My recent trip to the Cannes Film Festival was my fourth, but I still learnt several new things and re-learnt old things that I’d forgotten since my last trip:
The Market Guide – a sort of Cannes bible containing contact details for everyone attending – is available Argos-style at the back of the Riviera Building by the escalators. Getting a copy of this book was always a big advantage of having an expensive market badge rather than a free festival pass, so having free access to it is very handy. The staff at the UK Pavilion are usually happy to look stuff up for you in their copy too.
There is a free left luggage service to the right of the casino in the corner of the Palais des Festivals.
Antibes, ten miles out of Cannes, is a popular place to stay because it’s cheap yet easily accessible by train. A weekly rail pass is only 8 Euros.
Wifi at the festival is awful, so save any screeners, photos etc. to your mobile device before leaving home/your hotel.
When networking, show your trailer/screener/photos as soon as possible to prove that you are (a) a doer, not just a talker and (b) a filmmaker who delivers high production values. From the response our Stop/Eject and Ashes materials have got, we can only assume that most people’s materials don’t look as good as ours. Showing trailers/screeners also gets the attention of other people nearby or even across the room, which can lead to further networking opportunities.
Also when networking, it is not cheating to talk to people you already know. Often they will introduce you to people you don’t.
Delices Yang, the Chinese Restaurant I mentioned in a previous post as a good place to eat cheaply, has had a makeover and is now more expensive, but is still competitive – especially as it’s all-you-can-eat.
If you missed them, here are the video blogs that Sophie Black and I are shot during our trip.
Attending the Cannes Film Festival and Market for the first time can be a big shock; it certainly was for me back in 2005. Here are some of the things I learnt from that first trip.
Filmmaking is a business, not an art. Films are bought and sold like tins of beans, and profit – or the reliable promise of profit – is the driving force behind it, just like every other business.
Many more films get made every year than you could possibly imagine, and crucially many more films turn a profit than you might expect. The industry does not consist of only Hollywood blockbusters and micro-budget indie fare. There are also hundreds of formulaic low budget films that most of us will never see, but nevertheless find an audience and make money, typically on straight-to-DVD release or in foreign territories (even if they were made in English). There is a living to be made if you can get into this section of the industry, though it may not be exactly what you always dreamt of.
Name actors are everything. When I went around the market in 2005 asking all the distributors if they were interested in buying a fantasy action movie (Soul Searcher), the first question was always: “Who’s in it?” It is almost impossible for a film to make a profit unless it has elements (a name actor, a name director or it’s based on a successful book, game, etc.). For the same reason you won’t get a film financed without one of these things attached.
Don’t believe anything they tell you. Cannes is home to more horseshit than Biff Tannen’s car. Most meetings you have, no matter how positive they seem, will ultimately come to nothing.
There are many, many talkers but not so many doers. If you go to Cannes having actually made a film, particularly a feature, you will immediately command some respect.
Of course, it is one thing to read this stuff in a blog, but another entirely to learn it firsthand. If you want to be a filmmaker, I strongly suggest you attend the festival at least once so you can truly understand the industry you’re getting into.
I recently attended a talk by filmmaker and motion graphics designer Ben Lewis about the making of his music documentary Who Do You Love: The King Adora Story. With candid interviews and access to the band’s own camcorder footage, Who Do You Love tells the story of not just King Adora but a whole industry in transition. Ben kindly agreed to answer some questions about the making of the film, how it was financed and how it was distributed.
Why did you feel that the story of King Adora was one that needed to be told?
In all honesty my initial reasoning behind the project was to document a chapter in my friend’s life. I had been working at Apple as a creative trainer and I wanted to get back into making films; as opposed to teaching others to do so. I’ve known Martyn, the lead guitarist from the band, since secondary school and I was aware he had this experience so I really wanted to delve deeper. It was initially simply a gift to him to document that time in his life. Once I had begun producing the film I came to the realisation that I could produce a piece of work that not only appealed to King Adora fans but a wider audience.
