NEW SHOOTS With Ben Wheatley

Posted July 16th, 2020 by dorothy

Our quarterly free live event, NEW SHOOTS is your chance to hear from bold independent filmmakers and their teams, to network with fellow creatives, and to develop your own future stories.

In July we took NEW SHOOTS online for a special Q&A with the cult writer and director Ben Wheatley (Free Fire, High Rise, Kill List). Ben chatted to SP’s very own Cath Le Couteur about micro budgets, studio blockbusters and everything in between, before answering audience questions. 

A very big thanks to Ben and to everyone who joined us on the night. But if you missed it, fear not, you can still catch it here.

“It’s not true that success is about getting bigger budgets.. lower budgets can be brilliant – less people means less pressure” – Ben Wheatley

Ben has switched up the scope and scale of his work from film to film. He cut his teeth as an animator and short filmmaker before making the self-funded crime comedy Down Terrace (2009) over eight days in Brighton. It won the Next Wave prize at Fantastic Fest in Austin and Best UK Feature at Raindance. He followed this with the critically acclaimed psychological horror film Kill List (2011) and the cult comedy Sightseers (2012) which screened in the Directors’ Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival. Ben’s micro-budget civil-war horror A Field in England was shot in just 12 days and became the first UK film to be released simultaneously in cinemas, on TV and VOD. Ben went on to make the brilliant adaptation of the J.G. Ballard dystopian novel High Rise (2015), the star studded action comedy Free Fire (2016), executive produced by Martin Scorsese, and the dysfunctional family drama Happy New Year, Colin Burstead (2018).

Ben is currently in post-production on his biggest-budget movie yet, Tomb Raider II with Alicia Vikander, as well as a new adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s gothic romance novel Rebecca, starring Lily James, Armie Hammer, and Kristin Scott Thomas, and the action horror movie Freak Shift. We can’t wait to see all of these in the cinema. 

We’d like to give a big shout out to our principal partners, Zipcar and Nikon who enable us to make our NEW SHOOTS events (both live and online) happen. 

If you want to stay up to date with future Shooting People events, then subscribe to our newsletter.

Thanks,

SP

NEW SHOOTS – ROCKS

Posted April 9th, 2020 by dorothy

Our quarterly live free event, NEW SHOOTS is your chance to hear from bold British independent filmmakers and their teams, to discover the best of brilliant new British cinema, to be inspired, to be ready to catch the films on opening weekend, and to network with fellow creatives to develop your own future stories.

Due to the government lockdown we switched our April NEW SHOOTS event to a Live Stream Q&A with the creative team behind the Toronto International Film Festival prize winning film ROCKS. With a packed out audience, SP’s co-founder Cath Le Couteur spoke online with Rocks director Sarah Gavron (Suffragette, Brick Lane), Editor Maya Maffioli (Beast) and Casting Assistant Jessica Straker. The team gave amazing insights into working with non actors, workshopping the story, shooting chronologically, working with multiple cameras, as well as giving an in depth sense of how humour and music were also vital components in giving ‘Rocks’ it’s passion, energy and vitality. Oh to have the new release dates out soon 🙂

As soon as the NEW release date for ROCKS comes out, we will be alerting you all directly as to how you can go and see the film in the cinema for opening weekend, and help support the filmmakers at the same time.

A very big thanks to all our speakers, (for their own passion and vitality too) and to the more than 2500 people who joined us either on Zoom, or simultaneously on the Facebook live stream. But if you missed it, fear not, you can still catch it all on our facebook page.

Stay tuned for our next New Shoots event in July.

Back in January we kicked off the year in style with our NEW SHOOTS live event at Rich Mix. Cath Le Couteur was joined on stage by BAFTA nominated documentary producer Elhum Shakerifar (A Syrian Love Story, Almost Heaven, A Northern Soul) and fiction producer Camilla Bray (Beats, Lynn + Lucy, Oranges and Sunshine). The pair revealed their top tips for producing independent films, including how to get your film funded and into cinemas. The Q&A was again packed out and we will be in touch directly with you all once release dates are announced for Lynn+Lucy and Ayouni.

Brilliant to see so many people staying on until we were all kicked out and we hope that many of you met future collaborators to help develop your own stories.

We’d like to give a big shout out to our principal partners, Zipcar and Nikon who enable us to make our NEW SHOOTS events (both live and online) happen. 

