Tribeca Film Festival's Vine Contest: So...Retro?

The Retro Appeal Of The Vine

This is the first in a series on technological disruptions in the entertainment industry. With this series, the Huffington Post will track the way television, film, and other institutions are shifting to accomodate innovations, and how these changes affect audiences.

Vines, videos made via the same-named Twitter application, pose big constraints to filmmakers: they can’t be edited once they’ve been shot, they play on loop, and they must be six seconds long.

And yet, the Tribeca Film Festival’s first-ever call for vines brought in a bounty. The winners chosen last week for $600 prizes in four categories -- Series, Genre, Auteur and Animated -- ranged from stop motion dramas to pulp horror scenes, each hinging on visual tricks to convey crucial plot information in the blink of an eye. (You can view the winners at the festival’s web site).

The winner of Tribeca's Auteur category, "There is no sunny-side to this story," by @KevyPizza.

How does this stripped-down storytelling figure into an era defined by tentpole movies and 3D glasses? The Huffington Post rang up director Minos Papas for some insight. Papas, a Tribeca winner in the festival’s Best Short category, for “A Short Film About Guns,” a documentary about the global arms trade, had never heard of Vine until reading the email announcing the competition. The 36-year-old filmmaker ended up submitting two vine entries, one of which was shortlisted in the Auteur category.

Below, Papas told us why the technology is as much about film’s history as it is about its future.

The Huffington Post: How did you go from a Vine luddite to a viner on Tribeca’s shortlist?

Minos Papas: My intern looked at the email and said, ‘Oh, you’ve got to do this.’ So I looked into Vine. At first I thought it was silly. But when I started using it, I thought, ‘This is actually really intriguing.’

HP: What about it interested you?

MP: There’s a certain technique that experimental filmmakers like to try, called in-camera editing: you make a film from start to finish in single takes. Vine basically offers the same thing. While you’re shooting your vine, even though it’s just 6 seconds, you can’t review anything. You just have to get it right the first time if you’re going to post it.

This is basically an analog way of doing things in a digital format. What I mean by that is, when you shoot film you’re shooting one shot after the next without the possibility of review. You can’t stop to go back and see what you shot. With tapes and hard drives you can shoot endlessly. You don’t have to make clear choices, because if you didn’t get it right the first time you can do it again.

So that’s kind of refreshing, because it brings back a sort of discipline associated with filmmaking that the digital revolution tainted a little bit. My generation was very lucky because we had both [film and digital cameras] in school -- now film is being fazed out of film schools.

The additional feature it offers is that it’s a loop. I’ve seen some that are quite sophisticated, where you have to let the loop play and sort of grow on you, and then you notice all kinds of different things.

HP: Tell us about your vine.

MP: The one Tribeca selected is a self portrait. I was fascinated with the term “vine,” so it opens with some roots and an earthy, vine-looking element of a plant. The next thing is my eye, which I shot through an antique photo lens I have from Soviet Russia, into a mirror. The idea was to use the lens to signify my personal view. I thought that was perfect for a self portrait. It ends with a glass window, which is almost like the lens, but it has wires that seem to shape into these Vs.

HP: Did you follow the analog filmmaker’s process and shoot once?

MP: Just the once. It came out pretty good, so I left it the way it was. Sometimes the first take is the best anyway, and then there’s that element of experimentation.

HP: How much did you plan ahead?

MP: Not much really. I had ideas. I had seen a window and thought I should check that V element. But I was pleasantly surprised [it was picked], because I had done a series, which I submitted [in Tribeca’s “Series” category], with more of the fun stuff. I thought they’d pick that.

HP: You thought the series was a more obvious choice?

MP: A friend of mine, an actor called Mark Byrne, we played with the loop format. We did a series of what we called important tasks, but they’re not important at all. They’re very mundane and silly and over the top, and they culminate in a very gory way.

HP: Do you think Vine could become a popular medium for filmmakers?

MP: I think it depends largely on how people use the platform, the way that YouTube has developed and become a way for people to do web series, but also upload all their cat videos. There’s a lot of animation on Vine, and it’s very nice to see stop motion animation done that way. I think the app itself could become more sophisticated to allow a bit more precision. But as the technology progresses, vines may become longer. They may lose their charm.

HP: How would you change the app to make it more useful but keep it interesting?

MP: One example, when you start shooting you have a progress bar, and you sort of rely on your own instincts to say, ‘That was one second.’ I put a piece of tape on my phone across the progress bar so I knew what the 6 second length was, but I think that could be built into the app. That progress bar could be reformed with a scale.

There’s probably other things they could improve as well, as long as they keep it the way it is, so you can’t review. In-camera editing really trains you to come up with ideas.

HP: Do you plan to keep vining?

MP: I do. I made one [Wednesday] morning, but I’ve been so caught up in the festival, I haven’t had a chance to post it. It’s very addictive. Once you start shooting vines you can’t stop.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misspelled Mark Byrne's last name.

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