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!