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Monday, January 31, 2011

BAFTA shorts films conclusion

Over the past 5 days I've been looking at this year's BAFTA nominated films and exploring why these films were selected from the 100 or so entered.

The five films are:
One: Connect
Two: Lin
Three: Rite
Four: Turning
Five: Until the River Runs Red

What I was pleased to see was such a range of narrative styles and visual treatments across the films.

I think there is a general perception amongst up and coming film makers that awards go to worthy, gritty films that contain social comment and a social / political issue. And as writers all we have to do is to choose our issue; working class struggles, immigration, some sort of equality.

What is great to see with these five films is that it defies that perception. In fact, I say that these films prove the opposite to be true. There is more range in storytelling methods, more daring in the visuals and more good old-fashioned dramatic intrigue than there are in many of the feature films.

Perhaps the only 'rule' that seems to be reinforced by this selection is to feature the stories of children. 3 out of the 5 do that. As did my own film many years ago. I'm not sure why that is. But I think it is because coming-of-age is the short film's normal genre and this often occurs at that younger age.

I can't say here which I will be voting for, but keep an eye out to see who wins on the big night. Not that you will see that on the TV as they always cut the short film bit out - rats!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

How to get a BAFTA nomination for your short film - part 5

The last film to be nominated for the Best Short Film BAFTA is Paul Wright's "Until The River Runs Red"

The longest film, at near half an hour, it is also the only film that I felt could have been slightly trimmed in the edit.

The NFTS describe it thusly...

Chloe believes she is the only daughter of God. Her parents (the solemn Jack, and the caring Kate) love her but hide her away from the world. Memories from Chloe’s upbringing piece together another story and unveil a quest for a red river, which she must find so that she may transcend to heaven.

The look, in parts, was slightly reminiscent of a Japanese horror film, or the game Fatal Frame, if you know of that. Scratchy flashbacks full of religious imagery.

The central idea is intriguing enough, however at nearly half an hour I am not sure if the ideas could be covered more quickly, while still maintaining the same pace. The performances are all great and technically this is another fine film.

I suspect however that this is the lowest budget of the 5, certainly the lowest per final minute.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Making a BAFTA nominated film - part 4 of 5

"Turning" by Karni & Saul is the fourth film in this year's BAFTA nomination list. Luckily, this is a film that you can see online via BBC Film Network. I say luckily because this film, more than the others, relies on visual techniques, art direction and style. All things that would be hard to convey without lengthy descriptions.

The film is a part animated / part live action fantastical drama showing a child's view of visiting relatives.

This is how the film makers describe it:

On his sixth birthday, Robert receives three beautiful old ladies in his mother's sitting room. Through his eyes, we visit the memory of this afternoon, visualized with the free spirited imagination of childhood, naive yet wonderfully dark. Ladies appear like birds, a gift scuttles across the floor, blue icing is nibbled from a magical cake, tea is sipped, lacy slips shifted, and between knobbly knees strange visions appear. The ladies weave an extraordinary tale of an emperor with no skin, and the boy himself, older and wiser, adds the finale... with a tail.

It reminded me of both "The Fall" and "Where the Wild Things Are". I would suggest that this film has been included in the nominations because of its unique style and look as well as its visual slickness and captivating grotesque characters. Despite being well made this is the film I struggle with seeing leading to longer form work. But, quite rightly, that shouldn't be a consideration here. Of course, with this film, you can judge for yourself.

Friday, January 28, 2011

What makes a short film worthy of a BAFTA? Part 3

The third film in the BAFTA nomination list is "Rite".

The film's creators describe it thusly...

"Mick takes his estranged son out for his birthday; a man desperate to prove he's changed. But drink and the simmering violence of match day in London brings out the worst in him over a long, difficult afternoon for father and son."

I would describe it as a coming-of-age film, with the 'twist' being that it is the father that must grow and develop at the end, and does so in a delicate and poignant fashion.

It was excellently shot, acted and edited and the sound mix with minimal music lifted the whole piece up into 'cinema' and away from 'TV'.

This film features a standard, linear narrative, is set in an urban environment, hasslightly gritty issues, features a son who turns out to be gay (complete non-spoiler I'm sure) with a working class dad. It would be easy therefore to dismiss this short as coming out of the stock Film Council / Film London factory. In many ways it conforms to that formula.

For me, however, it was the fact the film ended with a conclusion that went against the grain that broke it away from that mould. For this to have worked shows that the writing of the characters was insightful and the plot well crafted. Well done to Michael Pearce in pulling it off.

I would say that this film has been nominated because it takes the standard "British Short Film", gives it a twist and does so excellently.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

How do you get a BAFTA short film nomination - part 2

Today's short film from the BAFTA nomination list is LIN by Hector Films.

This is the film makers' synopsis:
A woman arrives at a port town in an unknown country as dawn turns to day. Her recounted stories begin to contradict themselves as she travels across the landscape. She is searching for something, a shape or a structure, which we are not even sure exists. Along the road she is eventually forced into initiating the process of self-reckoning. As her artifice begins to fall away she finds herself continuing her journey but now with a sense of resolution.

If I am honest I would have to admit that after the first couple of minutes I was ready to dislike this film. I was prepared to write it off as being a 'worthy' film, one that has almost been designed from the ground up in order to tick a set of boxes to get into festivals. Perhaps a film that was trying too hard.

As the film progressed I found this to be untrue.

