Tuesday, 29 July 2014

'Over' Update

This past weekend (26th-27th July) I shot a new short in Manchester (see previous post) and it went very well indeed. The project stars Yoann Moess and it was a pleasure to work with him!

Initially I'd planned on shooting the whole film with the Black Magic Cinema Camera but, as I was on a very tight schedule and wanted to shoot certain scenes quite wide (17-28mm), I primarily used the Canon 5D Mk II. Techies will no doubt say that I've committed a cardinal sin in doing this (mixing footage and shooting scenes with different cameras)...but, frankly, I'm not interested in "rules"; I'm attempting to tell a story.

For those not in the know, the Black Magic camera has a smaller sensor than the 5D, which has a full-frame sensor (there's an article on full-frame vs. crop HERE). So, whilst there's no doubt that the Black Magic produces a beautiful image (by all accounts, better than the 5D), I couldn't get the wider shots that I wanted in the tight/cramped spaces in which I was shooting. However, had I not been on such a tight schedule, I would have really enjoyed finding a creative solution to this (finding alternate angles, playing with the space, changing the actors movements, etc). 

Anyway, it's "in the can" now...and what's most important, of course, is that I'm very pleased with what I have. Here are a few stills:

More soon...

Friday, 25 July 2014

New Project: Over

I'm shooting a new short film this weekend. The project will feature Yoann Moess, a French actor who has come over to the UK to collaborate with filmmakers in Manchester.


The film is titled 'Over' and it's actually a project that I've been attempting to make/complete for a long, long time now…the short has quite the production history (just this week I joked that it's becoming a Boyhood-esque undertaking) and I'll be sure to share that story further down the line. For now I'm just happy to be making it and looking forward to working with Yoann.

Enjoy the sun people!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Winner: Jury Award

The Raven on the Jetty has won the Jury Award at The Madrid International Film Festival...congrats to Erik Knudsen and everyone involved!

Read more over @ OneDayFilms.com

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Weekend Double-Bill...

I watched two films over the weekend…I'm not going to write a long-winded review of them (I may do at a later date) but I just wanted to state that I thoroughly recommend both!


Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Public screenings: Part 2

I recently attended an open-screening night in the North of England (you take your film along and it gets screened, simple). I'd seen, via twitter, that the organisers were doing some interesting things and so thought I should check it out. The event was free for directors screening a project and £5 for anyone else. 

1. Cliques

Upon arrival I realised that there was bit of a 'clique' going on and felt as though I'd gatecrashed a private party. My instincts seemed to be correct as most of the shorts were produced during one of the organisers 48 hour film camps - with the same faces (actors and directors) popping up in different roles throughout the night. 

Films were to be presented on either a USB or DVD. I brought mine along on a DVD - only because the organisers asked for their title card to be placed at the end and this was the quickest way to do it without re-exporting the short. This was met with sarcasm from one organiser and laughter from the audience who all knew that you bring a USB to these nights (DVD is lower quality but who cares?). One drunk audience member heckled at the screen, which was rude considering that his film was pretty dreadful. If they only wanted films on a USB, I would have been happy to oblige. Thankfully my film shut the crowd up…

I digress. Anyway, I'm not sure how productive it is to have screening nights consisting primarily of a group of friends. How can you expect to get any honest feedback? Any opinion will undoubtedly be clouded by their knowledge of its maker/production history and, subsequently, the whole thing lacks any credibility. It's masturbatory. How do these screening nights expect to grow? There is a reason why the 48 Hour Sci-Fi comp in London is so well regarded in the industry… 

Note: The 'festival clique' was something I noticed at the Five Lamps night too - I'm not one for conspiracies but the winners seemed to know the organisers pretty well (interestingly, someone at the bar told me that they knew the winners but still thought that I deserved 1st prize). Indeed both nights included many a "private" joke, which further alienates any newcomers. 

2. Quality

As to be expected from an open-mic style event, the quality of the films varied. It was apparent that the evening wasn't the forum I was hoping for - I saw little that inspired me or caused me to feel competitive. I don't wish to sound overly critical - it really is fantastic that the organisers are providing people with a platform and that their creativity is being nurtured/encouraged in some way. However, I couldn't help but think that some of the projects should have remained private experiments… 

E.g. One director submitted a 'faux' trailer that they had made in 2005/06! Meanwhile, another filmmaker submitted a camera test that they had done on a popular DSLR. Both were met with wild applause but I was left bemused - a film is nothing without a good story. A line of dialogue from 'American Graffiti' sprang to mind - "what a waste of machinery".

