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Joz Norris


Tape 9: Collaboration & Dream Retrieval

  • Tape 9: Collaboration & Dream Retrieval

Hello, and welcome back to the Fruit Salad Therapy Tapes, a weekly interactive notebook project from aspiring cabin boy and sometime comedian Joz Norris. You’re receiving this because you signed up via my website, but if you’re reading this thinking “Absolutely not! No more! This idiot has had ENOUGH of my time!” you’re very welcome to unsubscribe any time. Please hit the lights on your way out. And if you’re still with me, read on for this week’s Tape!

Post-Script To Tape 8:

First up, I want to get better at incorporating your replies/thoughts/interactions with this newsletter into the next week’s newsletter, and turning it into more of a two-way process. So this week, big thanks to Henry Whaley for reminding me of the ultimate example of the “rhythm of stand-up” idea I explored last week, which is this set by comedian Jerry O’Hearn in his onstage persona as Andy Daly:

Jerry O'Hearn (Andy Daly) at MaxFunCon 2011

I saw Andy Daly for the first time at an ACMS at the Fringe a couple of years ago, and was absolutely blown away by this routine, which basically follows the familiar rhythm of a stand-up routine but strips it of all content and meaning. It’s maybe the most ingenious piece of stand-up anyone’s ever devised. I also can’t believe I did a newsletter about stand-ups who follow their own internal rhythms more than the established rhythms of what stand-up comedy usually sounds like without mentioning my good friend and occasional collaborator Ed Aczel, who is the absolute master of what I was talking about.

Collaboration & Dream Retrieval

Anyway, onto this week’s thoughts. This week’s question, which I’d love to hear your thoughts on if you’re happy to share them with me, is:

Tell me something you DIDN’T dream about last night.

I’m curious to see what that produces as a creative prompt. This week I’ve been reading In The Blink Of An Eye by Walter Murch, a book about film editing and blinking, though what I’m taking from it this week is some really fascinating stuff about collaboration. Murch discusses a method that’s often used for dream retrieval when people struggle to recall their dreams. The dreamer mentions one thing they can definitely recall about their dream, like “There was a boat in it.” The listener then describes a potential dream that could have followed, such as “Maybe it was about a rowing boat that went down a river towards a castle?” Having heard a proposed scenario for what the dream wasn’t, the dreamer rejects it and finds that more details about the dream suddenly present themselves, replying “No, it was about a pirate ship sailing over a lake towards a shopping mall,” or whatever. In this way, by sifting through various proposed iterations, the previously hidden dream reveals itself. Murch says that film editing is a lot like following this process between a director and an editor, but I think it’s a beautiful analogy for the creative process in general when collaborating with others.

Murch also proposes a hypothetical magical box which you could attach to your brain and could transform your vision for a film into a reality immediately, with no external interference from other collaborators – what sort of filmmaker would use it? What is the difference between a filmmaker who sees the creative process as a means of realising their initial creative vision as accurately as possible, and a filmmaker who sees the creative process as one of discovery, of exploring various versions of what the project is not before the thing itself reveals itself to you in a way that might be markedly different from what you initially thought it was?

The Right Approach For The Right Project

Murch makes it pretty clear that he thinks filmmaking should be a sort of collaborative dance of discovery between multiple personalities, and that those creatives who believe solely in their solitary vision are suspect, but I think it’s not quite as cut-and-dried as that. I think it’s a sliding scale of finding the right approach for the right project. For years, I was one of those “This needs to be a perfect reflection of my vision” people. I’d spent a couple of years trying to do an impression of the sort of comedy I thought I ought to be doing in order to succeed, and made a couple of shows that were relatively well-received but that I look back on with a certain degree of embarrassment. Then I spent a few more years retaliating against that by committing totally to my own creative independence, believing that any show I made was a blank canvas on which to project my vision as faithfully as possible. That resulted in three shows which were good and had the seeds of something great in them, but all of which perhaps could have been so much better if I had committed to the idea of letting myself discover what those shows could be, instead of believing that what I saw in my head was necessarily what they had to be.

In 2018 I performed my Mr Fruit Salad show as a work-in-progress at the Fringe, and could tell it again had the seeds of something great in it. Over the ensuing year, though, I worked with Alex Hardy and Ben Target on it and for the first time invited other people in to be a core part of that show’s creative development. It became something very similar to the dreamer/listener dynamic that Murch describes, where we used that work-in-progress show as a blueprint to work from, like the boat in the dream. And together we would explore various different versions of what the show was not – “Maybe it’s trying to say this, maybe it’s trying to do this,” etc. And only be exploring and rejecting them in turn did we arrive at something truly special, which wasn’t clear to me when I set out. Quite near the end of the show’s development, just before EdFringe 2019, I came up with a structural device which ended up being a joke that took up 40 minutes of the show’s run-time, which was already hidden within the material itself but which I hadn’t noticed yet. I also considered cutting a routine about a burrito which felt perfunctory to me, and Ben said “But that routine says something that is literally what the entire show is about. You can’t cut it. If you think it feels perfunctory, then you need to make it feel more central,” so the perfunctory burrito routine became the centrepiece of the show that the other 40-minute joke led up to. I would never have discovered the centre of what I was trying to explore with that show if I had allowed it to be what every show I’d made up until that point had been – just a series of ideas performed as I had initially imagined them, and hinting at something bigger.

