Monday, 13 March 2017

The Best of Beeston 2017!



   This past weekend was my favourite local festival, Beeston Film Festival. In spite of their size, and the fact they've only been running for three years, Beeston has an incredibly high standard of international films on show, so I knew I'd be in for a fine show. In fact, the films are so good that I can easily remember and name great films from the festival's previous years: for example, Humanexus, Moving Day and Bunny from year one, and (En)vie from year two. You should watch all of those films - they're all different genres, and they're all from different countries, but they are universally brilliant.

   As well as being international, Beeston also supports local films and filmmakers, and that includes myself. In year one, they screened Ashes; year two, they screened Stop/Eject, which I produced. This year they not only screened Night Owls (twice), but it was also nominated for five of their awards: the beautiful 'B'OSCARs'.

   Because they support local filmmakers, there were a few films this year that I'd seen already. So, while I won't go into too much detail on those films now, here's a quick shout out to the brilliant films at this year's Beeston Festival by filmmakers that I know: Cadence by Siskamedia, Big Bad Wolf by Sojo Animation, Stereotype by McGibney Films, Dolls by Badshoes Film, Hinterland by Small Person Productions (a group of incredibly talented teenage filmmakers!), and Transcended & Hollow Men by YSP Media. All great films, but all of which I had seen before.

   So which films, that were new to me this year, were my highlights of this year's Beeston Film Festival? I could name absolutely tons of worthy entries, but somehow I've managed to narrow it down to my top ten favourites... (warning: contains mild spoilers)

10) Butterfly (dir. Alex Withers)



   A drama about a teenage girl, whose shot at a professional swimming career is held back by the discovery that she is epileptic. I know that the crew behind this spent years making sure it was right, so I've been keen to see it for a while, but it was worth the wait.

9) Apollo 11 (dir. Chen Chih Yin)

   Another coming-of-age drama: A teenage girl grew up idolising her Dad and his love of space so much, that she went into a career in an astrology museum. However, in a heartbreaking moment, she discovers that her Dad had a son with another woman - and she finds out because the boy shares the same love of space, and uses the same catchphrases her Dad used with her. Definitely a film about having to face maturity faster than you'd choose to.

8) What a Peaceful Day (dir. Eden Chan)



   An animated film that really appealed to my daft and quirky sense of humour. An old woman goes on a camping trip - and finds herself suddenly in the companionship of a deer. But when a hunter goes after the deer's horns, the old woman and the deer (driving!) have to make a dash for it in the old woman's caravan. An epic battle ensues. It involves a ladle. I'm not even kidding!

7) Time Thieves (dir. Fran X. Rodríguez)




   Definitely the best-edited film of the festival: such great rhythm, and more match-cuts than you can shake a stick at! The film revolved around a man trying to literally steal time from the most prompt and routine-driven man you could hope to meet. A funny film with a touching ending.

6) Transmission (dirs. Varun Raman & Tom Hancock)



   A man wakes to find he's trapped in a hangman's noose, in an underground bunker, being mentally and physically tortured by a very dapper chap. I can't say I always understood this film, but the cinematography and set design looked incredible (it was shot on 35mm), and so I was surprised it wasn't up for any technical awards.

5) The Bread Bear (dirs. Eason Lu & Yichin Tsai) 



   Another very silly film - in fact this was, without a doubt, the most random film of the festival - but it had everyone in stitches. A bear with a bread shop finds his sales rising when his customers discover an addictive creamy filling inside his loaves. But then the bear discovers the filling is actually flamingo poo... and things take a dark and (even more) bizarre turn... Lots of quirky touches in this film, like the fact the bread is 'grown' in the bear's garden. What's more, the film was made in stop motion, which is always such a treat.

4) Twiddly Things (dir. Adara Todd)



   The second stop motion film on this list, but the polar opposite of The Bread Bear. Twiddly Things is a beautiful, dark and haunting portrait of Alzheimers, using the metaphor of things literally unraveling. The fact that the voiceover came from a genuine Alzheimer sufferer made it all the more poignant. 

3) First Snow (dir. Lenka Ivančíková)

   The last animation on my list (I was surprised by how much animation I absolutely adored this year). This film was so epic and beautiful, with an incredible set and fantastic puppetry. An adorable hedgehog wanders away from hibernation in order to witness his first snow, but when he can't find his way back to his parents, and he realises the world is a dangerous place, the adventure really kicks off. Even if you don't like adorable things (what's wrong with you??) then watch this film for the stunning eagle puppet - particularly the way it lands.

