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By midlandsmovies, Sep 9 2017 08:04AM



Director Sophie Black is a Nottingham based filmmaker with many shorts to her name and in the latest of our ‘Professional’ series, she passes on her experience and advice about directing behind the camera. Want to get into directing yourself or learn more about the profession? Sophie, take it away...


To start with? Well, go for a walk, people-watch, whatever it is that inspires you. Collaborate with your friends if you need to bounce ideas around. Even if you don't have a camera yet, write stuff down, sketch things. I didn't have a camera until I was fifteen years old, so a lot of my early inspiration came from writing novels and physically making things with my hands. But to be honest, everyone has access to a camera these days (unlike when I was young!), because they come as standard with phones, so there's nothing to stop you just shooting something to find out what you like, and who you might be as a filmmaker. You're not going to find inspiration unless you go out and experience the world, decide what it means to you personally, and really get to know how you see the world as an individual.


But if you are the type that needs to research, then read books on filmmaking, or just watch films and make notes about certain stylistic decisions that inspire you. I first realised people could make a career out of films - and decided that was the career I wanted - when I read Peter Jackson's interviews in the Lord of the Rings visual companions, but there's lots of great articles out there to give you an early buzz if you need it.


This is different depending on the filmmaker - which is why it's good to spend some time experimenting first, to discover what kind of director you are. Definitely shoot something by any means necessary, even if it's just trying to recreate shots that inspired you, or even if that means directing your friends in amateur roles.


I've always been more of an actors' director than anything else, and if that's the same for you then I really recommend joining local drama or theatre groups, to practice working with actors in a focussed, technology-free environment. That's how I got my start. But either way, you will need to learn the language of cinema eventually, so studying technical filmmaking in some form - be it personal study or a structured course - is necessary at some point early on in your career.



Formal Eductation vs. Hands On Experience


You definitely need to know how to make films, but the way you learn is up to you. If you have family members or other peers who already know the language of cinema, and you grow up learning everything from those people, then it could be that you don't need to go to film school. The best way to learn things is by doing them, so nothing beats practical experience - plus, these days, you can learn a lot through YouTube tutorials. A lot of the best filmmakers I know are completely self-taught.


But if you've never learnt the basics of film production - e.g. 'this is how a camera works', 'this is how to light the average interview' - and if you learn better in an academic environment, then definitely take a course. It gives you a great foundation (not to mention the all-important life skills you get with any level of further education!). You also meet a lot of people on your course that you could end up working with in the future.


Motivating a Team


It's all about creating the right environment for people to work in. Morale always needs to be up, particularly if people aren't receiving payment. I think it's important to mix solid grafting on set with a sense of fun as well, whenever appropriate - so don't always take yourself too seriously. This film may be the most important thing in the world to you at that moment - but your crew needs other reasons to feel inspired. Listen to your crew when they're unhappy; join in with a joke or even a hug when they're in need of a break from the hard work. Good food helps as well, particularly if there's no money to give people - you won't believe what a bacon butty on a cold morning can do to lift the spirits!



General Skills


Leadership skills, confidence and belief in your vision are all important factors; if people don't respect you, they'll start listening to the next loudest voice in the room. But confidence doesn't come straight away. You need to build up your craft first; practice and learn every day, and start with small, independent crews before building up to full teams.


As I've said before, it's important to have a technical knowledge of film production - but you also need to admit which areas aren't your strong point. In the past I've given wrong information in this area; I've said that directors need to learn every aspect of filmmaking before they can direct their team - but do you really think that James Cameron knows which make-up to use to make a face look rounder, for instance? The truth is that everyone has some things that they're stronger at than others, and if you're focussing on every little area of a production, your skills will get stretched too thin, and your work will suffer because of it.


The trick is to make sure your weaknesses are covered; if there's something you're not so good at, make sure there's someone better at it to handle that area for you. (To give an example, I learnt that whilst I'm confident directing dialogue and small physical interactions, I'm not as good with scenes that involve more detailed choreography, such as stunts. So in the future I'll always hire a stunt co-ordinator when the scene requires.) It's not a sign of a weak director to admit you're not great at something, as filmmaking is a collaborative process after all; what is weak, however, is if someone ignores their failures and lets them show in the finished film when it could've been avoided. That makes the director look bad.


One of my favourite things about film production is the fact that you're surrounded by brilliantly talented people, all experts in their field, all brought together to make your vision a reality. You need to learn how to get the best out of these people, and how to keep them at their best - but you also need to learn to listen to their ideas and let them have an input into the film. It will help give them a sense of ownership over it too, which will encourage more loyalty to the project. And trust me, you definitively need loyalty - particularly in the long slog of post-production, when the work feels less structured, and you need to find other ways to keep your crew engaged.


