Friday, 30 January 2015

Yr3 Week 13 (Thurs 22 Jan - MDA320 Film Theory - Drastic Overhaul)

Today marked a fairly sizeable change for this module, as Sharon had been ousted following complaints about her mediocre teaching methods and a lack of real progression in the module. and replaced by department veteran Patrick Philips.

Several changes had also been instituted in the module, which are as follows:
  • No more screenings: it was felt they were superfluous, and any visual aides could be supplied adequately by just using clips and excerpts.
  • The assignments had been delayed by several weeks, in order to have more of an emphasis on really discussing the theories and most importantly, how we could use them in our assessment of our film work.
  • The lesson time had been condensed, so in total, the lessons for this module would run from about 11:30-4:00, with no other group for the absurd 6:00 seminar. It would be one main lecture, followed by two seminars between 1 and 4. 
What then followed in the lecture was basically a quick recap of what we had learnt the past term, though in lieu of simply reciting from a sheet and throwing out large concepts with very little context, Patrick instead gave us a full Powerpoint as well as careful categorization of the different elements that fall under the umbrella of film theory.  Such a breakdown, very simply, followed as such:

  • Theories of Film as what/such: What is film if not an imprint of reality (related to ontology) and what knowledge does it contain (Epistemology).
  • Theories of Film Effects: What is the ideology of a film, how does it communicate them, and what is the 'pleasure' of a film's viewing.
  • Theories of Value/agency: Who makes the film and questions around authorship and the ethics.
  • Theories of Filmmaking: How should a film be made (styles and forms/Poetics)
  • Theories of Meaning: The signs and symbols and how we make meaning of them.
  • Theories of Culture, politics and society: Going beyond the film and understanding the time and world around it. What does it reflect on said culture and its values?
And as for the seminar, it was more or less just going over the nature of the new term and asking questions about what was in store and the changes. So, my thoughts? I was rather impressed by Patrick, who had managed to provide a more concise and better defined module and concepts than Sharon's more rambly, generalised and unbalanced approach. I feel this is more what the introduction should've been like, and felt I got a better grasp of the ideas and how to define them than before. I now await the next session very eagerly.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Yr3 Week 13 (Wed 21 Jan - MDA3300 Film Research and Context - CVs)

In the new term his module will have more o a workshop feel, focused on more tangible and immediate assets to help us into the world of work in the industry. One of the most important elements in question is our Curriculum Vitae (C.V./Resume), which forms part of our own personal advertising, detailing our work and educational history in a bid to convince a prospective employer of our worthiness for a role in their company.

A basic breakdown of a C.V. Format is as follows:
  • Name and contact details: Self explanatory.
  • Profile: This roughly 30 word paragraph gives the employer a quick overview of who you are, and your most desirable traits.
  • Key Skills: What are your strongest qualities that are relevant to the job at hand? Use 'active' words here (developed, supervised, selected, designed, advised etc.)
  • Experience: Your past work experience, and why it is relevant to here.
  • Qualifications/Training: Your education and other important accolades gained over the years. Often merged together into one category.
  • Interests (optional): Just a little about what you like doing. Often gives an idea of personality.
Other useful elements to include can also be a Driving License (always a useful assest to allow for more possibilities on the job), Passport (if there is travel involved) and date of birth. Also handy is providing a Cover Letter, which is a little more personal and is addressed directly to the employer.Be brief, usually half a page, and it is essentially a 3 part affair: the reason for writing, your selling point and then, a follow up inquiry, to show commitment but not being a nuisance.

We then went off and did individual practice on our own C.Vs, be they on paper or on laptops. As we wrote, Elhum came around, would review them, and also offer additional advice. Some of her tips included:
  • A very clear font, preferably Arial. Times New Roman is too small and cumbersome.
  • Make it no longer than two pages. Being concise and tight is key here.
  • Be very picky, and only put what is absolutely essential.
  • Show passion and a positive mindset in your writing. This can also be very helpful with selling.
  • Research the employer to know exactly what they want.

So I went ahead and did two drafts by hand, and found myself unable to condense to the absolute essentials. Still, I've been out of practice for some time now, so I suppose it would happen. Still, Elhum has promised we will do more work in coming weeks, so I''m not too phased, and it's always good to sharpen and revise one's skills in this area.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Yr3 Week 13 (Mon 19 Jan - MDA3400 Screenwriting workshop 4)

Today´s group was fairly small, no doubt in part to being the first session after the holidays, and so, stragglers are to be expected. Anyway, since the last session, my children´s script Little Visitor had undergone revisions, allowing for two full drafts to be completed. Key changes included giving the creature, now named Bobo, a more active role and having him interact with the boy, as well as expanding the mother´s role and having her engage in conversation with her husband.

