‘Collaboration, at its best, produces a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts'
One bag, five continents, multiple languages and most incredibly, 25 filmmakers involved in the same film. That is The Owner, a film made by CollabFeature, a U.S.-based organisation, founded to make collaborative films.
“The script is previously agreed upon after much discussion between the filmmakers, but after that, each filmmaker is on his or her own, shooting the film as seen by their eyes,” says Nitye Sood, a Bangalore-based independent filmmaker, who is involved in the group's next project The Train Station.
“There is an application process to ensure that we get filmmakers who can produce quality work. In the last week, we have had 15 new applicants,” says Marty Shea, who co-founded CollabFeature with Ian Bonner, both Detroit-based filmmakers, in late 2008. They met at Michigan State University, specialising in film studies under the same professor; Marty was an advertising major and Ian a computer science major.
“I have been making films since my dad bought a VHS camcorder in the 1980s, when I was 10, casting my sisters in my skits,” Marty says. “Since I can remember, I have loved to create stories in my head and later, on paper.”
He first worked with Ian on a student short film followed by a series of more professional short films, the duo co-writing and coproducing, but with Marty directing. “In 2008 The Internet and social networking were brimming with possibilities. So, we decided to start CollabFeature,” Marty says. “At that point, we had no idea where it would lead.”
During the making of The Owner, the filmmakers never met and had all their conversations over a web-based application created by Ian, which allows them to interact and respond to each others' ideas, scripts and footage.Part of the power of an artist's work is its strong individualism — the personal style, technique and perception, and a collaboration might mean morphing into a sum that may not reflect much of its parts.
“Each filmmaker was free to create his own story within the 4 to 5 minutes rule,” says Xavier Agudo, one of the filmmakers. “Once a central editor assembled all the pieces, we needed to see the film as a whole and not a collection of short films, and every filmmaker needed to be ready to accept compromises, after many disputes and arguments, of course.”
“I approach every single film I make as a collaboration which at its best, leads to the whole being greater than the sum of its parts,” Marty says. “We end up with a film that surprises all of us.”
Roller coaster plot
The Owner, initially titled The Backpack Project, is more shocking than surprising; its plot takes myriad twists, a bag going from the Americas through India, Dubai, Europe and South Africa, often leaving a trail of blood in its wake. There is reference to the holy grail at one point. The screenplay is occasionally funny, sometimes downright bizarre, reflecting the filmmakers' roots and environment.
For instance, the section in the U.K. revolves around postal department humour, as is possible only in that island, while the one in South Africa hints at race relations, that in Dubai shows empty relationships amidst material wealth and the ones in Europe are dark and mysterious.
The segments in India, oddly enough, do not show the country in its diversity and everyday life, but choose to follow a cult.
“The film was also not supposed to stick to a certain mood,” Xavier says. “The Owner has several different genres purposefully mixed with the intention to bring in every director's style and culture. There was no room for critical judgements or preconceived notions,” he adds.
He noticed that the audience in different screening locations related to different segments. “All the characters, sub-plots, cultures and languages were to give the feeling of having just travelled the whole world.”