If you want to stay up to date with future Shooting People events, then subscribe to our newsletter.

Shooting People’s Year in Review

Posted December 10th, 2019 by dorothy

2019 has been an amazing year for the SP community. As Xmas beckons, we wanted to share some highlights, member news, cool shorts you can watch and scripts you can peruse.

HIGHLIGHTS 2019

Our quarterly live event, NEW SHOOTS, is your chance to discover the best of independent British filmmakers and their films, to ask your questions directly to a variety of creative teams, and to support those filmmakers by attending their opening weekends. This year, we heard from an array of established names across the industry who imparted their wisdom, passion, insider knowledge, and discussed many of the creative challenges, as well as the (often surprising) decisions they made along the way, to get their films made and onto the big screen.

NEW SHOOTS networking event at Rich Mix
  • Back in January we welcomed writer, director and SP member Shola Amoo to speak about his flourishing career and what it was like to have his feature, ‘The Last Tree,’ premiere at Sundance.

  • In April, BAFTA-winning director Toby MacDonald and writer Freddy Syborn revealed how they made the leap from shorts to features with their charming debut indie ‘Old Boys.’ 
Toby MacDonald and Freddy Syborn in conversation with Cath Le Couteur
  • In July, we were joined by BAFTA-winning actress, writer & director Jessica Hynes (‘Years and Years’, ‘Spaced’) and breakout star Alex Lawther (‘The End of the F***ing World,’ ‘The French Dispatch’) who spoke about their careers across the crafts. 
Jessica Hynes and Alex Lawther discussing their careers with Cath Le Couteur
Peter Strickland in conversation with Cath Le Couteur during NEW SHOOTS

I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun & felt so much love at a Q&A. Spending time with fellow enthusiasts who love film & filmmaking was inspiring & uplifting – Shooting People is an incredible, vital organisation for all filmmakers and I’m so grateful I got to be part of it.” Jessica Hynes (Actor, Writer & Director ‘Years and Years’, ‘Spaced’) 

NEW SHOOTS: FILMMAKERS. INDUSTRY SUPPORT AND MORE. 

SP’s film competition supports filmmakers by providing top industry mentorship and a whole bunch of amazing kit and prizes. Any member can enter and the competition is open four times a year. Check out our 2019 winners and their fabulous shorts:

Members of SP can view ALL films submitted, as well as seeing which region members are based in and what collaborations they are currently looking for. 

NEW SHOOTS: ACTORS 

This year we also launched a new competition specifically for Actors. We know how hard it can be for actors to build a sustainable career and we wanted to provide a way for them to have access to a huge bunch of free kit, as well as a cash grant to help with things like training, audition travel and voice coaching. Congrats to 2019’s first round winner Trevor Kaneswaran and the other 9 shortlisted SP actors. This competition is open twice a year to members, so keep your eyes peeled on the casting bulletin!

SCRIPT PITCH & PRODUCTIONS

Script Pitch is SP’s home for screenwriters to Pitch their Scripts directly to directors and producers. Currently members can browse over 400 short film scripts, and 425 feature film scripts across an array of genres, to find scripts they’d like to make or collaborate on. This year fantasy, comedy, horror and micro budget pitches have been particularly popular. 

There are also 120 paid jobs on the production board right now, and over the year countless collaborations were formed and films were made – have a look to see what’s out there for you. 

GO SHOOTERS

Shooting People would not exist without the incredible community support that members give to each other. Whilst we know that making a film is in itself a huge accomplishment, we wanted to shout about some of the fabulous achievements our members have had this year:

9 members were nominated for The 2019 British Independent Film Awards:

  • Ninian Doff (‘Boyz in the Wood’)- Debut Director
  • Fyzal Boulifa (‘Lynn & Lucy’)- Debut Director
  • Harry Wootliff (‘Only You’)- Debut Director & Debut Screenwriter
  • Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor (‘Blue Story’)- Breakthrough Producer
  • Zed Nelson (‘The Street’)- Raindance Discovery Award
  • Shelly Love (‘A Bump Along the Way’)- Raindance Discovery Award
  • Jeanie Finlay (‘Seahorse’)- Best Documentary
  • Asif Kapadia (‘Diego Maradona’)- Best Director & Best Documentary
  • Edward Watts (‘For SAMA’)- Best Independent Film, Best Director & Best Documentary

Hetain Patel won the Film London Jarman Award 2019 and its £10,000 prize.

