Sunday, 2 October 2016

Stories from the Set: Scribble Victory Unplugged

Scribble Victory in their damp but acoustically-pleasing location! Photo by I C Things.

    ICYMI, Derby based musical duo Scribble Victory (who have previously featured on BBC Introducing) recently released a music video that was created for them by my company, Triskelle Pictures. Scribble were one of a handful of great artists who contributed original songs to the Night Owls soundtrack, and I've wanted to make a music video for them ever since. It was the least I could do.

    This was one of the rare occasions on a shoot where the location was chosen before the client. My frequent collaborator Ian Cudmore discovered the location, and because of its potential, we pitched it to Scribble as part of a package deal: a music video from Triskelle combined with a photo shoot from Ian's own company, I C Things Photography.

    I'm a big fan of the Mahogany Sessions - a series of YouTube videos where great artists perform live versions of their songs in unusual locations, so we tried to achieve something similar with this video. This meant that Ian was actually on double duties: he recorded the music live on the day, and mixed it for the video, as well as taking photographs. 

   One half of the location - the wider and, in my opinion, more visual half - featured a large open vent alongside one wall, and traffic noises clearly came through there. So we recorded the main audio for the video in the second half of the location, which was a much smaller space, fully enclosed... and completely underground...

Pacman Bokeh is coming for you...

    Because this was a small, low-budget video project, I was on camera duty again. For this reason I kept the shots very simple but made sure there were plenty of them, for a more exciting edit, and I did some very basic techniques to add interest to the images like focus pulls and shallow focus to create bokeh (the smaller location was filled with fairy lights and little LEDs, on request from Scribble, and those looked really cool). Some of the soft-focus shots of these lights caused weird e-shaped circles on the camera, prompting Ian to coin the term #PacmanBokeh.

    Because I'm not a DP - nor will I ever pretend to be one - I'm not going to go into a detailed breakdown of how I shot the film, but I will say that it was entirely lit with battery powered LED panel lights. LED panels are best used to enhance and support existing light sources, rather than fully lighting a location from scratch, but they were really handy in this scenario; because we were underground, there were no power outlets anywhere, and battery powered lights were the only way to go.

    Apart from the lack of light, the other issue with the location was the fact that it was literally flooding as we were filming. It was raining heavily all day, and water was dripping through (again, another good reason for using battery powered lights rather than having trailing cables!). Our feet were starting to get a bit damp by the end of the shoot, but the water did really add something. At 01:30 in the video you can see a shot where one of the little LEDs is completely reflected in the wet floor, and you can hear some atmospheric dripping in the background of the audio track - particularly at the start and the finish - which really suited the sombre tone of the song.

   So, the music and the location may have had moody elements, but the Scribble Victory boys were a joy to work with. When all their hard work was done, they loved nothing more than using Ian's photography skills to capture them laughing and mucking around together, almost completely vetoing the usual 'posed band photos'. They are a talented but really fun pair, and I hope I get the chance to work with them again - ideally on a higher budget video so that I can offer them the benefit of a full crew.

    The video is on Scribble Victory's Facebook page now, and will appear on their YouTube channel in the near future.


Monday, 29 August 2016

Songbird: I Can See Clearly Now The Rain Has Gone

Shooting the dreaded 'scene 17'... (photo credit: Robert Brown)

  Back in December 2015, writer Tommy Draper, producer Laura C. Cann and I had a sudden surge of interest in Songbird - and from that moment on, it seemed to take up most of our time. It was the biggest project my team and I had attempted since Stop/Eject, and my biggest undertaking as a director so far (multiple locations! Multiple actors! Magic! Aaah!). Even though we were working on it constantly, over several months, it always seemed as though there was lots to do. I thought I would never be ready for it - but now, all of a sudden, the shoot is in the past.

   In spite of a couple of last-minute line-up changes (something which seems to be inevitable with indie filmmaking), we started the shoot in very fine spirits, mixing some seriously quality work with constant laughter, hugs and innuendos. Apart from a mid-week blip where the weather slowed us down (we were out in 30 degree sunshine with minimal shade), it seemed as though things were running so smoothly that I'd love the shoot as much as Night Owls.