2) Cinephiliac (dir. Matthew Tichenor)



   This film was the most epic of the lot, and it nearly made my top spot for sheer cinematic storytelling. A woman chases the man she's meant to be with through every genre of film: romantic comedy, thriller, western, film noir, sci fi... the film nails every genre and utilises every aspect ratio. There's even a little loving homage to the wonderful Metropolis. But the film is most lovable and relatable when it moves into the real world. If it is the real world...

1) What Is Hidden In Snow? (dir. Loic Gaillard)



   This was one of the first films I saw at the festival, but it stuck with me throughout. It's at once hilarious and brutal, colourful and bleak (the production design and costumes are so bright it's almost uncomfortable). In the near future, a man uses a performance-based simulation service to act out the revenge he wanted to take on his cheating wife. Meanwhile, a group of plastic-faced staff with huge, constant smiles watch on encouragingly. Definitely one for the Black Mirror fans!

   And finally, honourable mentions to Anoesis, (a dark and engaging portrait of an outcast, featuring some raw and watchable performances) and I Am God, And Severely Underqualified (a set dresser's dream, with an enigmatic lead performance and a subtle Edgar Allen Poe feel to the script). I loved both films, both of which featured local actors, so they nearly made my list!

It didn't say 'La La Land', but I still couldn't believe it!

   So, how did Night Owls do? Unfortunately we didn't win any of the awards we were nominated for (the quality and budgets of our competition were just too high), but I did come away with a special, unexpected award: Rising Star, an award that comes with industry mentoring. I was so surprised to have won anything that it didn't sink in for a bit: I just carried on clapping without realising I was supposed to go up and make a speech!!

   Thank you to John Currie and all of the Beeston Film team for another great year. I'll be sure to support you guys again in 2018!

Sophie

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Songbird: Mastering the Songs

[Up at first light for our road trip... and a teasing glance of the famous zebra crossing, which we posted to make people guess where we were.]

   So, once again my film life gave me the opportunity to dip my toe in the world of music, as recently myself and Songbird's writer, Tommy Draper, got an inside look at the world-famous Abbey Road Studios. We were there with Songbird's leading lady, Janet Devlin, her wonderful manager Rick, and music producer Graham (who is also a bit of a legend) to master Janet's two songs for the film: Chandeliers and Once Upon a Time.

   I believe the mastering went well; I don't know anything about sound mixing (although I'm sure some of the sound guys I work with would've reveled in all the gear we saw!), but the songs sound beautiful, and there of course was no doubt that the tracks were in safe, experienced hands!

   The 'work' side of the day was relatively brief for myself and Tommy - it was really a chance to catch up with Janet and get some footage for the Songbird behind-the-scenes videos (see below) - so a good portion of our time was spent on general music geekery. Did we walk across the famous zebra crossing? Yes, but only because we actually had to cross the road, and we had to wait for some tourists to move. It still felt pretty damn cool.

[The mixing desk at Abbey Road. It's all a mystery to me, but it certainly looked cool!]
[One of Abbey Road's original vinyl presses - from back before vinyl had a comeback!]
[Janet watching and listening carefully nearby as her tracks are mixed]

   What else did we take away from our time there? Well, we were allowed a quick and cheeky look inside studios one and two, which felt amazing: not only did we see the piano 'Let it Be' was written on (it's still there!), but also the studio where the scores for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films were recorded. I was barely able to keep my cool at that point! Anything Peter Jackson-related leaves me buzzing.

   Looking at all the amazing names of people who had recorded at Abbey Road, I saw Kate Bush listed, and I couldn't resist asking questions about her. I found out that she had worked in many of the rooms there, including the very room we were mastering the Songbird tracks in (again, another moment where I struggled to keep calm!). And, mentioning no names, I now know someone who claims to have got stoned with Kate Bush - and he also once went clubbing with David Bowie! When I asked him what Bowie was like, he said "he was one of those people who seemed incredibly normal and incredibly special at the same time." In all honesty, that's exactly how I felt about Janet when I first met her.

[Janet, myself and Tommy in the studio, beneath some platinum disks! Photo credit: Rick at Insomnia Music Management]

   Moving back to the Songbird songs themselves. They really are lovely pieces, both of which perfectly capture the two sides of Jennifer's personality; Chandeliers is beautifully delicate and haunting, and Once Upon a Time is a happy, catchy, confident anthem for anyone who has overcome a difficult personal challenge. For those of you who pre-ordered copies of the songs during the last campaign, the tracks should have just been sent out. If you missed out on the chance to buy them back then, you can do so via our 'festival booster' funding campaign, which will be launched within the next few days. Watch this space!

Sophie

Monday, 13 February 2017

Losing my Muchness (and getting it back)

Very relatable artwork by
Gemma Correll!
   I'm always striving to blog more often, and if something big comes along that I can learn from, then that gives me even more of a reason to write. Unfortunately there's only been one thing on my mind this month (apart from Songbird) and it's not a fun subject, but I do think I have some advice from anyone who's been through similar. So here goes...

