Mark Brown paces around outside the Hideaway Bar. The brim of his trademark fedora is low, but the shadow it casts can’t disguise the worried look on his face. His go-to guy has bailed on him at short notice. Which means that, if the emergency back up plan doesn’t pan out, he’s going to have to find a way of running his popular film night without a projector.
He glances back at the rapidly filling bar behind him. He’s had better days.
Short film nights are popping up all over the capital these days, taking advantage of cheap digital technology to give no-budget movie-makers a chance to meet and show off their masterpieces over a beer or three. Sure, you can put your movie up on YouTube and Vimeo, but then it’s just there, in isolation, at the mercy of the haters. Nights like the monthly BraineHownd bash that Mark runs with his film-making partners in Tufnell Park, North London help to bring a sense of inclusiveness and community to the scene.
At their best, short film nights are raucous affairs, a cross between a stand-up show and an open mic night. BraineHownd have been hosting nights at the Hideaway for over a year, and they know what works. It’s far and away the most prestigious film night on Junction Rd. The Hideaway has a good downstairs room with a bar, and a decent kitchen doling out great thin crust pizza. You can get your food on and beer on, pay a tiny entry fee and know that you’ll be well entertained.
I was at the Hideaway to support my friends. Every six months, BraineHownd host an awards evening where they celebrate the best films they’ve shown in several categories. Simon Aitken was nominated along with writer and actor Ben Green for Sans Sous-Titres, and Leading Man Clive had a Best Music nod for Gunplay, the first film he and I worked on together. There were a lot of good films in contention, and the excitement was thick in the air. We cackled in a corner, plotting Blood And Roses: The Musical (best tune: Spill The Claret, to the tune of Elmer Fudd singing Kill The Wabbit) while waiting for the projector to show.
It did, finally, to Mark’s palpable relief, and we took our seats in the Hideaway’s cosy downstairs bar half an hour late. The crowd, having the chance to fit another beer in, were cheerfully rowdy.
Fortunately, the MC for the night was up to the job of keeping things under control. David Whitney, actor and stand-up, has a built-in PA system, and his booming voice can effortlessly fill a room. As a veteran of some of the most brutal comedy nights in town, he will not suffer fools gladly, but he will gladly make fools suffer.
The first award of the night, for Best Music, went to Eventide, an honest, lyrical cinematic eulogy from a son to his father. It was heartfelt and warm, sad and celebratory. A fine start.
Next up, cinematography, which went to a taut little office-set thriller called First Date. I’ve worked with the cameraman, Matthias Nyberg before, and his punchy lenswork made the most of this twisty urban thriller. It has a lot in common with Out Of Hours, which made Clive worry that the market was over-stuffed with films set in an office on a Sunday. I think he’s made the better film, and I made sure he knew that.
After a short break (an extra beer means an extra trip to the loo), the Best Screenplay award went to Ben and Simon for Sans Sous-Titres. They bickered over this – Ben wrote the script, but the award went to both. It’s a minor grumble, to my mind. They have every right to be proud, and Sans Sous-Titres is a great, sour-sharp shot of black humour.
Best Actor went to Chris Spyrides for International Wife Shouting, a Pythonesque short-short that pinned the frustrations of modern manhood into two minutes. Where, indeed, is the remote? Chris does a great line in eye-bulging rage, and I roared throughout. He, sweetly, refused to believe that he’d won and demanded a recount. Sorry, Chris, this one was well deserved.
Things started to get a little surreal from then on in. The Best Director award went to Alex Horsfall for Looking After Edward. She didn’t show, and neither did the DVD. So they showed The Angry Man instead, featuring another vein-popping performance from Best Actor nominee Daniel Dresner. A portrait of the trials and everyday nightmares of the jobbing actor, it was sharply observed and utterly hilarious.
Finally, the big one: Best Film. Act Of Vengeance won the prize. But no-one from the production bothered to turn up. In a delightful, jokey fit of pique, Mark decided not to show it, and screened the runner-up, The Romantic Killer, instead. This lush, gothic thriller packed a ton of tension and genuine heart into its fifteen minute running time, and it was a worthy climax to the evening.
As we stumbled back up into the clear, cool air of a North London night, I took the time to congratulate Mark on a well-played event. It was ramshackle, surreal and hilarious, and I’d had a real blast. I think nights like BraineHownd, or James Rumsey’s Feast On Film in Crouch End are well worth seeking out if you want to know what lo-to-no budget film-making looks like here in the second decade of the 21st century. They may be pinning up a sheet to use as a screen, but the ingenious use of cutting-edge tech to tell stories with real warmth and heart shows that the future of British film is not in Bafta or the BFI, but in underground events run by committed, talented people in back rooms and basements across the country.