  But Friday and scene 17 were always looming on the horizon; Scene 17 was a complicated and long outdoor scene (it takes up almost half of the screenplay) and we knew how challenging it was going to be. Then, to make things even more difficult, the weather decided to turn again - just for that shoot day - and we were met with torrential rain. We had to buy a last minute supply of ponchos, groundsheet and gazebo just to avoid cancelling altogether. But the rain came in fast and heavy, occasionally going sideways, and the gazebo - originally our only source of shelter - started to flood. 

   Everyone was exhausted, and - understandably - tempers grew short. My brain was so fried, thinking about each shot felt like trying to assemble a jigsaw in oven gloves (whilst soaked). There were a few times when I had to bark, "just keep going! Keep filming!" through the rain. From the word go, it was one of the most difficult days of my career - so much so that it took me a little while to look back at the shoot with the positivity I started out with.

Directing Janet Devlin. (Photo credit: I C Things)
   However, a few sleeps later, I see it as the brilliant shoot it was. The word 'family' has been used amongst the crew a few times, which always fills me with such happiness; people supported each other throughout the shoot, and often went beyond the call of duty (shout out to 3rd AD Demetri Yiallourou and his team for doing that every day). Old partnerships were made stronger, and new bonds were formed - one particular example is the friendship I made with Production Designer Charlotte Ball. I often struggle to delegate art department duties, but I already miss her frequent evening messages, saying things like "which of these white sofas do you prefer?" and "is this nightie subtle enough?" I hope that our paths will cross again.

  Above all, having had the opportunity to direct Janet Devlin was a clear highlight. As I'd been a fan of hers for a few years, I was really looking forward to working with her, and she didn't disappoint. If anyone was wondering whether or not she can act, let me confirm this for you; she bloody can!

   Every time I direct a film, I learn something new - and I like to pass those lessons on to you guys. So, before I ramble on any further about the film in general, here's five things I learnt from the Songbird shoot:

1) You need to learn to drown out the background noise

   On the days leading up to the shoot, I genuinely lost sleep worrying about directing my first ever outdoor scenes. I didn't think I'd be able to lead my actors through difficult scenes with the constant distractions of disgruntled public, disrupted businesses and forests with certain strict location requirements. But, as another great director promised it would, all those worries faded away when I was on set; with a good producer and ADs to worry about location logistics, all you can see is your actors.

   However, one thing I can't ignore is the distress of my crew. As I said, Friday was very difficult, and at the slightest hint that any member of my team was unhappy, my brain crumbled. Challenging shoots happen sometimes, and as a director, it's good to play the leader and care about your crew. But there's a reason the director should always try to rehearse with the actors away from the crew, and join them on set when any technical issues have been sorted. You need to be in a distraction-free zone when you're creating a character together.

2) Don't forget about your Sound Guys (even when they're camouflaged!)

Spot the sound guy! (Photo credit: Charlie Clarke)
   Bringing sound recordist Rob Brown onto the production early on gave him the opportunity to join us on location recces,  and I learnt how invaluable that process can be for planning your sound recording in advance. On reflection, there really aren't many stages you shouldn't invite your sound guy to: inviting them along to rehearsals will save time on set, because they can pre-plan their levels. And when you're running through each scene or shot with your cast and DP, don't forget to include your sound guy in this conversation!

   Also, I still have the bad habit of calling 'cut' before an end board. It's very easy to do when you're caught up in the scene - but my apologies again to Rob and his boom operators, Johann Chipol and Laura Clough, for the times when I did this!

3) You need to learn about every little area of production - not just the 'main things'

   My main focus when I'm directing is my actors and, because of my background, the art department elements of the film. I also think a lot about the edit, more so than I used to. Many directors think about the camera above most things, and while this still isn't my strongest point, I try to make up for it with detailed storyboards and lengthy cinematographer meetings.

   However, as a director, you need to think about other areas you may not immediately think of. Here's an example: during makeup tests one late summer night, I kept making suggestions like 'I want her skin to look more sallow' and 'try adding more sealing powder to mute the colours'. A few less-than-successful tests later, MUA Charlotte Price politely but firmly informed me that sallow means yellow, not thin and saggy, and sealing powder is completely transparent. If I'd just known a little bit more about makeup  (I know practically nothing) it would've saved us a fair bit of time. (So my second apology of this blog post goes to Charlotte, who did a wonderful job in spite of my ignorance!)

