The line between a liar and a raconteur can be a blurry one. Caught up in telling a story, many will reach out for exaggerations and embellishments in order to hold the attention and capture the imaginations of their listeners, and a new project from Mother co-founder Mark Waites explores this very human capacity for making things up.
Supposed Histories is a video project in which Mark asks his subjects simply to tell him a story that isn’t true. Not only are the results fabulously eclectic – from celebrities ruining children’s parties to tales of extra limbs – they also provide a fascinating portrait of the different ways we give ourselves away when we’re lying. And there’s a neat dramatic irony at play too – we know these stories are utter nonsense yet it’s surprising how often we get caught up in the yarn. Intrigued, we spoke to Mark to find out a bit more…
Where did the inspiration for the project come from?
Jim Thornton (CD VCCP), got up and told a story at an event called True Stories Told Live and I went away wondering what story would I tell. I have a hopeless memory and realised all the stories I was coming up with were made-up. That started me thinking that the question “Tell me a story about yourself that isn’t true” was interesting and I wanted to see how it would be interpreted.
How did you find/select people to take part?
At first I wanted to experiment with the camera and particularly recording sound so I asked some friends I knew to be great storytellers if they would tell me a story. I figured if I made some mistakes and could go back and film them again. But quite quickly other people heard of the project and got in touch wanting to take part. I’ve noticed that while everyone gets the project some people just can’t wait to get their story out.
What was the direction you gave the subjects and how much editing did you do?
Other than to give a time guide of two to five minutes I don’t give any direction other than to asking the original question. At the heart of this project is what stories people have chosen to put themselves at the heart of, so I don’t want to influence a story at all. I’ve collected a wide variety of stories and I know that butting out and letting the storytellers get on with it has been the right thing to do. I don’t even want to hear a story ahead of filming.
What do you think the project tells us about people’s capacity for invention?
We’re hearing a lot about storytelling these days, even brands have to have a narrative and maybe this is only to be expected as we’ve always told stories.