‘Searching for the Unexplained’ is a short documentary film about UFO researcher Michael C Soper. The film explores the natural philosophy of UFO spotting, as well as the impact paranormal experiences can have on a person’s life. The film features philosophical content as well as great cinematography to help shape the narrative of the piece and to help present the character Michael Soper. Shot in Oxford during an autumn sunset ‘Searching For the Unexplained’ is strong & solid film that leaves you craving for more. Who are the faces of the ideology of UFO’s ? Why are these people considered abnormal?
Joel originally came to us with the idea he wanted to make a film about Michael Soper, the ufo enthusiast. Michael had originally been contacted to be a guest on our 1st year TV programme, Net TV earlier this year. Instantly, I found him to be a very unique character with a interesting ideology. Having spoken to him, it was clear that he didn’t care about people’s opinions. In addition, I found Michael to be very intelligent, it was clear from earlier meetings that his views and way of thinking were quiet advanced. The content of most of his speech came across as quite philosophical. He’d have us in awe and half the time his speech would just go over our heads. We wanted to present this quality of Michael in our documentary. But we knew we couldn’t just throw everything he said at the audience, so we decided to be selective of what we were going to include in the film. Through this process in constructing our film, we begun to form a structure of what we wanted.
As the cinematographer of the project I personally looked at the conventions of German Expressionism and how this could influence my cinematography on this project. I particular took a focus to the use of shadows and silhouttes. I wanted to keep Michael at somewhat of a distance but also to have him close so you connect with his character. I also looked at ‘Rashomon, 1950’ closely in preparation. Kazou Miyagawa of long shots and close ups was something I wanted to adapt in our documentary. Using close up’s when we want our audience to empthasize with Michael and long shots to put the audience in a objective position and distance so they can focus on his words rather than him! The audience will never truly know what his world is like? We will never truly know.
Process & Development
We first shot the film toward the end of the summer holiday. The light was very different then, so was the weather. At first we were happy with our piece visually but the quality of the audio was poor. However, the content was brilliant. From the beginning the film wasn’t going to be about UFO’s for us. We wanted to focus on the transgression of Michael Soper and how ufo-ology had shaped his thoughts. For better or for worse? This is what we wanted the audience to decide. Joel read some of Michael’s writings and he’d share the knowledge he’d acquired from them with us. We came to the understanding that Michael had a somewhat alternative philosophy to life. The uniqueness of his character had to come across in the film. So we wrote a new treatment and constructed a new shortlist. I found this to be quite an advantage for me. I knew how I’d shot the film last time and for me, this was a chance to polish up certain shots and construct new ones with meaning. One thing I’d understood from Rashomon is that one must always question the nature of reality. Me and Joel (Director) worked closely on the imagery of the film. We wanted to play around with the reality of UFO’s and that paranormal. I wanted to shoot Michael from low angle perspectives. Symbolising his search for UFO’s and the unknown. Not only that I wanted to present him as a powerful figure. A being of knowledge but also a misunderstood being. Having worked together before, it was easy for us to develop our ideas and be able to create what we wanted exactly.
As we got closer to Oxford and closer to picking up Michael, everything felt nostalgic but things were different this time. We wanted to make a brilliant film, and I personally didn’t care that prior to us leaving Cov a bird had dropped its faeces on my hair. We knew we were rushing against time and against the sun for lighting. When we got to our location the sun was setting, we had no time to gather ourselves and go through the plan, we just began shooting. Unexpectedly the colours and lighting from the sun setting were incredible through the lens. Id never worked with the sunsetting in the background before. I had my aperture quite high letting in very little light This allowed me to create the silhouttes I wanted; that and also shooting facing the sun. The colours from the sunset massively improved our visual narrative. But we were always working against time so couldn’t get as much actuality as we would have wanted otherwise we would have had an interview in the dark. We showed a level of professionalism, we hadn’t had shown in any our previous works individually or working with others.
Editing our film was not an easy task. In some ways I still feel that our film is not ready and is still missing something. we wanted to create a film with a slow pace. We focused our editing structure on the quote we started the film with: “Absences are more telling than presences”. We decided we didn’t want to flood the film with loads of Michael Soper quotes and philosophies and speeches or even UFO material when it came to the editing of the film. So we listened to the audio we had collected and picked out the most essential clips. This was quite difficult seeing as how the interviews were 4-5 mins each of really philosophical content. We used pauses and dips to black to really set a pace were you can really get to understand Michaels character. In addition, we used a moment of silence in the middle of the film to just give our audience time to really think about what was being said. We felt this was the most important scene in the film, visually and audibly. After our first draft we saw that the films audio was lacking. We needed to make the sound thicker and have something there rather than nothing and just interview audio. So we took the audio of the helicopter we had, and we slowed that down and looped it to create the ambience of the film. I feel like this made the film whole and it stands as an essential tool in the impetus of the film.