A sneak preview of the raw Songbird footage! (Photo credit: Motion Click Productions)

4) If in doubt, try it anyway!

   In an ideal world, I would've loved a few hours to myself to just sit with the script and get myself into a proper 'director mindset'; and DP Chris Newman and I would've cherished the time it takes to plan every shot down to the exact Fstop. The reality is that most of the crew have day jobs to work around, even those based in film, and often the only time we had to plan schedules and have meetings was late at night.

   We planned everything we could, in as much detail as possible, but there were one or two shots I really wanted to try that we didn't have chance to test in advance. We tried them anyway; one of these shots ended up being my favourite of the film, and it will probably be the stand-out moment of the trailer.

   Sometimes things just happen the way they mean to. Sometimes you accidentally catch the corner of a light in shot, and it floods the image with what looks like beautiful sunlight. Sometimes you realise you can cover two shots in one through an accidental reposition of the camera. Spontaneity can sometimes be your friend, and it's something that's suited this project since the start.

   The same goes with rehearsals. I always love to rehearse with my actors, and we had an extra day to rehearse the most complicated scenes of the film ahead of the shoot. But sometimes on the day the schedule gets a bit tight, and you need to keep moving. It's not ideal, but in this scenario what I did (and recommend) is shooting the rehearsal as your first take. Explain to the actors that it doesn't count as a proper take, and they immediately become more relaxed. You will undoubtedly have to go for a second take, but there's always something you can use from the first take, even if it's just knowledge on how to do a camera move differently.

And finally, 5) if your shoot is a week long, book the following week off as well!

   The day after Songbird, I mostly slept. After that, I shot a music video, then I went back to the corporate film day job.  But films on Songbird's scale involve a massive clean-up operation afterwards: sorting and paying invoices, returning kit and art department items to the people that lent them to you, and so on and so forth. If you don't leave time for these mundane but important activities, or if you don't have someone to sort them for you, then it will be a long time before you can settle down to watch the rushes, and enjoy the fruits of your labour.

All smiles towards the start of the Songbird shoot (photo credit: Motion Click Productions)
   So there we have it - everything I learnt from directing my most challenging but potentially brilliant piece to date. I'm not put off directing one bit, as I'm still dying to direct a feature, but I probably need to direct another film on Songbird's scale to build up my stamina first.

   In the meantime, there's the Songbird edit to keep me busy, and we'll be releasing new BTS photos from the shoot every Sunday, so keep your eyes on the Triskelle Pictures Facebook page to see those. There's also the aforementioned music video, which is soon to be released, and some other smaller projects in the pipeline.

   My final word for now is to everyone who worked/laughed/endured/swam their way through the Songbird shoot. Each of you were brilliant, and all of you will stay in my heart. And I will never again hear the word 'moist' without thinking of you.


Monday, 13 June 2016

Burn the Witch (stereotypes)!

Meryl Streep's witch in Into The Woods is one of the most recent cinematic iterations

    As soon as I read Tommy Draper's first draft for Songbird, I knew that tackling a witch character was going to be an interesting challenge. There's so many images that spring to mind, and there's no concept that hasn't already been done to death in films and literature. So finding a way to present a new witch character is going to be tricky - and doing that while still paying homage to beloved witch characters of the past is going to be even harder.

Snow White's crone: The face that
terrified a generation
   When someone talks about aged, fantasy witches, the first image that always springs to mind for me is the crone in Disney's Snow White. Hunched, heavily wrinkled and with deep, dark rings around her buggy eyes. This is an image that scared a generation; a figure that is immediately terrifying - and immediately pitiable, too. When Snow White meets her, although she is frightened by the crone's appearance, she is sweet and polite to her because she believes her to be a harmless, little old lady.

   And that's one of the core themes in Snow White. Snow is young and beautiful. The evil queen is ageing - and when she becomes the old crone, it is her worst fears brought to life. She cries out when she sees her hands wither and wrinkle. Because, good and bad aside, Snow White has always been a fairytale about age, and the appearance that comes with it. While the childlike Snow White is loved, when the (solitary) Evil Queen becomes the crone, people are repulsed by her - and they believe she has no power.

