Video Essays

How to Shoot a Film in One Room

A Video Essay

Before I was able to write a blog post about this video essay, Jacob Oller at Film School Rejects beat me to it: “The Art of the Single Room Film.” It was super cool to have FSR write about my essay. Oller writes about video essays regularly, check out his work here.

In his post, Oller correctly identified the impetus for the essay: my fascination with the way directors make great films despite great limitations. The idea for this essay came after watching Dial ‘M’ for Murder (1954) and reading about the film in Hitchcock/Truffaut. Unfortunately, the exchange between the two filmmakers is as short as it is insightful.

Hitchcock believed the film was not truly his, since it was an intensely faithful adaptation of Frederick Knott’s highly successful stage play of the same name. In their interview, Hitchcock tries to brush any mention of the film aside, however, Truffaut smartly reels him back in, recognizing the film is a masterpiece.

(Unfortunately, I am in Massachusetts and my copy of Hitchcock/Truffaut is in Vermont, so I am unable to quote directly from it. My description of their exchange is from memory, please forgive any errors until I am back in VT!)

Hitchcock talks about how the film is a departure from the way in which plays were typically adapted. Normally, he says, filmmakers would merely take the play and extend it, meaning they would have shots of a character getting out of a taxi, walking to the door, walking through the hallway, etc., before they arrived in the space where the main dramatic action is to take place. Always a challenger of the form, Hitchcock instead limited himself to a single room, leaving only briefly two or three times throughout the entire film. Rather than recording a play on camera, he delivers a limited setting story in cinematic form.

As someone who studies both film and English (with a focus in drama) Hitchcock’s insight got me excited to further explore the turning of drama into cinema. A few weeks later, on one of my late-night Internet deep-dives, I discovered this Hollywood Reporter roundtable discussion with Quentin Tarantino and a handful of other directors from 2016, around the time The Hateful Eight (2015) was released. During the course of the discussion, Tarantino talks about his want to turn his film into a play. In other words, the inverse of Dial ‘M’ For Murder. This excited me, so I went to the library and borrowed a copy of the film. As soon as Kurt Russell began exploring Minnie’s Haberdashery, with Dial ‘M’ fresh on my mind, I knew I had the beginnings of a video essay.

With help from a few of my film professors and some online lists, I began exploring films that mostly take place in a single room and settled on two: Rope (1948; Hitchcock) and Wait Until Dark (1967; Terence Young). The end product: “How to Shoot a Film in One Room.”



Also, I’d like to thank Prof. Jason Mittell and my classmates in Videographic Film Studies at Middlebury College for their guidance and feedback. I hope this essay will be only the beginning of my exploration of films that take place in a single room. If there are any I should check out, please let me know!

Trespassing: From Manderley to Xanadu

A Video Essay

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) and Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) within weeks of each other as part of two separate courses at Middlebury, the former film as part of a course dedicated exclusively to Hitchcock’s body of work.

Since the two films were made within a year of each other, they often draw comparison, especially since a foreboding mansion is central to both: in Rebecca, it’s Maxim DeWinter’s Manderley, and in Citizen Kane, it’s Charles Foster Kane’s Xanadu. The similarities between the films’ beginnings and especially their endings is tought to miss:

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The above comparison is taken from Rob Stone’s video essay “No Trespassing: From Manderley to Xanadu,” in which he puts the beginnings and endings of both films side by side to illustrate their similarities, and how we enter both stories by trespassing.

As part of a videographic criticism course I took this fall, I responded to Stone’s essay with a video essay of my own, which I gave the incredibly original title, “Trespassing: From Manderley to Xanadu.”

The idea for this essay came after watching Stone’s essay and wondering, what happens when we trespass, when we go beyond the gates and explore the halls and grounds of Manderley and Xanadu?

What appeals to me most about the videographic form is its emphasis on exploration. The creation of this essay took place almost entirely in Adobe Premiere, that is, I simply uploaded both films to the program and explored. The side by side comparisons you see in this essay are not making a specific argument, nor are they explicitly saying something about character, theme, the directors, etc. Rather, they’re simply shots that reminded me of one another. The only definitive commonalities between them all are that they take place within the gates of Manderley and Xanadu.

Feedback is appreciated: