Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Yr3 Week 8 (Wed 26 Nov- MDA3300 Film Research and Context - Programming)

Today, we continued on from last week on the subject of being a 'Programmer' for film events.

First, we looked at what being a Cinema Programmer entails: Usually the titular venues have a dedicated programmer, and they, in turn. have to have several key requirements. These include Audience Knowledge (Maintaining them and knowing what they seek/crave), Venue Knowledge (all about the logistics of what your venue can offer (where and when)), Economic Realities (self explanatory given what these venues offer) and Sourcing (where to get your films from, usually by means of distributors and sales agents, as well as bearing in mind what's hot on the festival circuit.) Also, working at a 'Multiplex' (Odeon, Cineworld, VUE, generally catering to large productions) vs. a 'PictureHouse/indie cinema' (smaller/niche films that may not play as well to a large audience) can have an impact on all of these choices too.

 However, to add some 'spice' and variety to these method, in recent years something called the 'OurScreen Model' has come up, which I've discussed in past weeks (getting audiences and film fans involved in what gets seen at their local theatres, usually through the aid of a third party website). Of course, a 'spiced up' programme does lead into the next type of Programmer: The Festival kind. For a point of reference, Elhum used her experiences with the Bird's Eye View Festival (also discussed in previous weeks).

Their array of tasks include the Research Brief (Self-explanatory: doing homework on the films that are appropriate for the festival and its themes, as well as cultural and commercial viability), sourcing (Much like above) and working with teams on supporting events and hospitality (creating more of an expansion/extension to the festival and making it more of an 'event'). Another important aspect as well, sort of tying to the last point, is acquiring venues for the festival to take place in (this in turn has a knock-on effect with the rest of the festival, especially concerning the length and popularity of a film selected), and like their Cinema counterparts, knowing the audience whom the festival is aimed at, and programming films accordingly (you wouldn't programme a children's animated short at a festival about surrealism and violence in media).

Her closing advice, should any of us be interested in working at a festival or even submitting, was to know our stuff (information is key, know the rules and specifications of what the festival is) as well as being paramount on the strongest talent and voice out there. Indeed, I agree and would do much the same myself. Speaking from my experience as an online reviewer, I find that a lot of films out there do bleed into one another, and never feel like they have a strong identity of their own. It is critical, even in bad works, to at least have your own voice/style/perspective on filmmaking and how you go about, otherwise, you just blend into the crowd.

Today's site of choice is one which, for once, I am actually familiar with and have visited before: FilmSchoolRejects. FSR, started in 2006 and still going today, are you typical pop culture site: they do reviews of theatrical and home release, they cover breaking news in the film and television, have a podcast called Broken Projector, and do editorials/articles/discussions on a major topic or issue that has come up in the world of creative media.

Honestly, I don't have much to comment on here; they are like many other review sites on the web (IGN, SchmoesKnow, the now defunct, covering a broad host of topics for a dedicated audience of media geeks, or as the site calls them 'Connoisseurs', with something for just about every type of taste and want. This certainly gives them a broad appeal and demographic potential, but given they don't offer much more about their own history or have anything drastically different from other sites, I have not much more to add.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Yr3 Week 7 (Thurs 20 Nov - MDA3200 Film Theory - Political Types)

We returned back to the subject of political cinema this week, opening up with a screening of the Cuban drama Memories of Underdevelopment (1968),a  prime example of what is known as 'Third Cinema', birthed from Latin America in the mid Twentieth Century. In this film, a bourgeois man opts to remain in Cuba as the Castro government takes control, and we follow his observing the changes in the country and how indifferent he is to it, treating those around him with a degree of contempt, such as his supposed 'best friend', and a young working class girl whom he often demeans. Mixed in with this is newsreel footage of actual historical events and people, like the 'Bay Of Pigs Invasion'. This only further magnifies the film's efforts for social commentary, and gives it much more a feeling of being grounded in history, and as a time capsule of the times.
When looking through cinema, there are 'Four' types: 'First' is your big mainstream productions, 'Second' is the European arthouse circuit, 'Third' cinema is the politically-minded ring, and then 'Fourth' is a more recent movement that focuses on the indigenous/aboriginal populus of countries around the Pacific, like Australia and the United States. In the case of today's film, a member of the 'Third', we looked into Marxism, a political ideology that felt society had been forced into a 'Base'with the working classes, and then a 'Superstructure' that dictates everything else (religion, law, education etc.), leading to inequality and manipulation (the irony being that 'enforced equality' was just as controlling when Communism came around and tried to put Marxist ideas into practice). However, Marxism did also lead into a 1920s movement known as 'The Frankfurt School' which birthed what we know today as critical analysis, combining the breakdowns of Marxism and Psychoanalysis to understand the true nature and message of a given work. This is known as 'symptomatic reading', and it's should be all too clear why this applies here.

This of course, leads into film ideology, constantly evolving and changing as interpretations are brought up and then challenged or debated (something which, as this blog has evidenced, I am no stranger to). In this case, this is more to do with the idea of class struggle and division for hegemony, and as yet another example, we watched one of The Guardian's microplays, Britain Is Not Eating, which all about how the higher classes perceive the way the working ones use their money, and them arguing that food banks and benefits are unnecessary.

Then, in the seminar, we discussed more about Memories itself, refreshing ourselves with a brief recap of a sequence set during a visit to the home of author Ernest Hemingway. Here, we noted how there is a contrast of intellects between the main lead and his girlfriend (classist and maybe sexism), how his narration comments and disdains on Cuba and its culture/world view (seeing them as undeveloped and base), and even having a cameo of the book's original author may be self deprecating and slightly meta (reflexivity). As for the structuring, the film doesn't make much use of transition, and instead opts to use 'titles' when moving to a new part of the story, akin to the book. It also regularly sprinkles in flashbacks of the main character's upbringing in 'old' Cuba, and the aforementioned vignettes to add in more context and background to this world and him.

Finally, just for comparison, we saw another Cuban production, Soy Cuba (1974), which is sort of like a Cuban Nashville or Shortcuts, detailing the lives of different people. Our vignette was on a fruit seller's girlfried who sells herself to an American for a night, much to the bewilderment of her boyfriend. This is lighter and more pro-Cuba than Memories, painting Americans in an unsavoury light and showing them as 'corrupting' and 'piggish'. In the end, I feel that I have not much more to add as a conclusion that the above did not already detail.

Yr3 Week 7 (Wed 19 Nov- MDA3300 Film Research and Context - Film Festivals)

Today's seminar with Elhum was centered on film festivals, fitting given how recently we had gone to Riga. The basic stats for this whole business include such facts as there being over 3000 festivals active every year around the world, with 75% started in the last decade, and with the U.S. being the largest market, with 70% of festivals happening there.

Speaking of large, there are what's known as the 'Big 5', the largest festivals and the most influential: Cannes (which happens in May, and is probably the most famous), Toronto (Aug-Sept), Sundance (Jan), Venice (Sept) and Berlin (Feb). These are known as 'A' List festivals, which much like anything else in the media world, means there are the ones that will garner the most attention for you and will ensure a longer lifespan for the film's release with that clout behind it. As for the UK specifically, the main ones are, of course, linked to the big cities: London, Edinburgh, Raindance and East End (over in East London, of course). What also ties these together is there is usually a business sideline to the events as well, in the form of trade shows, where you can network and meet valuable allies to assist in your next production.

Also useful for getting into festivals and making yourself known/being aware of them, are the likes of, which includes an enormous directory of all festivals, British Council - Film which offers registration to events, and WithoutaBox, which speeds up the process of registration on a larger scale by sending your information to festivals for you, and not needing to re-enter it constantly for new events. Also important to bear in mind when doing any of this is your film's genre and background, whereby there exist festivals that cater specially to certain type, like Frightfest does for Horror films, or Bird's Eye View does for female directors.

