The Arbor, The Selfish Giant and Clio Barnard

Clio Barnard

I was fortunate enough to attend Clio Bernard’s lecture on her work the other day, she truly shows the promising signs of a filmmaker who understands their vision and has the passion, tenacity and talent to contribute a thorough standpoint in cinema. Her first two films have been seminal works in the last few years of British film, gaining Clio multiple awards internationally and 2 BAFTA nominations for the outstanding debut category.

Clio’s underlying themes of memory, authenticity and imagination are rich from the outset, although masked in the provincial poverty and the battle of human life that she so credibly conceives. The Arbor is her first feature length piece of work that simulates layers of reality to a shattering and enthralling effect. It is raw and lucid, and some critics have complained of its downward spiral of depression and heartache, at times there is little space for breath. Yet, on the contrary, Clio utilises innovative filmmaking tools to remind the viewer that this is simply a retelling of a story that is being remembered in more ways than one. There is the simulation of Andrew Dunbar’s play acted out in the estate yard; there is the reflection of Dunbar’s family (of authentic voices lip-synced to actors – a magical feat and by no means obtrusive), the fictionalised reenactment of events and the factual archive footage of interviews with Andrea herself. It is a true expression of Brechtian technique (from the epic theatre) and thus a remarkably fresh insight into the documentary form and the form of cinematic expression itself.

The selfish giant

Following on from this great success, Clio emerged with another tale of heartache and grief imaginatively interpreted from Oscar Wilde’s fable The Selfish Giant. Clio also drew inspiration from The Arbor and the cycle of power and greed constructed within working-class Yorkshire (Bradford). The poor are undermined by society and the audience innately experiences the cycle of poverty through the young eyes of a 14 year old boy (ironically called Arbor) trying to make ends meet for his detached and deprived family. It is a striking film with beautiful and sometimes magical cinematography, powerful and admirable acting and, of course, the instinctive and precise direction of Clio.

Clio came from a background in fine art and it was her sequential drawings that drew her to the cinematic form. She became interested in what it would be like to construct these drawings into a storyboard form, if you like, ultimately, the moving image. Clio began making short films of the experimental and artistry kind. She screened part of an intriguing short film she made in 1998 called Random acts of Intimacy which, like The Arbor, blended authentic voices with actors miming. In this case, irrational sexual acts (usually of one’s fantasy or imagination) were explained in detail and filtrated with shots from actual pornographic films. The audience wishes to seek out the vulnerability and the anonymity of lip-syncing makes this a frustrating and highly captivating task.

Clio continued to experiment with the medium, constantly looking for new ways to explore authenticity and connect with the real. However, she assertively believes that it is wholly risky to believe in the authenticity of film. Though, her social-realist style in The Selfish Giant may proclaim otherwise, it is after all inaugurated from a little fable of greed that resolves in receipt.

I am fascinated to find out where Clio will take her filmmaking journey next, she hinted she was in the writing process at the moment, nothing more. She has explored the boundaries of documentary and narrative filmmaking, both transcending the screen, one with Brechtian motives and the other via pure cinema. What’s next Clio?

Film Producers – “What Don’t They Do?”

Christine-Vachon

(The title quote is from a book called Shooting to Kill: How an Independent Producer Blasts Through the Barriers to Make Movies That Matter written by Christine Vachon – above).

Christine Vachon, a film producer who gave life to such stimulating independent films as Happiness and I Shot Andy Warhol (plus many more), gives a fine insight into her working life and the countless scuffles of the filmmaking process. Ultimately, the book is a reflection of her practice as a film producer and a rousing discussion for aspiring filmmakers to get ahead of the game, which moves ever so fast.

Christine’s grounded and somewhat taxing approach is actually refreshing to hear and she offers predominant insights into personal experience of film havoc, despite her wonderful success. It is essentially real; diary interludes offer a further taste of Christine’s approach and the inevitable tasks of filmmaking. Though, the discourse can at times be overtly self-conscious, it doesn’t set out to be a clear and concise guide of A to B, it is a meditative medium after all.