It was fairly obvious that all of the filmmakers were very committed (one director had spent 2 years making a short!) but they were still either hobbyists or first timers. Subsequently, I sensed that the cliquey nature of the event wasn't helping some peoples progression as storytellers. When your first film receives huge applause, with little honest criticism, how can you improve? Given the manner in which most of the films were produced, a feedback/comment form should probably be introduced at their future events and completed for every film… 

I can think of one production that would have benefitted hugely from a feedback form. The short was a great 2/3 minute comedy but it had been milked into a 6/7 minute production! 20 seconds into the film and I knew what the ending was going to be, so why was I being made to watch it for far longer than necessary? A feedback form may have provided the maker with some objectivity, which may have lead to a re-edit before they submitted the project to any future festivals. 

3. Running time

The screening lasted over 3 hours...far too long. One of the reasons seemed to be due to people ignoring the rules - "You may present 1 film per screening". If filmmakers had followed this rule, and only picked their best work, the overall standard of the evening would have been vastly improved. Subsequently, the event would have also run at a reasonable length. 

It seemed to me that some filmmakers had raided their back catalogue so that they could present 3 or 4 films. I was quite annoyed by this as I have produced a number of shorts that are far newer than a number of films that played, such as the fake trailer from 2005/06!

Equally annoying, however, were the walk-out filmmakers. Granted, the event was long, but, as some people left after their short had screened, the audience had dwindled significantly by the time that the last project was projected. I was completely disgusted by this - you stay for the duration if you've submitted. I can think of one student filmmaker who fled after their "graduation" film had played - they obviously have nothing left to learn about filmmaking…this time a Scroobius Pip track sprang to mind (see below).

4. Entry fee 

As stated earlier, there were films by beginners, films that were tests/experiments, films that were "work in progress" and even faux-trailers. So, the question must be asked - was it fair to charge non-filmmakers £5 to watch these shorts? I know that the organisers are giving up their time and that the event must have overheads - but there were maybe four or five shorts that were worth paying for, which is not nearly enough considering the running time. By comparison, I paid 70p more to watch Tom Cruise's new blockbuster, The Edge of Tomorrow, on a beautiful screen and had a far more enjoyable evening. 

Final thoughts

I attended the event as I'd hoped to receive some feedback and meet like minded people. And whilst one person was kind enough to state that they had liked the film, it would have been nice to find out what the whole group thought. But as the night progressed I cared about the audiences' opinion less and less… 

Monday, 9 June 2014

Public screenings: Part 1

Are festivals/public screenings the right avenue for the independent filmmaker working in the modern world? I've started to wonder how qualified some selection panels actually are to judge the quality of a film. 

Now, before I continue, it may be easy to dismiss this post as "sour-grapes" but that really isn't the case here. On this blog, I always attempt to be reflective and objective, as it's important to develop as a filmmaker - not just in terms of my technical & storytelling abilities but as an independent distributor. Despite this, my post will be anecdotal and offer my personal experiences...

I started to feel jaded about film festivals in 2012 when You Left Your Heart in the City was screened in a category judged by a colour grading company. I'm sure to the festival, and to most of the audience, it seemed impressive to have the category judged by someone with "industry" connections. But I was disappointed that my film was being judged by someone "technical", as technical qualities have little to do with a good story. Since then I've found myself questioning the pros and cons of festivals, particularly the smaller ones, more and more often...

Case Study: The Eternal Cave

Last year I received a rejection email from a film festival in the Midlands and it always hurts a little bit when you read that email. Initially, it can be difficult to be objective but then you calm down - "perhaps it just wasn't good enough?" However, I had been reading the festival "tweets" and "re-tweets" from filmmakers who had had their music videos selected for screening...well, disappointed doesn't even begin to describe my thoughts.

"Music Video - Sunday 1st December. Last year we screened the awesome ThePetebox"

Now, the guy above is undoubtedly very talented but as far as the video goes - does it push the medium forward? Not really. As the video is being screened in a "film" festival I find that hard to swallow.

Meanwhile, the 2013 festival included these two music videos - HERE and HERE...both feel very familiar - which probably explains why they were included (I discovered that the selection panel included, bizarrely, a rap artist!) - and, upon viewing the previous and current selections, I ultimately decided that it was probably best not to worry about being omitted from the festival as they seemed to be selecting films that follow genre conventions. 

