Date of Award

Summer 8-18-2023

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)




Sheridan Kelley Adams

Second Committee Member

MJ Sedlock

Third Committee Member

Amy Roeder

Additional Committee Members

Robert Milazzo


Nothing to See/Hear is a research experiment into minimalist visual narrative via the short film Not the Boss of Me, in which the criteria for production mandated only the bare essential elements required to construct and convey a plot and its characters be used while filming within a nondescript space - in this case, a mostly empty soundstage. How does one tell a story and define its characters without direct expository dialogue? What is needed to establish and define locations and/or environments when limited to only one or two items? Can an audience engage their imagination to fill in the absences of content and come away feeling as though they have experienced a fully realized cinematic event? And will they?

The screenplay - not written to be minimalistic by nature, but rather produced through minimalistic techniques - went through a process of rigorous drafts, actor table readings, feedback sessions and further revisions. Said process resulted in a script which streamlined plot points, eliminated extraneous dialogue and converted exposition into actions. By analyzing environments via a process of sensory elimination, a method of reconstructing spaces one sense element at a time, a basis was established for designing a floor plan for any location needed. If you can’t see a location, how do you hear it? Through audio field recordings mixed with soundstage captures, the atmosphere and scope of environments would be established. If you can only see one thing, what will provide context to define everything unseen surrounding it? Light and shadow, along with strategically placed set items, would create a sense of time, location and tone.

Examples: The sound of a lawn mower might elicit a mental picture of a house and neighborhood. Someone wearing a hardhat could conjure the scene of a construction site. Warm yellow side light creates a sense of morning. A cold wash of blue overhead light evokes an isolating night.

It was determined that doors embody the character of the buildings they inhabit and serve as the single best representation of any location structure. The remaining majority of the world-building, not practically visible or aided by sound, would rely on the actor’s physical engagement - seeing how they put the space into their bodies through behavior - and the audience’s natural tendency to solve the missing visual puzzle.

The finished film, equipped with the bare minimum of visual and narrative elements, presented a layered and detailed character-driven storyline which hinted at a much larger world beyond what was actively seen and heard. This resulted in a cinematic experience that functioned in the audience’s peripheral vision, engaging their minds' eyes to fill in the voids, operating off fragments of sight, sound, gestures and inflection. Based on audience reactions, the project was a resounding success, with feedback affirming that despite the minimalistic approach to the work nothing felt missing, solidifying their investment in the work and leaving them with a desire to see and hear more. In conclusion, less is more.

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