As for the actual roles when setting up the festival, it follows in a manner akin to most large events: most are pretty self-explanatory (Technician, Marketing Manager, Producer) and then more specific to this are jobs like Programmers (whose job it is to examine the different films and then build the selection), the Programme Manager (who oversees this, as well as managing the fees related to submission) and even the Guest Liason (they look after the special guests and chaperone them around). Some of the pro-tips Elhum offered from hers, and other programmers, include the likes of maintaining good manners with festivals, be very clear and concise with your submissions, do your homework on the festivals to optimize your appropriate exposure. And most key, please put your DVDs in proper cases and not just cheap envelopes!

This was a very detailed seminar, and it was rather interesting just seeing how often and how easily mistakes are made and how they can be rectified. Sometimes, as filmmakers, we often look at these sorts of outlets with a mix of contempt and yet incredibly needy-ness for acceptance, so knocking it out of the park with proper conduct is essential.

Today's organisation of choice was Future Shorts, an entity devoted towards promoting blood new short films from young filmmakers since 2011. The grand prize is known as the Future Shorts Audience Award, where the audience is allowed to vote for whatever is their favourite film, and a global community at that, as the website puts it.

What's more, on top of programming these 'pop-up' festivals and awards, they also offer services to help filmmakers, including distribution help as well as use of their own resources, as they own studios of their own. These services include support/help with sound, graphics and editing.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Yr3 Week 6 - Reading Week (10-14 Nov)

So, Reading came about again, and it was time to get to work on the two major term assignments: First, for MDA3400, I had to do a full proposal for my short script (Little Visitor), which basically played out the same as the pitch, only in written form: what's about, what are its ideas, who is it aimed at, how long will it take, why should it be made etc.), each section lasting between 200-700 words.

The second task was for MDA3200, where I had to write a 1500 word textual analysis of a sequence from a film we had watched in class, breaking down what it could mean/what it's saying, and how/why. My choice was the ending of Ordet, when the wife is resurrected by Johannes, up till this point dismissed by others as a nut who said he was the reborn Christ. I felt that the religious implications of this ending made it ripe for different interpretations I could cover, filling out the 1500 words with ease and of course, detail.

Yr3 Week 5 (Fri 7 Nov - MDA3400 Pitching session - Our Son)

So today was the big one: I had to pitch the short script that I was to work on for the remainder of the year. I already have the presentation here on the blog, so I won't go over it again here (look up 'Our Son pitch'), so instead, this will be kept concise as to the feedback I gained from classmates and Helen, who was moderating:

  • Sadly, the 5-8 mins time limit wasn't kind to me, and I ran out halfway through the presentation. Need to work on being a faster and more concise speaker.
  • While the class admired it for being bold enough to tackle an issue as serious as child illness and the effect it has on parents, some questioned if maybe the subject matter would too relentlessly dour (in retrospect, a film I should've brought up to show that it can be done is Michael Hanneke's Amour (2011), which dealt with the elderly, death and caring for a dying partner).
  • Also, there was the question if it wouldn't be more suited for documentary if I wanted to show what this was like for real parents. While an understandable point, I counter-argued that there are certain lines you can't cross with a documentary (a subject just may be straight up unwilling to discuss) whereas, armed with enough research, you could go those extremes with fiction and not worry about that, only getting to the emotions at the core of the story.
 Subsequently, now that this journal is a while late in being published anyway, Our Son was dropped a few days later in favour of a new, more child-friendly script called 'Little Visitor'. Not because I was scared of a challenge (I still intend to develop Our Son as a full screenplay later on), but because of persona affairs that meant I was no longer as determined to tackle such dour subject matter for my final project, and instead, opt to do something a little brighter, more open and colourful. Sometimes, the darkness isn't quite so appealing....

Yr3 Week 5 (Thurs 6 Nov - MDA3200 Film Theory - Political Cinema)

In today's screening, we watched the 1967 French film by maverick auteur Jean Luc Godard (Filme Socialisme), Weekend. Te film is certainly an odd affair, using the troubled journey of a married couple to visit relatives as a backdrop for an all round assault on French society vat the time: materialism, the bourgeois, intellectuals, social norms, taboos, sex, urban and country life, it all comes under fire in a rather oddball, often amusing way. Instances of which include a long take of several minutes in length as the couple tr to drive through a traffic jam, each time finding the other drivers doing odd things like playing chess, having a picnic, having marital debates etc. or them stumbling across a young couple in the woods who go in the guise of literary figures (Lewis Caroll and Emily Bronte) while spouting wax philosophical, and in return for their thoughts, get beaten and burnt by the couple.

Yes, it's an odd-'un, and one that very much was a product of the times, specifically France of the late 60s: this was a country in turmoil, as we discussed in the seminar. There were youth and student uprising against the government in May of 1968 that sent very firm shockwaves through the rather conservative French society of the time. At the same time, there was a film movement being birthed n the county, what is now known as the French New Wave, a group of film enthusiasts who saw the medium as a legitimate artform and means to communicate messages and ideas. Prominent figures included the likes of Godard. Francois Truffant and Alain Resnois, all famous French filmmakers who would influence the coming film world, with Truffant, in particular, giving birth to the notion of the director as 'auteur'.

After this, we quickly touched on the idea of 'deconstruction' (uncovering the real agenda/views/agencies/themes of a given work) and how that pertained to Weekend (which deconstructs French values of the time, especially the materialistic bourgeois, even if it can get a little on the nose at points and have characters literally spell out the message), and quickly revisited the notion of diegesis (what takes place/what is within the world of the film, which is certainly interesting, given how strange and surreal Weekend gets at points).

Once again, this session was recovering a lot ground from last year with regards to the French New Wave, but still served as a decent refresher and a fun introduction to the works of Godard. The major new information came really from looking further at the political context of the New Wave, which was interesting and perfectly parallels how the New Wave would change cinema, rocking a lot of the old boats and introducing new and more impactful ways to tell stories.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Yr3 Week 5 (Wed 5 Nov - MDA3300 Film Research and Context - Marketing)

Today's seminar was on the topic of Film Marketing, one the biggest and most critical factors in not just the process of releasing a film, but the success/failure ratio of the project, based on well it works. So, how does it?

To start off with, one of the major components of a film's release is known as the EPK (Electronic Press Kit), which in the age of the internet, has become standard procedure: it includes the key written information (synopsis, cast and crew listing listings and the website) as well as the trailer, poster and even little promo clips for the film. Sets the stage, gets out the information and helps to build interest and hype should the materials appeal.The other really famous part of film promotion comes in the form of what Elhum called 'Great Extras'; the premiere/gala events thrown in honour of the film, the marketing blitzkrieg, the in cinema displays and then perhaps the most powerful of all, the viral/social media angle, where a film's popularity ca be made or broken on god word of mouth and the spread of coverage and even 'favorite' moments, much like the various Joker lines from The Dark Knight (Good Evening Commissioner, Why So Serious, Let's Put a Smile on that face) were in 2008.

Next, we touched on perhaps the most quintessential form of marketing; the poster. Sometimes deceptively simple, the job of these sheets, be they the product of photoshop or even the classic painted ones by artists like Drew Struzan (a lot of Amblin productions got his treatment), is to tell a story of their own, to entrance and entice the onlooker into wanting to see the film. Sometimes, this can be very clear, like a poster for an Indiana Jones film teasing all the characters and big action scenes, or even a little mindgame, like the poster of Her, which contrasts the feminine title and colour scheme (pinks and reds) with a picture of a moustached Joaquin Phoenix. It comes down to the combination of colour, the use of critic quotes, and the juxtaposition/placement of symbols and imagery, as demonstrated rather differently by the two examples above.

