NEW SHOOTS: HOW TO MAKE AN AWARD-WINNING DOCUMENTARY

Posted September 22nd, 2022 by Jim Read

Last night, we had the pleasure of welcoming the director/producer duo of the groundbreaking documentary ‘All That Breathes’, Shaunak Sen and Teddy Leifer, for our third New Shoots event of 2022 “How To Make An Award-winning Documentary”. ‘All That Breathes’ is set to hit UK cinemas on the 14th of October. Check here to see where you can find a screening.

You can watch the recording of the event below.

ABOUT SHAUNAK AND TEDDY

Shaunak Sen is a filmmaker and film scholar based in New Delhi, India. Cities of Sleep (2016), his first feature-length documentary, was shown at various major international film festivals (including DOK Leipzig, DMZ Docs and the Taiwan International Documentary Festival, among others) and won 6 international awards. Shaunak received the IDFA Bertha Fund (2019), the Sundance Documentary Grant (2019), the Catapult Film Fund (2020), the Charles Wallace Grant, the Sarai CSDS Digital Media fellowship (2014), and the Films Division of India fellowship (2013). He was also a visiting scholar at Cambridge University (2018) and has published academic articles in Bioscope, Widescreen and other journals.

Teddy Leifer founded Rise Films in 2006. Its award-winning productions include The Invisible War (Oscar® nominee and Emmy® winner), The Interrupters (Emmy® winner), Icarus (Oscar® winner), Knuckle (Sundance world premiere), Dreamcatcher (Sundance winner), We Are Together (Tribeca winner), Rough Aunties (Sundance winner), The Human Factor (Telluride world premiere), Mayor (Peabody winner) and The Art of Political Murder (executive produced by George Clooney).

Teddy’s latest feature, All That Breathes directed by Shaunak Sen is the only film ever to have won both the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and Best Documentary at the Cannes Film Festival – where the film premiered in 2022. His other recent productions include George Carlin’s American Dream, a two-part documentary for HBO directed by Judd Apatow, which just received five Emmy nominations and Once Upon A Time In Londongrad, a timely political about 14 mysterious UK deaths with alleged Russia links.

Teddy was recently listed in the 100 most innovative and influential people in British creative and media industries; by the Guardian newspaper. He is a member of the Producers Guild of America and BAFTA.

ON THE ORIGINS OF “ALL THAT BREATHES”

All That Breathes is a beautifully poetic, observational documentary exploring the environmental landscape of a polluted Delhi, through the lens of two muslim brothers working to rescue injured birds in the city. When asked about his ideation process, Shaunak responded “I was only sure that I didn’t want to make a nature doc… or a political film.. I had this vague texture in my head.. We had the triangulation of bird, man and air. Over time what emerged was the relationship of these 2 brothers and the black kite, which served as a lens to think about … the poetry of the apocalyptic nature of Delhi.”

RISE FILMS AND “ALL THAT BREATHES”

Producer Teddy Leifer and his production company, Rise Films, took a gamble after hearing Shaunak’s pitch as someone who’d only directed one other film prior to ‘All That Breathes’. Talking on what urged Teddy to take on ‘All That Breathes’, Teddy commented “What stood out to me about meeting Shaunak was the extent to which he really had a complete vision for the film… and he was able to talk about it with a high degree of fluency.”

ON THE CINEMATIC APPROACH OF ‘ALL THAT BREATHES’:

Unlike the classic narrator-led documentarys we see televised daily, All That Breathes takes a step back, with the camera following the brothers and their experience, allowing the story to unfold for itself. Watching the film, it becomes apparent that artistic cinematography was going to integral to Shaunak’s approach. Shaunak explained “I knew I wanted to use the tools of fiction to tell a non-fiction story… I knew I wanted to use cranes, tracks and really slow langorous moments… I really wanted to do something that felt aesthetically gratifying and beautiful.”

Finding a great cinematographer was key, as Shaunak later elaborated “It took long, painful Zoom conversations before I was able to convince (DoP Ben Bernhard) to come to India. Find the DoP who you think is just right, and not the DoP who is a friend”.

ON FINDING THE RIGHT TEAM:

Continuining on from Shaunak’s advice on favouring compatibility in production over your personal relationships: “There were no egos in the way. We were all thinking about how can we make this thing as good as it can possibly be. It’s not always that way… If we can just have an honest conversation about the film and how to make it as good as possible, we’re on safe ground.”

ON SOUND DESIGN:

‘All That Breathes” approach to sound is minimalistic, allowing the audience to immerse themselves in the pitter patter of the animals, the low hum of the city and the candid conversations we get to witness. Shaunak iterated his distaste for composition in some films “I usually hate music that consolidates the emotions of the visual. If the two work together it’s usually not very interesting”. Instead, Shaunak dialed in on the diegetic elements: “The sound of skin and clothes rustling…is really important if you want to feel close to camera. For distance, remove this: (sound design) immediately accentuates what the focal length is doing”.

ADVICE TO OTHER DOCUMENTARY DIRECTORS:

If you’re reading this as a documentary director, you sure as anything should watch the whole video, hell, if any of you are thinking of making a documentary, there’s so many things I can’t include in a brief write-up of the highlights.

Fundamentally, Shaunak’s nugget of advice was “Be open to the stuff that’s happening outside the frame of the camera and inside you, because everything is entangled.”

Whereas Teddy echoed “Recognise that time is your commodity. Try to spend it on things that are precious to you, and meaningful. Whether things go right or wrong, it’s time well spent. Never forget the element of luck, and if you don’t have it… sometimes it just doesn’t go your way and that’s ok”.

If you’re looking to join a production or start your own, become a member of the SP community.

John Addis: On Shooting with Mirrorless

Posted April 28th, 2022 by Jim Read

LUCKY BREAK, directed by SP member John Addis, was nominated for the BAFTA for best short film, and selected as the overall New Shoots winning film in 2021. We caught up with John to chat about his experience of creating this award-winning film, and what he has been up to since.

‘Lucky Break’ synopsis: Uloaku works the graveyard shift at a remote service station and is bored out of her mind. Fortunately a chance encounter with a suspicious stranger will soon fix that.

John Addis has worked in the film industry for over 10 years, predominantly as an Editor in features and a Writer/Director on micro budget short films, music promos and other commercial work. His interview is a candid take on challenges faced in the writing and shooting process – most of you will relate to how dealing with unexpected glitches might make for a better film.

John speaks about how ‘Lucky Break’ was written to be something self contained and achievable on a low budget. “I’d written a comedy feature which was going nowhere (because it was overblown and not very good) so I knew I needed to write something simpler and shorter,” says John. “By constraining myself to one location and a few characters it actually made the writing process a lot more fun.”  Because the film is so contained it’s all about the performances. The casting definitely made the film, with on-screen talent being Jessye Romeo, Steve Oram and Diana Weston.

“If we hadn’t got the right cast it would have all been for nothing so I’m forever grateful to them for being so willing to work on it,” says John.

On SP, some of the most useful discussions come from people sharing experiences of things that didn’t work out on a film or a big challenge they had to overcome. Interestingly, the biggest challenges on ‘Lucky Break’ came after the film was shot. “We shot the whole thing in two days then I went back to my day job for a week and detached from it for a bit. When I came to start editing I realised the middle section didn’t work and I was devastated.” In the original script Steve Oram’s character disappears and we stay with Jessye as Diana keeps berating her. “In the edit I found it sapped all the energy out of it. It was nothing to do with the performances, it just wasn’t fun anymore,” he explains.

