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

   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!


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.


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!


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!

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The History in the Walls at My First Job

   A month or so ago marked ten years since I started my first job. A decade in and out of employment - isn't that a crazy thought? 

   My first job was a characteristically quirky and creative one. I was still in Sixth Form at school, and I worked in the evenings and on Saturdays for an under-21's minimum wage, which was a lot less than it is now. The place was a family-run jewelry and gift store, the kind where all the locals knew the staff by name, and which had been in business since the early fifties. My job was to photograph all their unsold stock - sometimes random things which they found in the back of cupboards, the boxes covered in dust but the contents glittering and beautiful - and then I'd handle their online sales. I think I was only there three or four months, but I really enjoyed it.

   So, why am I telling you guys about this? Well, on top of celebrating the ten-year milestone, I've also got something wonderful from this job to share with you - something that I've had stored up all these years.

   The reason the shop was selling its old stock - and why I was temporarily brought on board to help shift it - was because they were renovating the upstairs rooms, to turn them into modern flats. The building had been around since Victorian times, and apart from piling up boxes of watches, paperweights and other knickknacks, most of it had remained untouched, and left to deteriorate. When they started knocking things through - and leaving wonderfully oddball shapes in the floor and walls - all of this beautiful decay was uncovered, and so I got my camera out...

   Back when I had that job, I hadn't learned how to make films (as you can probably tell from my blurred photography and dodgy framing!). In fact, I was then in the process of selecting which universities to apply to, to study film production. But all the same, I looked at those crumbling walls, original fireplaces, wartime furniture and decayed wallpaper, and I was filled with inspiration - not just for set design, but for stories in general. I haven't used this inspiration yet, but it's good to keep things stored up for the right moment - and maybe, by sharing these images, I've inspired some of you guys too.


p.s. None of these beautiful dusty rooms exist any more. The flats were completed in early 2007, done up with clean white walls, and were soon let out to tenants. But you can still visit the shop, which occupies the ground floor of the building. It's in my old hometown of Belper.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Wolves On Film!

Introducing our fluffy addition to the Songbird cast! Photo credit: Forged Films

    Last weekend I was finally able to reveal (through a series of beautiful photos by Forged Films) the fact that we had a live wolf on the set of Songbird. Known to us as Sawyer, this furry addition to the cast was great to have around; although he played a fearsome character - whom Jennifer encounters on her journey through the woods - in real life Sawyer is a big softy who brightened up the crew after a long day of lugging kit over hills.

   So I've decided to do this fun blog post in honour of Sawyer, starting with a few facts:

- Firstly, no Sawyer is not 100% wolf. As far as I know, keeping a pet wolf in this country is severely frowned upon. But he is as close as you can get to owning one: his breed is Tamaskan (which is Inuit for 'mighty wolf') and he's much bigger than your average husky.

- One of Sawyer's owners is Alison Heath, the woman responsible for making The Collector's main costume. Most of us weren't aware of Alison's amazing pet when we brought her on board, but as soon as she told us about Sawyer, a part was written for him.

Photo credit: Forged Films
- Sawyer is a survivor. He was the only one of his litter to make it, and a vet predicted that he wouldn't live more than a year. However, at five years old, Sawyer is still going strong - although his left leg is now mostly metal due to a hit and run accident when he was seven months old.

- Due to his surprising stamina as a puppy, Sawyer's breeder named him 'Blufawn Easter Miracle', which is still his stage name. His owners renamed him Tom Sawyer, and he is frequently tormented by another pet of theirs, a continental giant rabbit called Huckleberry Finn!

- Although Songbird will be Sawyer's first movie credit, he is an experienced model, having appeared in various wolf-themed photoshoots. He also appeared in a promotional tour of one of the Twilight films. What a star!

   Sawyer's involvement in Songbird made me think about other cinematic wolves. It's easy to ring off a list of movies with wolves in - the first that spring to my mind are The Company of Wolves, Red Riding Hood, various classic werewolf movies and even the amazing animated wolf scene in Beauty and the Beast

   What's more challenging, however, is trying to think of wolfy appearances in another of my favourite mediums: music videos. I genuinely struggled for a while to find some notable examples - particularly as the videos for Hungry Like The Wolf and Hounds of Love do not contain dogs of any kind! But, after a bit of research, here are my top five wolfy music videos (and thank you to everyone who helped contribute to this list!):

5) Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Heads Will Roll

   Probably one of the coolest, quirkiest music videos of all time; those long takes are luscious. But it didn't rank higher on my list because the wolfy creature in it is played by a human (so therefore its rating is only 'slightly wolfy')!

4) First Aid Kit - Wolf

   A band I could listen to all day; this video is wonderfully tribal, and features a lot of great wolf imagery, but no appearances from the animals themselves (rating: fairly wolfy).

3) Kyla La Grange - Been Better

   One of my favourite artists, and this video actually features one of my favourite music video sets of all time. There's an earlier recording of this song and a video to go with it, which I also love, but in this version, Kyla has a real live wolf as her dinner guest! (rating: rather wolfy)

2) Taylor Swift - Out of the Woods

   This video is absolutely full of fairytale imagery, and if you can stomach obvious CG, it's a glorious one to watch. Among all the dangerous things Taylor encounters in the woods (as does Jennifer in Songbird) there's a fair few wolves lurking in the shadows, including a wonderously ferocious-looking wolf around the 0:27 mark. It very nearly made my top spot - it's only the fact that the wolves are mainly animated that stopped it from placing there. (Rating: pretty darn wolfy).