Of course, all this is well and good, but how does it start? Well, it begins when you call in a 'Campaign Designer', who is exactly what they sound like: you give them a brief (who's the film's audience, the outline, the objectives o the campaign and is there any use/buzz courtesy of the awards circuit) and then they take care of the rest with their own team. One key factor in how they work is decided the general audience: not in terms of traditional demographics (teens, adults, children, families etc.) but in terms of the general circuit. Is it a mainstream film, or one more suited to the arthouse/indie field. The choice yields very different approaches: the mainstream will very much be more of a 'sale', focusing on whatever clout and praise the film has received (stars, quotes, who's involved), while the indie circuit will focus more on a distinctive poster to really show what kind of film it is and what it has to say for itself. The poster in this instance becomes more of a standalone work of art than an advertisement.

Speaking of audience, this leads into the next topic: Positioning. What's your audience, what are your assests, and how do you use them to get to the desired audience. Let's talk a PG13 style action film, the usual kind of big summer release, like Guardians of the Galaxy this past summer. The audience is a broad selection, but primarily youth (anywhere from 9-30 yrs old, accounting both comic book and non-comic fans of Marvel). The assets here are the property the film is based off, the branding of both Marvel and Disney and the use of well known actors like Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana and Chris Pratt among others, all of which come with their own fanbases. Already, you have a lot of people who will come for those reasons, as well as the use of the internet, having trailers and TV spots loaded with little moments that become 'memes', which will in turn go viral (a racoon firing a machine gun, the use of classic 1970s songs in the trailers, the parodies of iconic movie moments like the 'walking in a straight line' bit. All of these are very powerful weapons at the disposal of the marketers. With the EPK, you define yourself, but with the marketing, you expand and evolve into something bigger: into a part of pop culture.

Honestly, this can be broken down into three easy to remember components: 1) Build an audience, 2) Launch your new project, and 3) Maintain the audience/Sustain. Today's seminar covered a rather sizeable spectrum f concepts, but still opened how even deceptively simple campaigns an have an absurd amount of planning and thought put into them, and frankly, the sheer scale of tools available to film marketers is astounding nowadays. This acted as both a reinforcement of what I already knew (and had discussed before, see my pieces on The Lone Ranger), and an eye opener on some of the inner workings.


And today's film-related corporation of choice the British Video Association.The BVA is a trade body that represents publishers/rights owners of video entertainment (nowadays, DVDs and Blu-Rays) in the UK. Their clientele include the likes of the big studios (Warners, Lionsgate, Paramount) but also the BFI and smaller companies like Koch Media. They also have strong ties to the likes of The Video Standards Council (VSC), The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and the Film Distributors Association (FDA) among a number of major media boards in the UK.

As well as serve these companies, they also inform and keep up to date with trends in home releases, having the likes of sales charts for both DVD and Blu-ray, release dates/catalogues, as well as a news section pertaining to major developments in British film on their webpage. They also host an awards ceremony, fittingly titled the BVA Awards, which celebrates achievement sin marketing and retail in the film sector. In 2013 for example, The Best Selling UK 'video', Skyfall, won for Retail Title of The Year, while Universal won for Retail Distributor of the Year.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Our Son pitch (the presentation)

'Our Son' - Screenplay Pitch

1. Introduction:
The form: Our Son is a 30 minute drama short screenplay (to be developed also as a feature script simultaneously).

Theme/subject: The film deals with the realities of being a parent with a terminally ill/disabled child.
This leads into themes such as choice, consequence, guilt and acceptance, which such parents come to grips with on a daily basis.

Synopsis: We follow a day in the life of parents Tony and Clarisse as they care for their young son Ryan, who suffers from 'Metachromatic Leukodystrophy'/MLD, a disease that destroys the coating of nerve endings and impairs all body function . His only means of communication is through a visual personality simulator linked to his mind. As we see the parents trying to cope in this adverse situation, we also learn of how things came to be when Clarisse revisit old footage and photos, and the sad journey that tore this film apart.

Tone/style: despite the light bit of sci-fi with the simulator (drawn on real technology), this is a very down to earth and restrained tale, with little in the way of levity and a strong focus on the human element. Lorenzo's Oil and Awakenings are key influences, the former for the family dynamic, while the latter addresses the issues surrounding a more radical form of medicine/other help for patients, and the duality of its effects.

Target audience: Adult audiences as well as parents to help spread awareness of the disease and enlighten to the kinds of struggles these people face daily.

Where will you send: Script contests like Script Pipeline and Stage 32, opportunities from the BBC Writersroom, and sending it off to agents.

2. Context:
Relation to your previous work: Ninos Robados and Beautiful Madness both deal with hot topics concerning children and both relate to medical establishments. Robados dealt with the abuse of trust and the subsequent loss and guilt wrought on the parents of stolen children, while Madness was a semi autobiographical short documentary on raising a child with medical issues and all the battles and pressures that had to be fought.

Relation to outside world: MLD is a rare disease, so it is not known very well or easy to recognise/distinguish from other debilitating disorders, and the effects it incurs upon families. There is also the debate around experimenting with terminally ill life and the kind of strain that causes on families, especially when the sufferer is young.

3. Research:
Sites on illness: 

Writing aides/influences: Writing the Short Film by Pat Cooper & Ken Dancyger, as well as Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee for the actual writing. Visual inspirations include Lorenzo's Oil, Awakenings and A.I.

4. Methodology:
Process: Following an outline, organising the key components, 
there will be a continuous process of redrafting, based on both class and tutor feedback.

Schedule: As the deadline is April 26, the goal being a new draft of the script every 2-3 weeks (accounting both for personal life and other work assignments).

5. Contingency & Review:
Challenges: To treat the situation and characters with the maximum level of respect and dignity a touchy subject like this one requires.

Addressing these challenges: The research, as well as drawing on personal experience so as not to overdramatize nor undersell the subject.

Points of review: Key points for review would mainly be focused n the reality of how the writing treats the subject how believable the parents are and is there enough of a friction there between them and what they have been lumbered with.

Contingencies: Screenwriting is a constant process of trial, error and experimentation, so even if an element goes wrong, it can be redrafted and retooled (with backup copies saved). Also, tutors are available to consult should there be problems.

Flexibility: Since the deadline is in April, there is plenty of time for rewrites, redrafts and changes to made should a particular part of the script not work/not mesh well.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Yr3 Week 5 (Mon 3 Nov - MDA3400 Screenwriting workshop 1)

Every couple of weeks, we will have a screenwriting workshop/session  with James Charlton, to discuss and debate ideas and concepts for our dissertations scripts and films. To be perfectly blunt, this wasn't an especially eventful first class, given how few of us had material to really offer or display, and the few who did say were still very much in the idea stage. And really, that's about it. I certainly hope, and am very sure, this will become more useful as the course progresses, but right now, not much to report, save for posterity.

Yr3 Week 4 (Thurs 30 Oct - MDA3200 Film Theory - Formalism)

In today's sessions, we looked at Formalism (what type of form does a film take, as expressed through editing, cinematography, tone, style etc.) To begin with, in the lecture we watched Carl Dreyer's (we saw another of his film, the silent drama The Passion of Joan Of Arc, two years ago) religious drama from 1955, Ordet. A strange sort of affair, Ordet deals with issues of faith and belief as we focus in on the lives of a small farmer family in Denmark, and the trials they endure (from a marriage debate with another religious family, to the loss of one of their members and the crises of faith that creates in them). Very slow burn kind of drama, but still intriguing nonetheless (though the rather fantastical ending did leave some scratching their head,s while others just laughed).

