Help

Prone as I am to bursts of self-indulgent creativity, I mostly keep the results private.  That was until when told to come up with a three-minute film based on a very vague stimulus for my course, and I happened to remember some forlorn poetry I drunkenly scrawled rather a while ago now.   Here is the final result, Help

Film is a relatively new art-form, at a little over a century old; though I’d say the debate about whether or not films are art at all is long over.  Auteur theory saw to that whether you agree with it or not.  From this project, however, I’ve learned something.   When I was about 15 I studied for a GCSE Art course under a no doubt passionate but somewhat disillusioned teacher. (like all secondary school art teachers, I suppose)  I had to make a depicting sculpture climate change and ended up with a cardboard smoke stack, protruding from which a smoky hand (crafted from spray-painted cotton wool) reached out for a paper-mache Earth.  I wasn’t too passionate about this piece but for whatever reason I actually ended up winning an award for best sculpture in the class. (£10 and a Paperchase notebook)

How did I feel about this?  Guilty.  I was far from the most talented artist in the class but the difference between me and them was that they were doing their own thing; their passion elevating them above the petty confines of the assignment brief.  That Paperchase notebook sits in my bed-side table, unused, as a constant reminder that even if you win the competition, or get the paycheque; if you’re trying to be an artist then everything else should come secondary to what your art means to you and what it instils in others.  Help was the first time I really put myself in the firing line and then released the result for others to see.  Moreover, if it hadn’t been for a fantastically talented lead actor supporting cast and crew and editor, not to mention a wonderful producer who was a kind but firm guide throughout; I may have missed out in learning that if you want to get even close true art you must put in something of yourself, otherwise, what’s the point?

Magicians

I feel like not enough people have seen The Prestige by Christopher Nolan.  It’s a film about two rival magicians played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale with Scarlett Johansson as an assistant and DAVID BOWIE (!!!!!) playing Nikola Tesla.  It’s certainly not Nolan’s best film, in my opinion, but it isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination as long as you don’t mind non linear storytelling. (Which, if you’re a Nolan fan is impressive)

I bring it up because it’s one those Nolan film’s that is kind of a metaphor for film-making itself.  Inception does the same thing, with Cobb’s ‘dream team’ (ha) behaving a lot like a film crew. (Note: If you know who The Nerdwriter is, you’ll know he has a visual essay on this.  if not, go have a look on youtube)

The Prestige echoes film-making in the way it’s two main characters attempt to suspend their audience’s disbelief in the name of entertainment; creating an illusion.  That’s all film-making is, illusion; and that’s not even a remotely revolutionary idea either.  My flat-mate once offered to teach me how to do the ‘is this your card’ trick and I declined because, really,  the mystery is worth more to me than being able to do it.  That said, I know people who can’t understand why I study film; people who prefer to just consume entertainment, and that’s fine, it’s no different than me and the card trick.

One of the first film essay’s I ever wrote was a detailed analysis of that scene in Jurassic Park where the T-Rex attacks the jeep convoy and consequently I know it back to front; it’s leaps and bound in tension and suspense are masterful on Spielberg’s part.  But, for me at least, that’s where film differs from the card trick.  Rather than spoiling the fun of the illusion for me it just enriches it.  Some of the best fun I can remember while being off with the flu is going through The Lord of the Rings Extended Editions and Appendices (something like 15 hours) and seeing how it’s all put together.

It’s an interesting way of seeing film-making; to see oneself as a film-maker and an illusionist.  Perhaps I should start wearing a top-hat.

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Me Being Magical – Photo Taken by Nick Boreham

 

Moments In Time

When I was looking for university courses last year I, at one point, found myself at Ravensbourne for an interview for their Digital Film Course.  I pride myself on the fact that it was probably one of the better interviews I’ve ever given (I’ve had some bad ones believe me).  However, at the end the interviewer asked if I had any questions myself and wanting to make a good impression I racked my brains for anything that sounded vaguely clever.  I failed and ended up asking why the course was specifically called ‘Digital’ Film.  The interviewer all but rolled his eyes and replied that, in film making there was (and I quote) “a lot of cock waving”.

The interviewer was referring to the polarising debate between chemical and digital methods of film making.  I’ve wanted to be a film maker for getting on for about three years now and I’ve owned my own camera for over a year (A Canon 70D) but I’d never really given much thought to still photography.  That was until my last birthday when a close friend gifted me a Polaroid 600 type camera.  Using it over the last few months has severely peaked my interest in photography.

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For me there are two things that make chemical polaroids so much more valuable than digital images.  The first (rather obviously) is that they literally are. I spend roughly £2 per photo on my 600 type.  I suppose there is a slight payoff in that most polaroid cameras are significantly cheaper than a decent DSLR but then if you use the polaroid often enough you will start to burn through rather an embarrassing amount of money.  I was discussing this with a course mate recently and he brought up that due to the film being so expensive you’re more likely to make every shot count, which is very true.  Secondly, and this is where the cock waving comes in, there is a certain…romance to a polaroid, something real.

