Straight 8: showing your mistakes in public

It’s done for another year. Three days of screenings. Three days of triumph, of disappointment, of joy and pain, of ecstasy and despair. There’s nothing else like Straight 8, and that’s probably a good thing. I’ve done four films under the discipline now, and I still can’t honestly say I recommend it. It’s like any addiction. You know it’s going to do you some damage, but you just can’t help going back for another hit.

This year was new for me for a few reasons. It was the first time working with my good friend and docobuddy Dom Wade. It was the first time working with a pick-up crew sourced from Shooting People.

And it was the first time that we badly screwed up.

Rewind to March. We are in London Bridge, at our first location. We’re set up in the kitchen of the flat that is our primary indoor location.

And Dom is convinced something’s gone wrong with the camera. He didn’t hear the film roll on the last two shots we ran. And that mechanical claw is loud. But we have a lot of ambient noise going on, to help our actress Kiki get into character. He can’t be sure, but he’s used the Braun Nizo on every Straight8 film he’s shot. In his bones, he knows something ain’t right. So he reseats the battery.

It’s a tense moment. We reset the shot without the noise, and are relieved to hear the clatter of the camera mechanism. Problem solved, we think, although there’s a danger that we have the same scene twice. That’s something we have no way of checking, so we carry on.

Dom was right. There had been a problem. The scene was shot as planned. But at some point, the camera triggered while left on its side, and rolled for 8 seconds. There is a shot of a corner of a kitchen counter in the film that shouldn’t be there. It was a mistake which blew our carefully timed sound effect, and the entire conceit of the film, to bits.

We found this out at the same time as everyone else, in the crowded screen two at the Curzon Mayfair.

The heightened atmosphere at a Straight8 screening is like no other. Everyone is in the same position, not knowing, hoping, dreading. The highs when your film goes well are unbelievable. The lows when it doesn’t are black dogs.

Confronted with the realisation that my carefully laid plans had gone horribly wrong, and were playing out in front of a room full of my peers was not one of the finer nights of my film-making life.

I felt sick. I needed a wee. I wanted to cry. I watched the rest of the film through my fingers.

I excused myself as soon as I could, and stood in the loos, letting the waves of nausea ebb. I felt frantic, panicky. If I’d had my jacket with me, I probably would have walked out. But no. This kind of thing is always a risk with Straight8. You can never be sure what you’re going to get. I took a deep breath, and walked back in. The place for drama was up on screen.

Afterwards, a surprise. Both Ed, who runs Straight8, and Fiona Brownlie, who made the best film of the night, mentioned how much they liked the idea. (“But Ed,” said Dom in the quote of the night, “It’s completely wrong!”) We must have been doing something right for it to get into the screening in the first place. But my disappointment was tangible. I don’t know if it was better or worse that only one member of our brilliant cast and crew, Hayley, could make it. As it was, I found it hard to look her in the face as we said goodbye. I felt like I’d let everyone down somehow.

Enough of this pitiful attempt to curry sympathy. It belittles us all. The fact is that this can be fixed, and no-one has to see Time Out in that form ever again. We have the film, and will retransfer today. Then it’s a simple matter of cut, top and tail, and we can get the film out there properly. I’m fascinated to see just how well the sound drops back into sync once we chop out the offending shot. I’d like to feel that all my hard work with stopwatches and schedules wasn’t completely in vain.

I have to remind myself that we went through exactly the same shit last year with Code Grey, where we lost the important final shot. the fix was done, and it went on to great success. Who knows where Time Out will lead us?

So, that’s it for this year, and I ask the question I always ask. Will I do it again in 2010?

Dunno. Like any addict, I have to take it one day at a time.

Scare Tactics

Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist appears to be stoking one hell (sorry) of a row. It was the subject of controversy at it’s Cannes screening, and now has a reputation to defend as a hardcore slice of nastiness.

If Von Trier was hoping for the sort of press that helped Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible to acclaim, he’ll be disappointed. The critical response to his psychological horror about the descent into madness of a couple following the death of their child has been at best muted, at worst out and out hostile.

Masochistic readers of the Daily Mail film column were treated to a frankly surreal tirade from Christoper Hart in which he reviewed the film without actually having seen it. Fair point, I suppose. I don’t read the Daily Mail, but that doesn’t stop me from ripping the piss out of it. 

A common reaction to Antichrist, and one which I’m seeing used more often from critics that clearly have no better commentary, is to call this kind of horror “boring”. Not the words that look good on a poster.

