An Instagram movie, word for word

The old adage says a picture tells a thousand words. But what about a thousand pictures of words?

That's what filmmaker Jason Van Genderen is sifting through, as he puts together a unique short film for next year's Tropfest competition.

The 40-year-old from Gosford, on the New South Wales Central Coast, has taken to Instagram and Twitter to source images of words for the project.

Van Genderen is a proponent of "pocket filmmaking" - using devices such as smartphones and small digital cameras to make movies.

His first effort in 2008, Mankind is No Island, saw van Genderen and friend Shane Emmett use their mobile phones to take pictures of words written on street signs and in other public places in both Sydney and New York. The words were sorted into a script, and the result was a thought-provoking meditation on the nature of homelessness.

"We put it into Tropfest New York, and ended up winning," says van Genderen. "It's gone on to win about 20 awards worldwide.

"That seeded the idea in us that you could make films in alternative ways, and utilise pocket devices and cameras to actually tell serious stories."

His new project is still untitled. There's no script yet - not even a topic.

Right now, van Genderen is gathering word pictures shared through Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #shareaword.

"I thought, wouldn't it be an amazing experiment to see if we could get the whole community to jump on board and share the words they see in their walk to work of a morning, or on the bus home, or a word that greets them on a sign that's peculiar," he says.

"Rather than me going out and actually finding the language to make a film, if I can enlist as many cameramen out there who want to share a word, then I can utilise that communal library."

He's got backing from Nikon Australia, which is giving away several Coolpix digital cameras to random submitters who include the username @nikon-australia in their post.

About 1000 submissions have already been received, including some from a few well-known names, including surfing world champion Stephanie Gilmore, who submitted a picture of the word "explore", written in a cursive style in black marker pen.

Once the submission period closes on January 14, van Genderen will have the unenviable task of sorting through all those words, and start scripting a three to four minute short film.

"I'll make up lists of nouns and verbs and adjectives ... and start seeing what story evolves from that point," he says.

He says it's a risky but organic process that throws the project into a whole new creative space.

"The beautiful thing is that people don't have to be a filmmaker to be a part of the film. They just need to snap a word they find interesting."

But will recent trouble with Instagram, which has had to backpedal after internet outrage over their terms of service changes, affect use of the service?

"I think it's a 'watch this space'," says van Genderen, admitting we're so used to having things for free, commercialisation or monetisation attempts always throw a spanner in the works.

"I have faith at the end of the day that they'll work out a compromise that will allow Instagram to become financially sustainable and have a commercial base if you elect to have it for free, but I think they'll end up having a subscription-based premium version."

You can follow Jason van Genderen's project through his website.

The story An Instagram movie, word for word first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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