Goodbye 2016

2016 has not been the best of years, at least not according to the sinister algorithms that run my Facebook feed. The year has been kinder to me than it has been to seventies and eighties celebrities, however.

Ren: The Girl with the Mark, the short-form fantasy action series I photographed in 2014 and spent parts of 2015 postproduction supervising on, met with great success in 2016. The series was released on YouTube in March, and episode one has to date had over 100,000 views, with overwhelmingly positive feedback.

Alongside the series, I released Lensing Ren, a set of companion videos that broke down the lighting design and other cinematography choices in each episode. I thought it would be interesting to make frame grabs part of the lighting diagrams, so you can really see the effect of each lamp. It’s an idea that I’ve carried through to my Instagram feed, so if you’re the kind of person who often looks at a shot and wonders, “How was that lit?” then be sure to follow me and find out.

We’ve lost track of how many awards nominations Ren: The Girl with the Mark has received at festivals this year, but the tally of wins stands at a dozen, including four Best Series and Grand Jury Awards. And although a trio of nominations for Best Cinematography didn’t yield me a win, Ren has already been selected for several 2017 festivals, so there will be plenty more chances!

2016 did supply me with my first ever Best Cinematography award though, courtesy of  the Festigious International Film Festival and Sophie Black’s short film Night Owls. This was one of three awards which Night Owls collected this year. And two other shorts I photographed have scooped awards during the year: race drama Exile Incessant, and supernatural drama Crossing Paths. Congratulations to everyone who helped make all these projects such a success.

As regards new productions, my 2016 was dominated by two feature films: family fantasy The Little Mermaid, and comedy road movie Above the Clouds. You can already read my daily blogs about the latter film, and I hope to publish plenty of content about the cinematography of the former film when it’s released next year.

The Little Mermaid was the perfect follow-up to last year’s Heretiks, going from my first six-figure-budget film to my first seven-figure-budget film. It also gave me the opportunity to light and shoot Oscar-winner and Hollywood royalty Shirley MacLaine, film in an incredible 1930s circus, go swimming with an Alexa, and gate-crash Baywatch‘s wrap party. There were tremendous challenges and lessons to be learnt along the way, and I came out stronger, far more experienced and eagerly anticipating the release of what should be a really magical family film.

I also got to work on my first eight-figure-budget movie this summer, although I only did two days as pick-ups DP, recreating the lighting and camerawork of the extremely experienced cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe, which was very instructional. Again, I hope to post a blog about that when The Etruscan Smile is released.

Meanwhile I have continued, as ever, to both acquire and share knowledge of the craft of cinematography. For example, in September I attended Cinefest, Bristol’s International Festival of Cinematography, while the same month I published a series of posts covering all the main types of lighting unit currently available. I learnt quite a bit while researching those posts, and hopefully readers got a lot out of them too.

And in that vein I’ll be releasing a new YouTube programme in January 2017. Lighting I Like is a 6 x 3 minutes series that aims to raise awareness of the contribution which cinematography makes to a film or TV show, while educating aspiring DPs about the hows and whys of lighting design. Each week I’ll look at a scene I’ve picked from a major movie or series, explaining what makes the lighting so good and how I think it was achieved. Simple as that!

Lighting I Like will be released on Wednesdays starting January 4th, with the first episode discussing a scene from the Netflix series Daredevil. Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel so you don’t miss it.

And with that I will sign off for 2016. Enjoy your new year celebrations, and I wish you all the very best in 2017.

Goodbye 2016

Stop/Eject Festival Results

se-festivalsLast year I blogged about how one of my films, The One That Got Away, fared at film festivals. I promised to do the same with Stop/Eject…. well… better late than never!

To recap The One That Got Away’s results, at a total cost of £71 I entered this three minute puppet film – which cost almost nothing to make – into 36 festivals, choosing mostly those with no entry fee, just middleman costs. It was accepted into just two.

Stop/Eject was a bigger production, though still a DSLR short with an entirely unpaid cast and crew. It was financed by two crowd-funding campaigns, one in preproduction and one in post, which raised around £4,200. Although the second campaign’s budget included money towards festival entries, we later opted to run a third campaign from which we raised another £600 for additional submissions.