Reception was good, with praise towards the humour and not overly sappy ending, as well as the character dynamics. However, it was felt the mother was a bit of a flat character, and the conflict between her and the father should be expanded upon. Frankly, I agree with these points and endeavour to push further.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Yr3 Week 12 - Reading Week 2 (Mon 12 Jan - Fri 16 Jan 2015)

The third week of our Xmas break also doubled as Reading Week. This was a fairly skimp affair, so I´ll keep this journal brief. Aside from working on the MDA3300 essay for Elhum, the topic being discussing the release of Ridley Scott´s Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014), the only major event of notice was the BFI screening of Au Revoir Les Enfants on Wednesday at Southbank:

Au Revoir is a 1987 French drama set during the last years of WW2 in France. A group of Jewish children hide out at a religious private school, and one of them befriends one of the popular middle class children there. Having been at both a Catholic nursery and Primary school, as well as having a rural background, I could relate in some capacity to the setting and what the boys behave like and their routine. The child actors were really strong and I was able to invest in them, and they felt like real boys. Well shot, often with a very subdued colour palette reflecting the era, and a rather simple but touching musical score served as the icing on the cake.

Monday, 5 January 2015

My Animated Series ´Very Strange Things´ blog (05/01/15)

As should be painfully obvious by now, I'm a young screenwriter with a head full of ideas for all sorts of tales. And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is what this little saga will be all about as I embark on something incredible:

This blog will act as an ongoing diary/ portfolio of all things related to the creation and realisation of my titular pet project. Join me as I battle the odds to see a dream project of mine since teenagehood come to life on television screens all around the UK. It's a mystery/adventure series called Very Strange Things, and it's exactly what it sounds like. Imagine a blend of say, Willy Fog, Ducktales or Dogtanian, shows that use the image of anthropormorphised creatures to invite the children into a world of adventure, with the fantastical likes of Fringe or the revived Doctor Who series. It´ll be quite the ride!

Blog Link here:

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Yr3 Week 11 (Fri 19 Dec - MDA3400 Screenwriting workshop 3)

So today, like the last two times, those of us who are doing a screenplay brought in what we had worked on since the previous workshop. I brought in a new beta of Little Visitor, a fantasy tale for children telling of a young boy whose parents undergo divorce, now longer than last time and introducing the mother character.

Reception was once again favourable, with my fellow writers praising the improved writing, the heart at the core of the story, the increased magic, though criticism this time was leveled at the excessively long description (a challenge, as this is a very visual story and naturally, having a magical character) and again, the necessity of having a magical creature in a story with subject matter this sombre. Not unworkable for children, but there was questions over the legitimacy of doing it, so I must also solve that.

And well, that´s that for 2014. Wow, it´s been a rollercoaster. Some great personal milestones and now, perhaps my biggest project being mapped out for next year, but also some very personal defeats where I felt I had not lived up to nor wisely utilised certain elements around me, and felt said side effects dragged things and good people down with it. Primarily with regards to Shattered Reflections. All the same, I got to work on not one but two theatre productions, wrote my first two feature screenplays, one of which went off to a major American contest, as well as my first short, and also got to visit Latvia and attend an actual Film festival. Not bad if I say so myself when all is weighed up.

Yr3 Week 11 (Thurs 18 Dec - MDA3200 Film Theory - Iranian New Wave and Feedback)

Today marked the final screening of 2014, and to go out, we saw the Iranian film A Separation (2011), a low key drama dealing with a divorcing couple and in the process, affecting those around them including their cleaner and her family. Despite a premise that has been the basis of many a hackneyed rom-com or sappy daytime TV Movie, the film is fairly serious and often sombre, with many shades of grey in its morality (the husbands, for example, both are at fault, one excessively proud, the other something of a foul tempered lout) and an ambiguous ending over what the final result of the custody battle for the child is.

The film is part of a movement called the Iranian New Wave, birthed in the late 20th century and now in its second generation,which like its French and Italian counterparts some decades earlier, subscribes to an idea of very low key, unflashy presentation, often creating more of a ´window´ on the lives of what seem to be real, relatable people.

