Sunday, 31 May 2015

Life After Ashes

On the set of Ashes, nearly THREE YEARS ago! Photo credit: Jenna Cataldo.

Hey Guys,

   So, tomorrow is the big day. After a long and varied journey, Ashes is will finally be released online.

   When you sign up to make a short film (in this case, under 7 minutes) you don't realise how long a process it will be. We started pre-production on Ashes in 2011 (with the auditions in December of that year), shot the film in August 2012 (after a long funding process and difficulties with securing locations), and finished the edit in February 2013. Then we had two long years of supposed 'festival life', which ended this year with five screening credits to our name. That's why it's taken until now to get the film online.

   Everyone involved put a lot of hard work and some serious skills into the film - but that was nearly three years ago, and we've all moved onto different projects since then. Some of us have changed (or even started) our film careers, and others have had major life events. We're all a little older, some a little wiser, and one of us became a parent.

   You don't need me to go on about my life since Ashes. Regular readers will know that I made corporate film my day job and also pursued my next big film project, Night Owls. But what about the rest of the crew? Their careers are certainly worth celebrating too.

   Here's a few success stories from the core team, and what they've been up to since the last petal fell on Ashes...

Sarah Lamesch

   First up, our leading lady. Impossible as it seems to believe after seeing such a strong performance, Ashes was actually Sarah's first film role (although some films she shot afterwards were finished and released before Ashes was).

   Since then she's delivered some strong and graceful leading performances in beautifully moving films such as Dust & Waltz (shown above. The film was a finalist in the Reed Short Film Competition 2013), Once a Man and Voice, to name just three. Her career has certainly taken off in the last few years, and doesn't seem to be losing momentum any time soon. Sarah Lamesch is still one to watch.

Adam Lannon

  Our talented leading man already had a long list of film credits to his name when he joined the Ashes team, and he's continued to work steadily on some exciting projects. As well as a small role in Downton Abbey, he's taken the lead in films such as Red Letter, Accept and Tetro Rouge (the trailer for which is above), as well as working on an interesting, immersive theatre project called Time Run.

   But Adam's talents don't stop at acting. After working on Ashes, Adam directed another short film, Matter of Fact - which was shortlisted out of 148 Films within the Sci-Fi London 48hr Film Competition! Truly a versatile, busy man - and long may his success continue!

Christopher Newman


   And now onto the crew, starting with my trusty AD and colorist (and one of my co-editors). Chris already had a day job in corporate film when we made Ashes, but in 2014 he moved to a different company... and shortly afterwards became their head of video production! 

  In spite of his busy schedule, Chris still sometimes finds work in the fiction world. His first feature film as a DOP, colourist and editor, Wasteland (trailer above), was completed in 2013, and recently scored a distribution deal. He's also managed to be DOP for me three times since Ashes - on two music videos, and our recent short film The Dress.

Gina Hames

One of Gina's recent creations
   Ashes' costume and production designer, Gina, has gained more film credits since 2012 - including the pilot for Job Seekers, which she worked on as a costume assistant. But more importantly, Gina has since done an entire degree in Costume Design & Textiles at the University of Huddersfield (I know - it's crazy to think that Gina achieved so much with Ashes before she'd even left school!). 

   Through her time at University, Gina has developed some serious skills, not only in costume design and manufacture but in printing fabrics as well (an example of this is left). With beckoning talent such as this, I can't wait to see what comes next for Gina after she graduates!

   (Follow Gina on Pinterest to see what inspires her)

Neil Oseman


  And finally our cinematographer, left until last because what he's done since Ashes has, frankly, been epic. Neil had an impressive career before he appeared on my radar, but in the last two years he has left the corporate film world to work as a full time freelance DOP for fiction fims. 

   What's more, since 2013, Neil has done his most daring and exciting work since his 2005 feature Soul Searcher. He was the man behind the lens on not one but two series -swashbuckler The First Muskateer, due to be released the same time as Ashes, and fantasy saga Ren (trailer above). Both were intense but incredible-looking work for Neil, but he still found time to direct another short film, Amelia's Letter. And not forgetting a certain near-BAFTA acclaim this year for a certain film about time travel...


   I could rave on and on about the wonderful Ashes team and the great work they've done since. But I can't do that forever; sooner or later, we would come to the last blog about Ashes - and it seems as though this will be it. I still implore you to follow the work of everyone involved on the project; I have a feeling their best work is yet to come.

   And don't forget, tomorrow at 8pm on ReelHouse, you will finally be able to watch Ashes, and see  for yourselves what all the fuss is about. With at least £1 from every £3 rental fee going to worthy organisation (and Ashes supporters) Wan2Talk, you've got even more of an incentive to tune in and spread the word.

   I'll see you all at 8pm on 1st June for the big reveal.


Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Stories from the Set: "The Dress"

Hey Guys,

   There's two things I'd been meaning to do for a while. One was to take part in the Five Lamps Films 24 Hour Film Challenge. With the majority of my films taking a long time to complete (when you include the months, if not years, of pre-and-post-production that goes into making a film) I've got a bit of a reputation for releasing one film every two years, commissions aside. So I liked the idea of creating a short film with a quick turnaround time - but I always seemed to avoid taking part in this local competition. 

