Floppy Films Workshop - Résumé by Florian Cramer
"Floppy Films - no more than 1.44 MB of moving image" was an intense three-days workshop at transmediale 2012. Ten international participants learned the techniques of squeezing short films on floppy disks, going into the gory details and obscure tweaks of video codecs, and encountering numerous technical incompatibilities, glitches, breakdowns of the delicate hardware and software in the process. On the last day, they were also taught the analog medium of hand-developed Super 8 film.
Floppy Films were started as a little, not-too-serious hack and tactical media project by workshop initiator Florian Cramer in 2009. Among others, he put every Oscar-nominated film of that year onto a single floppy disk, encoding it as a moving image of only 7x3 pixels, and desperately waiting to get sued by Hollywood studios for piracy. The participants of the transmediale workshop were more focused on the making of visuals. We considered the technical limitations of the floppy disk - not only the storage capacity, but also slow read speed and poor reliability - a "constraint" in the tradition of the French Oulipo group. Since the early 1960s, Oulipo had experimented with self-imposed formal restrictions on literary writing. With its focus on 'poor' media, playfully critical reflection of formalisms, it embodies a counter-tradition within computational and media arts which too often buys into empty industry promises of 'rich media experiences'.
Trying to put videos on floppy disks made the group encounter breakdowns of their everyday software, forcing them to work with non-standard command line tools, and encountering unexpected behavior, with often fortunate results, in their works. Work methods and outcomes had conceptual and aesthetic resemblance to structural experimental filmmaking in the 1960s and 70s which had literally broken down film's celluloid in order to dissect the materiality and language of cinema. It therefore seemed logical to proceed to hand-developed Super 8 film on the last day of the workshop, under the creative and technical guidance of Dagie Brundert, one of the world's best-known contemporary experimental Super 8 filmmakers, and Super 8 activist in Berlin since the late 1980s.
For us, running a guerilla analog film lab at transmediale, with development chemicals in plastic buckets and an improvised laboratory in a bathroom of Haus der Kulturen der Welt, was an important gesture for shifting the festival from its previous focus on "art and digital culture" towards a larger culture of critical do-it-yourself media - whether digital or analog, video or Super 8, servers or zines - and their strong tradition in the city of Berlin.
Text & image credits: Florian Cramer