Thursday, 31 December 2015

Goodbye 2015, Hello 2016!

(AKA. 'Sophie's Lengthy Review of the Year!)

The Dress was one of 2015's highlights - even if we didn't get the bathtub clean until December!

   It's mad to think that another year is upon us. I feel as though I've only just got used to writing '2015' rather than '2014', and 2016 sounds like a year for a sci-fi film to be set in! And yet, here it is: 2016. What will it have in store for us all, around the world?

   Well, for starters, it has a lot to live up to, for me. Looking back, 2015 doesn't feel like a particularly memorable year in my life, because I didn't move house, I didn't change career, and I didn't produce or direct any large film projects. 

   But actually, when you analyse it in terms of my vocational activity, 2015 has actually been my successful year to date. 2015 was, and always will be, the year of the first awards!! On a personal level, it's also the year my beautiful little niece was born, and the year I saw the indescribable Fleetwood Mac perform live.

   Here's the main, key points I'll take away from a relatively quiet but important year:

Old Projects Were Laid to Rest

Myself, Neil Oseman & Tommy Draper supporting Stop/Eject at The Short Cinema, Summer 2015.

  2015 was the year that both Ashes and Stop/Eject came out of their festival run, and were released online. After struggling with both films in terms of festival acceptances, they both suddenly took off, with Beeston Film Festival (which screened Ashes) right at the start of the year, then Fargo Fantastic Film Festival, Underground Short Film Festival, Worcestershire Film Festival and Southampton Film Festival for Stop/Eject, Festigious Film Festival for Ashes, and The Short Cinema for both films.

Editor Theo Leeds, finishing Night Owls
  Both films were shown at local film nights such as Short Stack, Birmingham Future Short Film Night, Five Lamps Films and Roots to Shoots, and Stop/Eject even had a brief cinema release, screening ahead of Back to the Future, Superbob and Brief Encounter at various times at three different cinemas. It also had one television screening, on Cambridge TV. As a biased producer, I still think Stop/Eject should have had more success, but it's done better than many shorts have done, or will do, and cinema releases for shorts are particularly rare.

   You can rent Ashes on Reelhouse (with a percentage of the fee going to a worthy organisation), and you can watch Stop/Eject for free on YouTube or the film's website.

   As well as ending the festival run of two films, I also finally finished the lengthy post-production of another. We finished editing Night Owls, finally, in Summer 2015, and premiered it at a private cast and crew screening at the start of December.

The Competition Entries

Back behind the camera for November's The Chaos & the Calm. Photo by Ian Cudmore.

   As mentioned in previous posts, I have a bit of a reputation for directing one short film every two years. For me, this is because I want to put my all into the production of a film, and I want to be fully attentive to it during its festival run, but it doesn't look very good on the surface, when there's a lot of proactive, talented filmmakers who make time to shoot various films throughout the year.

  It was film competitions that finally forced me to create films a little quicker. I still regret not entering Virgin Media Shorts when it was still going, and I'd wanted to enter the 5Lamps 24hr Film Challenge for a while. It was the latter which prompted me to action, and I directed and edited The Dress back in May, which starred Aislinn de'Ath and reunited me with cinematographer Christopher Newman. After the competition was over, I also re-cut and released an extended version of the film, which screened at Short Stack in August.

  I then discovered the online platform Talenthouse, which gives filmmakers and artists the chance to show their work to big names and labels, through various competitions. Because of this, I shot and edited a concept video for James Bay in less than 48hours, in November (it wasn't a time-constrained competition, I was just last minute). It was actually a lovely little shoot, with a great cast, and it's made a few people I know reconsider the value of SLR cinematography and unpaid projects. It's also the first time I've shot a short film myself since Deep Red Sun, which I made when I was still a student!

   I thought The Chaos and the Calm would be my last competition entry for the year, but I quickly entered another one on Talenthouse over the Christmas period, this time for Hailee Steinfeld. You can watch it here.

The Art Department Work Keeps Coming

On the set of bSquared's Crossing Paths, Summer 2015. Photo by Ben Bloore.

   Although I'm more keen to work on the production side of things these days, I did get a few more costume-and-production design based roles throughout the year. The first was in February, when I was Costume Supervisor for gorey horror short Lab Rats, which was shot over three nights (it was a fun shoot, but I fell asleep constantly, making 2015 probably the last year I'll ever do night shoots!). Between August and September, I was Costume Supervisor on iShorts' Poison Tree, and Costume Designer/Art Director on Crossing Paths, both of which will be released this year. 

  I also spent the tail end of 2015 in pre-production for Superfreak Media's music video project called Melissa, which I'm doing the costume and production design for. That will shoot next week, and be released later in the year as part of Derby Quad's 'Shine A Light' Project.

