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!


Sunday, 2 October 2016

Stories from the Set: Scribble Victory Unplugged

Scribble Victory in their damp but acoustically-pleasing location! Photo by I C Things.

    ICYMI, Derby based musical duo Scribble Victory (who have previously featured on BBC Introducing) recently released a music video that was created for them by my company, Triskelle Pictures. Scribble were one of a handful of great artists who contributed original songs to the Night Owls soundtrack, and I've wanted to make a music video for them ever since. It was the least I could do.

    This was one of the rare occasions on a shoot where the location was chosen before the client. My frequent collaborator Ian Cudmore discovered the location, and because of its potential, we pitched it to Scribble as part of a package deal: a music video from Triskelle combined with a photo shoot from Ian's own company, I C Things Photography.

    I'm a big fan of the Mahogany Sessions - a series of YouTube videos where great artists perform live versions of their songs in unusual locations, so we tried to achieve something similar with this video. This meant that Ian was actually on double duties: he recorded the music live on the day, and mixed it for the video, as well as taking photographs. 

   One half of the location - the wider and, in my opinion, more visual half - featured a large open vent alongside one wall, and traffic noises clearly came through there. So we recorded the main audio for the video in the second half of the location, which was a much smaller space, fully enclosed... and completely underground...

Pacman Bokeh is coming for you...

    Because this was a small, low-budget video project, I was on camera duty again. For this reason I kept the shots very simple but made sure there were plenty of them, for a more exciting edit, and I did some very basic techniques to add interest to the images like focus pulls and shallow focus to create bokeh (the smaller location was filled with fairy lights and little LEDs, on request from Scribble, and those looked really cool). Some of the soft-focus shots of these lights caused weird e-shaped circles on the camera, prompting Ian to coin the term #PacmanBokeh.

    Because I'm not a DP - nor will I ever pretend to be one - I'm not going to go into a detailed breakdown of how I shot the film, but I will say that it was entirely lit with battery powered LED panel lights. LED panels are best used to enhance and support existing light sources, rather than fully lighting a location from scratch, but they were really handy in this scenario; because we were underground, there were no power outlets anywhere, and battery powered lights were the only way to go.

    Apart from the lack of light, the other issue with the location was the fact that it was literally flooding as we were filming. It was raining heavily all day, and water was dripping through (again, another good reason for using battery powered lights rather than having trailing cables!). Our feet were starting to get a bit damp by the end of the shoot, but the water did really add something. At 01:30 in the video you can see a shot where one of the little LEDs is completely reflected in the wet floor, and you can hear some atmospheric dripping in the background of the audio track - particularly at the start and the finish - which really suited the sombre tone of the song.

   So, the music and the location may have had moody elements, but the Scribble Victory boys were a joy to work with. When all their hard work was done, they loved nothing more than using Ian's photography skills to capture them laughing and mucking around together, almost completely vetoing the usual 'posed band photos'. They are a talented but really fun pair, and I hope I get the chance to work with them again - ideally on a higher budget video so that I can offer them the benefit of a full crew.

    The video is on Scribble Victory's Facebook page now, and will appear on their YouTube channel in the near future.


Monday, 29 August 2016

Songbird: I Can See Clearly Now The Rain Has Gone

Shooting the dreaded 'scene 17'... (photo credit: Robert Brown)

  Back in December 2015, writer Tommy Draper, producer Laura C. Cann and I had a sudden surge of interest in Songbird - and from that moment on, it seemed to take up most of our time. It was the biggest project my team and I had attempted since Stop/Eject, and my biggest undertaking as a director so far (multiple locations! Multiple actors! Magic! Aaah!). Even though we were working on it constantly, over several months, it always seemed as though there was lots to do. I thought I would never be ready for it - but now, all of a sudden, the shoot is in the past.

   In spite of a couple of last-minute line-up changes (something which seems to be inevitable with indie filmmaking), we started the shoot in very fine spirits, mixing some seriously quality work with constant laughter, hugs and innuendos. Apart from a mid-week blip where the weather slowed us down (we were out in 30 degree sunshine with minimal shade), it seemed as though things were running so smoothly that I'd love the shoot as much as Night Owls.

  But Friday and scene 17 were always looming on the horizon; Scene 17 was a complicated and long outdoor scene (it takes up almost half of the screenplay) and we knew how challenging it was going to be. Then, to make things even more difficult, the weather decided to turn again - just for that shoot day - and we were met with torrential rain. We had to buy a last minute supply of ponchos, groundsheet and gazebo just to avoid cancelling altogether. But the rain came in fast and heavy, occasionally going sideways, and the gazebo - originally our only source of shelter - started to flood. 

   Everyone was exhausted, and - understandably - tempers grew short. My brain was so fried, thinking about each shot felt like trying to assemble a jigsaw in oven gloves (whilst soaked). There were a few times when I had to bark, "just keep going! Keep filming!" through the rain. From the word go, it was one of the most difficult days of my career - so much so that it took me a little while to look back at the shoot with the positivity I started out with.

Directing Janet Devlin. (Photo credit: I C Things)
   However, a few sleeps later, I see it as the brilliant shoot it was. The word 'family' has been used amongst the crew a few times, which always fills me with such happiness; people supported each other throughout the shoot, and often went beyond the call of duty (shout out to 3rd AD Demetri Yiallourou and his team for doing that every day). Old partnerships were made stronger, and new bonds were formed - one particular example is the friendship I made with Production Designer Charlotte Ball. I often struggle to delegate art department duties, but I already miss her frequent evening messages, saying things like "which of these white sofas do you prefer?" and "is this nightie subtle enough?" I hope that our paths will cross again.

