screenwriting

Filmmaker In Residence Project: Legacy 5 (Academic Research & New Projects)

Academic Research.

One of the aims of the Filmmaker in Residence project was to provide a basis for scholarship and pedagogy. I wanted to do something creative that fed into my teaching and also my research profile, with the latter resulting in more projects and better teaching for me and also in the wider field of film education. 

In terms of academic research I believe that both outputs and the process of reflecting on and contextualising and critiquing the experience results in improved ways of thinking about industry/teaching projects and the philosophy of film teaching I've now been invested in for so long. 

Output wise, the project has seen and is seeing a few opportunities for dissemination to wider educational and industry personnel and institutions. Here's a quick recap on them.

BAFTSS / MECCSA Practice Symposium

As part of the 2016 Practice Symposium at Bath Spa University I delivered my first paper on the Filmmaker In Residence project. The one-day symposium was fascinating in that it gave me the chance to see other practitioner/scholars plying their trade. It was great to hear a keynote by John Mateer from York, whose practice and scholarly work feels aligned quite closely to my own. The paper went down well and allowed me to formulate some coherent thinking around the project in readiness for a journal article. 

Media Practice & Education Journal

The symposium had a special edition of the Media Practice & Education Journal attached and I've had a paper accepted for publication. This blog is being written on a break from final revisions. The article is due out later this year and I will write another blog to coincide.

Aesthetica Film Festival

As part of the 2016 Aesthetica Film Festival the School of Film & Television hosted a panel discussion on micro-budget filmmaking at the School, talking about the diverse ways we engage in and support independent filmmaking. I was part of the panel talking about 'Wilderness' and the practice more generally. It was great to talk about the project in front of colleagues from other universities, film festivals and old friend of the film course Mark Herman, who I first met at Aesthetica a few years ago. It was further evidence of how unique and special the project is and again, it really helped contextualise it by talking about it in public and thinking it through further. 

New Projects.

I didn't think I would be back making work in the 'Wilderness' mould so soon, and certainly not without Justin involved but an opportunity came up that couldn't be passed up. I've been talking about working with a local filmmaker and Falmouth graduate for a while, and there was time and money to do so, so we leapt on it. I wrote the screenplay, an adaptation of a H.P. Lovecraft short story and co-produced it with Kingsley Marshall, film course leader and 'Wilderness' executive producer. The project also saw me teach Kingsley about (independent) film production. 

We shot the film in January 2018, in the marking period between old term ending and new term starting up. I wrote it in a month or two and have written about my writing experiences here

The project, being a short film, allowed me the scope to teach a colleague production and also put into place and practice some things I wanted to do in the wake of 'Wilderness'. This included bringing back female graduates to be heads of department for production, editing, camera and sound. We managed it in the first three of those departments but the sound recording didn't work out. We are currently discussing the sound design with a female graduate though. 

My idea for the production structure was a student-graduate pipeline. So we had a director who had been out of the school a number of years and who is successful as a music video and music documentary filmmaker looking to make a move into narrative filmmaking. Below him we had graduates who had been out 1-3 years, working to varying degrees and at varying levels in the industry. Their teams of assistants would then be made up of current students. My hope is that this would allow current students to gain valuable experience but see the forward trajectory. It would also aid the graduates in their post-grad development. The graduate positions were all paid, and expenses covered.

It is also a project that has allowed me the opportunity to work with friends/colleagues from the School in new and meaningful ways. Kingsley had the idea of bringing in our colleague Angela Annesley to create illustrations and wood cuttings for the film. It was a thrill to work with Angela outside of the confines of work and she did an amazing job. Here's a sneak peek of her work, in progress: 

Angela Annesley WIP

(c) Angela Annesley / ravenstongue.co.uk

It was a great success as a production project. The team worked great and much was learned. The director was really happy and is going to employ students who worked on the film on future music video and live filming projects.

I am really proud of the culture being built through these projects. For example, on 'Wilderness' our editor Steven had two assistants. One, Stine, he helped get work in post-production on graduation. We invited her to edit this new short and she came to set to log and load the footage. Her assistant was a first year, Billy. She was so pleased with his work she has got him a paid summer internship at the post-production house where she is now a shift supervisor. For me, that's the culture in action. We support both our students and our graduates and create content that goes out into the world allowing us to talk about our culture. The short is in post-production and the cut is coming along nicely. It will hopefully be at festivals later in 2018, early 2019.

Here's me on set with my co-producer and dear friend Kingsley. I was only there for part of day 1 and I'm not really in focus here. As it should be.

