From driving on the left side to the Bergen rain, Dr. Richard Misek finds his new life in Bergen refreshing and interesting. Having worked and studied all over the world, Misek brings not only a media scholar’s expertise but also a creative practitioner’s understanding of filmmaking to The University of Bergen.
(Photo: Zulfikar Abdelhamid Fahmy)
Publisert: 13. mars 2023
A European filmmaker
Together with his Finnish partner and their son, Misek has found Bergen to be a welcoming new home. Though he is a lifelong lover of Nordic culture, he admits that he never expected to end up in Norway. “When I saw the job advert on Euraxess, everything they were looking for felt like it pointed to me – each bullet point was like, yes, yes, yes – OK, that’s exactly what I do. And now I’m here, Bergen feels like a natural place to be.” he explains as he places a cup of tea in front of TekLab’s reporter, before he takes a sip of his own cup of tea, filled to the brim with tea and milk.
When asked what he thinks of Bergen, Misek smiles, “After my interview for the job, I asked my new employer about how people handle all the rain here in Bergen. The answer I got was: yes, it rains a lot, but when the sun comes out, you feel a special joy! And that is so true! Bergen is such a great place to be when the sun is out,” Misek says enthusiastically, as his office in Media City Bergen is momentarily basked in sunshine. The office is stacked with books about film, media theory, and storytelling. A big poster on the wall reads Rohmer in Paris – a testament to his love for the films of Eric Rohmer and of filmmaking itself.
From an aspiring student to editor in London
Although there is no trace of his Scouse accent, Misek was born in Liverpool to Polish parents. Misek was drawn to film from an early age: “I used to watch a lot of movies growing up, film worked as a sort of escapism for me. When I grew older it became a passion. But sometimes after a long day of meetings, it can still become a form of escapism again.” he explains, before taking a long sip from his cup. Misek studied English Language and Literature at Oxford and later finished his MA at the University of Warwick. After his studies, he worked for several years in London which gave him a brutal introduction to the film industry.
“It was really difficult to get started in London since I didn’t really know anyone in the industry. I had to do basic temp work for a few years before I taught myself how to edit – mainly by bluffing myself into short-term editing jobs that I didn’t quite have the skills to do. Gradually I became a professional video editor, but it was pretty precarious work. I’d get two months on CNN and then there would be nothing for another two months. ”
Balancing his Ph.D. while filming
After a few years, Misek eventually grew tired of the uncertainty of freelance work and moved from London to Melbourne to get his Ph.D. in Screen Culture. For four years, he researched the history of color in film, from early cinema to digital color grading. Even though he had started to work towards his academic career again, he still kept up with filmmaking whenever he had the possibility.
“While taking my Ph.D. in Melbourne I worked part-time for the State Government’s tourism agency. I was essentially a one-man production studio: I’d go out and film the city, then edit promotional videos of it. It was a perfect balance – three days a week I’d be researching films, and two days a week I’d be making them.” After he finished his Ph.D., he moved back to England, where he worked as a lecturer in film and media. Encouraged by his department at the University of Bristol to conduct practical research, he discovered video essays, a then-new approach that allowed him to use film-making as a thought process and combine his artistic and academic interests.
Balancing filmmaking and lecturing
His first video essay Mapping Rohmer later developed into the essay film Rohmer in Paris (2013). The film was screened at film festivals and museums across the world and confirmed Misek’s love for the form. “Video essays are a perfect way of using images to reflect on images. I’m very attracted to their ‘meta’ dimension.”
Each film that he has made since has attempted to take a new approach to the form. Misek’s latest film A History Of The World According To Getty Images, was three years in the making and uses the form as a tool for activism. He remains committed to video essays, mainly because of the ease with which they can be made. His creative work feeds into his teaching and in turn often inspired by it. "Research, filmmaking, and teaching are, for me, three sides of the same coin. I think of myself as half researcher, half filmmaker, and half teacher," Misek explains with a grin.
