Tales from the High Tide tour bus – with sincere apologies to Mrs Miller

On Monday next week our feature film High Tide is showing in London at The Gate in Notting Hill; somewhat oddly, the screening is being sponsored by Jameson whiskey and everyone who buys a ticket will get free whiskey (providing you like Jameson’s) which should at least mean that spirits are high as the film begins (pun intended). There are still a few tickets left and they can be purchased via this link.

This London showing of the film is the last that we have scheduled and although there’s a bit of talk about further screenings in various places, it could well be that this is the final chance to see High Tide on a cinema screen.  Clearly this is going to be an occasion of mixed emotions; it will be hugely exciting to show the film in London and for many of the audience attending this will be the first time that they’ve seen the film but also, inevitably, there will be a smidgeon of sadness as this project, one that has held dominion over our thoughts for well over three years, reaches the end of its life in cinemas. Not that we are complaining. When we began the production process for High Tide we had no money and little idea of the challenges that we were going to have to overcome or the sheer bloody-minded will-power that would be required to drag the project into existence. We repeatedly modified our aspirations for the film during the production and post-production process, every time daring to dream a little bigger for what might, given a fair wind and a favourable reviews, be a reasonable expectation of its success. However, and speaking honestly, if you’d told us two years ago that the Notting Hill screening would bring the number of cinemas the film has screened at to well over twenty then we would have leapt into one of our special little jigs of thrilled excitement and then probably have gone to the pub and drank a few too many beers. To have reached this point feels very special.

Of course, High Tide will not just disappear once the final credits have rolled at The Gate. We are beginning the production work required for the digital and DVD release of the film and if everything goes to plan it will set amongst the virtual shelves of Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Prime etc, ready to be repeatedly flicked over by couples looking for “just something to watch” on their Friday night sofa. Who knows how many people will alight on High Tide and of those that do, who knows how many of them will be moved and entertained by it? And to an extent this is not really the point. The fact that it is possible, the fact that the film actually exists in the seemingly infinite world of available culture is a bit of a thrill in itself.

A DVD of the film will be of course a more tangible record of its existence and we’re currently working out what we can package with the release to make it a brilliant Christmas present for friends, lovers and family. The thought of a director’s commentary fills me with a cold dread; I really can’t imagine there will be much of a demand for a version of the film spoiled by myself and Jimmy droning over the top of it – “oh look, do you remember filming this bit? / Yeah. I was there. / And that’s just after the time where I fell over in the sand dunes / And did you know that we served real beer at the party? / Yeah, I do. I remember lugging the barrel up that tiny path/ etc etc ad infinitum.

I don’t think I’ve ever watched a complete film with the commentary switched on. I think I began listening to Coppola’s Godfather orations but after about twenty minutes became overly-frustrated with the fact that I couldn’t hear the dialogue properly. It’s like you are sitting next to an irritating family member who has seen a film before and insists on pointing out all the good bits. At length. Loudly. So no, I think we can rule out this for the High Tide DVD. Whatever we do end up including will be decided upon in the next few weeks and we’re aiming for a September release, just in time for that well-documented post-summer, early-autumn, pre-pre-Christmas spike in DVD sales.

Anyway, I intended to write about the experience of travelling around the country and showing our film to strangers who’d paid money to see it. Well, it has been fun. We’ve clocked up a lot of miles, drank a lot of coffee (and I can reveal that after extensive testing, the best standard coffee – and I discount a very expensive place near Covent Garden that sold a blend that was a little like tasting gold and with a similar price-tag, is available from McDonalds. Which is somewhat depressing but then made less depressing by the fact that you are drinking a damn fine cup of coffee), drank a lot of beer, answered a lot of questions and met some lovely people.

The Telegraph didn't say that, Total Film did - but maybe this is a sensible change in Rye.

The Telegraph didn’t say that, Total Film did – but maybe this is a sensible change in Rye.

It is a profoundly terrifying experience sitting in a room, or latterly in the bar down the corridor from a room, filled with people watching your work. You can almost feel the judgement hanging in the air and our one survival strategy was to talk animatedly to each other about something completely different – often Liverpool’s tragi-comic performance this season or the multiple intrigues and big ideas of the Battlestar Galactica remake (although don’t get me started on its final bloody episode in which the writers seemed to have given up on resolving the questions raised by 70+ hours of television, thrown their pencils into the air with a big shout of “I don’t bloody know” and then gone to the pub), anything to create a temporary amnesia about what was happening in screen two.

Circe's Diner perform at The Cube in Bristol.

Circe’s Diner perform at The Cube in Bristol.

We’d then shuffle in to the screen and meekly answer a few questions, scour the darkness for a clue as to people’s reactions and then disappear into the night. We are very thankful to the many people who stopped us afterwards to say how much they’d enjoyed the film and to those who emailed / tweeted us to say likewise. It is definitely something special, something inspiring when a complete stranger tells you that they thought your work was great.

Oh and there were no walk-outs at any of the screenings we attended. Except for the premiere. Which remains amusing.

Particular highlights of the High Tide tour for me (and for Jimmy’s opinions you will have to persuade him to start writing his own blog, the chances of which are fairly remote) included being taken to the pub in the beautiful Sussex town of Rye by a couple of members of the audience; seeing the band Circe’s Diner play live before a screening in Bristol and being generously plied with beer by the London Welsh Centre to the extent that I had to excuse myself mid-way through the post-film Q and A in order to go to the loo. Such professionalism.

Pre-bladder incident at the London Welsh Society.

Pre-bladder incident at the London Welsh Society.

Oh yes and Exeter. Lovely Exeter. A city that I will always see through the eyes of my teenage self – a 90s photo-collage (cut and assembled by hand, having waited for the photos to be printed by Boots) of CD shops and wooden beads, Firkin ale drunk at the pub beneath the iron bridge, first loves and tricky parties and the music, oh the music . . .  you see what happens when someone mentions Exeter? Anyway, the screening of High Tide at Picturehouse was filled with family, friends and faces from the past, many of whom we hadn’t seen for twenty or so years. It was lovely. And in one case a little awkward – there’s a moment in the film when Josh is telling his Mum Bethan about a geography trip he’d been on with school to Worm’s Head, where this particular scene takes place.  He remembers a friend “pissing in to the sea” at which “Mrs Miller went mental and gave him a week’s detention”.

And who was in the audience seeing and hearing that line? Of course, it was my old Geography teacher Mrs Miller, whose identity I’d ruthlessly stolen for the purposes of fiction. Thankfully she didn’t seem to mind too much once the shock of hearing her name in a film had subsided. I met her afterwards, along with my ex-Head of Year, Ms Fawcett and it was just joyous to see them both and helped immortalise this evening as one of the very best in the short history of Long Arm Films.

Ms Fawcett (left) and Mrs Miller (right).

Ms Fawcett (left) and Mrs Miller (right).

So there we go; a few memories from the past few months. As I say, we are very much looking forward to Monday and then our attentions will turn to what is next. Well, we know some of what is next having made an announcement about our short film Zero Sum earlier in the week – but we’ve also got some other things upcoming that I am just desperate to tell you about. I hope I will be able to do so soon.

But in the meantime, if you’ve been to see the film over the past few months then thank you very much indeed. If you haven’t then maybe you’ll want to get hold of the DVD or look it up on your smart-tv-film-on-demand-service of choice. Even if you’ve just got to the end of another lengthy and ponderous blog post then thank you.