Checking the shot
What advantages did knowing band members personally give you? Were there any disadvantages?
I knew all the band but Martyn was a close friend. All of the band were at a different stage in their lives and I explained to them from the outset although I had an attachment to the them, I would not let that affect me in the filmmaking process. I wanted to tell a truthful story of their journey. I did feel protective of the band but I just had to put that aside and remember that original credo. So in a sense it was a double-edged sword in that they knew me so that allowed for a more relaxed interview environment but they also knew I wasn’t going to pull any punches. I had a free reign to ask what I wanted and use that in the story I wanted to tell.
How was the film financed?
It was self-funded. During my last few months at Apple I was spending my wages on hiring the Red One and lenses. It’s certainly not the best way to get a project made but I felt I didn’t want to wait and seeing as it was such a personal project I felt why shouldn’t I pay to get it made? I was using the currency of friends too; so, I calculated that it would cost about £6K in total for kit hire and travel etc. However, had I been paying them a day rate it would have been a lot more.
What are the biggest things you learnt along the way about crowd-funding?
I was totally new to crowd-funding. I loved the idea of it and it fit in with the other aspects of the democratisation of the creative industries that excited me. I love the idea you can circumvent the traditional funding platforms and have a direct link to your audience. The film was in the can and ready to go so I was purely looking for distribution costs for the DVD. That clearly helped as prospective backers knew the product was ready. That said, like the entire project, I was working on the promotion of the crowd-funding whilst working full time. I learnt that to raise the funding target is a full time job in itself. I had help from a friend but I feel that the most successful campaigns require constant updates and communication with your potential backers. I raised enough for the distribution of the DVD but not my full target amount.
How long did it take to shoot and how many crew were you working with?
It made over the course of a couple of years as we were all making it around our day jobs. In terms of days it’s hard to calculate. It took us a while to get in touch with certain members of the band. Robbie (bass player) was living in New York and we had to wait for him to get back to the UK for the interview; though I had considered going over to interview him. There was also a lot of archive footage that needed logging and various other production logistics such as clearance and filming the live gigs.
The crew was very small: myself, Laura the DOP and Ash who edited the project. On certain interviews we called in help from others too but really it was the three of us who got the project made.
What cameras did you use and did you encounter any technical problems?
I knew from the outset that I wanted the interviews to have a very intimate look with a shallow depth of field and to look nicely lit to contrast the grainy archive footage. I’d recently been on a Red One training course with my DOP, Laura. I thought that the image these cameras gave would be ideal for the look and feel I was trying to achieve. We shot the first three interviews with the Red but it became too cost prohibitive and we moved to the Canon 5D MKII. Laura did a great job lighting the interview but unfortunately she wasn’t available to shoot Dan’s interview so I shot that interview after getting advice from her.
Once we got to the edit stage we had mastered all the Red content to 1920×1080 Prores files as I wasn’t sure my machine could handle the R3Ds. When it came to the grade we relinked to the original Red files. Shooting with the 5D was great but the Prores conversions took some time. I’ve recently moved to Premiere CS6 and love how you can use H.264 natively. This saves a lot of time… and space!
What problems did you have with licensing the music?
Well this was a whole new world to me. I had lots of issues with the clearance of the music. I initially had to clear a couple of tracks and clips from one of the band’s videos for use in the first trailer I released. I had contacted Universal for international sync rights for online distribution which would allow me to use the songs and footage for six months but the initial cost was too steep. I managed to negotiate a lower rate as I was an independent but when it came to the rights for the entire film I just couldn’t afford the figure the record company were asking so I had to look into other options.
The music was intrinsic to the story and I had to think of another way to use the tracks. I contacted Dan (drummer) and asked if he had access to live tracks that had been recorded that didn’t have copyright. It turned out that he had lots of tracks available from various gigs over the years so we ended up using those. Having the audience noise actually added something. The extra ambiance gave it an additional energy which worked really well.