Jonathan Hodgson’s film ‘Roughhouse’ won the BAFTA for Best British Animation.

Paul Taylor’s ‘The Blue Door’, was nominated for Best British Short Film at the BAFTAs.

Charlie Philips produced the Oscar nominated documentary short ‘Black Sheep’.

Dionne Edwards was chosen as one of Screen International’s Stars of Tomorrow 2019. 

11 shooters were named as Film London’s Lodestars, honouring the bright futures of 25 innovative filmmakers and craftspeople from across the capital. 

Anna Griffin, Naqqash Khalid and Fred Rowson all had projects selected for Creative England’s iFeatures 2019 Development Lab

For Sama’ by Edward Watts and Waad Al-Kateab racked up awards including Best Documentary at Cannes and the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary as well as the Audience Award at SXSW. 

26 members screened at Edinburgh Film Festival, including Ninian Doff whose debut feature ‘Boyz in the Wood‘ opened the festival.

Hannah Currie was nominated for the 2019 BAFTA Student Film Awards.

127 members screened films at London Short Film Festival 2019.

Producer Sarah Brocklehurst is one of 20 newcomers nominated for BAFTA’s Breakthrough Brits 2019

Diego Maradona‘ by Asif Kapadia screened in cinemas nationwide after premiering at Cannes. 

Marco Alessi was awarded the Crystal Bear Special Mention in the Generation awards at the Berlinale, for his film ‘Four Quartets’.

XY Chelsea’ by Tim Travers Hawkins screened in cinemas nationwide. 

10 members screened at Sundance Film Festival 2019, including Shola Amoo’s ‘The Last Tree’. 

Writer/Director Benjamin Bee and Writer/Director Jesse Lawrence were both awarded the talent development grant, John Brabourne Award.

‘Radio Blackout’ by shooter Matt Houghton is one of seven projects selected from more than 400 applications from 63 countries to participate in Assembly – a new creative documentary feature development lab.

‘The Silent’, a film crewed through Shooting People, won best short film (16+) at the Film the House Awards in the Houses of Parliament. 

Rehana Rose released her debut feature documentary ‘Dead Good’ in UK cinemas.

Ewa Banaszkiewicz and Mateusz Dymek’s debut feature ‘My Friend the Polish Girl’, screened in select UK cinemas.

Zed Nelson’s debut feature documentary ‘The Street’ was released in cinemas in November 2019.

8 shooters were nominated for the Iris Prize 2019, the largest LGBT+ short film prize in the world.

Abigail Blackmore was named the Screen FrightFest Genre Rising Star 2019 for her debut feature ‘Tales From the Lodge‘.

Little Green Street‘ by Alexandra Queen screened at the ‘Tate Inside Job Collective’ Exhibition at the Tate Modern London.

Anna Griffin, Margaret Milner and Paula Vaccaro were selected for the first ever European Co-production Weekender.

13 members screened at Sheffield Doc/ Fest 2019.

31 shooters screened at Encounters Film Festival 2019.

34 shooters screened at Underwire Festival 2019.

17 members screened at BFI London Film Festival 2019.

Tristan Loraine’s documentary feature ‘Everybody Flies’ premiered at the Raindance Film Festival.

10 members screened at Leeds International Film Festival 2019.

10 members screened at Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2019.

Kate Jessop, Anna Ginsburg, Andrea Vinciguerra and Max Hattler screened at the London International Animation Film Festival 2019.

Director Michael Lebor, producer Bash Balogun and editor Ben Hooton collaborated on the documentary ‘Buddy Goes to Nollywood‘ which screened as part of London Film Week 2019.

Tristan C. Anderson released  #SOUNDTRACKS. For each track on the album a factual short music video has been created.

With the help of the SP community, 92 year old Harold Rubin has created a cooking show  ‘Alive and Cooking.’

That’s just a snippet of all the cool stuff members have been doing this year, and here’s what some of them have said themselves:

Shooting People was a great introduction into the film world for me! Like-minded people, with links to resources, good advice and a network. It’s a great way to meet potential collaborators, cast and crew, and they do networking events.” – Alice Lowe (Director and Actress ‘Prevenge’)

I found my entire crew through Shooting People and they were all incredible professionals. I want to say a massive thank you to everyone involved on Shooting People, from the crew, to anyone who answered a question on the forum. You make this community what it is! I have made contacts and friends that I hope to work with for life”. – Kristopher Williams (Director/ Writer)

I’ve been able to work with filmmakers up and down the country, who got in contact with projects they were working on. I’ve been able to colour grade features, shorts, commercials and documentaries. Plus, I’ve had the opportunity to attend screenings all over the UK, including the BFI and BAFTA, and met tons of talented people! THANK YOU to this awesome community for kickstarting my career.” – Lee Robinson, Colourist.

