The Man Inside – Silent film re-edit Reflection

‘The Man Inside’ – a short comedy film about two ex spouses; Brian and Isobel whom are trapped in an elevator.

After shooting the film with my group, I was quite chuffed with the outcome of the footage and thought that it could definitely make a strong short film. However, when I had to choose an obstruction in which style to edit the film, I was quite confused at which would suit the story, genre and character.

However, after researching the different styles, I came to a conclusion to choose the Silent Film obstruction. Besides, silent films predominantly were associated with the comedy/romance genre, thus this meant that I could stick with the preferred genre. I firstly watched my film muted and noticed how I understood the story without much dialogue. The protagonists’ actions, gestures and facial expressions were quite explicit and therefore as I started editing I became more confident with my choice.

The original film lasted for around 7-8 minutes, however I managed to complete the re-edited version in 4 minutes. I deliberately erased a few unnecessary and long conversational scenes, as this would have made it difficult for the audience to grasp, hence being silent.

The story followed two ex spouses getting trapped in the lift, thereafter acknowledging each other’s presence, thus creating an awkward ambience. As time passed, Isobel confessed that they were trapped. With frustration and tension in the air, a maintenance lady finally spoke in the lift tannoy, reassuring that an Engineer was on his way to help. Meanwhile, there was a montage of shots portraying their long wait and polysemic views of their relationship. As the engineer arrived, I played around with his stupidity which added to the comedy. Finally the lift began working, where Brian came out with a hand on his right cheek. Connoting two meanings; either he’s been slapped or kissed. The film finished with him revealing his cheek, where we just about could see a stained, red lipstick kiss on his cheek. He smiled and walked away.

I re-arranged the sequences to fit the particular style. As silent films were fast paced, I quickened the story butsafetylaststillclock also increased the humour. One of my favourite scenes was the Engineer’s character. His actions and facial expressions were dramatised in a way in which pushed the comedy and had sparks of Harold Lloyds (Safety Last – 1923) character within him. That silly and clumsy persona shunned through, highlighting this humorous character whom brought ease to the tension. After watching the famous, iconic clock scene from Safety Last, I was mesmorised with the acting skills. The scene was packed with comedic sparks, leaving the audience filled with laughter, which was reinforced by Harold’s superb gestures and miming. Therefore I felt as if the Engineer’s character was perfectly mimed to simply fit the humour. When researching, I had found that acting was essential in silent films, due to no help of dialogue. And if actors over-acted to add comedy, they didn’t do well and thus their films were burnt.

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I rendered the footage so that the video became black and white, but also adjusted the contrast and brightness to create the perfect Silent film look. The use of black and white definitely created an old era, past cinema effect. To reinforce this style I added a film grain effect which I later reduced the opacity to merge both layers. These scratches and rough grain edges were popular with silence films, due to their lack of advance cameras. I kept in mind of how the cameras had a shaking effect and usually blots of dust. Therefore, I subtly also embedded separate photoshopped dust/dirt marks, such as; scratches, dust, splints, rips etc. These were spreaded out randomly across the video, thus giving a rigid, shaken visual and definitely a 1920’s feel.

“Since there wasn’t any recorded audio all silent era films had live music such as pianos or organists and sometimes even entire orchestras. This helped to set the mood, theme and setting of the story” The History of Silent Films

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Kitchen scene from ‘Cook Papa Cook’ (1928)

When researching silent films, I found that music was vital in the making. After watching the short film ‘Cook Papa Cook’ (1928) which I discovered was a lost film and transferred from a surviving print, I noticed how music definitely helped illustrate the genre. The montage scene where the father attempted to cook breakfast, was completely bizarre. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this film and the non-diegetic playful music definitely heightened the comedy. In reference to my edit, I preferably chose to use an upbeat, allegro piano instrumental piece, which heightened the comedy and reinforced the character’s actions. For example, the music helped drive the montage scene, creating a faster and bouncier paced illusion.

Due to the whole film being Silent, I didn’t completely want the dialogue to be muted, as some quotes were essential to be heard. Therefore, I created simple black title cards to illustrate the important pieces of dialogue. Consequently, this would help the audience understand the story better, but also gain more awareness on the characters personality. For example, with the engineer stating “oops, urrm, sorry” immediately would label him as quite clumsy, maybe childish, again providing a sense of character development. Besides stating the dialogue, I also wrote scene settings or narration to clarify the setting and a sense of time. For example, “2 hours later” kept the audience up to date.

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The font ‘Harrington’ was also carefully chosen, as it created an old typeface effect, which to an extent looked, handwritten, as silent films in the past tended to manually write out the text.

I was glad that the protagonists all emphasized their actions with either hand gestures or strong facial expressions. This was vital, as looking at the example of ‘The Great Train Robbery’ (1903), which followed the story of several heists happening under the roof of a moving train on a platform. The burglars’ facial expressions and actions definitely helped reinforce what was initially happening in the story, e.g. the gun firing scenes were exemplified with smoke and the men pointing. All these little peeks of personality gave the impression of character demographics, story and a much tighter comedic plot. With reference to The Man Inside, the scene especially where Brian is playing with his zipper reminds me of the iconic Charlie Chaplin whom was famous for his comedic, slapstick acting. Brian’s childish habits where he throws the paper plane, plays with his zipper, blows the horn using the paper, grinning, all  add up to the comedy, portraying sparks of a Chaplin style persona.

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In terms of improvements, if I did have the chance to change or modify anything, then of course I would shoot the film in a specific way that suited the style. Though, realistically speaking, if I could edit it again, I maybe would have shortened the shot duration, to even quicken the pace more. Having said that I have to admit that when researching, Silent films tended to use long shots, lasting 10-20 seconds or more and thus I adopted this technique to be similar. An example of this would be the famous first silent film founded by The Lumiere Brothers; The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station. They successfully captured a fast, moving train directly travelling towards the screen for 50 seconds, which at that time managed to scare and shock audiences.

Overall, I am extremely pleased with the outcome of my re-edit. Even though towards the beginning I was quite uncertain, it actually turned out better than expected. I especially like how the actors’ gestures and miming perfectly heightened the comedy, without much needed to be said. The effects of black and white, grainy screen and scratchy tapes definitely added to the realism.

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I’ve truly learnt that silent films are not as easy as imaged. With many aspects to consider and one being no sound, it was a challenging yet an exciting task. For that, I salute the fellow Silent Film Makers and actors in the past.

My full detailed research on Silent Films can be found here.

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