Oh yes, we do now have an irregular email newsletter thing as if it were still 2003. If you’d like infrequent Long Arm Films updates sent straight to your device of choice then you can sign up here. 

And talking of the 90s – here’s Blur, whose new album is far better than I ever dared hope it would be.

New Long Arm Films project announcement – Zero Sum

As High Tide approaches the end of its scheduled cinema run, a run that has seen the film screened in numerous towns and cities around the UK, it seems appropriate that we now start looking to the future. We have a number of projects at various stages of development, including some very exciting plans for our second feature film which I can’t say anything about here (although as the band Circe’s Diner discovered last week at a High Tide screening at The Cube in Bristol, if you allow me to drink a couple of bottles of strong local ale then I become a little more loose-lipped, particularly when Jimmy isn’t there to tell me off) but we do have something we can tell you, should you be interested enough to listen.

Last month we discovered that, following a lengthy selection process, we’ve been awarded a grant by BFI/Ffilm Cymru Wales to make a short film. This is something a bit special and whilst I am not going to be vulgar and mention the amount of money involved, it is going to be enough for us to make something with a level of professionalism that we’ve just not been able to achieve in our projects to date.

The film is going to be called ZERO SUM and, in a first for Long Arm, it will be set in space. Yes, that’s right, we are making a sci-fi film. The extra-terrestrial setting will also mean a host of other firsts for the company – we will be shooting exclusively in a studio; many of the shots will require green-screen and VFX technology (although we did use a bit of CGI in High Tide to remove a couple of rogue canoeists from Langland Bay) and the scope for creativity in its sound design will be greater than anything we’ve made so far.

Zero Sum

Zero Sum will also be the first Long Arm Film to not be exclusively produced by Jimmy and myself as we welcome Mr Ross Bliss to the team. Ross is an experienced producer, hails from the West Country and has an excellent beard, thus making him ideal Long Arm material. He’ll be in charge of the financial and logistical elements of the production, allowing Jimmy and myself a little more time to concentrate on the creative side of the film.  Ross’ involvement has already proved effective and we look forward to seeing our relationship develop further over this and future projects.

And that’s probably all that I am allowed to say about Zero Sum at this stage. We plan to shoot in the autumn and I will announce casting etc when this has been finalised. We are excited by the challenges posed by making this film and we hope that the finished piece will surprise and impress. That’s the plan anyway.

That’s the end of the announcement and all good sense would suggest that this is an appropriate place at which to lift my virtual pen from the virtual parchment and go and make a cup of tea or conjur some pesto in my new blender (this is still a dizzying novelty and our fridge is stacked like the shelves of the Bodelean library although not with books but with pots of various sauces and dips that I’ve overproduced since acquiring the machine, all catalogued via my own foody version of the Dewy-Decimal system, the stewy….. no).  However, let me resist the urge to blitz for a moment longer as I copy and paste below a short history of Long Arm Films that I wrote for the lovely woman who hosted the post-film Q and A session at The Cube in Bristol last week. She wanted a few notes on “how we’ve got here” and, never able to resist the opportunity to be a little bit silly, this is what I gave her. She seemed not to mind and it does give any readers of this blog new to out world a sense of what we’ve done in the past few years.

Long Arm Films is Jimmy Hay and James Gillingham. To avoid James-based confusion, they are known as Jimmy (Hay) and Jim (Gillingham) which actually doesn’t really lessen the confusion. Jim once experimented with being called Mabel but this was abandoned on account of it being ridiculous so they are sticking to Jimmy and Jim.
 
They grew up on the same street in Devon and were friends for over twenty years before anyone mentioned filmmaking. However, over a glass of wine and a curry for Jim’s birthday they concluded that Jimmy’s background in film studies and theory and Jim’s award-winning playwriting skills might give them a fighting chance of making half-decent moving pictures. They were proved to be right. Eventually. 

They made their first short film Sliced in a shed in Devon with a borrowed camera and Jim’s Dad in the lead role. It turned out that J and J didn’t really know anything about making a film after all and Sliced was released to a shrug from the small fraction of the population who saw it, including the cast. Sliced is no longer available online but both Jimmy and Jim think it is actually not bad. Apart from the sound. Which is terrible. 
 
Undeterred, they got a website, a logo (which is taken from a shot from the aforementioned Sliced) and embarked on their second short. This film became Stuart and Kate and is the story of the end of a relationship and, in a first for Long Arm Films, was actually quite good and people liked it. Stuart and Kate is available online and the sound is passable. Although mixed too loud.
 
Flushed with the minor success of Stuart and Kate, Long Arm Films started work on a third short film which was to be called High Tide. But then it was decided that in order to tell the story of High Tide properly it would need to be a feature-length film. Jim and Jimmy asked themselves how hard could it be to make a feature film? The answer turned out to be very, very hard indeed. But after a pre-production process that involved unwittingly upsetting large numbers of important people we arrived on set on Swansea and started making High Tide. And now High Tide has been released in cinemas in the UK. Which is thrillingly, unbelievably odd. Brilliant too of course but mostly odd.
 
After High Tide, its star Melanie Walters was still talking sufficiently to Jimmy and Jim to agree to be in their fourth short film Ex Libris. This co-starred Robert Pugh who is a proper star and has been in Game of Thrones and is friends with Russell Crowe (but wouldn’t give Long Arm his phone number). Ex Libris is about a dark love affair and is set in a library. It is slow, odd and ponderous. Jimmy and Jim are very proud of it although most normal people find it difficult to like. Some have been very keen to dislike it. But that’s show business. Ex Libris is available to watch online and the sound is excellent.
 
Long Arm Films has just been given some money by Film Wales to make their fifth short film. It is going to called Zero Sum. It is set in space (really) and we are shooting it later in the year. The sound is going to amazing.

Jimmy and Jim are also working on two new feature film projects which they won’t be able to talk about. Unless you really press them. Or buy them a drink. And then they’ll probably tell you everything and maybe offer you a part in one of them. 
 
They plan to continue making films for the foreseeable future and hope that people will want to watch them.

And there we go. I think I will write soon about the lessons learnt from screening High Tide to the paying public over the past few months (although the overwhelming response to the film has been soul-soaringly positive) but for now let me leave you with a plug for next Monday’s screening of High Tide at the glorious Gate in Notting Hill and a song from an obscure American songwriter that Jimmy thinks is dull but I love dearly.

Being kneed in the nuts by The Guardian: film criticism from across the divide

Our feature film High Tide has been on release in cinemas for nearly a month now and we’ve been delighted by audiences’ responses to it. As explored in previous posts it is a profoundly terrifying process when you expose your work to the eyes of strangers; you spend years gestating a project, loving it, nurturing it, meeting its every need like a doting parent or soppy pet-owner and become increasingly flustered as the time necessarily approaches when your pride and joy, your vessel for all that affection and heed, must leave your care and confront its fate in the murky world of other people’s opinions. So it is with considerable delight to report that we’ve had a huge number of people sending us messages or coming to talk to us after Q and A appearances to tell us that the film moved them, that they enjoyed the performances and, in one case, immediately texted their Mum to tell her how much he loved her (this will make more sense if you’ve seen the film). There is clearly no better feeling than having your work received in such positive terms.