Shooting People is a brilliant way to stay looped into the UK film industry and discover other film geeks in this disparate, online community.” – Dorothy Allen Pickard, Documentary Filmmaker

If you’re looking to connect with other cast and crew, and are keen to join a production or kickstart your own in the new year, then JOIN our community today. 

And finally, we’d like to say a huge thanks to all our fantastic members- you make the community what it is! And a big shout out to all of the patrons, speakers, judges, supporters and sponsors of New Shoots who enable it to happen: Zipcar, Rich Mix, BFI Network, Random Acts, Misfits Entertainment, Lightbox, Sennheiser, Final Draft, Rode, Mubi, Zoom and London Headshots

Have a fantastic Xmas and New Year.

SP 

Shooting People’s Summer Round-up

Posted July 30th, 2019 by dorothy

Shooting People has had a cracking first half of the year and we wanted to raise a glass to our amazing community and all their achievements. 

So far this year we’ve held three sold out NEW SHOOTS events. In January we welcomed writer, director and SP member Shola Amoo to speak about his incredible career and his Sundance-premiering feature film ‘The Last Tree.’ In April, BAFTA winning director Toby Macdonald and writer Freddy Syborn revealed how they made the leap from shorts to features with their charming debut indie ‘Old Boys.’ In July we were joined by BAFTA winning actress, writer & director Jessica Hynes (‘Years and Years’, ‘Spaced’) and breakout star Alex Lawther (‘The End of the F***ing World’) who spoke about their careers across the crafts. Each event was followed by networking, opening doors for new collaborations to be formed. 

GO SHOOTERS

Shooting People would not exist without our incredible community, and whilst we know that making a film is in itself a huge accomplishment, we wanted to shout about some of the amazing achievements our members have had so far this year. 

[] Jonathan Hodgson’s film ‘Roughhouse’ won the BAFTA for Best British Animation.

[] Paul Taylor’s ‘The Blue Door’, was nominated for Best British Short Film at the BAFTAs.

[] Charlie Philips produced the Oscar nominated documentary short ‘Black Sheep’.

[] Dionne Edwards has been chosen as one of Screen International’s Stars of Tomorrow 2019. 

[] 11 shooters have been named as Film London’s Lodestars, honouring the bright futures of 25 innovative filmmakers and craftspeople from across the capital. 

[] Anna Griffin, Naqqash Khalid and Fred Rowson all have projects selected for Creative England’s iFeatures 2019 Development Lab

[] ‘For Sama’ by Edward Watts and Waad Al-Kateab has been racking up awards including Best Documentary at Cannes and the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary as well as the Audience Award at SXSW. 

[] 26 members screened at Edinburgh Film Festival, including Ninian Doff whose debut feature ‘Boyz in the Wood‘ opened the festival.

[] Hetain Patel is nominated for the Jarman Award 2019. 

[] Hannah Currie is nominated for the 2019 BAFTA Student Film Awards.

[] 127 members screened films at London Short Film Festival 2019.

[] ‘Diego Maradona‘ by Asif Kapadia screened in cinemas nationwide after premiering at Cannes. 

[] Marco Alessi was awarded the Crystal Bear Special Mention in the Generation awards at the Berlinale, for his film ‘Four Quartets’.

[] ‘XY Chelsea’ by Tim Travers Hawkins screened in cinemas nationwide. 

[] 10 members screened at Sundance Film Festival 2019, including Shalo Amoo’s ‘The Last Tree’. 

[] ‘Radio Blackout’ by shooter Matt Houghton is one of seven projects selected from more than 400 applications from 63 countries to participate in Assembly – a new creative documentary feature development lab.

[] ‘The Silent’, a film crewed through Shooting People, has won best short film (16+) at the Film the House Awards in the Houses of Parliament. 

[] Rehana Rose released her debut feature documentary ‘Dead Good’ in UK cinemas.

[] 13 members screened at Sheffield Doc/ Fest 2019.