   When one first starts making films, it's purely a creative form of expression: you get your friends involved, you shoot & edit it yourself, and you only have yourself to please. When you go to film school, your skill and your films become something to be marked, to be rated, but it's still only a means to an ends, so it doesn't affect your mindset too deeply. But after that, whenever you make a film, you need to release it into the world, and make yourself known to people - and everyone has an opinion,  a criticism, a judgement that can tell you whether or not your latest product will propel your career forward, or send you backwards. And all of this is difficult to adjust to when deep inside you're still just a young artist, trying to express yourself creatively; all you want is to tell a story that you care about.

   Criticism and feedback is important. You don't always have to agree with it, but for the most part it will make your work better and help you to grow, so you come to accept it as a necessary part of your career. However, the thing no one prepares you for, and which may never feel helpful, is negative comments. Personalised attacks. Bitchiness. Trolls.

   Towards the start of this year I received a message (a better description would be an essay) that knocked me for six. Of course I'm not going to mention any names or go into detail, but essentially the words questioned my skills, my methods, and even the merit of my work. It criticised the people I work with, and my ability to work with them. Rather than offering advice as to how I could be a better filmmaker, the message just took the time to say that I am not good at what I do.

   There are lots of people who would've read that message,  shook it off and carried on with their work as if nothing had happened. I am not one of those people. I am somewhat ashamed to say that it broke me. There are thousands of filmmakers out there who aren't skilled enough, who will never be able to achieve there dreams, and I began to question if I was one of those people. I wondered if I was deluded. Eventually, when I started to attend networking events and meetings with other filmmakers again, I tried not to talk about my own work; if it came up, I brushed it aside as if I was ashamed, or even apologetic.

From the relaxation of centre parcs to the mental stimulation of London, I had to travel around England to get my mojo back!



   When February finally came, and I was still in my slump, I realised how pathetic I was being, and I tried to get to the crux of the issue. After all, if I doubted myself as a director, how could I ever expect people to follow my leadership? Everyone working in the industry receives negative comments (look at all the harsh words thrown at Keira Knightley, and even one of my idols,  Kate Bush, received some mixed receptions in her career - but it didn't stop them from doing what they love), so why was I taking it so to heart?

   Do I like my work? Yes. There's things I'd change about every film I've directed or produced, and I know that some things have to be seen as finished rather than perfect, but I love every experience I've had. I'm proud of those films, and even if I didn't like them, looking at their successful festival runs (and particularly Night Owls' recent surge of awards) proves my work must have some merit. Which means the reason for my lack of confidence lies not in my work, but in myself. I decided to sort this out.

   So, what am I doing to improve my mindset and thicken my skin? Well, first I thought about what my emotions were actually like when I received the negative comments. I admit I was weary; I had a heavy workload,  both with Songbird and my corporate career, and I was also ill at the time. The film industry is a manic one, which never really eases up, and you can't control when negativity comes your way. But finding time in your schedule to take breaks - a day off in the week if possible - can of course raise your mood and make you less reactive in the face of destructive comments.

   In spite of the intentions I'd previously declared on this blog, I admit that I don't take many days off. I certainly had no intention of booking a holiday with Songbird so heavily in post-production. But my friend wanted to celebrate her 30th birthday in centre parcs, and she invited me along, so I took the opportunity to switch off (my thoughts and my phone) in the middle of a forest. When I came back, I was rested, I disliked myself a little less, and I felt determined to continue the 'holiday feeling' as I returned to work.  This may mean working at a slightly slower pace, wearing comfy 'weekend clothes' while editing, or trying to recreate the smells of the centre parcs spa in the home office. I haven't tried all of these methods yet, but they sound like potentially good ideas!

One of the many great courses hosted at Raindance (photo from the Raindance website)

   My body and mind relaxed, the next step was to work on my creative working mindset. I was keen to learn new skills as a director, or at least to rebuild my confidence in the skills I already had. So phase two of my recovery was to attend a directing course at Raindance (where I now have a membership). 

   With my low self esteem still firmly in place, it took me a while to settle in - I felt shaky when I had to introduce myself, and again I dismissed my achievements when asked about them. But the course taught me that my stresses, my doubts, are the same ones every director goes through at some point. It taught me that, if you love your work, you should protect it like an iron shield in the face of naysayers, not agree with them. And, at times when you are in a slump, you could always treat each new stage and project like it's the first days of your career; not to make mistakes, but to tackle everything like it's a fresh start. It is for that reason Joss Whedon went back to basics and did a Shakespeare adaptation with his friends, at his own home, after making the biggest, most 'studio' film of his career,  Avengers Assemble

   I learnt lots of other things on this course,  but those I will save for another time. The main thing is that, as well as learning new tricks (as expected) I also discovered that there's a lot of things I am doing right, and I was able to walk away with more confidence for that reason. For the first time in months, I felt excited to get back to work. I had a new energy.