Now, let me share an email that I received from another screening event:

3 of the 4 panel members seemed to really enjoy the film - with favourable comments regarding the films cinematography, locations and make-up effects. However, I've highlighted some of the points that bothered me somewhat...
  • "Beautiful locations. Very good photography, I think the performance of the actress could have been a little stronger. I really liked the part when she's running in the woods. I think it didn't make the screening mostly for timing"
  • "Great scenery, remarkable photography and very interesting overall concept. The video would have benefitted from a greater focus on the voice, perhaps through an additional microphone. Very good film, congratulations."
  • "I wasn't a fan of The Eternal Cave's cinematography; the saturated colour felt over-stylised. I'm afraid that I found the location of the video a little bizarre, with a young woman who looks stylistically very old fashioned dressed in a cloak, and the lots of nods to biblical references with the eating of a red apple jarring with the very modern set-up of the band playing contemporary music. To me, this felt like a music video and I'm not entirely sure that was the aim given this is a 7 minute film.
  • "This was extremely well made, the locations were great and the make up was amazing. There was a bit too much of the band playing in the cave (when the music first started) to hold my interest so when it came to make really hard decision (because there was a big shortlist and only a limited screening time) it played a part. But this doesn’t mean I would change anything to it.
1. Over-saturated and over-stylised...the film pays homage to the modern fantasy films that embrace a colourful palette, particularly Pan's Labyrinth (dir. Guillermo del Toro). I've screened the film for students and they've always picked up on this homage. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and perhaps it is over-stylised but surely a panel should be aware of such intentions?

Pan's Labyrinth
The Lord of the Rings
2. Microphone for singer's voice...this is a very strange comment as it's clearly a song that has been pre-recorded and therefore there was little I could do on set about this. It seems this panel member did not realise that the film turned into a music video.

3. Too much of the band playing...this was a stylistic decision but one that may not work for everyone.

4. Fantasy image jarred with modern band...the band are performing the track in a dream/nightmare and therefore it's deliberately jarring.

5. Felt like a music video but it's 7 minutes...part of the point of the project was to consider ways in which music video is presented to an audience. Why can't a modern music video appear in the middle of a short film? Francis Ford Coppola once said of music videos: "This short form, basically commercials for records, is losing energy. Why not have a longer form...an audiovisual piece, not just two minutes, but forty minutes? The sky is the limit for the new cinema"

6. Running time...Finally, I find it frustrating that timing is listed as a reason for non-inclusion. However, I can come to terms with this as I realise different film screenings/events have a time limit and also a theme (there's a strong possibility that the film didn't fit the overall tone of the evening).

A film must stand alone and shouldn't be reliant on the filmmaker explaining their intentions...I'm not suggesting that at all. But my experience with The Eternal Cave has been a disappointing one. The film was made as a fun exercise - it certainly isn't the short I'd choose to represent me as a filmmaker. However, it still surprises me that it hasn't been recognised at some of the smaller festivals in the UK.

In October of 2012 I published a post about music video as a form (Music Video...What Happened?), which discussed how formulaic the genre had become...The Eternal Cave was an attempt to do something quite different to current music videos, i.e. tell a story and have the "performance" part integrated into a larger narrative.

Erik Knudsen: "When you're working with film that is at the edge of cultural norms, you would as a filmmaker expect people to reject it. Otherwise you're not at the edge. I think one of the jobs of people who are at the edge is to continually contribute to the renewing of the mainstream - so some things will work, some things won't work. But I think you can find some really good films that are on the edge, that most people have rejected, that only a few people are picking up on..."

I'm not saying that my music video is on "the edge" but Erik's words certainly ring true when I consider the feedback provided, as one member of the panel (3) clearly rejected the film due to it not conforming to mainstream conventions. It seems that Panel Member 3 couldn't separate their ideas of a music video from their enjoyment of the film...
  • Music videos commonly side-step 'narrative goals' - they usually do not possess a linear narrative (beginning, middle, end) & they usually do not focus on plot and character (Ken Dancyger, The Technique of Film & Video Editing). 
  • Music videos cannot be described as possessing a classical Hollywood film narrative as they lack essential ingredients - place names, meeting times, a link to both past and present, and fully realised lead characters and villains (Carol Vernallis, Experiencing Music Video: Aesthetics and Cultural Context).
Rules are there to be broken and surely film festivals should be encouraging such departures from the norm?


My most recent film, Windowpane, was completed for a 24 Hour Competition in Derby and, whilst I've stated that I was ok with 3rd place, I couldn't help wonder about the people judging the films. I predicted a week before shooting that a comedy would win and sure enough that's what happened. Now, comedy is fine if done well…but was the winning film funny? Here's the link so you can decide for yourself - http://youtu.be/b1Pzbxrs6kk.

Comedy is subjective so I won't argue for or against. The more important question is whether a participant should be able to predict the genre/type of film that would win? One may call me cynical in my prediction but most of the previous winners shared some similar values (you can view them HERE) so it was a prediction based on fact.

