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Hans Von Looz - Film Making the Dogma 3000 Way

dr andrew cousinsThe low budget digital film making revolution is sweeping the industry like a big brush. But in this case the brush is made of pixels, ones and zeros as opposed to the usual brush construction of celluloid, photosensitive dyes and developing chemicals.

One of the leading exponents of this 'Cinema Electronique' is Dutch auteur Hans Von Looz. His films such as, 'Breaking My Patience', 'The Nutters' and 'Oddville' are all made according to a strict set of rules laid down by Von Looz. Dogma 3000, as these rules are known, is intended to be the blueprint by which the next generation of low budget cinema is made. I met with Hans to ask him about film making in the 21st Century and beyond.

AC. Hans, perhaps you could tell me where the idea behind Dogma 3000 came from?

HVL. Well, I'd been making movies in Holland for many years, isn't it? One day I looked around at the crew setting up and I thought, "what a lot of bullshit".

AC. You'd reached the end of your patience with traditional filmmaking?

HVL. No. We were filming a scene with a lot of cows. There really was bullshit everywhere. But the my second thought was, "I've reached the end of my patience with traditional film making."

AC. And so Dogma 3000 was born?

HVL. Precisely. I set out some rules by which my films were going to be made from now on. Because films are like a mould or a fungus, you start work on a low budget and then the crew expands and the budget starts to creep up. Before you know where you are, you're James Cameron and you're sinking a full-sized Titanic. I wanted to turn away from this and get back to film making in the purest sense of the word.

AC. So what are the rules of Dogma 3000?

HVL. It's not a long list….
Rule One - All films must be shot on domestic digital camcorders.
Rule Two - No artificial lights must be used during shooting.
Rule Three - The picture quality must be as blurry and grainy as possible.
Rule Four - No sets are allowed to be constructed. Films must be shot entirely on location.

AC. They do seem a little restrictive.

HVL. That's the whole point, isn't it? By restricting myself in this way I give myself more freedom. Like a dove with no wings, I only fly when I want to.

AC. That's a beautiful metaphor.

HVL. Thank you. I am a poet as well as a filmmaker. I don't confine my talent to one medium. Some people construct a dam around their abilities. I never do this. I'm a very creative person. I don't limit myself. I'm basically an art whore. If it's artistic, I'll do it. I can write better then any one else. I can paint better then anyone else. I make better films then anyone else. I shit more cinematically then Spielberg, that's for damn sure.

AC. Getting back to Dogma 3000, I have noticed that the use of domestic camcorders means that the finished films are rather blurred and grainy. Wouldn't you prefer to have a film with slightly better image quality?

HVL. You see, you have fallen into the trap of the cinema fascists by even asking this question. Of course I don't want better image quality. For one thing, eyestrain actually enhances the audience experience. Secondly, we've been sold a lie about image quality. This is just a conspiracy by Kodak, Panavision and the other massive corporations with interests in producing film equipment to keep getting filmmakers to buy new expensive new stuff. Right now, we keep being told that the future is in high-definition cameras. In five years, they'll suddenly invent some new system that's supposed to be even better - they'll call it hyper-ultra-definition or something. And you can bet that all the cine-zombies will go rushing off and spending thousands and thousands and then in five years beyond that the whole process will start again. Only using holograms or something.

AC. I see…

HVL. Thirdly, my cameraman was blind.

AC. Blind?

HVL. Yes. It was some kind of deal where we got a grant from some disability charity or something if we used disabled people in our crew. For the same reason the sound recordist only had one ear.

AC. Yes, but blind?

HVL. Look, camera operators are a pain in the arse. They always want to interfere with the framing. It is my movie. I frame the way I want to. If he is blind then he has no choice but to shoot where I point him. Basically, he's like a tripod on legs only much quicker to move around. It's labour saving, really.

AC. Of course, your stripped down approach to film making even extends beyond the technological aspects doesn't it? I'm thinking of your film 'Oddville', in particular.

HVL. Yes, of course. For this movie the damn financiers insisted that I shoot in a studio. They didn't understand my vision but I needed their money. I needed a way to accept their ultimatum but not compromise my integrity. Then I have a moment of inspiration. I will shoot in a studio but not use any sets! I just marked out the shape of the set on the floor using camera tape.

AC. How did the cast of your film respond to this approach, unusual even by your standards?

HVL. Who cares? They are only the actors. Really, they don't count. I tell them where to stand. I tell them what to say. I'd tell them what to think but my lawyers advise me brainwashing is illegal or something. What kind of a world are we living in when I can't even turn an actor into a mindless puppet, even if it's exactly what I need to do in order to finish my movie?

AC. The film was badly received by the critics. One called it, "Indulgent, even by Von Looz's usually low-standards."

HVL. Look, if I listened to the critics then I'd have shot myself a long time ago. As it is, I shot critics instead. That's why you don't hear much about Barry Norman these days.

AC. But surely you care whether the audience likes the film or not.

HVL. Why would I? People don't enjoy wars but we're not stopping having them are we? Why should I care what the audience thinks? If they don't understand my vision then this is their problem. Having enormous talent like I do, is like having constipation - eventually it has to find a way out somewhere.

AC. And the results usually stink.

HVL. Precisely so.

AC. Hans Von Looz, thank you for your time.