To me in my very amateur view, photography is about capturing a single moment in all it’s detail.  I much prefer shots taken without the subject knowing they were being watched.(Creepy, I know.) With posing you tend to lose the reality; the facade we raise but unthinkingly drop when alone in our thoughts, leaving them presented in our expression and body language.

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Recently I’ve taken to carrying my 70D around with me to improve my photography skills. Improvement is slow but it’s early days and I’m having fun with it.  Here are some of the better ones.

Digital and chemical photography are both valid for different reasons.  Digital is obviously technologically superior but loses the romance that polaroid retains.  I suppose it’s down to a personal preference.  I rather like both.

Split

I won’t claim to be an expert on M. Knight Shyamalan.  In fact, I haven’t seen many of his films.  I am a fan of Michael Dante DiMartino and Brian Konietzko’s Avatar franchise which Shyamalan made a very bad live action version of so I wont say I hold him in the highest regard either.

I don’t think anyone held Shyamalan in the highest regard up to as little as two years ago.  After a successful hit with The Sixth Sense in 1999 it went a little downhill and he gained a reputation for very bad horror and thriller films.  Then in 2015 he released The Visit a film which I haven’t seen, have heard bad things about but has been heralded in any case as ‘Shyamalan’s  return to form’.   Beyond this brief background I wont go into whether or not Shyamalan has returned to anything; I thought I’d just mention where I stand on the guy.   As well as this, I actually went out to go see Manchester By The Sea but they had sold out…  I prebook now.

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I’ll start with the positives.  James McAvoy’s performance is brilliant.  He plays Kevin,  a man with 24 personalities (although we only see about ten in total and about five in any detail.) The cinematography is interesting.  I like to think Shyamalan shoots like a film student (I would know). ie, trying to be a bit different regardless of weather or not it’s effective but at least it’s refreshing if not everyone’s cup of tea.

Narrative wise, it gets a little confused.  I’ll avoid spoilers but I feel as though the film starts off as a psychological thriller and ends up trying to be a horror movie; and not a good horror movie.  As well as this Shyamalan sneaks in one of his twists after the credits and it’s handled so awkwardly it made me physically gag.

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Performances besides McAvoy leave something to be desired.  Betty Buckley playing Kevin’s kindly psycho-analyst is a decent enough performance. Our protagonist, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy),  is for reasons I wont reveal, meant to be quite emotionally shut down,  however, this doesn’t really have much to do with the narrative on the whole; she’s just a boring cut-out.  More so for her companions.  they’re only there for too reasons,  to slowly lose items of clothing and die (That doesn’t even count as a spoiler).

When the credits started to roll, me and my two friends all had the same reaction; confusion.   We couldn’t decide if we liked it or not. after time to reflect I’ve decided that it an excellent performance trapped in a very bad film.  Well done to McAvoy.  As for Shyamalan, maybe we should stop giving this guy work.

A Series of Unfortunate Events (Netflix)

Netflix’s newest series is an adaptation of the children’s novels from the late 90s and early 2000s by Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket).

I thoroughly enjoyed this show.  It’s funny and provides enough mystery to make me want to watch the next episode immediately (which I can because thats how Netflix works, yay)

Neil Patrick Harris does well to portray  Count Olaf considering he’s following Jim Carrey who played the same roll in the 2004 film adaptation.  While he is no where near as physical as Carrey (As this is not possible) Harris makes the roll his own by playing to his own strengths, ie, dry wit and ego.

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If I have any criticisms, one is the direction, which I believe is to blame for the overall blandness of the three main protagonists, rather than the actors themselves.  Another is the over reliance on sets, green screen and CGI which at times can alienate from the narrative and characters.

A second series is likely according to various sources, and I await it with happily with the hope that they keep up it’s current standard.

The Rise and Fall of Steven Moffat

I completely missed that BBC’s Sherlock was back until I walked in on my flatmate watching the second episode with her sister.  “Oh look, Toby Jones” I thought, followed by “ah… he’s back”. 

By ‘he’ I’m not referring to the TV detective, but the programme’s show runner, Steven Moffat.  To understand my apprehension, we should go back in time a little.  Moffat was known, among other things, for writing for Doctor who under the then show runner Russel T. Davies; who had been in the position since the shows revival in 2005. Moffat had gained a reputation for being behind the darker more disturbing episodes such as The Empty Child two-parter, The Girl in the Fireplace and of course, Blink.  These remain some of my favourite episodes of the show to this day, and I’m certain I’m not alone there.   Change was inevitable when Davies stood down in 2008 but there was no worry that Moffat couldn’t easily fill the roll.