It's also important that a director rehearses everything with their actors. Absolutely everything. It's tempting to think that you only need to rehearse dialogue, or complicated action, like fight scenes. Even wordless moments need to be polished by the time the cameras roll, otherwise it will cause delays on set and your actors might feel uncomfortable. I've made this mistake in the past, thinking "this is a basic movement - we can just put a camera on the actor now and let them go for it". I was very young and arrogant back then!


Director Advice


Firstly, don't be a director until you've been a crewmember. I've said this a lot. Too many people think they can go out into the world as a 'director' without hands-on experience behind them. Those people often don't get work. But being a member of the crew - starting low down the ladder, and building your way up - will help you to learn more about the practicalities of film production, so that you understand exactly what you'll be asking your crew to go through when you direct them. It's also the best way to meet people, to create a list of future collaborators for when you move onto your own projects. That's what worked for me.


Secondly, make sure you really, really love a project before you go into production. People don't realise how much commitment goes into a successful short film. There can be a year between writing a script and shooting a film, particularly if you need to raise money, and you can spend months in post-production too. On top of that, the average festival run lasts for two years - after a festival finally accepts you. So you're realistically looking at four years' worth of work on a project, and if you don't care for it or believe in it, those four years can feel even longer. Can you guarantee that you won't abandon your film when something shiny and new comes along? If the answer is no, then don't start it in the first place.


And finally, don't ask people, cast or crew, to do something you aren't willing to do yourself. You need to be a leader - not a dictator! If you expect people to work long hours, or stay later than expected, be there with them. If they need to be in a scenario where they are cold or uncomfortable, show that you would willingly do the same for them. It's for this reason I starred in a music video, playing a prostitute, shortly before I directed my actors in some sexual scenes on the set of Ashes - I needed to understand how awkward or uncomfortable they would be feeling on the day.




Finance


Commercial and corporate work is great, when you can get it. You need something to fill the gaps in between your short film projects, and it's really satisfying to have a job that utilises your filmmaking skills. Plus there's nothing like working with clients to prepare you for the amount of say commissioners and executive producers will have, should you approach them with feature film ideas.


Leaving your day job for film production is hard. You certainly shouldn't do it unless you know you'll have money coming in - or unless you have contacts and a strong business plan in place. Do it when you're young; fresh out of university is the best age to try things. The older you get, the more responsibility you have, and the more chance you have of becoming homeless, should it all go wrong!


I can't tell you exactly how to make it work. Some people take a leap of faith, and it works out for them; others take a long time to build up their contacts and personal clients before becoming self-employed. If you need a bit more confidence and structure before you take the plunge, there's nothing wrong with taking business classes - it can all be applied to freelance filmmakers. All I will say is, only you will know the minimum level of success you are comfortable with - and whatever happens, you need to have a plan B.


I get asked about crowdfunding a lot, and although I've had some success with it, I'm not the biggest fan. It's a necessary evil - but people can rely on it too much. What people don't understand is that the moment you receive crowdfunded donations, unless it's going through a business, an accountant will see you as self employed. You need to be prepared for the implications of receiving this money. If you don't declare £1,000, you might get away with it - but I don't recommend you risk it. If you don't declare £10,000, that's a completely different kettle of fish. Crowdfunding has been very popular for the last few years, so of course the HMRC are aware of it, and they do have their eyes on the filmmaking community. So definitely declare your earnings, but if you can, get an accountant or a financial adviser who can help you declare it properly. Because you don't usually get to keep the crowdfunding money for yourself, you really don't want to end up out of pocket through tax implications.


Inspiration


I've used "film is temporary, film is forever" a few times. Who hasn't? I first heard Peter Jackson say it to Miranda Otto, in a making-of-documentary, during a long, difficult scene in The Return of the King - but I know he wasn't the first person to say it.


I also loved it when, on the set of Moulin Rouge, Baz Luhrmann declared "I challenge you all to make me say 'you've gone too far'!" That's a bit mad, but it's braver than I can be, so I applaud that. Incidentally Baz's company motto is "a life lived in fear is a life half-lived", and I think of that whenever I face the next, daunting project.


I have a plaque in my office that says "keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground". I don't know who said that, but it always reminds me to stay humble and remember the little things in life that matter the most.


Sophie Black


Check out Sophie Black's Production company Triskelle Pictures here:

https://www.triskellepictures.co.uk




By midlandsmovies, Dec 12 2016 01:20PM




Seat 25 launches into festival orbit


Midlands Movies finds out about new sci-fi project Seat 25 from Lagom Pictures which was co-written, produced and stars local filmmaker Madeleine Cooke.


