Humor in Docs 4

So I did it again: while writing an application for a grant from The Danish Arts Foundation (Statens Kunstfond) where I had to explain what I intend to use the grant for, I failed to be honest to myself. The grants from the foundation are not for specific projects, but they can support your artistic work and ideas in general. I have applied for a grant – and failed - for the last ten years, so that's rather embarrassing. But I don't mind being just that.

This year, I decided to emphasize my efforts on making films where humor and the film's representation of reality are interwoven according to my ideas of DOComedy. But after submitting, I realized that I had send a boring and maybe even self-righteous application. As I wrote in a previous blog, one tends to approach authorities with a frown all over one’s face in order to appear as a serious contender.

Why is that? Well, when you bring up comedy people have a tendency to either think of something stupid - like one of Three Stooges getting his fingers repeatedly stuck in a door, or something lame - like the run-of-the-mill stand-up comedian talking about getting his balls stuck in his zipper. Only rarely do people immediately think of clever and witty representations of humor dealing with essential issues even though there is plenty to think of: Stephen Fry, Hasse&Tage, Monty Python, Dave Allen, Buster Keaton, “Dr. Strangelove”, “Manhattan” or “Catch 22” by Joseph Heller. The last one I read between and during calls at my old student job as a phone attendant at a newspaper. To the dismay of my co-workers and boss and to the callers’ mild wondering, I couldn’t stop reading and laughing out loudly. And yes, you do remember it wrong, if you don’t think “Catch 22” is (also) a hilariously funny book.

Okay, I’m not saying that I’m half as amusing as any of these pillars, but what I AM saying is that I have learned as much (if not more) about life or certain facts of mankind from those mentioned above than from any well-meaning and serious (if not frowning) approach in any book, film or documentary. Yes, there ARE funny and clever documentaries – but they are often regarded of having a smell of being too “American” or “entertaining” or something.

I strongly believe that I can make a thought-provoking AND funny film about surveillance and inter-human distrust (a sequel to this film) or the national health system (here's a moodboard), which accidently are two of the DOComedies I am working on. As a matter of fact, as I wrote in the same old blog as mentioned above, there seem to be some proof that the remedy of humor can enhance critical out-of-the-box-thinking.

Back to my application. I should of course have made a funny essay instead of having my application meet the demands mentioned on the website of the foundation. I guess I was afraid of my own prejudice of people’s prejudice towards humor, so I ended up writing that I want to be funny and thought-provoking and may have been momentarily in the past; not that I am just that…

But on the other hand: I kind of like the idea that I’ll BE funny - IF they give me some money.

And now if you’ll excuse me: I got my one remaining ball stuck in my zipper, darn it. And no!, don’t smack the door, my hand is still on the doorframe…


My Avatar and Me-me-ME!

Yeah, I know. It both shows poor form and absence of  new ideas, but nevertheless - this is what I have for you today:

"My Avatar and Me" is now available for rent and you can also still buy it and own it for good if you are that kind of person. The years that were deducted from my life while making the film will of course make the accumulated costs of my life a bit smaller, but still we support the idea of actually - once in a while - paying for content on the internet. Alas, it's a struggle and rightfully so a topic for debate.

So while debating, slip us a dime, won't you?

Photo: Rob Danton



I mentioned Tom Waits in a previous blog and that was no coincidence. I have become more and more convinced that music in general and Tom Waits in particular has meant a lot to me as a filmmaker and a (re)viewer.

I was first introduced to Waits by a mate in 1983 when the album “Swordfishtrombones” was released. I pricked up my ears when the first instrumental track on side 2 started. It was short, strange and beautiful and when the Hammond organ introduced the next song and Tom started singing, I was sold. I fell in love with the mix of unusual instruments, askew rhythms, his voice, the lyrics, the quite beautiful melodies… and not least the humor which I at that point more sensed that actually understood.

