Recently by Michael Clifford
Me and Mr Stephen Woolley
I've noticed something. Stephen Woolley, the British Film Producing legend, has been appearing at significant points in my career to sprinkle magic on it. I've never worked with him, probably only exchanged a few sentences with him in the space of 21 yrs and yet he's played a part in a number of the highlights. Has Stephen got special powers?...
Anyway, here are the markers in mine and Stephen's relationship
In 1990 I made my first film - a half hour documentary about the Scala cinema (aka Sodom Odeon) in London's King's Cross. Stephen was one of the founders of the cinema and therefore responsible for its distinctive programme and all night culture. He'd moved on to Palace by 1990 but kindly gave an interview to a very nervous young director.
Cut to 2004. Stephen was a panel member for The Turner Classic movies shorts prize. They gave my short film 'Brown Paper Bag' third prize in the competition. Although we didn't win, the resulting exposure almost certainly helped raise the film's profile in the run up to the BAFTA's which we most certainly did win!
2010 After years of development hell and unfulfilled expectation created by the BAFTA wins, myself and the producer of Brown Paper Bag, Natasha Carlish decided enough was enough, we were gonna 'just do it', a decision which led to making 'Turbulence', my first feature film. It just so happened that Natasha had been able to secure Stephen as her mentor (I had no part in this) on the guiding lights scheme at that very same time. She showed him the rough cut I'd mostly put together (no money for an editor), which was painful but turned out to be extremely useful. Stephen declared the film to be not at all his cup of tea, then went on to say something like the following (I wasn't there you see)
'but its not really about me, who is your target audience? Show it them and see what they make of it'
We went away and set up test screenings for Turbulence, there were none in the pipeline before this moment. I've written some blogs about them and the experience of that. Let's just say it was a total revelation, not only one of the highlights of making the film, I'd go so far as to say it has completely shifted the way I see the film making process. I had no idea that was coming. Its too early to say what the result will be of this particular revelation but it feels significant.
So, Mr Woolley, I thank you very, very much and look forward to seeing you for the first time in seven years at this Saturday's 'Scala Forever' event at the Cinema Museum in London this Saturday 17.9.11. They're showing my documentary and there'll be a panel talking about the cinema's legacy and what not too. Cant wait!
Tomorrow will see the launch of 'Bikefilm by name, Bikefilm by nature'.
Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love riding my bike. It has to be one of life's simplest and greatest pleasures.
My twitter name is @bikefilm. For a while now I have been wondering how to bring these two things together.
How far would it be possible to make a movie using only bikes?
Last year we shot our no-budget film 'Turbulence' almost entirely within walking distance of my house and the Hare and Hounds. It worked brilliantly, certainly for people. But when it comes to moving equipment, you need wheels.
So tomorrow, I will be doing just that. Moving equipment using only my bike.
A constant companion for any creative is the question 'Why on earth am I doing this?,' a close cousin of ' and Am I any good?'. In recent years, with little to show in the way of money or success, the question has been a regular visitor to my frontal lobes. Had I chosen a more sensible profession, I would be able to provide my family with more, perhaps even be useful to society. At times, to my mind, my only saving grace has been that throughout this period, I've always paid my taxes.
But just lately I've had a new reason to carry on. My son Jackson, nearing eleven years old, has a developing love of movies and indeed all things moving image. Although we don't like all the same things, there's plenty of taste cross over and we can pour over all the new releases and endlessly discuss their strengths and weaknesses. For the time being at least, we have a shared interest. And it's a wonderful thing.
But that's not all. He really likes my new film 'Turbulence'. And recently, as we have been editing and I've been bringing home different versions to watch, he has watched them with me. He's seen the film evolve over the past year, seen it shot and edited, refined and polished. This weekend we watched the final version of the front titles, which features animated versions of the characters. He whooped with joy as he spotted them appearing one by one. It was an awesome moment and very, very validating.
So... Jackson, I'd just like to say thank you very, very much for making this fathers day special.
Lots and lots of Love, Daddy (aka 'The Zids') xxx
Oh and p.s - thanks for the pumpkin heads and Homer corkscrew!!
I had an extraordinary day in Stratford last week, which I would like to describe in reverse order. Now, I've never been a fan of Stratford Upon Avon, which is a shame because my ancestors are from the area. I think its because the place never seemed to live up to the world famous name. Any time I've been there, I've felt as if I could just as well have been in any other Midlands Town and Solihull Town Centre in particular. Now, the end of my day in Stratford changed all that because I went to visit the new look Royal Shakespeare Company. The tower they have built on the edge of the building is a stroke of genius. You go up and suddenly you get a whole new perspective on things - the river, the church where Shakespeare is buried, the Warwickshire countryside around you. Suddenly, Stratford was much more than traffic jams, tourists and small houses, much more than shopping malls dressed in tudor beams.