Admittedly the film does not use a traditional structure for its plot. It focuses much more on mood and doesn't concern itself with explaining the reason for the journey or character motives.

But I can see why this has been nominated. It tries to do something different - and manages it successfully. Now there is a lot of luck needed if you try to pull off this approach. If you experiment with form and mood then you can't expect to be on the money everytime. If you are a film maker who wants to be successful every time then you need to play it safe and start to follow formulas. These film makers have not done that. They took a chance - and it worked.

It was shot on the RED camera in some amazing locations that looked hard to find. Not an easy production, I would imagine, and certainly not cheap.

This nomination is deserved for having guts and sticking to a vision that must have looking unpopular on paper. You don't get a film like this if the director has another agenda of trying to themselves some TV work! You get a film like this if you love film.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

BAFTA nominated short films 2010 - an overview

It can be hard to actually get to see the shorts that are nominated for awards. I was lucky, Eight did have a limited cinema release. However, most shorts are much harder to see outside of a festival. And usually producers hold off of on-line distribution as they are seeking a better deal from elsewhere. The result - a low audience.

Luckily I am viewing the BAFTA nominated shorts for voting purposes. Here I will be looking at why (perhaps) these shorts were selected from the many that were entered.

First up is Connect made my a guy I met a few years ago, Sam Abrahams. And personally it brought a smile to my face to see Alex Lang in it, as I worked with him a few years back.

"A bittersweet, elongated moment of romance on a bus, interspersed with a deliciously dark sense of humour." - The Guardian

Connect is a dialogue-free film, set on a busy bus, full of close up details and captured moments. It also has some larger fantasy set pieces that unfold as the girl with the headphone (in the poster) listens to music and looks at her fellow passengers.

I have to say that personally the combination of those two elements (large movements and small intimate moments) didn't quite work for me. Both were well done, very well done in fact. But perhaps both in a short film is too much.

So why would it be included?
1 - Technically it was excellent - looked great, good sound mix, you could trust these guys to produce something bigger budget or longer with no worries.
2 - Great performances with people who hold your attention through their delicate performances. Good casting.
3 - Editing - never confusing (unlike a lot of shorts)  and everything flowed at that 'just right' pace which shows edit prowess.
4 - It is feel good. You can smile with this film. If you are at a film festival and just sat through five depressing shorts about grim lives then this film would be the tonic.

If you, as a film maker, are coming from a promo or music video background and are wanting to get into drama then you must see this short. It is a perfect example of the bridge you need.

A simple idea, done well, that doesn't outstay the core idea - the running time is 5 minutes.

I would call this - the quirky but professional looking short that has a feel-good vibe.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

My message to Creative England

If you go to the new website for Creative England you will see these two fella-me-lads sitting around in the background.

For me, the problem with any film / media / creative body is that this is exactly what most people feel is happening there, people are just sitting around.

So my message to Creative England, as they launch with a fresh start, is to actively reach out to us all. The important word there is actively.

Actively means getting in touch with us and asking what we want and need in order to be successful. You know, like a business may reach out to its loyal customers. So this is hardly a controversial idea.

My question to all blog readers out there is, when did anyone from the body that is there to support you actually phone you up and see how are you? Never is the standard answer.

And yet if one single person was employed to phone 4 people a day, for a year, then they could get through 1000 people annually. The result: at least 1000 writers, directors, producers, have had someone phone up to say "hey, how's your projects coming along? Oh, I see, well you should speak to person x who can help you more"

Just imagine what impact that would have on morale and making us feel like a joined up industry. And that just involves employing one person to do it.

One person to connect 1000. So please - invest in cheap yet effective ideas like that - that is my message to Creative England.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Writing and directing learning videos

Every now and again I like to do a post about some of the more 'bread and butter' pieces of work that comes the way of writers and directors. Fitting new ideas into a spec script is great, but can you do it with the day to day work? The kind that pays the bills! You can.

As we all know, even the biggest writers and directors often do paid gigs. It is a chance to fund personal projects and experimental ideas. Yet the skills we need for this kind of work is not very often discussed.

For the past few years I have created many pieces of video based learning, interactive videos and e-learning, for large companies across the UK.

There are so many formats you can use for these ideas - drama clips, interviews, talking heads, flash-based activities etc etc. So the one rule I use when thinking about delivering to the brief is this...

Your production should mirror how the audience would use the learning in real life.

But what does that mean? The photo at the top is from a shoot this week. The learning is around staying safe during international business travel; avoiding using dodgy taxis, not getting pick pocketed, staying away from scams.

So one way to do this would be have a presenter telling you all about it. Fine, the content would be covered. But that approach doesn't really mirror the event as the viewer would experience it in real life. 

So for this project we shot a 2 minute POV scene - walking out of a hotel, encountering a number of characters. You, as the audience, have to rate them on screen (using hi-tech giggery pokery) how risky you feel the situation is.

This way, you have kind of lived the experience as you learn. That way, if you face a similar situation in the future you know what to do. You have already lived it once before.

I feel this idea works because all audiences, everyone, remember things through association. Just go back to your old school, or get out a childhood toy to prove that is true. The whole idea of branding relies upon this. So use it. 

(photo by Chris Ferguson)

Monday, January 03, 2011

$500k to make a feature

One of my classic (ie a bit old now) shorts is in for the running at the Open Film competition. $500l up for grabs to fund a feature. Hope you can help out.

Vote here - cheers.