They made it work with a swift reshoot in the toilets at the company John worked for at the time. This goes to show how being adaptable is a key part of the creative process, and it really doesn’t finish once you’ve shot the film (although it’s certainly a big ‘phew’ moment).

John’s background is actually in editing, and he did admit that he is no stranger to imposter syndrome when it comes to directing. His way around this is extensive prep. “By storyboarding then shooting little tests on phones I try to work out ahead of time what works and what doesn’t so we can go into the shoot with a clear idea of exactly what we need,” he says.

However, John’s experience in post-production and his editing skills are proving to be a real asset to his directing. “When it comes to editing, I’ve always edited the films I directed so I actually think I’d struggle more if I didn’t.” Whilst the ‘we’ll fix it in post’ attitude can just be a way of delaying your problems and adding more work in the future, editing is also your chance to salvage all those things you got wrong on the shoot. “I know people say it’s a bad idea to edit films you’ve directed because you can’t detach from the logistics of the shoot and I think they are right,” John explains. “I guess I just fell into it because of my background but I’d love to try working with an editor.”

Ultimately, ‘Lucky Break’ was made as a result of rejection (and John’s strategic approach to writing the screenplay with the budget in mind). “My first draft of ‘Lucky Break’ got included in the BFI Network short film fund but ultimately wasn’t selected for funding. This was a massive blow to my confidence but by that stage I’d already worked on it for a while,” he says. In the end John was able to fund the film himself because he’d intentionally designed it to be achievable on a low budget.

“It was obviously a gamble but at the time I just really needed to go out and film something! Knockbacks are inevitable. I know it’s easy to say, but if you really want to make something you have to keep going.”

A little bonus from John about what’s coming up for him: “I’m really excited to use the Nikon Z 6II movie kit. The thing I like most about it is how portable it is. I’m currently prepping for another directing job which will require lots of shooting on city streets at night so the camera and accessories [that John won as the overall 2021 winner of NS: Filmmakers] are perfect for this. If we were using a bulkier setup we’d really struggle to get through it but the Nikon Z 6II was made for this kind of location shooting and the thing I like most about it is how portable it is.”

John won the Z 6II Essential Movie Kit. This year’s overall winner will win the all new Z 9 camera body plus memory card, valued at over £5000.

SUBMIT YOUR SHORT TODAY.

NEW SHOOTS: VISUAL STORYTELLING

Posted April 21st, 2022 by Jim Read

For our second New Shoots event of 2022 – SP’s Cath Le Couteur welcomed two incredible cinematographers, Tom Townend and Annika Summerson, for an online Q&A focusing on all things cinematography. While very different in experience, the two collectively shared some incredible insight, including how they go about their relationships with directors, the importance of storyboards, what it’s like working with actors and so much more.

If you missed the Q&A or you simply want to hear all their top tips again, then you can re-watch it here.

ABOUT TOM AND ANNIKA

Tom (pictured left) / Annika (pictured right)

Both Tom and Annika have shot iconic features, but bring two very different perspectives to the world of cinematography.

Tom has a long-standing creative partnership with director Lynne Ramsay and was nominated for the BIFA for Best Cinematography for You Were Never Really Here (starring Joaquin Phoenix). His layered visual approach has been featured in British Cinematographer, including stunning work on Attack the Block (starring John Boyega) and We Need to Talk About Kevin (starring Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller).

Swedish-born Annika recently received the Sue Gibson Cinematography Award for her work on Mogul Mowgli (starring Riz Ahmed). An NFTS graduate, Annika also gained invaluable experience working for cinematography legend Christopher Doyle. She has picked up multiple awards for her work, including her latest feature Censor (BFI/ Film4/ Film Wales), which was shot on 35mm and premiered at Sundance in January 2021 to great acclaim.

ON WORKING WITH DIRECTORS

Annika commented “You have directors that only care about the actors, then you have directors that want to direct the film to every millimetre. It’s important to know where they’re going to sit… You want to be on the same team.”

Moreover, she delved into how this unfolded on her work with Mogul Mowgli – “I had never met Bassan [Tariq] before. He came over and I had 4 weeks prep, twenty days shoot and that was it. We had to find a language very quickly. When you have that little prep, you have to see locations, do equipment lists, get a crew who you have to convince to be on the shoot yourself.”

ON THE PROCESS OF SHOOTING

Anyone who’s worked in film will know – things rarely ever go quite as planned. Tom explained “There is a gulf of understanding between what I like and being able to achieve that myself… A really successful day’s shooting is when I feel like what I shot matched what I wanted it to look like in my imagination before it started”.

ON KIT

Annika shared some of her process: “I do have a built-in preference: lenses that are not so clean, things that are imperfect. I like old lenses. But I tend to also swap… on each project.”

She also talked about changing up camera and lighting lists: “Someone said you should take a job either because you get to try something new, or to meet someone brilliant, or to make money…I think it’s very important to keep trying something new, even if its a new head or a new light. And who better to ask than your gaffer or grip: what are the cool things that can make my life easier?”

Likewise, Annika highlighted “There’s a lot of things that have made things easier for shooting. Even if you can’t afford something now,, in a few years time you probably can, or you can convince production that you can.

ON WORKING WITH ACTORS

Turning to the relationship between the DP and actors, Annika described this as “…it’s a little bit of a hostage situation – they’ve got their looks in your hands… There are lots of actors that want to help you and they really want to make a good product. I like the chemistry you can get from certain actors you get along with, especially when you’re operating handheld… it’s an amazing feeling. Then, there are actors that have no idea of cameras – then you just have to be patient.”

Tom then added “There is a huge range of technical understanding and people can be anywhere on the spectrum and it’s not necessarily commensurate with experience. Some people can be really intuitive, some are really ‘easy’, they always look great.”

He went on to share about his experience working on You Were Never Really Here: “Joaquin Phoenix was someone that for the first time ever I came on with an element of reverence… he was very good at expunging cliche at a script level…. And then when we came to shoot he was given incredibly free reign to the point where it felt like we were shooting a documentary. I went with it… ultimately his were the right decisions”

ON LOCATIONS

There’s so many departments involved when choosing locations – primarily directors and art departments, but inherently different locations can prove more difficult for cinematographers.

Annika explained how she supports location choice as a DP: “if the location is too small – in London flats for example,  as long as you explain your reasons, it can be ok. You have to go in and explain why you can’t get a wide shot, or it’s too high up. You have to put your reasoning behind why and then people will understand.”

Tom elaborated “You have to pick your battles and weigh up whether it’s worth making the case for or against a location… it can be heartbreaking… you have to couch your argument [as], this will take away money, this will take away time.”

ON STORYBOARDS/SHOTLISTS

Annika suprised us all when she shed light on the fact she rarely uses storyboards: “Now I tend to only storyboard action and VFX scenes so all of the department knows what’s going to happen. All the other scenes we work out either the night before or on the day. Specialist shots, I have to have a shortlist for so I can plan my equipment, but I very rarely shotlist a whole film beforehand.”