LOVECRAFT BTS.jpg

Filmmaker In Residence Project: Legacy 4 (Festival & Screenwriting Lessons)

Festivals

Touring 'Wilderness' to film festivals has been an eye-opening experience in many ways. It seems obvious but the differences between touring a short and touring a feature are considerable. You soon realise (and I should have remembered from my time as a programmer) that even if a programme team likes your film, 85 minutes is considerably longer than 10 when trying to find a slot for it. 

We knew when we finished the film that it was not going to be to everyone's taste and was emotionally uncompromising and it feels that in some cases festivals may have liked it, but not known what to do with it. Yes, I know that some festivals will have also just thought it wasn't very good or liked it at all. 

This is of course disappointing because you want people to see the work and because you want festivals to be the place that take risks, but in such a competitive and financially precarious environment it is understandable. 

As mentioned in a previous post, we were accepted into 2 festivals that we had to pull out of in terms of participation. It was nearly 3 but Cambridge didn't mind that we had previewed the film to a London audience at the British Independent Film Festival. They asked that we don't show anywhere else beforehand though, which meant we had to pull the film from the lovely World of Film festival in Glasgow. That was a difficult but positive conversation as we discussed screening in Glasgow at a later date in association with the festival, when we hopefully undertake a tour of UK cinemas and universities. We've never been in that position before and found it tough, but necessary given our attachment emotionally to Cambridge and its scale as an independent film festival. 

The other festival we got into was a really big one, one that regularly receives over 10,000 entries and screens only 250 works. It's a very difficult festival to get into and it was tough to have to pull out when they felt the BIFF screening was too much of a conflict with their premiere status requirement. This was again, tough to take and made us realise the value of having clear premiere events in mind when making films. Although we had been rejected before and having got some rejections from similar status festivals earlier in the year we felt it wasn't worth the risk to not screen earlier and pin all our hopes on that one, however big and prestigious. Lesson learned. Although, it is a shame that a festival can like a film and make what amounts to quite an arbitrary decision based on statistics rather than the merits of the work and even their appreciation of it. Still.

Screenwriting

Connected to festivals, I also learned and relearned new things about screenwriting. The prestigious Oaxaca FF in Mexico required Spanish subtitles, so I set about compiling a transcript of the film film's script to send off to translators.

It was enlightening to see how actors had performed what I had written. Beyond the odd improvisation that I didn't write, it soon became clear that pretty much every line needed tweaking before sending off.

Despite teaching the maxim that people don't speak in full word full sentences, I didn't write 'Wilderness' like that. The cast though, knew how to make it flow and so I read with a little embarrassment how many times I wrote 'I Am', for example, but watched with pride at how seamlessly and naturally they all said 'I'm' and other similar cases. 

What was also fascinating was how often they switched sections of a line, saying the last half first and vice versa and how a) no one noticed on set and b) it didn't matter. 

It was intriguing to put the two screenplays side by side at the end of the transcription and see how similar and different they are. 

What was nice though, was realising how faithful the cast had been to the written word. Being the producer and education coordinator on set, as well as the writer, meant I didn't and couldn't grasp a lot of the detail of performance, but they did me proud.

Filmmaker In Residence Project: Keep On Truckin'

It's been a big fortnight. We've sent out the casting call for the final day player we need and selected the actors we want to see in our big casting day for the lead and main supporting roles in a couple of weeks time.

We've hit the somewhat inevitable point in a creative project where the available funds don't match the original vision and projection. When I created this pilot I thought maybe we could turn it round for a certain amount of money. However, due to a variety of immovable factors - shoot time mainly, student crew numbers also - doing the project in the original planned form will cost more than I thought it could be done for.

This has resulted in the common creative project dilemma of reworking what the project is to align it with the available money. So we are doing just that. It's hard because of the proximity to the production period and the emotional and physical stress that the project is resulting in. 

However we are still on, we are still committed to finding a way and creatively the project is really exciting. So even if going forward the Filmmaker In Residence model has to evolve its parameters I am still only six weeks away from shooting my first feature. The School of Film & Television at Falmouth University is still supportive of my crazy plan and eager to make it work and happen as best it can. This is quite incredible in so many ways and I wonder what form it will take in the future once we get through this and work it all out.

That's for then though.

Now. The student crew is confirmed and we are all meeting up tomorrow. They are excited and eager, asking questions already, and raring to go. It feels good to be approaching production again.

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.

 

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".

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.