In the cutting room
Do you feel Who Do You Love has helped your career, and what will your next project be?
Yeah, the film’s helped me many ways. It has given me a lot more confidence as a producer/director and it is a calling card that I’m incredibly proud of.
It’s a film that a lot of people have thought had a large crew and a budget that was far more than it actually cost to produce. It was really the three of us that made the film in our spare time, around our day jobs and on an ultra-low budget. After completing the film I honestly didn’t want to go near a long-form project again. I was looking to do a music promo and was in preproduction to do a video for a local band which unfortunately didn’t work out. I had been looking for examples of Brutalist architecture and was on a tour of Birmingham City Library when it dawned on me how many great stories that place holds. The gentleman who was escorting us around spoke with such passion about the place that I was re-energised to make another documentary. It’s still at an embryonic stage but the ball’s rolling and I’m looking forward to it.
Good luck with that, Ben. And finally, where can people buy or view the film?
The film is available to buy at www.kingadora.com. The DVD contains the feature, full interviews with Steve Lamacq and John Cornfield and a vox pops feature.
I’ll be doing a digital release at some point too either via Vimeo Pay per View or Distrify.
Earlier this year I was hired to DP some promotional spots for Onstage in London. Onstage produces content for the web, hotel TV channels and the growing number of TVs in London taxi cabs, on the subject of West End theatre. The brief was to shoot interviews with actors and creatives against a white backdrop, to be intercut with EPK (Electronic Press Kit) footage of the shows or edited into montages like this one:
I’ve always been a bit wary of shooting against white screens. The danger can be that you have to pump in so much light to make the screen blow out on camera (meaning it turns to complete, uniform white) that the whole image becomes flat and you’re left with no shape to your talent’s face.
Further complicating matters was that, on the first day of shooting, we were travelling to the talent, rather than vice versa, so we were often setting up the backdrop, lights and camera in cramped dressing rooms.
Here is the set-up I came up with:
Yes, just one light. That one light does four things:
Its direct light blows out the white backdrop.
Its direct light through the diffuser serves as the talent’s key.
Its bounce light creates a little edging on the talent. (I initially set up a dedicated backlight, but found that this bounce was doing a better job. Besides, if you put in too much backlight the talent starts to blend into the white screen.)
The level of ambient light it created in the room served as fill. Sometimes there was too much fill, in which case I would have Colin hold up a black card near the talent’s down side (i.e. the side not lit by the key) to block some of the ambience and restore some shape and contrast to the image.
The next time we shot for this project we were in just one room, with significantly more space than we’d had before, so I plumped for a different set-up:
This time there was enough room to place the talent well away from the backdrop and light them separately. Two Arrilites blow out the backdrop while the fluorescent lamp serves as the talent’s key. Fill is provided by a reflector and a touch of edge light is serendipitously provided by spill from the cooling vents on the side of one Arrilite.
Has anyone else out there shot against a white screen recently? I’m interested to hear what your approach to lighting it was.
Business cards are exchanged at a prodigious rate in Cannes.
With Cannes approaching fast, here are some things you definitely shouldn’t leave out of your suitcase:
Comfy shoes. Because of the way the festival and market are laid out, you do a HELL of a lot of walking in Cannes. Yes, the festival has glamour after dark, but during the daytime you want your most comfortable walking shoes on. Even so, pack plasters too, because you will get blisters.
Sunglasses and sunblock. Most meetings take place on the sun-decks of the pavilions on the seafront. It’s a hard life in Cannes, it really is.
Business cards. Cannes is the biggest filmmakers’ networking event on the planet. You will collect a massive stack of business cards and you should be prepared to hand a lot out.
French phrase book. Although everyone speaks English at the festival, this may not be the case at your hotel, in restaurants, etc.