We originally begun this film on the hope to enter it into a film festival. We had no idea wed end up using it as part of the module and Im pleased that we got a chance to reshoot it again. All the research we accumulated and the planning that went behind it, it would have been a shame if we didn’t come out with something decent. Visually I feel this is my best work to date, and I’m happy about the process & development I personally went through during this module. Im beginning to think and construct imagery with meaning even if the meaning may not be obvious to the public. The best piece of advice we received on this module was ‘Stay with it’. Through this I felt like I captured the best moments when I kept the camera rolling when most people’s would have been off. There were moments captured which were not planned or constructed, those moments truly reveal the character that is Michael Soper. Michael Soper was the ecstatic truth of our film, cinematography and sound were just elements we used to portray that.
Michael Soper leans his head against the car window, his gaze focused on the Oxford countryside. He is distant, his thoughts contained within his inquisitive expression. We see the passing of trees as he begins to describe his first paranormal experience. It is ambiguous, building a sense of unknown mystery. We see the title on screen, just as Michael reveals the subject of his fixation. UFO’s.
We see a long shot of Michael walking over a hill, he is describing his early career as a physicist, and his first UFO sighting. He sitting under a tree, light creeping in through the branches. We cut to a close up of Michael as we learn of Michael’s struggle to maintain scientific perspective on his experiences, and the hardship he faced from the scientific community. During this, Michael is looking out over the urban landscape, further highlighting his separation from convention. The shot fades to indicate a passing of time.
Struggle and Conflict
We hear a rustling of feet across the grass. At this point we see low angle shots to present Michaels presence in the field and to portray a symbolic representation of his search for UFO’s as well as his search for an alternate philosopy. Through the use of handheld imagery, we see Michael walking through the field at nightime, occasionally looking up at the sky. Michael is sitting on a bench, he points up at the sky, describing an unusual star pattern. The mood is more reflective in this segment, Michael opens up about his struggles in his family life. We see a close up of Michael’s eyes – he is now wearing a pair of home-made UFO glasses – and he begins to explain the process of spotting UFO’s and the close nit nature of the UFO community.
The film ends with Michael walking back over the hill (the other way). He is reflecting on his life as a UFO researcher, talking about his regrets and successes. The shot continues until it gradually fades, just as the interviewer asks Michael a final question. ‘Describe your life in one sentence’.
‘Making the most of every opportunity’
After watching Rashomon, I have had a clear influence from Kazou Miyagawa Cinematography in the film. This influence now has to be adapted into the transgressions documentary on Michael Soper which we have called ‘Searching For The Unexplained’.
Kazou Miyagawa use of tracking shots will be something we can apply whilst filming actuality footage of Michael Soper UFO spotting at night. The use of long shots and close ups in our documentary is of importance also. Using close up’s when we want our audience to empthasize with Michael and long shots to put the audience in a objective position and distancing them away from him! The audience will never truly know what his world is like? We will never truly know. Distance gives the audience time to think about his character. HIs strangeness. One thing I understood from Rashomon is that one must always question the nature of reality. In the documentary we must compose our shots to question the relaity of UFO’s, are they real?
Initially I wanted to shoot Michael from low angle perspectives. Symbolising his search for UFO’s and the unknown. High angles also, to symbolise how these unknown beings may view us (him). But importantly to portray how we think we are above him because we think his insane but truthfully, maybe we are the insane ones for not being able to break away from what society tells us is normal and not normal.
Previously filmed during the summer. Our documentary on Michael Soper as he ‘Searches For The Unexplained’ literally. Michael is a UFO spotter and philosopher on the subject of UFO’s. We had a set style when we filmed this however, I think this style is going to be changed if we decide to reshoot. As the cinematographer of the project its important to think about to how to present Michael’s strangeness through the documentary style. Maybe thinking about framing him in a way that goes against normal conventions because thats who he is now, someone who goes against the norms of everyday life. Another idea is to delve into questions that explore his transgression from renowned scientist and scholar to UFO spotter. A title that the population often associate with someone who is abnormal in a sense, crazy is another word used. In the next week or so we shall discuss as a group what path we should take.