Whilst running through the filmmaking process in chronological order, Christine is generous in her offering. She provides full-budget feature film write-ups, cost reports and production reports etc. Whenever something is clearly daunting for the reader, she lightens the mood with her witty thought on the subject – “Stay sane and embrace the madness.” Descriptions like, “No cut is painless; the trick is to avoid slicing a major artery” (on budgeting whilst Shooting to Kill) are memorable and entertaining for the reader. Frankly, there are a number of quotations one could pull from this book and use as stimulus or however else you like to use intuitive information.

I wish to note a few points in the book that struck me as areas for deeper thought (not relative to practical tuition, however). Christine briefly mentions (to paraphrase) that she is intrigued by how disparate the continuity between a movie itself and moviemaking process is. The parts that make up the constituents of a film have obsessed film theorists as far back as Eisenstein (such as the process of montage editing), so yes, technical aspects of filmmaking have been studied in regard to continuity. But, the aesthetic of actually being on set (actually making a movie) – the chaos – is absurd in its discontinuity. How can cinema appear so pure on the screen? This is, of course, the magic of filmmaking (and all the hard-work that goes into it!).

Furthermore, Christine notions a lot towards the personality a film producer should have towards their work. It varies, but she gives some valuable thought. Of course, respect and equality reigns on set, yet balancing this with authority and sixty egos is no easy feat. Of the finished film, it is understandable that the producer and their team will expect everyone to think it amazing, how couldn’t they after their concentrated long-hours? Christine says, “Not everyone is going to like it, nor should they be expected to.” If you want to produce controversial work, or work that is going to be seen for its difference (often the only way in a saturated independent market, like today) then you have to keep a level head and respect peoples opinions. Okay, if it’s your last chance at a distributor and they read it completely backwards, feel free to go out into the backyard and scream a little.

Find Christine on Twitter.

Her book can be bought on Amazon by clicking here.

A New Generation of Filmmakers

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The 1990’s gave us a new wave of independent cinema icons. Richard Linklater burst onto the scene in 1993 with his socially irresponsible and irresistible Dazed and Confused, Quentin Tarantino with his simply “bad-ass movie” Reservoir Dogs (1992), Kevin Smith with his weird and wondrous Clerks (1994) and, perhaps most significantly (at least in terms of working around a micro budget), Robert Rodriguez with his entertaining and striking El Mariachi. There are plenty more innovating directors I could list (Steven Soderbergh, M. Night Shyamalan, Danny Boyle, Larry Clark, Edward Burns etc.), but I’m sure you follow my bearing.

There has since been the likes of Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore), Paul Thomas Anderson (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights), Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream), Christopher Nolan (Following, Memento) and Alexander Payne (Citizen Ruth, Election) all emerging as significantly powerful and vital figures in independent cinema from the late 1990s. All these directors indeed still continue to make great films, even if the forte of their later work (Nolan and Aronofsky in particular) has been pilfered by Hollywood into blockbuster fair.

Here, I am arguing that there is a gap, a space for a new generation of filmmakers to make micro-budget films. It has been twenty years since Tarantino made Pulp Fiction and studios began taking independent cinema seriously and creating separate branches for distribution (Miramax Films, Fox Searchlight, Focus Features etc.) This gap for new talent is filling up fast (just look at what Steve McQueen and Martin McDonagh have managed to achieve in the last 10 years) and it is time to step on that bandwagon.

That is why, my friend Chee Keong Cheung, who has written, directed and produced three successful feature films in the climate of the 21st century, wants to help support a new generation of filmmaking talent. He has teamed up with Carlos Gallardo, the producer behind the El Mariachi trilogy and long time friend and collaborator of Rodriguez to bring you a masterclass in filmmaking. Better still, Mark Strange, who has worked alongside action legends Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan and Cary Tagawa as a stunt performer, fight choreographer, actor and producer will also be attending. These three stimulating individuals are offering an intense full day of discussion and teaching for only £99. This is the masterclass.

Intense-Masterclass

These guys know the independent film business. From signing distribution deals to negotiating releases they have been through it all and come out on top. This masterclass is for people who are serious about the film business and furthering their career in film. Yet, it is also ideal for writers, directors, producers, film students, and even casting directors or line producers who are just starting out in their careers. Carlos, Chee and Mark have played their cards in all areas of the film production process from special effects and stunt performing to executive producing and financing. Learn about the films that re-defined cinema and learn how to put your stamp in todays market. Cinema is forever changing.