I had decided early on that I wanted to go all-out for festivals with Stop/Eject, entering all the top tier ones and then a number of smaller events too. The British Council has a list of ‘key’ festivals (you can apply to the Council for travel funding if your film gets into one of them), and it’s also worth checking out the lists of Bafta- and Oscar-qualifying festivals.

Over a two-year period, producer Sophie Black and I submitted Stop/Eject to 47 festivals, at a total cost of £772. Some submissions were direct, but most were via platforms like Withoutabox, Shortfilmdepot and Reelport. Wherever possible we sent online screeners, but some festivals only accepted physical DVDs or Blu-rays, so the £772 includes postage costs, but not duplication; see my breakdown of the film’s post budget for that info. With the exception of Aspen, we always entered before the Early Bird deadlines so as to pay the lowest fee and have the greatest chances of being programmed, because festivals do not wait until the final deadline to start filling up their screening slots. The most expensive entry was Berlin at £45 (€50), but at the other end of the scale a few festivals, like Torino, were free.

Our first official selection, Raindance, came almost a year after we had started submitting. Full disclosure: our exec producer has worked for Raindance and put in a good word for us. Nonetheless, we were delighted and we hoped that screening at a top tier, Bafta-qualifying festival would bring us to the attention of festival programmers around the world and lead to at least a few invitations and further selections.

But it was not to be. Another year of rejections followed, by which time we had run out of top tier festivals to enter and moved down to smaller ones which had piqued our interest for various reasons, or been recommended to us.

We were eventually selected for six more festivals: Fargo Fantastic Film Festival, Southampton International Film Festival, the Underground Film Festival in Corke, the Short Cinema Festival in Leicester, Worcestershire Film Festival, and Beeston Film Festival. We were nominated for awards at three of these events, and ultimately won Best Drama Short at the Underground Film Festival.

If you’re keen to know all the details, I’ve put together a spreadsheet of all the submissions we made, the costs of entry, middleman fees, and results. Download it here.

Were those seven official selections worth the £772? Effectively we paid for seven screenings at £110 a pop. Or to look at it another way, we paid for seven laurels for our poster at £110 a pop.

With producer Sophie Black and co-writer Tommy Draper at the Short Cinema Festival
With producer Sophie Black and co-writer Tommy Draper at the Short Cinema Festival

Many have posited that the whole film festival circuit is a con, that festivals have become gatekeepers in the way that studios and agents once were – check out this very interesting article. At the very least, I do think the odds of submitting cold to a top tier festival and getting in are astronomically low.

One interesting little side effect was that, thanks to our Raindance selection, we were able to submit Stop/Eject for Bafta’s Short Film Award. We made the long-list for the award, meaning that we were one of fifteen films from which the five nominations were chosen. To be honest I’m a little relieved we didn’t get nominated, because then I might have felt obliged to use the exposure to push my directing career, rather than focusing on the cinematography career which I’m so much happier in now.

Finally, if you haven’t seen Stop/Eject and want to judge its festival-worthiness for yourself, here it is…

Click here to view more Stop/Eject-related posts.

Stop/Eject Festival Results

The One That Got Away: Festival Results

In 2013 Katie Lake and I made a little puppet film for the Virgin Media Shorts competition, called The One That Got Away. Although it failed to make the shortlist, I believed it had legs, so I started entering it into festivals. Today I’m going to talk about how it fared. A little later in the year I’ll do the same thing for my other 2013 short, Stop/Eject, and between the two posts I hope to help you answer the question, “Is it worth entering my film into festivals?”

To start with, here’s the film.

It cost next to nothing to make, so I decided to enter it only into festivals that had no entry fee. I created accounts on the festival submission platforms Short Film Depot and Reel Port. Both sites have systems whereby you purchase credits (known on Short Film Depot as ‘reels’ and on Reel Port as ‘stamps’), which you can then use to pay for submissions. As far as I know, this payment is purely a middleman fee and doesn’t go to the festivals themselves. Both sites allow you to upload your film, which is then sent automatically with your submissions.

The_One_That_Got_Away_ posterShort Film Depot allows you to upload your first film for free, with subsequent uploads costing 3 reels (€3 – currently about £2.15). Each festival submission costs 2 reels(€2 – about £1.45).