However, aside from these very welcome attestations of enjoyment from people we don’t know, we’ve also had our first introduction to the experience of being reviewed in print and online. And what an introduction it has been. When we first discovered that High Tide was going to get a limited cinemas release our immediate thought was wow, journalists with large followings are going to be writing about the film. How brilliant. And then we started getting emails from reviews editors asking for preview copies and RSVPs to the national press screening of the film and the excitement built further. We fantasised about the killer review in a national publication that would pluck our film from low-buget indie anonymity and thrust it into the shimmering spotlight of national or indeed international acclamation. I began wondering what I should wear for my inevitable saunter along the Croisette later in the year.

We still get a thrill looking at this.

We still get a thrill looking at this.

The first review arrived. I got wind of it late one Wednesday evening as I sat with my wife on the sofa watching the brilliant Engrenages (if you haven’t, you really should; although ignore Series 1 which is un peu merdique) and it appeared that Total Film magazine had given High Tide four stars. Joy unbounded. Leaping around the room. Rockstar poses. High-fiving imaginary well-wishers. And phoning Jimmy to tell him the news. Except that he was selfishly asleep and would not answer his phone.

The next morning dawned and Jimmy and I turned metaphorical cartwheels and phoned each other several times during the day just to extend this moment of joy and relief for as long as possible. Once the magazine was published we enthusiastically told Facebook the good news and our rag-taggle bunch of supporters and likers did the decent thing and pressed “like”. The red notification icon glowed red and numerous and we began planning the next stage in our forthcoming conquering of the entertainment industry.

A week or so elapsed and we had the utter pleasure of High Tide’s world premiere in Swansea; we dressed up in our finery, drank copiously from both glasses of prosecco and the audience’s reaction to the film and ended up middle-aged, drunk and elated in a late-night drinking establishment in the posh end of Wales’ second city. We’d done it. We’d made a film and everyone liked it.

Then the national reviews began being published. And in amongst the praise, for there was much, one particular review suggested that our house was actually made of straw and the BBC had forecast a gale. I am not going to link to the review because you are clearly capable of using Google but it is out there and my goodness did it sting when we read it. Now let’s be clear, I believe completely in the sanctity of free speech; journalists, indeed anyone, must be free to say whatever they like and the years of love, sweat and devotion that we’d ploughed into High Tide count for absolutely nothing when you are inviting the press to judge the film. You don’t have a Je Suis Charlie banner on your Facebook page if you expect exceptions just because you put in a lot of work. However, this was the Guardian. This was the newspaper that we’d both grown-up reading and feel an instinctive loyalty towards. The Guardian is our people; it’s the home crowd; it’s almost like family. So when its reviewer dismissed High Tide in the most searing fashion it did feel as if our own mother had taken a run-up, looked us in the eyes and then hopped, skipped and jumped towards us before launching a Doctor Marten boot full-force into our testicles.

No artist in any medium wants the word “atrocious” in a review of their work. For me the noun form “atrocity” is what happened in the darkest moments of the Bosnian war or during British imperial rule in Africa and so to have it applied to our film was desperately hard to take. To be fair, the reviewer used the word to describe only one aspect of the film and he did have some relatively pleasant things to say about some other moments but clearly it’s “atrocious” that sticks in the memory. Jimmy and I spent a brief phone call after this piece had been published just saying nothing; there was little to be said; our film had been castigated by a publication that we instinctively respect in front of a global audience. Ouch; ouch to the power of ten.

Friends and supporters rallied to our support; said the right things about it being only one opinion amongst many other positive ones and pointed to the fact that  the reviewer in question had a history of giving poor reviews to films, many of which we thought were excellent. And it is all just a matter of taste after all and we knew that High Tide was not going to please everyone; it deliberately takes it time and relies on its final few moments contextualising everything that has gone before and frankly, some people are not going to like it. However, we felt sick to our core, sad, tired and thoroughly fed-up of the whole crazy process of filmmaking.

The mood was dark a week later as we drove in the rain towards Cardiff for a BAFTA Wales-hosted screening of the film. When we arrived we were met by a lovely woman from BAFTA and we told her that we were happy to go ahead with the Q and A session as arranged but would probably not actually be in the cinema to see the film. She baulked slightly at this and very politely suggested that although we were of course free to do as we wished the sight of the two directors leaving the cinema before the film began probably did not send out the right message to members of the audience. Over a quick coffee we decided that there was good sense in this and so we took our seats reluctantly to watch High Tide for the first time since atrocious-gate.

And then something wonderful happened. We enjoyed the film. We enjoyed every second of it. We lived every shot, every line, every piece of music, every scene, processing that which we saw in the most profound fashion. At the Swansea premiere we’d had a few glasses of wine before we sat down and so the whole experience was emotional and almost dream-like but at this screening we were sober and still sore from what had happened. But as each minute ticked past it was as if we were reclaiming our own work, able to put negative reviews into context and just enjoy what we’d made. I’ve never been prouder of the film than at the moment it ended in Cardiff. This was not a two or a four star film, this was our film and it was really good. The Q and A session that followed was lively and fun and Melanie and Sam were on top form and then in the bar afterwards we had some excellent conversations with members of the audience, all of whom had good things to say about what they’d seen.

The atmosphere on the journey home could not have been more different to that which had choked us on our approach to the cinema. Something had changed, we were now assured in our work, delighted in what we’d achieved and able to treat the twin imposters of praise and criticism with a equable dose of cynicism; after all, after everything, they are just opinions to be read, respected and then forgotten. We’d made a film and it was playing in cinemas. We’d achieved everything that we wanted. 

High Tide is still being screened around the country. More showings are being added all of the time so for the latest list please visit our website.

A Guardian critic filing his review of "Morte D'Arthur III:  It's Gawain to be personal (in 3D)".

A Guardian critic filing his review of “Morte D’Arthur III: It’s Gawain to be personal (in 3D)”.

Four stars and two walk-outs: The world premiere of High Tide

Last Friday night saw the world premiere of our feature film High Tide at Taliesin, Swansea. It was an incredible night: we had live music (from the shimmering and wonderful Circe’s Diner), free drinks, a stringent dress code and of course we showed the finished film to an audience for the very first time. And this was as terrifying, bewildering, and ultimately as joyous as we ever hoped it would be.

After a year of some pretty difficult, dark moments for both Jimmy and myself, I must admit that I was holding back the tears when the BBFC certificate flashed on to the screen at the beginning of the film; a mixture of pride, relief and the realisation that this really could be the start of the next chapter, if you’ll forgive the clunking cliche, of our lives. I wish I could be more eloquent than I’m currently being about all of this but the night ended up at an after-hours drinking establishment in the posh end of Swansea and my increasingly middle-aged constitution is only just beginning to recover. I don’t think I have been up at 3.45am for about twenty years (having not first gone to bed) and it may be another twenty more before I am physically able to do it again.

We recorded some audience vox-pops just as people were leaving the cinema in a deliberate attempt to garner more publicity for the film. They were then shared with the small part of the world that is interested in all things Long Arm and we’ll be hammering them further this week as we build towards the cinema release. I do realise that this was the homiest of home crowds but people’s reaction to High Tide seemed to be overwhelmingly positive (and not just because we’d given them free booze before the film began) and as such I’ve embedded the video below if you want to have a look.  Do watch out for some particularly high praise from Hollywood’s Robert Pugh.

