Thursday, 17 December 2015

2015: It's Personal (Part 9)

"It's personal but they need to know…"

So, we've reached the end…the final part of this series of behind the scenes (or drama) blog posts. Ok, here we go!

Part 9: Wa/onder
  • Type: Short Film
  • Cast: Alex Bedward & Guy Hodgkinson
  • Shot On: GoPro Hero 4 & Canon 5D MKII
  • Released: December 12th (trailer released November 22nd)

As noted in the last post, the idea for this film came about when Alex Bedward contacted me about collaborating on a film and I subsequently saw the James Bay competition that Talenthouse were running:

"Filmmakers from around the world are invited to submit a 1-2 minute trailer for the opportunity to have their trailer commissioned into a 10-15 minute narrative short film.

James is looking for creative filmmakers to develop narrative short films that are inspired by the themes, characters and emotions of Chaos And The Calm. Your short film should be inspired by the album but does not need to include any music unless it is part of your creative narrative. Filmmakers are encouraged to approach this from a film perspective rather than a traditional music video project.

And for further inspiration the following lyrics were suggested as a starting point...

"Scars" - As soon as I can hold you once again, I won't let go of you, I swear.
"If You Ever Want To Be In Love" - I’ll come around if you ever want to be in love. I’m not waiting, but I'm willing. If you call me up, I’ll come around.
"Best Fake Smile" - If you don't bleed it you don't need it anymore.
"Let It Go" - When we're becoming something else, I think it’s time to walk away."

In many ways the lyrics and ideas present in the album are a perfect fit for me as a filmmaker - they chime with themes that I often deal with: love, heartbreak, separation, isolation, loneliness and so on. However, it was the album's title, Chaos and The Calm, that was perhaps my greatest inspiration for the story. Chaos is a notion that is very much present in the final film - it is a short that revolves around the idea of making a connection in a chaotic, digital age ("Life's fast, connections are rare…but is there room amongst the chaos for a dreamer?"). Meanwhile, the calm of the album title is most evident in the fantasy love scenes: I was deeply moved by Bay's track Hold Back The River and that song definitely inspired the overall feel of the film and the romantic section of the narrative (the idea of wanting time to come to a standstill).

Once I had an idea of the type of story I wanted to tell, I needed to decide where I was going to shoot. Alex did offer to come to Manchester but I decided to shoot down her way in London - I'd never shot in the capital before but knew that it would provide the perfect setting for this particular story. As the the romantic 'fantasy' sequences were largely based on/inspired by a date I'd had with someone in London, I knew I had to shoot there and was, subsequently, eager to incorporate some specific memories into that part of the film. 


I tend to remember this as a long shoot but it really wasn't - we shot the film in late October over a 2 day period, which is amazing given the volume of footage I shot across the city (particularly on day 2). The most difficult sequences to shoot were the train scenes as it was near impossible to find a space on the tube where people wouldn't sit down right next to us. However, the flip side to this is that the date scenes were a lot of fun to shoot! Perhaps the reality of shooting each sequence added something to the footage? I don't know…

The 2 days went like this:

Day 1 (27th Oct)
  • Alex & Guy on the train (Guy on phone)
  • Alex getting off the train (end scene)
  • Alex & Guy listening to music on separate beds
  • Alex & Guy cuddling in the same bed
  • After midnight, we picked up the shot of Alex in the bath, which we did at the same time as the bath shots for Fly Away (see previous post)
  • Finally, before we called it a day, we recorded the voice-over 
Day 2 (28th Oct)
  • Pickups of Alex travelling on the tube/looking at Guy on the train (due to the busy train on the first day)
  • Alex receiving a text message from partner (end of film)
  • Alex on the train platform (start of film)
  • Cutaways in the train station - people on phones, passing trains, etc.
  • Alex & Guy in the museum 
  • States of Mind exhibition (the mist sequence)
  • Alex & Guy at The Monument
  • Wandering along the Southbank (beach, bridge scene, sat on the bench, drinking coffee) 
  • Wandering through Chinatown
  • Stepping off the train (beginning of fantasy)
  • Alex & Guy walking home and standing by the gate.
Visually, I had decided to shoot all of the "real" scenes (Alex on the train platform and on the tube) with a GoPro Hero4 and the date scenes on a DSLR (Canon 5D MKII) with a long lens (70-200mm). Why? Well I felt that that sort of approach would create a stark contrast between the two realities: the GoPro footage has a documentary feel (something I played with in post by adding film grain to the image), whereas  the DSLR produces a more "cinematic" look. I believe that cutting between these two styles heightens the look of both - the 'reality' looks drabber and the 'fantasy' look more dreamlike due to the shallow depth of field.

One last point on the production itself - I really couldn't have pulled this off without Alex, who was essentially my co-producer. Alex sourced Guy for the male role and was also great at keeping track of the production schedule when I went off on a tangent ("ok, we need to pick up that last shot we missed tomorrow", for example). She also made the fantastic suggestion of shooting in the 'States of Mind' exhibition, which is a key moment in the fantasy sequence - it really sells the idea of the romance being like a dream. Finally, for a few covert shots of the public on the train/train platform, Alex would hold the GoPro camera whilst I directed her using the monitor (my iPhone).


The post-production for this short was quite interesting as I needed to complete a trailer and a full film. How did I go about it? Well, I was determined to complete the short before I cut a trailer for the James Bay competition - but this meant that I would I have to work very quickly as the competition deadline was November 23rd (keep in mind that I was also editing Fly Away during this period).

As the middle of the film is a presentation of a characters train of thought (pun intended), I had to have a film that was fully formed in my mind and on the editing timeline - it was very important to me that, if I was selected, I would be able to present the judges with a complete version of the idea I was attempting to sell to them. Once the edit was done and the sound design and colour grading were also locked, I then started to think about the trailer for the competition...


Initially, I did create a trailer that was far more "traditional" - text announced the central themes/plot points and shots were taken arbitrarily from different sections of the film. However, I was never really happy with what I had cut together - it felt like a generic presentation of "romance against all odds" and I felt like I was "selling out" (my films aren't defined by genre and yet I'd created a trailer that was).

After discussing my concerns with Alex, we decided to go for broke and submit a sequence from the full film (we decided on the middle section). I cut this new trailer together but then started to panic that it was just a "short film" and didn't fit the competition criteria. So, I then screened both versions to filmmaker Will Herbert, as he had had no direct involvement in the production. Will made some great suggestions (which even affected the full cut of the film) - I implemented them immediately and I was finally content. The trailer was locked on Friday 20th November and submitted on Sunday evening.

Final Thoughts

Whilst recently reading my diary for The Rabbit post, I found a page in which I was discussing a quote from Werner Herzog about technology:

"It can break our isolation but not our separation. We can be in contact but on our own physically."