[] Ewa Banaszkiewicz and Mateusz Dymek’s debut feature My Friend the Polish Girl, is screening in select UK cinemas.

We love to hear about our members’ success stories; whether you found your cast and crew through SP, have been selected for a festival, or have a film that you’d like to share with the community, remember to post it into the Bulletins. If you’re not a member, you can JOIN our creative community today. We can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store. 

Keep on shooting,

SP

You’ve not heard the last of ‘The Last Jeff’

Posted June 13th, 2019 by dorothy

Whether you’re a writer, director, producer or an actor, you’re certainly sitting on a passion project you’d love to create or portray. Something very personal, something that keeps on returning in your wildest dreams waiting to be realised. 

Building this concept or story up, constantly changing, improving and waiting for the right time to share with the world is an art in itself. The more passionate we are about something, the easier it is to be disappointed, having built up our own expectations to at least the size of Mount Everest.

Ben Robins wrote ‘The Last Jeff’ prior to beginning his adventure with short films when he had little to no clue as to how to make it happen.

“I first wrote ‘The Last Jeff’ about 3 years ago whilst in-between things, before I had ever made anything properly, and with no real idea of how to make it happen. It was a pretty wild script, that mixed together all my anxieties about my relationship with my dad in particular, and experiences trying to navigate the many labyrinths of the NHS’s barely existent mental health support networks. Naturally, it was a comedy, because:
A. I’m very bad at taking things seriously,
B. The filmmakers that seemed to influence the idea the most were comedians Alice Lowe and Roy Andersson.”

Knocking the script onto the shelf, Ben went on to create his first short, ‘Losing It’, a dark, weird comedy, created with the support of the shortFLIX scheme which taught him the ropes and allowed for ‘Losing It’ to be premiered on Sky Arts. 

Whilst ‘Losing It’ was making its festival circuit, Ben began redrafting and repackaging ‘The Last Jeff’, trying to find fitting and passionate crew and cast on the go. As a long-term Shooter, Ben tried his luck in the Script Pitch, getting a response from directors and actors.

Whilst on the hunt for a producer to keep the project going, Ben reached out directly to the community, finding a post from Michael Peers in the Ask section, who was hoping to produce his first narrative piece:

“I figured I’d kick myself if I didn’t at least try, so I reached out with my own comment with my email, and trying to distill the whole film into as short and punchy a line as possible (I can’t remember how I described it exactly, but it was definitely something like “there’s a naked guy running around who thinks it’s the end of the world”) and low and behold, he came back to me pretty much straight away”

One thing led to another, many discussions and drinks later they got the project off the ground.

One can dream of making a film without any regard for budgets and resources, but you’ll need at least some cash to turn the idea into reality. While there is an abundance of funding available to emerging filmmakers (see our funding page), there are even more filmmakers in need of it. The idea of crowdfunding came to Ben when our very own Helen from SP recommended Ben to Kickstarter for bespoke crowdfunding support.

After packaging the project in the best wraps available: building reels and concept art (with the help of Cong Nguyen), reaching out to actors and managing to attach rising star Erin Doherty (‘Les Miserables’, ‘Call the Midwife’, ‘Wolfie’, soon to be in ‘The Crown’) and amazing crew members including Rachel Durance (‘Losing It’, ‘Ladies Day’, ‘Batty Boy’, ‘Yesterday’, ‘Assassin’s Creed’, ‘The Legend of Tarzan’, ‘Mute’, ‘Sorry We Missed You’), Adam Barnett (‘Two Graves’, ‘Losing It’, ‘They Found Her in a Field’); they’ve launched the campaign and managed to hit 13% of their target in the first 24h. 

So why are we talking about this? 

We’re chuffed that SP was able to lend a helping hand in bringing ‘The Last Jeff’ closer to becoming a reality, and with the invaluable guidance from the team at Kickstarter, Ben’s Kickstarter campaign is up & running and we’re hoping that you might be interested in finding out a bit more, supporting it in any way you can (financially or simply sharing with your peers) or becoming a future audience of Ben’s little passion comedy about the “naked guy running around who thinks it’s the end of the world” whilst struggling with the NHS and the mental health support system. 

London Headshots

Posted June 5th, 2019 by dorothy

Much has been said about first impressions. High quality self tapes and headshots are crucial in landing a casting or audition.