As the evening progressed and things got a little fuzzier I was asked by several people how I was feeling to which the obvious answer was that I was feeling pretty amazing (and a little drunk) but thinking about it now it does feel that the premiere was something of an inflection point in this whole process. After several years of micro-managing the entire project, from the early ignorant days when we managed to inadvertently upset a lot of important people with our clumsy amateurism right up until Friday afternoon when we were pushing a trolley of drink into the venue (something that I am sure Scorcese does before all of his premieres), it was time to let High Tide stand alone and be judged by its audience  with the two of us reduced to the status of cowering, powerless bystanders.

I’ve written before about the moment that a writer, metaphorically, slaps his or her new work on the table and says to the crowds, right, judge me on this. It is a terrifying and essential moment and one that the novelist David Mitchell likened to lying on your back, handing the audience a sharpened stake and egging them on to take their best shot. This is what we did on Friday night and very quickly we were afforded a lesson in the brutal process of judgement. There was a heady warmth to the early part of the evening as the free drink flowed and friends were reunited after many months absence (I hadn’t seen several of the cast and crew since the end of the shoot); Jimmy and I introduced the film from the stage, we thanked lots of the people that had helped us reach this far, there was generous amounts of applause. Everything felt wonderful.

Then the film began and after about ten minutes a woman got up out of her seat. Well, she must have been off to the toilet after quaffing too much prosecco on an empty stomach. So we thought. But a few moments later her husband likewise lifted himself from his seat and, with an air of some embarrassment, slid himself out of the row and mumbled that the film “really wasn’t our cup of tea”. I don’t know who this couple were; those invited to the premiere had some connection to the film so they weren’t complete strangers. Maybe they’d given us money (and presumably therefore now think that their donation had been squandered for which I can only apologise a little insincerely) or maybe they were friends or relatives of the cast, who knows?, but whatever their connection they disliked the opening of the film sufficiently to stand up and walk out in full view of everyone in the cinema.

I don’t mind at all that they did, in fact I am glad that they did. Art is always going to be divisive; one person’s David is another person’s big block of borderline pornographic marble which would be better served on their kitchen worktop rather than as one humanity’s finest ever artistic achievements. There are also some, deeply troubled and unhappy, people who don’t like Zoolander. High Tide is deliberately slow in its opening twenty minutes; we ask a lot of patience from our audience and then reward this patience in the second half of the film. But frankly, it is not to everyone’s tastes. And that’s fine. That’s good.

Perhaps, more than the BBFC certificate, more than the TV crews, the dinner suits and ballgowns, the sparkle and the fizz, two punters walking out of the premiere is proof that as filmmakers we have reached the level of professionalism that we’ve worked so damn hard over these past few years to achieve.

Either that or we should try to make better films.

Some people, however, have liked High Tide very much; who wouldn’t want to receive a review like this?  Or indeed a four star review in this month’s Total Film?

But let me end this entry with a piece of music that was playing as we arrived at Mozart’s in Swansea for a night of merriment after the premiere. The Breeders’ Cannonball is a stonewall early 90s classic and I dedicate it to star of High Tide and all-round superstar Mr Sam Davies who I bored with my thoughts on this song for a lot longer than was polite.

The new High Tide trailer is available to watch with your eyes

Hello blog. It has been a while. Gosh, it’s a little dusty in here. And over there is a spider who’s strung her spindly web betwixt CD copies of The Boy with the Arab Strap by Belle and Sebastian and Beck’s Odelay. And I am sure someone’s left a half-eaten sandwich somewhere in here, either that or . . . . well, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

Let me just have a blast around with the Pledge (does Pledge still exist or do you have to stream it via Spotify these days?) and make the place presentable. Oh there’s a lump of Christmas cheese left over from my bloated (appropriately) last blog post which had nothing to do with filmmaking and everything to do with the music that makes me happy. 

Right, now the decks are detritus-free I can come to the point of this post, namely that the final trailer for our feature film High Tide is now online. I’ve used this blog in recent years to detail the lengthy, frustrating and slightly insane process of getting a film from an initial idea to actually showing it in a cinema. Many of these posts have now been hidden in attempt to mask some of the glaring errors we made along the way (not to mention the various important people we upset, albeit inadvertently) but one day I will republish everything in an attempt to be of use to anyone who is insane enough to try this filmmaking lark for themselves.

But we’ve done it. Just. High Tide will be in selected cinemas in March 2015 after having its world premiere in Swansea (where else?) at the end of February. Right now I don’t really have much time for reflection as there is still much to do but suffice to say that Jimmy and I are very proud. And tired. Really tired.

Now we just have to hope that people like it. But that is a worry for another day.

So here is the trailer. If you like it then maybe you could send it to a friend? Maybe you could write them a letter and copy out the URL for them to type into their browser? Or perhaps you could stand atop a handy hillock and covey the URL via semaphore? Or even shimmy up the conning tower of a nearby nuclear submarine and transmit the URL via morse code to passing sailors? Or maybe you can a couple of pals could act-out the trailer in a local square having first learn the lines and dressed Phil up as Melanie Walters in a cardigan and a wig? Failing these you could of course just use Facebook or Twitter.

But even if you don’t share then I hope that if you’ve got this far then you might at least watch. So here it is. We sincerely hope that you like it.

A fat, ten song nostalgia bomb that has nothing to do with filmmaking (until I scrape together a tenuous link right at the death)

Facebook will be the death of us all. It won’t be long until our collective insecurities, voyeurism and hubris will be cranked up to such obscene levels that we rupture at the seams and explode in myriad clouds of brilliant blue and stained, mucky white. This will then be shared with the world on Facebook.

(Naturally, this post will also be publicised on Facebook).

However, amongst all the nonsense and one-upmanship there are occasionally moments of interest on the old blue and white bastard. A few weeks ago people were sharing their lists of the ten songs that they liked the most. I think the phrasing may have been more elegant than this, songs that defined them perhaps, but this was the gist. I was “tagged” and asked to contribute my own list to be read by a few desperate souls and then forgotten about. And I really meant to get around to it. But I failed. Until now. And given that I’ve got a bit of time on my hands this holiday (I am currently sitting at one end of a long table in a house in the middle of France, nursing a cheese hangover, whilst my French housemates sip coffee and talk about I am not sure what but IN FRENCH) and given that the only thing that I allowed to say about our forthcoming feature film High Tide is that I CAN’T SAY ANYTHING UNTIL MID JANUARY) I thought I might crack on with my list. But in long form. A bit like Nick Hornby’s 31 Songs but not as good.

So here goes.  Actually, before I leap off into the seas of whimsy I’d like to lay a few ground rules for myself:

1. Be honest. Don’t invent choices to make yourself look cooler than you are. As Ben Folds (sadly omitted from the following list) correctly sang: there is always someone cooler than you.

2. Don’t fret about the order. Life is too short. These are the ten songs that mean the most. Their sequence is unimportant.

3. In a recent interview on American television (they have that there) Michael Stipe said that he “despises nostalgia”. So for the first time in recorded history I am forced to contradict the wisdom of Stipe. I am sure no good will come of this and I will soon be begging his forgiveness and complimenting him on his beard.