(Photo: Zulfikar Abdelhamid Fahmy)
Richard Misek's experimental approach to video making can especially be seen in his VR experience and “expanded cinema” performance A Machine for Viewing. Made in collaboration with filmmaker Charlie Shackleton and creative technologist Oscar Raby, it was screened and performed live at the Sundance Film Festival. "It started in 2017 when I got a research grant to make a series of 'VR video essays,' but I actually had no idea what that meant. So I found some collaborators, and we discussed ideas for about a year before finding a way of combining critical video making, interactivity, VR, and – in the end – also live performance. It was a pretty unrepeatable project, but it convinced me that one way or another, XR [extended reality] is the future of visual media."
Screenings of A Machine for Viewing were cut short by the pandemic, but in 2021 Misek and his collaborators were commissioned by Melbourne International Film Festival to remediate it for online consumption. They organized a live performance of the VR experience from different countries via Zoom, for a single audience member in an empty art deco cinema in Melbourne, and turned the result into a YouTube livestream. “It was amazing to be able to take over an entire cinema and do whatever we liked in it – though I was actually in Helsinki at the time."
VR: The hunt for new forms
(Photo: Richard Misek)
In 2022 TekLab founded Misek’s project about the metaverse, making it possible to invite filmmaker Joe Hunting to participate. Hunting's pioneering VR documentary We Met In Virtual Reality had just premiered at Sundance; after watching the documentary, Misek knew that Hunting would be perfect for his project.
“Seeing Joe’s film, shot on a virtual camera within VRChat, was a moment of realization: the emergent metaverse isn’t something that’s apart from reality – it’s as much a part of reality as our physical world, and it’s important that people be able to document and film inside it.’
As part of a documentary course at the programme for TV production, Misek and Hunting developed an interactive learning experience to introduce the students to VR. The two-week VR program also focused on the social media platform VR Chat, and set out to teach the students how to film a documentary in virtual reality. From a teaching perspective, it carried an important benefit: it gave the students a way to practice filming a documentary, without having to leave the institute.
“As well as allowing students to explore new worlds, VR filmmaking also allows them to make low-budget films with high-budget techniques. VR filmmaking is not so far away from animation, except that you have already existing environments and avatars.”
As a result of the VR project, the documentaries made by the students were shown as part of BIFF’s VR experience. Misek is keen to further explore the overlap between filmmaking and immersive media teaching at UiB.
Misek and Hunting introducing VR (Photo: Tristan Sæter)
the VR-world is engaging the students (Photo: Tristan Sæter)
UiB and the Future of the program
Although Richard Misek likes to explore and play with different film styles and production technologies. The respect for traditional filmmaking is however still there, and he acknowledges the importance of storytelling. When asked if there is anything he wants to change in regard to the study program in TV production, he immediately responds:
“The first thing I’m changing is the programme’s name: from ‘TV Production’ to ‘Film and TV Production’. It’s a small change, but I think it’s a significant one. Over the last ten years, there has been a major democratization of filmmaking: people now ‘film’ the world on their phones, while the category of ‘film’ has expanded to include music videos, promotional videos, and YouTube videos. Our programme aims to train people to work across diverse forms of video production, including but not restricted to TV.”
Misek hopes that the study program will be able to incorporate more teaching in emerging fields such as VR, interactive documentary, and shortform content for social media. For this reason, Misek is enthusiastically exploring synergies between Film and TV Production and the other programmes at MCB, in particular, Journalism and Interaction Design: “There are so many mutual interests between TVP, Journalism, and Media and Interaction Design. For example, we’re exploring a collaboration between TVP and the MA in Investigative Journalism that would allow students to create investigative documentaries, as well as the possibility of a Master’s degree in creative technologies and games.”
With the start of a new semester, ten film festival screenings of his latest film, a feature film in development, and a new research collaboration on digital arts with Harvard University. Richard Misek has a lot on his agenda. As our interview ends, he sets down his empty teacup, then gives a quick wave, before he turns towards his screen and re-enters the digital world.
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