Rules of Engagement explores the social protocols that control our behaviour both in public and private. The work focuses on 3 scenarios in which a person fails to conform, either through choice or by misunderstanding.
The film consists of three filmic vignettes, each begins with a 40-second ‘head shot’ portrait. Breaking the fourth wall, addressing the audience directly by staring straight at them, these static moments set a tone of deliberate ambiguity. The portraits are followed by three vignettes each based on a real experience scripted into a filmic scenario and featuring one of the characters from the opening images.
The first vignette, placed in a domestic setting during a family birthday celebration, explores the excruciating return to an outgrown family unit. The second story, based on a ‘Munch’ a casual daytime get-together for people interested in BDSM role-play, investigates the careful negotiation necessary to integrate with a new social context loaded with social codes as well with the wider public’s unawareness of the practice that brings the group together. The final vignette, set in a professional context, is about the outsider trying, and failing, to blend in with ultra-conservative colleagues.
The idea for the film stems from my own experience as a Swede living in North East of England following the 2016 EU referendum, which led to an increased awareness of the social codes that create cohesion and the prize you pay for not adhering to the ‘rules’.
I began by researching the unwritten rules of social interaction and collecting stories from people of failed or uncomfortable situations. Instead of using a conventional casting process I sought actors who were interested in adding their own their own experiences into the work enabling me to develop a narrative somewhere in between the original stories told and the actor’s re-interpretations. This created a deliberate sense of things being staged, unnatural or not quite right, drawing attention to the seemingly small and insignificant dramas unfolding on screen.
I designed each scene to have the feel of familiar television and cinematic content whilst deliberately depriving the viewer of the usual tropes associated with narrative drama, namely dialogue and discernible story arch. The pace is important. I want the work to teeter on the edge of absurdity, stretching scenes out, and heighten the sound design, to create an experience in which the viewer is caught between empathy and comedy. By highlighting micro-expressions and gestures I want to guide the audience through the layers of isolation experienced by each character so that every element almost excruciatingly draws out the character’s plight to find a way to belong on their own terms.