SONG ONE
SIT DOWN by JAMES
1991 version

For many of the artists featuring on this list it was a tricky task alighting on just one of their songs, however in the case of James the choice was virtually involuntary -it had to be Sit Down. That is not to say that they didn’t write a host of other excellent songs, Come Home, How Was it for You? (about shagging), Laid (also about shagging), Sometimes, Just Like Fred Astaire, and even their most recent album La Petite Morte (a reference to, guess what, shagging) is also really good. However, Sit Down so perfectly captures a moment of time that it is rendered timeless. It is both of its moment and for all time. Not many songs achieve this.

It is structured in the most conventional of ways – verse, bridge, huge, repetitive chorus, verse, bridge, huge repetitive chorus, middle 8, huge repetitive chorus, end, plus Tim Booth’s vocal is far from his best – he’d yet to really experiment with the falsetto noodling that would become his trademark and yet this relative simplicity is why the whole thing works so damn well. The song is a perfectly designed sonic athlete, with no waste, no flab. It is Blake’s Tyger – a creature of such poise and efficiency that it is proof of the existence of God. Not that I am claiming that Tim Booth is divine. Ace, but not divine.

I had a tape of a set by James recorded from Radio 1 in the early 90s. They had been touring the world with Neil Young and playing acoustically (I can’t remember why) but it was a superb set. Their acoustic sound honestly revealed their folky roots and the songs in this exposed form had a depth that had sometimes been obscured on the albums. Once it came to the inevitable version of Sit Down, Tim Booth introduced the song as “an old English folk song” and I can’t think of a better description.

I discovered James, like most people at the time, via this song. Sit Down was the gateway drug to a very pleasant addiction to their music. A lot of my friends at the time suggested that the only reason that I chose to be a James fan was that I could walk around Exeter wearing a t-shirt with my name emblazoned on the front and for this not be a problem. There may have been truth in that. However, there was something about that font with its type-writer “a” and the image of the enormous daisy (especially when worn in combination with cherry red DMs) that made me deliriously happy. There was a satisfaction that even though I was a spotty, slightly awkward and arrogant teenager, I belonged to a tribe that gave me great strength. We wore daisies. And we were happy.

I will happily admit that when James played in Torquay and the whole audience sat down during Born of Frustration Sit Down then I cried real tears and supposed that life really couldn’t get much better. And who knows, I may have been right.

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A High Tide trailer released. At last.

For the past year and a half I’ve been using this blog as a forum for a whole manner of stuff and nonsense. Regular readers will be all too aware of my frequent forays into whimsy and nostalgia and some people have been kind enough to say they’ve enjoyed reading it. Most have just remained silent on the matter. I have tried wherever possible to stick to the theme of film and filmmaking or at least creativity in general and when I’ve failed in this then I have at least apologised.

However, this blog was conceived initially as a means to document the often-insane and always-exhausting process of making a independent feature film. And I think I’ve largely succeeded in this; if you read back over the archives then you will see the various triumphs and disasters that myself and my partner Jimmy have celebrated and endured, rendered for you in overly-verbose and meandering prose. In truth, some of the posts have been removed from public view because they managed to make some important people cross, albeit not deliberately. Maybe one day I will collect them all together in order to present a coherent and complete chronicle of what has been, and continues to be, an unforgettable process. But we may need to run it past the lawyers first!

Anyway, this is all prologue to what is for us a hugely significant moment in our adventure. We finally have a trailer for our feature film High Tide. We are also in the midst of various meetings about how this film will be shown to the world but for the moment I have to be annoyingly coy about the specifics of these. However, yes we do have a trailer. And you can see it here:

We’re jolly pleased with it. I think it does give a decent flavour of the film; you get to see some of the stunning locations we shot in plus there are snippets of the acting performances of Melanie Walters and Samuel Davies both of which hint, utterly accurately, at the wonderful work they do in the film. Having sat many, many times in front of the footage we shot I can say in all honesty that not only do the pair achieve great things in their portrayals of their characters, repeated viewings of a scene at three in the morning do not diminish their power. I take this to be a good sign.

We are also delighted with how good our composer Matt Harding’s music sounds on the trailer. We’ve long been fans of his work and were delighted when he agreed to contribute to the film but it is particularly pleasing now that we can hear his music illustrating the images. Again, having seen cuts of the complete, film it is heartening to find that his music, just like the work of any great composer, has become part of the essential business of telling our story. I can’t now imagine some of the images without their accompanying music. Again, this seems to be a very good sign. There is still some way to go but we are closer than ever to being able to show this film to the world. What the world will think remains to be seen but whatever the reaction we are very proud. And let’s face it, if the world doesn’t like it then we’re just going to assume the world is wrong and has no taste whatsoever.

If you are interested then we now have an expanded section about High Tide on our website and because you are all lovely, here is a still from the film which is not in the trailer. Just to prove that we really do have ninety minutes of footage, not just a shiny two minute trailer. Thanks as ever for being interested enough to read this far.

2Shot_FacingBeach -000000

Samuel Davies as Josh. Melanie Walters as Bethan.

A Long Arm first, and celebrating the cinematography of Dion Beebe.

A disclaimer to start: This blog has NOT been written by Jim, your usual erudite and verbose author. Nope. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a first. This blog has been hijacked by the less erudite and verbose other half of Long Arm films, Mr Jimmy Hay. And there I go, pompously and unnecessarily referring to myself in the third person. Like a twat.

Perhaps this blog won’t be too different from what you’re used to after all.

Anyhow. Aware that I don’t want to hit the usual ‘4 digressions per blog post’ quota that Jim imposes upon himself, I will get to the point. Last night I re-watched Miami Vice. Not the 80s TV show that I don’t think I have ever seen so can’t really comment on, but the film directed by Michael Mann. Michael Mann is one of my favourite directors. I think he’s ace and I think his films are ace. In particular, I think Miami Vice is ace. It is probably his best film, but also seems to be often misunderstood and under appreciated. If you haven’t seen it, please do. If you have, and didn’t like it, please read Peter Bradshaw’s review of it, because it will DEFINITELY change your mind about it: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2006/aug/04/actionandadventure.

Watching Miami Vice got me thinking again about how much I admire the work of the cinematographer Dion Beebe, who shot Miami Vice, as well as an earlier film of Mann’s, Collaterol. Some years ago, I wrote a paper about Dion Beebe which I delivered at a conference celebrating everyone in film that isn’t the director. I liked the ethos of this conference, because the hero-worship of directors is far too rife in film-based media (yes, Sight and Sound and Empire, I’m looking squarely at you) and leads to the relegation of great artists like Beebe to the status of secondary technicians. Below is the paper that I gave, which I hope serves to critically appreciate Beebe’s role in the films he shoots, and which I hope more so may be of SOME interest to you wherever and whenever you may be reading it.

Disclaimer #2: It was an academic conference, so don’t expect any references to obscure 90s indie bands, or meandering transgressions about Dartmoor. You have been warned.