Reel Port is free to upload your film to. Each festival submission costs one stamp. Stamps are priced on a sliding scale: buy just one and it will cost you €3 (£2.15), whereas a book of 5 is €12.50 (£9), a book of 20 is €39 (£28) and a book of 50 is €75 (£54). So if you buy in big bulk, you could pay as little as £1.08 per submission, plus currency exchange fees. More likely, you’ll end up with leftover stamps you never use!

I entered The One That Got Away into 36 festivals over the course of about 18 months: 23 entries on Reel Port, 12 on Short Film Depot, and one directly to the Worcestershire Film Festival (which was completely free).

The total cost was €98.95, or about £71 plus currency exchange fees – that’s about twice the film’s budget! I should point out that I made one exception to the ‘no entry fee’ rule: that total cost includes €12.50 I spent on entering the film into Encounters. This was a discount rate because I was entering Stop/Eject at the same time. Why did I pay for Encounters? Because of their Depict Competition (which The One That Got Away didn’t actually qualify for, being over 90 seconds) they seemed to be associated with very short films, and with hand-made animation-type films. Plus I knew the festival director from doing FilmWorks.

How many of those 36 festivals did the film get into?

Two. Worcestershire Film Festival, and Belo Horizonte International Short Film Festival in Brazil. Belo Horizonte’s notification email told me that The One That Got Away “was one of the 12 selected for the Children’s Exhibition, among 2,700 subscribers.” That gives you an idea of the kind of odds you’re up against with a festival submission. Suddenly 2 out of 36 doesn’t seem so bad.

Shooting The One That Got Away. A row of 100W bulbs can be seen on the right.
Behind the scenes of The One That Got Away

I have great admiration for what the guys at Worcestershire Film Festival are doing, and it was really great to go along and see the film with an audience, but at the moment it’s quite a new and low-key festival. For all I know, the same is true of Belo Horizonte, though I wasn’t about to fly to Brazil to find out. (They were not offering to pay my travel.) I’d estimate a total audience reach of about 100-150 people for those two screenings. Less, I would guess, than it’s had online. And apart from a little bit of buzz amongst my social media network generated by the announcement of these festival selections, there have been no other benefits.

I leave you to decide for yourself whether you think it was worth all those entries and the cost of £71. A full list of festivals entered follows.

Look out for my future post on Stop/Eject’s festival entries. Since that film was crowd-funded, we were able to take a very different approach and enter a lot of top tier festivals, so it will be an interesting comparison.

The One That Got Away submissions via Reel Port:

  • Anibar International Animation Festival, Republic of Kosova
  • 12th International Festival Signes de Nuit,  France
  • Kinodot Online Festival of Creatibe Short Film, Russian Federation
  • The International Bosphorous Film Festival, Turkey
  • Exground Filmfest, Germany
  • Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival, UK
  • 9th International Short Film Festival, Lithuania
  • Cinefiesta, Puerto Rico
  • Mobile SIFF – Shanghai International Film Festival, China
  • Odense International Film Festival, Denmark
  • Concorto Film Festival, Italy
  • 20min|max, Germany

Submissions via Short Film Depot:

  • Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia
  • International Short Film Week, Regensburg
  • Seoil International Extreme-short Image & Film Festival
  • Curocircuito – Santiago de Compostela International Short Film Festival
  • Tehran International Short Film Festival
  • Kaohsiung Film Festival
  • Asiana International Short Film Festival
  • Bogota Short Film Festival
  • Belo Horizonte International Short Film Festival (accepted)
  • Kuku International Short Film Festival for Children and Youth, Berlin
  • Off-courts Trouville
  • Uppsala International Short Film Festival
  • Shnit International Short Film Festival
  • Manlleu Short Film Festival
  • Sapporo International Short Film Festival & Market
  • Sao Paulo International Short Film Festival
  • Seicicorto International Film Festival Forli
  • Festival Silhouette
  • China International New Media Shorts Festival
  • Plein la Bobine
  • Corti da Sogni Antonio Ricci – International Short Film Festival
  • FEC Festival – European Short Film Festival
  • Mecal Barcelona International Short Film and Animation Festival

Direct submissions:

  • Worcestershire Film Festival (accepted)

 

The One That Got Away: Festival Results

Festival Screenings and DCPs

Stop-Eject poster 857x1200Last summer I completed two short films as director, the 17-minute fantasy-drama Stop/Eject and the two-minute  puppet fantasy The One That Got Away. After a year of entering them into festivals around the world without getting anywhere, I was beginning to give up hope of them ever getting selected. But I’m delighted to say that both have been recently accepted for festivals taking place this month.