Find out more and book tickets for the masterclass here.

Watch this El Mariachi tribute below:

The Limelight Index: Mark Tapio Kines – Writer/Director

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Mark Tapio Kines (above) has made 2 feature films and a number of shorts. He has also worked as a web designer for Paramount Pictures and is currently hosting a screenwriting course on lynda.com. I got the chance to chat to Mark about his filmmaking career and what we can expect in the near future:

When did you first get interested in filmmaking?

I was probably about 16 or 17. At first, I was interested in animation; one of my friends had asked me to join him on an animation course, which was a lot of fun. However, he also had a super 8 camera, so we played around with that too.

The following year, I got hold of a video camera in my German class. My classmates and I wrote a script – a kind of spoof on these old ‘60s German training films. This was the first bit of live-action shooting I ever did. It was the point when I really realized I want to do this for the rest of my life – but more importantly, that I can do this.

You’ve now made 2 features and a number of shorts. Regarding your first feature, Foreign Correspondents, how did the idea originate?

It’s a two-story film. The first story I’d had in mind for several years, which was all about what happens if you find a letter in your mailbox meant for the previous tenant. I was obsessed with the concept that you can’t open a letter, but you can look at a postcard, so what happens if you find a postcard that happens to have something very passionate written on it? So, the story came from this relationship between two strangers who live on opposite sides of the world. This came out as a 40 to 50-page script, which I knew wouldn’t be commercially viable.

I therefore decided to pair this script with another story that had similar themes of pen pals and such, which was actually based on a personal experience. I had a friend who lived in London; she was an au pair from Yugoslavia and working for this wealthy London family. They flew me out to discuss marrying her so that she would not have to go back to her homeland. The real story was just so beyond belief that I actually had to fictionalize it a bit to make it believable. For the film, I changed it to a British character coming over to California. It was cheaper to shoot it this way!

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You are the first person to ever raise funds for a film online. Did you have high hopes or was this a last resort for the film? 

It was sort of a last resort. At the time I thought to myself, if it’s going to take ten years to raise the money via my day job, then I’ll do it just to get it finished. I hate having unfinished films, especially if you’ve already spent 100,000 dollars on it. I made the website hoping that the word would get out there – at this time there was no crowdfunding, no established sites like Kickstarter, etc. It was pure marketing and self-promotion. A lot of the money I received was actually investments – not like today, where money is literally given away. This would’ve been unheard of back then!

The crowdfunding got me some press at the time, but since no one did it right after me, it sort of vanished from the radar. No one was talking about it. I’d even forgotten about my connection to it myself, until recently, with all this buzz around crowdfunding platforms. I realized: ‘Oh wait, was I really the first person to do this?’ So I looked at the Wikipedia article for crowdfunding, and it said that the first film ever crowdfunded was a 2004 picture. Not true! I beat this by six years! I now ‘claim my crown’.

What’s your opinion about platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter?

They are useful for filmmakers. I help out a few friends raising funds, which is my way of giving back. I have this third feature film ready to shoot now, which I wrote the script for several years ago. So, I’m thinking about going back to this financing method for the film.

Can you give away any more details about this new project?

It’s called Dial 9 to Get Out. It’s another thriller in the same vein as my second feature, Claustrophobia. So many years have passed. I feel I’m a better filmmaker, and technology has progressed, so I’m really excited about this. There have been a couple of close calls getting funded through the traditional roots of production companies. They fell apart, like it often does in Hollywood. But after my most recent run in, I thought, why not just try it independently? So in February, I’m thinking about independently starting this project up. I’ve been doing a lot of networking, plotting out strategies, but who knows what might happen.

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Are your stories personal to you?

All my stories are personal to me in one way or another. One of the stories in Foreign Correspondents was very personal and Claustrophobia was based around the essence of a dream I had as a teenager. Ideas will often just pop up here or there, but it can take years for the actual idea to gel into a good storyline. In the meantime, if I get an idea, I’ll write it down and then later I may come across it and have the answer.

Are there any filmmakers in particular who have influenced you?