Ultimately, I can only produce work that I believe in - work with a clear theme that moves people in some way. It would just be nice to get a sense that some of these selection panels had a greater understanding of breaking genre conventions, the technicalities of filmmaking and shared some similar values in regards to what cinema is truly about…

"When you make a movie, always try to discover what the theme of the movie is in one or two words. Every time I made a film, I always knew what I thought the theme was, the core, in one word" - Francis Ford Coppola.

Thursday, 29 May 2014


I've received some wonderful feedback regarding 'Windowpane'...but it can be difficult to know how genuine the feedback is when you know the people commenting (they may want to protect your feelings). However, as this blog is a record of my ongoing journey as a filmmaker, I feel that I should preserve the feedback in a post (the texts will no doubt be deleted at some point)...

"Omg...it's bloody fantastic!!! You did a great job...I love it :)"
"Just watched it. It's really good man. It totally works. Well done"
"Was really impressed with the film last night mate"
"Hey Mark, how's it going? Long time no speak...I just watched your 24hour film competition entry. I really enjoyed it. Congratulations on your award"

It was wonderful to hear/read these comments and I thank those who took the time to offer their opinion. However, in film, "you're only as good as your next one". So, now that I've completed the 24 Hour Film Challange and the film is live on Vimeo, I'm back working on 'Round in Circles'...I hope to complete the short over the next month and release it online.

Monday, 19 May 2014

24 Hour Film Challenge...Results

So my film came 3rd in the Five Lamps Films 24 Hour Film Challenge...

The top 2:

On stage with Peter Simons & Alex Gilbert
with Alex Gilbert
The sound man enjoying the award!
with Kate Atchison (Production Manager)
w/Kate, Alex & Peter
Pride of place (via @kateatchisonMUA)
It was very nice to be recognised but I try not to take these things too seriously or feel hard done by, as I predicted that a comedy would win before I started shooting (based on what had won the competition previously). Therefore, the obvious question is, "why I didn't make a comedy?" Well, I have to stay true to myself as a filmmaker; the most important thing to me is to tell an honest story and use cinema as an "empathy machine". The great thing about the 24 Hour Challenge was that it forced me to get on with doing just that...and I now have another film in the bag as a result!

Thanks to Five Lamps Films and a huge well done to the all of the participants!

New short: Windowpane

Shot in under a day for the Five Lamps Films 24 Hour Challenge.


Sunday, 18 May 2014

Five Lamps: 24 Hour Film Challenge

So I decided to make a film for the Five Lamps Films 24 Hour Film Challenge (Sat 10th May)…the film was screened, alongside a variety of other films, in the Challenge Showcase (one of the final events of the Derby Film Festival), this evening at 8.30.

This is how it was done... 

Writer, Director, Cinematographer, Editor - Mark Duggan / Production Manager - Kate Atchison / Sound - Alex Gilbert / Behind the Scenes Photos - Ian Hudd / Music - Stuart Samuels

Marie Holliday, Peter Simons, Lily Holliday. 

7.30-8.30: Wake up. Tea. TV (flicking between BBC News & UEFA Champions League weekly)...mostly sit thinking about my shots and how I'll cut them together. The shots are storyboarded but that doesn't stop me from considering them - could they be improved? If so, how? Will the story work? 

9.00: Set off to Derby…

Quad, Derby
9.45: Arrive at the Quad. The prop has been handed out - a badge with #5LF logo. The organisers have also just informed me that a line of dialogue must be spoken in the film - "if you don't ask you don't get." The prop is easy to deal with but my immediate thoughts regarding the line of dialogue is that I wanted the film to be told visually, so I'm slightly annoyed about this new twist… 

10am: "You have 24 hours"...Sat in the Quad cafe thinking about the prop and dialogue - my thoughts about the dialogue are that I could have my male character say it during the flashback sequence. Seems the most fitting way to use it.

10.15: See a tweet from my lead actress:

Marie Holliday is a photographer and lecturer who I worked alongside at Burton & South Derbyshire College. In June 2012, we were both on a college residential trip in Manchester to shoot a short film with students. Myself and Marie shared a small cameo and she mentioned that she would like to do more acting in the future…so, when I saw the 5 Lamps comp, I remembered Marie and, luckily, she was eager to be involved. Her daughter, Lily, will also feature in the film.

11.30: Get some food supplies from Sainsbury's in Derby

12.45: Begin shooting some cutaways that will form part of a dream sequence. An hour is spent filming the sky from my car (using the Tamron 24mm) and some fields (Canon 70-200mm)… 

15.15: After a break, I set off to collect actors - the lead male (Pete) lives in Derby and Marie lives in Burton so I have quite a round trip as we're filming near Tamworth. Pete, like Marie, has never acted before but he is very keen to be involved. 