Tom on the other hand is strongly committed to storyboards and shortlists: “[Having a storyboard] – it’s really good, not only creatively but also for everyone to understand that it is being achieved, that you are moving at the correct pace.” He went on to explain “I like to have a shortlist tucked in my back pocket. Something I will have gone through the night before with the director… when I worked with Lynne [Ramsay] we would shortlist the night before and have a giggle about what would be a cool approach…”

ON MULTI-CAM SHOOTS

Tom and Annika share a preference for single-camera shoots, Tom went on to say “I tend to think editorially – what is going to be the sequence of shots? I don’t like the idea you’re going to hose everything down… with two-hundred cameras. But when you shotlist, you think there will be an opportunity for a B camera. I hate shooting cross coverage – I think there’s more creative ways to use a B or C camera. In terms of using lighting, things look best if you can shoot from one angle”

Annika chimed in to say “it takes a while to get used to… you can’t do a wide then a tight [because of sound]… all these things I had to learn on the spot. It was quite stressful but in TV, unless you’re doing a very specific style that you fight for, then they would want you to have two cameras so you can shoot dialogue quickly”

Ultimately, Tom explained “you can utilise two or maybe three cams all at same time if you’ve committed to “meat and potato” coverage. But if you want to create more elegant blocking where camera movement is telling the story along with people in the space, more often than not, that neuters the need for a second camera. I like single cameras”

ON WORKING RELATIONSHIPS

We know that many of you come to New Shoots for solid career advice, and our cinematography event did not disappoint. Tom said: “Your allies as a cinematographer, the people who will be instrumental in stuff that looks great, are people like the 1st AD or the line producer. When you meet people who are real pros, then you can have a frank discussion with them about the schedule and what’s essential’

LOOKING TO GET INVOLVED WITH FILM YOURSELF?

Our thanks to Annika and Tom for sharing their perspectives and experiences on camerawork and lighting – the experience you both shared was invaluable and the support is truly appreciated from the community.

If you’re looking to get involved with a production why not become a SP member or subscribe to the newsletter to keep up to date about future NEW SHOOTS events.

Bryan M. Ferguson: On Making It As an Indie Music Video Director and Surrealism in Horror

Posted March 14th, 2022 by Jim Read

Hey shooters,

Some of you may have seen we’ve been running our SP Spotlight on Facebook and Instagram for SP members to share their successes and celebrate our community’s wins.

If you’ve ever wondered how to break into music video from a career founded on making films about self-amputation and belly-button fetishists, how to project on to a fog screen all using practical effects or how to approach big bands, read on about how Bryan approaches his brilliant work in surrealist horror and music.

This month, we’re focusing in on Bryan M. Ferguson, honing in on his work in surrealist horror and music video, ahead of his retrospective at LSFF on the 19th.

Going through your music videography, you’ve managed to maintain a really strong voice that makes this a distinctly “Bryan M Ferguson” video – to start, how did you get into directing music videos, did you already have the contacts in the music industry or did you hunt down the ones you wanted?

I had no contacts in the music industry whatsoever. I was working a 9-5 in a depressing office while making my weirdo short films in between and on weekends, then one day I get a random e-mail from Helen Marnie of Ladytron asking if I’d make a music video for their comeback album. It was just total luck after years of plugging away and hoping for someone to give a shit. It was one of the scariest things to do because I had no experience of making a music video at that time, so I went big on a really low budget because I didn’t know if I’d get another chance to do it.

Since then I’ve worked on many music videos, some through contacts that I’ve developed over the course of my career so far but I’ve also hunted down bands/artists either through their management or directly via social media and you’d be surprised how chancing your arm and forcing your work into the eyes of other people through twitter or instagram can really help get your foot further in the door. I’ve been very lucky to work with a lot of bands I really love.

You mentioned Ladytron scouted you? Any idea on how they found your work?

From what I know, someone who followed my work on instagram who was friends with the band and recommended me. I’m not sure what they saw in my early films (self-amputation, belly button fetishists and chlorine ingestion cults) that made them go, “yup, that’s the guy!”, but I really owe them so much for giving me that break and allowing me to start a career and make the work I’ve always thrived to make and experiment.


Obviously every shoot is going to be different, but what I noticed is that consistetly every music video you direct has an off-kilter unsettling feel to it. Do you typically get pitched the idea or get complete creative control?

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been given creative control – I’ve never really been given a brief. The majority of times I’ve been allowed the freedom to pitch my idea after listening to the track over and over.

Once the band like the pitch, you go shoot it then it becomes a bit more of a collaboration when you start to shape the video in the edit.


You recently dropped your music video for LOVE IS VIOLENCE with Alice Glass, to me, it really seemed to tap into the whole moral panic surrounding goth/punk subcultural scenes and their followers, was this just my reading of this or was it a conscious choice?

It wasn’t something I was consciously doing – with LOVE IS VIOLENCE I wanted to channel something that was a mix of a modern music video with the aesthetics of one from the early 00s (the mood setting introduction, the clip of Alice’s last single playing on the television) which is when the video is supposed to be set. The same era where I was a 15 year old goth, sitting bored, disaffected and flicking through music channels.

However now that you mention the moral panic, that was quite rife during that time because rock/nu metal/punk was kinda blowing up and dominating radios, so maybe it was something that was gestating subconsciously. That said however, I just wanted to make a really sick video were kids rip out their own guts.


In a lot of your music videos, I’ve noticed you use a lot of VCR shots which creates a great dissonance of including the icons behind the music and also outputting an independent narrative within them – I expect this is pretty challenging to do – what kind of equipment/setup do you use for this?

I love old tech – it just looks so much better. I have a disdain for modern technology in films, it just looks so boring. To capture a lot of the VCR imagery I try to avoid composites of TVs that are done in post and have the images on the televisions on the day of shooting.

I actually sometimes use an old CCTV camera that’s hooked up to it’s own monitor that I bought from eBay, it gives a really great texture to the images. For principal photography we usually shoot with a Blackmagic Ursa mini pro G2 to capture the CRT screens without flicker.


I’ve got to ask, the Fair Game video – how on earth did you get that smoke projection to look like that? I assumed it was VFX until I watched it back.

Yeah, a lot of people initially think it was VFX but I’m kinda old fashioned and push to do everything practically (mainly because I have no knowledge of VFX or how they work). We got in touch with a guy who owned a fog screen, which is sort of like a wall of fog made with water vapour then we’d project Alice’s face from behind. For her face to appear in mid-air, we’d use this huge industrial fog machine pipe that when you fogged up the projection beam Alice’s face would materialise in thin air like a ghost, it was insane to see in person.

You seem to have made a real name for yourself within darkwave music, was this intentional or have you found yourself just naturally gravitating towards this?

Darkwave is the music I tend to listen to the most, so it’s just a natural gravitation, it also helps that my visual style melds well with that sort of sound, it’s also those tends to be the bands that I hunt down to work with. There’s something really cinematic about the sound too.


As a big horror fan, a lot of your work really impressed me and was distinguishably different in how it leaves the viewers with brainworms about the reality of these narratives being possible – where do you find inspiration for these sorts of things?

I honestly don’t know, my brain is just wired a certain way. Like everyone else, I find inspiration comes from every possible source imaginable and my brain tends to sort of distort whatever mundane thought or interaction I’ve had into something that’s a little bit fucked up. I love perverting the perception of something that’s completely normal. I have a million ideas that twist the ideas of everything from hand dryers to cotton buds. Unfortunately these are the ideas that no one really wants to commission and you get asked if you’re nuts a lot.

Film festival fainting – have you ever found the backlash from being directorially known for being so gory loses you opportunities? How did you go about finding platforms like Short Acts which would be
willing to take the gamble with their audience?