Influence is always a hard word. When you ask this, it always makes it sound like: ‘Whom did you copy?’ Filmmakers that I like – ones I’m rarely disappointed by – include Zhang Yimou, best known for films like House of Flying Daggers and Hero. These are slick martial arts films, but I like him more for his dramas like Shanghai Triad, which are very well plotted and executed. There are many others, but Alfred Hitchcock is probably my all time favourite.

It’s hard though, to find filmmakers in today’s cinema with a really pronounced style. Chan-wook Park is one I can think of. Stoker is a rare example of a mediocre script being elevated by great direction. Usually a director can’t save a mediocre script, but Park is so idiosyncratic and odd that what he brought to the camera was far more interesting than the pedestrian script. I always get excited about his stuff.

What’s your favourite thing about filmmaking?

Editing. I love editing. You get such immediate results. You can instantly see whether a cut works or not, and when it does, it’s beautiful. With writing, you’re always thinking, ‘This is just the beginning’, which is always far more stressful and time constricting. Seeing a film come together in the editing room is the best and most satisfying part. Production is, of course, great fun, but also very stressful. I’ve been doing a lot of short films recently to get stuff produced with little stress and, ultimately, get more stories told.

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Any advice for young filmmakers today?

Learn how to tell a good story. This sounds like a no-brainer. But everybody today seems to be avoiding story and focusing on technology. I would love it if people could really take the time to craft suspenseful stories. By this I mean, anything where the goal should be having your audience ask what’s happening next – a ‘page turner’, as they say in literature. There’s no similar term for this in cinema. Maybe ‘bladder stretcher’?

Thanks Mark.

It was a pleasure to interview such a friendly guy with a warm heart for cinema. There is a lot of useful content here for writers and directors; I like how Mark takes us back to basics suggesting that we shouldn’t get sidetracked by technology and focus primarily on our stories. Do that extra draft of your screenplay or look up the new iPhone app for filmmakers?

Visit Mark’s website here.

The Limelight Index: Jonnie Dean – Writer/Director

jonnie_dean

As a writer and director what first sparked off your real interest in filmmaking?

My Father worked in the film industry as a carpenter on films like ‘Oliver The Musical’ and ‘Cromwell’. He used to tell me his stories about being on set and how they’d shoot certain scenes. This really inspired me and I used to sneak off sometimes to use my father’s camcorder. Then i started writing and shooting mini films as well as starring in them.

I think since primary school i’ve had an interest in making shorts, but i started to finance them myself about seven years ago. I’ve always had the idea of being a Director at the back of my mind, but I get more serious about my passion with every film i make.

Where does your passion for film as a medium originate?

For me, films have always been a family get together, going to the cinema as well as watching a film that suddenly catches your attention on TV. I think when Jurassic Park was released, that was a turning point for me, as I used to constantly read the sleeve notes of the vhs about Steven Speilberg. I remember discussing it and re-playing the scenes with my friends in the playground, that’s when I started to make films.

disenchanted_dean

You’ve had success with your short film Disenchanted, I hear you now have plans to make this into a feature?

Yes definitely, I kept the concept of the idea from the short and made it into a much larger scale. I’m currently still writing the script, which is my first feature screenplay.  I kept putting back my desire on writing such a long story, but since the beginning of this year, it’s really developed into something magical.

I am planning to shoot a few scenes of the film next year, as well as developing concept art, posters and storyboards to sell the project. I hope to pitch the project in the summer next year. The project has become my real passion in filmmaking, and I feel when the film gets made, it will greatly benefit children as well as giving them some fantastic entertainment!

You also have a feature documentary in production, ‘Peace: A Child’s Dream’. How did this project come about?

This project really crept up on me. It developed as a small project, but then I met great people like Leon Stuparich (Director of Road To Peace) who saw the potential in the project and made me realise that I could create an exciting take on promoting children’s viewpoints and ideas on World Peace. I was travelling around India in 2012, working on a short documentary, and the idea developed while I was staying in a relaxed retreat in the Himalayas. So, I can give thanks to India for inspiring me to make this project.

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Has it been a struggle independently financing your work?