As for the seminar, it amounted to another quick chat on the next term (more on that in the New Year)  and then Sharon talking about our responses to the module feedback sheet from last week. The complaints I´ve raised in the past on this blog such as the repetition of old ideas and films, as well as the lack of an actual ´critical´ element to what is supposedly a module all about criticism and analysis, formed what seemed to be the class consensus. She attempted to counter argue, in a very mild and modest manner, that the year had yet to be finished and that we should just wait to see how everything plays out in the end.

While Sharon does seem nice and her claim not entirely unsound, I really can´t stomach what feels more like an excuse for missing the point of the module and instead recycling old material. We have had two and half years of the same things, and frankly, we should not have to wait another couple of months for an outcome that not only have we been over in past years, but which again, is not related to the actual point of this course (being able to think and discuss critically film and our own work). She has expunged many different and legitimately interesting ideas, but failed to put them into a context that actually requires dissection or any sort of analysis, being little more than glorified ´this is like this´. By this point, I am very hoping for some kind of shake up or re-evaluation of the module to ensure that we can get back on track.

Yr3 Week 11 (Wed 17 Dec - MDA3300 Film Research and Context - Visibility)

After a brief chat from Elhum on upcoming plans for the course (won´t go into detail here, because you´ll see the results on the blog before long), we got onto today´s topic: visibility. In this age of super connectability and information, the importance of standing out and making yourself known has never been both easier, due the variety of platform you can use, and harder, because of the sheer volume of internet traffic, as well as others using those platforms. These include the likes of Shooting People, My First Job In Film and Stage32, where you can create an online portfolio of your work, your resume and your contact details to be browsed upon by potential employers and other collaborators.

That´s not all though, as Elhum also drafted in some of her colleagues and associates from past projects to do quick interviews on how they got started and what they would advise us to do. These included Destiny Ekaragha (Tight Jeans), Line Langebek (Anonymous), Ed Owles (a documentarian), Matthew Kay (Over the Wall) and Michael Pearce (Keeping up with The Joneses). Their advice, often mixed in with little anecdotes, included, on top of the usual ´work hard and never give up´bit, staying informed of events for networking opportunities, look out for local council and community incentives for filmmakers, keep an eye on unions like The Screenwriters Guild to help with your early work and again, provide networking, and to build your own independent portfolio in the form of your own blog or website.

Some of these I have actually gone ahead and utilised, having a profile on both First Job and Stage32, as well as my own blogspot for a separate animated project I´m working, documenting the entire development history of the series, as well as teasers of the script and concept art for the characters. I very much understand and appreciate the importance of this, with today serving as a welcome reinforcing of my convictions and plans, knowing they have worked before.

Yr3 Week 10 (Thurs 11 Dec - MDA3200 Film Theory - Digital Realism)

In today´s screening, we watched the Russian experimental film, Russian Ark (2002), a film shot in one giant take as it moves through a museum, and recreates scenes from Russian History of the last 300 years (from plays put on for Catherine the Great, to the lavish balls of Tsar Nicholas II). While it can be a dry affair, and there isn´t much of a narrative beyond seeing what will be in the next room of the museum, it is still impressive that such a massive co-ordination of effort was pulled off so well. In fact, it´s fitting timing that we watch this, as Birdman (2014) is set to debut here soon, and that too is a one take film (or at least, creates an illusion of being seamless).

So this brought us into talking about digital realism, which as mentioned last week, was birthed out of the boom of affordable tech and the digital medium in the 1990s. The higher image quality, as well as the ease of use of the equipment, creates a different effect from other stocks discussed before, and it caused something of a stir: Stephen Prince in True Lies argues that traditional film theory doesn´t quite comprehend this new strain of realism, and underestimates the powers of perception. This forms what is known as the Image-Audience Relationship, which one can also say if not far removed from Suspension of Disbelief, though in reverse, allowing the audience to buy into the illusion on screen even if it is unreal.

In the seminar, after filling  our some module evaluation sheets, we also took a look at what the new technology enabled filmmakers to do, such as the famous scenes from Forrest Gump (1994) where Tom Hanks interacts with archive footage of famous historical figures like President Kennedy and John Lennon almost seamlessly. It also allows us to play with audiences and create abstract spaces, which in turn also has its roots in the past, like Alan Resnais´ Last Year in Marienbad (1955), an intricate puzzle of a film that create a strange world within a country estate that is enigmatic and often confounding, playing with space and the flow of time.

To close off, this does at least feel like some new ground after what felt like weeks of glorified revision, discussing much more recent developments in cinema, and certainly throwing up some interesting notions about the way we interact with film, and how certain choices can completely alter our experience that may, at first, seem trivial.