Materials. Take something to show people, be it a press kit, a one sheet, or the film itself on your smartphone. If it’s the latter, a pair of headphones and one sort of hood to keep glare off the screen are strongly advised. Again, most meetings will be in bright sunlight and with plenty of chatter going on around.
I’ve recently booked my flight and hotel for this year’s Cannes Film Festival and Market. This will be my fourth Cannes, and I’ve been trying to get the cost down every year. Here are my top five tips for saving cash on the Côte d’Azur:
Get free festival accreditation by applying as soon as registration opens (usually the start of February). Make sure your IMDb page is up-to-date to prove you’re active in the industry.
Book early to get the best hotel deals. Adam Hale tipped me off about an extremely cheap campsite with mobile homes – Parc Belle Vue – but it was already full by the time I decided I was going to Cannes this year.
Stay somewhere on a bus route (timetables and maps here). Relying on taxis can quickly destroy your budget, but the buses in the Cannes area are only one Euro for a single ticket and run until about midnight.
Slash your food and drink budget by living off canapés at parties and carrying a water bottle which you can continually refill from the cooler downstairs in the Palais des Festivals. If canapés don’t fill you up, Delices Yang on Rue Emile Negrin is cheap and cheerful if you can handle all the MSG.
Save around ten Euros each way by taking the train from Nice airport to Cannes, rather than the tourist-baiting 210 bus. Board the free airport shuttle bus, alight at L’Arénas and from there Nice St. Augustine railway station is just a five minute walk (map here).
I recently served as DP and postproduction supervisor on Fled, writer-director-producer Brendan O’Neill’s 2013 entry to the SciFi London 48hr Film Challenge. I asked him to share what he’s learnt from this and other film challenges he’s entered.
Brendan, this is not your first 48 hour film challenge. How many have you done before and what are the biggest things you learnt from them that you applied to this latest one?
Gillian Twaite in The Black Widow
I’ve done several now, 3 straight 48′s and 2 London Sci-Fi Society 48′s plus a time limited music video competition. My first ever film Black Widow was made for a local Birmingham competition called Film Dash in 2008. My second film What Goes Up Must Come Down was shot over a weekend for a non time limited competition run by Filmaka in the USA. I did a lot of ringing around and pre-production for this one as I wanted to really push the number of locations I could fit in. I found that by getting through to the right people, explaining who you are and what you want help with in a structured way can be very successful.
I made another 48 hour film Seconds Out for the same Film Dash competition in 2009 which placed 3rd out of 24 entries. I achieved some good production value by piggy backing a real event – a boxing contest held in a Birmingham hotel – with the help of the promoter who is also a local filmmaker.
The first really big production I put together was for Internalised – our first attempt at the London Sci-Fi Society’s 48 hour filmmaking competition in 2011. I spent 6 weeks pre-producing, location scouting, auditioning etc. and assembled a cast and crew of 50 to help us make the film. I also fed them all via an in-kind deal with local vegetarian catering company ChangeKitchen.
I suppose the first lesson I learnt on that was to not try to do it all on your own. The second being to be very careful who you take on board to help you and define clear roles and responsibilities for those involved. It can be difficult when you are working with volunteers but if you can convey the ambition and vision of what you are trying to do and have some previous track record then you can build feature size crews to help.
The shoot went very well but we were let down in post-production by not getting all the VFX/CGI we wanted into the competition version. You need to have your VFX/CGI team in the same place as your editors as it’s asking too much to render and then transmit the large files involved from remote locations when time is at a premium.
Our second attempt at the London Sci-Fi society 48 hour competition in 2012 was a World War II themed film called Around Again. We were looking for unusual locations with built-in production value and had identified a Midlands WWII era tunnel complex as a good location. We then found out that the person who controlled access to the tunnels also owned an extensive WWII costume wardrobe that had been used on Atonement and Band of Brothers so we dropped the tunnels location idea and went for battle/bunker scenes. The production value that all the great uniforms and replica / decommissioned firearms gave us was superb.