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Steven Moffat on the set of the 2007 Comic Relief special of Doctor Who.

Moffat’s first full series was pretty good.  The scenarios the Doctor and his companions find themselves in were interesting.  The baddies were scary and thought provoking though if I have any criticisms they are that the climax is a little ridiculous and way over the top sentimental.  The sixth series onward is where the problem starts.  The narrative of the show gradually became more and more overcomplicated, convoluted and confusing.  For example, the Doctor ages considerably more rapidly, sometimes suggesting that several years have passed for him between episodes or series, alienating the audience from his character.  Additionally, in series 8 a character is introduced, developed and then promptly killed off in the climax purely for the emotional impact, which of course there is none, you only just introduced him, you idiots!  Moffat, I think, approached the show runner role from the perspective of a fan rather than someone trying to tailor the show to a contemporary audience, as Davies had, causing the show to become as I have said, convoluted and alienating.

Now we get to Sherlock.  The series was dreamed up by Moffat and co-writer on Doctor Who, Mark Gatiss, on train rides up to Cardiff.  It is, on the whole, brilliant.  A fantastic visual guide to the innermost workings of the mind, as well brilliant mysteries to unravel.  Sherlock is similar to Doctor Who in many ways.  It centres around an almost godlike, titular protagonist who has a run of the mill companion to humanise him and make him more identifiable.  It takes the best parts of Doctor Who without the holdbacks of trying to appease both children and the adults who watched the original show.

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on the first of January 2016 Sherlock returned in a one off special, The Abominable Bride.  An episode set in the 1800s, where Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories are set, whereas the show is usually set in the modern day.  I really don’t like this episode.  The idea is brilliant, and in fact the first half of the episode works very well.  But now we get to one of the biggest problems with Moffat’s writing. (spoiler alert) it turns out that Sherlock in the modern day is running the case in the past as a simulation in his head to work out another case. (ie, Moriarty’s apparent survival that was the cliff hanger from the last series.)

This is Moffat’s issue. It’s convoluted nonsense.  He wants everything to be connected.  Another example of this can be found in the most recent series of Doctor Who.  The Doctor proclaims that he chose his current face in his recent regeneration because it was the face of a man called Caecillius in a 2008 episode (Both characters were played by the same actor, Peter Capaldi).  In that episode the Doctor learned he should always try to help people by saving Caecillius and thats why he chose his face.  It’s all utterly pointless though and jars awkwardly because that was not intended when they cast Capaldi for the roles in 2008 and 2013.

Moffat’s attempt to create a better suspension of disbelief only succeeds in drawing attention to the plot-holes and making the whole thing ring horrifically false.  The Sherlock special would have worked beautifully as a standalone piece, but instead it ends on a confusing and dissatisfying note because none of it was real, ergo, what was the point?

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This is why I was apprehensive at Sherlock‘s return, and unfortunately, I was right to be.  I’ve gone on so I’ll be brief.  They spend the whole first episode writing out a character I get the impression they feel it was a mistake introducing.  The second episode comes closest to being half decent (Yes, Toby Jones was creepy and brilliant) but its story is a little over complicated and ends on the most ridiculous cliffhanger (Seriously, I’ve heard it described as Moffat randomly flipping through a book of plot twist clichés and selecting one at random.  It’s ridiculous.)  The last episode isn’t great either.  It just looks as though they had written themselves into a few corners and the emotional payoff is minimal if there at all.  If anything good came from it, they do seem to be hinting that it’s over without being too comital, so with any luck they won’t make anymore.

That was a very negative paragraph (and post) but I do feel passionately about both Doctor Who and Sherlock and it grieves me to see them both not doing so well.  For Doctor Who perhaps I’m getting a little too old, who knows?  The same cannot be said for Sherlock.  As for Moffat I have no choice but to respect him as a writer. I’d just like to know what went wrong.  For now I may go for a Netflix binge to cheer myself up.

Nuances De Noir

Over a year ago I sat down to a candle lit dinner with three friends, Ryan, Fintan and Francis.  Over the past year Ryan had directed two small film projects using us and other members of our wider social circle as cast and crew.  The candle lit inner was Ryan’s idea he’s always liked profound, romantic gestures.  When we’d finished I sat there staring into my wine glass full of apple juice (I wouldn’t let anyone at my Mum and Dad’s Sauvignon Blanc) and wondered about what I’d do for my upcoming A-level film project.  Confidence-wise, I’d developed a little more slowly than Ryan and never thought I’d be able to tackle a larger project with me at the helm, “who would listen to me?” I thought.