This quote encapsulates some of the ideas I was attempting to tackle in Wa/onder. A key theme in the film is the ambivalent relationship that I/we, as society, have with technology - the camera highlights how phones are seemingly disconnecting us from our immediate surroundings, yet they also have the power to capture memories and keep us in contact with people who may be hundreds of miles away (notice how Alex uses her phone during the fantasy sequence). I felt the best way to present this notion of disconnection from our immediate environment would be to place my protagonist in an overly crowded area and, ultimately, decided on a train. Juxtaposed, and sandwiched, between those train scenes is the fantasy sequence, which I'm very proud of! I feel that there is a genuine sense of romance between the two leads and the scenes successfully present some of my own ideas about romance/new love (it should be an adventure/exciting or why bother?).

So, what happened with the competition? Unfortunately, my trailer for Wa/onder didn't make the final 3 for #TheJamesBayFilmProject competition (the winners can be seen in a previous blog post - HERE). However ("every cloud"), this means that the full film is now available for the first time on this blog. A nice short to end the year on!


And with the release of Wa/onder (and this post) I now plan on taking an extended break from directing/filmmaking. I may work with other filmmakers on the odd project and I'll continue to post photographs on Instagram but my personal film work ("Mark Duggan Films"...or "MDF" as Harris Matthews affectionately named it) is on indefinite hold…

From Heart in the City onwards, I have bared my soul through filmmaking - and, from these 9 blog posts alone, it's evident that I've continued to pour my heart and soul into the work I've produced over the past year. The things that I have held dear - whether they be thoughts, emotions, memories or people - have been captured and presented in the films I've released in the past 12 months (Rose, Bitter End, Cuddling A Monster, Ride Out The Wave or: Cuddling A Monster, New, The Rabbit, Over, Fly Away & Wa/onder are all different facets of who I am and give an insight as to how I view/feel about the world & life).

It's been an interesting year - one in which I turned 30 - and so the time now feels right to recharge the batteries, take in some new experiences (new memories, new ideas) and consider what direction I want to take as a filmmaker.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a wo[a]nderful New Year! Ride out the wave…

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

2015: It's Personal (Part 8)

"It's personal but they need to know…"

Part 8: Fly Away
  • Type: Music Video
  • Cast: Alex Bedward
  • Shot On: Canon 5D MKII
  • Released: November 16th

Once again, this is a film that deals with a separation and/or the idea of being letdown by a partner. However, it's not actually that long since I discussed how this film came about (HERE), so I'm going to quote directly (I've written quite a bit recently, so I deserve a break)...

"After completing The Rabbit & Over, I had decided that I wasn't going to shoot another film this year and that I was going to take an extended break from filmmaking. However, in early October, Alex [Bedward] contacted me, out of the blue, about possibly collaborating on a project. I wasn't opposed to the idea but was reluctant...

As the days passed I started to tap into my thoughts, feelings and recent experiences and began to jot down some notes. I then saw a competition being run by singer James Bay via Talenthouse[which we then agreed to make a film for].

I asked Alex if she would also like to shoot a narrative music video during the three days that we were together and she agreed, so we shot it during 'downtime' from the short film shoot. I hadn't simply plucked a track out of the sky: earlier in the year, whilst making Rose with Terence J Corbett, I had heard another Chris Baldwin track [Albino] that I'd immediately had an idea for and so the time for it to be made had, seemingly, come around."

In fact, when I first had the idea of a woman singing in the mirror to Albino back in February, it was Alex who I thought would be great for the role - despite the fact that we hadn't seen in each other in over 3 years. It's funny how some ideas seem destined to become a reality…


Alongside New, this was probably the easiest, most straightforward shoot of the year and was completed over 2 nights whilst making Wa/onder (discussed in the next post). The first evening (26/10/15) involved us shooting the scenes of Alex outside the theatre in the West End, which was a lot of fun and not at all like work (myself and Alex even went to a nice diner after shooting the theatre scenes - I forget the name of the restaurant but they did a great Chili-Dog). The second evening (27/10/15) was the longer of the two and was taken up by the scenes of Alex applying makeup, the train journey (to and from the theatre), the close up shots of Alex singing and the breakdown scenes that occur in the second half of the film. Finally, after midnight, I shot the two scenes of Alex in the bath. The shoot really was that simple...

The film has three acts - preparing for a date, being jilted and the journey home/breakdown. In many ways this structure is unusual for a music video: most music videos employ a non linear structure in which events occur out of chronological order but are cross-cut so that they are presented as running parallel with one another (cross-cutting does briefly occur towards the end of the film but I use it as a way of presenting the protagonists frame of mind). As a result of having a more linear structure, the editing of the film was completed very quickly - a week or so at the most.

Most of the post-production time on this project was spent on the colour grade, as I'd had the idea that the film would start near black and white, gradually become full of colour (golden), before descending back into the monotone world that we started in. It was a tricky balancing act as I was looking for a specific look and as a result I tested a number of edits on Vimeo (as the film would end up being viewed on there) and would tweak where necessary.

One thing I did struggle with on this project was a late remix of the track itself - Chris decided he was going to spruce up the original, the version that I had been working with for weeks. Upon hearing the new mix, my first thoughts were that it felt "too big" for the visuals and I was initially very reluctant to use it. So what did I do? I simply decided to leave the edit alone for a few days and let my memory of the original mix fade. It's amazing how wrapped up you can become in a film and so "away time" can often help solve any issues that you may have created in your own mind. Sure enough, by the time I reopened the Final Cut Pro file I didn't have the old mix in my recent memory and suddenly the new version of the track seemed to fit perfectly.

Finally, the title…I felt that the tracks title, 'Albino', wasn't appropriate for the story I was telling and so I used another lyric from the chorus as my inspiration: "and I need to fly away, again."

Final Thoughts

My third music video of 2015 but one which is very much a companion piece to Rose (it features a similar narrative and deals with similar themes). There are very few technical details that bother me on this one, which is rare for me…I'm happy with how this film turned out. Simple but effective.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

2015: It's Personal (Part 7)

"It's personal but they need to know…"

Part 7: Over
  • Type: Short Film
  • Cast: Yoann Moëss & Jolene Rathmill
  • Shot On: Canon 5D MKII, Black Magic Cinema Camera & Canon 7D (flashbacks)
  • Released: October 16th
This film was shot and edited in 2014, and so, in terms of my filmmaking journey, I feel as though it belongs somewhere between Turning & Rose (and I believe the file is wedged between them on Vimeo, as I'd uploaded it there so that sound designers could view it). So why was it released in October 2015? Well the making of this film is quite a story...


I'm quite open about the personal nature of this project and rank it as one of the most autobiographical shorts that I've written, directed & produced. The film contains a number of ideas/images/sequences that pop up in my other shorts - memories (Because, Windowpane, Round in Circles, ROTW), dishwashing (Round in Circles, Turning), bathrooms (Turning, Round in Circles, Rose, ROTW), the cutting of hair (Rose) and so on - but this story is the place where I first explored most of those ideas.