  There's similar themes to address in Songbird. The witch, (who was - poignantly in this case - known just as 'Old Woman' for many drafts of the script), is surrounded by young, arrogant people who don't appreciate things the way that she does. At least, that's what it looks like from her perspective. But interestingly enough, while our witch is still a solitary character, so is our hero; Jennifer is shy, and prefers to hide away in her little flat.

   The witch that terrified me most as a child was The Grand High Witch from Roald Dahl's The Witches. I don't mean the movie version; Quentin Blake's deceptively simple line drawings left so much to the imagination that all sorts of images of the Grand High Witch's terrible face flashed into my young mind. I couldn't even be in the same room as the book for a time! But I plan on revisiting that childhood fear, particularly when discussing the make-up style for our witch.

Robert Eggers' The Witch goes
back to nature
   The other thing that was scary about the Grand High Witch was the way that she was able to move around undetected in public, her true nature masked (literally) by beauty and superiority. Although our witch won't change her face at any point, she does need to be able to appear in public, at a crowded bar nonetheless, receiving little more than the odd judgmental look from the younger patrons. How we achieve this will mostly be down to what she wears in these scenes, and the dignity with which she carries herself. She will be somewhere between the terrifying true face of the Grand High Witch, and the glamorous persona.

   Traditionally, when you look back over old fairytales, witches were never glamorous. They were ancient, feral creatures that lived outdoors - which is something that Robert Eggers has recently gone back to for his iteration in The Witch, and we want to homage those traditional witches as well as more Hollywood move staples.

   The Collector in Songbird has a lair in the forest, and we need to make it look as though this is where she is from - where she feels most comfortable and confident of success. So we need to capture this connection with nature; there will be a costume change for the forest scenes, but we also need to suggest that she cannot fully shake off her roots (perhaps literally as well as figuratively) when she's out in public. Costume and hair design will play a subtle part in this, but it's also very much down to performance.

   Taking all of the above into account, there's a lot of challenges in terms of the writing, direction, costume and makeup choices for this character. But casting is the most crucial decision of all, and I'm very lucky because my team and I have found the perfect person for the part: Julia Damassa.
The beguiling Julia Damassa

   When you first look at Julia, it's hard to imagine an old woman, so makeup will still play an important role there. But when Julia speaks, her voice and the way she moves gives a sense of otherworldly depth about her. Even more importantly, she showed an incredible understanding of the character from the word go, expressing some great ideas I hadn't considered before (like how The Collector processed sounds rather than listening to them, like she was mentally 'trying on' the voices). And when I asked her to find a monologue away from the script, something which summed up the nature of the character, she performed two pieces of powerful, masculine dialogue from The Tempest and Wuthering Heights. I was sold.

   In conclusion, there's still a lot of work to do if we want our witch to work in a modern, believable setting whilst still being respectful to the movie witches that have gone before. But with talent like this on board, I think we have the best chance of being successful.

Get a sneak preview of Julia's voice talents in the Songbird Teaser Trailer!

   For more information on Songbird, check out the designated page on the Triskelle Pictures website. To support the production (and pre-order a copy of the film in the process), please donate to our Indiegogo campaign. And, as ever, you can follow the Triskelle Pictures Facebook page for news and updates as they happen.


Saturday, 11 June 2016

A Rush of Dust to the Head

   My team and I have just released a rather odd little video on the Triskelle Pictures Facebook page. Whilst it's fairly amusing, I don't know if it's 100% self-explanatory, so I've written this blog post as a companion piece.

   As stated in the video, there's a scene in Songbird where the witch character (played by Julia Damassa) steals Jennifer's (Janet Devlin) voice by blowing magic dust into her face. Production Designer Charlotte Ball and I initially thought this could be done using practical effects, but there was always a health risk with blowing things near/into a person's eyes. So we knew we'd have to test this out well in advance, and I (somewhat foolishly) volunteered to be the test subject. Watch the video above to see how this turned out for me!

Charlotte's concept art for the 'dust scene' in Songbird
   For the practical and physical tests, we used things that were edible (such as flour, icing sugar and a gluten free option too) to minimise the health risks. A couple of the ingredients left scratchy feelings in my throat, but they didn't leave any lasting damage; the main issue was trying to close my eyes on cue, and acting like I wasn't expecting the attack!