17.00: After a round trip to Derby and Burton, we arrive at the location near Tamworth. Stuart Samuels sends a text saying that he has done some music…I have no reception so cannot reply to him. Ian Hudd arrives to take some behind the scenes photographs. 

Note: The following is from memory as I no longer had the time to keep taking notes… 

17.20: Shooting begins - scenes with Marie in a bedroom. The prop is placed in a wide shot. Marie is a natural on camera…very pleased.

Directing Marie
18.30: Scenes with Pete and Lily. We place the prop on Lily. The scenes were great to film - Pete and Lily did very well indeed. As Pete had never acted before it was great to see him pull off the emotional moments with such ease. Alex Gilbert arrives to help out on set and record sound.

Laughing with Pete & Lily
19.30: Quickly drive down the M42 to shoot a scene with Pete and Marie in a field by Measham. Prop is worn on Peter's tie and on Marie's shoulder. I'd hoped this scene would take place in the last bit of sunshine…but the weather was rubbish! I use Alex's Samyang 35mm lens for these scenes - wow!

20.30: Drive back down the M42 towards Tamworth. Marie's scenes are finished so Kate takes Marie and Lily home…just a few more scenes with Pete left to complete.

22.30: Final shots with Pete are done…I'd hoped that it would be dark when I shot his final scene as it forms part of a flashback, so the timings have worked out well. 

23.00: Post production begins. I begin to work on the edit whilst Alex Gilbert does the sound…

02.00: At some point I download the Five Lamps title card and the music that Stuart Samuels has composed for me.

04.00: Many cups of tea/coffee/fizzy pop (and one can of beer) are consumed as I frantically attempt to pull the film together. We aim for a lock down on the sound design by 5.30am. 

06.00: I have completed a cut of the film - some how! One more hour for the sound. Colour grading due to begin at 7. 

07.00: The sound isn't quite where I'd like it to be but we're running out of time so I have to go with it. I begin to colour grade the film…still no idea how I pulled the edit together!

08.00-8.30: Rendering out the colour grade…come on!!!!

08.30-9.00: Check final export - a few glitches appear on the first shot. Export the film again…transfer the file over to Alex's laptop.

09.00: Set off for the Quad to hand in the DVD disc…we're burning the disc whilst travelling! Down to the wire! The first DVD doesn't work so we burn another.

09.50: Arrive at the Quad - one last check of the disc in the car…hand it in! THE END! .…off for a coffee and some breakfast.

Overall, a great experience. I'm so proud of the team and what we accomplished in well under 24 hours (we didn't begin shooting with the actors until after 5pm!)…the film (with a few tweaks) is online now!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

A Moving Image...

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Promo: Horse & Bamboo

A short promo film by Eleanor Mulhearn for Horse and Bamboo Theatre that I shot some bits for…the video is being used by the theatre company for their current Kickstarter campaign.

Under the direction of Eleanor, I captured some moments using my trusty 5D at the theatre company's Puppet Festival in 2013.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Round in Circles: That's a wrap!

Filming for 'Round in Circles' is now complete and I'm well into the post-production stage (editing, sound design, colour grading, etc.).

The final scenes were shot on the 16th April with Jolene Rathmill, Terence J Corbett and a new character played by Hannah Cowsill. The weather was perfect, which allowed me to capture some wonderful moments using the Sima 100mm Soft Focus lens. Take a look...

As ever, I'll keep you all updated on the films progress.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

When Mark met Mark...

So, I got to meet one of my filmmaking heroes - Mark Cousins! I saw a tweet from the director stating that his new film (A Story of Children and Film) was playing at the Bradford International Film Festival and he would be there to introduce it. So off I went...

with Mark Cousins

My first experience of Mark Cousin's work was in 2004 when I purchased his book, 'The Story of Film'. The book was one of many that I read whilst studying Film & Media at Manchester Metropolitan University and I still have it on my shelf. However, it's Mark's film work that has had the biggest impact on me...  

2011 - I tuned in to More4 every week to watch Mark's 15-part adaptation of his book. The epic result, The Story of Film: An Odyssey, was a truly fascinating, informative documentary and an essential DVD purchase for anyone interested in cinema (I often find myself dipping into it whilst planning lectures).

2012 - I went along to the Cornerhouse in Manchester to watch What Is This Film Called Love?, which was screening as part of the Abandon Normal Devices festival. The film was made on a budget of £10, over 3 days and shot on a flip camera...I was blown away...in so many ways! The film had an immediacy that I don't feel or see in many films (we see the exact moment when the idea for the film is born)...I felt as though I had met the director, or at least knew him in some way as a result of seeing the film. Highly personal.