The script for this film dates back to 2010-11 and was inspired by my time living in Burton-on-Trent after separating from my childhood sweetheart, who I was with into my early 20's. I eventually decided to shoot this film over a weekend in the summer of 2011 but decided to abandon the project as I wasn't happy with majority of the footage that I'd acquired. Subsequently, I decided to move on to other projects and that was that…

The story then sat on the shelf until the summer of 2014 when I was contacted by actor Yoann Moëss. He was coming to England for a week or so to attend the Filmonik Summer Kabaret and was looking for filmmakers to collaborate with whilst in Manchester (it turns out that he only contacted two filmmakers - the second told Yoann that he "only needed actors with a Manchester accent"); Yoann sent me an email stating that he had seen Because on the Filmonik website (I had screened the film at an Open Mic night) and wondered whether I would be interested in working with him. Initially, I was reluctant to make a short at such short notice but then my mind wandered back to 'Over' - perhaps its time had come…


Once I'd committed to making Over with Yoann in the lead role, I needed to secure a location. I was living in the Midlands at the time and so I decided to rent an apartment for the weekend (2 days would provide us with the time necessary to complete the film). As I'd paid for the apartment, it meant that we could sleep there too, which made it a very easy shoot to organise (I think this was an added bonus for Yoann as he'd been sleeping on sofas at the Filmonik summer camp headquarters).

We got into the apartment at 1pm on Saturday 26th July (2014) and were filming as of 3.30pm. The first day was a long one - we worked till midnight but did so at a relaxed pace (well, by my usual standards anyway).

Day1: Arriving at the apartment
The two days went something like this...

Day 1:
  • Yoann on the sofa (seated, lying down, etc.)
  • Yoann sat on the toilet (before cutting his hair)
  • Yoann cutting his hair
  • Boiling and eatings eggs
  • Making & eating beans on toast
  • Yoann in bed (all bed scenes)
  • Eating alone on the balcony at night
  • Roaming the city streets
  • Evening shots of Yoann on the sofa
Day 2 (7am start):
  • More shots of Yoann lounging on the sofa
  • Yoann searching for a glass (lipstick on cup)
  • Yoann washing the dishes
  • Yoann pulling down the pictures on the fridge
  • Reflecting in his bedroom (by window)
  • Reflecting on the balcony (final scene)
  • Throwing his post onto his computer desk (leading to flashback)
  • A sequence at a cafe in the Northern Quarter, featuring Natasha Dunn (which I eventually decided to cut as it was repeating information about Yoann's character)
  • All of the shower scenes, which we filmed at Terry Corbett's flat (this was because the apartment I'd rented had the oddest shower - I couldn't frame a shot in it)
  • And, finally, just before 6pm, we shot a sequence in which Yoann notices a woman walking across the road (this was also cut from the final film).
Yoann & Natasha (who was cut from a scene in the film)
With Yoann & Natasha
I must say Yoann was great - he really understood the minimal style of acting that I was looking for and took direction well. He was also a lot of fun to be around - he found the idea of 'beans on toast' hilarious and laughed through almost every one of those takes. We also had a lot of fun recording the voice-over - on that occasion it was the "fried egg" line that was the cause for laugher. I'm almost certain that if Yoann was based in the U.K., we'd have collaborated on another film by now…great actor.

Finally, time to discuss the flashbacks - which, fortunately, I had shot back in 2011. Yes, I know I shouldn't be admitting to this trade secret…but as I had shot the scenes as P.O.V's, and they contained a great performance from Jolene Rathmill, they didn't need to filmed again (in fact I'd be crazy to even bother). Indeed, one major regret from abandoning Over in 2011 was that I believed Jolene's performance would never be seen. However, once I was contacted by Yoann, I started to feel that the production was always meant to play out this way - I even liked the idea that the memories had been filmed in the not-too-distant past (and on a different camera), adding a certain truth to the fiction.


I completed the cut of the film very quickly after shooting took place in July. However, I had to move on to the pre-production work for The Rabbit, so I spoke to Paul Smith (a friend & colleague at Brooksby Melton College) about the possibility of getting degree students to work on the sound design. Paul was keen to do this as a project and so we set the assignment for late November 2014 - the idea was that each student would complete a sound mix and I would pick the best one (i.e. my preferred version). Straight away this meant that I would be forced to delay the films release by a few months but I didn't have much choice.

The results were submitted to me in December and whilst they were very, very good, I wasn't 100 per cent happy with what I had to chose from. So I then decided to ask another filmmaker, Hayden Bail, to take a pass at the sound in February 2015, which he did. Hayden sourced some great sounds but I still wasn't convinced…I had a very specific idea (maybe I was being overly picky) about the soundscape for this film and so I realised that I would have to complete it myself. However, during this period I was constantly working on The Rabbit and so I simply didn't have the time necessary to realise my vision. Subsequently, the decision was made to shelve the project and revisit it once The Rabbit was locked.

September arrived and I reopened the Over file. I decided that I would utilise all of the sounds created by Hayden Bail & the degree students at Brooksby Melton College but primarily work from the sound mix done by Lewis Martin (who worked on Turning in 2014). Blending his work with my own, I created a final sound mix, which I turned around in a couple of weeks. It was done…I immediately released the film online - it had waited long enough.

Final Thoughts

There are days when I feel that this is my best piece of work - a friend commented upon viewing Over that it was clear I'd "become a really strong visual storyteller" (the ultimate compliment).

This film has been in my mind for the better part of 5 years and the final product is pretty much as I'd imagined it, so, in some ways, it's disappointing that it took so long to realise my vision. However, Yoann was perfect for the role and so the wait was, ultimately, justified…I guess the lesson is this - never give up on an idea you believe in!

Monday, 14 December 2015

2015: It's Personal (Part 6)

"It's personal but they need to know…"

Part 6: The Rabbit
  • Type: Short Film
  • Cast: Harris Matthews & Toni Sherwood-Pearce
  • Shot On: GoPro Hero4 & Canon 5D MKII (rabbit sequence)
  • Released: October 5th

This is an idea that originates from the 1980s, an idea from the mind of Erik Knudsen - who was my MA filmmaking tutor almost 10 years ago (see previous post). So, perhaps it's best that he explains it…and you can see my thoughts on the idea, and how I came to direct the project, just below that.


I didn't begin pre-production on this film until mid-2014, when I started to consider how I was going to shoot in a car at night and I produced a first round of storyboards. I really pushed the pre-production in early 2015 but, as mentioned in the Rose blog, I wasn't in a particularly good place by that time.