On the other hand, last year I had written a half-hour stand-up special about small-talk for BBC Radio 4, which was to be performed live. I had written an early draft and my producer, Steve Doherty, had read it and said “Yes, this has promise. Let’s come back to it later in the year.” By the time I had to come back to it, we had decided to rewrite it without the live performance element, and reconceive it as a scripted, edited programme set inside my own head. I immediately knew exactly how I wanted it to sound and feel, and wrote a new draft which Steve read and could hear immediately in his own head. He knew exactly how it needed to feel, and was infinitely more convinced by it than my initial draft. When he sent me the first sound mix for it, it couldn’t have sounded closer to what I had initially hoped for. He had somehow managed to take what I imagined and found a way of perfectly adapting it into sound, and all it had taken to get from an initial imperfect vision to something that both of us felt was the perfect version of the project was one big reframing of the idea rather than an extended process of exploring multiple possible variations. Every different project requires a different journey to discover exactly what it should be – some need to be looped and phased and cut up and stitched back together, and warped and refracted before they eventually reveal themselves. Other things are quieter, simpler, and just involve two people clicking over a project and going “This is exactly what it needs to be.” The big lesson, though, is that, though the processes of these two projects were very different, both of them required a consensus with other people for the perfect version of the idea to reveal itself, in a way that I hadn’t allowed myself to do on earlier shows. Both of them required a moment of myself and my collaborators sitting down and agreeing “Yes, this is now the thing it should always have been.” Whenever you sit down to make something, the idea isn’t in your head trying to get out, the idea is out there somewhere waiting for you to arrive at the centre of it. You always need a dreamer and a listener. For several years I was a man alone onstage struggling to recall my own dreams and simply trying to demonstrate them to the best of my recollection. These days I always try to work with a listener, because one way or the other, they will always end up revealing the dream to you.

A Cool New Thing In Comedy – The Best Medicine Festival is an online festival exploring the links between comedy and mental health, both in terms of how comedy itself helps people to process their mental health struggles, and exploring ways in which the comedy industry can help to support the mental health of its own practitioners. It’s being curated by Angel Comedy and features contributions from the likes of Ruby Wax, Tim Key, Felicity Ward and many more.

What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – We’ve been rewatching Peep Show and good grief, it’s the funniest sitcom ever made. I already knew that, but rewatching it really hits it home. Literally every other line is something I remember everybody quoting in the mid-2000s. We must have all gone round just quoting entire episodes word-to-word to each other. I rewatched the shrooming episode this week and I think it might be the best-constructed sitcom episode of all time, and that closing image is painfully funny. Can’t imagine there’s many people on this mailing list who don’t already know about Peep Show, but hey, that’s the thing that made me laugh most this week and I cannot tell a lie.

Album Of The Week – Protection by Massive Attack. I’m sort of vaguely working through the book of 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die at the moment, and have just arrived at 90s trip-hop, which is actually pretty good. Massive Attack are no Morcheeba, but hey, not everyone can be Morcheeba. This album pinged out at me, partly because Everything But The Girl’s Tracey Thorn does guest vocals, and partly because there’s an album I really like by film composer Craig Armstrong called The Space Between Us, and it turns out that two of the pieces on that album are orchestrated versions of songs from Protection. It’s fun when you hear a new thing that joins dots between stuff you already love like that.

Film Of The Week – Rocks. This wonderful film is about Rocks, a teenage girl growing up in Hackney who has to look after her young brother and try to avoid falling into the hands of the social care system after their mum disappears. I watched it in awe at how authentically it had managed to portray the lives of contemporary teenagers in London, particularly when it comes to D’angelou Osei Kissiedu, whose performance as Rocks’s brother Emmanuel is astonishingly natural – it often feels more like a documentary than a drama. As it turns out, writers Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson collaborated directly with the teenage cast to create the language and story of the film, so it really is a film shaped and moulded by the people whose story it’s telling. It’s brilliant.

Book Of The Week – In The Blink Of An Eye: A Perspective On Film Editing by Walter Murch, but I’ve banged on about it enough already.

That’s all for this week! What did you make of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you’re enjoying the Therapy Tapes I’d love you to share them with a friend or encourage others to subscribe.

Have a great week, and all the best,

Joz xx

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