1) Evanescence - Call Me When You're Sober

   Every outcast teenage girl's favourite band in the noughties, this was a relatively later offering from the band, and it's full of red riding hood symbolism. And while Kyla only had the one wolf to dinner, Amy Lee is flanked by them - and they're played by genuine animal actors! Plus her dining table is much bigger, and she has a brief flying scene. What joy! (Rating: properly wolfy!)


   What do you think of my selection? Have I missed any great wolf-filled music videos? If so, let me know - I'd love to see some more!

   In summary, whether in feature films, shorts, television or music videos, wolves bring an instant symbolism and a great sense of ancient fantasy. You cannot see one without picturing them running through the trees of a forest, or howling at the moon. And it is so incredible that Sawyer's brief appearance has brought all this to Songbird. The first cut of the film is nearly complete, and I can't wait to show you guys the trailer within the next couple of months!


Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Stories from the Set: Goo Goo Dolls 'Over and Over'

Screenshot of Emmeline Kellie in our Goo Goo Dolls music video entry

   It has definitely been a roller-coaster week. As well as my constant editing work on Songbird (on top of the 'day job' edits), Night Owls - my previous short film - is now an award-winner! We scooped two awards at Sunday's LA Film Awards - Best Actor for Jonny McPherson (supremely deserved) and an honorary mention in the drama category. Then, at the time of writing this blog post, I have literally just discovered that the film won Best Cinematography from Festigious Film Festival, presented to my long-time collaborator and friend, Neil Oseman

   And yet, even with all that going on, this time last week, I directed and edited another music video... in less than 48 hours!

   This came about for two reasons: firstly because I've followed Talenthouse for a while, and I try to jump on their creative invites for music videos whenever possible. And secondly because I've been looking for an opportunity to work with actor Emmeline Kellie for a while. She now owns her own production company, Siskamedia, and it looked like a good opportunity to do a full blown collaboration project. With another of my regular collaborators, DP Chris Newman, on board, we had a good team from the start.

   Since I'd spotted Talenthouse's opportunity to create a music video for the Goo Goo Dolls quite late on into the competition (damn you, junk mail box), we had the hard task of finding an idea that played to our creative strengths, with limited time and budget, whilst also telling a story that suited the track itself. This was a bit of a case of trial and error, but eventually we decided to explore the idea of looking at a the time before an argument, before someone was miserable, and rewinding the images to go back to that happy place.

   This gave us the opportunity to work with not only reversed footage, but also slow-motion, to add an extra visual layer to the video without too much extra time and expense. This did effect our camera and format choices, though - with minimal time left for the edit, 4K slow-mo footage would have taken too long to log and render, so we opted for trusted 1080p. It also meant that Chris' weapon of choice, the beautiful Canon C500 & Odyssey combo we used on Songbird, had to be temporarily shelved. So he brought in another camera operator for the shoot, a man we all know as 'Justin Fantastic', who brought his Sony A7S & FS7 into the mix, which better suited our needs in this occasion.

One happy group shot at the end of the shoot day (photo by Emmeline).

   As usual, I was blessed with a wonderful cast. Not only Emmeline herself (who was on double duty as lead actor and producer, and also spent the majority of the shoot running or covered in water!), but also Benji Taylor, who played against her beautifully in the argument scenes, and our great supporting actors, Adei Bundy and Anita Dashwood - and the gorgeous, albeit excitable dog Ceaser, acommpanied by owner (and local actor) Katie Ward. We were also blessed with some beautiful locations, once again returning to Matlock (shout out to Emmeline for finding us that quarry!); the only downside was that we were held up in severe, unpredictable traffic on the way to the second half of the shoot, but we quickly made back the time we lost.

   Chris was the first to suggest that we shot the argument scene simultaneously on two cameras. On a practical level, this was because we knew we only had a day to shoot the film, and we needed to get a lot of coverage in a small space of time. On a personal level, I was particularly excited to try this because I know that's how they shot the majority of Blue Valentine, and I knew it would help to enhance the raw and intimate quality of the argument scenes. It's a wonderful technique, and it went as smoothly as I'd hoped, so I'll definitely be trying that again in the future.

My edit suite for the production. I wish I could've kept it!

   Due to the crew's busy schedules (mine included), the only time we were free to shoot was two days before the deadline - leaving us with only one day to edit (or slightly over that if you converted it into American time). I was on editing duty again, but Alex Stroud - Emmeline's neighbour and one of the biggest assets to the local film community I've discovered recently - lent me his gorgeous edit suite for the day, then came in and did a beautiful grade on the film when my eyelids were starting to droop.

   There's lots of specific things I could talk about to do with this film (like the way slow-motion water droplets can be graded to look like fireworks!), but the best way to make you aware of all this is to show you the film itself. So here it is:

   The winner is chosen by Warner Bros Records and Goo Goo Dolls themselves, so it's not open to a public decision. But if you want to support the film, please give it a like on Talenthouse  - or log-in via Facebook if you don't want to create a profile.

  And wish us luck!