   My mindset is still going to take some work. I've always had confidence issues, and I don't invest enough time in myself. In this bitchy, cliquey industry, where everyone seems to be watching your work in the hope that you'll fail, negative comments will always come - particularly in the age of social media. If I learn the trick to not caring what people say, I will tell you. But for now I can say that I do believe in my work and my collaborations, and I believe in myself enough to carry on doing what I'm doing. When criticism isn't there to help you, have faith in your own choices - that is what I will be doing by the next time I direct a film. I can promise you that.

Ending this post with some wise, true words from Sylvia Plath

Monday, 9 January 2017

My Life in Cinemas

The cinema that started it all. Just look at that 90s line-up!

   I've been thinking about cinemas lately (well, more so than usual!). It's a well-known fact that the increased popularity of Netflix and other on-demand services over the last few years has caused the cinema industry to struggle, but I don't think they'll ever disappear completely. Cinemas offer something that television and films watched at home cannot offer: the experience. People still go to cinemas for dates, for parties, even educational trips - or, for a lot of people, it's just a place to escape everyday life.

   Having my films played in cinemas is still the main goal for me. It will take a lot to beat the feeling of seeing Night Owls shown on the big screen at London Short Film Festival this time last year, and the brief cinema run of Stop/Eject (the fantasy drama I produced between 2012-2013) is still one of the highlights of my career.

  But interestingly, looking back at the main stages of my life, it feels as though there was a different cinema there, every step of the way. I bet a lot of filmmakers and film fans feel the same. So, in celebration of the silver screen, just because I feel like expressing some love for them, here are the cinemas that made me who I am today (along with the dates when they were most meaningful to me):

The first cinema - UCI Derby (now Odeon)
1992 - 2007

   Growing up, this was the only cinema in my area - and it was still a fair drive away. My earliest cinema memory was when I was around three years old, watching The Jungle Book on a re-release. I got such a buzz from being there - I still remember being fascinated by the strings of lights along the aisle, marking the way to our seats, and the way Dad used to wear his light-up watch in the cinema to check what time it was. The UCI was also the first place where I experienced that 'coming out into the daylight after sitting in the dark' feeling. I had birthday parties there, and I went there with my family until the early noughties, but continued to go with my friends in my teen years (mostly to watch Tim Burton films). The cinema still stands today, but as it's no longer my local, I haven't been in years.


Farnham Maltings, near my old university campus in Surrey

The university cinema (and my first independent cinema) - Farnham Maltings
2007 - 2010

   During my Film Production degree, my class watched films on a daily basis, and there was a multiplex in a neighboring city I visited with my uni mates. But the cinema I remember most fondly from my university days was Farnham Maltings. I was quite antisocial during my time at university; I was frequently homesick, and I chose to stay in my room and study, paint or write rather than going to parties. Farnham Maltings was the first cinema I chose to go to on my own, on the days when I needed a bit more quiet time to myself, and I discovered that I liked watching films this way (not all the time, but sometimes). I remember the cinema had a nice little bar and fold out seats, and it was more of an art centre than a cinema, but I definitely watched The Edge of Love and The Lovely Bones there, on my own. Sounds of a crowd in the Maltings (on one of the busier days) were also featured in my graduation film, The Opening Night, because the film's sound designer worked there.

The cinema I worked at - Showcase Cinema de Lux, Derby
2012 - 2014

   Two years after graduating, I handled my first attempt to go freelance badly. I gained lots of experience, but I ran out of money, so I had to get a part time job. The Showcase Cinema de Lux in Derby was fairly new at the time, and when I visited as a customer, it was the biggest, most impressive cinema I'd ever seen. Working behind-the-scenes ruined that illusion for me a little bit (I certainly got fed up of the smell of popcorn!) but it actually taught me more about the business of film - and the way audience members choose which films to watch - more than anywhere else, and I'll always be grateful for that. I also made some really good friends amongst my colleagues, some of who were filmmakers that I have worked with since.