My First Full Year at Dynomite Productions

   Just a quick note to say that I'm still loving my 'day job' at Dynomite, with work seemingly growing bigger and better all the time. We got a host of new, exciting clients in 2015, I was sent to Hamburg for a job with them in April (only my second time ever travelling somewhere by plane!) and I even got to use some of my art department skills with them in the Summer. 

   We've just moved to a brand new office in Nottingham City Centre, and there's a new website about to be released, so keep your eyes peeled for great new things there.

Nominations, Acclaim and Awards Success!

At the very last minute, Ashes did us proud! Image via Festigious Film Festival.

   Moving on to what really made my 2015. The awards came, for the first time, finally, and they just kept coming! I now have an 'award winning' film studio in Triskelle Pictures.

   It started with The Dress. We came second, which meant that I got a framed certificate - my first 'trophy' for the wall. And I thought it would stop there. But then Stop/Eject won 'Best Drama Short' at Underground Short Film Festival (watch our acceptance video here), and Georgina Sherrington was nominated for 'Lead Actress in a Short' for Stop/Eject at Southampton International Film Festival.

The first of a few awards in 2015!
   And then, in the Autumn, Ashes won an award too, bagging 'Best Thriller Short' at Festigious Film Festival! After everything I'd been through to make that film, and after such a tricky festival run, I really had given up hope of it winning anything. I was delighted.

  But of course, in terms of awards, the absolute highlight of 2015 came right at the start of the year, when we found out that Stop/Eject was in line for a BAFTA! We made it onto the Longlist for 'Best British Short', and right up until the last minute I thought this was a very long list, but it turned out that we were one of only 15 entries. We had a 1 in 3 chance of making it into the official nominations! 

   Of course, we didn't make it that far, and I'll never know exactly how close we came between 15 and 4 places, but wow. Seriously, wow. To produce a film that came so close to a BAFTA is a phenomenal achievement, one I never really expected to happen. And I doubt I'll be able to beat that in 2016 (but I'm going to try...!).

But What's Coming in 2016?

   So what have I got coming up in my mad, creative little world? Well of course, monitoring Night Owls' festival run is the main priority I'm starting 2016 with. Some good reviews have already come in, and we've had an early surge of good look on the festival front, starting with our first acceptance: in Autumn, I found out that we'd got into none other than London Short Film Festival, with the screening on the 10th January. That's definitely a fine start to the year, and I'm looking forward to my early London visit. Even if we don't get into any more festivals, we've still got one fantastic laurel for the poster... but yeah, I'm going to be trying very hard to get into more than one festival!!

We start 2016 with a festival screening for Night Owls - January's LSFF!
  I haven't taken too many bookings for 2016 so far. I'm determined to save more time for myself (I know I always say that), but I have had a few interesting offers that I'm considering. I hope that more music video work comes along, and I'd love to go to Cannes again, if the finances allow. At the moment, that doesn't look too likely, but we'll see.

   After our enjoyable collaboration on The Dress, I'm planning on working with actor Aislinn de'Ath again. But, in true annoying fashion, I can't say what we'll be working on! It's all very hush, hush at the moment.

   But there is one thing I can reveal about 2016. Towards the end of last year, myself and my Triskelle Pictures team had another bit of good news: after years of applying, we're through to the second round of this year's iShorts!! Now, this by no means ensures we'll get funding, but we have a meeting to attend at Creative England's Manchester branch in a few days, which I'm very excited about.

   The project is called Songbird, written by my frequent collaborator Tommy Draper. It's the first full-fantasy film I've been attached to as a director, which excites me immensely. Even if we don't get the iShorts funding, we're still keen to bring it to the screen if we can, so keep your eye on the Triskelle Pictures Facebook page for updates when we have them.

   In closing, thankyou all - all my readers, followers, supporters, fellow filmmakers, friends and family; everyone who's supported my film work, and my life, over the last through years. I hope you'll stick by me and enjoy what I have to offer you in 2016.


Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Stories from the Set: The Chaos and the Calm

Shooting the full cast in Darley Park, Photo by Ian Cudmore of iCthings Photography

    With 2015 speeding to a close, I managed to fit in one last (very quick) film production. I'd somehow gone from making one film every two years, to making two in one year! And this is down to entering film competitions. First The Dress, and then The Chaos and the Calm.

    Much as I love making music videos, it's widely known that the only way to succeed at making them is to get your work in front of signed artists and record companies. So when Talenthouse offered the public the opportunity to create a short film for James Bay potentially to be commissioned into a larger piece, I had to jump at the chance - even though my autumnal schedule was manic; a heavy combination of the day job, and taking care of Night Owls.

   The only weekend I had free was the second to last weekend in November - two weeks before the Night Owls premiere, and one day before the deadline for the James Bay Film Project! But, with a little encouragement from Laura C. Cann, who works with me at Triskelle Pictures, I bit the bullet and went for it.