Inspired by this I decided that the top of the tower was the best place to make a call to Turbulence producer Natasha Carlish and tell her about my afternoon at Stratford College. Julia and I had just shown the film to thirty three 17 year olds who had been very enthusiastic indeed. Natasha had also shown the film in Hereford that day and we exchanged notes excitedly. Indeed, Stratford may have been a breakthrough moment. Whilst older audiences have been positive about the film, it felt as though this age group wanted to 'wear the t shirt', they wanted to make it theirs. This is going to be so vital to our film because we have none of the tools available to a big budget movie and our success will be built entirely on an engaged and enthusiastic audience. Perhaps the feeling in the room can be summed up by one audience members description of watching the film -
'It was like going to a party. At first you don't know anyone, then you relax, have a drink maybe, and then by the end you think I JUST LOVE THESE PEOPLE!'
My own feeling at the top of the tower, on a sunny afternoon, after a screening like that can be summed up by the bard -
'My crown is called content, a crown that seldom Kings enjoy'
1. 'I'll read it over the weekend'
Usually means 'I'll read it if I get the chance'. When you hear these words, get ready to chase. If you are the user of the phrase, it's a beauty. Should anyone challenge you with 'So did you read it over the weekend?', you simply answer with one of the following -
'No I had to attend to the kids/d.i.y/the dog/ Great Aunt Mabel'
'No I went out on a bender'
Really, any response is acceptable because you were having a life and therefore cant be challenged... at least on the first time of asking.
2. 'Let's run the figures'
'The industry' always wants an actor attached to a film in development who will 'mean something' at the box office. Problem is, apart from the obvious - e.g Jonny Depp, no one knows which actors 'mean something at the box office'. Even the really big names don't always guarantee a film, people see movies for all sorts of reasons, actors are a part of the mix. The conversations on this subject quickly stop making sense.
'So if we have Ben + Julie + Sandy, does that = a William?'
3. 'So which film does the film you are developing most resemble'
This is usually the opening gambit from biz types where you the film maker quickly become cannon fodder. Any film you name is WRONG! 'It failed at the box office' 'You cant compare yourself to such a classic' 'Its just a festival film, not big enough' etc etc etc. The beauty for the user is that any film mentioned can be dismissed as an example for one reason or another and the film maker can offer no evidence that you are wrong. Genius!
I am about to leave home to host the second session in a new season of 'TalkFilm' at the MAC, Midland Arts Centre in Cannon Hill Park. Thursday evenings 6.30 til 9.30. It's a fairly informal gathering of movie lovers in a book club atmosphere, where we watch and talk about film. My focus this time around is audience. How we and why we love cinema, what it is about the movies that keeps us coming back? I asked the group what it was about movies that worked for them.
Love of genre
Looking into others lives
Being in the dark with a cinema audience
Enjoying make believe
Enjoyment of movie facts and figures
I can think of a few more reasons why we keep coming back to the movies. Our love of stars, identification with them sometimes, our desire to be challenged, our interest in auteurs - directors and writers, and of course the simple but vital pleasure of entertainment.
I am a director. When you are making films it's easy to forget the above but they are vital. I think that alongside knowing what kind of film you are trying to make, you really need to know which of these pleasures you are trying to address. Every film maker was a movie goer once and most of us still are.
They came in their red doctor martens, beanie hats and heavy metal t shirts.
They were our highly precious, first ever 18 - 24 year old test audience for Turbulence Film.
They had no connection with the production and I had no idea what they would make of it.
For Julia and I this was the first time that we had seen the film on a big screen. Just that was a revelation - it felt good this big, even on a standard dvd. But.... I felt acutely exposed.
They're Young, Gifted and Clueless
We are moving into the final phase of our film Turbulence. Lately I've been feeling a bit 'gifted' but clueless myself. I'm glad to say that after a decent nights sleep, I even feel young. More importantly, I think I may finally have a clue.
Young, Gifted and Clueless is the 'tag' line for our film. It is the equivalent of Alien's 'In Space No One Can Hear You Scream'. It's a line that gives you a feel of the film without laying out the content. Young, Gifted and Clueless says this is gonna be fun, its about creativity and young people on a journey. It says a bunch of other things as well, ultimately so few words are open to interpretation. Anyway, the beauty of this line is that it is so easy to picture it on a poster with a picture of the cast, our ensemble. What's also great is that its totally portable and fits in a tweet.
Alongside the tag line we now have a log line, which is
'When a failing music venue staffed by idiots looks set to close, manager Keith launches a last ditch Battle of the Bands competition. More by accident than by design, musical genius is unleashed by a rapping transvestite, some precocious indie rockers and a bar maid with a golden voice, who together save the world they love'.
You wouldn't think that that is such a hard thing to write, or indeed that it would be so important. It's both hard and important. In the traditional film making process, a log line would be written at the same time as the script, then probably re written when the film is cut together. I say probably because this is the first time I've done it. Either way, our film is different, the script came out of improvisation with the actors, its not a traditional model. This means that at the rough cut stage the film has reached, the question has been asked 'what is this film about'. Now, I have to say that that question has been asked of pretty much every film I have worked on. Its particularly so for documentaries but even in more traditionally scripted dramas I have had to answer that question, not just to describe the film to someone but to actually make the film, by making the right choices in the edit. Turbulence is an ensemble film, so there are perhaps more choices, though not that many more than usual.