So what makes a good headshot? John Godwin, the owner of London Headshots and internationally published advertising and advertorial photographer pins it down to appealing to the casting director on a personal level, i.e. simply looking friendly. The right lighting, individual character, presenting the range are all components of the photograph’s evocative character. 

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John brings out the confidence, the beauty and the unique characteristics of each actor, irrespective of how comfortable they are in front of a stills camera.

Whether you’re in need of new headshots or simply considering refreshing your current portfolio, John has a special offer for all Shooting People members of 20% off the Full Actors Headshot Package (fully priced at £250). The package includes a 90 minute studio session in South West London and a link to 4 x retouched hi-res images.

Launching New Shoots: Actors, our new competition designed specifically for actors to aid them in their career, we have teamed up with John to offer a headshot package as one of the prizes for our winner. Head over to New Shoots for more information. 

Now, Then.

Posted February 27th, 2019 by Ben

For many, if British cinema isn’t found on a Council estate then its only other residence will be a country estate sometime in the past… 

We look back on the whale bone tightened summers gone by through two alternate lenses. One familiarises, the other estranges. The past is either a foreign country, unreachable and unknowable, full of strict social rules and buried passions or instead it is delightfully just like now full of sexy messy people just unbuttoning better dresses. Neither view is truer. Both can be used to surprise, to refresh, to question or to comfort, to smooth and to simplify. 

For instance the first season of “The Crown” highlights Elizabeth’s transformation into a person not normal. It is vital as a result. However I found the second eventually falls back on the comforting idea that despite the sheer preposterousness of their existence, the royals of then are really just ordinary like you now. But whilst that idea diminishes their story, the same theme becomes livid and compelling in “Lady Macbeth” which details how a teenage girl in the 18th century would have been not so very unlike a teenage girl now. 

Of course both conceits are actually always true, simultaneously. If you really want to understand the actions of people from the past you have to constantly remember that they are always the same and not the same as you are today, all at once. A rare film that draws its energy from attempting to balance both ideas is the favourite historical movie of the moment. The personal and political politics of Queen Anne’s court are often presented in “The Favourite” as both unfathomably archaic and startlingly modern. Lanthimos grotesques both, the characters are more modern and their problems more arcane than any audience would believe as pure fact but he juggles both ideas to underpin the film’s queasy insanity. 

“The Favourite” is also a story of imprisonments. It presents a claustrophobic world full of traps. Again the tension between the foreign and native is key. The social strictures that bind the characters together are arcane but expressed as modern agonies. This gets to the heart of how historical story telling works. The dichotomy of such stories is that whether you wish to escape from the past or to it, you can’t. This cannot be your life but neither can you live a life disconnected from these stories, these people.

But the real choice for a filmmaker is whether to comfort or confront. Hilary Mantel, who knows something of writing about the past, once noted how often we infantilise historical characters. She suggests rendering Henry VIII as a messy eating toddler chucking bones over his shoulder is to comfort ourselves with our contemporary maturity. “The Favourite”, for all its monstrous rabbits, is not a film about grief or about women in power. It is not a film driven by mature emotions. Instead it is a morality tale about the corruptions of power in which its powerful women are always bound up in affairs of the heart rather than those of state. As is so often the case in successful British films about the past, the problems remain other people’s.

Sound & Fury.

Posted February 12th, 2019 by Ben

There are many false truisms about making films. Usually pithy, tough sounding aphorisms that reek of machismo and defy challenge like “No one knows anything” (obviously not true) or “Kill your darlings” (speaking as a father this is definitely questionable). Perhaps the most bankrupt is “If you want to send a message use Western Union”. 

Attributed to, amongst others, Humphrey Bogart, Marlon Brando, Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway, George Bernard Shaw, and Samuel Goldwyn, it’s a dictum used to warn against explicit sermonising in art (which makes Bernard Shaw and Brando unlikely originators). Whilst usually employed in the noble task of encouraging writers to avoid being monotonously didactic it nevertheless makes my teeth ache. Stories have a message. It can be simple, obvious, incoherent, unwitting or contradictory but all films eventually implore the audience to reach some conclusion about their events. Films are also an astonishingly powerful delivery mechanism. I mean despite the best rhetorical efforts of Voltaire, Lord Melbourne, Winston Churchill and both Presidents Roosevelt, to date it is definitely the Spider-man movie franchise that has been the most successful method of promulgating the idea that “with great power comes great responsibility”.

