually tweeted the 3 most interesting things I think Jane said. Of course I’m working off my notes, so I’m paraphrasing but they were–

1. Creativity is fun that everyone can do. Add discipline and you're an artist.

I wrote that one down because it’s so true. There are so many 'creative' people who don’t quite understand the need for discipline in order to have their creativity flourish.

2. In answer to the question 'Is there a book on directing/writing I would recommend?' Jane recommended that people learn by heart a new poem every week.

I wrote that down, not because it’s advice that I intend to take... but because it struck me as the sort of advice which is perfect for Jane herself. I can really see the poetry in many of her character, plot and shot choices. It was the sort of advice which some people would dismiss (and I admit I saw a few eyes roll when she said it), and yet it goes to the very heart of Jane’s craft. In order to get the best out of Jane’s workshops, I believe that you needed to understand this answer.

3. Everyone here wants to know if they're good enough to do this. I think it's important to say, you just never know.

I wrote this down because of its multitude of meanings. Jane probably spoke for a minute or two on this topic, but all the possible meanings remained. It could mean, if you don’t do it, you’ll never know.
Jane made it clear that she meant it to mean that however long you write/direct/create, it’s likely that the nagging feeling that you’re not good enough will remain. Every writer whose work I like seems to have this feeling of being an imposter, and it was good to hear Jane express it too. I loved the implication that we were seeking permission to write/direct. I see many people doing this. Particularly, but not only, women. And the fact is, no one has the right to tell you that you should create. There are people who can help you access an audience, or access money. But that’s a totally different thing from giving you permission to pursue a creative life.

Bianca Zander
Jane Campion is a legend, one of the few directors in the world to produce work that is truly from a female perspective. She doesn't just have strong female characters, she unapologetically presents the world through women's eyes. Top of the Lake is a brilliant example. It's so unsettling to watch, and I believe the main reason for that is we are so unused to experiencing a story from the female perspective.

I went to the first two masterclasses on writing and directing. I was hoping to get some tips for my own practice, and to feel inspired. What I got was far more profound: I found a role model, filling a vacancy I didn't know was there. Jane Campion is exactly 20 years older than me, and exactly the kind of woman I'd like to be in 20 years time. In her commitment to creative practice but equally to life, her confidence and her refusal to bow to bitterness (which she rightly mentioned is a hazard of a long career in the film industry), she is profoundly inspiring. She was open, honest and extremely generous in sharing the wisdom and experience she has gained from such a long career. I also loved her mane of hair and the way she swore like a sailor. Both were symbolic to me of her refusal to conform to how women of her age and standing are expected to appear and behave.

I flew down from Auckland to attend, and am so glad I did. Thank you, Jane Campion, for the life-changing experience of attending your masterclass.

Melissa Dopp
The gifts I received from Jane Campion's classes–

1. Apply the concept of ‘negative capability’ to everything in life. Embrace and let the mystery lead you.
2. Although it's complicated and can take a lifetime, figure out what your purpose is.
3. Build resilience to criticism.
4. Memorise a poem every week because poems are vehicles for holding a mystery; poems can live within you.
5. Don't be in a rush to enter the film industry; come to it fully thought.
6. Sharpen your capacity to ‘really’ see the world.
7. Reduce and distill everything into its essence to produce alchemy.
7. Teach yourself but also collaborate with others.
8. Incorporate play and playfulness within your creative process.
9. Create a set that is first and foremost sensitive towards actors and their vulnerability.
10. Jane Campion has a great sense of humor. If she wasn't directing films, she would probably make an excellent psychotherapist.

Pip Adam
As a fiction writer I find it really helpful to look to other forms, especially ones I don't quite understand, to try and untangle and challenge this thing we call 'story'. I feel like some of the most interesting experiments in narrative are taking place in television. I've always loved Campion's work and this year I found myself absolutely obsessed with the way Top of the Lake told its story. I loved the way it set itself up in a well-trodden genre (police procedural) and then proceeded to break a lot of the conventions of that genre. I'm really interested in narrative and how we can tell stories in ways that mess with a dominant narrative structure (event, climax, resolution) - I'm also interested in whether we can do that at all. So I guess I went in the hope of learning something about how Campion goes about telling a story.