We were also very fortunate that our friend with the costume wardrobe Craig Leonard and his pyrotechnics colleague Matt Harley of Trinity VFX knew lots of German army / SS re-enactors who were more than happy to appear in the film. It shows the value of networking and being pro-active as that one contact expanded in all sorts of interesting ways to help us make a great looking film. I’m still reaping the benefits as Matt supplied the SWAT team outfits and arms for Fled as well as the GCHQ-esque second main location.
We were very surprised that the film didn’t shortlist but I think as producer if we’d had more clearly defined sci-fi elements in it then that would have helped.
Moving on to Fled, how much work had you put into writing and producing it before the challenge began on 10am on Saturday?
I spent about 6 weeks in pre-production. I hadn’t directed for a while so the first thing I did was do a smaller 48 hour competition which was running as part of the Stoke Your Fires festival.
[The next thing] I did was launch a crowd funding campaign via Indiegogo. I raised about £850 after fees so it helped a lot but it was a very labour intensive way of doing it with limited results. I didn’t have any donors who weren’t already linked to me in some way – mostly through Facebook.
Fortunately an established writer who I’d met twice at the Screenwriters Festival helped me a lot with an early and substantial individual donation. I think he likes my DIY attitude to getting films made. The previous year I also received a substantial donation via a Twitter relationship I had developed so it demonstrates that both traditional and social media based networking can’t be ignored.
Once the Indiegogo campaign was out of the way I worked on getting everything together. I had hoped for some substantial co-producer support but this didn’t really happen and the fact that I had to produce it nearly all myself definitely affected the amount of time I was able to spend on developing the script with my pal Dominic Carver as script editor. That said certain people such as Ella Carman, Matt Harley and stand in make-up artist Kerris Charles helped restore my battered faith in people.
The cast and crew of Fled
I was surprised at how large the crew was (around 20). Do many hands make light work on a time-pressured project like this? Was there a degree of over-crewing in case some people didn’t turn up?
I’ve been on shoots where I haven’t had enough production assistants and runner/drivers so I tend to have some over-capacity just in case. The nature of the competition also means that it’s better to have more people to help in case the criteria you are given by the organisers are particularly difficult to handle. You are given a title, a line of dialogue and a prop/action by the organizers on the morning of the competition.
Although I did have some crew drop out prior to the competition I was able to replace them. My regular sound person dropped out with a foot injury so it was fortunate that Nicola Dale who was going to be post sound runner assisting Matt Katz and Joe Harper on the Sunday was able to step up to the mark and deliver great production sound with the help of Chantal Feliu Gurri on boom. Fortunately I’d met Nicola at a networking event a few weeks earlier and offered her the chance to come and work with some more experienced talent.
I do wish I had had some actor back-up however as someone dropped out on the Sunday morning pleading illness. It’s difficult to ask actors to turn up unpaid for what might only be extra type roles in a 5 minute film but it’s also VERY damaging when those who say they’ll do it drop out at short notice. It was especially galling as I’d written a role especially for this young man.
The consequence was that I had to bump someone who was only meant to be an extra into a role with lines which in my opinion definitely affected the quality of the film. For me Quality is King – with so many people having access to great technology you really have to try to ensure production values are as high as possible across the board in order to make your film stand out.
How did you approach integrating the challenge criteria (line of dialogue, prop and optional theme) into the film?
I try to build mechanisms into the script to deal with those things i.e. the wireless in the bunker scene in Around Again. That was there to help us field any difficult lines of dialogue we were given. Unfortunately last year we were given a very modern day line about the SEIS investment scheme so it was a bit clunky which is ironic given that it is a scheme that can help filmmakers raise finance!
We were lucky in that the criteria [this year] were very easy to integrate into the script.
Prop: A key. A single key is put on a key ring with three near identical keys.