I ploughed on and completed my pre-production planning but, just prior to shooting, one actor had to be replaced. This was a difficult moment and it threatened to halt the project altogether as the dates for filming had been locked (the insurance for the production had been paid). Luckily, I managed to find the perfect replacement - thanks to Terry Corbett who has a number of connections on the Manchester acting/independent filmmaking scene. After that minor hiccup, I thought the production would be, relatively, smooth sailing...I was wrong.

The shoot for the film, which took place over the final days of March (plus one day of re-shoots in early April), became one of the most difficult that I've ever been involved in. Although I laughed with the cast and crew (as Herzog says - "despair must be kept private and brief"), inside I was struggling. The personal nature of the story/script was taking a heavy toll on my head and heart (I was also suffering from severe chest pains). I don't think I helped myself in this regard, as I'd decided to shoot in locations in and around Burton-on-Trent and Baddesley Ensor, where I'd lived with my ex-girlfriend before we parted ways:
  • The film opens on the M6 near Birmingham, which I regularly passed en-route to my ex-girlfriends house between 2013-early 2014.
  • The country lane with the crossroads was shot near Burton-on-Trent. The road (near St. George's Park) was one that I regularly found myself on whilst travelling to and from the North-West whilst working at Burton & South Derbyshire college (2009-2012). 
  • The rabbit bludgeoning and exterior of the house scenes were shot in the village where I lived with my ex-girlfriend in 2014. Both of these scenes are key moments in the story and so I wanted to give them an added poignancy (brutal reality for me). 
  • Finally, the scene directly after the bludgeoning takes place on a country road that leads away from that house I lived at with my ex-girlfriend (indulgent? Maybe).
I kept a diary at the time. Here is an extract...

"30/03/15: My heart and head hurt today. The film has brought up all of the heartache & sense of loss to the front of my mind. I'm making a film about a dreamer - I had a dream with [name removed]. I thought we were dreaming together but apparently not. I can't believe how many years I've wasted…The film is proving cathartic & heartbreaking." 

Ups and downs
Reading the pages of my diary now, I wonder whether I should have attempted to shoot a film at all given how I was feeling. Maybe not…Anyway, besides my personal torment, the film itself had a number of technical problems:
  • One GoPro camera was faulty and was only capturing mere seconds of usable footage. I had contacted GoPro about this a number of times way before the production started, so I was annoyed that their solutions still hadn't solved the problem.
  • The animatronics for the rabbit blew up just before we were due to shoot the climactic moment, which meant I would have to revisit the close-ups.
  • I put my foot through a nail during the filming of the house sequence.
  • And, finally, one crew member lost a day of footage, which was a real sucker punch (this particular crew member became a bit a hindrance, causing more problems than they solved, and had to be removed from the re-shoots and all subsequent activities related to the film).
If I wasn't so well organised (printed storyboards, scripts, etc.), this shoot could easily have been capsized by the madness. Fortunately, Harris Matthews and Toni Sherwood-Pearce were brilliant throughout. Some actors can add to the stress of shooting a film but they never did. They were great fun before, between and after takes, yet utterly professional when once we were ready to shoot. So, thank you Matt (Harris) and Toni!


Like the rabbit itself, I really struggled to bring this film to life. It was a long post-production - April to August. One reason for this was that I had to abandon the sound captured during the shoot due to the overbearing road noise. This meant that I had to find someone to assist with re-recording the dialogue in a studio. By chance, I spoke to Harris (Peter) and he suggested Darren Scott, who he had worked with previously. Darren agreed to work on our project and turned out to be a saviour (working with him was a real highlight of the production).

Besides the time spent finding someone to record the ADR, I also had to build up the soundtrack from scratch, which meant recording brand new sounds and also sourcing 'stock' library sounds - roads, footsteps, everything that's heard in the final film. All of which could only be mixed once I had a locked cut of the film, which was difficult given that I was struggling to judge the actors performances due to the aforementioned road noise. Nightmare…alongside the work I was doing, Stuart Samuels was working on the special effects shots, which he would send me as and when they were completed. They always looked great and the quality of his work was one of the things that kept my morale/excitement up during post.

Indeed, there were a lot of elements that needed to be brought together during the post-production for The Rabbit (special effects, sound design, ADR, music, etc.) and so that certainly added to the post-production time. However, I think it also took a while to complete as a part of me was reluctant to let go of this story - it was the closing chapter of my 20's and the madness related to that particular part of my life (it was shot only weeks before I turned 30). I was fully aware of the added significance this production seemed to have and so it was nice to have a formal deadline from Erik - it meant that I was literally forced to stop working on a film I'd become obsessed with (sound levels, cuts, colour were all obsessively analysed and debated over in my head).

Final Thoughts

I feel honoured to have been asked by Erik to direct a project for One Day Films. I have often said it was very astute of him to see how relevant the story was to my life. Though, in hindsight, perhaps the story was a little too close to home - I welled up when I first viewed the locked cut and I still find it a difficult watch due to the content and the knowledge of how I felt making it. Subsequently, I'm sure this is going to be a project that I can only truly appreciate once I am a few years removed from it (remember, "pain's temporary, film's forever").

The Rabbit was an important project and milestone for me as a filmmaker - especially given the time that it was made - and I'm proud of the finished product. And with that, I'll now sign off, as I feel that I said everything that I have to say about the project (production, themes, and finished film) in the vlog below. Enjoy!

Sunday, 13 December 2015

2015: It's Personal (Part 5)

"It's personal but they need to know…"

Part 5: New
  • Type: Short Film
  • Cast: Terence J Corbett
  • Shot On: iPhone 5s
  • Released: August 20th
The 5th film I finished and released in 2015 was a poetic short set in Barcelona and starring Terry Corbett. Over the years my relationship with Terry has progressed way beyond that of a director & actor. We met, almost 10 years ago, whilst we were both studying at the University of Salford: I was working towards my MA in Fiction Film Production (under the guidance of Erik Knudsen) and Terry was studying drama (down in the other, less cool building on Adelphi Campus).

During my Salford days, I specialised in editing & sound rather than directing (I believed that if I really wanted to direct I would do so after the course). So, I was actually working on a film for another director when I first met Terry and the film we produced was a short titled Penance (our minor project, September 2006). In the film, Terry plays a sort-of ghost who causes a couple to confess their sins whilst waiting for their results in an IVF clinic (I remember calling it "soapy" but I also remember Erik, my tutor, saying that he was "gripped" by the drama).

Following Penance, the same crew helped produce a side-project for the same director - before we became bogged down by our major project films. The side-film was Out of Sync (shot sometime in December 2006) - a David Lynch-esque short in which Terry played a private detective (Paul, Red...I forget the name of the protagonist) who is hunting a killer, a killer who turns out to be himself. The villain's name? Snake...Terry's nickname was born.

