Caglar's Long Take - From an interview by Joe McConnell

Caglar’s Long Take

Improvisation is the lifeblood of Caglar’s film art. He invariably forgoes script in favour of an approach which puts the cast and crew deep inside the creative process and removes all familiar signposts for both actors and audience. From relentless improvisation, COnscription grew into a film installation based around a single long take of four actors exploring the ways in which psychiatric assessment for compulsory military service affects people on the outside of mainstream society. Caglar talks to us about the processes at the heart of the piece.

I had always intended COnscription to be an unscripted improvisation. I began researching the related issues six years ago, gathering stories particularly from Turkey. And I have my own experience, as the son of a soldier, going through the official assessment process which led to my exemption on the grounds of physical disability.

Along with circumcision, military service is a primary rite of passage to adult manhood in Turkey. Men who have been deemed unfit to serve, pacifists and conscientious objectors are all in the same boat. They are not considered as suitable 'husbands' or desirable employees and are clearly stigmatised as non valid.

The selection of actors was based on their having direct personal experience of Turkish culture, so that military service would be a strong reality for them.

When you are in the military hospital undergoing assessment, you are treated as a soldier and stripped of all your personal belongings. The skeleton brief put three strangers in that environment: one of them is gay, one disabled, one a conscientious objector or someone who just doesn’t want to serve. And the actors could combine these identities as well.

So on the first day, we shared stories and experiences. We said let’s not decide who’s who yet.  Let’s find out what happens to these characters.

I like it when the characters are shifting. They are not strongly ‘one thing’ and that’s all. I like the power dynamic shifting and sometimes silence is fine. At other times, there is a virtual crossfire of words. Especially when the characters are challenged about what they don’t know and what they think they know about each other.

The starting point is always the same for me. We don’t know who you are; you don’t know who you are. Let’s find out something about who you are, let’s figure out why you’re in this place.

What I like about working with actors in improvised settings is when I really trust their instincts. If something doesn’t feel real for them, whatever they do it doesn’t translate well. I don’t want to speak for the actors as to how much they actually enjoyed the experience, but I was overwhelmed by how they kept going without losing energy or focus.

I did not want anything too polished, too staged. I also insisted that the actors did not fake accents and we were not going to ‘crip up’ by inventing a disabled character for the sake of it.

The actors worked with what we had shared and explored. Sometimes I felt that we were becoming too comfortable and would throw some cue or motivation from my own experience into the mix.

I didn’t have a set expectation and was hoping to go to places I would not have imagined before. Because it’s my process as well and if I had all these ideas fixed in my head, I would have written a script.

It is exciting when you can’t just stop something in the middle and go back to it again. I like this a lot because, in life, you don’t get a chance to do a second take. I loved watching the way Marcus, our director of photography, worked filming the close-ups, and coping with the unpredictability of it all, always trying to catch what he thought I wanted to see, through his own eyes. And we were blessed with many happy accidents, like when a camera was left to rest and created something beautiful. We had so little time to talk before the filming. This was good as it seemed to keep him constantly alert and focussed.

It was great to see the crew – bit by bit – getting the idea.  For quite a time no one had a picture of where we were going. There was a wonderful moment when one of the two editors, Zeyno, was first overlaying close-ups on the two films, and suddenly exclaimed: ‘Now I get it!’

The installation is divided into two projections of the long take of the actors’ improvised interactions. The space is intersected with simultaneous videos on separate monitors of a doctor’s interrogations and the conscripts’ responses. In my own experience, military interviews are a series of monologues rather than dialogues.

People have asked me why it seems I don’t trust my film and whether I am seeking to distract the audience with so many things happening at once.  It is true that I almost force the audience to make a choice between which part of the story they engage with. But this set-up is very close to how I experience the world around me.  Close-ups and details are very important for me. Sometimes, the most seemingly irrelevant and disconnected things make their own sense.

People seemed to spark off one another. There are so many positive things that contributed to the development of the piece that are invisible. For example, Theresa provided our food and also got involved in the creative process by talking to the crew about what they fancied, and bringing it in the next day. This might seem a simple thing but it really helped to create an environment where people listened to one another.

The piece doesn’t have strong messages or a fixed political standpoint. I really love being able to trust the team and the audience in working with the experience.

This exhibition is based around one single long take. The forthcoming film version will be edited together from many different takes, which were shot separately and with a bit more freedom, from different angles.

In future projects, I would like to see just how far I can push the boundaries of improvisation.  I am also exploring stories and ways of working with conscientious objectors and non-violent resistors in today’s conflict zones.