Roger the Controller
The initial idea was that [the entity] was an alien civilization that had had to flee some dying star millennia ago and had lain dormant on Mars until the first manned landings. This fitted the FLED title well. The key scene in the church echoes this when you can just make out the ethereal voices saying, “We can’t go back, we can’t go back.”
I was able to fit in the compulsory dialogue line as part of the NASA controllers trying to contact the Mars Explorer. The key on to keyring action/prop was easy and was the same one we got last year!
What was the schedule for the 48 hours in terms of when you started and finished filming, when the edit was locked, etc.?
At 10.00am DoP Neil Oseman and his gaffer Colin Smith went to the church location to pre-light and set up ready for filming whilst I awaited the criteria from the organisers. That way we could hit the ground running once we had a script finalized. The criteria arrived by text at about 11.15.
Filming at “GCHQ”
Fortunately the criteria given were very easy to integrate into my script so I arrived on set around 12.30 – 13.00 having picked up the VFX team at their hotel on the way. We needed to shoot the scenes they needed first in order to give them as much time as possible to work their magic.
I had planned to try and finish by 8pm so that the crew would be reasonably fresh for an early start the next day. I think we finished at around 21.15 and had a quick drink together before heading home. The next day we were all on set for 8.00am and set up for the first scenes quickly. I intended for us to finish around 2pm but there was a bit of creep to 3pm even though we trimmed and dropped some non essential scenes on the way. At both locations Neil and his regular gaffer Colin Smith, who was well assisted by Jay Somerville, did a brilliant job with the lighting.
Any plans to take part in future 48 hour challenges?
No. I don’t think so. I think I’ve done enough of them now. I want to either do some really high quality, well planned and developed festival oriented shorts or hopefully a first feature. I think 48 hour contests are a good discipline for young or emerging filmmakers as it gives you a focus and stress tests some of the relationships you might be developing. All a bit frantic but I’ve learnt a lot from them and come out a stronger and hopefully better filmmaker.
I think for this year’s contest just doing one high production value location per day and insisting that the VFX team were at the same post-production site as the edit team really made a difference. I was really fortunate to have really strong post-production edit and sound team and a great composer in Hans Hess who was at the ready to do the score. Hopefully people can see the difference those elements made in the quality of the competition version of the film.
Lastly I couldn’t have done it without Neil Oseman and a great international team of volunteer cast and crew. I hope that I’ll be able to work with them all again at some point. I’d particularly like to thank “King of the Indies” actor Michael Parle who came all the way from Ireland.
Kes (1969. dir. Ken Loach) - photographed by Chris Menges
Aside from a screening of Stop/Eject’s trailer, my involvement in this year’s festival was purely spectatorial. And although I normally avoid reviewing films on this site, I’m going to make an exception and say a few words about each of the events and screenings I’ve seen at Borderlines 2013. I should point out that Borderlines isn’t a film festival in the normal sense of the term; rather than inviting submissions of unreleased work, the organisers choose the best films released in the last twelve months along with some classics.
Chris Menges in Conversation
Chris is the Herefordshire-born director of photography behind Kes, The Reader, Notes on a Scandal, The Killing Fields and many others. I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t seen a single one of his films, but I was still keen to attend to further my understanding of the art of cinematography. In this respect I was slightly disappointed, as time constraints and a quite understandable desire not to bore what was largely a lay audience meant that there was little opportunity for Chris to get into the nitty-gritty of his approach to lighting. That being said, there were one or two useful gems and I came away with a general impression of an extremely modest man with a profound respect for the fragility of natural light and a gentle touch in moulding it.
