Does ‘One’ in Houston mean ‘Go’?

THERE SEEMS to be some ambiguity over the silhouette speed-cutting world record. The main item on our 2014 US agenda was a trip to Houston to meet the world’s fastest silhouette artist: Cindi Harwood Rose. Her record stands at 144 silhouettes cut in one hour. Our film, Silhouette Secrets, is to end with the speed-cutting duel we fought in Houston. There’s only one problem: nobody seems to know the result!

The silhouette cutting world record result
Cindi Rose and Charles Burns at a microphone after the speed-cutting world record was announced

Filming for ‘Silhouette Secrets’ is now almost complete, Andi and I returned from our crowd-funded shoot in the USA just over a month ago. Here’s the dilemma: we need to cut the film in a way that makes sense. The world record challenge is such a fundamental part of this. Without a result we don’t really know how the film will end, so what are we to do?

Off With Your Head!

When we arrived in Houston Cindi arranged for a charity speed-cutting contest, to set the world silhouette cutting world record, at a local Audi showroom in Houston. Alarmingly called “Off With Your Head!”, the rules of the contest were fairly simple. We each had a table to work at and an assistant to help us mount the silhouettes and hand them out. My daughter Taz (herself a promising silhouettist) flew with us to Houston to act as my assistant. Cindi’s reality-TV-star daughter Erica Rose flew in from LA to MC the event. Guests at the event collected pink and blue tickets. They were asked to drop blue tickets into a bowl on my table and pink ones into a bowl on Cindi’s. At the end of the evening the tickets would be counted to determine the outcome.

There were a number of craft stalls (including a paper cutter and an origami artist), a silhouette historian, a food buffet and a bar at the event. Some 200 guests and a contingent of local press arrived. On my table I had a pile of printed cards – bearing the logo of Cindi’s cancer charity for whom the event was being staged – and my usual squares of black and white paper blanks. I had previously stamped each blank with consecutive numbers to tell me how fast I was cutting and whether I was on track to beat the record.

My experience of speed cutting.

Cindi and I took our positions and a large queue immediately formed at both tables. The contest got off to a shaky start for me, as Erica announced:

“The competition is about to start: Three – Two – ONE!”

This caused me to hesitate for a vital few seconds, slightly confused. Should I start cutting? Does ‘One’ in Houston mean ’Go’?

Once over this unpromising start I soon warmed to the task in hand and began to enjoy myself. It was a luxury to be assisted by Taz and to have an MC directing the traffic. I even found time to laugh and joke with a few of the guests – who all did exactly as they had been told: standing on the ‘X’ and looking straight ahead.

Twenty minutes – and some 50 silhouettes – later the pressure began to tell and I found it harder to keep up the relentless pace. My mouth became dry and the scissors began to feel heavy as lead. Mark, the cameraman, asked me to speak a few words about how I was feeling but my reply was sadly incoherent. Taz helped by feeding me sips of water as I cut. After a while the feeling passed and I entered a kind of ‘second wind’.

The final twenty minutes were a real joy. I found myself cutting faster than I’ve ever cut before, my hands began to feel better and my numbers indicated I was on track to achieve my target. To say the silhouettes were flying off the scissors is perhaps an exaggeration but as I passed the one-hundred mark that is really how I felt.

A set of 25-second silhouettes
A selection of 24-second speed-cut silhouettes made during the final twenty minutes of “Off With Your Head!”

A new silhouette cutting world record?

The end of the contest brought a brief period of excitement as my silhouette numbers indicated I had broken the record! Taz and I counted 149 silhouettes in my pile. Rather embarrassingly I even sent out an ill-advised tweet or two to this effect! This had to be hurriedly retracted some time later when the official ticket count became available. Andi, with typical humour, posted a Facebook update asking “Will we get out of Texas alive?”.

The official result, based on the blue and pink tickets, was slightly disappointing as it seems neither Cindi or I equalled her existing record, although we both came very close. The final ticket count was 141 to Cindi and 139 to me, leaving Cindi’s 30-year-old record untouched. How did this happen? Where did my missing 10 tickets go? Speculation abounds, but in the end I agreed to let the record stand.

Although I didn’t officially beat the silhouette cutting world record I came to understand how it is possible to cut such huge numbers, and how I might go about beating this record in future. I had to remind myself that the result was less important than filming the event, which was a huge success and will make an interesting end sequence in ’Silhouette Secrets’. I came away with an increased interest in speed-cutting: it’s almost a separate art in itself. I’m looking for ways to use this unlikely and potentially-record-breaking skill in the future.

Some photos of the speed-cutting event:

Interviews before the contest
Charles being interviewed by Houston Chinese TV before the start
silhouette cutting world record silhouettes
Two guests holding silhouettes by both Cindi and I (mine are the smaller)
Cindi Rose in action
Cindi silhouetting a less-than-cooperative child
Lollipop silhouette
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Andrew Krajewski
Andrew Krajewski
8 years ago

A lot of fun was clearly had by everybody and it will be a great sequence in your film. They say that ‘It’s the taking part that counts’ and in this instance that’s certainly true but perhaps next time the Guinness Book of Records team should do the adjudicating.

Kathryn Flocken
8 years ago

It was a super event, and you both were so speedy! Very exciting to have experienced it in person!

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