   We also tried doing this scene with some old-school VFX screen techniques, for which Charlotte would blow the dust samples in front of a black screen; the black would then be removed in post, and replaced with footage of my 'shocked' face as the dust appeared to hit it:

Above: various FX layer experiments we've done for this scene, and the original layer at the top. Please excuse my double chin from this angle - it's all in the name of art!!

   This technique is going to take a little perfecting. Removing the black without making Charlotte see-through required a mix of screen blend on the opacity, chromakey, and cutting her out of the image with a mask and key frames - sometimes all at once! But we've nearly cracked it, and this method worked better than our practical tests because it gave us more freedom to use whichever materials looked best on camera, whilst still being completely safe for the actors involved.

   Want to enable us to do more crazy experiments for the sake of making a great film? Then sponsor Songbird on Indiegogo today!


Saturday, 21 May 2016

On my watchlist: Spring/Summer 2016

   Much as I love the experience of watching films on the big screen, I don't really get around to going to the cinema these days. In fact, excluding short film nights & festivals, and an afternoon mother-daughter trip to see Florence Foster Jenkins last week, I can't remember the last time I had a proper cinema night.

   So often these days, I look forward to seeing films for months, then by the time I notice they're released, I've already missed them in cinemas. And it's becoming more frequent that even some of my favourite directors have new films out before I'd realised they were shooting anything! (One of the perils of my new schedule is that I'm incredibly out of touch these days; I have a mountain of old Empire issues to catch up on!)

   There seems to be a particularly brilliant array of films coming out now and in the near future, and with Cannes' annual release of films to watch out for, there's no way I couldn't be aware of them.

   So here's my quick overview of my favourite new and upcoming releases - partly to remind myself to try and catch at least some of these in the cinema, and partly because it gives me the opportunity to share some seriously brilliant looking trailers with you. Enjoy!

1) The Light Between Oceans

   Like many people, I loved Blue Valentine, and there was a lot of beauty in The Place Beyond the Pines, so I've been looking forward to Derek Cianfrance's next film for a while. With a cast including credible new 'it couple' Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, and cinematography this elegant, you know it's going to be one to watch.

2) Knight of Cups

   I've been a fan of Terrence Mallick ever since I saw The Tree Of Life, and I rushed to see To The Wonder when it came into cinemas (even if the finished product felt a bit like a string of beautiful rushes) so I've been waiting for this one to come out for a long time. There's been a few harsh reviews already, but I'm still looking forward to experiencing Knight of Cups for myself.

3) Mustang

   I'll admit that this one was completely under my radar, but with a lot of visual and thematic similarities to The Virgin Suicides, Mustang is certainly one for the watchlist.

4) Everybody Wants Some

  This is prime example of one of my favourite directors releasing a film before I was aware they were making anything new. And although Richard Linklater's latest seems to be tonally closer to School of Rock than Boyhood or the Before Trilogy, every film he makes turns out brilliant in its own way, so I definitely want to give this one a go.

5) American Honey

   Once again, one of my favourite directors, and a film I wasn't aware of being in production! Her atmospheric adaptation of Wuthering Heights showed us a director who is still finding her feet, but Andrea Arnold's previous work - especially Fish Tank - was incredibly strong. I can't wait to see if she's honed her voice for American Honey, and I'm super excited that she's teamed up with DoP Robbie Ryan again!

6) Captain Fantastic

   Nevermind Marvel's latest offering - this is the Captain film I am most looking forward to. As a lifelong LOTR and Aragorn fan, I'll gladly take the opportunity to watch any Viggo Mortensen film, but Captain Fantastic looks like the perfect mix of quirky and heartwarming without being twee. One for Little Miss Sunshine fans.

7) The Neon Demon

   And last but by no means least, the next film from Nicolas Winding Refn. This is one I have been following for a while now, and I know a few people who have managed to catch it at this years' Cannes. Although I thought Drive was over-hyped, it was a good film, and Only God Forgives was a visual treat for the senses. Perhaps even more interesting than Refn's films themselves are the strong, mixed reactions they get - and early reviews of The Neon Demon suggest it's going to be another Marmite piece. All this, combined with the intensely watchable Elle Fanning taking centre stage this time, the one thing we know for certain is that this film won't be boring!

