Midlands Movies Mike catches up with the talented local students of the Pauline Quirke Academy of Performing Arts, Leicester (PQA Leicester).
Offering performing arts tuition for students aged 4-18 years, the PQA is a weekend drama academy and as part of their sessions, students participate in a film & television class in which they are given the opportunity to study almost every aspect of filmmaking, from getting hands-on experience of working with the camera to performing in front of it.
Every student benefits from tuition from award-winning professional filmmaker Keith Allott, who has helped some of the students become award winners themselves with two winning entries in the 2011 Empire Film Festival. Recently, Keith has helped 12 groups of students between the ages of 5 and 17 to create short films for a competition where some lucky winners will get to see their movie screened at the Empire Cinema in Leicester Square.
With the 2 previous winners already mentioned, it’s all fingers crossed for the latest creative talents and all of the films made can be seen on YouTube here - http://www.youtube.com/user/PQALeicester/videos
Amongst all the talent on show, the director of 'Hourglass' is Ellesha Ballard who at the age of 17 shows a maturity beyond her years alongside fellow student, 15 year old writer of 'Love Bites', James Allen.
For more details about PQA Leicester and their annual ‘Film in a Week’ summer holiday workshop, please visit the website at www.pqacademy.com
Mike speaks to 15 year-old James Allen, writer, director and editor of ‘Love Bites’ and Ellesha Ballard (17) director of 'Hourglass' (click on videos above to watch)
MM:Tell me about your involvement with PQA Leicester?
James: I have been a student at PQA for 2 ½ years – I am in the older students “Red Group”, which I attend every Saturday where we have three sessions - ‘Comedy and Drama’, ‘Musical Theatre’ and my personal favourite, ‘Film and Television’.
Ellesha: I am involved in PQA Leicester on two levels both as member of the afternoon red group and I help out with the green group, in the morning academy. I make my films with film and TV teacher Keith Allott, as well as with him at the Phoenix Leicester in my spare time.
MM: What problems did you face whilst filming?
James: Some of our Zombie make-up spilt over the college floor and we were worried that we wouldn’t be able to get it out of the carpet ..ooopps! We then had to use pretty basic make up, but made do.
Ellesha: It was the unpredictability of the actor/ actresses. This created a problem due to restrictive framing of some of the shots and meant sometimes they moved out of shot, which required me to re-think some shots to accommodate this. Another problem was my height, due to some of the actors being quiet tall, requiring the camera to be positioned quiet high up to get the shots that I wanted and required. However luckily the camera we had used had a rotational screen allowing me to position the shot correctly and create the right focus points. The other problem we faced was a limited/non-existent amount of money and a short amount of time to work on the film and get it finished, meaning that we had to compromise on some aspects of the film and use alternative locations
MM: Is this the first film you have made? If not, what are your previous experiences?
James: Last year the short film (Criss/Cross) that I wrote, starred in and helped direct with PQA won an award at the PQA ‘Empire Film Festival’ – where we attended the Empire Cinema in London’s Leicester Square to collect our awards from Pauline Quirke herself and see our films shown on the big screen. The likes of Twilight, James Bond and The Dark Knight Trilogy cast had been just weeks before us for their premieres!
Ellesha: No, I have filmed two short films called Upgrade and Playing Straight- both in 2012 with my drama group. I have also participated in a level 2 film making BTEC in which I assisted in the casting and the making of the film The Rail.
MM: What techniques did you use in your film?
James: We used ‘over the shoulder shots’, ‘extreme long shots’, ‘tracking’ and ‘mid shots’. During editing we had a corrupt data type effect in the opening shots of the film for the news broadcast. It was in produced in black and white, with a static/film grain effect added to it to pay tribute to the iconic Zombie director George A. Romero
Ellesha: One of my favorite techniques was using daylight to burn out the back ground exterior of the shot and then allowing the actor to walk in or out of focus from a well lit foreground into the burnt out background to create an ethereal feeling. I’m also a big fan of a good cutaway to break up a long shot and to add extra depth to one as I think this adds something extra to the final product.
MM: What was the scariest/funniest moment on set?