I never thought much about it in those days but years later I found out that my views on films and filmmaking was tightly connected to my views on music. I’ve tried to study it further and to theorize on it and I even tried to work out a musical film lecture to highlight the similarities of ways of thinking in certain films and certain music. I gave that up, because when it comes down to it, it doesn’t really make sense. (Plus that I would have had to play piano and lecture at the same time to prove my points and that would probably involve me practicing a hell of a lot on the piano, and I am a lazy bastard…)

Instead, I’ve started writing a book on the records of Waits, and you can read the first version of the intro chapter in Danish here. If you like that, well, tell it to a publisher you know.


Storm P.

Whilst working on an updated definition and a new set of rules for true DOComedy-films, I came by this old favorite of mine by Danish artist, writer, humorist etc., Robert Storm Petersen (1882-1949).

The caption is: "I hope that my lecture here has shed some light on the concept of humor".



You - yes, YOU - may very well be my reader no. 5.000 (including Ukrainian hackers) and therefore I should give you a special treat. And since you are here at all I gather you either:

1) have a keen interest in documentaries
2) are said Ukrainian hacker, or
3) are my mother.

So what kind of treat do I have in mind? Is it a link to my feature article in a Danish newspaper during Christmas? No, and neither is it a list of my personal favorites on this blog ("Just pitch the damn thing" is really funny, and so are all three texts on "Docs and Humor", and there is also the piece I wrote on... (shortened by editor).

The treat is – ta-dah - a glimpse into the future, and I will divide it into the three said categories of possible readers.

1) In 2014 the documentary scene will still straddle in the huge field between documentary films with an artistic approach and TV-documentaries with a journalistic viewpoint. The directors of the first kind will have to lean towards the language of the latter to be able to meet the lower budget demands and the TV-people will say that they are very keen on the cinematic approach in the films but they won’t be able to do it themselves or pay for it. The really good films will still get more awards and fewer spectators than the really bad films and every commissioning editor will either look for the award sweeper, the game changer or the blockbuster. In either instance the creative path will most likely be well-trotted and too few in the paying end of the business will acknowledge that the true documentary film should be as much a work of art as a topical statement. Finally, the online distribution and crowd funding will not change anything (mostly it will cost the filmmakers a lot of time).

2) Існує пожежа в оленя з вашого саду. Це вірно, навіть виходити на вулицю і шукати.

3) No, mum, also in 2014 working as a director or producer in the documentary field will be very, very non-lucrative. It’s weeks and weeks of non-paid work – even if you DO get full funding for your film. But we keep trying because we just can’t bear watching anymore numbing TV and because we have a twisted and narcissistic urge to express ourselves… (and yes, working as, say, a hired hand on a film or as a commissioning editor is an entirely different matter).

The bleak future

Whoa… stop right there: Is there any reason to be this pessimistic? Didn’t films like “The Act of Killing” show that new radical ways of storytelling has a future? Isn’t there a huge bunch of upcoming talents with new ideas? Hasn’t TV learned that there IS an audience for well-crafted and artistic documentary films? Hasn’t a number of crowd funding campaigns achieved something?

All I really know is that I haven’t had a decent drink so far in all of 2014 so I’ll have one now and I hereby declare the bazar for open.

The colorful future


Just pitch the damn thing

The question I get asked the most… I mean, it happens a lot… enough for me to mention it here. People come up to me and they ask:
- Mikkel… (or Mike, foreigners often call me Mike), is it possible for a guy – or a gal - to be in the documentary film business without getting screwed?

And my answer is always the same. I say, listen, we’ll have to go all the way back to the birth of television. Apparently a young film director had a meeting with an equally young TV executive and the director was really excited because nobody really financed documentaries anymore and here was a mass media with direct access to millions of viewers. Well, he was showed into a rather large conference room where there was a big mahogany desk behind which seven men in suits looked at him. The TV executive - whom he knew a bit beforehand - got up and shook his hand vigorously and asked him to sit down on a lonely and uncomfortably looking chair in the middle of the room. The film director sat down a bit reluctantly and the executive went back and sat in the middle behind the giant desk and moved both his hands outwards.