Subsequently, after the screening and into the seminar thereafter, we discussed the form of this film; shot in black and white despite being from the 50s, long takes aplenty and even the rather deliberate movement, as well as placement, of the actors on screen. The distinctive lighting mixed with the monochrome and actor placement created scenes which visually, resembled Renaissance artworks, specifically sculptures (some said paintings, but the B&W made the performers look more like statues to me) that you would see around places like the Vatican, crafted by masters like Michelangelo and Raphael. Couple that with the long takes and slow pace which permit the viewer to dwell, and that approach gains a lot more credence. Furthermore, the slowness also allows the viewer to take in the film's sentiments on faith and belief, and really digest them and think about them as they watch the film, rather than jumping from scene to scene and taking in the story much more conventionally.

The notion of film manipulation to create a certain effect is hardly a new or even obscure principle, famously summarised as the Kuleshov Effect. As far back as the early years of more narrative oriented cinema, with the likes of Eisenstein and Battleship Potemkin, the combination of editing and image juxtaposition can create all sorts of effects, even if the objects are not necessarily in the same time or place (a close up on a neutral face can be juxtaposed with a shot of either a funeral or a birthday party, and the subsequent message to the audience about its meaning will change). This is of course known as semiotics, the signs of signs, which is composed of three key elements; the icon (what does it denote), the index (what sort of reference is it) and the symbol (what does it connote).

Of course, such a manipulation does invite the questioning of what is film realism, which Brecht famously challenged in his 'Defamiliarization Effect', arguing that 'realism' was a load of bunkum and that it doesn't invite the audience to be challenged nor engaged by a world/reality beyond or different to our own. 'Lay bare the device'/'Make it strange' as he put it. This then briefly lead into the debate of /continuity editing' vs. 'montage', and how the two are used in film (one is more about psychological reality, emotions and the actual content. The other is more intellectual and places a greater emphasis on how it is presented i.e. the form). In the end, though by this point this isn't exactly telling us as students a whole lot new, it is still important to draw attention to how something is presented, and what that can create on top of whatever story is being told. It certainly serves as a reminder of how important all our planning and the subsequent post production work we do can change how our intentions and ideas come across to an audience when we opt for one style or method over another.

Yr3 Week 4 (Wed 29 Oct - MDA3300 Film Research and Context - Simon Best lecture)

Simon Best from the Business School came in today to give a lecture on entrepreneurship, which rather obviously relates to film production and producing given both share that proactive drive for maximizing assets and good business skill. Of course, to help illustrate what is both entrepreneurship and enterprise, he conducted a series of activities, including a picture game (where you had to see behind the image to connect them i.e. pigs and fireworks: salt peter from pig urine helps make gunpowder), a rapid fire questionnaire (What is an entrepreneur (Someone who applies enterprise), what is enterprise (Creativity when solving problems/challenges), are you an entrepreneur (of course, as both business and film require a strong ability to be proactive) and are enterprising (filmmaking is creative by its very nature, so the answer is self evident)) and even a little versus game in order to break down the three key elements of business (Needs, Wants and Demands i.e. a Ferrari vs. a Pegueot 108: both serve the need of transport, the want of an image about ones status, and the demand is in relation to ones finances (the 108 being the cheaper option).
Of course, all this then raised the question of where does entrepreneurship come from? Really, it came from a shift in human behaviour as we moved from being primitive hunter/gatherers to traders as our societies began to evolve and we need to co-operate and trade for the greater good of a group's power and survival. Indeed, there are five key drivers at work when it comes to business; New organizations, new mindsets, new populations, new markets and new technology, each self-explanatory in their role, and each important in order to situate oneself in the ideal position for profit maximization, After all, why make really complicated, high maintenance PCs for the elderly when simpler, cheaper, less demanding models will suit them fine. It's all about understanding the consumer-product relationship.

Naturally though, it's not only about what you sell, but who is selling it; are you self employed (focused more on qualitative growth and rather straightforward content/products) or a business owner (more about quantitative growth and ensuring you are always on top of new tricks and trends in your chosen market to stay relevant)? This is especially important as now, thanks to the digital revolution, we are living in times where the jobs market is ever changing, and the balance of power is shifting and now, there is more room and opportunities for business to start up online without incurring gigantic costs on staff and real estate (apparently, the typical cost of starting up a new company nowadays is only £500).

Of course, all this jargon is well and good, and Best made for a very lively and engaging speaker, but how does this more directly apply to someone like me? Fundamentally, though I may not be out to found a company, the importance of enterprising and entrepreneurship is rather self-evident; if I want to be a filmmaker, I must be pro-active enough to work hard and get myself know out there, while also keeping an eye on the market and see what kinds of films and stories are really big with the public now, as well as where there are potentially new audiences to be cultivated ) as Netflix recently demonstrated so potently). A filmmaker must be that careful balance of artists and businessman f he is to stand a chance in such a gigantic and competitive field. I hope I'm up to the task...

Yr3 Week 3-4 (23-27 Oct - 2Annas Film Festival, Riga, Latvia)

This year, Middlesex University had been invited to attend 2Annas Film Festival in Riga, Latvia. This is an event designed to celebrate young filmmakers, for features, shorts and animation, in the Baltic and Eastern European regions. Several of our students had entered their assignment shorts from last year into the competition, though they were not nominated for any of the categories.

Since not a terrible amount happened between events, save for the mundaneness of sleep, food, sightseeing (Riga is a lovely place with a wonderful 'Old City' section) and of course, late night partying, I'll succinctly list the key events of each day down below:
  • Day 1: After a very early morning flight (6:45am), we arrived in a rather frigid Riga and, after checking in at the lovely Koventa Seta Hotel, we headed to a local academy for talks on film distribution and the sometimes harsh realities of the film festival circuit, courtesy of a German producer. One of his key bits of advice was to really look out for festivals that don't charge fees, as they examine a work more on artistry.
  • Day 2: We attended of our submitted MDX films at the KSuns theatre. However, the subsequent Q'n'A was cut short due to running out of time in our slot, and we vacated over to a local bar (and a rather shabby, rundown one to boot) though the session didn't materialize. A genuine pity, and I have to question why the festival didn't exercise more of its authority and resources to ensure we wouldn't get so rudely interrupted.
  • Day 3: Possibly the most 'distinct' day, we headed over to a lovely picture palace for the 2Annas Award Ceremony. However, once past the initial awe and beauty the ceremony was a complete and utter shambles; unrehearsed, unconfident hosts (also the festival producers mind you), poor technicals (no showreel or powerpoint, they would just jump back to the desktop anytime they needed something), weak judges who made completely generic, uninforming comments about the awarded films and worst of all, they never properly explained the categories or the films who won, so we were left just haphazardly jumping from category to category and watching clips with practically no context or explanation (doubly bad considering how good these films were when we got to see them at a later screening).
  • Day 4: Today, however, we attended a screening of the awarded films, which nearly made up for yesterday's shambles. A mixture of dark little short films, with a seemingly running theme of decay and denial (be it sexual with a castrated farmer, social with the school trying to seem more lively than it really is, or the mundane family and its typical day) and sometimes surrealistic animation (of note being a short film that play Monty Python with a bunch of animals in odd situations) made for a mesmerizing viewing experience, and certainly very different from our own, more straight laced shorts.