James: When (fellow student and actor) India had to keep falling over (which was actually part of the film!), it was hard to make this look natural and so many takes were taken but this was due to people laughing!
Ellesha: There were two - firstly when we were filming in heavy rain and all the crew and the camera were sheltered under Keith’s coat - whilst Keith got completely soaked! The second was a scene that didn’t make the final cut as Emma (the Messiah) had to repeatedly hit her hands against the table take after take due to the other actors laughing resulting in her hands being red raw by the end of the day.
MM: How do your parents and/or friends feel about your film(s)?
James: They’re really proud of me and enjoyed the film. As for my friends at school, not many of them usually take an interest, however after seeing this film they can’t wait to see my next one! It is actually quite funny because all I have heard at school recently is “When are you going to be on East Enders?”
Ellesha: My mum was almost moved to tears the first time she watched Hourglass and so was my friend and fellow actress Jaymie. Natasha Geary said that she liked ‘the development of the story though time’. My mum is a constant source of support and said she can see positive development though my film projects.
MM: Tell me about what you learnt from this experience?
James: The biggest thing you learn is the importance of ‘Team Work’ and the ability to work with other people that you don’t always get the chance to work with. I also learnt how to make different shots look like one take, but from different angles, all on one timeline – for example – the shots that show people being shoved into the toilets from outside of the toilets to a shot from inside of the toilet – with the victim being pushed in – with all this looking like one continuous piece of film.
Ellesha: Probably the biggest thing I will take is how to direct people in such a way that they understand what I’m asking them to achieve and do, whilst at the same time they can add their own input about the character and show how they think the character will feel. As well as this I have learnt how to compose shots and create different effects and how to use the camera to portray the characters feelings to the audience in a much clearer way than before.
MM: Was there anything you would do differently next time?
James: I would have liked to have had longer to film, making the film longer and being able to keep some of the scenes we needed to omit from the final edit or have the scenes added that we had to cut from the script to keep the film a certain length. I would also like to produce a sound track for films in the future.
Ellesha: Next time I would try casting roles to the person who was most suited to the specific role. This can sometimes be hard when part of a drama school as sometimes people leave and new people join. So characters and parts can chop and change at short notice; however on Hourglass I think our casting did work well despite these problems.
MM: Do you have any other projects/films you would like to do?
James: I have around a dozen other scripts that I have written on my own, four of which are a series of films based on events throughout the year (Christmas, Birthday, Easter and Halloween) which people usually see as positive and nice time of the year and flipping these to make them into a horror/thriller type genre, all of which I would eventually like to film. I would also like to film some tribute episodes for things like Doctor Who and I also have a script for the sequel to ‘Criss/Cross’ the first ever film I made. I am currently working on re-writes that put a big twist on tales such as ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and ‘Of Mice and Men’ – putting these into modern day situations so that teens are able to relate to these tales more.
Ellesha: I am currently starting work on a new film with James Allen and Keith Allott which is just starting its pre-production phase and I am very excited to see what we will produce. We are also currently working on mockumentaries which is a new genre to me so I find this exciting and nerve racking at the same time. Around Easter we go into pre-production for another drama group film which I am greatly looking forward to.
MM: How do you see your future plans for this film? Would you like a career in film-making?
James: Hopefully ‘Love Bites’ will go on to win an award at this year’s ‘Empire Film Festival’, fingers crossed. As for a career in film making ... I would love to be in the same position as people such as Christopher Nolan. However my biggest dream more than anything else on the planet is to be on the screen more than behind the camera like the likes of Ben Stiller in ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ as he wrote, directed and starred in this ... but I wouldn’t want to steal all the jobs – perhaps just directing one film, writing another and then starring in something else! ... Is that too much to ask? P.S. Christopher Nolan if you are reading this ... If you are looking for someone to play ‘Robin’ in the next Batman film just give me a ring!
Ellesha: I would love a career in filmmaking and is definitely something I can see myself doing. There’s nothing else I do that gives me the special buzz like seeing your final product on a big screen or like making a film with people that you admire and love working with. As for Hourglass, I would like to enter it into other short film competitions to see how larger audiences view it, and to get some feedback which I can use for future films.