Yr3 Week 10 (Wed 10 Dec - MDA3300 Film Research and Context - Ethics & Progress Report)

Elhum quickly did a progress report on us, quickly recapping what we had covered in the pasty weeks, and then handing a module evaluation form which we duly filled out. It was a quick affair, so I don´t feel it needs much commenting (and I´ve expressed my sentiments here on the blog, so no need for repetition).

The main meat of today lay in discussing Ethics, which we briefly touched last week discussing legalities and defamation. Given that the medium of film can alter and manipulate, by its very definition, the use of vocal subjects naturally leads to question about representation and portrayal, which is where defamation comes back in. The easy solution if someone involved gets upset is to either settle with money, or to remove their segment entirely if it is not entirely invaluable to the story you are trying to tell in the piece.

We broke up into groups and did an exercise as a variant on this idea: we had a documentary we were shooting in a very religious area, and some of the team do not wish to enter a cemetery that would be ideal for the film´s subject matter based on religious and social values. The solution my crew came up was to simply scout and find another location that could suit the material´s theme without inciting any kind of discomfort.

Honestly, today was rather basic, and I don´t feel there´s really that much to comment beyond what I have said in past posts, both in terms of film legalities, as well as my thoughts on this module.

Yr3 Week 9 (Thurs 4 Dec - MDA3200 Film Theory - Realism)

In the screening, we saw the 1937 drama The Grand Illusion, a French film set during a romanticized WW1, centering on a group of French Officers who get captured, and their subsequent misadventures as they move from camp to camp. The film, in addition to often being lightly amusing with frequent banter between the mismatched prisoners, also often comments on class and caste, contrasting the officers with their civilian and lower tier counterparts in terms of behaviour, ideals and attitude (also known as Cultural Capital). Context gives this a rationale, as director Jean Renoir was a socialist, which as discussed before on here, was left leaning movement and had a very clear view on what the social order ought to be, very different from the class structure in the era the film depicts.

Following on from that, we looked at different sorts of ´realism´ in film: first is the concept of Poetic Realism, a type of ´Reality´ that is tied to a certain set of values and integrity. It´s what can be termed ´nice´ or more appropriately ´pleasing´, such as the use of depth of filed and long takes to create an illusion of what you´re seeing being a ´reality´, thus lending credence to what´s on screen, even if in this case it may not be entirely historically inaccurate. By contrast, Italian ´Neo Realism´ is much harsher, often filmed at odd angles and with more movement, giving it an immediacy over the more stagey Poetic.We briefly watched a clip of the most famous of these films, Bicycle Thieves, just for comparison.

Moving onto the seminar, we discussed Neo Realism further, finding its origins in a document written by Cesare Zavattini, Some Ideas on Cinema, a manifesto that argued against what he perceived as ´fantasy´in popular cinema, and instead that the medium should focus in on something more grounded, which is what the movement ultimately became, basing itself in the reconstruction of the country following WW2. After this, we also took a glance at British Realism, a type of film often dealing with the trials of the working classes (sometimes given the moniker of ´kitchen sink films´) and which defined the careers of the likes of Ken Loach (Kes, Riff Raff) and Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies), though there is also a more middle class variant as exemplified by the film Archipelago (2010) which sees a middle class family vacationing abroad, and having many an awkward discussion over meals.

To cap off, this once again feels like a refresher, as we´ve tackled realism more than a handful of times before in the context of film movements, though the selection of films was interesting enough to keep things moving at a steady pace to prevent tedium. Regardless, little new was covered, and while I don´t doubt the professional integrity of those running the course, I must question how this correlates with our work in an ´analytical fashion´ as this course purports to be, or how really any of this goes beyond surface level observations of a piece.

Yr3 Week 9 (Wed 3 Dec - MDA3300 Film Research and Context - Legalities)

In today´s seminar we discussed one of the stickiest aspects of the film world: legalities. Right off the bat, the big one is copyright/intellectual property, a means that protects ideas and stories you created form being stolen or misused by others. For example, when submitting a script or treatment, elements such as proof of postages and dating can determine when, where and who the work belongs to and what happened prior to production or another major event.

Of course, this leads into who owns what, as rights are varied for any given work and what they serve for, beyond just protecting the original creator. This include broadcast and distribution rights, often handled by sales agents (discussed before), ring fencing rights often handled by the production company behind a project, and moral rights, which prevent the concept in question being used in a manner that goes against the original inception without the copyright holder´s permission. Elhum greatly stressed how key this right was, and how any contract signing should also include mention and examination of this element.