Stop/Eject will get its world premiere at Raindance Film Festival in London. Raindance is amongst the UK’s most prestigious festivals, counting amongst its previous premieres Memento and The Blair Witch Project.

The One That Got Away will get its first overseas screening at Belo Horizonte International Short Film Festival in Brazil.

The welcome news of these festival selections had me scrambling into the archives of this blog for the post I wrote last year on making a DCP (digital cinema package). Since the decline of film as an exhibition format, DCPs are the new standard for delivering movies to a cinema.

I needed to transcode The One That Got Away’s 1080P ProRes 422 (HQ) master into a DCP. Belo Horizonte accept 25fps DCPs, so I skipped the frame rate conversion. I dropped the ProRes file into a new timeline in Final Cut Pro and set the sequence frame size to 1998×1080, the standard resolution for a non-Cinemascope 2K DCP. I then used the Motion tab to blow up the image slightly to fill the width of the frame, losing a little at the top and bottom of the image in the process.

The_One_That_Got_Away_ posterI used Final Cut Pro’s ‘Export using Quicktime conversion’ to export the ProRes file as two mono WAVs and an 8-bit TIFF sequence. (16-bit is preferable for DCPs, but the film had been edited in Final Cut 7, which only deals with 8-bit colour space.) I then followed OpenDCP‘s straightforward three-step interface to transcode to JPEG-2000, then MXF, then wrap it all up with the XML files. I didn’t need to worry about disc formatting, because the festival accepted an FTP upload of the files.

Before uploading The One That Got Away’s DCP to the festival, I decided to test it at home as best as I could, so I downloaded a free trial of EasyDCP which let me check the first 15 seconds. The colours were screwed up, but that’s normal. Home computers can’t handle the XYZ colour space of DCPs.

Stop/Eject’s DCP was created last year, as documented in the post mentioned above, Making a DCP. I purchased a 500GB Lacie Rugged USB hard drive to put it on, not knowing at the time how big the files would be. I now know that 2K DCPs at a reasonable quality are about 1GB per minute, so Stop/Eject’s is 17GB. A memory stick big enough to put that on would have been expensive last June, perhaps more expensive than the Lacie Rugged. But over a year later, a Corsair 32GB USB 3.0 stick is only £15.45 and there are even cheaper brands on the market too. Plus, of course, a stick is much easier to post to a festival than a hard drive, and far less likely to get damaged on the way.

So I bought the Corsair stick and booted up my Mac in Ubuntu, as detailed in last year’s post. I formatted the stick as EXT-2 rather than 3, as Raindance’s documentation seemed to favour the former. I copied the files across from the Lacie Rugged. Then it was just a case of packaging it up and sending it off with back-up copies on DVD and Blu-ray, and a press kit for good measure.

Incidentally, Stop/Eject’s DCP runs at 24fps for maximum compatibility, extending the running time of the film by about 45 seconds over the original 25fps version. I had wondered for some time if, when the film finally got into a festival, this longer running time would be an issue. After all, at nearly 17 minutes at 25fps, Stop/Eject is quite a long short already. I’m told that Raindance almost decided against selecting it because of its length. And the judging panel had been watching a 25fps screener. How would they feel about screening an even longer version? I contacted the festival, explaining the situation and offering to make a 25fps DCP if need be, but they were fine with it running at 24fps. Apparently they allow for runtime discrepancy when scheduling.

Well, that all got very dry and technical, didn’t it?

Hurray! My films got into festivals!