Penance, back when we were students 
A bit of detective work in Out of Sync
Terry as a cowboy in The Making Of
I eventually directed Terry in a semi-autobiographical short film (The Making Of) whilst completing my dissertation (June/July 2007), in which he played a detective, a gangster, a cowboy and a father. Since then we have made a number of shorts together (9 in total) and, as a result of our collaborations, we have become firm friends - to the point that we rarely discuss filmmaking these days.


Flash-forward 9 years to June of this year, Terry and I had booked a holiday to Barcelona (21st-26th July) and we knew that we'd have to shoot something whilst we were away. So, as ever, I tapped into my thoughts and started writing, well typing, in my phone. What I produced is, arguably, my most personal piece of writing: New is a stream of consciousness - a story in which the lead character reflects on the damaging years spent with a destructive woman ("a monster") and his newfound love for life. In many ways, the film is a continuation of a number of themes and ideas that I dealt with in Ride Out The Wave or: Cuddling A Monster (see previous post).


For a long while I'd wanted to shoot a short film on my iPhone (and before that an iPad) and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. However, as a result of this decision, this film contained lowest shooting ratio that I've ever done (if I had to guess I'd day say 1 / 11⁄2 to 1). As I only had so much space on my phone I had to be ruthless and shoot nothing more than what I needed - no room for another take on this project.

In many ways the film blurs the line between documentary and fiction - the events we see are really happening: if we were at the beach - I'd shoot, when we were at the concert - I would shoot, in a restaurant - I'd shoot. It was stripped back, guerrilla filmmaking - I'd tell Terry to "get into character" and immediately hit record. I knew that the voice-over was going to carry the majority of the storytelling duties and so the visuals simply needed to enhance and compliment what the audience would be hearing.

Filming at Hard Rock Rising Beach Festival
Holiday snap: The stunning Sagrada Familia
We bumped into Corin Silva (Round in Circles) at the airport
Besides the low shooting ratio, the film was also the most relaxing production that I've ever been involved in (I was on holiday after all): sun, sea, a concert, restaurants, beautiful scenery, beautiful buildings and so on. The iPhone certainly added to the fun - it was liberating! I could walk through the streets shooting whatever and wherever I wanted with no interference from the public. We were on a train and no one noticed us filming; we were at a concert and no one cared that we were filming….why? Because these days everyone is filming and taking photos on their phones - see Instagram for evidence of this (photographing coffee cups seem to be popular). Subsequently, I'm keen to shoot another film on my phone at some point in the future - especially since hearing about & seeing Tangerine, a feature film shot on an iPhone.

Post Production

We recorded the voice over once we were back in England on an iPad using the RØDE app and a RØDE SMARTLAV Lavalier Mic (I was keen to be as low-tech as I could on this project). The film itself was then edited to the voice-over, almost like editing a music video to a track. In hindsight, there are some moments that would perhaps benefit from some breathing room - a few extra frames here and there, some gaps in the voice-over…but it is what it is and I must remember that it was edited almost as quickly as it was written and directed - it was a film that was desperate to escape from me and be released into the world. So, I'll have to follow the advice of Werner Herzog and "learn to live with [my] mistakes".

For a long while I considered placing music underneath the voice over. However, I screened the film for my regular composer, Lewis Brewster (Composer: Cuddling A MonsterThe Rabbit), and he was adamant that it had to be released with a voice only soundtrack. Lewis said he felt like he was listening to a private recording from someones dictaphone - a great compliment, I thought, and so I played up this idea by adding a tape player rewinding over the credits. This is an example of why it's good to screen your work for other people, as I had initially thought that no music was the way to go but started to doubt myself.

Final thoughts

The film is very much a (masculine) sibling to ROTW... in terms of its core themes, ideas and character arc. But whereas ROTW used silence and "looks" as a way to present those ideas, New makes them explicit ("monstered", "my family saved me", etc.). Subsequently, I feel that the film speaks (in a brutally honest way) for itself. However, whilst it does contain some dark comments, I believe the film is the most life-affirming, positive short that I have ever directed or worked on. Is it perfect? No…but when I posted it on this blog and Vimeo, I did so with a quote from François Truffaut - a quote which encapsulates my thoughts about the final product and its purpose:

"The film of tomorrow appears to me as even more personal than an individual and autobiographical novel, like a confession, or a diary. The young filmmakers will express themselves in the first person and will relate what has happened to them. It may be the story of their first love or their most recent; of their political awakening; the story of a trip, a sickness, their military service, their marriage, their last vacation…and it will be enjoyable because it will be true, and new…The film of tomorrow will not be directed by civil servants of the camera, but by artists for whom shooting a film constitutes a wonderful and thrilling adventure. The film of tomorrow will resemble the person who made it, and the number of spectators will be proportional to the number of friends the director has. The film of tomorrow will be an act of love".

Saturday, 12 December 2015

2015: It's Personal (Part 4)

"It's personal but they need to know…"

Part 4: Ride Out The Wave or: Cuddling A Monster
  • Type: Short Film
  • Cast: Marie Holliday & Lily Holliday
  • Shot On: Canon 5D MKII & GoPro Hero 4
  • Released: May 10th
So, in the previous post I discussed the fact that I had to substantially edit down this particular story for the Five Lamps Films: 24 Hour Film Challenge. Now I will discuss the full cut of the film, which I released on the day of the competition screening (May 10th).

The Idea

The film deals with themes of that are highly personal to me - divorce, heartbreak, loneliness, depression, sadness - and I would rank this as one of my most personal projects (alongside New & Over). As noted in the previous post, the seeds for this story came out of a conversation I had with Terry Corbett in April but also a number of other recent experiences that I'd had.

So, what's the longer title all about? Well, this was my original title for the shorter cut (it's even on the title page of the script) but I decided against it once I had to cut Marie's character arc to meet the Five Lamps Films competition rules. The term 'Ride Out The Wave' is a lyric from a song that has consistently moved me over the past 5 years. For a long time I had certain memories and thoughts attached to this lyric but, post-January, my thoughts about its meaning changed substantially. Subsequently, I wanted to acknowledge what those words meant to me in this highly personal film. Some may feel it is a pretentious brushstroke to have 2 titles…but that view would be an oversight as the title is tied directly to Marie's arc/journey (an arc that mirrors the conversation I had with Terry).

Me: "It's the little things I miss, like cuddling"
Terry: "yeah but the chances are you're cuddling a monster"

The first half of the film sees Marie struggling to deal with a separation - she's missing the little things (like cuddling) and struggling to ride out the wave of emotions and thoughts that she's feeling/experiencing (loneliness/isolation/heartbreak). The second half of the film sees her begin to realise that the very person she is missing was actually not a very nice person (a bit of a "monster"). She has an epiphany - her daughter is as distraught as she is - and so she begins to focus her attention back towards her and her daughter's well-being. This is a highly personal plot point - it is a blood bond that saves her (an idea that is made explicit in New: "my family and friends saved me - they listened, they loved, they turned towards me when I'd had enough").