Introducing one of many films at Five Lamps Films in Derby Quad

The cinema that has supported my career - Quad, Derby
2011 - present

   Quad was built around the same time as the Showcase, but it was much smaller in scale, and functioned as an arts and community centre as well as a cinema - similar to Farnham Maltings. I was introduced to the Quad's 'open mic night' for films, Five Lamps Films, about a year after I graduated, and it gave me the opportunity to not only show my films but also to network with local filmmakers (I'd left the majority of my contacts down South after I graduated, and was in desperate need of some local collaborators). Since then, the Quad has been a huge asset to me. They allowed director Neil Oseman to do a talk there when we were trying to raise funds for Stop/Eject; they allowed my team to film a scene of Songbird within their walls; and their great bar has provided an ideal meeting spot on many occasions over the years. They show a great range of films from different eras, favouring great indie films rather than blockbusters, and it's always a comfy cinema experience.

The coolest/most in-demand cinema - The Ritz, Belper
2007 - present

   The Ritz cinema was restored during my final year of high school, having been left abandoned behind a Bingo hall for about 50 years. When it was purchased by the present owners, they maintained all of its art deco charm; it has just the one screen, on a little stage, and it was the first cinema I went to where I could take a cup of coffee in and sit on a sofa (before then, I'd mostly been to multiplexes). I actually applied for a job there twice - once before uni, and once after - but the staff love it there so much that there rarely seems to be any openings. Equally popular are the tickets - the memberships are highly sought after, and you have to book in advance if you want to get in. But if you do manage to get a seat, it's one of my favourite date venues, and the local community atmosphere is buzzing amongst the audience. The Ritz has also supported my films over the years; they've put my Kickstarter/Crowdfunder flyers in their window, and they were one of the cinemas to screen Stop/Eject during its cinema run.


The Ashes premiere at the Lexi Cinema. Photo credit: Lawrence de Gruchy

The first premiere cinema - The Lexi Cinema, London
2013

   When I directed the short film Ashes between 2012-2013, it was the first time I'd directed a professional crew (outside of university) and I wanted to do a 'proper' premiere. The cinema we used was recommended by male lead Adam Lannon, who had connections with the owners, and it was perfect for us; small enough to suit an indie production, but grand enough to make the event feel special (partly because of the beautiful feature lighting in the main screening room). I hired a presenter and a photographer, and Adam even managed to get top casting agent Amy Hubbard to join the audience as a VIP guest, sat alongside some representatives of War on Rape and Wan2Talk, who were supporting the film due to its subject nature. Although I haven't been back since, due to the distance, I still remember this cinema fondly as being the setting for such a special occasion.

The many-premieres cinema - Broadway, Nottingham
2014 - present

   The more local filmmakers I collaborated with, the more premieres I got invited to. And at least 90% of those have been at Nottingham's Broadway cinema. They're incredibly supportive of local filmmakers, so much so that I held the Night Owls premiere there as well. Similar to Derby Quad, they also show more indie films than blockbusters, and their bar has also proved to be a great meeting spot. They even have some underground studio rooms which you can rent out; these proved very useful when I had to hold auditions and rehearsals for Songbird. Two of the main networking events for Nottingham filmmakers - Shooters and Short Stack - have recently found their homes within Broadway too, so I expect to be visiting this cinema more in the future.


Wirksworth's Northern Light Cinema - isn't it adorable?

And finally - the cinema I want to try, but haven't yet! - The Northern Light Cinema, Wirksworth

   Hidden in the heart of Wirksworth is a cinema with a similar screening ethos to Quad and Broadway, but it's similar in size to The Ritz. One of the factors that really excites me are the chairs; all of them are covered in colourful printed fabric, and none of them match! I haven't been to Wirksworth since my drama rehearsals in 2006, but I've heard good things about this cinema, so I must head over there at some point. 

   I hope you all enjoyed my list. As I've attended many film festivals over the years, I couldn't include every cinema I've been to, but these are the main ones from key parts of my life. One that didn't make the list, which I went to for the first time recently, is Nottingham's Savoy Cinema, and I definitely recommend it for a traditional cinema experience. There's also lots of great 'hidden gem' cinemas around the UK which I haven't tried yet - including some great ones I've heard about in London - so I'm happy to hear some recommendations.

   My next cinema trip? Derby Quad again, to see La La Land with my filmmaking partner-in-crime, Tommy Draper. I'm really looking forward to it - because the excitement of those lights going down and the screen turning on never goes away!

Sophie

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Goodbye 2016 (you bugger!); Hello 2017!

With Chris Newman on the set of Songbird. This month marked half a decade of us two working together! (Photo credit: Motion Click Productions)

   It's become tradition, at the end of each year, for me to do a lengthy review of the past twelve months, and to reveal what's coming next. This year I hesitated; it's a year that no one really wants to remember, and to gloat about success amid all this year's atrocities seems in bad taste.