   Last year, for example, I booked the competition day off work, but it fell the day after we'd finished filming Night Owls. So I bottled out, claiming exhaustion. It might have been the same this year - I'd had a busy month with the day job, travelling to Hamburg and then London on corporate film business - except that I'd booked the actor and bought the costumes in advance, forcing me to stick to my plan.

   The second thing I'd been meaning to do was to fulfill a promise I made to a dear friend. Claudia Salina (who I met at University and lived with for two years) once said to me, "you should make a film about a woman who dyes her wedding dress black." I said that I would, as the idea sounded fun. That was over four years ago. Time flies when you're busy!

   Finally, on the 2nd May 2015, I achieved both goals. I shot and edited a film in less than 24 hours (we actually managed it in 17 hours) and I brought Claudia's idea to the screen:

So how did we do it?

On set with Aislinn
   Casting was simple. I'd been meaning to work with Aislinn De'Ath for a while now (something else I hadn't gotten round to!) after meeting her in London through a mutual contact. She had a great energy, and I knew she'd carry the film well, even if we'd had to cut corners with the cinematography due to the time constrictions. The final scene of the film alone is testament to her acting talents.

   I wanted to keep the crew small because of the tight schedule (and also due to the fact we were filming in my house - something I've tried to avoid), so I was fully prepared to shoot the film myself, keeping it simple as my skills are poor-to-basic in that area. Then, luckily, three days before the shoot, my regular collaborator Christopher Newman announced that he was free. He now runs the film department of a company called Team Wild -  a more-than full time job fully immersed in promotional film - so, like me, he was chomping at the bit to create a piece of fiction again - even if this meant climbing inside my bath to get a certain shot! He supplied all of the wonderful kit and, as ever, did an incredible job with the cinematography, adding polish to the simple story.

Laura does battle with the dress!
   The script was two pages long (we had to keep it fairly loose because Five Lamps set us a line of dialogue and action on the day, both of which fit perfectly, thank god) and we only had two locations. The only challenge was costume-based; the eponymous dress had to go from white to black in 24 hours. I'd originally planned to get two identical dresses, one black and one white, but then I heard that you could get penalized for making things too simple. So that left us only one option...

   I got the wedding dress from a charity store for £40. There were some simpler, easier-to-dye dresses in the shop, but this huge 'princess dress' had the most visual impact, so I let my creative heart rule my head. £40 is a bargain, but buying a second hand dress also meant we couldn't buy a duplicate (and we didn't have any choice of size) so we knew we'd only get one shot at dying it.

   I was editing the film as well as directing it, so I had to hand over costume duties to the rest of my team. Cue superstar Laura C. Cann - part of the Triskelle Pictures marketing team, and 1st AD on this project - as well as Aislinn herself, who both worked themselves ragged and risked inhaling toxic paint fumes to get the dress to turn black.

  We did dye the dress in the bath using fabric dye, as seen in the film, but only after Aislinn had taken it off. The shots of her lying in black water were achieved using food colouring to avoid irritating her skin as much as possible. 

   Due to the synthetic fabric of the dress, it was unlikely the dye would take fully. It did turn a surprisingly uniform blue colour (see below), but then it was up to Laura, Ais and a few cans of spray paint (and even shoe polish) to get the desired effect. It turned out better than we'd ever hoped - although, once again, my bathtub is stained, and I doubt Laura's nails will ever be the same colour again.

The dress transforms from white, to blue, to black... all in less than 24 hours!
   Everything was shot and edited by midnight. Then it was left to Edward Harvey, my darling boyfriend, to do the sound mix. He wasn't planning on entering the challenge this year, having won it in 2014 - and we've avoided working together on film shoots, so that we never 'take arguments home'. And yet he was the only one still working at 2am, while I watched over his shoulder and made perfectionist comments about how a phone vibration should sound. He's definitely a trooper!

  The music was planned in advance to save time. Moby has recently released his back-catalogue to independent filmmakers through a site called Moby Gratis, and I knew this would be the perfect opportunity to use that resource. The track we chose worked well - although, of course, our usual composer Ian was missed on set.

That's a wrap for one sleepy, paint-stained team!
  A film made in 24 hours is never going to be a perfect thing. There's a couple of prop errors I'd change if I could go back, and I want to re-edit the film to sort out a few flaws I didn't notice at the time (and to make room for some beautiful slow-motion shots Chris captured which we didn't have time to include). But, those points aside, we did come away with something we can be proud of.

   And even better - on the night itself (the closing night of Derby Film Festival 2015), The Dress was awarded second place amongst a seriously strong line up! I wasn't expecting to have to leave my seat that night, let alone bring home the team's first award.

Victory pose! Me and Edward (far right) with the other winning teams.

  So that's another filmmaking ambition or two ticked off my list. Time to tackle a new goal!


(Behind-the-scenes photos from The Dress by Aislinn De'Ath, Christopher Newman, Laura C. Cann,Sophie Black and Tommy Draper. View more photos from the shoot here.)