‘THOUGHTS OF PEOPLE YOU MAY KNOW’: Visual Snapshots of Everyday Thoughts

In an era flooded with fleeting digital experiences, film director Ben Miethke unveils his latest project, THOUGHTS OF PEOPLE YOU MAY KNOW, a collection of bite-sized films that visualises those ephemeral, almost intangible thoughts that randomly pop up in our minds as we carry on with our regular business.

Shot between New York and Brandenburg, the series of 12 short videos narrates different stories we can relate to — ever thought of falling in love with an octopus? Or wondered what to do if you found cash at an ATM? Miethke reflects on these and other questions with a cinematic curation that has a temporal and sensory effect similar to that of photographs: in a second, it evokes an emotion and produces a momentarily visual anecdote.

Chatting with Ben about this project, which will be exhibited at the Berlinese gallery Flutgraben on December 16th, he shares insights into his pursuit of brevity, storytelling and emotion in the rapidly evolving landscape of contemporary filmmaking and the influence of social media storytelling.

Hi Ben! Super exciting to talk with you about your newest project. Let’s start by introducing THOUGHTS OF PEOPLE YOU MAY KNOW. How did you come up with this idea?

Thanks for having me. THOUGHTS OF PEOPLE YOU MAY KNOW started off as a collection of texts I gathered over the years. Those are scraps of a convo in the subway, intimate conspicuities of a person close to my heart, or merely the aura of an encounter on the street that sparked the first lines of a new text. At some point, the brevity of the texts led me to the question: what if these people and these thoughts could be brought into being — as a film? How could these texts exist in a short form, easy to consume as a TikTok, and with the emotional immediacy of a movie trailer, photograph or song — maybe a 1-minute film?

I’m very interested in the format, it’s like a contemporary version of an analog photograph. How do you keep the balance between grasping emotions, storytelling and aesthetics in such a short timeframe?

My goal was to make the films have a similar effect to portraits, indeed. I love the immediacy that a great photo creates. It’s mostly a captivating person in a different moment. I wanted to slice in these moments just as photographers do — but translated into film. But to be honest, I guess I’m still figuring out what the balance is!

What elements defined the aesthetic and format of these films?

Brevity and easiness.

The texts were quite short so the film’s length was given naturally. The use of voice-over helped our talents refrain from heavy acting, and so we were able to cast real people and let them stay in their familiar terrain to a certain degree. I’m not sure when it comes to aesthetics. It came naturally through the interplay of working with our cast and the work of DP Tobias Blickle. He found amazing ways to adapt to the approach, and elevated the whole concept visually.

What is it that you’d like to achieve with this project?

Among the overdose of images that surround us every day, I wanted to create consumable snippets that entertain for a quick second. I hope people will hold and watch for a moment before the films are swallowed by the stream again.

What’s the story you can relate the most to and why?

They all resonate with me in one way or the other, but the one that probably does the most ridding is “FAV BANDS RN.” Unfortunately, I’m musically quite ungifted, but I always collected names for bands that I could see myself in — maybe in a different universe. It was quite a relief finding a place to make something out of this collection

What was the story you had the most fun shooting?

We shot the films on a super compact film camera in order to be able to shoot quickly. Both “WHAT IF” and “ROSELIN” were pretty hectic — that included bribing drug addicts, getting shouted at in the metro and running over a busy crossing in Queens, all to get a shot in under 5 min. That was stressful but fun for sure.

Judging alone from the title, “WHAT IF” immediately clicked with me, because I’m a person full of ‘what ifs’ followed by random interactions. There have been moments when I’ve wondered what would it be like to hook my arm through someone else’s while we stand at the traffic light. Do you think that’s the effect of living in cities, in mass societies made up of strangers? Or do you think we’re just running out of ideas?

I totally feel you! Though I believe that it’s a process from which ideas can evolve. I guess it’s interesting to me to be locked in your mind, oscillating between these grand and intimate questions. But I’m also quite sure that you can encounter these questions in nature, too. It’s just more weird to be surrounded by everyday life in a buzzing city, right?

I’m curious, have you ever fallen in love with a scammer? Or have you ever scammed someone you dated?

Not me, fortunately, haha. The story is based on a Craigslist post that I read some time ago. Craigslist is a fantastically strange place, especially as a European. Here, no one really uses the platform, so diving through those normalities and oddities in the US is bizarrely interesting to me.

How would you define your approach to filmmaking?

I love keeping it pure. I guess I also like bouncing back and forth between simplicity and complexity. But yeah, purity is always the goal.

What’s your creative mind looking for at the moment?

There’s so much to discover for me. The way we tell stories and how images are perceived is something that constantly changes — and also not. I’d love to discover redefinitions more. Even if it’s just for me.

What’s coming up next for you?

I’m working on some short format things that could be the next project. I’m thinking about how to make a story based on memories or images that resonate with you — how much can you let the viewer decide, and how much do you have to guide? And what is it that makes a great abstract painting resonate with you? How can one translate that feeling into film?

*All media courtesy of the Ben Miethke