   When Britain chose to leave the EU (by a troubling tiny minority) the country seemed to be in shock; the streets were silent, and the future felt uncertain. It still does feels that way. I didn't think anything as frightening would happen again in 2016 - then Donald Trump won the American Election. Both events left me feeling physically sick; under their new rule, both countries decimated their environmental efforts within the first week. If that's one of the first things they've done, I shudder to think what will come next.

   On top of this, we had the constant stream of high-profile celebrity deaths. Not just the standard list of about ten 'golden era' stars who had reached a natural end, remembered only during the awards' season 'in memorium' list; these were all household names, many taken well before their time, after terrible, shocking, sudden illness. There were Hollywood icons: dear Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Carrie Fisher and then her mother, Debbie Reynolds, to name just four; we lost the comedians and quick-witted people we grew up watching as children - Ronnie Corbett, Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne, Liz Smith, Terry Wogan; we even lost sporting royalty Muhammed Ali. But the public seemed most shook by the music and style icons we lost - Prince, George Michael, Leonard Cohen... and of course, David Bowie. I was sadly late to the game with Bowie, and didn't appreciated his genius until a couple of years ago, but I know that he was a huge inspiration to so many people I've worked with over the years, and in particular to my own partner, Edward Harvey, who so dearly felt Bowie's loss. There will never be anyone like him.

   And of course, as well as this long list of famous deaths, there were many more losses whose names will not be remembered, who will not be featured in the press. War and poverty rages on as it always has done, and the constant threat of terrorism seems to be moving ever closer to home.

   I'm happy to say that any traumas I had personally this year were on a much, much, much smaller scale. I had a couple of health issues (one scarring injury and lots of breathing difficulties), but I look to tackle some of these in 2017, as I have joined and already started going to a gym. 2016 was the year I lost my beloved pet Manny, aged six, who had been with me through numerous house and career moves (and various video diaries!). But I'm thankful to say that no one from my actual family was lost this year; for the most part, they have remained in good health, and we've grown an extra branch in the form of my Uncle's lovely new fiancee.

   And, in terms of career, 2016 was actually the biggest, most successful year I've ever had. It goes without saying that this year will always belong to Songbird; this time last year myself and my team were busy prepping for our iShorts interview, which came at the end of January 2016. Although we didn't progress further in that competition, the film still took off more than we ever could've predicted, through the casting of lead actor Janet Devlin (of X Factor fame), who is wonderful on screen and off. We raised over £1000 in the first 24 hours of launching our funding campaign; only a few days later, it was fully funded - and then the total kept on rising! The support for the film continues to be amazing; we even had a mention in a recent article in OK! Magazine!!


Directing my wonderful leading lady, Janet Devlin, on Songbird. (Photo credit: Forged Films)

   Songbird is the biggest film myself and Triskelle Pictures have handled to date. None of us expected it to become this big, and it has been challenging at times, but everything is worth it. Myself and a small film crew, around the size of the Fellowship of the Ring, braved extreme heat, torrential rain, and long days trekking over fields and through forests to get some of the most beautiful footage I've seen in a short film in a long time. Early in 2017 you'll get to see this footage for yourself, when we release the film's trailer during the 'festival booster' campaign. I expect 2017 will be equally dedicated to Songbird, as we need to get through the challenging and all-important edit stage, followed by the music and sound design, and visual effects. Then we'll be moving into the most daunting prospect of all: releasing it into the world for judgement.

   Speaking of which, the other success story of the year has been Night Owls. That project also enabled us to start the year on a high, when it premiered at London Short Film Festival in January. Filled with pride, we hoped that it would open the door to more festival acceptances, but - apart from a lovely little screening in Poland - that wasn't the case. Our festival run went very quiet for a few months, and I started the usual vicious dance of doubting myself, doubting the film, wondering what would've happened if we had hired a festival doctor as planned...

   But then Night Owls had another successful surge, as we started entering the next tier of festivals. The film won three awards in just as many days - two from LA Film Awards and one from Festigious - earning my dear friend Neil Oseman his first ever best cinematography award! And although it didn't get into Aesthetica (a festival I am so keen to crack!) it was shortlisted, and in the popular drama category too, which is still a great achievement, and closer than I've come since I submitted The Opening Night in 2010. 


With one of Night Owls' producers, Lauren Parker, and co-writer Tommy Draper, after the LSFF screening in January. You can tell we were buzzing!

   We have a few more festivals left to enter or hear from for Night Owls, then it will end its festival run in Summer 2017. The producers and I will be sure to release some more great content around that release, so our work on the film is not done yet. In the meantime, Night Owls is still competing for PromoFest's 'Short of the Year' award, and is currently in fifth place; the competition ends on January 21st, and every view will help it move closer to the prize, so please watch it and share it around!

