Third Angel presents
Devised & Directed by Oliver Bray, Christopher Hall & Rachael Walton
Camera: Dominic Green
Sound: Luke Pietnik
Production Assistant: Matt Sturdy
Collaborating Producer (University of Sheffield): Professor Peter Totterdell
General Manager (Third Angel): Hilary Foster
Funded by ESRC Grant EROS (RES-060-25-0044)
Funded by ESRC Grant EROS (RES-060-25-0044)
Back in 2004 we started collaborating with Peter Totterdell and Christine Sprigg, (amongst others) at the Institute of Work Psychology at the University of Sheffield, on the research project Karoshi. Some of the work that came out of that collaboration is discussed in detail in the lecture Testing the Hypothesis, here.
The conversation has continued, with regular (if not as frequent as we would all like) coffee meetings to discuss what we're all up to. Recently Peter asked us if we would like to make something in response to the themes of his current research into emotion, specifically the content of his new book (edited with Karen Niven) Should I Strap a Battery to My Head? (And Other Questions About Emotion).
We were really pleased to have the opportunity, and making the film sat somewhere between an art/science collaboration and making a video commissioned by a client. It was great, too, to be able to invite Oliver Bray, who is currently working with us on The Machine, to be part of the process of making Happy?
The book and the film were launched at an Off the Shelf event earlier this month. Afterwards, Chris sent me over these thoughts on making the piece:
"I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language." Italo Calvino
In some of Third Angel's film work I try my utmost to do the same. Sometimes I've spoken of this as artifice or stylisation. The removal of all artifice from the language and structure of the film, so that the final piece feels as if it just happened, right there in front of the audiences eyes.
Sometimes these have been the most difficult piece to make and somewhat counter intuitively the most enjoyable.
Making Happy?, along with adapating the rich vein of content from the source material, the challenge for this film was capturing the performances from Oliver and Rachael. What you see in the final piece is the result of an intense, structured and rigourous devising, improvising and writing.
Asking Oliver and Rachael to repeat their performances, again and again and again, for the camera, often felt, from my point of view, as if I was undermining what they had just done, which I often thought was remarkable. But on the shoot we were finding new truths and rhythms that hadn't been there in the rehearsal room and I felt strongly that we should investigate these aspects of the piece fully on the day of the shoot.
Does it go without saying that we also had a great time on set? It wasn't all chin rubbing and earnest debate. Perhaps the biggest issue among the crew was not to allow our laughter to be heard off camera.
To paraphrase, sort of, a friend of Calvino's, Marcel Benabou from WhyI have not written any of my books. The other truth of what the shoot was like lies in the the rushes that weren't used. The multitude of alternate endings, the improvisations around tea that went on until one of the cameras switched itself off are all part of another film that hasnt been made.
Happy? is the film that we set out to make but to get there we discarded a great deal of weight, both in concept and in content.
This happens repeatedly in the film work (and the performance work). And it's one of many reasons that I love making films in general, and as part of Third Angel in particular.
And Peter Totterdell send me this about the project from their perspective:
Our reason for commissioning the film was that we wanted to capture some of the questions that are currently being tackled in research on emotion in a way that would be engaging for an audience. We had been collating some of this work for a new popular science book on emotion, so we simply gave some of the chapters from that book to Third Angel to use as source material. We then discussed the ideas with them as the film progressed.
"Happy?" highlights a number of themes and research studies concerning emotion, but hopefully in a way that adds to rather than interferes with the narrative. Being able to show how research relates to an everyday context, in this case the personal relationship of a couple, can help convey the relevance and significance of psychological research.
The film concerns interpersonal emotion regulation - in other words, the things we do and say to change how others feels. Our research has shown that people use a wide range of strategies to change how they and others feel but, as the film demonstrates, the things we do to make ourselves feel happy may not always work for other people. Interpersonal emotion regulation clearly is a skill that has an important bearing on our relationships and well-being.
Another aspect of psychological research captured in the film concerns emotion contagion, specifically whether we can catch other people's emotions from nonverbal signals such as facial expressions. The scene about holding a pen between your teeth was based on a lab study conducted in 1988 by Fritz Strack and colleagues, who discovered that participants found a cartoon more amusing when a smile was unknowingly induced in this way. As the film shows, emotions are not always as obliging in real-life.
The final scenes capture the to and fro of emotion dynamics in relationships. This complexity is nicely demonstrated in the schadenfreude (pleasure from the misfortune of others)experienced by one of the characters towards the end. It is also demonstrated in the shooting scene, which is likely to elicit mixed emotions (pleasure and pain) in the audience. Which of the those emotions dominates may depend on whose perspective they adopt.
Mainly though we just hope people enjoy the film and buy the book!
You can watch the film above, on Vimeo or on YouTube.