Festival Screenings and DCPs

Stop/Eject Available to Buy from Sunday

DVDs & Blu-rays
Stop/Eject DVDs & Blu-rays are available from Sunday March 30th

Since completing the magical and moving fantasy-drama Stop/Eject last year, a number of people have contacted me asking where they can see the film or how they can buy a copy. Great news – from this Sunday, for two weeks only, a limited number of DVD and Blu-ray copies of Stop/Eject will be available to buy. Both discs are loaded with extra features including a 30 minute behind-the-scenes documentary, cast and crew commentaries, and deleted scenes. You’ll also be able to “rent” the film for online streaming.

Praise for Stop/Eject….

‘Sherrington steals the show with an emotional performance of the highest merit. Well-written, well-executed, and a genuine pleasure to watch.’ – The London Film Review

‘It’s rare to see such love towards a heroine, consideration for her pain, honesty and respect towards a short film’s audience. A charming, fairytale-like film with a gentle, sad, but noteworthy message.’ – Unsung Films

‘A very strong, powerful film… A great emotional performance by Georgina Sherrington.’ – The Final Cut

To get your copy, just vist the official website at stopejectmovie.com from Sunday onwards.

Stop/Eject Available to Buy from Sunday

Borderlines 2014 Review

Hereford’s Borderlines Film Festival draws to a close for another year, and once again I’m going to temporarily turn film critic and say a few words about the screenings I caught.

Joaquin Phoenix in Her
Joaquin Phoenix in Her

Her

Spike Jonze’s latest film puts a sci-fi twist on the romantic genre to produce a love story in which one half of the couple exists only as a voiceover. Joaquin Phoenix plays the improbably-named Theodore Twombly, a soon-to-be divorcé who falls in love with his artificially intelligent operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. The big surprise here for me was the humour. Numerous comedy moments were derived from the application of relationship tropes to the unusual man-machine pairing. But in a near-future world which feels incredibly close to the present day, with our tablet and smart phone obsessions, our online dating, our social media – human relationships bridged (or barricaded?) at every turn by technology – the premise of Her felt entirely plausible, perhaps even inevitable. The film has emotional resonance too,  played out as it is in intimate close-ups with very genuine performances. And I must tip my hat to costume designer Casey Storm who, faced with the classic sci-fi challenge of how to make futuristic fashion seem believable, decided perversely that in the future, young people would dress like the elderly do today, trousers halfway up to their armpits and all – brilliant!

Robert Redford in All is Lost
Robert Redford in All is Lost

All is Lost

In this almost dialogue-free feature from director J.C. Chandor, Robert Redford plays a solo sailor who battles to survive after his small yacht is damaged in the Indian Ocean by a collision and a storm. All is Lost has a lot in common with Alfonso Cuarón’s brilliant Gravity: both are extremely immersive tales of a single person alone against the elements (or lack thereof). At the end of both films you feel as if you have lived through those experiences yourself. And just as Gravity has been criticised by physicists and astronauts for alleged inaccuracies, so All is Lost was ripped to shreds in the post-screening Q&A by the many sailors in attendance, despite most of them apparently appreciating its entertainment value. Both films also tackled the big themes of life and death, both employing womb-like imagery in the process, Gravity’s with Sandra Bullock floating foetally in an airlock, and All is Lost’s with Redford curled up in the amniotic coccoon of his life raft. Where the films differ is in pace, however. Whereas Gravity was tense and action-packed throughout, All is Lost has more meditative sequences, during which I often found myself day-dreaming. But in a strange way, that made the experience all the more realistic, as the events continued to unfold in what felt like (but wasn’t at all) real time and I picked them up a little further on. So not a film I would watch over and over again, but definitely worth seeing once for the experience.

Computer Chess

Patrick Riester in Computer Chess
Patrick Riester in Computer Chess

If the characters from The Big Bang Theory made a film, this is the film they would make. Nothing could be nerdier than this eighties-set tale of the rivalries in a computer chess tournament, shot in 4:3 B&W on a genuine period video camera. As if to establish once and for all that there will be nothing slick about this film, an early tracking shot ends with the camera jolting as the dolly comes off the rails. The relationship with technology is a deliberately blurred one throughout the film, with the style crossing over into “found footage” territory at times, constantly reminding us of the clunky electronic medium we’re experiencing it through, while the narrative has computers displaying flashes of humanity – and vice versa. There is a vague story arc about one character rebelling against the nerdy restraint of it all, but the overall effect is of watching a time capsule, albeit a forged one. Computer Chess is an oddity, certainly, but one punctuated by some great comedic moments and saturated in nostalgia for those of us who once dabbled in the dark art of eight-bit programming.

