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Mr. Nobody – Jaco Van Dormael’s Film Translation

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Writing Project 2: “Mr. Nobody”: Film to Movie Trailer

I decided to translate the philosophical film “Mr. Nobody”, into my target text, a film story board meant for a television trailer commercial. I was prompted to translate this film, primarily because I was curious as to what it would take to properly translate a two-hour philosophical film into a film strip that could properly and accurately depict the film’s message and content, at the same time without giving away too much. In order to properly address this challenge, I made sure to analyze the exigence, motivation, as well as characterization and plot of the film. Also, since the narrative manipulates time and has a climax and open ending I had to be cautious as to how to subtly convey these ideas without confusing the audience. In order to successfully represent the film into a story board for a film trailer I had to take these film conventions and decide how to go about transforming them into a new medium that is both concise and entertaining.

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Mr. Nobody, to put simply is a film about choice that takes a four-dimensionalists view of the nature and existence of life in the universe. The film starts out in the year 2092 where one hundred eighteen-year-old Nemo is made to recount his life story to a reporter. It is with this that Nemo immediately remembers how as he was a nine-year-old boy, he was thrust into a position where he had to make an impossible decision – to choose between his mother and father. Since he is unable to determine which will be the right choice he concludes that since “[He doesn’t] know the future, [he] cannot make a decision (Dormeal, 2009).” However, later on in the film when Nemo is able to know what his future will entail, he instinctively opts for another. In the film when Nemo is an old man he looks back upon his life and realizes that “before he was unable to make a choice because he didn’t know what would happen. Now that he knows what will happen, he is unable to make a choice (Dormeal, 2009).” Even with this mindset, Nemo acknowledges that every choice he makes is the correct one, especially when you try to choose what you think will make you happier.

Essentially, what needed to be done in order to properly translate the source text that has an initial medium as a film into the target text which has a medium as a film strip is an intersemiotic translation is to fully understand the content and intention that lies behind the source text. In order for me to have properly been able to translate the film into the film strip I used my previous knowledge gained from “How to Read like a Writer.” Dr. Bunn encourages people to read further in order to RLW and he talks about examining the things we read “to decide if you want to adopt similar (or the same) techniques in your writing (Bunn, 2011),” I decided to adopt the same principle of fastidious analysis towards translating the film. By analyzing the film closely and observing the director and actor’s choices I was able to better comprehend the true meaning of the film. By doing so I was then able to more accurately depict the intended message through my translation. I paid attention to the facial expressions, diction, and timing of every single action that took place within the film. I also observed semiotics, narrative structure, cultural context, and the arrangement of scenery and stage properties (mise en scene). Taking notes on all of these elements, I then carefully examined and evaluated the film in order to derive the overarching thematic qualities, so I could begin formulating ideas on how to arrange the film strip. In order to make sure my way of approaching this translation process was correct I examined several examples that I discovered online.

There are numerous published examples of translation between film and comics. For instance, Marvel produces copious amounts of films each of which have several trailers associated with the film. Their translation process is effective primarily because of how they use special effects, sound tracks, and focus more on emotion than plot points. Their trailers seem to fixate on capturing the mood of the movie through quick cut scenes of extreme emotion. What I learned from Marvel is that in order to properly translate the film into a comic strip I will need to be aware of how the audience will interpret my translation. I also need to take into consideration whether the viewers will they interpret things the way I see it, or if there will be room for their own analysis and interpretation. Also, after looking a other movie trailer examples I realized that some stories are lost in translation. Meaning, it appears that when these film strip creators and directors want to play a demographic they play up the story within the story. Additionally, if the story within the story does not exist, then they play up the characters. After making note of these translation methods I began to sketch out what I deemed to merit a place in the film strip.

The film strip is divided into twelve sections each of which consist of carefully depicted characters, quotations, and integral moments. The first section depicts an old Nemo Nobody being asked what he recalls from his life. Seeing as Nemo Nobody has the ability to recall several life paths, he begins with the first integral life moment, one that led to him to lead substantially differing lives. He recalls the moment where he is at the train station and must make a choice as to whether he will live the rest of his youth with either his mother or father. He appears to be sad in this section and thinks to himself “As long as you don’t choose, anything remains possible (Doermeal, 2009).” This thought is of significant importance primarily because he repeats it both when he is young as well as when he is old. It is even one of the main ideas that is expanded upon throughout the movie. Throughout the film there appears to be an eloquent interplay between philosophical lifestyle and what forges reality, that is epitomized by the constant change in story line, between young boy, adolescent man, and mature man. Since, only so much can be depicted within a twelve-panel film strip, I had to skip the scenes that led up to the point where he was at the train station with his parents, forced to make a decision. The next panel then depicts him choosing to live with his mother. The next few panels depict what his life ends up being like when he chose to be with his mother. Since he ends up living in a different city, he is surrounded by different people as well as a different environment, thus he will grow up to be a different person than when he lives with his father. The next few panels depict what his life is like when he chooses to live with his father and it is immensely different than when he lives with his mother. The panels that contain just white represent the time manipulations that exist within the plot of the film. I was careful to place them in such a way so that the audience would not be confused and so that not too much information would be given away.

The main authorial choices I made are associated with what specific content and emotions should be incorporated into the trailer. Looking at the Marvel trailer examples as well as other examples I made sure to focus more on emotion than on plot points. Additionally, by placing more focus on emotion than plot, the audience won’t be given too much information as to what the film pertains about, thus they can still watch the film and find it entertaining. I was more focused on the functional aspect rather than the structural aspect of translation because I just wanted the audience to notice the overarching themes rather than the minute details. There were also some other scenes that I initially placed into my film strip, however when I considered how long the trailer would be when the strip was actually created into a television trailer, I thought that the content would be too much, so I went from fourteen panels down to twelve panels. Even though I had less content in the film strip I was still able to more accurately depict the intentions the film and director wanted to portray within this genre of philosophical film.