It has fallen to the Producer Natasha and Co Producer Julia to ask that question, which they have asked in various ways. And it has been down to me to provide an answer. Along the way, I've also had to answer what I am about. Directing requires tunnel vision, but a particular kind of tunnel vision. You have to be focused on the goal and be singular in vision but at the same time be able to share the film, trust those in the most critical roles and appreciate the work that they are doing for you, even when you are in the middle of working it out for yourself. Sometimes I get the balance wrong, mistaking service to the film as necessitating the exclusion of others. Ultimately that is a disservice to the film. I'm learning.
So, now we know what the film's about. It comes in handy. In shooting pick up scenes, in re-structuring the cut, in making the trailer which began yesterday with Adam. As with a number of things where Turbulence is concerned, it has arrived in the nick of time (I hope!)
Although its challenging, I think we have got it right where the creative process of Turbulence is concerned. The beauty of avoiding development hell is that we can avoid the many pitfalls that that process brings to a film. One of the biggest pitfalls in the UK is that so many of our films are utterly predictable, when you see a film or read a script you know exactly what is going to happen within the first few minutes but worse than that, you know what is going to happen along the way. My hope for Turbulence is that in creating the log line, we know what the film is about and how it begins and ends. It has definition. But my real hope is that we are able to hang on to what makes this film special, which has been created by the process. So I hope that when you watch the film, you may have an idea of where it will end and there will be a satisfaction in seeing that play out. What will deliver greater satisfaction though is that it will have a number of surprises along the way, the kind of surprises that would be killed off by a traditional script development process. Put another way, this is an ensemble film and the story of the venue frames the individual stories in the film.
The other thing often killed off is the pure joy that is so patently present in our daft film, a joy that I hope proves to be catching.
Very many, many thanks to Stavros for helping me to answer the question and to Natasha and Julia for asking the question. Thanks to everyone at Aquila. Please note that our 'failing venue' is entirely fictional and in no way represents the thriving Hare and Hounds, who so kindly allowed us to make our film in their beautiful pub.
The film awards season is now beginning in earnest. BAFTA have published their long list, from which the 6,000+ membership will choose the nominees and then the winners. I'm one of the voters. The trade press say that less films have been made this year but those completed are of higher quality. Having less films to consider is certainly a blessing and I have to say I'm really enjoying my movies at the moment. But, the big question - how am I going to vote? Tricky, with a lot of good films on offer. I think in my top three though contains two films based on true stories, the third is directed by a Brit in his 70th year. Can you guess the films?
One of my day jobs whilst we are making 'Turbulence' is running a Thursday evening film course at The Midland Arts Centre or MAC. To celebrate the awards season, I am going to dedicate each week to a different category. There'll be evenings on cinematography, actors, script, costume etc. I'm hoping to include special guests and even a special awards ceremony on the final night!
So what do the awards actually mean? For me I'd say being nominated is the most significant thing and being on that list year in, year out certainly does no harm to a career. The actual winner is much more of a lottery and ultimately less significant. Also there tends to be the lean towards one film picking up nearly all the prizes. Whilst this makes a good news story, I have to say I do think it's a shame and generally doesn't reflect what's out there. For my own work, I tend to think about the words of Martin Scorsese, famous for not winning an oscar for most of his career. He always said its not the prizes that matter but being able to make the next film. Here's to that.
So, I'm off to vote! You can see the BAFTA 'long list' using the link below, these will become nominees, and after a third round of voting, winners. Can you see any of your favourites from 2010?
Also check out MAC's evening courses and of course, our film Turbulence. We are now looking for completion finance of ÃÂ£75,000. if you know someone who might like to invest, please ask them get in touch. Businesses can invest in the film and offset this against corporation tax before April 6th 2011.
About Turbulence http://www.turbulencefilm.com
For Turbulence investment e mail Natasha@dreamfinder.net
For MAC's courses see http://www.macarts.co.uk/page/3704/Learning+Participation
To follow me on Twitter it's @bikefilm
I have just found myself in the peculiar situation of simultaneously making my longest and shortest film. My longest film is 'Turbulence', which you will be familiar with from previous blogs. It currently weighs in at 2 hours - the assembly edit. The assembly is your very first edit, basically an 'assembly' of all the scenes, in the order of the script. It's as rough as Desperate Dan's chin but basically offers you a starting point out of all of those hours of material. I'm now looking at it to see how well the story works, bringing down the length through tightening and deleting scenes and adding in music. There's a lot of music. I decided that the best way to deal with such a length is to take it 15 minutes at a time. So far it seems to be working!
This is all in marked contrast to my shortest film - 'How to Speak Big Cat'. This is a one take wonder, me and my daughter pretending to be lions - shot and edited in 30 minutes on a flip camera and running at a mere 55 seconds. I made it for a competition - Land Rover and Biosphere's 'Go Beyond' with the prize a place on an expedition to Namibia. Well, after being put through my paces on a selection day involving driving Land Rovers down rivers, imagining scenarios like being stranded in the desert and spotting lifesize cardboard cut outs of Zebras in the Herefordshire countryside (to name but a few tasks), I am glad to say that they have decided to put me on the plane! Yahoo! Thanks to little C, Aquila TV, Land Rover and Biosphere.