Fintan, had had small acting roles in our previous projects and was, rather vocally, itching for a lead. Previously I had thought about filming a simple chase scene with him as the protagonist.  I actually don’t remember how, but suddenly we were talking about why Fintan’s character was chasing someone, and who was he chasing?  A suitable context was needed; was he a dashing hero?  No, that was boring, but I didn’t want anything too grounded either.  Somehow we decided to do it in the style of a Film Noir, and we were already too excited to confine this to a mere one-scene project, no, this would be bigger.  We assigned casting and production roles and I told my friends I’d work on a script.

It took a year from me typing the first words of dialogue to exporting the final cut from Premiere Pro.  A long, strenuous and rather grim year as I remember.  The final product was Nuances De Noir, the story of private detective, Joseph Lloyd  (Fintan O’Haire). The year is 1956 and Lloyd and his partner Pace (Ryan O’Halloran) are hired by a mysterious British woman (Olivia Francis) to track down a man called Alfred Langley (Played by myself) who has apparently stolen some sensitive documentation.  I’ll link to my Vimeo if you would like to watch the film, an extract or a trailer. (There will be spoilers ahead)

If I were asked what the film is about, I’d probably say… scumbags. There are no characters who find themselves, entirely,  on the straight and narrow in this film.  Our hero is an alcoholic and lacks a moral compass (until perhaps the end) and his partner is violent and possibly psychotic. Lloyd and Pace are this way because they need to be to survive; they don’t have the luxury of being “good people”.  On top of this, I like to think it explores what being a so called “good person” really means. Langley is prepared to bring down organised society as we know it, sacrificing god-knows-what in the process because he thinks its the right thing to do.  The Woman is willing to kill and injure as many people as it takes to stop him and our so called “good guys” don’t really care, up until the end and their sudden change in outlook ends up killing them.

Though our knowledge of film production at the time was limited, in hindsight, me and Ryan developed a working relationship similar to that of a director and DoP.   You’ll note Ryan is in very few of the photographs above, simply because he was always behind the camera.  Speaking of cameras, three were used over the course of the film.  The first scene we filmed (Where Lloyd is hired by The Woman) was shot on a Samsung S5 Smartphone which (for a phone) had good picture quality.  Unfortunately it was never intended for cinematic film making and had an annoying auto focus feature that you couldn’t switch off.  After this we started borrowing a DSLR Canon 60D from our 6th form media department  (where we were also getting lighting equipment) and used it to film the chase scene between Lloyd and Langley and the phone conversation between Langley and Commissioner Maxwell (Played by Georje Selby Mihalop).  This camera worked very well once we had all got our heads around it, although it was a pain to make plans around when we could book it.  Luckily I was given a Canon 7oD for my 18th birthday by my parents (thanks guys) and we were free to film the remainder of the film whenever we wished (A-Levels notwithstanding)

The original A2 Film Studies project brief that kickstarted the production suggested that we take inspiration from the french Nouvelle Vague film movement which we were studying at the time.  Nuances De Noir is by no means a modern Nouvelle Vague film,  however it does take cues from my understanding of the movement at the time.  Firstly and and most obviously, the title is french.  ‘Nuances de noir’ roughly translates to ‘shades of black’ (Well I think it does – I haven’t actually asked a fluent speaker)  which refers not only to the moral murkiness of the characters but also it’s inspiration in genre (assuming you see Film Noir as a genre).  Secondly the films use of colour; ie, jumping into colour whenever a character has been ‘enlightened’ (for want of a better word) by Langley’s stolen documentation. This happens three times in the film. the first when Langley explains the documents and what he plans to do with them to an audio recorder (this was very clumsy exposition and I am sorry).  The second is in langley’s dream which I chose to be in colour because Langley has been (Again, for want of a better word) ‘enlightened’.  Thirdly, the last segment of the film after Lloyd reads the documents up to the end where he, Pace and Langley die.  The idea to use colour to convey deeper meaning (though this is used in much of world cinema) stems from my studies of Jean-Luc Godard’s films (Mainly Une Femme Est Une Femme (1961) and Week-End (1967)).  If asked what the use of colour means in Nuances De Noir I’d say it represents the characters breaking free of the depressing, violent depravity of their lives and escaping (however briefly) into a world of optimistic idealism.

Nuances De Noir is flawed in many ways.  It’s script has plot holes and things that don’t really make sense. it’s cinematography breaks some of the most basic rules of film-making and it’s soundtrack undermines quite a few copyright laws (though I will note that some of the music is Ryan’s own composition). That said, It was quite possibly some of the best fun I’ve had in my entire life.  There was something pure about the joint
struggle,  tackling problems as they came, and the joy of looking over the days footage and thinking “yes I’m happy, this is going to look great”.  After the film’s credits a title card comes up thanking the incredibly patient cast and crew and I still feel as though there is no way I can repay those who gave up there time for for the production.  Ultimately I’m grateful for the memories I gained; a few friends huddled around a camera on a cold November night, hoping it will keep them warm (It doesn’t).

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