The overarching genre of philosophical film, sometimes referred to as filmosophy, is better understood when people realize that film itself is the medium in which philosophical themes and concepts are portrayed. The genre of philosophical films can be considered as a resource, a source of examples and illustration, in order to elucidate philosophical ideas and questions. The primary discourse community is related to philosophy and its teachings. A major convention associated with the discourse community is that of over analysis. At times these communities tend to look at specific ideas and concepts that are present within the film and examine and scrutinize every aspect of the idea until at times they even begin to question the entirety of the idea. After reading numerous comments and critiques online form viewers all over the world from a wide age cohort, it can be deduced that there is no one solid way to interpret the film, thus my translation is just one way to depict what I believe the intention off the film to be. This ambiguity is also similar in the discourse comities associated with commercials as well as film strips. The ambiguity can also come from the fact that the television trailer based on the film strip can only have a certain time length, usually around thirty seconds to one minute, not enough content is covered, thus there is some ambiguity in the translation. Since this is a film strip that is supposed to later be created into a tv advertisement for the movie, I purposefully did not want to put too many details into the film strip and primarily just wanted to have a more of a big picture type of depiction instead.

A major convention associated with trailers is that of persuasion. The intention of a trailer is to persuade its audience into buying into whatever they are prompting. In this case, the trailer is promoting the philosophical film, Mr. Nobody and the film strip is essentially just a layout of what the trailer will consist of. In order to successfully capture the audience’s attention, the trailer should capture the mood of the movie, introduce several, but not all of the characters, and it should set up basic premise. All too often, trailers leave us with either too much information on the plot or not enough. Successful trailers find that sweet spot right in between. It tells us what we can expect to happen in the movie without giving away too much. Also, the trailer should focus on just focus on one or two characters that might get the audience excited instead of bombarding them with the whole ensemble. Within the film strip, there are only several characters that are introduced, and not all of the key plot points are mentioned, only enough to give a sense of what the movie will be about and enough to keep them intrigued.

The exigence that lied behind the creation of the film is associated with the desire to entertain the public, gain financial prosperity, and address several interesting philosophical questions regarding life as well as humanity. These motivations dictate how the money and effort will be spent towards the creation of the film. If the budget happens to be low, they might focus more on plot and less on special effects, scenery, and props, however in this case the budget for the film was quite high and the return was high as well which means the movie was a successful blockbuster. In order to have a successful blockbuster, you must have a captivating trailer and in order to create a trailer that will persuade people to actually go to the film, a film strip for the trailer must be created.

The film strips consist of elements of pathos, philosophy, as well as logos. The pathos comes in when Nemo Nobody has to make the decision to choose between his parents. This evokes an emotional response from the audience and makes them more committed to the story line, thus they have a desire to know more and actually go and watch the film. There are also elements of philosophy such as when Nemo says, “As long as you don’t choose, everything remains possible (Dormeal, 2009).” This line can also be considered as logos, because it stimulates a logical response from the audience. It should lead them to think to themselves and try to judge whether they agree with the rationale and logic of that statement or not.

Another concept that was integral to the translation of the film which I had to do background research in order to learn and acknowledge is that of lighting, set locations, and camera work. I also learned that it has to be taken into consideration that not too much information should be given away to the audience in terms of props such as advanced technology, and location. Since this movie takes place in the future and has numerous flashbacks into the past and back into the present, not too much information can be shown in the trailer, otherwise it will give away all of the plot line. Also, the fact that time is being manipulated could simply just end up confusing the audience rather than entertain and captivate their attention so that they actually want to go see the movie. Camera work should also be taken into careful consideration when making sure what scenes are worthy of making the cut into the trailer. Frequent use of close-ups can encourage the audience to identify with a character. Wide shots can emphasize the beauty of a scene or give a sense of emptiness. Also, different angles can make characters appear powerful and threatening or weak and frightened. In regard to lighting, soft and harsh lighting can manipulate the viewer’s attitude towards a setting or a character. The way light is used has the ability to make objects, people and environments look beautiful, artificial, or real. In the case of this film strip there is brighter light when the character appears too be happy, and the surrounding lighting appears to be more dim whenever Nemo Nobody encounters an unpleasant situation.

Translating this film into the film strip meant for television trailers was a difficult process however the reading “Discourse Communities and Communities of Practice: Membership, Conflict, and Diversity” by Johns allowed me to think critically about what the discourse community of film viewers as well as television trailer viewers desire and what they consider to be good content. The article helped me take into consideration as to what some of the forces are that end up making these specific communities both varied as well as intricate. Another reading that assisted me with my translation is that of “Navigating Genre” by Dirk. The lines “First, determine what action you are trying to accomplish”, and “Second, learn as much as you can about the situation for which you are writing” improved what I deemed to be integral and nonessential regarding the production of the film strip (Dirk, 2010). Unpacking the minute details within the film after asking myself the questions from these readings also provided me with a sense of freedom when I created the film strip. The sense of freedom primarily came from how I eventually became more comfortable with the source text and how I would go about translating it due to the extent in which I ended up analyzing and inspecting every element and aspect of the film.

The translation process may have been an enduring and lengthy process; however, the outcome makes it all worth it. By taking into consideration a multitude of questions from various sources, by attempting to break up the film into various manageable elements and using logic to figure out what merited a place in the film strip, the end result came together in a concise yet entertaining manner.

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