Yes, I’ve worked with very little money, but it has given me the chance to think more creative and to use what resources I have. I wouldn’t recommend using a credit card to pay for a film that you will struggle to pay off, and what i’ve found is if the project has a good cause, like promoting children’s voices, you will certainly find that people are willing to help you out more. I also think if you’re honest with people, they will see the potential in the project and in you as a filmmaker.

I think the industry attracts people that seem to use people for their talent and offer little in return, but if you have a balance, treat collaborators fairly, then you will create good vibes on set as well as when you are promoting the film in the festival run.

Are there any other projects in the works we should know about?

Recently i’ve wanted to create some videos for teaching new filmmakers, or even create a talk show. So i’ll be working on that for now. Also my Father is making a film soon so i’m hoping to help out with the production. However, i’ve got a few more shorts up my sleeve, but we will have to wait and see.

Finally, can you give any parting advice for young filmmakers on the industry?

What i’ve learnt is don’t rush your learning – everyone wants to make a feature straight away. However, if you are serious about it, nurture your idea and let it flow, you will find other projects that will give you a different perspective on your ideas, and yourself.

Also, filmmakers have to naturally keep busy, so try and make some mini films while your working on your writing. Don’t feel bad if you have a bad experience working on set on someone’s film or one of your films. I feel young filmmakers put a time limit on when they should have their big break, don’t worry about the break!

The beauty of film is that your life experience shows in your writing and directing, which gives a certain energy to the film and when you make films collectively, that’s when magic happens!

Thanks Jonnie.

An interesting perspective. I specifically like what Jonnie is saying about making people vision a cause through your film. I believe that no matter what the circumstances, fiction, non-fiction, horror, romance, if it’s a great story then it deserves to be told. After all, you won’t build an audience if they see no cause. Jonnie also gets at the point that there is no time limit constraint to yourself as a filmmaker (there will be on set mind!), and that you should let the ideas flow and the work will eventually get done. I agree with this to a certain extent, in that you have your whole life to nurture your path as a filmmaker and this should be curated, but I personally feel that their are so many opportunities and great stories out there that you don’t have enough time in your life to possibly fit enough in! But, of course, don’t rush your learning, as Jonnie did mention, but don’t prevent yourself from learning. I say, make films to learn.

View Jonnie’s film page on Vimeo.

Jonnie on Facebook.

BFI to join VOD craze

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“The launch of the BFI Player is a defining moment in the BFI’s 80 year history – it will unlock the past, present and future of British film.” – Greg Dyke, BFI Chairman.

It’s exciting stuff. Yersterday, Greg Dyke announced that a new video-on-demand platform will be launched nationwide on 9th October – coinciding with the BFI London Film Festival. This BFI player will shed light on all the cinephiles who crave for inependent and specialised film. It will be the BFI experience from home – a great treat – and no doubt will boost the UK film industry by offering new distribution opportunities. To be honest, it’s about time.

The player – for PCs, Macs, tablets and iPhone – will have a mix of different collections from cult British cinema to films about filmmakers and cine literate freaks. It will also hold special simultaneous distribution events, as seen with Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England. Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant will launch on the player alongside it’s theatrical release on 25th October. It’s said there will be many more significant events like this in the near future, including a restoration of The Epic on Everest!

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This may all be arousing news, but you have to raise concerns for the arthouse cinemas who were previously the prior market for independent and specialised film. Is it right that the arthouse genre should be made easily accessible to the mass audience? The appreciation may not be the same. However, I’m sure the cinema audiences will still be alive, after all, everyone loves a trip to the picture house.

Edward Humphrey, BFI Director of Digital, says: “The BFI Player gives us a foundation from which we can support a digital future for film lovers and bring the story of film to a truly national audience.” What I want to ask is how come we’re not aspiring to an international audience? It seems to me, the UK industry has always acted too isolate towards our cinema. Humphrey goes on to proclaim: “The UK film industry leads the world in digital innovation.” Hard to believe when America has enough VOD platforms to be classed as contagious, but I’m sure Humphrey knows best – it’s all with good intention.

Whatever the outcome may be for BFI’s player, it’s certainly cheerful news and as Dyke said, “a defining moment in the BFI’s 80 year history.” I look forward to embracing this history on the 9th October.