MECCSA 2016: Paths To The Pantheon

Yesterday I presented a paper from my doctorate on filmmaker education. You can listen to the presentation below and find a link to my slides here.

The content mentioned in the paper will be up online in a new section of the website soon. I'll post a link here when it is ready.


Filmmaker In Residence Project: Into The Wilderness

Don't worry. The title of this blog isn't a bleak prophecy. The film we are making has a a title now. It's called Wilderness.

The whole thing has moved on significantly from where it began. It has shaken itself loose of the shackles of its nucleus and is emerging as somewhat of a beast. The latest entry in the Screenwriting section of the site goes into more detail on the story and the script progress.

What makes this different?

Before Christmas, Justin and I had two good days working on the project. Well, one good day working and one good day reconnecting and talking film and life and the project as a whole. Living so far apart this is necessary as sometimes just ploughing in to the meat of the work without reminding ourselves of our individual lives, traits, insecurities etc. can cause anxiety. 

During the day we spent talking and reconnecting, over lunch at a Pizza Hut buffet (a nostalgic choice for us if ever there was one) Justin asked me a question.

"What makes this different to other films about couples?"

A tough question. An important question. I may have paraphrased him slightly there and I will likely paraphrase myself with my answer, which may read more succinctly than what I said at the time. Although I should say, Justin liked my answer and we moved forward, together, on the project. 

I said that this film was about a couple of things. Firstly it's about getting to an age where you ask yourself a 'what if' question in a relationship that has more meaning than it did before - 'what if this doesn't work out?' The weight of age and past relationships weighs heavy and this moment, with this person, feels like everything and that everything rests on the relationship working. In addition to this it's a film about what you do in this moment, when the space emerges between the real person you love and the projection of them you have created based on your own needs, desires and romantic ideals. That's what Wilderness is about, two people at this point in their lives, asking that question and dealing with that moment.

Practicalities

The casting call is written and will go out next week. We will cast 4 roles from 2 character breakdowns. I will post the casting breakdown here when it is up. We have some people in mind to see and approach. We have updated our Baracoa Pictures website with the film's information and updated biographies etc. We have a plan for when interviews with students who will work on the project are to take place, and applications are coming in. The script sits at 30+ pages (of 60+) and the remainder has been mapped out. It will be complete by the end of January. It's all moving forward. 

Vindication

I was listening to the Close-Up podcast produced by the Film Society of Lincoln Center today. The episode featured Tom Noonan discussing Anomalisa and Andrew Haigh and Charlotte Rampling discussing 45 Years. Two things stuck with me. The first was Noonan's comment that 'meaning has nothing to do with the words', regarding the screenplay and the film. This is some kind of a mantra for me on this project (albeit versed more clearly than I have managed in my mind so far). I want there to be space for the director and the actors and the cinematographer and the editor and so on and so forth. I want there to be space for them to create layers of meaning that is rooted in there own lives and comes through their craft. The words uttered are to be only part of it. The second was Haigh discussing how 45 Years was shot mostly in sequence and deployed little coverage, with the cast and crew living near the film's main location, close together. The emotional impact of 45 Years is deep and so much can be felt as related to these decisions, decisions similar to ones we are making with Wilderness. If we can get anywhere near that film's cinematic depth and devastation I will be proud and happy.

 

MECCSA 2016

#meccsa2016 I will be presenting a paper at Meccsa 2016 this week. I hope to see some colleagues, familiar and not yet acquainted with, there.

My paper is titled 'Paths to the Pantheon: Using the Education of Successful Filmmakers to Shape
Film Education'. The paper will feature material taken from my doctorate.

The programme and abstracts are available here

Media Education Summit 2015

It's been nearly two weeks since I returned from Emerson College in Boston, and the 2015 Media Education Summit. Upon my return I was thrust back into the day-to-day throng of end of term chaos. It feels a lifetime away now.

My trip to the US took in New York first where I had some meetings on behalf of the School of Film & Television at Falmouth, and myself, at NYU. As I develop my teaching I am looking more and more to give my students access to diverse international peers and help them share their work and seek support, critique and collaboration from around the globe. In this day and age it seems ludicrous to not try at least. The meetings were very successful and I hope that academic year 2016-17 will see the fruits of my labours, pedagogically speaking.

From New York it was on to Boston and my first Media Education Summit. It was great. I made some great contacts and, hopefully, good friends. It was a positive experience to be surrounded by teachers and academics passionate about media education, how it is taught and its societal role. I hope to make attendance an annual occurrence. 

Here's the link to my presentation slides:

And listen to me delivering my paper below:

Filmmaker In Residence Project: Autumn Update

There are moments in every creative process where something breaks through, a negative or troubling resistance weakens, and things move forward with real purpose. 

This was one of those weeks. Positivity has been growing regarding the story and script and our passion for it as filmmakers to the ultimate point of ambition that the 'project' and the creative content were working simpatico. We are closer now.

This week Justin was down and we met with the new director of the School of Film & Television who was as positive towards the project as the interim director who helped encourage the project forward was. 

Also, creatively we got to grips with it in ways that seemed familiar to us and the way we work and talk about things. It felt like old times. I bathed in the waves of that nostalgia, something last felt in earnest just over four years ago, whilst we worked up rules for the creation of this thing and talked about films whose emotions and moments we felt were feeding into the process. 

Despite my angst at answering the pervasive question of 'how's the writing going?' it is going. I have set myself some creative handcuffs and some targets that have helped inspire my focus and made me think critically about this thing I am writing and how I can write something as emotionally raw as a Cassavetes movie (one of my personal aims for the project) given the structural restrictions I've set myself in order to drive me towards completion of a first draft.