However, now self appointed media watchdog Mediawatch and Tory backbencher Julian Brazier have waded in, calling for the abolition of the BBFC. Their argument:

“Films of this sort, with such extreme content, should not be classified for public exhibition anywhere. The BBFC should have declined classification and rejected this film.”

“When people are being entertained by mutilation, that is beyond the pale.”

Better yet, Mr. Brazier has said:

“From the accounts I have heard of Antichrist, this does seem to be one more example of how the BBFC has given up on trying to regulate material which the majority of the public feel is offensive.”

Pretty typical cant from a loudmouth who hasn’t seen the piece in question, but fancies a few column inches.

But actually, as the clever chaps at MediaWatchWatch point out, advice rather than regulation is a good thing. The BBFC have been guilty of some downright bizarre spates of nannying over the years (take the debacle over cuts to The Sasha Baron-Cohen homomentary Brüno which has led to two different versions of the film being available at the cinema) but in general they seem to be showing a bit more restraint than one would fear. An advisory role would seem to make sense for a body that is, after all, the British Board of Film Classification, not censorship.

The reaction to all this that most closely mirrors my own comes, appropriately enough, from a fellow film-maker. Michael Booth of Pleased Sheep Film heaps approbation on both Brazier and John Beyer of Mediawatch, calling, in a priceless display of righteous fury, for the abolition of Mediawatch. I recommend the whole post on his forum, but couldn’t resist this quote:

I propose we ban Mediawatch and censor their ridiculous outbursts as one day someone may read one of their quotes and is patronized to the point of a machete/gun spree killing. Trust me on this, as there’s just as much foundation to this as any of Mediawatch’s petitions, protests or claims. Lives could possibly be lost or corrupted by Mediawatch’s very existence. When I read the quotes by John Beyer, I myself a mild mannered person punched a cushion in anger. I hate to think what would have happened if another person had been in the room – or I was a more violent man. It could quite easily have been someone’s smiling face, a child or a pensioner. It could have been catastrophic.

I also propose we seek out and remove politicians that try to exploit the subject of fictionalized violence instead of tackling the real crime that happens on our streets. And in some cases using fiction as a scapegoat for real crime. And all to win many misguided votes to keep them in a very large wage courtesy of you and I the taxpayer – who will have our right to decide for ourselves removed.

I’m siding with him. I, like Mike, believe that if you are expected to act like an adult then you should also be expected to be treated like an adult. Adult films are exactly that, made for an audience that should be able to make up their own minds about what is distasteful.

Let’s not forget too that Mediawatch are vocal but pretty much powerless. They have as much chance of getting Antichrist taken off the screens as I do. By their own logic, if they can’t fulfill their duty, then they should be dissolved. Michael’s right to be angry, but I don’t think he has anything to worry about.

It’s interesting to note the intersection between this film and bête noire of this site, section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. Let’s remind ourselves of what constitutes an offence under this law, shall we?

(7) An image falls within this subsection if it portrays, in an explicit and realistic way, any of the following—

(a) an act which threatens a person’s life,

(b) an act which results, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals,

(c) an act which involves sexual interference with a human corpse, or

(d) a person performing an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal (whether dead or alive).


I hope I’m not spoiling your enjoyment of the film, or indeed your dinner, if I mention that Antichrist is chockful of subsection (b). Which would make the film illegal, were it not for it’s 18 certificate, quite literally a get out of jail free card. Proof, once again after the dropping of a test case attempting to apply the Obscene Publications Act to writing hosted purely on the internet, that legislation attempting to foist value judgements onto a legal framework seems to be unworkable.

Let’s not get too complacent, though. This little storm in a teacup took place in the week when the first trial attempting to convict under the Act is taking place in Belfast. Publicity there is pretty much absent.

Which, I guess this is really all about. Reports of the furore Antichrist created at Cannes have been somewhat exaggerated, as Michael pointed out. Four people walked out of the screening. Four. That’s hardly a damning indictment. Combined with the poor reviews, the noise is all starting to feel like a tactic to gather some heat under a director whose reputation has been tepid for a while.

It also shows is how in this country our relationship to censorship and freedom of speech could not be more conflicted if they dressed up in armour and whacked each other around the helms with axes. The only winner in this battle would appear to be Lars Von Trier.

Blood & Roses – And Now The Screaming Starts

B&RExcellent news from X&HTeam-mate Simon Aitken – his horror feature Blood + Roses is finally finished!

It’s been a long, hard road, with a lot of pitfalls, mis-steps and out-and-out crashes along the way, but the completion of this film shows what can be done with determination, hard work and the willingness to max out as many credit cards as you can lay your mitts on. Simon tells the full story in unexpurgated detail on his website, which is well worth a look if you’re interested in finding out just how much time and effort has to go into a low-to-no budget film.