At the end of the film the title becomes more like a choice - you must Ride Out The Wave and overcome your emotions or you'll end up Cuddling A Monster, i.e. as a result of your low self-esteem or loneliness (or both), you'll end up in the arms of someone who is no good for you - whether that be an ex-partner or someone new (via online dating).


As discussed in the previous post, this film was shot in a single day (less than that actually, as I didn't get the first shot until 11.50am* and the last shot was taken at 10.46pm - 11 hours!) - a fact that I still find hard to believe. We began by filming the early morning sequences (teeth brushing, choosing an outfit for the day and so on), before moving on to the pivotal sequence in the lounge (Marie on the iPad, Lily holding the monster). Up next were the car scenes which I shot with a GoPro Hero4 (though I decided to cut two of these from the final film).

Following a number of loops around Burton-on-Trent to get the necessary footage in Marie's car, we then shot the second park scene in which mother and daughter finally reconnect on the swings (pictured below). After a quick costume change, we then shot the first park scene in which Marie is seen sitting by herself as Lily plays by herself.

It was now 7pm and so I had to quicken the pace - next up was the sequence of the father leaving (which needed to be shot from Marie's and Lily's perspective), followed by the sequence of Marie & Lily eating dinner. After that, we shot the infamous "cheese on the bin" argument - which did require a number of takes but that was only because we couldn't stop laughing…after all, it's a ridiculous comment that the man makes.

After our fun with the "cheese on the bin" sequence, I then shot the scene of Marie washing the dishes, followed by her and Lily brushing their teeth. It was now almost 10.30pm and I was beginning to realise that we still had to edit a film by 10am the following morning. I quickly shot the final bedroom scenes with Marie (pulling the shirt from the wardrobe and her lying in bed) and the final shot, as stated in the previous post, was the outcast "monster" on the shoe rack. We were done!


The arc of the film was designed to have a number of recurring moments as a way of presenting the theme of 'family as salvation': in the first half of the film Marie is seen brushing her teeth alone & on the sofa alone, whereas in the second of the film she does those same things with her daughter. As a result of this, the post-production for this film was a case of working back in sequences that I was forced to sacrifice for the 3 minute version of Cuddling A Monster. In some instances it was also necessary to expand a number of  shots/sequences that were already present (such as the two-shot of Lily and Marie on the park swing). Perhaps there are occasions in this version where I let moments play out for too long (there is certainly one moment that I feel I'd edit differently now). It's possible…and I do wonder what this story might look like if I hadn't edited it straight after Monster. However, I can't change the fact that this version was edited with the knowledge of what I'd done for the 3 minute cut.

Finally, in regards to the post-production, I must state that the score by Lewis Brewster is quite brilliant and helped me mould the final cut. For example, the music was a great help when I was editing the park montage and, I believe, it turned out to be one of the most successful sequences I've put on film. Music can often be used to lead audiences to feeling a certain way but this score feels organic and, for me, it never feels overly sentimental.

Final Thoughts

I'm extremely happy with this film and pleased to have finished my 24 Hour Trilogy (the day after the Five Lamps win, myself and Lewis sat and watched all 3 and, I must say, I was very proud of what I'd accomplished). As ever, there are things that I would do slightly different in hindsight but it works as story, which is always the most important thing for me. As discussed above - a number of key themes and ideas were cut from the shorter version of the film so it was nice to be able to release my preferred version of this story (a director's cut, so to speak).

*I know the time each scene was shot as the camera times and dates the files when they are produced.

Friday, 11 December 2015

2015: It's Personal (Part 3)

"It's personal but they need to know…"

NOTE: There will be a number of overlaps between this post and the next one as they discuss the same production.

Part 3: Cuddling A Monster
  • Type: Short Film
  • Cast: Marie Holliday & Lily Holliday
  • Shot On: Canon 5D MKII & GoPro Hero4 (Car Scenes)
  • Released: May 10th
My 3rd film this year starred Marie and Lily Holliday who had both appeared in my previous 24 hour film, Windowpane. As stated in Part 1, in late 2014/early 2015 I left "a destructive relationship and, in many ways, my work this year has been a reflection of that break-up". This film and my following two shorts, deal with that separation directly...

The Idea

The cogs for this specific idea began to turn after a conversation I had with my friend, and long time collaborator, Terry Corbett in early April. We were driving down to London for the day and I was discussing the previously mentioned breakup that I had been through. I've probably changed the exact words but the conversation went something like this:

Me: "It's the little things I miss, like cuddling"
Terry: "yeah but the chances are you're cuddling a monster"

I don't think I've ever laughed as hard as I did to the response he gave me - there was something brilliant about the juxtaposition of the intimate act of cuddling with the idea of a monster (which we perceive as something with a horrible, grotesque nature - ugly, inside and out). I laughed, we discussed it and then went out for the day (we attended a Q&A with Ryan Gosling for those of you who are interested).

After finishing 3rd in the Five Lamps: Films 24 Hour Film Challenge in May 2014, I was keen to have another go this year. As the date for the competition approached (Saturday 2nd May), I asked Marie Holliday if she would be interested in appearing so that we could complete a "24 Hour Trilogy" (Windowpane, Turning and whatever I came up with for this years competition) - she agreed and my mind began to wander: I thought about Terry's comments and began to develop a very personal story which touched on divorce, childhood, parenthood, loneliness and "monsters" (i.e. people who are destructive and have a negative impact on someone's life).

I wrote a script and came up with a title - Ride Out The Wave or: Cuddling A Monster, a title which I will discuss in the next post. I sourced all of my props: you won't believe how long I spent stood in a toy store deciding which monster to purchase (the toy is symbolic and so it was important that I got it right). I eventually went with the blue & red option and handed it over to my mother who made a number of modification to it for the film. I was ready…

Monster - work in progress

I drafted in Alex Gilbert to as an assistant (co-cinematographer/co-sound designer) and also Ian Hudd, so I would have some behind-the-scenes photos (although he had to drop out part way through the day due to illness). We received the "go email" from Five Lamps in the morning - there was an action (a character looks through something but does not find what they are looking for) and a line of dialogue ("it just doesn't add up") that had to be included the short, so I figured how I would do that on the way to the main location (Marie's house, which was previously seen in Turning).

It was a long shoot but also a very fun one: I don't think I've laughed as much whilst making a film  as I as I did shooting the "cheese on the bin" argument…we wrapped late - the final shot of the day was the monster on the shoe rack, which I'm still not sure I framed properly but we were down to the wire so I had to accept what I had "in the can".


Damn, this was tough! So, myself and Alex Gilbert went to his house to begin editing. It was late and I was tired…Alex was on one computer working on the sound and I was on another cutting the film.