   It's my intention to catch as many of these films as possible, whenever my purse and my schedule allows. I don't want to regret missing another films as I did with Anomalisa!

   And for those of you without a few hours to give to films, there's some great short offerings coming up. iShorts have just announced their latest offerings - including Wash Club, produced by Night Owls' Lauren Parker, and 80s-set drama The Knock - so there's a high quality batch there to look forward to. And more of my regular collaborators have some great pieces coming out - Aislinn de Ath and Edward Harvey have films in pre-production, Oliver Park is in post-production on Still, and there's new releases from Tommy Draper and YSP Media. I also have my eye on a great-looking new piece from Helen Crevel, called Time, And Again; it's in the early stages of pre-production, but it looks like a good one to follow if you liked Stop/Eject!

  Speaking of short films in pre-production, there is of course Songbird, which I need to get back to now. With all these great new films coming out, I hope there's still room for you guys to look forward to Songbird as much as I do!


Saturday, 2 April 2016

Glass & Sand - The design of 'Crossing Paths'

Two different stories, two very different tones, but united by grief: Crossing Paths (B Squared)

   So, at the end of last Summer, three things happened:

   1) I got to revisit one of the main locations from the Stop/Eject shoot, Belper River gardens.
   2) I discovered that cheap Wilko masking tape is much more adhesive than expected (and not suitable to use when decorating someone's house (apologies to the relevant parties!).
   And 3) I found out that I talk in my sleep - even if I've fallen asleep stood up, on a film set, in the middle of a very important take (apologies again!).

   These things all came about because I was working as Art Director and Costume Designer on the short film, Crossing Paths.

Director Ben Bloore helped paint
the set (and dirty Mark's costume!)
   There were lots of things to like about B Squared Productions' latest project. I was a short that was actually short (not a 20-minute wannabe feature), the script was well written, and it had a wonderful ensemble cast; two women who were always bubbling with warm energy, two men who were absolute gentlemen, and all four of whom were brilliant professional actors. Plus the project gave me the opportunity to work with DOP Neil Oseman again, which is always a joy.

   I've worked in the art department of a lot of short films, but there were some design elements I really enjoyed conceiving and bringing to this project (with inputs from director Ben Bloore and writer Ben Fowkes), so I thought it was definitely worth a blog post to tell you guys about it.

  As well as sporting a lot of spiritual themes, at its core Crossing Paths is a film about relationships, telling the stories of two couples. Two very different couples with very different attitudes to each other (although both stories share elements of grief). And we used the film's                                                               design to support this.

   I'm a firm believer that film design can tell you a lot about characters when there isn't time in the script to describe their back story. In Crossing Paths, we used colour to set the mood of the relationships (even though, in early meetings, we'd discussed the film being made in black & white. I wanted to be prepared either way).  The first couple, Alison (Michelle Darkin Price) and Sean (Mark Tunstall) were in a miserable, bitter and aggressive relationship, so their scenes featured only cold colours like blue, white and grey. 

   In contrast, the second couple, Matthew (Phil Molloy) and Lorraine (Tina Harris) adored each other, and would never leave each other by choice, so their scenes were filled with warm browns and sandy colours with accents of orange. These are obvious semiotics, but very effective, particularly in a short film where you need to get ideas across quickly.

Set dressing details from the two sets (taken from my continuity photos)
   As well as colours, I used textures in the set dressing to enhance these moods. For the miserable couple, who were on the bring of catastrophe, the set was filled with modern lines, hard metals and fragile (the fact that it was a kitchen set helped me greatly). The second couple's scenes, which were set in a bedroom, featured more curbed shapes, old-fashioned pieces and soft textures, including a variety of subtle fabrics and thick, natural wood - things that were designed to be lasting rather than fragile.

   Neil's lighting supported all this design - the kitchen scene featured dark shadows and strips of film noir-style moonline, but the bedroom lighting was all about milky shadows and smoke-hazed sunshine.

One of my costume
sketches for Alison
   The natural colours and wooden furniture in Lorraine's bedroom also established who she was as a person. She loved to travel, particularly in hot countries, and the room was filled with trinkets, styled like they were from all parts of the world, collected during her trips and kept as souvenirs. 