  Above all, having had the opportunity to direct Janet Devlin was a clear highlight. As I'd been a fan of hers for a few years, I was really looking forward to working with her, and she didn't disappoint. If anyone was wondering whether or not she can act, let me confirm this for you; she bloody can!

   Every time I direct a film, I learn something new - and I like to pass those lessons on to you guys. So, before I ramble on any further about the film in general, here's five things I learnt from the Songbird shoot:

1) You need to learn to drown out the background noise

   On the days leading up to the shoot, I genuinely lost sleep worrying about directing my first ever outdoor scenes. I didn't think I'd be able to lead my actors through difficult scenes with the constant distractions of disgruntled public, disrupted businesses and forests with certain strict location requirements. But, as another great director promised it would, all those worries faded away when I was on set; with a good producer and ADs to worry about location logistics, all you can see is your actors.

   However, one thing I can't ignore is the distress of my crew. As I said, Friday was very difficult, and at the slightest hint that any member of my team was unhappy, my brain crumbled. Challenging shoots happen sometimes, and as a director, it's good to play the leader and care about your crew. But there's a reason the director should always try to rehearse with the actors away from the crew, and join them on set when any technical issues have been sorted. You need to be in a distraction-free zone when you're creating a character together.

2) Don't forget about your Sound Guys (even when they're camouflaged!)

Spot the sound guy! (Photo credit: Charlie Clarke)
   Bringing sound recordist Rob Brown onto the production early on gave him the opportunity to join us on location recces,  and I learnt how invaluable that process can be for planning your sound recording in advance. On reflection, there really aren't many stages you shouldn't invite your sound guy to: inviting them along to rehearsals will save time on set, because they can pre-plan their levels. And when you're running through each scene or shot with your cast and DP, don't forget to include your sound guy in this conversation!

   Also, I still have the bad habit of calling 'cut' before an end board. It's very easy to do when you're caught up in the scene - but my apologies again to Rob and his boom operators, Johann Chipol and Laura Clough, for the times when I did this!

3) You need to learn about every little area of production - not just the 'main things'

   My main focus when I'm directing is my actors and, because of my background, the art department elements of the film. I also think a lot about the edit, more so than I used to. Many directors think about the camera above most things, and while this still isn't my strongest point, I try to make up for it with detailed storyboards and lengthy cinematographer meetings.

   However, as a director, you need to think about other areas you may not immediately think of. Here's an example: during makeup tests one late summer night, I kept making suggestions like 'I want her skin to look more sallow' and 'try adding more sealing powder to mute the colours'. A few less-than-successful tests later, MUA Charlotte Price politely but firmly informed me that sallow means yellow, not thin and saggy, and sealing powder is completely transparent. If I'd just known a little bit more about makeup  (I know practically nothing) it would've saved us a fair bit of time. (So my second apology of this blog post goes to Charlotte, who did a wonderful job in spite of my ignorance!)

A sneak preview of the raw Songbird footage! (Photo credit: Motion Click Productions)

4) If in doubt, try it anyway!

   In an ideal world, I would've loved a few hours to myself to just sit with the script and get myself into a proper 'director mindset'; and DP Chris Newman and I would've cherished the time it takes to plan every shot down to the exact Fstop. The reality is that most of the crew have day jobs to work around, even those based in film, and often the only time we had to plan schedules and have meetings was late at night.

   We planned everything we could, in as much detail as possible, but there were one or two shots I really wanted to try that we didn't have chance to test in advance. We tried them anyway; one of these shots ended up being my favourite of the film, and it will probably be the stand-out moment of the trailer.

   Sometimes things just happen the way they mean to. Sometimes you accidentally catch the corner of a light in shot, and it floods the image with what looks like beautiful sunlight. Sometimes you realise you can cover two shots in one through an accidental reposition of the camera. Spontaneity can sometimes be your friend, and it's something that's suited this project since the start.

   The same goes with rehearsals. I always love to rehearse with my actors, and we had an extra day to rehearse the most complicated scenes of the film ahead of the shoot. But sometimes on the day the schedule gets a bit tight, and you need to keep moving. It's not ideal, but in this scenario what I did (and recommend) is shooting the rehearsal as your first take. Explain to the actors that it doesn't count as a proper take, and they immediately become more relaxed. You will undoubtedly have to go for a second take, but there's always something you can use from the first take, even if it's just knowledge on how to do a camera move differently.

And finally, 5) if your shoot is a week long, book the following week off as well!

   The day after Songbird, I mostly slept. After that, I shot a music video, then I went back to the corporate film day job.  But films on Songbird's scale involve a massive clean-up operation afterwards: sorting and paying invoices, returning kit and art department items to the people that lent them to you, and so on and so forth. If you don't leave time for these mundane but important activities, or if you don't have someone to sort them for you, then it will be a long time before you can settle down to watch the rushes, and enjoy the fruits of your labour.

All smiles towards the start of the Songbird shoot (photo credit: Motion Click Productions)
   So there we have it - everything I learnt from directing my most challenging but potentially brilliant piece to date. I'm not put off directing one bit, as I'm still dying to direct a feature, but I probably need to direct another film on Songbird's scale to build up my stamina first.

   In the meantime, there's the Songbird edit to keep me busy, and we'll be releasing new BTS photos from the shoot every Sunday, so keep your eyes on the Triskelle Pictures Facebook page to see those. There's also the aforementioned music video, which is soon to be released, and some other smaller projects in the pipeline.

   My final word for now is to everyone who worked/laughed/endured/swam their way through the Songbird shoot. Each of you were brilliant, and all of you will stay in my heart. And I will never again hear the word 'moist' without thinking of you.