    We knew we wanted to do something involving water, as that's something Laura has been keen to explore for a while (plus it seems to be one of the recurring themes in my work), and I knew I wanted to do something more actor-based than visual, as - with such a quick turnaround time - I knew I'd probably have to shoot the film myself. My skills definitely lie much more with directing actors than with camera, as I only have a basic understanding of the latter. So we developed a concept of a series of confessionals, with a hint at baptism, and a concept of a healing stream which could be developed into a larger story, were we lucky enough to be commissioned.

    I filled the script with a range of characters, of various ages, with confessions ranging from a child who's upset her sister, all the way up to a retired businessman who regrets losing contact with his son. The amount of characters was kind of a contingency decision; I never expected to cast every role, as I knew this would be an unpaid little project, and I particularly thought casting the younger and senior characters would be difficult. But, when I put the casting call online, I was inundated - and overwhelmed - by applications! This really touched me; I didn't know so many people would be interested in working with me, particularly on a low-budget project.

Newcomer Lucy Clarke, with hot water bottle out of shot! Photo by Ian Cudmore of iCthings Photography
    With help from Laura, we built up a cast of fantastic local actors, including some I'd worked with before (Jessica Messenger, Michelle Darkin Price and Mark Tunstall), some I'd wanted to work with for a while (Michael Muyunda, Jenn Day and her son Rocco), and some completely fresh faces (John Kinory and newcomer Lucy Clarke). It was a seriously brilliant, talented line-up. The only downside to having a full cast was that I had to cut down people's scripted confessionals in the edit, to fit into the strict two minute running time. But I still think everyone had time to shine.

    It was a brilliant shoot. We had to split it over two days, purely because of the limited light hours at this time of year, but everyone was an absolute joy to work with. In spite of the cold weather and sad subject matters, there were many laughs shared on set. Laura couldn't join us on set, but Triskelle Pictures regular Ian Cudmore joined us to take behind-the-scenes photos, and my partner Edward Harvey recorded the voiceover 'confessions'. He also had one other interesting job, as I'll explain in a moment...

    So, what were the challenges of the shoot? As I said, it was bitterly cold. The whole shoot was set outdoors, firstly in my back garden - for the close-up shots to accompany the confessionals - and then onto Darley Park, where we were joined by a great group of extras. To make matters worse, although we'd had an unseasonably warm November, it took a sudden cold turn - so much so that it snowed the day before the shoot!! The poor actors couldn't wear coats, (I'd asked them to all wear white to enhance the baptism theme), but I took mine off during takes too, as much as possible, so as to be fair.

Actor Michael Muyunda receives a drenching. Photo by Ian Cudmore of iCthings Photography

    The other issue was the 'drenching' that the central actors had to endure. The idea was that it was a pleasant, cleansing water that 'washed their pain away'. But, in truth, it was a sudden, sharply cold spray applied by Edward, stood on a chair with a hosepipe (that's the 'odd job' I mentioned earlier). And poor Jess had to do a 'double drenching', as the camera decided to malfunction during one take (it had got a bit too wet and needed to recover!). Michael went first, and set the bar for 'least flinch' when the water hit him. This set a sort-of fun competition between the actors, and ultimately it was Michelle who won (she didn't flinch at all), followed by closely by young Lucy!

After the location recce

    Luckily, I didn't join in with the actors in terms of getting drenched by a hosepipe, but I did the Darley Park location recce during a rainstorm, and it was so heavy that I couldn't see anything properly through the showers (and my drenched fringe)! Luckily I took enough photographs, and I was able to settle on the Darley Park location by reviewing these afterwards, in the dry.

    So, how did our finished entry fare in the competition? Well, the response was brilliant, even though I'd had less than 12 hours to edit and upload the video. We had over 500 views within 24 hours of releasing it, which is so rare these days, and a lot of seriously lovely comments.

    The other phenomenal thing was the amount of 'likes' (well, 'loves') the video recieved on Talenthouse. Whereas most of the entries had between 2-8 likes on average, ours had over 20. Although we weren't chosen as one of the three winners (which had a lot of content and clearly a much higher budget than our entry), we had the joint third most likes out of the hundreds of entries - more than two of the winning entries.

The finished video has had nearly 800 views on Vimeo so far

    I'm very happy with how well we did, for such a small project. And, in spite of my limited camera skills, I'm happy with the finished video, too - it stands on the strength of the great cast, who were all an absolute joy to work with. It's great to have had some of my work at least seen by James Bay and Universal Music, and - at the very least - everyone involved has some more footage for their showreels.

    But what's the next project I'll be working on? Well, you'll have to wait until 2016 to hear that. For now, it's time to put my feet up, drink some snowballs and spend time with my friends and family. The 'film stuff' will see me again in the new year.


p.s. for more photos from the shoot, check out the album on the Triskelle Pictures Facebook page.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The road to LSFF!