   (Unfortunately, during the shoot, the crew had to position the camera away from the majority of the kitchen set dressing. This is something which happens to all film designers at some point, and you need to learn to adapt and move things into frame. But since the shots were mostly close-up and looked wonderful anyway, and there wasn't any 'dead space', I didn't have to move anything. Losing a few glass items didn't take away from the drama of the scene.)

   Alison's character was established through her clothing rather than the set dressing, as the kitchen wasn't supposed to be a homely environment. I kept the same grey and white tones as in the rest of the design for her scenes, but I layered her clothing in a 'lagan look' style (see right) to make her look like a  gentle and earthy character, in spite of her harrowing circumstances. This look was replicated for the park scenes, but in lighter shades and softer textures to support the heavenly atmosphere.

   The other reason for these loose layers was that I knew Alison would be running in one scene. If you want to enhance the dramatic effect of a person running, always put them in loose layers that dance around them as they move.

   Costume also played a vital part for Sean. Myself and the 'Bens' discussed the best way to make him look completely unapproachable, but in a realistic way. I suggested putting him in a uniform - one that was made from a harsh fabric and filthy - so we put him in overalls. In fact, I went to far with the 'dirty' look that I coated the costume in thick, greasy paints, coffee and anything else suitable I could find in my house, resulting in an overall that smelled strongly of these ingredients - which made it unapproachable in another way! Needless to say I apologised to Mark sincerely, and followed him round on set with a Febreze bottle. And he got his own back by hugging me and coating me in the fragrant, greasy costume-coating! But I do think it added an extra element to the character (even if I do still apologise to Mark every time I see him - which also makes this my third apology of this blog post!).

Me, dressing the set around Tina Harris as she prepares for an emotional scene
   Lorraine and Matthews' costumes' main purpose was to fit in with the softness and the colours of their scene. But Lorraine's nightdress also helped to establish the character's classic elegance (it was a genuine vintage piece from the 1930s). And I sewed little roses - red, to match the warm colour scheme - around the neckline, because I knew she would have a lot of close-ups. As the rest of her was below sheets for the scene, there was no point putting any detail lower down on the costume. I also tea-dipped the nightdress a few times to take the whiteness off, and to help it blend in with the creamy tones of the set.

   The only other notable things about my design work on Crossing Paths was that, for a while, the producers considered releasing it in 4:3. So I had to make sure there was always plenty of detail towards the centre of the frame. Also - as Neil reminded me, early on - I had to pay close attention to shoes I put the actors in, as feet are more likely to be seen in 4:3 than in any other aspect ratio. In the end the film was released in standard scope and still looks great.

   Crossing Paths has just had its cast and crew premiere in Nottingham, and it's on the festival circuit now, so I'm sure there'll be some screening dates announced soon. In the meantime, you can follow the film's progress on its Facebook page, and here's a brief trailer to whet your appetite (and show you a few of the above-mentioned design elements in action!):


p.s. For those of you who haven't seen it already, I worked with Michelle Darkin Price and Mark Tunstall again after Crossing Paths, on a film inspired by the music of James Bay. You can watch it here.

p.p.s. According to Google, this is my 100th blog post! Thankyou to everyone who has read and supported this blog since the beginning. I hope you stick around and enjoy the next 100 posts.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Fairytale Chic - Design & Once Upon A Time

   So, with Songbird officially moving from development into pre-production soon, myself and my team have been looking at other films and TV shows that deal with real world/fairytale crossovers. While some of this research has meant re-watching respected classics (including Labyrinth, Pan's Labyrinth and Wizard of/Return to Oz), some of the things we've looked at are more in the realms of mainstream popularity than critical acclaim.

  One of the latter is a TV show that's a bit of a guilty pleasure (bordering on guilty addiction) for myself and producer Laura C. Cann: Once Upon A Time

The evil queen's monochrome office. Check out that forest-print wallpaper!
- Once Upon A Time (ABC)
   Once Upon A Time - or OUAT for short - is full of epic happenings, obvious CGI and cheesy dialogue (which kind of makes sense in a world where people frequently rip out their own hearts to show to people), but it's perfect Netflix binge-watching material. It's an ABC offering, and it has a lot in common with some of the studio's previous offerings; it has the same dual-storyline narrative through flashbacks as the equally addictive Lost (it also shares a few cast members), and it has Desperate Housewives' penchant for power dressing, melodramatic affairs and red apples. So, somewhat to my shame, I am hooked.

