Described by director Christine Hooper as “the journey of a person waking in the middle of the night and their ensuing irrational thought process brought on from being unable to sleep”, in one simple word On Loop is a film about insomnia. Made as her graduation film for her Animation studies at the Royal College of Art, Hooper places her audience directly in the muddled headspace of her sleep-deprived protagonist with an unusual visual approach to her film.
Inspired by David Hockney’s photomontages, Hooper uses a combination of live-action and stop-motion to create On Loop’s fragmented, collage style. Shot from the pillowed perspective of her central character, anyone familiar with bouts of insomnia and that almost fever-ridden delirium that accompanies it will instantly recognise just how well this film captures that state of mind. “It was important to have it from the first person perspective so the viewer could sit in the shoes of an insomniac”, Hooper admits when questioned about the short’s style. “At 4am a person’s thoughts are fragmented. The cubist, split screen aesthetic was applied to visually reflect this state of mind and layering of time. I think it was important to feel trapped from that one perspective because that is what insomnia is like, you are unable to break away and see rationally from another angle. I explored using split visuals within my BA work within a documentary format and wished to push this technique further. To film it I stuck a tripod to the floor in the centre of the set (with the all important glue gun) and angled the camera around from this position to shoot nine individual frames, then pieced them together in the edit. It was a very tricky process of editing and shooting simultaneously – a little like a film jigsaw puzzle.”
If at first insomnia sounds like an unusual topic for a short film, once you’ve watched On Loop you quickly realise the condensed format perfectly fits the narrative. At 5-minutes long, whilst Hooper’s film presents the briefest of journey’s through the mindspace of an insomniac, because of the fractured style we’re really unsure of how much time has actually passed – it could be minutes, it could be hours, it could be days. By presenting such a fleeting experience of how the mind can work when sleep deprived it feels like On Loop is not only providing entertainment, but a little education for those lucky enough to have never suffered with this particular problem. For its director though, On Loop is a case of art imitating life, with insomnia being a problem she is all too familiar with:
“The idea started life when I was was researching for my dissertation on the subject of animated documentary. Whilst consuming a hefty book on documentary theory I came across an interesting quote from Bill Nichols; ‘Every film is a documentary’. He argues that every film, even the most whimsical of fictions, gives evidence of it’s director. From the culture they were brought up in to their personal experiences, it is played out within their work. So I decided to make a film drawing on my personal experiences – to give a feel of authenticity but not be restrained by the documentary format. One thing I had a lot of experience of was insomnia, so I chose that as the theme. Films which strike a chord with me are usually either those which I have identified with or those which have made me laugh. I wanted to make a film that other insomniacs could identify with. One that they could watch and think, ‘Oh I do that too!’, to make them feel less alone. Also, by making it a comedy, I wanted to enable insomniacs to laugh at insomnia. By poking fun at the irrationality of those thoughts I hope that when next tackling a sleepless night someone might remember it and it bring some light relief.
With On Loop, and the dissertation which was the starting point for it, based around the question ‘what can animation add to documentary that live-action cannot?’, Hooper is currently working on further film ideas that explore this line of research.