Sightseers (2012, dir. Ben Wheatley)
Directed by Ben Wheatley (The Kill List) and starring Alice Lowe (Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place), Sightseers is a black comedy about a woman who escapes her overbearing mother to go on a caravanning holiday with her closet pscyhopath of a boyfriend (Steve Oram). The boyfriend promptly begins murdering people at the slightest provocation (e.g. littering) and Lowe soon joins in in an attempt to impress him. While not the kind of film I’d normally choose to see, I’d heard good things about it and, sure enough, it was great fun. Lowe and Oram, who also wrote the script, give brilliantly judged comic performances in a film which soundly lampoons the stereotypical British holiday (rain, crap caravans, even crapper tourist attractions). Heartily recommended.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012, dir. David O. Russell)
Silver Linings Playbook
Winning Best Actress for Jennifer Lawrence at the Academy Awards and Best Adapted Screenplay for David O. Russell (who also directs) at the Baftas, Silver Linings Playbook has certainly been much talked about in recent weeks. I was surprised to find the film is really just a formulaic romantic comedy, albeit one that starts off in darker territory than most. Bradley Cooper plays a manic depressive just out of a psychiatric hospital who strikes up a relationship with Lawrence’s recently widowed character after she tells him she can get a letter to his estranged wife. In return, Cooper must learn to dance so he can partner with Lawrence in an upcoming contest. Silver Linings Playbook is solidly acted by both the leads and the great supporting cast, which includes Chris Tucker and Robert de Niro. It’s also consistently funny throughout, but like many romcoms it sheds its unique elements as it enter its third act – forgetting the mental health issues of its lead characters – in order to play out the same old clichés. This is particularly disappointing from such a lauded film, but depsite this flaw I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.
Blackmail (1929, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
Although not a particular fan of Hitchcock, I was keen to see Blackmail – one of the portly auteur’s silent films – because it was a unique opportunity to see a movie with live musical accompaniment. This came courtesy of Stephen Horne, a master of the art – so much so that he somehow played the flute and the piano simultaneously at a couple of points. What staggered me was the revelation that there was no score; the music was entirely improvised. As for the film itself, it had been digitally remastered to such a high quality that I sometimes forgot that I was watching a movie over 80 years old – often only the captioned dialogue, under-cranked gaits and occasional clunky pacing gave it away. The cinematography was beautiful, with some typically inventive camera moves from Hitchcock and a lot of charming humour which held the attention despite a very slight plot (detective’s girlfriend commits murder in self-defence and tries to escape the law). All in all, this screening was an enriching experience and it was very gratifying to see the accompanist’s amazing art kept alive and kicking.
A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman
A Liar's Autobiography (2012, dir. Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson & Ben Timlett)
Best known as the dead one from Monty Python, Graham Chapman succumbed to cancer in 1989, but not before writing his autobiography and recording it as an audiobook. That recording forms the spine of this film, as Chapman narrates his (alleged) life story from beyond the grave while fourteen different animation houses provide the visuals. While not a Monty Python film, there are many common traits – surreality, silliness, rudeness and the vocal talents of messrs. Jones, Gilliam, Palin and Cleese (but not Idle). In a non sequitur worthy of Monty Python, Cameron Diaz cameos as the voice of Sigmund Freud. And like much of the Pythons’ work, A Liar’s Autobiography is never quite as funny as you hoped it would be. This fact, coupled with a highly episodic narrative, meant the film was just starting to outstay its welcome when it wrapped up and ended. Nevertheless, it’s a delightfully creative film and one which seems a fitting tribute to a man who was not the messiah, but was definitely a very naughty boy.
Men Can't Make Beds (2013, dir. David Jones)
Herefordshire Media Network
The network presented five pieces by its members: four short films and the trailer for Stop/Eject. The first short was Injured Birds, a gentle tale of an 11-year-old boy’s search for adventures in a rural town during the summer holidays. This was the second time I’d seen it, and I again enjoyed its charm, warmth and humour. Two short films directed by Rachel Lambert for The Rural Media Company were screened, both made on a participatory basis with people living in sheltered housing. Getting Close was a low-key drama highlighting some of the issues faced by the participants, while A Letter Every Day took the form of an oral history in which an elderly lady recounted her brief marriage to a man who was tragically killed in the second world war. This latter was an engaging story and cleverly illustrated with tableaux of miniature figurines found by the camera amongst the ornaments of the lady’s living room. But the highlight of the evening for me was Men Can’t Make Beds, a live action slapstick comedy in the vein of Tex Avery cartoons. Directed by David Jones of Wind-up World Films, the film made great use of a delightfully rubber-faced lead actor (Lawrence Russell) and exaggerated music and sound design to produce five minutes of wonderful silliness.