I have though recently noticed a seam of nearly apolitical films. This is especially surprising since many at first glance appear to be the heirs of British cinema’s long tradition of very overtly political social realist cinema. I am not going to call out specific films or filmmakers because I’m less interested individual cases than considering the general cause. However, I’m referring to a number of films from recent years that use all the genre trappings of the films of Loach or Leigh but that elegantly avoid ever actually meaning anything.

Present are the struggling working class families, the kids who slip through the cracks, the remorselessly downbeat stories. Often present too are the towering performances from both freshly discovered untrained actors and our country’s finest character performers. They howl and crumble, haunted by demons of hard real life; these are often genuinely great performances captured in grainy film or tangy cheap video, usually beneath dirty strip lights or bathed in a saintly lens flare. Every frame assures you that you are watching some urgent message from real Britain now. Yet, unlike Ken Loach, who never once forgets to show both the actual cause and potential solution to the problems he puts on screen, these films exist in a universe without cause or effect.

All too often I watch these films and they tell me that it’s hard being poor because poor people drink and gamble and take drugs and fight and cry and sleep around and abuse their kids and it’s probably ok because wild animals exist as well and that’s beautiful. These films seem angry about the lives they depict but their fury is unanchored, as if these problems were just a big awful fact we can do nothing about. With the divisions in our society more starkly and dangerously exposed than any time in the last two hundred years, our political cinema is as posturing and vacuous as our political class.

By contrast American cinema is seeing a wellspring in films that are fun, populist, artistically bold and built fundamentally around social and political positions that are genuinely provocative. “Get Out”, “Sorry To Bother You”, “Blackkklansman”, all leap to mind as films that delight in entertaining whilst simultaneously grabbing the audience by the shoulders and trying to shake them awake.

All films have a message and no medium is better than film at sharing one. Voltaire and Spider-man are both on the money, with great power comes great responsibility – you see, the message you send isn’t necessarily the one you intend. For many people these kitchen-sink-estate movies are still what they think of when they say “British movies”. For many the message given is that these aren’t films for you – they are films about you. The message is not that we care, but that we like to watch.

Some Notes.

Posted February 6th, 2019 by Ben

“The customer is always right”. What could be more British than this shopkeeper’s battle cry which quietly means nearly the opposite of what it seems. The hidden wisdom here is not that customers possess a perfect understanding of their needs or how best to fulfil them, but that it benefits the vendor to indulge any belief that they might. The privilege of feeling right, or rather of remaining unchallenged in our errors, is part of the power we gain when we agree to foot the bill.

For filmmakers this should simply remind us that debating the merits or coherence of, say, “Venom” or “The Greatest Showman”, is a matter for the pub. If audiences want to pay to spend time with a film then that in some way benefits all of us, and trying to dissuade them in no way benefits any of us. That said, when it comes to art both high and entertaining, the joy of remaining unchallenged in our beliefs is wrongly felt more as a right of birth than a benefit of purchase. Within the industry there is also often a very genuine confusion over who the customer actually is.

For a screenwriter the ineffable customer isn’t the cinema going public. They pay their ticket money to a cinema, who in turn give a portion to a distributor who, through a series of baroque accounting measures will eventually share a portion not necessarily related to their actual profit margin with the film’s sales company who will have usually already paid some sort of up front fee to the film’s production company who will then be bound to repay the investors who have, hopefully, long since paid the screenwriter what will most likely be the only financial reward they will see for their work. For screenwriters the consequence of this is very simple, the customer is whoever authorises payments to your producer. You have an idea, they give you notes, you makes those notes work, they pay you.

In this process the most complicated position is actually held by anyone giving notes. If you are giving notes you usually feel like a member of the audience (infallibility intact). However, in strict economic terms you’re in resales. Your financial responsibility is not to yourself but your customers, the sales agents or the distributors who you hope will purchase the film from you. As much as you may want to sit in the privileged seat of the audience member, unchallenged in your responses to the work, that is not your chair.

Since returning to this blog I’ve written exclusively about the culture of filmmaking in the light of #metoo and all that went with it. This theme normally maps out the territory of urgent contemporary issues like representation and abuse. So it may seem odd to end with something as banal as bad notes. However all these posts address the nature of power in the creative process, its abuse, its imbalance and its illegitimate hoarding. Notes are the basic way we communicate the creative and commercial force of our ideas and nothing is more expressive of the lazy bias and blinkered self delusion that still plagues us. From this soil grow the obstacles to us all telling better and more interesting stories. Bad notes may only be plankton but they still feed whales. 