 

Interior Visions – The films of Dion Beebe

In a still relatively young career, cinematographer Dion Beebe has displayed a substantial ability for variation and adaptability. An examination of his filmography shows the great number of directors he has worked with, including Jane Campion, Michael Mann and Rob Marshall, all of whom he has worked with twice, as well as Kurt Wimmer, Gavin Hood and Gillian Armstrong.  It also reveals the wide variety of genres in which he has worked, including dystopian sci-fi thriller, musical, Japanese period drama, erotic crime thriller, undercover cop action thriller and World War Two romance. The variety of films Beebe has worked on has necessitated a considerable variation in his use of mise en scene, tone, lighting, framing and composition in order to aid and enhance the divergent narratives of these films. In an article written about his time working on Michael Mann’s Collateral (2004), Bryant Frazer refers to Dion Beebe as a ‘chameleon’ (Frazer, 2006). The term chameleon is problematic when talking about Beebe, however, as while he is indeed adaptable, he is by no means invisible. Beebe’s aesthetic influence on his films can be clearly seen, not necessarily as an auteurist signature, relying on stylistic repetition, but certainly as an interpretive ability so accomplished as to be visible throughout his work. This article will consider Beebe’s aesthetic influence and explore, through a close reading of three of his films – Collateral, In The Cut (2003) and Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) – the various stylistic techniques Beebe adopts to create mood, infer meaning, and enhance narrative depth.

Collateral was Beebe’s first film working alongside Michael Mann and his first use of High Definition cameras (hereafter, HD). It is a thriller that takes place over one full night, in which Vincent, a contract killer, forces taxi driver Max to drive him around Los Angeles to complete five assassinations. The primary reason that Mann chose HD to shoot the majority of the film was to achieve the goal of making the ‘LA night as much of a character in the story as Vincent and Max were’ (Holen, 2004: 41), by utilising HD’s ability to achieve exposure in extremely low light levels – allowing them to film night scenes using just the existing, ambient light – and its ability to maintain an exceptionally long depth of field. Throughout the film, characters in the foreground, and clouds, buildings and silhouetted trees on the horizon line, are all seen with a clarity that could not be captured on film.

One such use of this depth of field occurs shortly after Vincent’s first victim falls out of a window, landing on Max’s taxi below. As Vincent draws his gun to prevent Max from running away, he is filmed in a mid-shot, just left of centre, over the shoulder of Max, who is positioned to the far right of the frame. Vincent is almost entirely in shadow, lit only by the soft blue ambient light coming from the apartment building out of shot to the left.

Collateral deep focus 1

Vincent is deliberately positioned in the bottom half of the frame so as to make visible the lights and outlines of several high-rise buildings behind him in downtown LA. As Mann notes in the director’s commentary, ‘Downtown is about two miles away, you couldn’t see this without using digital video’ (Mann, 2004).

Using HD’s increased depth of field on Collateral – as Beebe and Mann would do again two years later on Miami Vice (2006) – serves both aesthetic and thematic purposes. Firstly, it creates an innovative look in which background focus doesn’t sacrifice the focus of characters in the foreground, adding, in addition to Vincent and Max, a third element in the frame which serves to present the city environment as vast and imposing, fulfilling Mann’s desire to have the city itself as a prominent character. Furthermore, the long depth of field also aids the narrative and character development of the film by illustrating the vulnerable and isolated situation that Max has been cast into, a situation that for the majority of the film plays out beyond his control. This depth of field is also seen through the windows from within Max’s taxi, which having been established as a place of sanctuary for Max in his opening scene further emphasises the effect that Vincent’s invasion into this space is having on him. To keep the exterior city-at-night visible whilst filming inside the taxi, light levels had to remain low; ‘a system had to be devised to light the actors in a way that would avoid the “incandescent light in your face” look while still drawing in the surrounding nightscape.’ (Hurwitz, 2004). To achieve this, these scenes were lit using electro-luminescent panels that were customised for the film, and were able to be attached by Velcro to any part of the taxi’s interior. The light emitted is a very soft, greenish one that doesn’t block out the nightscape exterior. It also further enhances the effect of the city being a character in the film as the panels make the shots look, as Beebe notes,  ‘like there was no real source, [they] make it appear that everything was lit from the street by the street’s own ambience’ (Hurwitz, 2004).

Beebe’s use of light and colour temperature to extrapolate character insight is seen later in the film in the Jazz club scene. As the scene unfolds it is revealed that Vincent is a Jazz aficionado, and upon killing the bar owner a close up shot of his face reveals a momentary expression of regret; the ‘first anomaly to the perfect machine-like presentation we’ve had from Vincent’ (Mann, 2004). The insight into Vincent’s character and the internal conflict he suffers is portrayed aesthetically throughout the scene, but three shots in particular illustrate this well. At the start of the scene, Vincent and Max are framed centrally in a long shot from the stage and both are looking towards the musicians.

Jazz Bar Long Shot

A strong sidelight from off-screen left illuminates Vincent’s body, leaving Max, seated to the right of Vincent, almost entirely in shadow. This serves to infer Vincent’s imposing and dominant presence over Max, but more so singles Vincent out as the sole appreciator of the music. Behind Vincent, orange and yellow coloured artwork is lit by the only other source lighting in the shot, providing a warm cocoon of light in the upper middle of the frame around Vincent’s head, giving the impression of comfort and sanctuary. The strength of the sidelight, however, places one half of Vincent’s face in complete shadow, suggesting a psychological conflict regarding the murder he is soon to commit. This is further inferred moments later as Vincent, Max, and the bar owner are seated at the table drinking, with Vincent once again positioned at the far left of the frame. The warm orange artwork is still visible to the upper left of Vincent, and he is clearly absorbed by the Miles Davis story the bar owner is recalling.

Jazz Bar Table

The left side of his body, however, remains bathed in the white light, the starkness of which is exaggerated by his white shirt, white skin, silver hair and grey suit. Finally, just before he kills the bar owner, he glances towards the kitchen to check that the waitress has left, and the kitchen is lit by an extremely stark, neon-green light; completely at odds with the warm, shadow-filled interior of the bar. This serves to portray, along with the strong sidelight, the ever-present nature of Vincent’s cold, clinical and emotionless work – and his inability to gain sanctuary from it.

The contrast of warm orange-red light with cold, neon green light can be seen in a number of Beebe’s films, and is often used to portray a psychological conflict within a character – as in Collateral – or between two characters, such as the recurring use of red and green square glass tiles in Holy Smoke (1999). Both of these effects are achieved in In the Cut, Beebe’s second film made with Jane Campion, where Beebe frequently uses the mixed lighting of warm colours with neon-green. He also employs dimly lit, shadow filled interiors, blurred and obstructed shots, and almost entirely hand held cameras to create a dark, gritty, ambiguous and suspicious mood throughout.

In the bar where Franny meets Cornelius at the beginning of the film, shafts of yellow, blue and white light stream in from the window and doorway, casting strips across the ceiling, while unknown characters playing pool, on a deep red pool table, remain indistinguishable in shadow. Two girls wear bright red and green dresses respectively, establishing the colour dichotomy that will be seen repeatedly throughout the film. On their first date, Malloy and Franny visit a bar lit by an array of practicals – yellow floor and table lamps, red fairy lights, green neon fridge lights – as well as unseen source lighting casting the same three colours throughout the bar and directly on to the characters. The mixture of colourful, but soft and unrevealing, lighting continues to emphasise the film’s theme of ambiguity and distrustfulness, while one mid-length shot of Franny and Malloy seated at the bar, centre frame, bathes Franny and her side of the frame in deep red, and Malloy and his side of the frame in neon green.