And then the last day was mainly spent just lying down in the lovely little teahouse by the river for the final time, before we boarded our RyanAir back to Stanstead. So, after all that, what are my closing thoughts about our little Latvian adventure? In the end, I didn't, and still don't, blame David or the tutors for what happened, as they had been, as I put it, 'suckered in', but just felt the Festival had not been the enriching experience it ought to have been. It was plenty of fun, roaming around and sightseeing with all my friends in the class, but as an educational endeavour, it failed with flying colours. However, that's not to say nothing of substance was gained, as there was the networking party after the awards ceremony. This is obviously good, mainly in the amount of potentially fruitful connections for us and the University, as well as the exposure of us attending such an event. As they say, 'Every shadow must have a light', and the hard work of David and co. should be acknowledged and respected, and not coloured by unforseen left turns that can happen to the best of us. Oh well, at least the food was good....

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Yr3 Week 3 (Wed 22 Oct - MDA3300 Film Research and Context - Distribution)

Today's seminar was focused on one of the most critical elements when handling a film post post-post production: finding distributors, who will ensure your film gets into, among many others, theatres/on DVD/on streaming services & V.O.D./into festivals/TV or even for Educational uses. Of course, before that, one needs a Sales Agent, which was touched on last week, whose job it is to seek distributors internationally and make the necessary dealings, which can involve multiple entities as distributors are regionally confined mainly (save for the big Hollywood studios, most are country-specific i.e. Metrodome is British, Studiocanal is European, Toho is Japanese etc.

The model for how business is handled is Filmmaker>Distributor and then either Audiences or Cinemas, so there exists the option for level of directness to your product. However, more important and detailed than that is the actual methodology, broken into four key steps: 1) Acquisition (self explanatory), 2) Strategy (planning the release), 3) Creativity (how will you sell/market the film) and 4) Accountability (reporting to rights holders on how the whole affair turns out). Negotiation is usually in the 70/30, 60/40 realm, in favour to the filmmaker.

Another important element discussed was understanding the market, and playing up to them to ensure the maximum amount of people see your film. To illustrate, we watched both the domestic and international trailers for the Saudi Arabian film Wadja (2013), a story about a young girl who wants a bike. Both endorsed the feel-good, underdog quality of the film, but there were a few interesting differences; the international trailer played more of the novelty aspect, like pointing that this is Saudi Arabia's first film given their strict policy on entertainment, how many festivals and awards it picked up, it was very much designed to make it more of an 'event' film, much like say, The Artist (2011) for being a new silent film. The domestic trailer however, made it more intimate and personal. Sure, you had some critic quotes, but no the high profile pedigree compared to the endorsements of the international trailer, and there was also an emphasis on the proper pronunciation of the film's title, probably to help facilitate word of mouth among friends and relatives.

Indeed, that brings us to another important piece of the puzzle: understanding audience. One of the easy ways to do this is of course, looking at box office figures, which was also mentioned last time through people like Charles Gant or Film Time Machine. Also useful are exit polls, which are directly from the audience, dealing with screen venues and their profits, and can be found through places like the BFI. On a related note to that, now audiences can even have a more direct say in what they see, as now some cinemas offer the ability to have organized screenings for specific films based on audience demand. This can arranged through sites like An interesting little tidbit I'd figure Id throw in to further illustrate the audience's level of power in what cinema can do/show.

And well, that was that. This session served more as a reminder/refresher on the nature of distribution and the audience's abilities/importance, and how it is a much bigger field than often given credit for when discussing the entire shebang of filmmaking. This is a much bigger game than just selling it to 'some guy' and then he does the rest, and the importance of strategy and a good sales agent is invaluably to ensure maximum exposure for both the film and you so that you may gain resources/kickbacks for next time and make a name for yourself out there in the proper circles.
Today's company of choice is CineVue: Essentially a news and review site, CineVue was started back in April 2010, and has devoted itself to highlighting British releases for a larger audience, most recently with musical drama Northern Soul and the new Mike Leigh biopic Mr. Turner, being heavily featured. They are a mix of reviews as well as news on the latest hub-bubs in both the international and the UK film world, including the newest interviews, announcements, film festivals (including Toronto) and competitions.

I can see why a site like this would be important. After all, such an attention to smaller films for a large readerbase of potential viewers and patrons would be invaluable for a first time filmmaker to really get a name, as well as a regular future audience, for him or herself.

Yr3 Week 3 (Mon 20 Oct - MDA3400 Proposal outline)

I'll be frank and say today's lecture was rather pointless, as this is information we could've easily read off of Moodle and honestly, not much discussion on the actual challenges/problems faced by our projects, was created from it so having be a group thing was a tad redundant. Regardless of my complaints however, here is the recap:

Yeah, that sums it up all too nicely (hey, I can crack the odd joke on what is ostensibly a serious work blog, no?)
  • The dissertation proposal will make up 10% of our overall grade, and is due Nov 20.
  • The outline is as follows: Name, Student number, Blog address, 700 word overview (form, themes, synopsis, tone, demographics), 600 word context, 600 word research, 400 on methodology, 200 on challenges, Assessment contract and Bibliography.
Yep, that's about it. Very basic and straightforward, and again, I question why this needed to be a full class as, unlike last week with Helen, this was nowhere near as comprehensive or detailed, and felt more like being read a list. Not a terrible amount to work with, is it?

Yr3 Week 2 (Fri 17 Oct - MDA3400 Ideas Generation workshop)

Today's double session was devoted towards prepping ourselves for our big pitch in week 5, where we present our dissertation project (be it a short film or two, a script or even a critical essay, which rather humorously, no one opted for). Of course, some where still not entirely sure of what they wanted to do, so Helen decided to have a little ideas generation Workshop set up to get the old skull engine firing away again. Most of them are fairly straightforward exercises which I'll list off here:

  • 2p Game: a fun little entree, the aim of the game is to knock the 2 pence off of a person's hand with just your hand and nothing else. What this demonstrated was not only aptitude and dexterity, but also inner flair and showmanship as the numbers go down, and suddenly you begin to clown around as you avoid the other person and become an entertaining watch. Easy to see how this relates to pitching.
  • Q'n'A sheet: straightforward list of questions on how we behave/define ourselves with the creative process. Not much to comment on save for I am a very committed, almost maverick individual, when it comes to projects and I care very deeply about the wellbeing of those around me when I collaborate.
  • Helen brought up the notion of 'Belben's Team analysis', which says there are always certain people in any given team: the Plant (ideas man), the Shaper (the energy), the Monitor Evaluator (very deliberate and accurate), the Implementer (the hard worker), the Co-Ordinator (the boss), the Resources Investigator (the negotiator), the Specialist (the master of their craft) and the Finisher (the maverick who sees something through to the bitter end).
  • Getting into groups of four, we each broke down our ideas for our dissertation into the following categories (form, subject, one sentence summary and keywords) and then shared them. Mine was a feature script (1), dealing with parents who have a terminally ill child (2), who we see fight their harsh reality, and then what they would do for a cure (3), and finally, there is choice, consequence, dehumanisation, hope and acceptance (4).
  • We recapped some of the idea generation techniques we had discussed for the past two years. These covered scenarios like 'No Idea' (engage in passive research, reflect on your past works and what do you feel you need to improve on/practice), the 'Just an Idea' (more active research, brainstorming, immersion in the subject, getting input from others and collaboration) and 'Committed' (the triple Rs - research, represent and refine, S.C.A.M.P.E.R. - substitute, combine, adapt, modify, put to other use, eliminate and rearrange, experimentation/tests/protype, outlines).
  • Next, in pairs, we had a face to face chat about our projects and what our aims were with them. I talked to Ruben, who wished to be a producer on three projects, and has a very no-nonsense approach to his work.
  • We then had a class brainstorm for one of the script, discussing how all the possible routes you could go with it, keywords, imagery, tone, influences and the general outline of the story and what it could be/do. After, we split up into pairs once more, to do a smaller version for our our projects.
Phew, that was a lot! Anyway, for the afternoon session, we focused more on the pitch itself. The actual details are on moodle, but this was basically a little pep talk, quickly breaking down the presentation (to be hosted on our blogs), and what some of the issues would be moving forward with our ideas (identify key issues/problems, what is the core, what is the goal and what is the strategy etc.) So, after all this, I can safely say that this won't be an easy one, mainly because of how much there is riding on this project (not just my last piece for Uni, but also a means of presenting myself to the industry). I was fully aware of this beforehand, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit all of this had yet produced some anxieties over the quality of my presentation and how much I need to go over to ensure the tutors and class are satisfied. This is made further complicated by how serious and dour my subject is, so naturally there is going to be a fair bit of blood, sweat and tears involved.