Absolutely – you get pigeonholed fairly quickly which is crazy because people have this idea that my work is “gory” but the only time in my 10+ year career that I’ve explicitly shown any gore was literally this year with Alice Glass’ LOVE IS VIOLENCE. I come from a place where the less you show the better. The fainting at the screening of FLAMINGO was purely gaps being filled in by the viewer’s imagination. In the film there’s literally a red censor bar obscuring anything nasty from view because nothing I can show the viewer will be half as awful as what their own mind will conjure up.

But alas I still miss out on opportunities purely because I make work that can sometimes make people feel uncomfortable. On the plus side, I get work a lot of work for that very reason and it means a client, production company or band know what they’re in for and I can have my bloody fingerprints all over what I make without any real interference.


Getting SATANIC PANIC ’87 made through Channel 4’s Random Acts was a 3 year process, pitching, convincing, meeting with and change of commissioning heads were all factors but I eventually wore them
down and they took a chance on me to make something pretty manic and were completely hands off and encouraging. It was great to see a platform that big allow me to explore granny murder and possessed arm chairs that become portals to hell.


Red Room – as far as I’m aware this was your first time adapting a book (Bitterhall) – how did this differ from your other shorts where you were also the writer behind your work?

When I was asked to adapt Bitterhall I jumped at the chance because it’s important to me as a filmmaker to constantly challenge myself and experiment as much as I can. I had never adapted anything before, the idea in the past was quite daunting but I found it really exciting to take someone’s ideas and sculpt them into something that was partially mine and creating a sort of mutant child from the minds of two people that work in different fields.

It was tough because the book is quite dense with a roshomonesque three point perspective narrative, so to condense that into a short that was initially commissioned as a 5 minute film was nearly impossible, it really had to be 15 minutes to get some semblance of what the book is conveying. So I basically dogeared the book and highlighted everything that excited me and then started to construct my own companion narrative into a more condensed story that leaned heavily on atmosphere.


Also on Red Room, it felt distinctly less visceral/manical than your previous work, really playing up on psychological/paranormal horror opposed to your other short work which has really played into the
fears that this could, quite literally, be real – is this something you see yourself tapping into more?


Definitely something I want to explore more, I’m very much two filmmakers trapped inside one suit of flesh. One is this complete live wire who wants to rip through set and make the most crazy fucking thing I can and the other side is more contemplative, psychologically fucked up. This can be seen in Flamingo, albeit a more visceral film but still taps into a subculture that exists with fears that are real.

With Red Room, I really wanted to test myself and show restraint. It was a challenge to hold back and explore different avenues. To show a side of me that can really play with stripped back paranoid camera set ups with atmosphere and performances over manic energy. I think a lot of people will be surprised by my first feature which I’m currently developing with Screen Scotland/BFI.


What’s really stuck out to me with a lot of your work, is that you’ve managed to evade the typical pitfall of horror where people use scores to build tension, when really it just makes it guesswork to when the climax actually will be – do you work on your own sound design? Is sound design something you pre-empt or mostly complete within the edit process?

I’ve always edited my own stuff which means over the years doing my own sound design has become part of the process. Editing is my favourite part of the entire process and I love ripping out all of the sound and creating it all from scratch, building the soundscape of the world you’re building. Some sound cues are scripted or ideas I have when writing and other times it’s something that organically happens when cutting. I always want to transgress the filmmaking formula.

If you’re interested in being spotlighted, why not submit your short?

Similarly, if you’re interested in hearing more from Bryan – grab your tickets for his retrospective at LSFF ‘Irregular Atrocities’ on the 19th of March.

To connect with shooters like Bryan and other great filmmakers – join the SP community today!

NEW SHOOTS: WITH WILL SHARPE & SUZIE DAVIES

Posted January 20th, 2022 by Jim Read

For our first NEW SHOOTS event of the year SP’s Cath Le Couteur was joined for a special online Q&A with the team behind BAFTA longlisted feature THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN- writer and director Will Sharpe, and production designer Suzie Davies. The pair shared amazing insights into the relationship between the Director and Production Designer, as well as great advice on how to develop the look of your film, visual storytelling (including the use of VFX vs in camera), locations, and working with actors. 


If you missed the Q&A or you simply want to hear all their top tips again, then you can re-watch it here.

ABOUT WILL SHARPE & SUZIE DAVIES 

Will Sharpe made a name for himself with his BAFTA nominated debut feature BLACK POND and for writing, directing, and starring in the BAFTA nominated comedy-drama series FLOWERS, opposite Olivia Colman and Julian Barratt. Will most recently wrote and directed the critically acclaimed four-part drama, LANDSCAPERS, starring Olivia Colman and David Thewlis, and you might also recognise him for his BAFTA winning role as Rodney in the brilliant series GIRI/HAJI. 

Suzie Davies got her first job on a feature film through SP back in 2008, and has since had an illustrious career across film and TV, and is perhaps best known for her BAFTA and OSCAR nominated production design on Mike Leigh’s award winning films MR TURNER and PETERLOO.

THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN 

Co-written and directed by Will Sharpe, the film is based on the extraordinary true story of eccentric British artist Louis Wain (Cumberbatch), whose playful, sometimes even psychedelic pictures helped to transform the public’s perception of cats forever. It has an all star cast including Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy, Toby Jones, Richard Ayoade, Nick Cave and the Oscar winning director Taika Waititi. The film had its World Premiere at The Telluride Film Festival before screening at TIFF and it has just been longlisted for a grand total of 5 BAFTA awards, including Outstanding British Film, Production Design, Costume Design, Original Score and Hair & Make up. The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain is in cinemas now, and we can’t recommend it enough.

Right off the bat, we found out that Suzie began her career as an SP member:

“I did my first feature film via Shooting People: I found the ad wanting a production designer in 2008. It was quite a young team…you didn’t have the heavy responsibility of a Disney or a Netflix behind you at that stage” 

Speaking on getting hired for The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, Will explained:

“I did feel it was a step up for me. I had to really pitch and pitch and pitch my heart out. I really had to prove that I wanted to do it,  that I had a plan for it and that I knew what I was doing. I guess why it worked out was, I cared so much about Louis Wain. I guess to them it felt like I had the keys to his head, or his heart.”

Moreover, when asked about sticking to his vision as a director, Will continued:

“I think you can be really quite bullish about it… People will respect that if you’re not doing it in a defensive way, and if you’re right.”

Suzie talked about the key challenges for production designers:

“The challenges are nearly always the same. It’s the schedule, the script and the money. Before you even start the job you realise you’ll never have enough money, the schedule will always change…and the script gets rewritten… but if you’ve prepped well enough then you can catch those three things.”

Suzie also explained what it’s like working with a limited budget and a tight schedule as a Production Designer:

“[they] Become boundaries that help you inform your design. I looked for the cheaper way because I had to – I couldn’t afford the expensive way.. and actually I really embrace the boundaries that I’m given as otherwise I have too many ideas.”

Once we got on to the topic of acting, Will surprised us about how his experience as an actor informs his casting process:

“I don’t think it makes much difference that I also act…Every actor is different and that’s what rehearsal is really good for… to get a sense of each other and what peoples’ language is”

Furthermore, we also discussed Will’s approach to screenwriting…

“There are … different kinds of films I think, if you want to write a commercial film, you’ll probably best to beat it out beforehand so that you’ve got very clean, structure… whereas if it’s more of a sort of character study or something more arthouse that maybe isn’t really about plot, and it’s more experimental… I tend to do at least some planning, but then often I’ll get stuck on the planning. And so I’ll start writing to try and solve the planning, and then I’ll get stuck on the writing so I’ll go back to the planning and vice versa.”

