Archives for category: thoughts

From the preposterously prolific Mr Neil Gaiman: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” Which, unfortunately, is not the quote as I remembered it as I was composing this blog post. Anyhow, if someone can lend me some twine I’ll tie a link that holds up to half a glance of scrutiny.

If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the position of directing a story that is yours, then your only job is for you to tell that story. Great, so far so tautological.

More twine please vicar… You have just watched your 8 minute master piece with a close circle of trusted film colleagues. There’s a pause for for stretching as the lights come back on and you wander up to the front and say, so what did you think? And the flood gates up and you are inundated with thoughts, ideas, outrage… anything. And every single one of those notes is correct for that person- if they were directing the film.

What is going on here? As a viewer we are always trying to work out what is happening on screen, compiling data and telling the story to ourselves in our heads. When watching a work-in-progress, in a effort to be helpful, people are especially sensitive to any road bumps they experience in this storytelling process. After viewing the film they then consciously or unconsciously thread these speed bumps together to rework the film for how it would work best for them.

Sitting there at the front of your trusted filmmaker colleagues, in addition to managing all your own doubts and defensiveness,  you have to work the information coming at you through two filters: 1) their special sensitivity 2) reworking as their film.

The special sensitivity can be dealt with quite simply: listen to a group of people, don’t let anyone person dominate the conversation, play people off against one another, take notes and then try to work out which speed bumps are relevant to your story and which ones are only relevant to the story everyone else is telling.

The reworking filter mostly has to do with the solutions people offer up. It’s easy to say that you should just put a big fat red line through all of them, but you’ll piss people off and you might miss something good. So you need to go through each and every one and consider it and the problem it is purportedly fixing. Then if you agree that it’s a problem, it’s your job to come up with a solution that fixes it, which might be the solution suggested, but probably won’t be.

So why do this? I’ve always found that sitting in a room with a group of people watching your film is the closest you can get to viewing your own film with fresh eyes and after weeks of editing, you need that. You need to be tested, you need to see if the story you in your mind is making it into the minds of the people watching it. Because if it isn’t, you aren’t telling your story and as a director, you aren’t doing your job.

I’ve spent a lot (and even for me, I mean a lot, a lot) of time thinking about how to get the best performance out of people. I don’t just mean actors, all the people I work with need to do their job to a high creative level for a film to work. What makes a performance good? It needs to make sense to the person that is doing it and it is needs to be the right performance for the film. This means there are essentially two processes in tension and it is one of the main jobs of a director to keep these these in balance so that the story gets told whilst keeping the creativity up.

So how do I as director try to keep this balance?

Firstly, I present my thoughts as clearly as possible. There’s nothing wrong with simplicity as there are an infinite opportunities for confusion.

Secondly, I treat the person I’m collaborating with with kindness. If you try to hammer an idea into someone’s head, it is likely to give them a headache.

Thirdly, mistakes happen, forgive them. (probably twice)

Fourthly, be tough. If I’ve done the first three steps I’ve earned the right to be tough. I’m the director and I have to make this film.

p.s. a friend, to whom I am thankful for many bits of wisdom, once told me that the the use of the phrase “emotional beats” comes from a mishearing of something Stanislavski said in a lecture. In the original, Stansilavski said that in acting one had to thread “emotional beads” onto a thread that ran through the narrative, unfortunately, with his thick Russian accent, the person writing this down misheard him and ever since actors have been trying to hit “emotional beats”.

Saffron Burrows wrote a journal about her experience of making an improvised feature called Tempted, it’s on The Guardian website The subtitle of the article makes me a little nervous about posting it, but I think we should be safe with our film.

Actually now I come to think of it, Lying, a film I produced a number of years ago was also based on a lot of improvisation work, although in that case the improv was what was being shot, rather than a part of the rehearsal/story telling process.

I’m still bouncing a couple of potential DoPs through my mind, but I’ve already started to think about what format we might shoot on.

Jay Taylor suggested there might be a possibility of shooting on film as he’s working on a deal that might be able to shoot film for a similar price to digital. It sounds like a great idea and I know how much DoPs love to shoot film, but is it the best option?