Yr3 Week 2 (Thurs 16 Oct - MDA3200 Film Theory - Auteurs)

Opening with a screening of Hitchcock's immortal thriller/horror hybrid Psycho (1960), today's sessions would be focused on the idea of authorship/auteurs in cinema, and is there really such a thing as one? Certainly, Psycho does bare some 'trademarks' that would befit a Hitchcock production: his fixation on blondes, the story's 'cruelty' towards the main characters and putting them through all sorts of ordeals, the sudden twist that changes the entire drive and nature of the story (from runaway to a murder mystery here), the emphasis on masterful sound to enhance tension and ambience, and of course, the 'maguffin' (here, the stolen money).

'Auteurship' is a concept birthed out of the French New Wave, a cinematic movement in France in the 1950s and 60s. Critic-turned-filmmaker Francois Truffant was one of this notion's most vocal voices, criticizing the stuffy adaptations of popular literature in French cinema at the time, decrying the authority of the 'writer' in these affairs and trying to push for film to be respected as a visual art form, which naturally meant the director would be in more focus. Of course, this blew up a little more aggressively due to a mistranslation of Truffant's 'A Certain Tendency of French Cinema' (1954) by Andrew Cyrus, and so suddenly the 'director' was elevated more to a higher status of regard, and creating this taste culture around them (superiority/inferiority, quality of artistry etc.)

Such a notion gained traction, not just because of high profile names like Hitchcock becoming icons beyond their films, and thus creating a 'name brand' for directors, but the termination of the Hays Production Code in 1960 also signalled a great loosening of past restrictions, allowing filmmakers to explore new avenues of storytelling, both subject and presentation. Thus came the Second Golden Age of Hollywood, where directors were lauded, revered and permitted to do whatever they wanted across the 70s, leading to more hot-topic films that could never have been greenlit before (The Last Picture Show, The Exorcist, Taxi Driver, Godfather, Chinatown, Apocalypse Now).

In the afternoon seminar, we further discussed auteurship, though this honestly amounted to little more than a re-examination of Hitchcock tropes, as mentioned above, through viewing clips from The Birds and one of his earlier offerings, Blackmail (Britain's first sound film, no less). Now then, to wrap this up, I have been fully aware of the debates surrounding authorship in film (frankly, I've been reviewing for five years online, so how could I not?), and it is a very sticky subject where both sides, director and writer, have equal grounds for each. I would go further, but if you want more of my full thoughts on the matter, please check out the video I made as part of my Discusses series on Youtube:

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Yr3 Week 2 (Wed 15 Oct - MDA3300 Film Research and Context - Financing)

(There will be a supplementary section after the main recap, as per the request of the tutor).

So in today's seminar, Elhum talked about the world of film financing and all the different types we as filmmakers and future producers can tap into to help our projects get off the ground and onto the screen. First, she went over the general categories that you're most likely to find:

  • Grants: Simply put, 'free money'. You don't have to pay it back, it's a 'gift' to the production, if you will.
  • Commissions: Exactly what it sounds like - you get hired to make a film, and the company/person/corporation gives you the money to make it.
  • Equity: The most common form, this is the 'scratch mine, scratch yours' type of investment. They, a company/person/other body, will give you the money in return for gaining it back when the film is released.
  • Tax credits: Another type of 'scratch mine, scratch yours' this one is from the government, usually gained by using local/national resources and crews, so in turn, you get back/save on certain costs.
  • Pre-Sales: Selling the film to potential clients, usually broadcasters and distributors, for what its future potential will be in return for the money now.
  • In Kind: Basically sponsoring, you get free resources if in return you promote/solely use the ones from that same particular company/brand i.e. ice cream movie with Ben and Jerry's.

Afterwards, we briefly touched on a few other key elements, like a Sales Agent (the middle man between you and the distributors, whose job it is to sell it out there and find the best market for it), deferred fees (cast/crew will put off payment till a later date, usually post release, to finish the film with what money there is), the net profit (the film's own profit after all the fees/payments are done) and the Finance plan (basically a big sheet that breakdowns what money comes from where, how much, the percentage relative to the total 100% and then the actual total. While you won't have everything right away, it is important to keep ahold of this for records and demonstrations to clients.

Once that was done, we then moved onto the question of 'How much does Money Cost?' This relates to the whole process: 'Cutting Rights' (who has final say), Profit Share, the time/paperwork put in and then the timeframes of the project, which like the Finance plan, is an integral component of planning out the whole project for fairly obvious reasons, Of course, all the worrying in the world isn't much good if you don't have a more direct body to push to, which is what Elhum covered next: the funding types. For most projects, there are a couple of options:
  • Foundation funding: a specific organization devoted to giving out money for projects. These are usually charitable/philanthropic bodies, and so the submitted projects must conform to their views/message i.e. submit a rainforest documentary to an Amazon Trust.
  • Film Fund: a regional/national organization devoted to supporting local arts, such as the now defunct UK Film Council, although smaller regional variants and offices do exist, so it's good to check up with councils on that matter.
  • Brand Funding: Similar to Foundation, but this time it's with corporate aid i.e. making a sports film with Nike or Addidas.
  • Crowdsourcing: an increasingly popular option with the rise of the internet and social media, now filmmakers can go directly to the audience to help bring the money in and get the film rolling. Sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have risen in prominence because of this 'direct, fan-support' approach. One such big example in recent times was Internet comic/game reviewer James Rolfe using fan funds to create The Angry Video Game Nerd Movie.

And so that was all for today. While I had been aware of most of these (mainly crowdsourcing given again, the use of it by internet personalities), it's still surprising that are so many options and choices for people out there to turn to to help get their films made, especially given the somewhat less than stellar economy at the moment, and the demise of more iconic bodies like the Film Council in recent years.

And now, for the supplement:
So, Elhum also asked to research into a small production company, and just write a small bit about them. Mine was Screen South, so here we go:

Based in the South East of England, Screen South are an agency devoted to promoting and aiding budding filmmakers in the region. They offer Production, Developmental and Training services to those who wish to work in the media industry, and have even teamed with the BFI Academy, an offshoot of the BFI dedicated towards film education and training in children and teenagers ages 5-19. As for the accolades of Screen South themselves, some of the short films they've helped shepherd have gone onto to major success, including the likes of, according to their website : South by South West (USA), Edinburgh International Film Festival, the London Film Festival, Brigthon Cinecity Film Festival, Chichester International Film Festival, Palm Springs Short Film Festival (USA), Brief Encounters, the Chicago International Short Film Festival and the Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival

Yr3 Week 1 (Fri 10 Oct - MDA 3400 Workshops & Black Magic Camera induction)

One of the key things to mention, before we start on this entry, about MDA3400 is that this is a more optional module: you can attend the workshops you wish based on what pathway you want for your final dissertation project (a short film, a script or a critical essay). I write this up so as to properly explain why this will be probably the least documented module on the blog, given my main interest is in writing, and of course, there are only a small handful during the first term, with tutorials during the second.