I’m very very happy for Simon, and will be buying him a celebratory beer when he joins the Time Out crew on Monday for our Straight 8 screening.

Just the one, though.  I don’t want success to go to his head just yet…

Straight 8: The Word Is Out, And The News Is Good.

Excited texting from DocoDomsy this weekend, with a piece of very good news. Our Straight 8 short, Time Out, has been selected to be screened as part of this year’s Rushes Soho Shorts Festival, sometime in late July. Venue and screening time are yet to be confirmed, but be assured you’ll hear as soon as I do.

Obviously, I’m insanely chuffed. I was worried about this one, as it offered so many new challenges. I was working with a crew and cast I didn’t know that well, and Dom and I had never worked together on a Straight 8. Camera glitches and squiffy timings didn’t add to my piece of mind. However, it seems to have worked out, and I am now desperately eager to see how the film has come out. And I would happily work with Kiki, Lewis and Hayley again, who were inventive, cheerful and bloody hard-working. The perfect crew. 

 

Congrats also go out to other Friends of X&HT who will be screened: Fiona Brownlie, whose film features Leading Man Clive in a cheeky cameo, first time 8er Andrew Bradley and of course Nick Scott, the man by which all our humble efforts are judged. Props, hugs and sturdy handshakes to all who have done the do and snagged a screening this year. You’re all stars!

Here’s to July. More news as I get it.

A couple of scary toons

Leading on from the previous post, these two prime examples of the form are both beautifully made and deeply, wrongly disturbing.

The last shot of this one has stayed with me for a very long time. Lazy critics will call this Burtonesque, but I think it’s a lot darker-hearted than that. Burton always goes for the happy ending. There’s none of that in this.

I remember watching Harpya as part of a late night animation season on Channel Four years ago, and being so freaked out by it that it gave me bad dreams for weeks. Even now, I have no intention of watching it again. But I thought you might appreciate it, my brave Readership.

Straight 8 at Cannes


A quicky from Nick Scott, super 8 film-maker extraordinare:

This could be appallingly premature given that I haven’t actually seen the film myself (!) but tomorrow night, at the same time as the straight8 films screen in Cannes, they are also posting them on-line for a hour at 9pm UK time. I made one of them, called ‘Visions of Jack’, and this will be the first time that anyone, including the filmmakers, has seen them.

Twelve of the films that the Straight 8 judging panel consider the best of the bunch are screened in a tent on the Croisette every year. It’s the prime goal for all Straight8ers, and I’m chuffed to bits for Nick, especially as he wasn’t planning on doing a film this year!

The link, if you fancy checking out innovative low budget film-making at it’s rawest and most exciting, is HERE.

Sadly, Nick can’t be there, but I’m issuing a shout out to the Friends of X&HT who are there and waving the banner high for low-budget British film-making. Brownlie, Aitken, Coppack and Booth, go forth and spread the word!

Meanwhile, the wait continues for the other Straight8ers who haven’t heard about potential screenings yet. Nervous? Moi? I didn’t need these fingernails, anyway…

I promise success will not change me…

A sunny Friday afternoon in Cambridge. Thinking Girl’s Crumpet Clive and I are in town for the Super 8 festival, where for reasons that remain pleasingly unclear, Code Grey is in competition.

Always up for a party if nothing else, we’ve met up with Doco Domsy and set ourselves up with booze and grub. It’s the perfect afternoon for slightly beery chat about films and film-making, and the three of us indulge fully. At the back of my mind, the thought that there is a Q&A at the end of our screening that I maybe should not be head-dribblingly drunk for raises a tentative hand before getting shouted down. I’m far more eloquent after three pints or so. I’m a goddamn raconteur after five.

We wander through Cambridge, Dom taking photos for an imaginary press kit. I feel a little bit like a rock star, and a lot like a drunken twat. I can’t really give the camera love, but I do a mean growl. Which’ll do, apparently.

One last beer by the Cam, and I start to get the giggles. And I don’t feel drunk at all. Just nervous. But ready. This isn’t like a Straight 8 screening. I know exactly what’s being presented. There’s no fall back now. This is a film that’s had some hard work and a lot of heart and soul poured into it. It’s grown up now, and it’s ready to strut like a player.

I poke my head into the screening room a half-hour beforehand to announce my presence (resisting the urge to bellow “L’auteur est arrive” – alright, it was six pints by now) to be greeted by Simon, one of the organisers, who was so pleased to see me that he did a little dance. More people should do that. I might have to insist on it.

