Friday, 21 November 2014

Memories of Tori Amos

Hi Everyone,

   It's been hectic down my end as always, juggling my work at Dynomite Productions alongside my freelance jobs and fiction-based dalliances - and trying to fit all that around domestic jobs such as cleaning out the guinea pigs (I have two now)! So I'm going to keep today's blog post brief, with two pieces of major news:

   1) The Night Owls extended cut edit is nearly finished (with a new video diary about that to be released soon).

   2) Stop/Eject is on the long list for a BAFTA nomination.

   Yes, you read number 2 right. How amazing is that news? For saying we weren't even nominated as 'best' anything during our time at Raindance, me and Neil weren't expecting to get this far! And it's so, so unlikely that we'll be nominated, but even being on the long list is such  an honour. Keep an eye on the film's Facebook page for more news as and when it happens.


   So, moving on to the purpose of today's blog post... 

   Last month I entered a short (15 second) film competition, to create a video for none other than the ethereal Tori Amos, and her recent song Weatherman. Here is my entry below:


   The themes for the video were 'nature and memories of love', and I wanted to give it a go for two reasons; Firstly, I've been wanting to make a film for a while based on the fact that almost everyone has a camera on them, and the ability to capture the moving image, 24-7. Which is why my entry uses a mix of mediums - HD, SD and even phone footage, all of which was blurred slightly and converted to 4:3 to give it a nostalgic feel (aided by the Lana del Rey-esque film burn transitions).


Hint of a cameo in Weatherman
   I even appear briefly in the video, in a section of 'phone footage' from my old Blackberry. This was footage of myself and my boyfriend, filmmaker and composer Edward Harvey, shot when been together less than two months (which is hard to believe, looking at how intense we seem in the footage!). That footage meant a lot to me, and I didn't really intend on releasing it, but it seemed fitting for this video, so in it went!

  Some of the standard-def footage is from one of my first cameras, and there's clips there from my early attempts at music videos. Which brings me to the second point as to why this competition was important to me; The first music video I ever shot, aged around 16/17 (I don't remember) was made for a Tori Amos song.

  The track was her cover of The Cure's Lovesong, and of course it was a fan-made piece rather than a commissioned one. It was shot in my high school, with an old school chum who appeared in all my early videos. I used the sepia setting rather than changing the
Screengrab from Lovesong
colours in post, which is something I'd never recommend doing these days, and it was exported as a heavily pixelated 4:3 SD video. And it didn't have a set narrative; was made up from various shots and images that I thought were 'pretty'. So some of it looks very immature now, but it's interesting to see how many motifs from that video have lasted with me over the years.


   I put that video online privately for storage reasons, and I don't mind showing it to you guys on request (although it's rather cringe-worthy these days!). But I doubt I'll ever release it. There's something else important I've learnt to do since shooting it; get release forms signed at all times!

   I never thought I'd get the opportunity to show that old video to Tori, even though I shot it for her as much as for me. So when I decided to use clips from my old work in this 15 second film competition, I jumped at the chance to use some shots from Lovesong (all the sepia bits in my above entry are from that).

  The competition closed on the 31st October, and I haven't heard anything from Tori's representatives (although Mercury Classics did share the video on Twitter). So I can only assume that I haven't won, but that's okay. I was just really happy to give it a go, and to have the chance to look through all that old footage! I also liked the finished result enough that I might expand on it, and use it for something else in the future. I already have an idea in mind, for when I get the time.

   Right, enough nostalgia. Back to work for me. I'll be in touch with you guys again when the new Night Owls video diary is released.

Sophie

Monday, 3 November 2014

Production Assistants - those unsung heroes!

Hi All,

    So last week, I did two things for the first time. Firstly, I worked on a genuine medieval-style fantasy set for the first time (not including my 16-year-old self's attempt at fantasy-comedy, The Lord of the Things). This is something I wanted to do ever since I first saw Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy in the early 00s, and decided that was what I wanted to do with my life.

   As I got older, I found smaller dreams to be more accessible - drama films and short fantasies were easier to achieve. I've said to people, "I'll make a proper fantasy film in 20 years", which I've been saying unchanged for at least a decade without getting closer to my goal. But with Ren, and her previous film Born Of Hope, inspirational director Kate Madison has made such dreams a reality, today. And walking onto the Ren set - created inside a disused factory near Cambridge - made my inner child dance with delight.