   There's an obvious comparable to Songbird as well; it features a modern-day heroine, who doesn't believe in magic but is thrown into a fantasy world (just as with Jennifer in our film). For OUAT, this heroine is Emma Swan, a leather-jacket-and-vest-top clad New Yorker who sprouts such overtly streetwise one-liners as, "You don't need a hope speech. You need a drinking buddy. Shots?" and "Of course I can't speak Elvish - I haven't even seen Lord of the Rings!" She grounds the show in relatability and is part of its universal family appeal.

  So yes, it's an obvious comparable for Songbird, and it might share our target audience as well as a real-world heroine. But I've wanted an excuse to write about OUAT for a while, and the main thing I want to talk about is the show's design. And I'm not talking about the greenscreen castles and big, sparkly frocks of the fairytale scenes (which can't seem to decide on a period or style. Yes, I know it's fantasy, but I like a sense of uniformity across costume design to help establish the world it's set in). 
Robin Hood in a waxed jacket:
Once Upon A Time (ABC)

   I want to talk about the way series costume designer Eduardo Castro and long-time production designer Michael Joy help to bring the fairytale characters into our world without losing their personality, and without making them boring by comparison to the fantasy-filled flashbacks.

  The first stroke of brilliance here is the character design. Sometimes the characters appear exactly as they do in Disney's main outputs (partially due to their current popularity. For this reason, the Frozen characters were shoehorned in without realistic clothing or grit), but often Castro is able to bring elements of the characters' personalities and established colour pallets into modern day clothing and accessories. So the Evil Queen is a shoulder-pad wearing business woman, Snow White is squeaky clean in collared dresses and pastel-coloured cardigans, and Robin Hood (in one of my favourite costume designs of the series) looks like he's just raided Millets or Mountain Warehouse.

  The next way they make this work is through the set design of the character's main spaces. (It's rediculous how lovely and detailed these sets are compared to the falseness of the CGI scenes, but I won't keep harping on about that...). Again, the fairytale shapes, colours and features are all there; the pawn broker's (secretly run by Rumplestiltskin) is rich with dark wood, antiques and brocade wallpaper; the Evil Queen's office has grand pillars and forest-print wallpaper in monochrome tones (often with a fruit bowl of apples on the table); and Snow White's uber-fashionable loft apartment looks as though it was filled with shabby-chic, country-style knickknacks found for her by obedient woodland creatures.

Snow White's 'chabby chic' loft apartment: Once Upon A Time (ABC)


  The final reason I want to celebrate these designers is because of the fine details you don't spot on a first viewing (the key to all the best film design, I believe). Here's just two examples of this; Emma Swan wears a man's bootlaces on her wrist from the end of series one onwards. Attention is never drawn to these - they're just a part of her outfit. But, if you look carefully, they actually belonged to a main character who was killed off in the first series, and wearing his boot laces on her wrist is clearly Emma's way of remembering him, or keeping him with her. 

Belle faces her 'darker self'. But what's that print on her scarf...? - Once Upon A Time (ABC)
   Second example, in a scene where Belle looks into a mirror that reveals the 'darker side' of one's nature (bear with me on this one), she is wearing a scarf with a subtle print. I peered in close, out of curiosity, to see what was on the print (yes, I am that nerdy with costume design); it was daggers. Later in that scene, the mirror was going to reveal to Belle that the dagger her husband gave her was a fake, meaning he hadn't given up his power or his evil ways. So the costume foreshadowed a greatly important discovery for its wearer! Genius.


   If you want to get hooked on this corny but enjoyable 'fantasy soap opera' too, you can catch it on Netflix. Or, if you just want to find out more about the costumes, there's a good tour of the costume department on YouTube you can watch.

   So, how can myself and my team achieve a similarly successful fantasy/real-world crossover in Songbird? Well, we're going to keep thinking of different ways throughout pre-production, but one important element - as with OUAT - will definitely be the costume design. And here's the first character designs to give you a taste of the direction we'll be going in:

  That's all for now. Don't forget to follow the Triskelle Pictures Facebook page for updates about Songbird as they happen!