Finally, Suzie shared her best advice for how to get into the film industry:

“The beauty of our industry is that anything goes. Whatever ignites you to make something, follow it… you’ll learn something new on every job. It’s about understanding the filming etiquette, you’ll only learn that by doing it.”

And Will also shared his top tip for working in film:

“If you wanna be a filmmaker, just make films…people will watch them.”

These quotes are just the tip of the iceberg, re-watch the whole Q&A to hear more about the impact of VFX on the art department, how they achieved that hyper-psychedelic look in The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, Will’s work on Landscapers and Flowers, and so much more.

Huge thanks to Will and Suzie for continuing to champion independent filmmaking and for generously sharing his wisdom with the community. Become a SP member or subscribe to the newsletter to keep up to date about future NEW SHOOTS events.

Making Films with Mirrorless Cameras: Behind the Scenes on ‘A to B’

Posted December 9th, 2021 by molly

Earlier this year, we joined SP member, Sundance director and New Shoots alumni Eleanor Mortimer on location at Victoria Park, London, as she filmed her new documentary.  

Eleanor took a break from shooting to tell us how, using Nikon’s Z 6II mirrorless camera, she created a unique study of the relationship between humans, nature and public space. 

Filmmaker Eleanor Mortimer

What film are you working on? 

I’m making a short documentary, which at the moment is called ‘A to B’. It’s a film about going backwards.

How did you come up with the idea?

It’s inspired by a brilliant person called Akira, who I met one winter morning as he was casually walking backwards through the park. After learning about his reasons for doing it I wanted to make a film with him and other backwards-movers, about the nature of how we move through public spaces. Going backwards feels to me like a small but powerfully rebellious act in a society which values forward momentum & progress, because it challenges perceived ideas of how we move from ‘A to B’. I wanted to explore this through observing Akira and others moving through the shared space of the park and speaking to them about why they do it and how they’re feeling.

Eleanor Mortimer shooting “A to B” feat. Akira
Taken from “A to B” dir. Eleanor Mortimer

What kind of techniques are you using to tell the story and why?

I have chosen to tell this story in a really simple way, embracing the spirit of ‘encounter’ in a public place as well as the sensation of movement. I will observe Akira and others while they move backwards, following them with the camera, moving at their pace (but forwards!). During this time, I might ask them to talk to me, in an informal non-structured way. I read somewhere (I think it was Rebecca Solnit’s ‘Field Guide to Getting Lost’) that walking pace matches our thinking pace, so I liked the idea of filming people walking backwards while voicing their thoughts.

From “A to B” dir. Eleanor Mortimer

What camera are you shooting on today and with what kind of lens? 

I’m shooting on the Nikon Z 6II and 24-70mm f/4 lens courtesy of Nikon. As someone used to lugging around bigger cameras I am so grateful to have this camera for this project, as it allows me to be more mobile.

Eleanor using the Nikon Z 6II

What’s it like working with a mirrorless camera? 

This camera is ideal for this project. It’s small, light and unobtrusive, allowing me to film in a public space without drawing too much attention. It’s much easier to work collaboratively with someone without the barrier of a huge camera and lens. The camera has a good stabilising function and a lovely image as well.

Eleanor’s documentary was filmed using the Nikon Z 6II Essential Movie Kit

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve got in front of you to shoot your film? 

The challenge of making an unfunded project is finding enough time to devote to it around paid work. This is the main challenge I have as a filmmaker. When you embark on a film, you get obsessed with it and you want to dedicate yourself to it completely. But more often than not creative short films are low-budget or no-budget, which means you have to take breaks to make money elsewhere, through teaching and other commissions. Getting this balance right is really hard, and you can definitely end up being burnt out trying to do too much!

What are your filmmaking plans for the future?

I’m developing my first feature which is about deep-sea taxonomists (people who discover new animals), so I will be working on that for the next year or so, thanks to a development grant from the Sundance / Sandbox fund. I’ve got a few other science-related ideas and I’m really looking forward to getting my teeth into more films which explore the way we relate to each other and to the natural world. We’re living through very uncertain times and we’re all looking for new ways to understand the world that are outside of the logic of capitalism. I’m drawn to tell stories which offer hope and a different way of imagining our future.

How has being involved in SP helped you?  

Shooting People is a valuable community hub which provides a much-needed support network for independent filmmakers. The film world is not an easy one to navigate, and being able to reach out and find crew members or learn of others’ experiences is so important.The daily bulletins are also a really good roundup of opportunities out there for filmmakers.

From “A to B” dir. Eleanor Mortimer

Big thanks to Nikon for supporting indie filmmakers and helping to launch innovative projects like A to B. You can find out more about the Z 6II movie kit used by Eleanor here. Don’t forget to also enter your own film into New Shoots: Filmmakers, where winning filmmakers will receive their own Z Series camera from Nikon.

NEW SHOOTS: A MASTERCLASS IN FESTIVAL STRATEGY

Posted November 23rd, 2021 by Jim Read

Following the success of our previous New Shoots event where we covered indie horror filmmaking with breakout directors Jennifer Sheridan (Rose: A Love Story) and Prano Bailey-Bond (Censor) back in July. Our latest New Shoots went down a treat as we delved into film festival strategy with two of the industry’s best – Rich Warren (Director of Encounters Short Film Festival) and Wendy Mitchell (Film Festival Consultant and journalist).

If you didn’t manage to watch the full Q+A you can watch the recorded version here – For now though, here are just a few of the golden nuggets of information Rich and Wendy shared at the event.

  1. FILM FESTIVALS ARE INTEGRAL TO YOUR FILM’S SUCCESS

If anyone knows about the importance of film festivals, it’s Wendy, her entire career has largely been built around advising festivals on how to best approach them. In her own words, for filmmakers, “They are such crucial places of support, they’re launching paths and ecosystems for filmmakers to get their work, seen to meet other filmmakers, to meet the industry, to meet an audience.” 

“Every festival out there wants to find something  in the open submission file which rocks their world, which they can champion…. It’s not just about showing the new Brad Pitt film, it’s about discovering new filmmakers: you haven’t met them at a party, they just love the film. If you’ve made a great film, it will be seen.

  1. RESEARCH WHICH FESTIVAL IS RIGHT FOR YOUR FILM. 

It’s essential to research a film festival and the films that they show before submitting. If you have a horror film for instance, there are certain film festivals that solely cater for that. It’s also important to get opinions on your film from others – but not solely your friends. The SP community is a great resource to ask for honest feedback on your film and advice on where to submit to. 

Rich highlights the importance of knowing what you want out of your festival, explaining you want to have “a real clear vision of what opportunity you want to be created. Are you going there looking for a new producer or are you going out looking for the commissioner? Are you going out there to create a reputation? All of that will help dictate what type of festivals you want to go to. It’s looking at those specific things and being very targeted and knowing what you want to get out of the festival run.” 

It’s important to do research early, as the more you learn the more your perspective on the direction of your film will change, similarly, throughout production it’s a natural part of the process to change your vision. Wendy iterates “You will have different goals at different stages…Your goals at the beginning won’t be the same as your goals at the end.”

As previously mentioned, collaboration is key to your success, Wendy emphasises “Try to get some honest opinions, not just from your mates. Check out similar films and see what festivals those films went to… If you’ve got an experimental film, maybe Edinburgh’s not as right as Oberhausen would be. I would get some honest opinions from people who know about these things. Maybe that’s sharing it with sales companies and showing other filmmaker friends.”  