-          These are my associates - and you wanted to pitch something?
-          Sorry, but I don’t understand what you are saying. I am here to propose an idea.
-          Yes, we call that a pitch. You pitch your idea… you know… like a baseball… to us.
-          And then you hit it with your bat?
-          Erhm, no. We listen and then respond.
-          But isn’t the logical response to a pitch that you hit it as hard as you can?

The executive moved a little uneasy in his leather chair and fondled with his necktie and looked around, while most of the others looked down in their papers.

-          Look, we have agreed to take this meeting even though we’re very busy. Will you pitch your idea or not?
-          Yeah, it’s just that I don’t really understand the analogy.
-          It’s not an allegory. It’s more like a metaphor.
-          I didn’t say it was an allegory, I said analogy. And I don’t really think it’s a metaphor either.

The whole board looked a bit perplexed but the first one eventually leaned forward.

-          You know, one small push on this button and security will have you out in the street in a matter of seconds.
-          Another thing I don’t understand, why am I pitching to seven batters? It seems a bit unfair not to mention that it weakens the analogy further.
-          You pitch to seven batters… shush… to us seven men… because… that’s the way it is here.
-          But clearly, we must be on different teams if this baseball-thing has to make any sense, and that doesn’t appear to be very welcoming.
-          Who said anything about baseball?
-         You did. You said: it’s like pitching a baseball. But I don’t want to be hit out of the ballpark by you guys. I came here to propose to you to somehow be put on your team, so maybe you shouldn’t be the ones receiving the pitch – you should be catchers instead?
-          What?
-          Yes, in that way we are already on the same team.
-          Will you just tell us your damn idea?
-          Also, if my pitch is so good, that you cannot even swing at it… if my idea is so novel that you can’t even grasp it or hit it or whatever… then it’s really a bad idea pitching at all, isn’t it?

 [ad lib ad absurdum…]

At this point in the story I have usually forgotten what the question was, but then another fellow comes up and poses the same question, and I just start over…

(Tak for lån af intro til Mr. Waits og det nederste billede har jeg hugget fra Mette Hoffmann Meyer's Facebook-side med billeder fra en pitching-session ved filmfestivalen i Amsterdam 2013... hehehe... )


CPH:DOX 2013 Closing Award Ceremony

(Possible extract from an impossible book)

I tried putting down my glass, but the table was obscured by some pretty, young things who doesn’t really have anything to do with the documentary business but who always show up at parties like this. I wanted to go and talk to the Swedish director Anna Odell, whom I’d just seen in the crowd, but I never found the courage – partly since the free drinks were over after just one hour.

She didn’t win anything at the award ceremony which took place in this old theatre but I already knew that before I left my house. Somehow I must have been included on a mailing list for press releases or something because while putting on my make-up I received a mail with a list of all the winners.

Well, award shows are always something you want to get over with quickly if you are not up for anything (remind me to turn the prize down, should I ever get one – films are not a sporting event), and this year the arrangers had wisely decided to show us a short film instead of the 100-minutes things you sometimes have to sit through before you can get out in the bar. They treated us with Jørgen Leth’s “Life in Denmark” from 1971 which is rather swell (but am I the only one who thinks that we don’t exactly have to put Jørgen’s face on milk cartons like a missing child anymore? We must hail the masters, yes, but maybe we should give the man a small rest now?)

These are pretty, young things with something to do with the business
and therefore not the ones mentioned in the text.

Anyway, I got rid of my glass without looking at any of the girls in particular, and luckily I’d taken my old pal who holds a real job so he sponsored the next couple of drinks. There were some loud music (live, it seemed) but the acoustics made regular conversation impossible, so a lot of people went down to the lobby.

My assignment was as usual to avoid saying stupid things to commissioning editors, magazine editors, producers and directors in case you’d want to work with them in the future. So luckily, I didn’t talk to Anna Odell, and luckily I pulled a Houdini when everybody moved location to the local bars.

See you all in 2014