The Third Something

Weekly reflections on visual storytelling and the creative process

It was the Soviet pioneers who first put it into words, this thing, as yet unarticulated, about the fabric of cinema.

Sergei Eisenstein’s the most famous one. In an essay in 1938 he wrote:

“When we see two objects placed side-by-side, we draw certain conclusions almost automatically.”

By objects, he means pieces of film: shots. A shot of a boot stepping on a twig in the woods followed by a shot of a deer raising its head makes us draw conclusions about an event: a deer has heard an approaching hunter.

Eisenstein and the other Soviets figured out that the two pieces of film do not even need to be related in time or space for this phenomenon to happen. The boot could be filmed in Idaho in 2010 and the deer in London Zoo in 2018 - but cut together, our brains would connect the two into a third landscape, one that only exists on screen.

“This property reveals that any two pieces of film stuck together inevitably combine to create a new concept, a new quality born of that juxtaposition” he concluded.

This new concept is often not present in either image. It lives in the space between each shot, somehow both a sum and a negative of the two images at once.

And so the fabric of the film form was articulated and cinema set free. Filmmakers realised the art was not necessarily in the content of an image, but in how it juxtaposed with the previous image and then the next.

Eisenstein called this new concept, this new quality “The Third Something.

As I spend a lot of my working and waking hours thinking about this third something, it seemed a fitting name for this new weekly letter I am beginning.


In 2019 I want to do a better job of recording my life experiences. I have always done a lot of writing, either in a journal or through morning pages, but this writing is mostly thinking (alright, worrying) about the future.

I want to get better at observing the world around me, recording it, turning it into thoughtful words or pictures and sharing that with you.

That is what this will be.

Roughly 500 words.

Every Sunday.

My next year is going to spent making some of the most ambitious and challenging nonfiction videos for The New York Times. I am also working on a drama screenplay, improving my french and my drawing and much else besides.

These are the sorts of things you might read about in these letters.

If that sounds interesting to you then please put your email address in the box at the top of this page. If there is someone in your life would like to read this too, please pass it on.

This should begin on the first Sunday of the year, the 6th January.

Until then,