2012/13 - I purchased The First Movie on DVD. I remember Mark Kermode giving the documentary a wonderful review but it was a film that, for whatever reason, I'd missed at the cinema. Fortunately, I found the DVD one afternoon in Fopp and it really is a brilliant piece of work!

Now each film has greatly inspired me but it was What Is This Film Called Love? that directly informed the production of 3 of my own films. I saw Mark's documentary in the August and by November I was out shooting my own £10 film. Perhaps 3 months was too long of a gap to begin shooting (Mark had managed to shoot a feature length film, off the cuff, in 3 days!) and I'd agree; there really is no excuse in this technologically driven age in which live. Anyway, the idea of a one-man crew making a personal film with a budget of £10 really excited me, so I went on to make a trilogy (Under the BridgeCold Desert and Because).  

Bradford International Film Festival (29/03/2014):

Now they say never meet your heroes but this notion was obliterated by Mark Cousins! As you can imagine, I was so nervous before I introduced myself but I had no need to be: Mark was a genuinely wonderful, insightful and friendly man. We spoke briefly before the screening - he mentioned that he has already completed 3 more films and spoke of how freeing digital technology has been for him. Upon hearing that I'd been inspired by his £10 film, he asked me to forward him one of my shorts via twitter.

Around 5.15pm, Mark introduced the film. He showed the audience his rough notes for the documentary, which reminded me, once more, just how immediate his films are - no script, he just filmed a morning with his nephew and niece and it was as a result of this short piece of film/video that the idea transpired! 

After the introduction, the film was screened...now there are plenty of reviews (e.g. The Guardian) that do the film far more justice than I can but, needless to say, it really is quite wonderful.

After the screening, there was a Q&A with Mark, followed by an informal chat over a few drinks. I had so many questions and could have sat asking them all night. Maybe I'll get to ask those questions at some point in the future. Nevertheless, I will long treasure the evening I spent watching a great film and talking to the great director who made it.

The following day, I forwarded Mark one of my films and he followed me on twitter. Not long after, he was kind enough to send me a direct message with some feedback on my shorts. However, I'm not going to share his tweet, as, like Gordie and the deer in Stand By Me, that will be the one thing I keep to myself...

Instead, let me finish this post with some advice that Mark gave to one film student during his Q&A - I forget the exact quote but the point is something that more filmmakers should be considering - "aim to make that which can only exist because you're here"

Monday, 17 March 2014

Her, Under the Skin & The Grand Budapest Hotel...

Last week I saw three very different but equally ambitious films...and together they restored some of my faith in cinema.

I recently had a conversation in which I stated that music is the art form that moves me most. I suppose it may seem strange to hear that from a filmmaker but the director I was speaking to completely agreed with me. Indeed, film rarely moves me in the way that music does, which I can't see changing as cinema is (on the whole) becoming increasingly generic and drab...so it was refreshing to see three films in the same week that were genuinely unique and moved me in very different ways.

When I trawl through twitter and see Empire, Total Film, Jo Blo, Den of Geek, etc. fawning over the latest MarvelBatman vs. Superman and Star Wars movie news, it's easy to feel jaded about cinema (it often seems that certain films are being drowned out by these huge franchise films). Subsequently, I'm pleased that Spike Jonze (Her), Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin) and Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel) have had the chance to share these unique stories with cinema audiences...the films and filmmakers have certainly given me a new hope (pun intended) for film as an art form.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Isolation: Part 2

The New Trilogy
  • Each film will have its own unique protagonist/s. 
  • The shorts will only be connected thematically. 
Film 1

The first short will be 'Round in Circles'. The film is an idea that has been in my mind for quite some time - the story of a mother who recalls moments from her past. In fact, I began shooting such a story almost 2 years ago but abandoned the project as the film didn't quite capture the feeling that I was going for (I will discuss this attempt in a future post).

Jolene Rathmill
There are a few scenes yet to be filmed but the short is progressing well - editing is underway and I have began to think about the sound design.

Film 2

The story for this second short dates back to 2010! I'll provide some details regarding plot, characters, etc. in the coming months.

Pre-production: I've spoken to an ex-colleague about coming on board as a producer/production manager and I've almost completed the storyboards - I've been using the 'Storyboards' iPad app that Erik Knudsen utilised for The Raven on the Jetty (see 'video blog' for further details)...and here are some early examples of the boards that I've created.

Film 3

The script for this film was offered to me by another filmmaker. I'm not going to go into too much detail but they felt that the story would appeal to my sensibilities...and they were right!

I expect this short to happen later this year...

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Isolation: Part 1

I'm currently developing a new trilogy of short films...