After a premiere at the prestigious Birmingham Film Festival in late November, Seat 25 tells the story of a woman who wins a one way ticket to Mars for the first manned mission to the red planet.


Not only did the film fare well with the Midlands audience on the night, it won the Best Feature Film at the Birmingham Film Festival's gala awards ceremony where the filmmakers’ high hopes for the production were rewarded.


With echoes of the real-life “Mars One” campaign which aims to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars, Seat 25’s protagonist Faye Banks is lost in a world in which she doesn’t belong, with her imagination leading her to consequences that will change her life forever.


The film’s engaging sci-fi themes have also seen it touchdown as a finalist for Best Feature Film at the Raw Science Film Festival in Los Angeles. The festival screens fiction and non-fiction movies that includes both student and professional entries whose films celebrate the wonderment of science and technology.


However, not content with those achievements and accolades, Seat 25 will also be opening the VAULT Film Festival in London.





Director Nicholas Agnew originally trained as an actor and has worked extensively in film, television and theatre. Recent credits include Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Man Who Knew Infinity and the forthcoming television series Victoria. Having built up a wealth of experience in front of the camera, he has now made the move into directing where he has paired his understanding of performance with an exceptional technical team for Seat 25.


Local lead actress Madeleine Cooke trained at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts and since graduating has appeared on the BBC as well as on stage touring the UK. She too began writing alongside her acting career and in 2015 she began working on her first feature length screenplay and co-founded the production company Lagom Pictures.


Madeleine explains that Lagom Pictures is focused on producing new, thought provoking films that explore genre and style and strives to work with the very best emerging talent.


With sky high hopes for even more success in 2017, Seat 25’s tale mixing the ordinary with the extraordinary should sit well with fans of science fiction with a heart.


Check out the film’s trailer above as well as the Seat 25 Official site and social media pages:


http://seat25.com/

https://twitter.com/seat25film

https://www.facebook.com/ seat25movie/


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Jan 10 2016 11:53AM

Midlands Movies Mike enters January by taking a look at Stoke-based filmmaker Chris Stone who has come out from his undercover mission to release his new espionage web film series “Year of Spies”.


Chris Stone’s varied background from the BBC to filming LA music videos has helped him set up his biggest project to date with the release of his Ipcress File inspired spy series. With a Royal Television Society nominated documentary also behind him, this new project compliments his previous work that has been showcased on ITV and MTV as well as being premiered at Pinewood Studios.


“Year of Spies” is the culmination of all this hard toil and Chris has turned to the internet to release this impressive 12-part thriller which unfolds over the course of a year.


Under Christ Stone Films, the director also offers custom-filmed show reel scenes for up and coming actors to show off their acting talents. Helping others to demonstrate their skills to casting directors he gives new actors and actresses a route to much needed first-hand experience of working in front of camera with a professional director.


"Year of Spies" also continues Chris’ bold visual style with Hollywood influences and larger than life heroes with Bond-esque action sequences. This major difference from his previous work is the project will be made up of individual self-contained mini stories. Chris says they are “set in the same 'universe' rather than one long continuous narrative”.


Using both his experience as a short filmmaker and finding a new route to audiences via the web, Chris has built a fanbase online and his Victorian vampire adventure 'Blood and Bone China', won 'Best Web Series of 2011' at the Indie Intertube Awards and has been viewed over 300,000 times on YouTube.


Chris also hosts seminars and practical lessons on film-making and web series production around the country, including at the UK's largest film festival Raindance and if you bring a script to Chris he is more than happy to work alongside budding writers too. So local filmmakers and actors should definitely get in touch if you want to work alongside this exciting talent from Staffordshire.


For more about Chris, his films and his future projects and local support then please check the links and watch the exciting trailer for the "Year of Spies" series via YouTube below:


Official website: http://www.yearofspies.com

Director's website http://www.chrisstonefilms.com




By midlandsmovies, Mar 20 2015 06:03PM

Midlands Movies Mike spoke to director of new Leicester-set short film “Beverley”, Alexander Thomas, who after his red-carpet screening of the film to cast and crew was quick to praise the hard work of all involved and his thoughts on the support he received from the city throughout the making of his movie....


Alexander Thomas created TAG films in 2006 and with his first film “Portobello: Attack of the Clones” winning Best London film at a prestigious film festival, Alex has gone on to form a lasting relationship with producer Cass Pennant to whom he worked alongside in getting Beverley to the big screen.


Hi Alex. A big congratulations to you for your new film “Beverley”. What were your impressions when you met Beverley for the first time?

