Adam Roberts

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Trims (working title) 2016

60 mins, digital, 1.78:1, colour

This is a project to recreate a specific but overlooked object, the residue of film-based editing - called a “trim reel”.

Ambitiously, it is also an exploration beyond structure, a rejection of the implicit hierarchy that is narrative, democratising images and moments, to posit an equality of the parts.

In the past, film cameras exposed rolls of negative film and from those negatives a print was made – which was then cut up and joined at will, to produce the “cutting copy”, the desired edited form of the film.

What was left would typically be stored as reels of joined up ‘trims’. These reels consisted of rejected or unused takes, as well as the heads and tails of shots that had been selected for the ‘cutting copy’. Here too would be found the actor fluffs, the action mistake, the clapper boards used to identify shots, snatches of director barks, glimpses of crew, shots with microphones in view and so on. But these trims also necessarily constituted a mirror form of the edited film, a negative cast as it were.

Though the trims themselves may be dismissed as mishaps, something to be discarded, the process of their selection is necessarily meticulous, if inadvertent. If the selected shots are carefully selected, so by logical implication are the trims. To look at the trim reel is to discover a looking glass world, an aspect of form turned inside out. I argue that trim reels reveal an aspect of the making of moving images – something out-of-awareness – film form’s dark matter, as it were.

I worked in commercial cutting rooms for many years, and generated many such trim reels. I would often run them looking for overlooked but useful shots or images. They made a deep impression on me. The reels were always discarded, defined as worthless. But the memory of these reels, full of unintentional comedy, image compositions, odd rhythms and impossible to repeat accident has lingered on, more so than the final finished films themselves, which were often of little note.

I now propose to recreate a trim reel, and place it before a public gaze.

To place this in another frame. ‘Disjecta membra’ is a Latin phrase meaning scattered fragments or remains, used generally to refer to surviving fragments of ancient poetry, manuscripts and other literary or cultural objects, including fragments of ancient pottery*. It is used to talk of statues missing arms, which are often then regarded as perfected by the absences. Absence is evocative. Form requires limit, and absence of a part signifies a limit.

Regarding hierarchy, the trim reel is in a sense ‘unedited’. The structuring of shots in the cutting copy reflects always a human desire to impose order, to travel towards an end point, to make sense. In a trim reel, the status of a detail or ‘cutaway’ is the same as the ‘master shot’ or ‘establishing shot’. An out of focus mistake, seen without other purpose in mind, can be more beautiful than one that is selected to play its part in the polished production. I reject the priority of face over hand, or body over landscape, or foreground action over that which is in the background.

The script for the project will be a discarded script project, written but never shot, called “Tunnelling’. Part of the script was shot, so as to create this typical trim reel.

(“Disiecti membra poetae”, from Horace’s Satire 1.4.62, meaning “limbs of a dismembered poet”)

script/direction/edit: Adam Roberts
director of photography: Elly Nakajima
camera assistant: Eve Marguerite
location sound: Keifer Taylor
art direction: Maria Shrigley