Condition: Human

Stephen Palmer

author of novels
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For thirty five years I’ve been fascinated by human consciousness, its evolution by natural selection, and the human condition. Some decades ago I made a couple of attempts at writing a work encapsulating some of the ideas I’d read – those of Erich Fromm, Dorothy Rowe and Nicholas Humphrey in particular – and of my own, but the books didn’t work out. I’ve had a couple of tries since then, and again they didn’t work out. So a few years ago I had the idea to make a film, thinking that perhaps image and sound would be a better medium than words.

Starting this summer I hope to be making six short films encapsulating all the ideas which interest me: Condition: Human. This will be a personal view. I wrote the scripts earlier in the year, and have since then been working on a shooting schedule, locations, voice-overs – which are surprisingly difficult to do – and the music. My hope is that this and next month I’ll be able to finish the outdoor filming, leaving the indoor shoots, which can be done in any weather.

I’m not sure what kind of presenter I’ll be. Maybe it won’t work out. But I did have a test run last year, when I gave a half hour extemporised lecture about the basics of human consciousness and its evolution. The previous year, at Asylum in Lincoln, I did something similar. So I think the chances are fair that I can be a half decent presenter.

More details to follow!
 

Stephen Palmer

author of novels
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I honestly don't know. I tried very hard, but was never satisfied with the results... I couldn't seem to find the right metaphor to carry the whole thing. My last attempt was two years ago, and that faltered half way through. Never a good sign! ;) I'm pretty apprehensive about delivering the scripts to camera, but I'll do my best. The lecture I gave last year was great fun and very enjoyable, plus it was well received by people who saw it and whose opinion I trust. So I think I may be able to make it work...
 

Stephen Palmer

author of novels
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I've now done a couple of filming sessions for Condition: Human and the experience has been… interesting! Yesterday I spent an afternoon with my partner Nicky (director and camcorder operator) at a dell just outside Betws y Coed, and the first problem we encountered was the noise. The river was in full flow - tons of water coming off those Welsh mountains - and its roaring deafened us close-up. However, by filming a little away from the river and using the directional microphone we were able to get an acceptable balance between the background roar and my voice.

But the main problem (which I encountered when making my first recordings in Mortimer Forest) was the script. I'd written full scripts for the six short films earlier in the year, thinking that was the best option, but actually I'm not the sort of speaker who can remember his lines then deliver them. As I discovered when I did my presentation on consciousness at the day job last year, my natural mode is having a basic outline of the topics then speaking in extemporised fashion. Yesterday, as we nervously eyed the sky for rainclouds, I found myself often unable to remember even a few sentences. It's a very strange sensation, going mind-blank. Even simple sentences were tricky! In some circumstances, after a few takes, I couldn't deliver them at all.

So my plan is to amend the scripts so I have basic ideas - words, phrases - around which I'll improvise. The other option I have is more voice-overs. Recently I analysed a documentary by Alastair Sooke (a presenter Nicky and I both like) to find that the ratio of to-camera delivery to voice-overs is about 55/45. My scripts were written thinking the proportion of to-camera work should be much higher.

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Still, we had fun yesterday: enormous fun! This is a work I now know I can do, although whether I'm any good is another question entirely.
 

mosaix

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Interesting, Stephen.

I’ve done many sales presentations over the years. Many sales people like to deliver these as a remembered script. I just can’t do that and I’ve always tried to do it off the cuff. Again, difficult. Until I got the first question from the audience. Then I was in my element and it just flowed.

Have you considered doing the films as interview sessions? Each point that you want to make could be in response to a question. That way your ‘explaining’ your point. You only have to concentrate on the immediate point and don’t have think ahead (commonly the cause of drying up on the current point).

The next point is triggered by the next question which the interviewer doesn’t even have to remember as, being off camera, they can have it written down. They could do this even if they were on camera.

The whole thing comes across as s conversation rather than a delivered script.
 

Stephen Palmer

author of novels
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That's a great idea, and we are considering alternatives, including that one!
The other interesting option has been a laptop with "powerpoint style" cues on it.
But you are 100% correct - scripted is too formal. When I gave my "lecture" last year, I extemporised from stuff I know. That I think is what I'm best at.
Thanks for the input! :)
 

Hugh

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I used to have to lecture/educate occasionally over the years, and believed that I could detect when I was losing the connection with my audience. My voice would start to feel a bit flat and my throat dry and I started to feel I was just talking at people with no sense of communicating anything alive. This felt dispiriting and unsatisfying.
I found two ways round this:
(1) As mosaix suggests, I'd use the question and answer format. This meant that I was responding to audience interest and my answers could stimulate further interest/enthusiasm and (hopefully) give us all a sense of something alive and energetic.
(2) I'd memorise my script sufficiently that I could deviate from it and return to it as and when I felt interested. Again this felt more in the moment and spontaneous and (hopefully) in tune with the group consciousness.
 

Stephen Palmer

author of novels
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Thanks Hugh!
I'm going to make a new "script" which will be the essential part of each section sentence. I think, using that, I'll be able to recall the stuff and present it in an alive way. Aliveness and spontaneity are really important. I need more!
 

Stephen Palmer

author of novels
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Dec 22, 2009
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Shropshire
More incidental filming done in Wales yesterday. I also visited Y Capel in Furnace (Machynlleth), where I hope to set the first film.

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