With all that out of the way, let's get to the focus of this introductory session;the Black Magic camera. While not an immediately conventional film camera (looks more like an obese Ipad with a lense), the Black Magic has in recent years grown in popularity among indie filmmakers, mainly due to its wide variety of options/shooting choices, the key one being its resolution options for footage. The Black Magic can shoot RAW (uncompressed), each frame encoded akin to a still or more traditional film stock, which is great for maximum quality. Of course, as the name implies, this does mean one has to invest in a lot of hard drives for storage. Ideally, us students will be using the Pro Res (a name familiar to those who've read this blog before) 422 and DNX HD (Ideal for AVid and PC-centric editing).

Other features of note on this little wonder are a touch screen monitor, 13 Stops (which allows for a really wide range of light information control), an ISO that can go up to 1600 (though for day, we'd use lower) and two 90 minute batteries (so early booking is required to gets extras!). Once done with the tech jargon, David allowed us, in groups, to finally play around with the Black Magic, letting us set it up and then going out and trying the different features, shooting bits and pieces of test footage around the University. Though it won't be my focus, I found the camera fairly easy to use; it's fairly light, the touchscreen is a very comfortable way to set up the different features with a messy cluster of buttons, and the image quality was excellent even though we weren't shooting RAW. The only major downside, aside from the limited battery life, is the memory cards; much like the 7D last year, the Black Magic takes much larger, both figurative and literal, SD cards, which are more expensive, and despite the space, don't store a particularly huge amount (on RAW, for example, you'll only get 8 minutes tops). For students, that's not exactly a very cost effective or economic piece of equipment, but again, the results are befitting the price.

And so with that, I had to depart on other business once finished goofin-err, I mean FILMING around the University, so I did not attend the afternoon workshop, which focused more on supplements to the camera, such as dollies and arms to enable more range of movement. All in all, it was interesting, but as I've said, the technical side is not my strong suit, and the Black Magic is not ideal for someone who may not be able to meet its financial requirements, so it's really only for serious indie/guerilla video and film makers out there, and not a one off gig for the course. Oh well.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Yr3 Week 1 (Thurs 9 Oct - MDA3200 Film Theory - Introduction)

Today was the start of the Film Theory module, headed up by Sharon Tay. After the usual 'check the handbook for more' spiel, we got to the meat of the matter; discussing the evolution and aesthetics of cinema over the time of its existence. As the first part of this journey, we returned to the origins of cinema to ask the question 'what can film do?' and 'what is film capable of'', what is the medium able to do by itself, and what can it made to do if pushed, akin to say a child or another art form.

Sharon should us a series of short films from these primitive days of the medium, beginning with the most famous 'early' film, Train Arriving at a Station (1895) by the Lumiere Brothers. It's self explanatory, but just the documentation of a seemingly mundane action already tells of the immediate power of cinema; to record in motion life itself, unlike the stills of a photograph or the embellishments/inaccuracies of a painting. Similarly supportive of this point was the next film Repus du Bebe (1895), which is about a mother and father feeding their baby out in the garden. These people are long since deceased, and yet here they are, immortalized forever on film. Quite a powerful notion, is it not?

Of course, documentation was not the only novelty of the formative years, as the next film Demolition d'un mur (1895) demonstrates; after a wall is smashed down by workmen, the film is then reversed so that it magically returns to standing intact. Not only does this tell us about the malleability/manipulative powers of the medium, but also sows the seeds for a more comical, humorous method to using the medium that would later be made a lot more famous by the silent comics like Keaton and Chaplin. Indeed, the potential for a more 'entertaining' type of film was birthed from likes of Georges Melies (whom Scorsese honored with his 2011 family film Hugo), veterans of theatre, magic and traveling shows who were used to putting on elaborate shows with seemingly basic means. To demonstrate this, we watched an excerpt from one of his films, The Impossible Journey (1904), which concerns a train and its passengers doing just that, taking a trip to outer space. With use of elaborate sets, optical tricks, make up and forced perspective, all tools based in the realm of stage magic, such as the old Phantasmagoria shows of the previous century, Melies is able to create a fantastical 'other world' for the audience to see and experience.

Briefly returning to the novelty aspect of documentation with the rather bluntly titled Rough Sea At Dover (1895), we then ventured onto the beginnings of film being made to actually tell a proper story, or at least one with a definite structure and point as opposed to the pure spectacle of Melies and his ilk. Rescued by Rover (1905) is a very straightforward short about a smart dog who rescues a baby from an evil gypsy after taking it from its, humorously, easily distracted mother. The use of identifiable characters, a sense of progression in terms of drama/tension over the baby, and a more active use of editing and location changes (temporal and spatial continuity) is being built as early as 1905. Similarly advanced, That Fatal Sneeze (1907) is a comic misadventure of a boy who gets back at his dad with sneezing powder, each disaster relating to a nasal evacuation getting progressively wackier and bigger as the film goes on.

Of course, not all early stories were merely light hearted fair as Historie d'un crime (1901) showed, with its dark little tale of a criminal who gets caught and sent to the guillotine, or even fictitious at all, with early 'documentaries' with a definite agenda like Visit to Peek Frean and Co. Biscuit Works (1906), which shows the workings of an early 21st biscuit factory and all the machinery involved. Of course, the cheek still crept back with the rather amusing The Gay Shoe Clerk (1903), which though very short, tells the gleeful tale of a young shoe clerk who gets a little too frisky with a female client, and gets a firm walloping for his troubles. In the end, what this all demonstrates is just how, even at its inception and formative years, filmmakers, most of whom were either technicians or stage veterans, saw potential in the medium for great versatility, and so diligently experimented, yielding some rather fascinating results for us to watch all these decades later. If future weeks yield such a wealth of fun insights, this promises to be quite a module...

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Yr3 Week 1 (Wed 8 Oct - MDA3300 Film Research and Context - Introduction)

After a small room guff where it turns out we had been shifted to the second floor instead of the first, we met our tutor for this course, indie producer Elhum Shakeripar, mainly involved in Middle Eastern film projects and promoting filmmakers from that region, as well as a film festival programmer. Because of the delay related to room shifting, today's lesson went by a little quicker, so there isn't as much to cover by comparison to last time, and Elhum promised o really go through eahc topic in the coming weeks, so here are the key points;
  • She quickly went over the general outline of the term, where would be learning more, not just of producing, but the whole marketing/distribution machine, covering the likes of funding, festivals, legalities, gaining collaborators and finding release.
  • She quickly showed us some trailers from her productions, such as the Western Saharan documentary The Runner (the title she confesses to lament due to genericness), about a long distance runner in that part of Africa who is trying to raise awareness of the situation over there, and Reluctant Revolutionary, detailing the change sin Yemen over the course of the Arab Spring.
  • She also quickly introduced us to Charles Gant of The Guardian, who does a weekly article on the UK Box Office, and in relation to this, the website Red Track, which is used to track said box office, and how this can tell us as content creators what the market is big on/trending right now.
Following this introduction, she then quickly went over some of the keys to being a Producer, mainly during the early stages of a project;
  • The importance of understanding the market and trends, which can facilitate getting funds if your work is in line. Not just in the UK, but also internationally, so as to help generate the possibility of foreign interests.
  • The development/pitch of a project, mainly breaking it down in a manner akin to a treatment: the title and logline, the length and format, the U.S.P/Unique Selling Point and maybe, a film taster/demo of what the project may look like, should it be conducive to that.
  • Raising the funds, which can come from a variety of sources in the indie circuit, including Kickstarter/crowdfunding, special regional film agencies, pitching to companies/gaining a loan/investment, as well as the possibilities generated by Broadcast deals and the trending market once more.
And well, brief as it was, this is what was on offer today, so expect future blogs on this module to be more plentiful. However, based on today's introduction, there is a ;lot of potential; even in screenwriting, the field of my interest, funding and networking are vital to getting anywhere, and having a module devoted to that as well as getting resources for an independent production is of immense benefit to everyone. What's more, with Elhum leading the way, her experience and knowledge will prove a most invaluable source for all of us.