The English abroad are famous for bridging a language gap by simply repeating themselves slowly and loudly, as if the failure of comprehension was purely on the part of the poor fool who didn’t speak the language of Shakespeare. I find myself doing the same thing when I give bad notes.

It’s an empathy failure, I’m thinking only of my own responses, rather than looking for what I might have missed. Having noticed this failure in others, I try now to start by establishing what the author of the work, the writer, the editor, the actor, thinks they themselves are trying to achieve. This helps shine a light on what I missed. Of course I probably missed it because they expressed it badly but suddenly the notes are addressing the core problems of their communication, rather than simply listing all the reasons why I’m feeling let down or underlining all the ways in which I feel I’m better than them.

Notes should expose the shortcomings of the work (be that first draft, fourth take, or nearly picture locked edit), notes need to be critical and they don’t need to be polite (though this costs nothing). Bad notes are not the ones that hurt but the ones that don’t seek to help. Any that attempt to reserve the power of not being challenged in turn. Any note of the sort “I just don’t like it”. Any that either refuses a “because” or offers only “because that’s what I wrote” or “that’s not how it’s done”. Any note that demands things shorter without suggesting cuts or cheaper without sharing the budget. To return to the economic view, any note that attempts to speak purely as a customer without accepting that by giving a note you are rolling up your sleeves and joining the creative process as a worker.

It’s All Your Fault.

Posted January 25th, 2019 by Ben

The contrast has increased. We live through screens and in 4k resolution issues that used to be black and white now howl their outrage in super whites and deepest blacks. Your opinions are not just wrong, they make you wrong. You are wrong and I hate you. 

Believe it or not dear reader, I used to use Shooting People to shoot my mouth off. But arguments stop being fun when every position is instantly reduced to outrage and offence. Collectively we have forgotten that to explain is not to excuse. To understand is not to justify. And to make no attempt to do either is to perpetuate problems, not to solve them.

I’ve written a lot recently about examples of directors abusing their power, both on set and in auditions. These are, of course, not the only ways the artistic authority granted to a cinematic auteur can create tyrants of even the sweetest of us. Film crews endure the black moods, the sharp tongued put downs, the open humiliations and the occasionally life threatening working conditions that are so often justified as the inevitable fall out from the quest for perfection. But for most directors bad behaviour has a simpler cause than the extravagant myopia of their own creative vision. Like children being cruel to their pets, directors are often dish out shit because they’ve spent too long taking it from everyone else.

Remember, to explain is not to excuse, to understand is not to justify… For many, for most, a director’s life is one of pure precariousness. A choice between sacrificing any financial security to create your own work in obscurity or becoming the paid scapegoat for the dull and unworkable ideas of other people. Making a film is a slow, intransigent, capricious process and unlike cast or crew who move from project to project within months, a director will carry a film for years, often decades before shooting and will never escape it once completed. Those demands and mistakes you took reluctant possession of are ghosts that will never be exorcised. If you’re really lucky, millions will take to twitter to call you a failed human just because you made Luke Skywalker milk a space cow.

Possibly a metaphor.

Besides a few notable exceptions, producers take less public blame for the failures of their work, even those springing directly from their own lunacy. However they also struggle to ever get anything like the due recognition for their work’s success, even when almost entirely down to their own sublime insight. As a result producers and directors are caught in a ghastly mirror dance, each performing an authority neither has. When powerless people who act like Gods are given a moment’s real control over, say, the employment opportunities of a group of emotionally vulnerable but very attractive young people, the results can be appalling, but not unpredictably so.

To explain is not to excuse, to understand is not to justify. The illegal and abusive behaviours of producers and directors that caused a landslide within our industry, within our culture, are individual acts of personal monstrousness. It is worth reflecting though that they issue from a creative culture where the authors of the work are often as powerless as the audience sat at screens pouring their rage into social media timelines because SOMEONE MADE A MOVIE AND I DIDN’T ENJOY IT AND NOW I AM STILL ALIVE AND IT’S AWFUL SO FUCK YOU YOU FUCKS.

Despite the hashtags, the making of movies remains a process formulated on dividing the creative act into two distinct and competing roles where each trades responsibility for their own mistakes for the task of coping with the consequences of the other’s failure. What better environment for monstrous personalities to remain unaccountable for their behaviour?