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.