Yr3 Week 1 (Mon 6 Oct - Final BA Film Year overview and introduction - MDA3400 Film Dissertation Project)

So, after a hiatus and needed holiday of about four or so months, I'm finally back at Middlesex University's Hendon campus for my final year on their Film programme. We met up with some of our tutors for the year, including David Heinemann, Sharon Tay and Eddie McCaffrey, and got down to business. What follows is they key points of this little talk;
  • Naturally, for all the needed information, requirements and assignments, to fully go over the module handbook on Unihub, but the main focus points for the coming weeks would include: preparing a pitch for week 5 for what we would be undertaking as our dissertation project, there is a sot, nearly all day, allocated for technical needs/issues on Tuesday, and that come term 2, we would be getting specialized one on one tutorials for our projects, d3epending on what [pathway we chose to follow.
  • The blog is of special importance this year, as it should be used, not only to recap whatever the day's lessons may have been, but an active reflection/analysis of one's own thoughts, concerns and plans for the entire year and whatever challenges it may bring. Plus, it may be called upon as a reference for presentations down the line.
  • The best films produced at year's end do get shop around/assistance from tutors to get publicized/released at various festivals and short film gigs in order to help get one's career off the ground.
  • Following this overview, we then had some guest speakers from last year's Third Years, who went over the trials and tribulations of getting their final pieces together, as well as collaborating on other productions. The films shown included a short called Reflections, set at a swimming pool, and what the issues/safety concerns tied to that are, a documentary titled Safe Harbour about the Somail sailing community in Cardiff and how it has changed, and then, a music video called Never too Old to Dance, and what the challenges were concerning having a middle-aged/elderly actor in the lead part, given the physicality that comes with the energetic nature of music videos.
And with that, we were whisked off into another year of work, with each of our module receiving more detailed discussion in the coming days, as you will soon see. But, bringing the subject back to me and my own plans, I feel that I am going to really hone and focus my skills as a screenwriter. Not merely because I personally am not up for another round of headaches and frustrations producing like last year, but also because it's what I'm focusing on outside of University. These past few months, I've prepping a selection of scripts, feature length and televisual, to begin shopping around this year. In fact, one has already been sent off to the American Scriptpipeline Contest for Screenwriting back
in June, and another has only recently been sent off to the Stage32 TV Writing Contest for a 30 minute pilot.

The experience working on these has been both fascinating and quite irritating, given how slow the judging process can seem, and how eager one can be to get things off the ground. My big concern is just ensuring that once University is finished, to have something waiting for me at the other end so I can keep the creative juices flowing. Frankly, directors and producers don't get hired the first time around, but there's always a demand for writers, both cinematic and televisual, and I feel my skillset is best fit to this task. Let's just hope this course agrees with me....

Friday, 8 August 2014

Summer work experience - Production Assistant on Flowers in the Field (June 2014) and Revolution Farm (August 2014) - (8/8/14)

During this summer, I had the great blessing and privilege to work as a production assistant on two small theatre productions, both directed by tutors from my Middlesex BA Film course. These were the above mentioned Flowers in the Field, a period piece set during WW1, directed by David Cottis, and Revolution Farm, an update of George Orwell's classic novel Animal Farm, directed by James Martin Charlton.

Both were relatively similar in how I came to work on them, and then the type of working relationship and tasks I was given; both had announced their new shows via social media, so I promptly emailed both and asked if there were available position on the production team, regardless of pay. Both men were very prompt in their reply, and were very easy to work with and allowing. So, after a little discussion and checking over of schedules, I was signed up as an extra Production Assistant, and had a meet with the main body of the team, the principal person of note here being the designer; Joana Dias for Flowers, and Ian Teague for Farm. It was with these people who I was to chiefly collaborate with.

However, it was from this point that the two diverge, equally due to different subject matter, as well as the actual length of my collaboration; Flowers was a period piece, so my task was primarily to assist in the acquistion of props, many of them from the actual period and rather fragile, as well as set construction. What's more, my collaboration was for the full month that made up rehearsals. Farm however, was contemporary, so there was more in the way of gathering materials up to build props, such as cardboard for the placcards that advocate the rules of the farm. The catch here, however, was the timing; I only served on this one for a week, as it happened to begin around the time I was preparing to depart for Spain to visit relatives and sort out private affairs there. A shame, as I found that between the two, I found Farm more actively utilizing me as a member of the team, whereas Flowers, while very interesting given the material, definitely felt a tad more like a runaround catch-fest, chasing down after all of the antiquated props need for the show, with one particular escapade having me leave for Portsmouth on a Sunday to get ahold of some 150 year old music cylinders!

However, I cannot deny that on each occasion, the people have been absolutely lovely, and very welcoming towards a newcomer like myself. Also, it was a great insight into the worlds of fringe and community theatre, and how even these grassroots, low budget production can have just as bells and whistles as their West End big brothers. I wish to extend a considerable thanks to both David and James for giving me these opportunities to help beef up my CV, and I hope we bump into each other sometime soon.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

New Lone Ranger editorial + A Feature Length Sequel Script (27/07/14)

One year after the release of Disney's western, whose favour with critics and audiences wasn't warm at first, I have now done two more pieces on the matter. First is a third part, an Addendum, to my original 'Defending The Lone Ranger piece', available here:

And now, for the real showstopper: I and a fellow budding screenwriter/film student, have crafted a feature length fan script that acts as a sequel to the film. It was a passion project that took several months and five drafts to complete. It is available here:

Of course, feedback is always most welcome.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

MDA2300 (Film and Innovation) Interactive demo and the creative process (26/07/14)

Finally, after several months of doubts, delays and personal tragedies/mishaps, me and my team have finally finished our Innovation project. Over the course of the months, what started out as a full fledged haunted room that would've essentially been  micro budget version of Disney's Haunted Mansion, complete with interactive clues and scares, turned into  an interactive horror adventure set in a full mansion out on a lonely moor.

First, the final demo s available here:

The creative process/evaluation:
Past entries have detailed the development of the project, so this will primarily focus on the final production and editing of the piece. Around the middle of June, we finally were able to have all our schedules coincide, and after quickly organizing resources and a room at univeristy, we spent about an hour filming, having dressed up a room at the Grove Building with a few knick kancks, generously supplied by Hana.

After, there was another lull beofre post production could start in early July, which consisted very simply of a transfer of footage onto my Macbook and then edited in Final Cut Express, a home version of FCP7, and that only took about a wekk to finish up, adding effects, sound, a few touches of music as well as checking over footage.

So, after all the to-do, what are my final thoughts? Frankly, I'm mixed; on the one hand, I thank my two compatriots for their support and patience, especially given their own issues they've had this past year. Plus, for what was a lot of delays and continuous tweaks, I feel comfortable with what we produced in the end, and feel it still reflects our core intentions. However, I'm still unhappy that things went so out of control, and not just this part of the eyar but during the whole of the Innovation course; I feel that because of the demands of the other modules took much more priority and needed more work, this one got pushed to the background, and as a byproduct, things got left on the backburner. Not that I'm trying to ignite a witch hunt or scream 'lazy' at my peers, but I feel the course was not balanced enough with the others, and as a result, something had to take a hit in terms of importance and priority.

I thank my tutors very much for their patience and compromises throughout the year, but I feel that for next year, both ours and the next students, there needs to be a bit more planning and tempering of modules to allow for better balance and less dilution.