The other thing I’ve been thinking about is shooting in monochrome. Why?

Well for a start, the film could be thought of as a film noir. The story is about a moral choice, an either or situation the consequences of which will shape the future of a girls life.

Secondly, this film is about being a challenge for me and I haven’t tried to shoot black and white since my days at film school shooting Kodak reversal 7266 and having a go again would be exciting.

Thirdly, I’m quite into the aesthetic at the moment. I’ve been doing a lot of photography recently and there is a lot to be said for having to focus solely of shade and contrast.

Fourthly, (this one’s a bit technical so skip if you get bored) digital monochrome cameras don’t have a bayer filter, which is what colour cameras have to give a colour image, these filters essentially reduce the potential resolution by a third, so not having one our images could have a lot more detail in them. Which could be interesting…

So what are the options:

1) B&W film, probably ultra-16mm. I think it would be the most fun, but it would be quite a commitment, in both shooting and processing times… and do they even make the good stuff anymore?

2) Ikonoskop A-Cam dll Panchromatic. I’ve been following the development of this camera since it was first talked about many moons ago. It shoots in a format called cinema DNG, has a super16 sized chip and a very cool form factor, but given how long it’s been coming, I’m a little worried about how reliable it is. Go on, tell me I’m not sexy.

3) Red Epic-M Red made a monochrome version of their camera last year. It’s a bit of a beast and I’ve never been a fan of the Red aesthetic (looks a bit digital) and I find their cameras a bit weird looking. But there has been some great stuff shot on it. Don’t hate me for the rubbish music and Slow me up, slow me down.

4) Arri Alexa, shoot in colour and then convert to grey scale. The Alexa is my favourite camera. We shot The Fold on it, but I think doing a conversion is a bit of a cop-out and I would like to make the choice before pre-production, rather than being pressured into changing my mind, into going with colour, in the grading suite.

Hollywood studios (and no doubt other studios too) love to go on about the magic of cinemas, as if it's something only they can do behind closed doors. I don't know if that is part of their long game to sell tickets to amusment parks or a part of their self-aggrandizement, either way it's not something I see the point of and it's something I want to work actively against in making this film… why?

I think that if my new approach to film making is to build a shared vision with cast and crew, why not share this process with other film makers and our audience?

There are 3 reasons why not:

1) Film making is quite a messy process* and you'll probably look like you don't know what you're doing.

Film making is supposed to be a creative process and part of that is taking risks to work out what you are doing. If people are going to be critical or it makes them nervous, that's their issue.

2) You'll give away the story and there will be no suspension of disbelief.

I don't think this one is valid, if you're interested enough to read a blog about the making of a film, you will be sufficiently invested in watching for the suspension of disbelief to work. (think magic tricks)

3) You are opening up yourself to something you can't control and it'll take up a lot of time.

Not worried about control, hopefully it will be fun!

*long hours, hard work, creative confidence, Egos and Nogos.


The Improv Short, The Organic Short, The Film Experiment…

Ever since I've was at film school I've worked pretty much the same way. I spirit myself away for a length of time to work on a script, which I then present to producers to refine further. Once I get something that I really know and understand, I start thinking about casting, shot lists, locations etc etc and the creative process becomes one of having to “perfectly execute MY VISION AS DIRECTOR!” and I'm not sure that this way of working suits me. So it's time to look for another way.

What I am doing is taking an idea I had a few years ago, throwing away the script and building something out working directly with actors. The plan then is to grow it further with a series of camera rehearsals with a DoP and a DSLR. I'll take this footage and edit it to see if we really have a story. If we do, I'll work further with the DoP and hire some other Head of Departments to create a polished look for the film. If that all works, we'll go ahead and shoot it with a full crew, hopefully with the minimum amount of fuss (HA!) at the time we're paying the most money.

It's not really correct to call it an Improv Short. As although I think I'll use a lot of techniques from people like Keith Johnstone, Improv is only really a part of what I want to do. So the process wont be an exact execution of my vision for the film, it will be a process where we build a shared vision, where everyone has the chance to have a little time to experiment. Which I guess could be called a vision in itself.