   Ren is an exquisite project, a web series of the highest quality in spite of its low budget, and I expect to see it on sites such as Netflix in the near future, without a doubt. See the teaser trailer below for an example of its calibre:


    So when DOP (and my frequent collaborator) Neil Oseman invited me onto the Ren set, I had the opportunity to do something else for the first time. You see, from graduating university more than four years ago, I have worked constantly in 'leading' crew roles - editing promotional films, heading the Art Department, and even Producing & Directing. Unlike most people, I didn't work my way up the power chain from the bottom level. Meaning, I have never been a Production Assistant - commonly known as a 'Runner'.

   But I have used runners before, and happily ordered coffees from them without a second thought, which goes against my number one Director rule of 'Never ask someone to do something you're not willing to do yourself'. So working on Ren gave me the opportunity to correct that error on my part.

   So what did I learn about the humble but vital role of Production Assistant from an inside view? Well, the main surprise was how little I ended up on set during filming. There are always a million jobs which need doing behind the scenes, and Production Assistants are often hidden away helping things run properly. I was always kept busy, which was great, often doing set decorating and making bits of costume (under Production Designer Amanda Stekly and Costume Designer Miriam Spring Davies respectively, both of whom were an absolute joy to work for).

   And the few times I did make it onto set - which looked absolutely stunning - I found myself at a bit of a loose end. Ren was such a well-oiled machine that every job was being attended to, and I was in danger of getting in the way of the fast-moving, busy crew.

   The other thing I learnt about Production Assistants is how multi-talented they need to be. Because of my Art Department background, tasks such as painting thatched roofs and sewing cloaks came naturally (to an extent), but these tasks were also asked of Production Assistants who were completely new to film. 

Sanding wood on the Ren set. Photo: Kevin Hudson
   Production Assistants also need to be physically fit - moreso than I am - as jobs included moving a fireplace and hacking at wood with an axe!

   Production Assistants have to have incredible short-term memories. When you do a drinks run, if more than four or five people put in an order, it can be tricky to remember how many sugars go with which crewmember. And when you're asked to go and fetch something - such as scissors - you need to remember where it is, and you need to find it, amongst the many rooms and mountains of props. This is something I failed at - more than once I went back to person who'd sent me away, and asked where the item was that they wanted! But the other, more experienced Production Assistants seemed to have a photographic memory of where things were. It was like they were wizards!

   When I've used Runners before, I've grown accustomed to calling breaks when myself and the core crew wanted them, and to discovering tables full of food waiting for us. But of course, for every table of food, there's a group of people rushing round making sure it's ready for when the director is. So, as a Production Assistant on the Ren set, I had to help cook - including the dreaded onion-chopping - and I had to clean the mountain of pots left over when other people went back to set. It wasn't my favourite job, but still an important cog of the larger filmmaking machine.

   So, what have I taken away from all this? Well, for one thing I'm lucky that my first experience of Running was on the Ren set, because everyone was so lovely - and surprisingly humble. They made me feel very welcome, and constantly showed their gratitude for my work (and everyone else's). They weren't in any way elitist; Kate broke rank constantly by helping to paint the set, and she personally picked me up from the station. And I often saw the producers getting their hands dirty by cooking and doing the washing up themselves. Like I said, a seriously lovely team.

    And I've learnt to respect the Production Assistants more on my own projects. When you're on the 'core crew', it's easy to keep going through long hours and late nights, sometimes even working through lunch, because you're passionately involved in the story. A Production Assistant often comes late into the project, and sometimes they haven't even read the script. So, as a director, you need to support your Production Assistants, and kindly push them, if you expect the same dedication. That's what I need to do in the future.

  So let me take the time to praise the people who have been Production Assistants under me as Producer or Director over the years: Kurtis Baker, Paul Baker, Laura Cann, Tommy Draper, Steve Giller, Laura Iles, Stephanie Murphy, Kevin Nightingale, Maria-Luisa Piliero, Ellie Ragdale, Freddie Saddington, Sam Tansley and Dimitri Yiallourou. Round of applause. You are the unsung heroes behind my work.

Sophie

p.s. Find out more about the great Ren, and the amazingly talented team, via their website and Facebook page. Thankyou to Kate and Neil for giving me the opportunity to be part of your family for four days. I can't wait to see the finished result.