  Hey guys,

   So, as you may have seen on Facebook recently, I have received some very good news. We've only just started submitting Night Owls to festivals, and we've already had one acceptance; the film will have its public premiere at London Short Film Festival, a conditionally BAFTA-qualifying festival!

  Of course, everyone involved is delighted at this news. It's a great achievement that came completely out of the blue. Even if, worst case scenario, we don't get accepted into any more festivals, we've still got a damn good laurel for our poster and our CVs!

  But while we've been celebrating this news (a lot of us have known about it for a while, but we'd been waiting until the screening date confirmation to announce it), what you guys won't have seen is all the effort that went into making this screening a possibility. You see, a lot of the crew had to work very hard to make this happen, and we even faced a couple of unexpected challenges - so I wanted to do this blog post to thank the relevant people, and to make you all aware of their efforts.

  For starters, I wasn't prepared for us to be accepted into a festival this early on. I'm never certain my films will get into festivals at all, and after Stop/Eject (which I produced) and Ashes took a long time to catch fire on the festival circuit, I didn't think I'd have to prepare any screening materials for a while. 

   So, to go to the beginning of this story: we found out the good news way back in September, towards the end of the month. The edit had been locked just under two months before that, and I'd planned on getting a DCP (digital cinema package) created, but I wasn't putting any pressure on getting that done. As far as I knew, I wouldn't need it until the cast and crew premiere in December.

   But with the acceptance came a minor bombshell: LSFF needed all screening materials before the 31st October, which gave us less than a month to get everything together. In LSFF's defense, they did say I could send a digital copy, which would've been a bit quicker, and even offered to make a DCP for me. But me being the perfectionist I am - and since I needed a DCP for the cast and crew premiere anyway - I immediately pulled the crew into action to create one ourselves.
Connector gone!

   Night Owls DOP Neil Oseman kindly took on the duty of creating the DCP. He's done this before, and you can read his guide to making DCPs on his blog. All he needed me to do was send him the files he needed. Which would've been easy, if it weren't for our unexpected hurdle. I got the project hardrive, went to plug it in to export some files, and this happened... (see right). 

   What we have here is what my family calls 'the innate hostility of inanimate objects'. With less than a month to create a DCP and post the materials over, the USB3 connector of my hard drive decided to fall off!! What's more, it fell inside the case, leaving it completely inaccessible.

  Cue (after a lot of panicking on my part) some technical computer advice from Tommy Draper (the film's co-writer) and Steve Giller, some fast services from a local technology recovery company, lots and lots of driving back and forth by my Dad, and a lot of money spent on replacement hard drives!

  Once I was finally able to export the files I needed (having lost a week due to the broken hard drive), there were file format issues - small things such as checking bitrates and other settings, and larger issues, such as being unable to export certain file types on my computer. Cue the services of the film's editor, Theo Leeds, and local filmmaker Chris Newman, who both exported various bits and pieces for me. 

  While the guys were doing this, I focused my attention on something I'm better at - making creative, reasonably memorable DCP packaging!

My homemade USB DCP box and tag, ready for contact details to be written on

  More expenses mounted up at this point, and more time was lost. Two more hard drives were bought (one to send to Neil with the DCP materials, and one to transport files for conversion back home), plus USB sticks, and back-and-forth postage costs arose.

  Through some very speedy skills, in spite of the file-format-and-broken-hard-drive related setbacks, Neil managed to finish the DCP the week before the deadline. Then Sam Jordan and the team at Derby Quad kindly tested it out for me. It worked fine, and I managed to get it in the post just in time. It arrived at LSFF's relevant offices the day before the deadline, and then I slept properly for the first time in all of October.

   So what is the moral of this story, and the point of this blog post? Firstly, I wanted to write it to thank all of the wonderful people mentioned above (as well as Edward Harvey, who worked hard to mix and re-mix the surround sound audio for the DCP at the start of October). Everyone was properly on the ball, and I wouldn't have made the deadline without each and every one of them.

  Here's the other reason for writing this post. Whenever I make mistakes, I like to share them with my blog readers, so that they won't do the same. So here's my advice:

1) Get all your screening materials ready before you start entering festivals. Plan for success even if you don't expect it - you never know what might happen!

2) Don't leave the cable connected to your external hard drive when you're not using it. This can weaken the connector over time, particularly in transit.

3) When a festival offers to make a DCP for you, and says you just need to send them a digital copy... let them! This is much less work for yourself and your crew, and it saves you a lot of money.

4) If you're the director of your film, don't try to do everything yourself; particularly if it involves working with file formats you're not familiar with.

  So, now you know how hard myself and the crew worked to get the film into LSFF, why not check out the film? The screening is at 14:00 on the 10th January, at Hackney Picturehouse, as part of the 'Girlhood' themed line-up of films. You can read more about it and buy tickets here.