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Tom Brook Saturday, 15 April, 2000, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
Take four for Figgis
Time Code  2000
Time Code's four images may confuse viewers at first
By BBC News Online's Entertainment Correspondent Tom Brook

Acclaimed British film-maker Mike Figgis is making history with his latest directorial effort Time Code 2000.

Time Code 200 - which unspools later this month in American cinemas - is the first feature film to be shot in a single continuous take. It is also one of the first full-length pictures to be shot entirely on digital video.

Time Code 2000 is a black comedy that has sex, drugs, chaos and murder. It is set in a Hollywood production office and involves four main characters.

A philandering movie executive is played by Stellan Skarsgard, his wife by Saffron Burrows, Salma Hayek plays an with aspiring actress and her lover is played by Jeanne Tripplehorn.

Saffron Burrows
Saffron Burrows as the wife of cheating husband

In technical terms shooting the film was a groundbreaking project. Figgis used four separate state of the art digital cameras to follow the movements and dialogue of each actor, shooting them in real time continuously for 93 mins - the length of one digital video cassette.

Synchronised direction

Figgis says his technique is refreshingly different from traditional shooting "in a conventional film all of your effort is going into making two or three minutes increments of perfection and you keep shooting that three minute section until you believe it to be perfect".

But Figgis says using the new technology gets very different results "because it is a 93 minute take, the actors' dynamic is much more like a theatrical dynamic".

The actors were all coordinated by synchronised digital watches as they worked from a tightly choreographed but highly improvised script. They all come together for a climactic scene at the end of the picture.

Swedish Skarsgard
Swedish Skarsgard plays a womanising picture executive

When the film is shown in cinemas all four characters are displayed simultaneously on a quadruple split cinema screen with each quadrant devoted to following one individual story.

By varying sound levels of dialogue the attention of the audience is directed to the action in a particular quadrant.

Figgis says on viewing some cinemagoers are confused "for the first five or 10 minutes the audience is sitting there without a doubt thinking 'what on earth is going on'.

"Then one actor crosses from one camera and walks into the camera next to it, so he is suddenly on two cameras but you see it's the same person, he lifts his arm, his arm raises in both screens and you realise that geographically those two cameras are now in the same position".

Strong support

Time Code may have the look of an experimental work, but it is significant because it is a digital film that has the full backing of a big studio, Sony Pictures, which also happens to manufacture the digital cameras that made the whole venture possible.

Mike Figgis
Figgis has broken new ground in Time Code

What may prove particularly appealing about Time Code from Hollywood's point of view is its cost. Figgis say if Time Code had been shot the conventional way on celluloid, "I couldn't see it costing less that say $40m, and it cost about 7.5% of that!".

Figgis is best known for his mainstream efforts like Leaving Las Vegas and Internal Affairs. But he has long been engaged in making bold and daring experimental films, especially in fusing cinematic images with music.

In many ways Time Code has the feel of a fugue with dense multiple storylines paralleling the different musical voices. At the film's first public screening in New York Figgis received a strong endorsement from the audience, but there were some detractors who felt that too much complex information was being presented on screen for the viewer to absorb.

Commercial viability doesn't appear to interest Figgis who sees new digital technology as a revolutionary force.

"If you look at literature or all the other art forms they are constantly reinventing style and technique is used to enhance storytelling and in cinema it's pretty much fossilised," says the director who thinks that digital shooting has finally changed film art, especially for the actors who worked on Time Code and found the new technology liberating.

Salma Hayek
Salma Hayek finds her character caught in the middle of the affair

Figgis is not the only director to be experimenting with digital technology. Spike Lee has just completed shooting a digital film and George Lucas has announced that when he starts shooting the next Star Wars episode in June he will use six digital cameras.

What Mike Figgis has already proved with Time Code is that digital technology will not only enable feature films to be made more efficiently, it could also usher in a new era of distinctly different cinema narratives.

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19 Dec 99 | Tom Brook
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