   In terms of other work, 2016 was actually the first time I didn't work on anyone else's films, apart from some art department work right at the start of the year for Liam Banks' entry into Derby Quad's Shine A Light scheme. Due to my workload on Songbird, I had to turn down lots of wonderful offers, including jobs on Time, and Again and Wash Club - two brilliant short films that have just begun their festival run. If my availability changes in 2017, I hope to be able to collaborate more with people, as I have done in previous years.

   However, myself and Triskelle Pictures did release three music videos this year, which is a bit of a record for us. Two days after the Songbird shoot, we shot an underground session (underground in more ways than one) for Scribble Victory. Then, in November, I entered another Talenthouse competition, releasing a video for the Goo Goo Dolls, which gave me the opportunity to work with Emmeline Kellie, and Triskelle the chance to collaborate with Siskamedia. Finally, at the start of this month, The Oramics Machine released the video we made for the song Hubris, which was initially shot and edited way back in 2014. I also edited a suite of videos for Towersey Music Festival, which was a genuinely lovely way to spend the end of Summer.


On the panel for October's Film & TV Tweet-up, where we were interviewed about our work. (Photo credit: John Shelton). This is another opportunity that came from Emmeline Kellie.

   My day job, at video production agency Dynomite Productions, has also kept me busy. Very busy. The work load tripled this year, and so did the workforce, and I was delighted when my Night Owls editor Theo Leeds was employed there alongside me. It's been great having him in the office. I've also had the opportunity to use my directorial skills at Dynomite this year, when we shot some training videos in the Autumn, so that was a wonderfully satisfying experience for me. And while we're talking business, Triskelle Pictures as a company has grown considerably this year, in no small part due to Songbird, and I even made the decision to get an accountant because of this. I look to see this growth continue in 2017.

   And finally, myself and Triskelle have had a bit of a social media boom this year. I've always been a fan of social media, but it's been a bit of a slow burner this past decade. With the announcement of Janet Devlin's involvement in Songbird, the reach of the Triskelle Pictures Facebook page shot up; we were barely pushing 500 likes (after years of trying), and then we instantly shot up to 800, and those numbers haven't stopped growing. That announcement post alone reached nearly 70,000 people. So I've started paying more attention to social media, not only putting more effort into my own Instagram page, but also releasing the Triskelle Pictures YouTube channel and Twitter profile, finally. Myself and Triskelle's Laura C. Cann will also be releasing the Triskelle Instagram page in due course.


With my boyfriend Edward Harvey at Beeston Film Festival at the start of 2016, where Stop/Eject was up for Best Drama!

   There's a few things I'm not looking forward to in 2017; with such political unrest, I'm certainly not going to go into it with too much optimism. But, if the world remains in tact, I know that Songbird will keep me busy, Night Owls will end its festival run, and my business has a lot of growth potential. I intend on looking for not only new music video collaborations for my company, but I also want to push my own individual brand as a director by entering more training schemes and support bursaries (I'm starting 2017 as a Raindance member, which is a good start). There's also a project myself and Aislinn de'Ath have been meaning to get off the ground for a while, and I hope we'll be able to get the cogs turning for that again next year. Then, towards the end of the year, I might even look to start some new projects - I've just started writing a short sci-fi/fantasy script I've had in my head for years (working title: The Barn), and of course there's always that one project waiting at the edge of my mind: the Night Owls feature.

   Whatever next year brings, I hope that it is kinder to the world and the people than subsequent years have been, and I wish good health for all of you and your loved ones. Thank you to everyone who has supported me and my work this year.

Sophie





2016 - in Summary

Short films worked on - 2 (including Night Owls, although Stop/Eject did also continue to have some festival screenings around the world this year, so maybe I should make that 3?)

Countries visited - 2, just my home country and Hamburg on business. Must do better!

Film Festivals attended - 4. LSFF and The Short Cinema (with Night Owls), Beeston Film Festival (with Stop/Eject) and Derby Film Festival. Could've attended more. Need to also start attending more local film events again!

Music gigs attended - 3, very varied: Father John Misty, Josh Groban, and Janet Devlin! Not a bad number attended, for me. Still wish it was higher.

Holidays taken - 0. Used up all the time making Songbird or working on other projects!

Personal Resolutions for 2017 - try and find one day a week for 'hobby time' (sewing, painting, working on photo albums, even just having a Pinterest day); get the home 'cruelty free' in terms of cleaning products and toiletries; de-clutter my house, giving things to worthy causes where possible, and move out of Derby!


Saturday, 17 December 2016

Stories from the Set: Hubris Music Video

On location for the Hubris music video shoot. Photo credit: Aperture Alternative

   Why do I like making music videos? With my business head on, I'd say it's because they are a way to use one's short film making skills in a commercial way. But from a personal point of view, I think it's because I wish I was more musical; I come from a musical family and I have a background in musical theatre, but I only play a couple of instruments to a certain level, and my singing voice should be restricted to the shower. So music videos are my way of expressing my musical side, and hopefully contributing to the music industry, without having to stray from my comfort zone.