During a lunch break whilst assisting on the editing of The Raven on the Jetty, I showed Erik Knudsen the rough cuts of two films in The Longing Trilogy. He was very complimentary and suggested that I should develop the series beyond one trilogy...this got me thinking! After a great deal of thought, I decided that I should shoot a trilogy with new characters and a new theme...and that theme would be isolation.

I've been fascinated with this theme since I started making films: one could argue that that particular theme was present in the last trilogy and you'd be right...


The main character (Terence J Corbett) is isolated throughout and often framed alone against the backdrop of a vast city. But, whilst making the film, I was always working with the idea that the film was about 'longing':

  • Film 1 - He is longing for everything that he had in the past &, possibly, for a connection in the present.
  • Film 2 - A more specific longing: a longing for the partner that he has lost.
  • Film 3 - He longs for the childhood that he never had; the childhood that was stolen.
Ultimately, just as you could argue that the last trilogy was about 'isolation', you could equally argue that the new series is about 'longing'. I guess the two themes are connected for me...beyond the thematic ideas present in the last series, the trilogy was also designed to hold together as one story - imagery, sounds and ideas are repeated & recontextualised throughout. 

  • The main character is under a bridge that trains pass [run] over in Film 1. He is on a train [a journey] during his nightmare in Film 2. Finally, he watches the trains [the world/time?] pass him by in Film 3.
  • We see our main character through the iron mesh of a car park, mesh that seems to have imprisoned him, in Film 1. But in Film 3, the camera is behind the bars with the protagonist.
  • We hear about the main characters wife in Film 1, a woman that he seeks throughout Film 2. Indeed Cold Desert is only about that search and he eventually finds her at the end of that short. But that short memory is one of many depicted in Film 3 - his regret is only the tip of the iceberg... 
  • Finally, the sound of sirens and the city, the sounds that open Film 1, are the same sounds that we hear during the credits of Film 3.
What's interesting to me is that the three films can be viewed a number of ways:
  1. You could open with Because and immediately provide the audience with the reason as to why this man is tormented. You could then screen Cold Desert, which depicts how isolated he feels, before wrapping up with him finally making a connection in Under the Bridge.
  2. Or you could screen Cold Desert first, followed by either Because or Under the Bridge.
  3. Equally you could end on Cold Desert - after opening with Because and screening Under the Bridge as a middle chapter.
Whatever way you view them, it's still the story of one man...in this regard, the new series will be very different.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Raven in Madrid...

Some good news...

The Raven on the Jetty (dir. Erik Knudsen), a film which I was heavily involved in the production of (see: The Process), has been accepted into the Madrid International Film Festival!

The film has been nominated for 3 awards: Jury Award (Erik Knudsen and Janet Knudsen), Best Original Screenplay (Erik Knudsen) and Best Supporting Actress (Anne Fraser). Needless to say, I'm very pleased that the film has been recognised. Well done to Erik, Janet, the cast and the rest of the crew!

For further details: onedayfilms.com

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Digital downgrading…rejecting shallow images

In a previous post, I briefly discussed an approach to filmmaking that embraced a less than perfect image. As promised, I am now going to discuss this approach and provide some examples...

I have always favoured a guerilla, "just captured", low-fi approach to filmmaking. However, since the widespread use of DSLR cameras, more and more low-budget films have appeared online with the 'look' of a Hollywood blockbuster. This has often made me question whether I should change my approach to filmmaking - should I embrace the populist approach to colour grading, lens choice, etc? After a few moments, I always come to the same conclusion...no. When everything looks the same, I quickly get bored and one has to only watch a film such as Festen to realise that the most important thing about a film is the story - not the quality of the image. Nevertheless, here are some approaches to cinematography that I have utilised in recent years.

Quality of the Image

The obvious place to start is with the quality of the image. In the past, digital technology has been accused of being "clinical" - with some filmmakers stating that they miss the grain that film has to offer. I'm not sure how true the "clinical" accusation is but many debates regarding digital vs. film have still occurred over the past 10 years or so...below is a presentation by Robert Rodriguez on some of his early work with digital cameras.


Now, for the record, I'm not against the "clean" image that digital technology creates. But I am slightly tired of how many low-budget films have a super-slick finish. So I started to consciously move away from the "perfect" digital image whilst shooting Own Worst Enemy & You Left Your Heart in the City. For OWE I blended DSLR footage with scenes shot on a Sony EX1, which was designed to heighten the gritty, documentary feel of the film. This documentary, vérité style was continued on YLYHITC as I was happy for images to be "noisy".