I went to the first session of the day - Starting Out. I got so much from the morning. For starters I was really surprised at what a buoyant bunch of people the film and TV community are. I loved the way, in the foyer, everyone was talking to each other. I'm always really jealous of the collaboration that takes place in film and TV. There was a real air of optimism, there seemed to be a lot of people talking about things they were making happen themselves. We're at such an interesting moment in media production and it seemed really present in the room.

I learnt heaps from the session. Right from the get go. I enjoyed listening to Campion's ideas on teaching, of sharing a state of inquiry with people rather than 'teaching'. I found her ideas on poetry extremely helpful as well. I loved the idea that poetry and film were linked. I'm taking on her idea of learning a poem by heart each week. I think my take-away idea, the one that keeps resurfacing, was a comment she made about structuring a narrative around, 'the next thing I find interesting'. I've always tried to break dominant structure with more structures. Like, if the dominant structure is 'time goes forward', I've imposed on myself the rule 'time goes backward'. I loved the thought of a freer approach. I'm writing something at the moment. I've finished what looks like the first chapter, and I was in a state of, now, what does the reader need to know next to build this story? What is the next thing that we do in a book? But after Monday, I'm thinking a lot more along the lines of, 'What's the next thing of interest to me about this story?' I liked her comment that, people will always make story, I think she said something like, 'I got up this morning' as an example of how people will rush to put drama and story around that. What I'm left interested in is the power we give up as story-tellers if we let people make up that story.

It was an extremely inspiring day. In the way the best of these things do, it changed the way I see things. Jane Campion was extremely generous and I learnt heaps. I felt really optimistic leaving.

Steve Barr

Jane is part of NZ film royalty and I've enjoyed her projects, so I was hoping I could learn more about how she thinks and what her creative process is. I tend to think in terms plot and structure before character, and she seems to think in terms of character before plot and structure, so I was eager to see how she comes up with her ideas and then makes them work on the screen.

She has also gotten some great performances out of young people, which is a lot harder than it looks, so I was eager to learn how she did it.

I went to the second and third sessions. I learned about her personality and her way of thinking about things, though I'm not sure I learned many practical techniques from her process. The tone was fun and easygoing (which was great) but I would have loved it if there was a bit more structure, and more of an emphasis on practical storytelling/filmmaking techniques.

But to be fair, that's my own bias at play - I'm a pragmatic, process-oriented guy. I'm not saying I'm disappointed about what Jane gave us, just that I had different expectations based on how the sessions were described. Jane was very clear in the third session that she's not a teacher, and I'm guessing that she could have gotten performance anxiety if she thought of it like a master-class lecture, so I'm happy that she used a format that was comfortable for her. I'm happy to take what she was generous enough to give.

Vanessa Rhodes
I went to the masterclass because since I was a teenager and saw An Angel at My Table I have seen Jane Campion as an inspiration, as a woman with a strong unique voice, a creative 'force' and also I guess as someone 'from here'. I had a knee jerk reaction that I had to go! I went to the performance session and in retrospect would have loved to be there all day!

I got a huge amount just from that hour long session. She is a breath of fresh air and is such a strong female voice and so unapologetic as she should be for her vision. The things discussed could be applied to any creative field however I connected as a performer and writer/playwright in particular. 'Listening to the body' was something that struck me, versus the mind that can play tricks on us or convince us of anything. Looking inward versus outward for the creative answer. Was in the midst of watching Top of the Lake when did masterclass and was great to relate her words to what I was seeing as an end product. I liked the way she described recognising some limitations she had early on in her career and doing what she needed to address them/get skills she needed. The feeling I was left with was of 'action' versus passivity. Through the poetry people read and her energy she seemed to be saying both literally and on some other unseen level 'no more waiting'. A voice for the 'unfuckables', the tribe of women in 'paradise'.

The rest of the posts, with one more to come, over at Throat of These Hours

Sharing The Love (the workshop announcement)


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