   So, flashback to 2014. Ian Cudmore, who is much more musically gifted than me, had worked for me and Triskelle Pictures for years, so I definitely felt like I owed him something. He was a member of numerous bands so I offered to create a music video for one of them, as my way of saying thank you for all his hard work. The band he chose was The Oramics Machine, and they had one song in mind to transform into a video: Hubris.

   Now, I love music videos that are all bells and whistles, but I think the most important thing is that the video is true to the story behind the lyrics. The Oramics Machine lead singer Tim Harnor wrote Hubris after he witnessed a particularly volatile argument in a bar - so I suggested we made the video based around exactly that. It also gave me the opportunity to explore a variety of different powerful emotions on camera. Simple didn't mean boring in this case.

   We shot the video back in April 2014, timed purely because the Night Owls shoot had been pushed back to May 2014 and it freed up an ideal slot. The two locations we used for the video were both personal to The Oramics Machine - Bar One, a local pub where they'd regularly perform, and Dubrek Studios, where they'd rehearse and record their songs. 

   The band were happy to appear in the pub scenes as patrons, but (somewhat rightly) believed that performing the song there would be cheesy and distracting from the main story, so Dubrek provided a venue for them to perform the song - which gave me something extra to cut to in the edit.

    Bar One and Dubrek had additional elements we could use - an outdoor 'cinema' in the former, and an art-filled,  sculptural corridor in the latter - which I new I could also work into the edit to create more visual interest.


Filming Katie McMillan during one of many emotional scenes. Photo credit: Aperture Alternative

   I enlisted Katie McMillan to play the lead character (and perpetrator of the staged argument), an actor I had met the previous year when I filmed an episode of her online interview series, Let's Do Tea. In the Hubris video, she had to play a woman who was five shots away from rock bottom, and with all those aforementioned emotions on display, it was a challenging shoot for her. But she gave a raw and convincing performance (so much so that there is at least one take where her outbursts made other cast members jump out of their skin!).

   To play the couple on the receiving end of Katie's rage, I enlisted Jessica Messenger (who I had previously costumed on Wasteland) and then-new-to-me model Nicky Paul Rollett, who had to step in at the last minute. Amongst the lineup of extras were a few friends and cameos, including my Night Owls co-writer Tommy Draper, and the band's fellow musicians, Scribble Victory (who also performed on the Night Owls soundtrack, and who Triskelle Pictures also made a music video for, two years later).

   In spite of the emotional scenes, it was a relatively easy shoot. I had the wonderful Chris Newman behind the lens again, and there was pizza available for the plucky cast and extras on location (although the lovely bar dog Buddy, who usually frequents Bar One, was kept off location for most of the shoot). We also had Ben Wood of Aperture Alternative on set to take all the lush photos you see on this page (the rest are still on Facebook if you want to see them).

   As often happens with most music videos, after the edit the video had to be shelved until The Oramics Machine were ready to release their single and album. And, the band being the perfectionists they are, they didn't finish mixing and remixing Hubris until early this year. But good things come to wait, so, finally, here it is - the official music video of Hubris for The Oramics Machine:



   So, what are my thoughts on the video after all this time? Well, since I don't tend to use SLRs for client shoots anymore, I'm inclined to think the footage has aged a bit, but I think the slightly lower-key look of it really suits the grungey performance footage (plus Chris is such a good DP, he could even make phone footage look awesome!) . This video was also the first time I'd ever graded one of my videos myself (apart from the odd video diary), and I think my skills in that area have improved over the last two years. I also have different editing software to what I used back then, and there are things I'd do with the new software if I had to create the video now. But the story of the video is still perfect for the lyrics and the band, and the performances are great, so if I had to shoot it again, I wouldn't change any of those elements.


   I had a lot of lovely feedback from the band after the video was finished. Bass Guitarist Chris Harrison, who is now an illustrator (his work is really cool - check it out on Instagram) - even sent me this note, which is awesome:



  Right, now I need to get back to the Songbird edit (we're on the second cut now). I'm certainly not tired of making music videos yet, in any way, so if you or anyone you know would like one, please send them my way!

Sophie


EDIT: Sadly, since finishing their album and releasing their video, The Oramics Machine have decided to call it a day. They were a great band to work with and to watch perform (I even did a live gig recording for them very early on in my film career) so it's a shame to see them retire. But it's been a pleasure creating this video for them, and I'm happy to have played a small part in their swansong. Thanks for the memories, boys!