EX-1 example 1
EX-1 example 2
High ISO
For my latest short, starring Jolene Rathmill, I have been adding lots of grain and noise to the image, whilst also shooting certain scenes on a lens that is very 'soft'. I suppose I'm almost willing certain spectators to make a judgement about the film based on its look and therefore I can just engage people interested in story.

Besides Round in Circles, I'm currently finishing up a documentary (Man with a Cine-Cam Collection). In a previous post about the doc, I stated that I wanted "the film to challenge the notion that digital technology produces a "perfect yet clinical" image when compared with films made on older, more traditional, film cameras - and so I've stripped the film of any possible beauty". How have I done this? Well, I have allowed the exposure to blow-out on occasions, whilst also leaving the interviewee unlit from time-to-time. Finally, I have muddied up the image by adding digital film grain.

However, embracing a "dirty" image/resolution does not mean that you should have a "guerilla" approach to all aspects of cinematography. You must plan out your shots - or your key scenes at the very least. Understanding composition, and when to use a particular shot, is so, so important!

Depth of Field, Lenses and Positioning the Camera

The other, apparent, benefit of DSLR filmmaking was the ability to shoot with a shallow depth of field due to the wide-variety of lenses available for the camera...before you continue reading, please take the time to watch the following videos.

Depth of Field



In recent years, Vimeo and Youtube have become flooded with films that favour a shallow depth of field and it seems that everyone is shooting with a 50mm lens (usually a 1.8 or 1.4). Some filmmakers clearly feel that a tight, "shallow" look is, somehow, a more "cinematic" way of presenting a story. However, if you study the history of cinema, that notion is clearly misguided. Citizen Kane, often voted the greatest film of all-time, famously played with deep focus photography (as mentioned in the first video above) and even the quickest glance at a Hollywood blockbuster (see images directly below) proves that most films do not use shallow depth of field throughout.

The Dark Knight Rises
The Avengers
If we look at a couple of stills from La Haine (1995), we see an example of a filmmaker that used DOF to suggest things about the characters (a great why). The early scenes utilise deep focus photography as the characters are at ease with their environment - they are a part of the environment. However, the latter scenes in Paris are shot with a shallow depth of field. Why? Well, the city is not their home and so the characters are visually depicted as being out of their comfort zone (show, don't tell!).

Deep focus
Shallow focus
As you can may have guessed, the main impact on my work in regards to lens choice has been to shy away from medium focal length lenses. I have started to shoot with wider-lenses (Canon 17-40mm / Tamron 24mm) and I have also started to position my subjects further away from the camera than I once did.

Am I simply doing the opposite of what other filmmakers are doing on Youtube and Vimeo? No. The close-up is a powerful tool and I was once guilty of over-using it. Below is a video I created, which is designed to demonstrate to film students how sparingly close-ups were used in the classic Hollywood film, It's A Wonderful Life...

The clip is maybe 5-7 minutes in real-time and for the majority of the clip the filmmakers primarily use medium and long shots. An extreme close-up of George (James Stewart) finally occurs towards the end of the scene, a shot which emphasises the turning point in the main characters life.

Now take a look at the final scenes (3 min 11) from The Godfather: Part II. Look at Coppola's use of the close-up...

Feel free to watch the video but here are some images to demonstrate my point regarding close-ups and the importance of shot selection in general...

Long shot of family
Medium close-up for dialogue
Back to long shot - emphasising Michael's isolation
Medium shot - we move in on Michael
We end on a close-up
Nothing is said...but the scene is a masterclass in letting an actors face and shot selection do the talking. One would expect the final shot of the film to start on a close-up and pull away from Michael. Instead the director, Francis Ford Coppola, moves in on Michael and we are left wondering what is going on behind those eyes. Is he still pondering the flashback that we have just witnessed? Or is he considering the death of his brother Fredo? Or is he considering his own isolation - the notion that he has always been an outsider, the odd one out, a loner? The latter is certainly what I think during that final moment...regardless, Coppola uses the close-up brilliantly. We are invited to think, rather than be told what to think.

If you use the close-up in an "MTV" manner then it loses its power. So, when I use a close-up in Round in Circles, for example, it is to emphasise a particular moment - I want the audience to know that the character is thinking or feeling something important as the camera is so close to the protagonists face and the audience are in that persons personal space.

A clear distance from the camera
Insignificant in the frame?
Close-up...what is she thinking?

There is no conclusion! I'm continually evolving and developing my style as a filmmaker. As Francis Ford Coppola once said "I am a student...So if I can come home from working on a little film after doing it for 45 years and say “I learned so much today,” that shows something about the cinema"

However, I hope this post has been of some interest to my readers and provided some insight into my particular style of cinematography and filmmaking at this moment in time...