In the Cut_Bar

In aligning audience identification and subjectivity with Franny, as will be discussed shortly, the red light on Franny thus signifies both her internal sexual desire for Malloy (shown by a previous scene where she masturbates whilst fantasising about him), and a sense of her being in danger, while the green light on Malloy signifies her cautious distrust for him, and his dubious moral state. These same colours are used again in Franny’s flat – through a red lamp shade above, and a neon under-cupboard light – when they first have sex, illustrating Franny’s continuing distrust even after satisfying her sexual desire for him.

One of the most striking visual elements of the film is Beebe’s use of blurred edges around the frame to create and enhance subjectivity. Shots of Franny filmed from a distance, obstructed by lampposts, signs, cars etc, and blurred around the edge of the frame (of which there are many throughout the film), build tension by giving the impression of her being observed; a tension that is heightened by the fact that the look is never reversed, and so the suggestion of an unseen person spying is never confirmed or denied. Often referred to as a feminist filmmaker, Jane Campion is known for challenging and subverting gender roles in her films, and on a psychoanalytical level, Beebe’s use of blurred edges around the screen serve to prompt a reading that the film challenges the ‘male gaze’ of mainstream narrative cinema, a theory popularised by Laura Mulvey’s ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (1975). In the various scenes in which Franny reads poetry on the placards above the subway train windows, Beebe uses a Clairmont Swing and Shift lens system which, as John Calhoun explains in American Cinematographer, ‘throws the plane of focus to whichever angle one swings the lens, [it is] used for moments of intense subjectivity’ (Calhoun, 2003: 77).

In the Cut_subway_focus2

The result is a small area of focus in the middle of the frame that moves with the movement of the camera. In doing so the audience follows word by word what Franny is reading, explicitly identifying the shots as her point of view. When blurred edges in the frame are used for non-subjective shots (such as within Pauline’s apartment), or the aforementioned long shots in which subjectivity is never confirmed, the shots mirror the ones used to display the ‘intense subjectivity’ of Franny’s subway scenes, and so by association the audience gaze is made female, not male.

In the Cut_Franny_in_shadow

This reading of the film is further enhanced when considering the opening scene in which Franny secretly views the unidentified man receiving oral sex. Beebe’s use of shadow to hide Franny mirrors Mulvey’s summary of the cinematic audience in which ‘the darkness of the auditorium […] helps to promote the illusion of voyeuristic separation’ (Mulvey, 1975: 9), while the repeated extreme close-ups of the erect penis subverts Mulvey’s paradigm of male/active, female/passive, by making the subject (Franny) female, and the object (the penis) male. Furthermore, Beebe’s use of extreme close-up highlights Franny’s sexually aroused facial expression, signifying the penis as an ‘erotic object for the character(s) within the screen story’, and as the gaze has been made female, an ‘erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium’ (Mulvey, 1975: 11).

In stark contrast to the dark, gritty, hand held aesthetic of In the Cut, Beebe’s second project with director Rob Marshall – his first being Chicago (2002) – was Memoirs of a Geisha, a romantic drama following the journey of nine year old Chiyo from childhood to adulthood, when she is renamed Sayuri, and her progression to the role of Geisha. Beebe’s key reference points for the aesthetic of the film were Bernardo Bertulocci and Vittorio Storaro’s collaboration, The Last Emperor (1987), for what Beebe calls ‘Storaro’s audacious and elegant camera movement’ (Scott, 2006), and Stanley Kubric’s Barry Lyndon (1975) for, as Beebe again states, ‘the incredible interior feel we needed for our movie’ (Rogers, 2006).

Storaro’s influence is seen throughout the film with the proliferation of fluid camera movement, utilising dollies, cranes and steadicam for over eighty percent of the filming (see Thomson, 2006: 40).  The effect of this shooting style enhances the sense of journey, both literally and internally, that Chiyo undergoes throughout the film, whilst also heightening the sensation of wonder that Marshall and Beebe wished to achieve in portraying ‘a mysterious world full of exquisite detail’ (Fisher, 2006). A striking example of this fluid camera movement used to achieve such an effect occurs the first time Chiyo peers over the roof of the Geisha house. The camera, fixed to a Technocrane, performs a slow push in towards Chiyo from mid-shot to close-up, capturing her expression of wide-eyed wonder, thus signalling her subjectivity in the following shot; a cut to the rooftops she is looking at captured through a slow tilt upwards, gradually revealing the expanse of haze-shrouded rooftops spreading off to the distance.

Geisha_Rooftops

The slow, free-flowing movement of the camera in this shot enhances the enormity and seemingly mystical nature of the world that Chiyo has been cast in to. Recreating the quality of the Japanese light in this shot and throughout the film – ‘a soft, shadowless light that had a wintery feeling’ (Rogers, 2006) – was achieved through constructing the largest freestanding diffuser ever made (see Appendix), covering the entire outdoor set in a huge silk sheet. Doing this enabled almost complete control for Beebe over the temperature and contrast range of the light in exterior scenes, allowing for subtle alterations in order to accurately represent the changing of the seasons.

This manipulation over the exterior light, combined with Beebe’s equal manipulation of interior light in the film, serves not only to signal a passing of time, but also to infer, once again, character development and interior thoughts. He uses lighting to chart Chiyo’s journey by separating the film into roughly three sections; Chiyo as a child, Chiyo becoming Sayuri the Geisha, and Sayuri after the war.

Geisha_act1 Geisha_act2 Geisha_act3

The opening scenes of the film are incredibly dark and take place largely in closed off interiors, often with just one deep orange practical light (the Barry Lyndon influence is clear in these scenes) from a 25watt bulb housed inside a paper lantern or cooking fire (see Thomson, 2006: 42). As Chiyo becomes increasingly accustomed to, and comfortable with her new surroundings, more practicals and hidden supplementary fill lighting are used, sliding doors are increasingly left open and more scenes occur outside, all serving to create a lighter and less oppressive mood. After the war, neon and electric lighting is increasingly used to create, as Beebe says, ‘a more neutral level of light that is seen today’ (Rogers, 2006).

A pivotal scene in the film is Chiyo’s first meeting with the General, at which point she falls in love with him and decides she must become a Geisha. Beebe’s lighting, framing and composition in this scene add greatly to its impact, and signal the transition from the first section of the film to the second. As the General kneels down alongside Chiyo on the bridge, both are framed not only by the camera, but also within the curved rectangular frame of the wooden bridge, creating a frame within the frame, giving extra emphasis to this first meeting.

Geisha_bridge Geisha_blossom

Behind the two is a tree in full pink and white blossom, signalling not only the change of season, but also the maturing of Chiyo into a young woman. The sexual connotations of a ‘spring awakening’ further infer the romantic union that will eventually occur between her and the General. A pan to the right and slow zoom out as the General walks Chiyo to the cherry ice stand reveals a bustling street scene, and shows the General leading Chiyo towards the blossoming tree and his two Geisha’s, metaphorically leading her towards a new life. Beebe lights the scene with a far higher Kelvin than in any previous scene, whilst the heavy silk-diffusion and a low contrast range minimise the amount of shadow in the scene, and thus further enhances Chiyo’s departure from the life of a house girl by creating a cool, clear light entirely at odds with the dimly lit and claustrophobic interior scenes of the first third of the film.  