And beyond just the issues of right are many other sectors of red tape, such as defamation (making false claims against an individual or entity, and even a release form will not guarantee free use of the object in question without objection from the original party. Errors and Omissions Insurance can help with this), branding (similar to copyright, and equally as stringent if not more so, such as owning the font that the product´s name is in. This is why you often see fake colas in films, as a company cannot afford nor just mimic Coca Cola or Pepsi), Clearances/permissions,  exclusivity (be very clear in dealings what version you´re selling, sometimes even having to negotiate time frames of release) and Fair Use.

Fair Use, especially in the internet age, is a very hot and often tricky topic, as it should allow for the free use of any copyrighted materials under the use of commentary, criticism, satire or education, but even with this, efforts like SOPA and PIPA, have sought to undermine this and claim total control of material. Even crediting the original source does not guarantee fair use, and organizations like Youtube often have a very difficult line they have to walk of respecting their users while also not dealing with lawsuits from major corporations. However, there is also a license that permits the use of works when credited, known as Creative Commons. If you want to see a practical example of all this, watch the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated, which uses clips from a number of high profile films, and yet can still be shown and sold because it falls within Fair Use.

Naturally, this is quite a lot to take in, though I am no stranger to it due to my Youtube career and often dealing with companies filing copyright claims against my reviews, even though they are Fair Use and are non-profit. It can be a very funny thing, and considering how much money could be sent down the drain by being careless here, either in terms of lawsuits or in lost revenue, it´s not something to skip over nor give time to.

Yr3 Week 9 (Mon 1 Dec - MDA3400 Screenwriting workshop 2)

Much like last time, today those of us who are opting to do a 30 minute screenplay brought in what we had worked on. This time, having changed genres and gears entirely, I brought in my ´beta´ (I was reluctant to call it a first draft, as it hadn´t been finished) of Little Visitor, a fantasy tale for children telling of a young boy whose parents undergo divorce, and through the aid of a little magical creature, regains faith in his father, whom he blames for the break up.

Reception was favourable, with the class praising the strength of the writing, the heart and the imagery I conjured up, though criticism was leveled at the length, the necessity of having a magical creature given his magic isn´t all that showy or grandiose, and some rather hamfisted emotions, include a very blatant Í love you Dad´ bit that was corny to a fault. Still, I was pleased that the note had hit a sweet spot, and I very aim to rectify those complaints and expand the story further to give it all the weight it needs.

Yr3 Week 8 (Thurs 27 Nov - MDA3200 Film Theory - Returning to Political Cinema & Colonialism)

Today, we made a return to some of the topics last week concerning politically-minded cinema. In the screening, we watched the famous 1966 film, Battle of the Algiers, directed by Gillo Pontecorvo. This black and white drama deals with the rising independence movement in Morroco during the time against French colonial rule. The film has a documentary aesthetic to it, very raw and often up close to our characters, mainly Moroccan, as we see them fight, banding together to form a guerilla terrorist cell within the community in Algiers, and launch a series of attacks upon the white populous. This is very fitting, as the film often focuses on the unpleasant aspects of fighting for our ideals and the immense sacrifices, often morally challenging, required.

Afterwards, this lead into a discussion on Colonialism, a battle between two cultures and the divide that arises from that, which was starting die out by the time Algiers was made, with more and more countries gaining independence, primarily from ´´Old World´´ powers like France and the UK. One such filmmaker to be birthed from this transitional era was Ousmane Sembene, often hailed as the ´the father of African Cinema´. His 1975 satire The Curse looks at such a transitional phase over in Africa, with the old colonial government being ousted and instead an all black entity takes control, though frankly, their behaviour seems to differ little, wearing suits, carrying briefcases and driving around in limousines.

The seminar furthered this discussion, going into ideas like ´trans-nationalism´ i.e. being beyond a set nationality, especially now in an age of global and instant communication (for example, despite being an American creation, The Simpsons are animated over in South Korea) and geopolitics (pretty self explanatory) before then briefly moving into ´video art´, a movement that arised out of the 90s digital and tech boom, where filmmakers could make shorts to perhaps discuss some kind of idea or belief without the exuberant costs of old, and on a more universal format. Modern equivalents of that include the Britain is Not Eating short film discussed on this blog before.

And well, that´s that. Though it was interesting to return to the topic of colonialism, and certainly the use of film as both commentary and propaganda is a fascinating topic,there was little new ground covered it, and as seems to be a recurring point, felt like a refresher on old ground, with the mention of African cinema being perhaps the only new element here.