Ultimately, Rich concluded “Do your research on the festivals. The information is pretty much all there online and it’ll save you hour’s worth of research as well.”

  1. KNOW WHEN AND WHERE YOU WANT TO SUBMIT. 

When you’re making an independent film, the last thing on your mind is probably your release time – so often it’s about focusing on getting the film MADE. When queried about timing though, Wendy gave some extremely helpful food for thought… “(Consider) When is your film actually going to be ready? If you’ve got a very, very rough cut and you’re going to be half animated and you’ve got no animation… don’t rush to submit to Sundance…Do not rush. You know, if your film isn’t ready for Sundance try Berlinale, If your film isn’t ready for Edinburgh, wait till LFF. There’s always another festival. There are 10s of thousands of  great film festivals.”

Often, film festivals are open for submissions almost all year, with varying deadlines – typically having a lower submission fee the earlier you submit. Wendy pointed out “It’s better to submit the week submissions open rather than submitting the day when they close.” Drawing from her own experience she elaborates “I think we had 300 films submitted to San Sebastian on the day. Those programmers are watching 5 films a day. Yeah, the program is already alittle bit determined. Yes. There are always slots –  it’s better to get your female led horror fantasy to be the first one they see and they invite it, rather than it be the last one. And they say, ‘oh,we’ve already got too many of those.’”

Moreover, both Wendy and Rich agreed that it is extremely important to submit your film at the minimum of a close to finish stage, as Wendy iterates “Programmers are very adept at looking at work that’s unfinished… but DO put your best foot forward.I would never recommend submitting something that’s not picture locked…you do get that one shot to show the programmer at that festival.”

Ultimately, Rich concludes with an important piece of advice – “What is increasingly with festivals is that we are watching submissions, absolutely blind. We don’t even know who the director is because of unconscious bias…we want to just go into the film and see what the storytelling is.”

Even if you’re not a big name yet – it’s important to remember that your talent is what matters – not how much you’ve done before. 

  1. PLAN OUT YOUR BUDGET FROM THE START.

Especially when working on shorts, the budget is often tight and it is extremely tricky to not focus on spending it all on making the production as best as possible. It’s important to think smart and budget for distribution and marketing of the film – including film festivals.

First of all, regarding fees Wendy comments “Don’t be scared. People want to show your films… Have a line in your budget for festival submission fees. How much that is depends on your ambitions. I’d put in at least a few hundred pounds, even for shorts.”

Rich also offered some useful advice on rethinking the mentality towards submission fees – “Rather than looking at it as a submission fee, look at it as a viewing fee.” It’s important to remember that behind the scenes, a huge amount of time (and money) goes into reviewing festival submission. 

  1. KNOW WHEN TO ASK FOR WAIVERS, BUT ALSO – KNOW WHEN TO WATCH OUT FOR SCAMS. 

If your film has been accepted into a highly regarded film festival, then it might be worth asking for a fee waiver from other festivals that you want to submit to. The worst that they can say is no and you can still pay to submit. As Wendy points out: “There is a snowball effect when you start getting into film festivals, certainly short film festivals. If you get into one or two, then you start getting invited into others. So if you’re really targeted about those first couple of festivals that you want to go to, then those invites will come in.’’ 

Wendy also makes a great point: ‘If anybody ever asks you personally to submit to their festival, they should be waiving the fee.’ 

Always be cautious of fake film festivals who will take your submission fee but don’t actually exist. As Wendy advises: “Google them. Did anyone blog from that festival last year? Did anyone say they had a great time in the audience? Did they get any press? Look at who screened last year and drop them a line.”

Rich went on to say: “My best advice is always to look for photos of the festival… you want to see a busy room with their logos and a banner in the background. Then there’s a good chance it’s a legit festival….Look at the number of awards: f you see they’ve got an award for [every department] the chances are, it’s not a legit short film festival

  1. HOW TO ATTEND FILM FESTIVALS, FUNDING TO HELP YOU GET THERE & SCREENING FEES

There are different funds that can assist you with different aspects of your film, from production to distribution. All SP members can access our funding database – it’s an amazing up-to-date resource with the latest funding opportunities all in one convenient hub. 

If your film is selected for a film festival, there are funding opportunities which could help pay for you to go attend. Wendy suggests the British Council’s short film travel grant which will pay for travel costs related to attending film festivals. 

If you are selected for a film festival, it’s always worth asking whether they can offer accreditation or accommodation. Some festivals will have the budget to fly you in for a Q&A, whilst other festivals may have a more DIY approach, such as connecting filmmakers with couch surfing options. At the very least a festival should provide you with a free ticket to your own screening. 

With a feature film, some festivals may also offer a screening fee. Wendy explains “With features, the economics vary so wildly, a lot of festivals might pay you a screening fee to show your film. That might be 500 quid, but every little bit can help add up. If you have a sales company, they’re going to take that 500 quid because they’re doing that work to submit for you…Funnily enough, the richest festivals, Cannes, Berlin, are so prestigious. They think they don’t have to pay you to screen your film. But, you get the prestige.”

  1. ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN B. 

Being brutally honest, not every film festival is going to want your film and it’s important to always have a Plan B, Plan C and then ideas of where to go from there if all else fails.

As Rich explains, film festivals are perpetually viewing the best of the best – “I always consider us to be in a really privileged position because we get to see the wide spectrum of filmmaking, we get to see it as an entirety, everything that’s being made. So we’re in a really present prestigious position and we get to see what’s in the zeitgeists.”

There are such a multitude of reasons why your film may not be selected as Wendy recalls “I have seen some of the best films ever made get rejected for various reasons from various festivals. There was one British film a few years ago that was going to be in Cannes Directors Fortnight and they told us the night before the selection, actually, it didn’t make the final cut. They put one other film ahead of it.”

Furthermore she explains that at San Sebastian “this year, we rejected a very good, feminist story, because they already had about three others in the section. So it didn’t mean the film was bad at all. It just meant it was too similar to things we had already programmed.”

Ultimately, when doing your research, don’t centre your plan around one festival being the make or break, numerous festivals will share similar themes, styles and genres in common, find the ones which correlate and refine what you’re looking for. 

  1. FILM FESTIVALS ARE A GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO NOT ONLY SHARE YOUR FILM, BUT TO DEVELOP YOUR IN-PERSON NETWORK.

One of the biggest pieces of feedback we’ve heard from our SP community is that film festivals seem too intimidating, there’s no denying it, but as Wendy acknowledged film festivals can be an amazing environment to learn and grow as a filmmaker, “it can be quite a tricky landscape… but I just think it’s crucial: filmmaking can be a lonely business and festivals make that not lonely.

This is especially true for shorts, as Rich chimed in film festivals are all  “about opportunity creation… a short film is often about thinking about where you’re going to go, what you want to do next, where you want to go next. Film festivals are not just about being an avid shop window, but it’s about being around your peers and finding out what the next opportunity is, and where that next opportunity is.”

If you’re uncertain about your direction as a filmmaker, what you’re doing next, where you even want the film you’re screening to go, Rich explains “it’s those opportunities that kind of come from those serendipitous meetings at festivals and, and the chance encounters. That’s really where the wave of festivals come into their own.”

Regarding COVID, it has undeniably been difficult for festivals, as Rich explains “The short film festival sector does feel slightly less vibrant, I think. I think that’s just due to budgets more than anything else. We’re very reliant on venues and I think venues are still very cautious about getting people together.” 