Felicity Jones in The Invisible Woman
Felicity Jones in The Invisible Woman

The Invisible Woman

Ralph Fiennes directs himself and the up-and-coming Felicity Jones (Georgina Sherrington’s erstwhile Worst Witch co-star) in this biopic about Charles Dickens’ affair with young actress Nelly Ternan. Adapted from Claire Tomalin’s biography, the script is written by Abi Morgan, creator of the brilliant BBC 2 drama The Hour. Slow and subtle throughout much of its running time, The Invisible Woman holds the attention with a compelling performance from Jones, and beautifully understated cinematography. DP Rob Hardy consistently short-sides his subjects, giving the impression that they are all looking out towards something they can’t quite reach. Restraint is the keyword here, and while Fiennes has spoken of the conscious efforts he made to show that there were real flesh-and-blood people beneath the period’s restrictive costumes, the restrictions of society weigh heavily throughout. Just like much of Victorian literature, the film hints obliquely at scandal and impropriety without ever making it explicit. Unfortunately the result is that you come away from the film unsure as to why Dickens’ marriage wasn’t working, why he pushed his wife aside so cruelly, and what Ternan’s real feelings were for him; did she love him, or was she merely star-struck? The Invisible Woman is very watchable, then, but not satisfying.

John Goodman, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Bob Balaban and Bill Murray in The Monuments Men
John Goodman, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Bob Balaban and Bill Murray in The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men

George Clooney directs, co-writes and stars in this faintly Dad’s Army-esque true story of a team of clapped-out soldiers tasked with recovering great works of art stolen by the Nazis. Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, talented character actor Bob Balaban, Downton Abbey resident Hugh Bonneville and The Artist’s Jean Dujardin make up the rest of the team, aided by a resistance spy played by Cate Blanchett. The challenge for Clooney was to make us care about the Monument Men’s mission to save paintings and statues, when men are dying every day for their countries. He achieves this by making us care for the characters – all curators and art historians – and thus share their love for art. Where many Hollywood scripts would have shoe-horned conflict into the team’s relationships, this film avoids such crassness, allowing the characters to all respect each other, but nonetheless banter humourously throughout. A joyous score by Alexandre Desplat is the icing on the cake of this amusing and uplifting film, which ended my Borderlines 2014 experience on a real high.

Borderlines 2014 Review

Borderlines 2013

Borderlines Film Festival draws to a close this weekend. The UK’s largest rural film festival, centred around The Courtyard here in Hereford, is an event I have a long-standing association with. At the inaugural festival in 2003 I had a little stall selling VHS copies of The Beacon and displaying a few pieces of early concept art for an ambitious fantasy action movie called Soul Searcher. Two years later Soul Searcher premiered at Borderlines with great success. (Read my blog entry in which I total up the Ego Puff Points I acquired that weekend.)

Kes (1969. dir. Ken Loach) - photographed by Chris Menges
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)
Sightseers (2012, dir. Ben Wheatley)

Sightseers

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 (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)
Blackmail (1929, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Blackmail

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)
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 (dir. David Jones)
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 (dir. Christopher Kenneally)
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.

Borderlines 2013

Worcestershire Film Festival Coming Up

The first ever Worcestershire Film Festival takes place next weekend, and I’m delighted to be part of this cinematic celebration in my home county.

On Saturday (Nov 3rd) at 6pm my comedy documentary Video8 will be screened. Here’s the trailer:

And on Sunday (Nov 4th) at 3:30pm I’ll give a talk about the funding and making of both Stop/Eject and my 2005 feature Soul Searcher. Here’s the Soul Searcher trailer. You can watch the whole thing for free at neiloseman.com/soulsearcher

All the details can be found on the festival’s website. I hope to see some of you in Worcester next weekend.

Worcestershire Film Festival Coming Up

Cannes 2011 Video Blogs

These video blogs include discussions about the development of The Dark Side of the Earth with producer Carl Schoenfeld and script editor Quay Chu, plus an interview with some other filmmakers attending the festival.

Cannes 2011 Video Blogs