The room fills, and we settle in for the programme. Fifteen films, a strong European presence, and a fearsome sense of the quirky and surreal. Code Grey feels positively mainstream amongst the art pieces, documentaries and animation on display. We’re just a dumb little shuck and jive show with a neat little idea at it’s heart. We’re on last, and don’t quite get the reaction I was hoping for. Chuckles rather than belly laughs. That’s the problem if you make a comedy. There’s no such thing as an appreciative silence.

After the films, the Q&As. It’s a room full of directors, and they’re all erudite, amusing and interesting. I, on the other hand, have had six pints and am a twitchy mess. I gabble through my questions, pointing out Clive and trying to namecheck everyone, trying to crack a few funnies, and doing the one thing I really didn’t want to which was to out myself as a colourist. I don’t like to talk about the day job when I’m being a film-maker. Especially as I knew at least one person afterwards would make the joke about a colourist making a black and white film.

This did indeed happen, and the smile I gave was indeed as thin as you’re imagining.

Two minutes or an hour and a half later, depending on where you were standing, I sat back down. I was shaking faintly. But I was assured by Clive and Dom that I had indeed been charming, witty and erudite, and that people had laughed at my jokes. However, in a headrush of unprovoked egotism I’d given myself full credit for the idea behind Code Grey, which was all Clive’s.

I took shit for that for the rest of the night, and deservedly so.

Unfortunately, there seemed little opportunity to meet with the other directors after the screening, as the other bar at the University Student Union was hosting a members-only darts night, and seemed unwilling to let us stick around. Shame, as I’d genuinely wanted to congratulate the guys that made it down to Cambridge on a job well done. I’ll try and dig out some links to my faves over the next few days.

After the screening, there was little to do but eat and drink more, and chat about films and film-making until the early hours, which we did at the very excellent Cambridge Chop House, and our digs for the night, The Portland Arms. These places are both most worthy of your patronage.

We left Cambridge the following morning, Clive to his acting classes, me to the Reading Beer Festival, which was another afternoon of beer, food, and yakking. Really, I’m going to need a diet and a vow of silence after this weekend. Twitter has documented my feelings on that one, so check the status bar off to the right.

Turns out if we’d stuck around for the final night, we would have been around to receive our award for best UK film. I had the email with that nugget of good news while starting this post. It’s a result far above and beyond what I could have expected, and proof that there is life after Straight 8. I’m sending massive hugs out to everyone involved in the making of Code Grey, and urge you if you’ve not watched the film yet to check it out.

It’s officially worth your while.

Network Updataria

It’s been a busy few weeks, so I thought I’d let yawl know how things are standing for me and my network of fellow travellers as we move into film-making season. 

This Friday sees me and thinking girl’s eye candy Clive Ashenden in Cambridge for the third Super 8 film festival. Code Grey is the final film of the Friday night competition screening. If anyone’s around, and fancies saying hello, we’d love to see you. Hopefully we’re doing a Q&A afterwards, which should be fun in a nerve-wracking kind of a way. 

Before that, I have a drive to return to Simon Aitken with the finished version of The Making of Blood + Roses on it. This has been a solid learning experience for me, and well worth the struggle. It’s pushed me a bit creatively, which is always good. That ol’ spiritual kick in the pants that’s conducive to opening up the mental sinuses.

If you’re going to mix your metaphors, you may as well do it thoroughly.  

This is another step towards the completion of Simon’s feature, which is now starting to pick up heat following good reports on MJ Simpson’s blog and Zone Horror. I’m seeing him tomorrow, where I can hopefully pick up some pre-Cannes goss. 

Also going to Cannes this year, Michael Booth and Paul ‘Cop’ Coppack of Pleased Sheep Films, who’ll be toting round a rough cut of their second feature Bar Stewards. Their first film Diary Of A Bad Lad is doing really well at the mo, and will be out on DVD soon. Well worth a look if you like a bit of pitch-black mockumentary action. Bar Stewards looks like it’s gonna be a good ‘un too – although a bit less dark in tone. 

Congrats and a Short Film Corner appearance also go to the makers of  Sertoli Sertoli Sertoli, featuring the talents of Lewis Shelborne and Kiki Kendrick – most of our crew on this year’s Straight 8, Time Out.

Speaking of the 8,  we’re in that quiet period before we find out who’s made the grade, who’s got screenings, and which of us will be among the lucky 12 that get shown in a tent at Cannes. Nick Scott, Fiona Brownlie, me and DocoDomsy and hundreds of others are quietly gnawing thier fingernails down to the elbow and wondering.  

Next week, I shall be writing again, and not thinking about Straight 8. That way, madness lies.