Side by Side (2012, dir. Christopher Kenneally)
Side by Side
Keanu Reeves produces and interviews for this documentary about the transition from photochemical to digital technology, not just in capturing motion picture images but in editing them, manipulating them for visual effects, exhibiting them and archiving them. Views are canvassed from some of the biggest names in the business: George Lucas, who drove much of the change, James Cameron, a staunch supporter of digital 3D filmmaking, Christopher Nolan, one of the few directors still shooting on film and physically cutting his negative, and many others. Sadly, the film doesn’t let any of these filmmakers go into great depth, instead giving a history of the last twenty years’ technical upheavals, with which most viewers (if they’re interested enough to see Side by Side in the first place) will already be familiar. So while containing a few telling nuggets (such as several DPs bemoaning the lack of mystique and power they now wield when everyone can see the images they’re capturing immediately on set), this documentary overall has the feel of a slightly overlong DVD bonus feature.
Thanks to the team at Borderlines for a great festival.
I have to share this amazing short film I discovered recently thanks to nofilmschool.com. HENRi is a 20 minute crowd-funded sci-fi movie about a computer that builds a robot body for itself and tries to become human. It stars Margot Kidder (best known as Lois Lane in the original Superman movies) and Keir Dullea, who flips his famous role as David Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey to play the titular computer. But the human characters are only a small part of this film. Shot on beautiful quarter-scale sets, the real star is the HENRi robot, realised through a combination of rod puppetry and first rate CGI. Trust me, this is one of the most unique and awesome shorts you will ever see and well worth every penny of the £1.19 rental fee.
It was ditched after test audiences responded poorly to it. They had invested in the film’s villain throughout the movie and they felt cheated to see him turn into a CGI blobby thing for the final battle. The filmmakers cut the scene and replaced it with a sword duel between Blade and the baddie in human form.
This highlights CGI’s chief difficulty – it’s unreality. There is something disappointing about being served up an image that has been created with ones and zeros. It feels like a cheat. And that can take an audience out of the story.
In contrast to CGI, model shots tend to look more realistic but move less realistically, due to the unavoidable physics involved. But there can often be a charm to this motion that allows us to forgive it. Indeed, I think the best reason to use traditional effects today is when you want things to look unreal in a very appealing way. Take for example Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, which used forced perspective and painted backdrops to create a beautiful fantasy world. Or The Life Aquatic’s stop motion marine creatures…. except that the animation was so good they looked real.
Some other advantages of traditional techniques over CGI:
Some techniques, like puppetry, can be achieved in camera, giving the actors something real to react to.
All the randomness of nature is automatically built in.
Effects like fire and water are theoretically easier, though in practice can be difficult to control and to scale correctly.
Today’s audiences are used to CGI and can generally recognise it, but model shots are perhaps more likely to fool them.
In writing this post I’ve realised how CGI has advanced even in the few years since I stopped actively developing The Dark Side of the Earth (an ambitious fantasy feature intended to include stop motion, puppetry, miniatures and matte paintings).
Almost no-one today is still shooting miniatures without enhancing them digitally. Savvy filmmakers like Peter Jackson, Duncan Jones and Sam Mendes combine models and CGI to get the best of both worlds. It seems traditional techniques alone can really only be used now as a deliberate stylistic choice. That saddens me. I’d be delighted if anyone can prove me wrong.
If anyone out there is contemplating using miniatures in their indie film, here are some tips…