As I stated back in May "at 3am I realised that I'd shot a film that was far too long to enter [to the competition] so I quickly had to figure out a new way to tell that story in 3 minutes". I'll be honest, I was devastated and I came within an inch of quitting - I simply had no idea how I was going to make a 3 minute film out of the footage that I'd shot. "Maybe it was better to quit than hand in a disjointed mess" I thought. However, after pulling myself out of thoughts of throwing in the towel, I realised that I simply needed to tell one part of the larger story and switch the focus from Marie's character to Lily's. Once I had this idea, it was surprisingly quick and easy to mould the film into the story I submitted.

Much needed breakfast after submission.
I finished the edit and left Alex to work on the sound for an hour or so whilst I had a sleep on the sofa. Once I woke from my brief nap, myself and Alex finalised the sound design and placed a title at the start, 'Cuddling A Monster' (the longer title suddenly felt redundant given the cuts made). We watched it back and burned a DVD…I still wasn't sure whether I should hand it in and Alex certainly didn't help as I had his words ringing in my ears: "it's ok but not as good as the story you've shot" (I had a similar feeling all of that day and at one point said to someone "well the good news is I think I've made my best film. The bad news - it's not the film I submitted"). Fortunately, I didn't let those doubts influence my decision to submit the film.

The Festival

I couldn't look at the film for the first few days after completing it but, once Wednesday arrived, I knew I'd have to sit and watch what I'd made. To my surprise, I was impressed by what I saw play out: "not bad, I may have a chance after all". Sunday 10th May soon came around and the rest is history (although I nearly didn't bother attending the screening as I was convinced I wouldn't even make the top 3)…

Read more about the screening here: 

Final Thoughts

If I'm completely honest, I will always prefer the longer cut of this particular story (a film which I will discuss in the next post). However, the 3 minute cut completely works as a film in its own right - it's the child's perspective of a separation, which is as dear/personal to me as anything I've ever put on film (see You Left Your Heart in the City for evidence of this) and was always designed to play a key role in the larger story I set out to tell. Subsequently, I was beyond pleased that it went on to win the Five Lamps Films: 24 Hour Film Challenge and that it screened before a selection of feature films, including The Dark Knight Rises, at Wollaton Hall in Nottingham.

Beyond the prizes, it was equally wonderful to read this glowing review:

"The overall winner was Cuddling a Monster by Mark Duggan Films, in which a young girl clings to the titular toy to help her through her parents’ divorce. I must say, this one didn’t really make an impact during my initial viewing – most probably because it was sandwiched between much louder and more ridiculous fare. But I’ve since watched it again, and I’m struck by its elegance and economy. We’re presented with a series of beautifully filmed, meticulously directed scenes, and we’re left to draw our own conclusions from what little we see. It’s worlds apart from the rest of the entries, which were all defined by their direct approach to storytelling. And when you throw in a number of convincing performances, it really does feel like the best film won." (

Thursday, 10 December 2015

2015: It's Personal (Part 2)

"It's personal but they need to know…"

Part 2: Bitter End
  • Type: Music Video
  • Cast: Afterdown - Neil (Lead Vocals/Rhythm Guitar), Mark (Lead Guitar), Andy (Bass Guitar), Jody (Drums)
  • Shot On: Canon 5D MKII (B-Roll/cutaways on 700d)
  • Released: March 18th
The 2nd film that I released in 2015 was another music video - this time it was for the metal band, Afterdown

The Idea

After shooting Rose, I was eager to stay as creative as possible - primarily as I wanted to keep my mind from wandering (see Part 1 for further details). So, I contacted an old school friend, Neil Colley, about the possibility of collaborating on a music video for his band. He was keen to make this happen and suggested that we shoot at the studio they record in - Red Wall Studios in Bury (Greater Manchester). It sounded like a good plan to me. So I did a location recce on a dark night sometime in late February/early March and we agreed to shoot the entire video in one night, the following week.

As the idea was to create to a performance video for the band, there was no need for an elaborate plan on this particular project - besides a quick recce to give me an idea of what space I was going to be working in, I'd decided that most of the imagery would be thought up on the night. 


I am a firm believer in "total filmmaking" (i.e. a filmmaker who is able to shoot, direct and edit). However, I knew that I'd require help to capture everything I'd need for the edit in one night (we probably shot from 6pm-11pm), so I asked Terry Corbett if he would like to assist me by shooting cutaways and B-Roll footage. Luckily, he agreed…I was good to go.

The day arrived. Myself and Terry grabbed a KFC for dinner and then set off for the studio. The shoot itself is a bit of a blur as I was shooting take after take, with very few breaks. However, if memory serves me right, I believe I started with a shot of the whole group performing in a corridor, which I decided to abandon as it wasn't as visually interesting as I'd hoped it would be. It was a bad start, so I quickly moved on to the shots of Neil performing against the brick wall with the swinging light. Once I had a few takes of usable footage "in the can" it was then a case of filming each band member in different corners of the studio (this is where Terry's assistance was vital, as I would often shoot these performances with 2 cameras).

It was a thoroughly creative evening and we utilised every inch of that studio - staircases, toilets, empty corridors - nothing was out of bounds. I decided to shoot in one room simply because I liked the wallpaper, which featured dozens of celebrities (The Beatles, Sean Connery, Johnny Depp, James Dean and so on). In that particular room, you may notice that I linger slightly longer on a shot of Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby, 2013) than I do on any of the other famous faces. Why? Well, an actress I knew at the time compared my ex-girlfriend, just weeks before I shot this video, to Daisy (Carey Mulligan) - i.e. superficial, to say the least. So it seemed like it'd be a missed opportunity, for me personally, if I didn't hold on a shot of Gatsby ("I knew it was a great mistake for a man like me to fall in love…").

I was open to any and all ideas that evening (I guess you could say we were jamming) and it resulted in scenes such as the very successful "red lighting" sequence (a suggestion by the band). Meanwhile, I insisted on a very long set-up for one sequence of the drummer playing, as the backdrop reminded me of the lift sequence from The Shining (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1980). It wasn't all improvised, however - one key image that I was keen to get after the recce was a performance by the singer against a wall full of graffiti. I shot this handheld, with one LED light acting as a spotlight, which was a visual nod to the brilliant music video for Best of You by Foo Fighters.

Nod to the Foo Fighters

I tend to feel my way through the editing of a music video (I don't have a plan, I attack it like a jigsaw)…as a result, once it feels right I'll let it go. Like Rose, I turned this one around very quickly: there are far more cuts in Bitter End (unsurprising given the tempo of the track) but I still managed to complete it within a 2 week period. It's not perfect - I'm the first to admit that there are occasions where the lip-sync is a maybe frame or so off - but I felt those imperfections added to the gritty, rough nature that I often favour (hence the use of black & white imagery and a digital film grain). Besides the lip-sync, I spent a long time working on the quick cuts seen during the guitar solo - I devoted this sequence almost exclusively to the numerous performances that I'd shot of Mark playing around the studio and I feel it paid off as it's one of my favourite parts of the video (I believe the solo contains some of the best cuts I've ever done in a music video).