I've set myself a target of 66 pages. From here we will work with the actors to create something traditionally feature-length. The film will have no more than 10 scenes. I have a rough page guide for each scene (hence the 66 pages).

We are considering shooting the film in sequence. Set over a weekend and following a devastating emotional trajectory, (we hope), this will enable the actors to engage with their roles in a specific way that may result in a rawer experience. It will also be an interesting challenge for the student crew to create a schedule that ensures this can happen. 

Things like this can sometimes feel like distractions from just sitting down and getting it done. This time though they feel resonant. The project has many restrictions in terms of budget, shoot time, traditional crew dynamics and positions so why not apply restrictions to the script and the delivery of the script? 

If we are truly looking at developing a new model of micro-budget filmmaking why stop at the logistics of production?

Filmmaker In Residence Project: Script Update 1

Since the announcement in May this year of the project I have devised and am overseeing from this month through to summer 2016 it has been a fascinating and stressful time. Discussions between myself as project coordinator and scriptwriter and Justin Doherty who is the filmmaker in residence for this pilot project have ranged from the excited to the worried to the confused to the excited again, thankfully. 

Having not made a film together in a few years and embarking on our first feature within a specific context with financial and logistical challenges, limitations and opportunities, our process has been to come to grips with the best way of proceeding and coming up with a project that would excite us and also fit the criteria for the pilot.

We have a number of films we'd love to make that have been and are in various stages of development. However, all of them are logistically beyond us at this moment. We've spent the summer looking for a story, for a project, that excites us.

We think we are there now. Some frank conversations on the phone last week cleared the air and focused the mind and today we met in person and talked through an idea that has been brewing and how we could make it our own. On paper it fits the bill for a project like this. Minimal cast and locations and scope for a lot of experimentation and interesting approaches to writing and developing. We can attach a number of personal creative ambitions to a familiar and stable skeleton of an idea. It's a flexible starting point but one that has a strong core. The core is important because the difficulties that will arise will need to be offset by a confidence in a strong core in terms of story and potential project completion. We think we have that now.

Over the past week or so I've become much more excited about this idea by drilling down into what I want to achieve creatively from this project. I've called on my emotional reaction to seeing Cassavetes's Opening Night in the cinema recently, an experience that hasn't left me and fused it with some thoughts that emerged from revisiting Godard's Vivre Sa Vie last week.

I am aware this seems vague. The story is based on an existing property at this stage, loosely, that we are in the process of discussing the rights to. We are aiming to announce the project in detail in early October, following some more thoughtful work on developing the nucleus of it. But for now, it felt like the right time to write an update because the tide has turned and there is a strong light shining on the project. We have some collaborators in mind, we have our ideas of how we will create something that works within the demands of the project but that also fulfils us creatively. 

As Joey 'The Lips' Fagan says in The Commitments:

"It's not much, but it's a start. And I believe in starts".

Media Education Summit 2015

I am delighted to announce that I will be presenting a paper at this year's Media Education Summit at Emerson College in Boston, USA.

My paper is derived from my recently graduated professional doctorate thesis and is titled:

Classrooms without teachers and film without borders:  proactively responding to digital disruption in film education 

The summit takes place in November. I will be posting audio of my paper here and writing a blog about my experience. I hope to take in some meetings at Emerson College and institutions in New York to talk about film education, develop partnerships and exchange good practice. 

Filmmaker In Residence Project: Launch

I've long believed that universities are, at least potentially, the perfect environment to learn filmmaking. To be clearer, I am referring to filmmaking that seeks to have a conversation with history, culture and society, and not merely film history and culture. I've also believed for some time that British universities are missing a trick by not becoming involved in the production of feature-length content. I believe that partnerships with professional filmmakers can provide a means of expanding pedagogy of film practice beyond the classroom and also see universities provide a socially conscious model for commercial micro-budget feature filmmaking.

My recently completed doctoral thesis, which is the in process of being disseminated via a series of journal articles and conference papers, discusses these ideas at length. In my day job, as the BA Film course co-ordinator responsible for practice at the School of Film & Television (SoFT) at Falmouth University, I have been tasked with investigating the potential of my claims. I've been tasked with putting (not) my money where my mouth is regarding the commercial and pedagogical possibilities of such an undertaking. Thanks to SoFT, over the course of the academic year 2015-16, I will be overseeing a pilot Filmmaker In Residence project that will result in a professional filmmaker creating a feature film in partnership with the School and the University. 

One of the reasons for the creation of this personal website now is to provide a platform for me to discuss my research and the experiences of this innovative, exciting and daunting project. I am grateful for the support of SoFT to expand my research beyond the theoretical and am excited to work with my constant collaborator Justin Doherty who will direct and produce the film, from a script I am writing.

If, nay when, it works, it will provide a much needed route for filmmakers seeking to make the step up to features from shorts or across to features from television, commercials etc. I also hope the project, beyond providing incredible opportunities for students in all departments and at all levels, will be able to address representation issues currently facing film and cinema, both in front of and behind the camera.

I will be updating the creative, logistical, pedagogical and industrial elements of the process as the pilot goes on. 

This has been something I have been discussing with friends, colleagues and superiors since I made the step across from production and exhibition into academia. It is exciting that together with them I get to explore this idea and work with students on the creation of a feature film. It will be good to return to the filmmaking fray following my doctoral study and it will be great to do so with such a strong educational focus, which is how myself and Justin have always approached projects.

For now though this is just an initial piece of context for the project, which launched on Tuesday April 28th. Articles on the process will appear here and in the Screenwriting section of the website.