As an early-career researcher in the process of completing my PhD, I am often reminded of the developing nature of practice-as-research within the academy. Using filmmaking as my primary research method, I have had to contend with the challenging task of performing this research during a national lockdown in Scotland.
For context, my proposed PhD project aims to explore how male intimacy is performed cinematically and how casting, scriptwriting and working with actors contributes to representations of male characters and their expression of homosocial intimacy between each other.
Part of the original research outline was to create a working space between director and actor which can reflect on the behavioural expectations of a patriarchal society and result in a transgressive performance of masculinity and intimacy between men. With the inability to work with actors physically during lockdown, I was challenged to continue my research without what I considered a key resource - access to other human beings!
Like many researchers in my position, I was forced to radically reconsider my data collection activities while isolated from others. Although I was able to make films with actors over video calling, I felt frustrated at the lack of physical contact and the cinematic control I was used to. Coming to terms with my finite resources, I decided to continue experimenting with myself as a simultaneous researcher and participant.
The decision to create a film that featured multiple versions of myself at the same time was the result of one of my supervisors comparing my work to photographer Cindy Sherman’s. The idea to represent different facets of myself led to me exploring what different actions reinforced my ideas of masculinity, leading to my short film Masculine Affirmation.
It was enjoyable getting to participate in this playful exercise and to be both critical and personal about the different pluralities of masculinity that I adhere to, especially ones which could be considered in conflict with each other. At the same time, there was technical rigour I had to adhere to in making this film, especially when it came to layering different performances of myself on top of each other in the manner of David Fincher’s The Social Network.
I consider this film a success in that it forced me to contemplate my ideas of ideal masculinity. However, rather than revel in being able to make a more traditional film again, I realised that the homosocial intimacy my project is centred around was entirely more present in previous projects where I worked with participants remotely, despite the lack of actors in a physical space.
The knowledge gained through my filmmaking experiences during lockdown will continue to be expanded upon and integrated into my future practice-as-research activities. Despite having little in the way of what I considered essential resources for my practice during lockdown, I was able to work creatively to make sure that my time alone was not only spent productively, but that it challenged me in ways that would not be possible outside of this pandemic.
The previous emphasis on physical intimacy in my project was confronted, and I have come to realise that real connections can still occur even in a digital space. The future of my doctoral research has been undoubtedly supported and shaped by these filmmaking activities, and I am excited to continue challenging my preconceptions of useful research in the uncertain but invigorating times ahead.