Interestingly, Rich brought up that the rumours surrounding a drop in film submissions proved false. He elaborates “what’s interesting is we were all predicting a drop-off from the actual filmmakers. We all were predicting a drop-off of films from this year, and I’m not actually hearing that from any festival… If anything, the numbers are still continuing to rise.”

Wendy elaborates that the film festival scene “is still flourishing. It’s not as healthy as it was when we could be around the world. If they are running in person, it’s usually a smaller program… but festivals have not died.” 

She goes on to praise the resilience of festivals and commend that there are aspects which are great about hybridisation, “Sundance back in January was online and it was amazing. I haven’t been able to go to Sundance in 15 years and suddenly I could do that from my living room.”

Ultimately she concludes “I think hopefully…by early 2022, the industry is going to be back, going to festivals, hopefully a bit like normal. I think that will change over the next year, you are going to see more (hybrid festivals).”

  1. GETTING YOUR FILM INTO A FESTIVAL IS A SUCCESS WORTH CELEBRATING.

To conclude, Wendy iterated “There is a snowball effect when you start getting into film festivals, certainly short film festivals. If you get into one or two, then you start getting invited into others. So if you’re really targeted about those first couple of festivals that you want to go to, then those invites will come in…. If anybody ever asks you personally to submit to their festival, they should be waiving the fee.’ 

Never disregard your own successes, the film industry can at points be demoralising, but the most important take to have, is that the community is everything. At SP, we always welcome and encourage you to share your journey, your successes and your downfalls with our community, whether that’s shouting out about your most recent production, or asking for advice, our forums are always open. 

NEW SHOOTS: HORROR MASTERCLASS

Posted July 28th, 2021 by Marloes Koot

Our NEW SHOOTS live event programme continues online and in July horror Guru’s Prano Bailey-Bond and Jen Sheridan joined us for a truly killer masterclass. Both directors are supportive members of the SP community, and both have made a screamingly bold entrance with two of the best debut indie horrors of the year.

If you’ve missed it, you can catch up with the Q&A here. They shared expert advice on developing a first feature, working on a shoestring budget, capturing tone and, surprisingly, even leech wrangling. Below you’ll find some of our favourite quotes of the night. 

Prano Bailey-Bond’s debut feature film, Censor, had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival 2021, opening the festival’s Midnight section, before having its European premiere at the Berlinale. Described as “one of the best horror films in years” (The Independent), Censor will be hitting UK cinemas on August 20th.

Jennifer Sheridan’s debut horror feature Rose: A Love Story premiered at the BFI London Film Festival and was nominated for the Raindance Discovery Award at the British Independent Film Awards. Jennifer honed her skills as a storyteller through her work as a self-taught editor over the last twelve years (credits include Cuckoo and League of Gentleman). 

SP’s Cath Le Couteur asked the directors what their experience was with shooting horror as a genre.

Jen: ‘My film is a tricky one… I don’t know if there’s enough hardcore horror. It’s a genre hybrid film… it’s made it a bit difficult to sell and place’

Prano: ‘I think of horror as “the return of the repressed”… that thing you don’t want to face that’s gonna come and bite you on the bum. It’s about how we self-censor and also how our brains censor things for us… repressed memory, repressed selves and how that will come out in a very twisted way. […] I love the genre because it’s so imaginative and surreal. I summarise my work and what I want to do as just, “nightmares” – sometimes they’re not full-on horrors…’

As both films are debut features, we were curious to find out what it was like to create them on a budget, and what the filmmakers’ solutions were to working within financial constraints.

Jen: ‘Most of my short films were self-funded while I was editing. I went in doing something I knew I could achieve on a low budget. I knew no-one would give me the money for a first feature and I needed to be realistic: ROSE had hardly any cast, minimal locations, achievable stunts, in-camera effects using pig skin or whatever I can cook up.….When I read the script from Matt I knew it would work… I knew lots of young passionate people to work with… I had a great script that wasn’t super expensive to achieve and a really supportive development team.’

Jennifer Sheridan

To secure the best crew, both directors reached out to their network, as well as on the SP community to find talented collaborators. Rose: A Love Story features a small cast, it was written by Matt Stokoe who also starred in the film, and edited by Jen herself and Andrew Hamer.

 Jen: ‘I actually met my composer Cato Hoeben through SP. He’s done every single one of my films since.’

Prano brought together an incredible crew, including SP member and BIFA award nominated cinematographer Annika Summerson (Mogul Mowgli), and award winning composer Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch (Rocks). As well as production designer Paulina Rzeszowska and editor Mark Towns who both worked previously on Rose Glass’s British indie horror Saint Maud.

To ensure everyone was on the same wavelength, Prano explained how she briefed them before filming: 

Prano: ‘I was referencing specific video nasties and references from the 80s and 70s to tune my crew into that. I talked to my DoP and sound designer in emotional terms and atmospheric terms. Sound is where you’re setting the tone…. I think about sound when I’m writing.’

Interestingly, Prano mentioned she did not rely on storyboarding : 

Prano: ‘I don’t storyboard but I shortlist really tightly. Within the shortlist I pull in images from other films… if there’s a visual image in my head which will help other people see what I’m aiming for… […] I go on set with a very tight shortlist, to know what are the important pieces of info to tell the story, what are the emotional beats I need to make it work’

Jen: ‘I used to storyboard quite a lot. Then I realised it was easier to mark up scripts like a script supervisor… I’ve developed a new way of working… As soon as you step on set, something changes. It’s good to have a base to work from so you can step on set knowing what you need to achieve.’

Prano Bailey-Bond

Cath asked about their working relationship with actors-

Prano: ‘I did rehearse and I would definitely recommend rehearsing. I didn’t get to rehearse everyone, but from the beginning, working with my producer, I knew we’d be on a tight budget and rehearsing would be key… me and Niamh talked lots on Skype… that meant we had a shorthand before going on set. [Actors] know you’re there to catch them, you’re there to help them take risks and do things outside their comfort zone. I would say definitely find out how the actor needs to work, what they need. […] I see the director’s job first and foremost as telling the story, beyond that you’re welcoming people in with their ideas… and you’re the litmus test of “does this work for the story or not”… The more you work with them, the more they take ownership of the role.’

The pair also touched on the importance of knowing how to edit as a director. 

Prano: ‘I had my editor assembling as we were shooting… that was great… I really do think editing is one of the best training grounds as a director. In the edit you learn what you need to tell the story and it gives you confidence on set [about which shots you might need]. It’s really helpful if you can learn about editing.’

And finally, when asked for some last advice to fellow filmmakers, Jen had the following to say: 

Jen: ‘Have a plan but be prepared to throw it out of the window… if you want things to work in an exact way, you’re going to have a frustrating early career!’

So if you’ve become curious and want to watch the full chat and Q&A, it’s not too late – just head to our Facebook page.  Sign up to our newsletter to hear about future events.

NEW SHOOTS 2020 Winner Lanre Malaolu chats about Filmmaking

Posted July 23rd, 2021 by Marloes Koot

SP’s career development short film competition, New Shoots: Filmmakers, is open for submissions four times a year (January, April, July and October.) Guest judges have included the wonderful Sarah Gavron (Director: Rocks, Suffragette), Philip Ilson (Director of London Short Film Festival) and Johnnie Burn (Sound Designer: Ammonite, The Favourite, Under the Skin).

The winner of each round takes home a heap of amazing prizes; including Industry Mentorship from BFI Network, Animate Projects or LONO Studio, state of the art Audio Kit, Final Draft Screenwriting Software, a year’s MUBI Subscription, a DCP of their film from Post Factory and promotion across SP. PLUS, the overall winner of all four rounds wins the incredible Nikon Z 6II Essential Movie kit.