Final Thoughts

I see this video as a sort-of sequel to the Crushing Blows video for Hiding Place (2012). It's visually similar - performances are often in dark, confined spaces - and it relies heavily on similar filmmaking techniques (low lighting, obscure camera angles & quick editing) to create a sense of frenzy. I'm pleased with the results, as were the band…most importantly, I had fun making it.


Wednesday, 9 December 2015

2015: It's Personal (Part 1)

"It's personal but they need to know…"

This year has been quite an eventful one, one which has seen me complete 6 short films & 3 music videos (by comparison, in 2014, I released 3 short films - Windowpane, Round in Circles & Turning). Over the remaining blog posts for the year I will discuss each film (short/music video) - giving insight into the production, the themes and inspiration for each.

Part 1: Rose
  • Type: Music Video
  • Cast: Terence J Corbett
  • Shot On: Canon 700d (B-Roll/cutaways on Canon 5D MKII)
  • Released: February 25th
Emotionally, I wasn't in a great place when I made this music video. I'd not long broken away from a destructive relationship and, in many ways, my work this year has been a reflection of that break-up. In the weeks after the separation, a number of revelations about the relationship came to light and a couple of significant dates were imminent (a birthday and an anniversary). Subsequently, I needed to get out and make something as a way to distract myself. Fortunately, Chris Baldwin, who had produced two tracks for my 60 Hour Film, Turning, in October 2014, contacted me about producing a music video for one of his tracks and it seemed like the quickest and most obvious way for me to make something.

So, after giving Chris a "yes", I listened to a number of his tracks (one of which will be discussed in a future post) and settled on Rose. Did the track inspire the idea for the narrative or the idea lead me to the track? In all honesty, I can no longer remember. But, if I had to take an educated guess, I'd say the type of story I wanted to tell was my reason for choosing that particular song.

The Idea

It came to me out of an experience I'd had only weeks beforehand - imagine if you'd purchased a bouquet of roses for someone and they refused to take them. How would the person left holding the flowers feel? What would they do with them? Of course I knew how I felt/what I did with the flowers, but, for the sake of the narrative, I'd have to manufacture something more cinematic…and so the idea of dropping roses whilst wandering across a city was born.

I knew that the rose dropping alone wasn't enough to carry a four minute music video and so I also came up with the idea of intercutting the city scenes with the protagonist cutting off his hair (fortunately, Terry Corbett agreed to do it). I've long had an obsession with depicting characters cutting their hair on film, most recently in Over but it actually dates back to a vampire film that I'd made as a teenager. In that particular film, the main character cuts off his long locks after he is turned into a blood-thirsty monster…and in Rose, the hair cutting also serves a symbolic purpose (although I'd rather let the viewer decide what that purpose is).


The film was shot over the course of a day on 16th February, which, for personal reasons, I decided to make explicit via text over the opening shot (though I like the suggestion that perhaps the protagonist had missed Valentine's Day). Production took place in Manchester City Centre, which I've used many times before. Besides loving the imagery that a city has to offer, I also like the contradiction of such vibrant places: despite their busy nature, they can also create a feeling of loneliness and isolation - an idea I explored in Round in Circles and something I hope this film suggests also.

So, where specifically did I decide to shoot in Manchester? Well the film is littered with personal touches - the canal in Castlefield where I'd shot sequences for Heart in the City, the park by Manchester Metropolitan University where I studied for a degree between 2003 and 2006, and the jilting, which sets the story off, occurs outside of a coffee shop in the Northern Quarter (a place where myself and Terry Corbett would often discuss the relationship that inspired the film).


In terms of a schedule/plan - I didn't have one…I wanted the film to have an immediacy and so the music video was shot in a guerrilla/documentary style, which saw myself and Terry working our way across the city, shooting wherever and whenever we could. To add to this documentary approach, I chose not to use a tripod or steadicam as I wanted the camera to feel as unhinged as the protagonist (I find the shaky camerawork adds an unnerving feel, though I'm the first to admit that it's probably not to everyone's taste).

One thing that I was mindful of was knowing when to say "I have everything I want/need to makes the scenes across the city work". Why? Well, because once I started shooting the hair cutting scenes there would be no going back (not for a few months anyway). So how did I know? The simple answer is that a director has to trust their instincts: feel the scenes, feel the moments…which I did. I wrapped on the exterior sequences late afternoon, we had a break and then moved onto the bathroom scenes.

Baths/bathrooms are a recurring motif in my work - again, this can be traced back to the vampire film discussed earlier. What is it about bathrooms that interest me so much? Firstly, I tend to write from experience and I've had similar moments to my characters, who often represent different facets of my personality. Going deeper than that, given the nature of the stories that I like to tell, a bathroom is one of the most intimate, personal and private places in any given home and so it seems fitting that a protagonist would be reflective in such a space (reflecting in a mirror is usually how I depict these scenes, as I often linger on these moments of characters, literally, take a long, hard look at themselves).

Executing the "shaving" sequence required a methodical approach as I needed to be mindful of the visual progress of the hair-cutting - ensuring that I had enough moments of reflection for each hair length. So, after setting up the bathroom with candles, roses and bubble bath, I decided I'd do the easy stuff first and began shooting cutaways I needed of the bathtub (before the candles started to dwindle).

Once I had the required cutaways, I filmed Terry reflecting in the mirror, before moving on to the scissors sequence and finally the different clipper/shaver lengths. Terry decided that he'd use the number "1" clipper guard all over for the final image. However, unfortunately for Terry, he accidentally shaved one section of his head without the clipper guards and was then forced to do his whole head as a "#0". At the time Terry wasn't happy (to put it mildly) but, after temporarily mourning his loss, he came to realise that it actually worked out better for the film…"pain's temporary, film's forever".


I turned the video around quite quickly - just over a week…the edit itself was straightforward. The more difficult task was deciding on a colour palette for the film. Ultimately, I decided on a desaturated, yet ever so slightly golden look for the exteriors, whilst emphasising the reds and oranges for the bathroom sequence to suggest a personal hell. I also decided to add a film grain to the whole picture, which was designed to heighten the gritty, documentary aesthetic that I was aiming for.

Final Thoughts

I'm pleased with this music video. Are there things that I'd do differently? Of course! But I feel that way about most of my films…what matters is that, to me, it feels honest - it most definitely captures how I felt at that time. Hopefully it connects with other people too...

And one last point, I'd like to thank Terry Corbett for his great work in this video and his willingness to shave his hair off for the project. A great actor and a great friend!