While the diversity of Dion Beebe’s filmography is considerable, a constant in his films remains the manner in which he uses lighting, composition and framing to expand upon and emphasise the interior psyches, feelings and emotions of his film’s protagonists. This constant suggests a subscription to expressionism that is achieved in spite of the inconsistency of genre, subject matter and locations of the films he works on, which is achievable due to his adaptability and dexterity in utilising the tools of his art. Dion Beebe is not an auteur, but his aesthetic influence is clearly visible. This visibility derives precisely from the lack of repetition or overt similarity in his films. He approaches each project afresh and tailors his technical and aesthetic choices to fit the mood, tone and narrative of the film, which is evident from the close reading of the three films addressed in this essay.  Despite considerably varied content, they all deal significantly with interior feelings, conflicts and emotions that are given life by Beebe; a cinematographer whose influence markedly enhances the character development, narrative extrapolation and aesthetic depth of all his films.

 

The High Tide party scene: twelve months on

As I sit in a quiet house watching a large amount of rain throw itself to the ground with alarming gusto, I can’t help but reflect that exactly a year ago today I was rushing around a garden in Wales setting up for what was to be both the busiest and most remarkable day of shooting on our feature film High Tide.

Jimmy and I both watched near-complete drafts of the film yesterday in preparation for a short ADR session next week (and there I go waving around acronyms like ADR without a care in the world – ADR or Additional Dialogue Recording means getting your actors back to rerecord dialogue that was imperfect on set. Many films, particularly those with huge special effects sequences, are almost entirely composed of ADR work, but for High Tide we need only record a small amount. Gosh what a thrilling piece of parenthetical filler.) and one of the highlights of the whole piece is the twenty or so minutes we spend at the party scene that we shot that day.

Having the wonderful Sam Green and the Midnight Heist play live in the garden was a real treat (especially for the neighbours) and the general good grace shown by everyone ensured that the day was a success, even if Jimmy and I did have to spend the dying moments of the evening rushing around like crazy things in order to get everything shot by the legally-binding working curfew. Most people were a bit drunk by then; we were very sober!

Anyway, I don’t want to chunter on about it so I think I will curtail my reminiscings there. Thanks to everyone who was involved in the day and thanks to anyone who cares enough to be patient for the release of the finished film. It is coming, I promise you.

Here are a few images and videos from the day:

party2 party1 2013-08-08 15.43.27 2013-08-08 20.02.28-3

 

 

 

 

Boyhood and the exquisite pleasure of now

I don’t remember a point in the last ten years when I saw a particular film more than once in a cinema. I must have done so since the new millennium but I am struggling to think when and what it would have been. This contrasts with my heady and unhealthy student days of the late 90s when I would regularly visit the wonderful City Screen in York to see some obscure piece of art-house fare. And if I liked what I saw, as I often did, then I would frequently go again the next day. This was less to do with a raw passion for the cinematic medium but rather I had little better to do, or at least could spare a few hours to sink into the not-overly-comfortable seats and disappear. And plus it was really cheap. I remember I saw a screening of Der Himmel uber Berlin on two consecutive days; the first time with a pal, and the next trying to impress some girl (who was so resolutely unimpressed that she fell asleep within ten minutes). I also saw Kenneth Branagh’s four-hour uncut 70mm rendition of Hamlet THREE times in that cinema because I found it utterly wonderful and, as the two regular readers of this blog will know, I do sort of LOVE Kenneth Branagh with a singular passion. Plus Hamlet as a text is, you know, pretty alright.

However I really can’t think of a time where such multiple cinema visits to the same film have occurred this century. That is until this past week when I’ve had the utter pleasure of seeing Richard Linklater’s Boyhood being twice projected onto a large screen.

Boyhood-poster-I-

I’ve written before about mine and Jimmy’s adoration of Linklater’s Before trilogy and so I was very much coming at this as a fan; despite this I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what was, hyperbole aside, one of the most moving, humane and unpretentious pieces of storytelling I’ve ever seen.

The premise is brilliantly simple: Linklater filmed the same set of lead actors for a couple of weeks every year for twelve years and thus when edited together the audience is able to watch them grow. The eponymous boy is Mason who we first meet lying on the grass outside his primary school and whom we leave on his first day at university. The effect is almost overwhelming as we are confronted by the sheer speed with which time passes, the bewildering consequences of choice, both good and bad, the twin pride and terror of parenthood and the astounding capacity that we have to survive and even thrive in the most trying of circumstances.

Boyhood-Ellar-Coltrane-Ethan-Hawke

Linklater’s direction is, of course, sublime and on second viewing I was able to enjoy shot after shot of his typically unfussy style. There is one shot during Mason’s high school years in which he talks to a classmate who bumps alongside him on her bike. They talk, they walk forwards and the camera stays one step ahead of them moving backwards. No cuts, no singles, just a backwards tracking two-shot that seems like it had to be done in one take. You can see this shot again and again in the Before films and it is suggestive of a director utterly confident in his own craft. A scene requires two characters to have a conversation so Linklater just lets the camera do only what is necessary to allow us to witness what is being said. Anything else would be artful and extraneous.

I am no film academic and if you want a near-definitive account of Linklater’s work then look no further than our pal Professor Rob Stone’s excellent book: The Cinema of Richard Linklater – Walk, don’t Run. Rob is clearly a man of vast intelligence and insight (as well as being pleasingly ready to take the piss out of Jimmy’s levels of personal hygiene) and he writes with a rigorous passion for Linklater’s work and succeeds, through a jealousy-inducing series of interviews with the man himself, in exploring the films in comparison with each other as well as illuminating the many and diverse films that have influenced him throughout his career. It’s a great read. I recommend it heartily.

As Rob explores with greater insight that I could ever muster, time does not really work in a conventional way in Linklater’s films. This is particularly the case in Boyhood which despite seemingly locked into a structure that forces its audience to confront time in all its unflinching and relentless forwards motion, paradoxically removes its characters from a temporal context almost completely. This is a film of the moment, a film of now. There is very little in the film that looks backwards and that which looks forward is only the usual cliche of expectation that others force upon Mason. What any of the characters really aspire to in the film is making sense of the current moment; that is all that really matters. No film I’ve seen in a long time is as preoccupied with the present. And it is all the more refreshing for it. The only false moment in the whole near-three hour wonder of the film is when there is a moment of narrative resolution for an immigrant builder whom we’ve seen, briefly, in an earlier scene. For me this felt like a misstep; a nod to the conventional story arcs that Linklater so successfully eschews in the remainder of the piece.

Anyway, I’ve started to use words like “eschew” so it is probably time to stop banging on. But I urge you to see Boyhood. I implore you so to do. It really is most wonderful.

There’s a line very near the end of the film in which a character says something approximating that in life it isn’t really a case of seizing the moment, it is more that the moment seizes you. I think that is utterly beautiful and no better epithet for the wondrous strange thing that is all of our lives. Just keep letting the moment seize you, says Linklater. And you’ll be okay.

p.s. I think I love Ethan Hawke just as much as Kenneth Branagh now. Even Ethan Hawke with a terrible moustache.

p.p.s. High Tide is VERY NEARLY finished. More news very soon.

p.p.p.s. We have been working some more on the screenplay for our second feature film. Jimmy is not letting me get away with anything remotely rubbish – my favourite comment from his recent edits – “is this a reference to old vaginas? If so, I don’t get it”.

p.p.p.p.s. It wasn’t. But now I kind of wish it had been.