Thank you. Well, it all began with an informal chat many years ago with the real Beverley. She was a very interesting person as was her story and after that first conversation I could not shake her story from my head. However, it wasn’t until a good couple of years later when we sat down for a more formal chat did I come to understand more about her life and how this could make a very interesting film.


What were the next stages?

We did a number of chats over 3 or 4 hours at a time and the story began to take shape but only some of the story reflected what had happened to her for real. Beverley Thompson is clearly a real life person but it’s not like our film was going to be a biopic – so we had to add some things in.


What parts were added for the film?

Well, there really wasn’t a narrative as such – it was someone’s life so I had to work hard turning those incidents in her life into something cohesive. For me, it was taking some of those moments and stories from back then and filling them in with some of the other ideas I had about growing up and identity. This then helped give the whole thing an arc. Pulling it together was a difficult thing but that’s all part of the process to make a good film.


As someone who has lived in Leicester I enjoyed the fact that it was filmed in and around the city. Were the places the actual locations from Beverley’s life?

Highfields was definitely a place we wanted to go to and that was a real influence and, as we said in our ‘making-of’ documentary film, we really did go around and knock on people’s doors to see if we could find the right suburban street. It was funny but we did eventually get the house that we needed. Also, the scene of the live gig was set at The Shed which wasn’t open at the time but it had a kind of old school vibe. It was a really atmospheric place and the guy who runs it was very accommodating which helped a lot.


Had you been to Leicester many times yourself?

Not much at the start. But in fact, I grew up in Stratford upon Avon not too far away. I hadn’t been to Leicester for a long time but once we chose to film in the city we quickly arranged auditions at the local Phoenix cinema as well as holding our rehearsals there too. As I mentioned, we did lots of scouting for locations and the support of the community was great whilst out filming.


How long did it take edit once the shooting was complete?

We started at the back end of April last year and I worked on it with the editor Kristof Deak but he wasn’t in the country at the time so I was sending rushes to the editor abroad! However, everything started to speed up quickly once he got back to England.


And the music is such an important part of the film. How did you choose and get the soundtrack to the film together?

We were really lucky with Cass's connections and that meant we had some great tracks. Ranking Roger, Dave Wakeling, Ruts DC, Melbourne Ska Orchestra, King Sounds (who also plays Otis) all provided us with music. Neville Staple who also has a cameo wrote a track with his wife Christine for us and Stone Foundation who also gave us music even wrote us a title track (and some of the footage from the film will be in the music video for the song when it's released). I also worked together with the composer Rael Jones to finalise the sound track and he wrote some original pieces for the film too.


You mentioned that the short film could become a feature if there is interest. Where do you see the story going from here?

Well, I certainly cannot spoil it because I don’t even know myself! I guess we would broaden out the story but it could go in so many different directions given that the tale is about Two Tone and the effect it had on lives in Britain at that time. Two Tone was always about bringing people together across the country. It was an amazing cultural force that swept across the nation and it’s important that this is known and that we get that message out there. It also had a slightly political agenda. It was very open about being critical of Thatcherism and so forth. If you look at where we are now and the fact that so much of today can be related directly back to then. From issues of race to high unemployment my film certainly isn’t about how Two-Tone “won” that political fight.


How did that affect the film’s ending?

That’s one of the reasons at the end. Although I didn’t want to make a bleak film, even as a feature I’m not sure I can write a traditional happy ending. It was all very crazy at that time and also culturally conflicted. It was chaotic and it’s complex and that’s the reality of it.


It could be argued the cliff-hanger was a great device to leave a fan of short-films wanting even more?

It’s not quite a cliff-hanger for me. It’s more of a messed up situation with everybody being alienated and confused. The situation leaves the characters conflicted and lost and that for me is the honesty of what I’m trying to say. Hopefully though there is enough there that people want to see more – and they seem to – I will probably end up in a similar position in the feature where an honest ending expresses the complexity and inherent contradictions of the time.


Finally then, despite the confusion I thought the film had a positivity beneath the surface – for example, you showed the stereotypical racist neighbours eventually being friendly and finding common ground where it could easily have stayed as it was?

Thank you. Yes, Leicester is a great city for setting these things in motion as it’s a plural city and the film tried to reflect that. How we move British identity forward is a very big theme for me and although there are clashes, the film is very positive in the face of outdated attitudes.


To read more about Beverley and its coverage and showings at future film festivals then please visit the film’s main website here http://www.beverleyfilm.com


To read what I thought of the film itself, please read my feature review here:

http://www.midlandsmovies.com/blog/4558436876/Feature-Review---Beverley/9494145

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