Big congrats to Lanre Malaolu whose dance documentary hybrid, The Circle, won the overall competition in 2020. Watch it here.

The Circle is a bold and lyrical portrayal of two brothers, David and Sanchez, living on a Hackney council estate, in East London. The film gives a compelling insight into their family and friendships, the stigmas they face daily, their mental health, and how they process their emotions – embodied through vivid movement sequences. The Circle looks at what it means to be a young black man growing up in inner-city London.

Here’s what judge Desiree Akhavan (Writer & Director: The Miseducation of Cameron Post) said about the film:

‘THE CIRCLE explores race in a way I’ve never seen on screen before- playing with form, movement and narrative structure. I’m really looking forward to seeing where Lanre Malaolu’s voice takes him next.’

We caught up with Lanre to discuss his filmmaking process and top tips.

Due to his background as a choreographer, we were curious whether Lanre had intended to introduce the physicality of dance from the very beginning:

‘For sure. I remember the first time I met David and Sanchez, they had so much to say, but importantly, I could sense they were vibrating with emotion and I wanted to excavate and understand it through movement. I’m using the word “dance” less these days to describe my work. I’m more interested in the ability all our bodies have to tell stories and using this as a vehicle to uncover our hidden truths and emotions.’

Like many Shooters, Lanre works across multiple disciplines; besides directing and choreographing, he also writes and acts, working across theatre and film. We asked him what he thinks the key benefit of this is, and whether he intends to continue working across all fields:

‘I think the major benefit is simply understanding the full tapestry of the artform I’m working in. It has allowed me to consciously and subconsciously pull on the skills I’ve learned in each discipline. But I’ve taken the time to really commit to each of them. For example, I spent my earlier creative years really focusing on my acting, and putting the hours in training and working professionally. Then, when the choreography started to pull at me, I’d turn down opportunities as an actor to really hone the craft of choreography… and the same when it came to directing and writing.

I didn’t have a scattergun approach. Each choice I made of course took me on a crazy journey, but there was some intention in all of the choices. It was less about the egotistical: “Look at me! I can do it all!” – And more about the intrigue I had for each field, and respecting them enough to know that they each demand their own attention and investment of time. It’s only now after 10 + years of grinding, that I’m able to work fluidly between all of them with confidence.’

As the overall winner of New Shoots 2020, Lanre took home The Nikon Z 6II Essential Movie Kit. This mirrorless camera is designed with freedom in mind: we’re super impressed with the image quality, flexibility and film-friendly features. It can be tailored with additional equipment to suit any movie-making style. The movie kit provides the core essentials to get rolling quickly, with all the important tools to make high-quality films.

Lanre’s thoughts- ‘I love the setup of the kit! It has everything you need. Nikon really did shoot it out of the park with this! I’m gonna take it into the studio with me for my next project. Shoot some rehearsals and tests…’

As SP is a community by and for filmmakers, sharing their experiences for people to learn from their successes but also their mistakes, we asked Lanre if anything came to mind that might be of help to other Shooters:

‘If it’s your own film, firstly giving yourself space away from it is so important. As much as the word “perspective” is overused, it’s still so undervalued. To be fair, I’m shit at this sometimes, as it’s so easy to be all consumed by your work. But I think this is where talking things through with other filmmakers/collaborators comes into play and is so vital.’

And for those looking to get their first projects off the ground, Lanre had the following to say:

‘Get a group of people who understand your creative quirks (your crazy) and are down for the ride. Then just start the bloody thing. The only way you can develop a creative voice/artistic instinct is by starting a whole load of projects and finishing a whole load of projects. And along the ride, you’ll hopefully end up with a group of creative collaborators you trust implicitly, which I personally find is one of the most beautiful parts of filmmaking.’

Excellent advice from an excellent filmmaker & artist. Once again, a massive congratulations to Lanre on his beautiful work and on taking home the Nikon Z 6II Essential Movie Kit – we can’t wait to see what he does with it.

Remember that SP members can browse through all the New Shoots submissions, provide feedback, connect and collaborate.

Paul Greengrass Masterclass: Finding your Creative Voice and Working with Actors

Posted May 13th, 2021 by Marloes Koot

Our NEW SHOOTS live event programme continues online and in April, triple-BAFTA winning and Oscar nominated writer-director Paul Greengrass joined us for a truly inspirational Masterclass. In just one hour he shared so much wisdom and advice on everything from running a set, working with actors, pacing, editing, the ethics of working with true stories, and finding your creative voice.

If you missed the Q&A or you simply want to hear all of Paul’s top tips again, then you can re-watch it here.

Paul Greengrass is a deeply political filmmaker and long-time supporter of SP, known for fighting for directors’ rights, as well as for championing emerging talent. In 2017, Greengrass was honoured with a British Film Institute Fellowship, for recognition of his outstanding contribution to film culture.

After starting his career on the hard-hitting TV documentary series, World in Action, Greengrass went on to use this journalistic quality in his own filmmaking. Some of his outstanding films include Bloody Sunday, about the infamous 1972 shootings in Northern Ireland, which won him the main award at Berlin Film Festival. United 93, set around the 9/11 hijacking of the United Airlines plane, which gained him a BAFTA for Best Director and an Oscar nomination. Captain Phillips, based on the 2009 hijacking of a U.S. container ship, and 22 July, a dramatisation of Norway’s worst terrorist attack, were both widely and critically acclaimed.

Greengrass also directed three films in the Jason Bourne action thriller series, The Bourne Supremacy ,The Bourne Ultimatum, and Jason Bourne which demonstrated his desire to develop character, as much as his signature use of hand-held cameras. Both major critical successes, they further cemented Greengrass’s reputation and enabled him to get smaller, more personal films made.

His latest film, the critically acclaimed western News of the World with Tom Hanks, is now available to view on Netflix.

Here are some of our fave quotes from the evening-

Paul on team work- “If you’re directing a film, you’re surrounded by people, you’re in such a blessed place in life. They’re all literally there working ceaselessly to try and solve your problems… You’re a jack of all trades but they are masters of their crafts.”

Paul on the industry- “There’s lots of things to be very hopeful about in our industry, most of all the sustaining comradeship you feel whatever set, cutting room, theatre or show you’re part of- it’s a business where we come together and operate as a team. For all our neuroses, our sense of being separate and alone and fearful, we can all just help each other to tell stories.”

Paul on working with Actors- “The relationship with your leading actor is the most important relationship you’ll have. Together you have to describe the arc of the whole film… you’re effectively roped together in a forest in the dark and you’ve got to climb a mountain holding a flashlight…. If you’re making a film you’ve got to listen intently to all of your actors, especially your leading actor: their sense of what feels truthful is the best guide you’re going to have.”

Paul on editing- “It’s important to be unsentimental when you cut…That which you most love may be the thing that’s holding back your film, that thing you hate may be the most important part of it.”

Paul on writing- “It’s so important that the script describes exactly what you want to see and not just a generalised description of an action sequence. By the time you get to shooting, I’ve worked that draft to within an inch of its life.”

Paul on SP- “It’s brilliant, you should definitely join… Organisations like Shooting People are very, very important, and they enable us to talk to each other.”

Huge thanks to Paul for continuing to champion independent filmmaking and for generously sharing his wisdom with the community. Become a SP member or subscribe to the newsletter to keep up to date about future NEW SHOOTS events.