Leilani Holmes is a very supportive and active member of the independent film community, and has become a good friend. And so, when I heard she was producing a short film, Clowning Around, I immediately took interest. I met Leilani at BAFTA last year, when she was screening one of her own excellent short films along with several other filmmakers, one of them being Damien Cullen. I enjoyed their hugely, and believe they are filmmakers well worth supporting. Below, I have posted a Q & A Carlo Ortu, and a link to the film's fundraising page. Best, James.
Matthew Jure and Bill ThomasIn the past I've carried out interviews with directors about their completed films. But not this time. This time I'm going to talk about a film that has yet to go into production because I hope that once you become aware of this project you'll do your bit to make sure this film gets made. So go on, read on.Written and directed by the massively talented Damien Cullen, the budget for the film is being raised through crowdfunding, which, if you're not familiar with the term, is a way to raise public money to fund a private venture through an internet donation campaign. As traditional funding routes and opportunities dry up many innovative filmmakers have started to turn to crowdfunding to raise the money for their projects and Damien is one such filmmaker who needs your help.I've known Damien a couple of years and we worked together on one of my own shorts, 'The Man Who Stopped', where Damien was a first class producer. Well, he's also a first class writer and director and I had a few words with him about 'Clowning Around'.
Damien CullenHi Damien and thanks for having this chat. So first off, what's 'Clowning Around' about?
'Clowning Around' is essentially about one man’s struggle to overcome his addiction and get his life back on track. It follows the journey of an old school clown Bonzo, formerly the best in town, who after a few hard months finds himself at the bottom of a bottle. After a phone call from the union which threatens to expel him unless he gets his act together, he decides to get his business and self respect back, taking on his local rival, a younger, hipper clown called Mr. Fernelli. I describe it as a bittersweet comedy that has elements of slapstick, action and drama all thrown in too.Can you tell me a bit about your background?
After originally wanting to be an actor, I first started wanting to make films when I was doing 'A' Levels at college and then went to University at UWCN to do a BA Hons in Film and Video. After graduating from there, I took my graduation film to a few festivals but couldn't seem to get regular work on anything other than for expenses, so worked in a few pubs whilst I figured out what to do. I then found a course at ARTTS in North Yorkshire whose motto was that it had "94% of graduates working in the industry" so studied Production in TV, Film, Theatre and Radio there for a year before being asked to stay and work there for a year as well, running studios, film shoots, theatre shows and helping sort anything technical, as well as schedule the course.Since leaving ARTTS in 2005, I have worked at Talkback Thames, Prospect Pictures, North One Television and Endemol Sport as an asstistant producer, producer/director, camera operator and editor, all the while continuing to make short films of a very high quality and have over a dozen on my CV now, most prominently as director and producer, with the films being shown as a variety of festivals across Europe, Asia and The Americas and gaining distribution online and you can check them all out (as well as me!) at www.damiencullen.co.ukWhat are your plans for the film?
The aim for the film is to create something very ambitious and visual around a very simple human story, that will be both very cinematic and highly engaging for an audience. Once the film is completed we want to get the film shown in festivals on each of the seven continents as it is globally appealing and I like to push to get the most out of every film I do to reward all the hard work everyone is putting into it. The last project I did for North One Television sent me all around the world and that, combined with our international crew, has made me determined to send this film as far and wide as possible so it can have the maximum impact a short film can have and showcase all the talent we have onboard.Who's in the cast and crew?
We have a fantastically experienced cast and crew, starting with our lead actor Bill Thomas, who has been in pretty much every mainstream UK TV show there is! We then have Matthew Jure who appeared in 'Waking the Dead' and the 'Day. V. Lately' Yell.com ads so is becoming a recognisable face on TV screens as well and a great actor to work with. Crew wise we have producers Leilani Holmes and Graham Inman, who both worked on the Chris Jones short film 'Gone Fishing' as well Elsa O'Toole and Mike Baxter. The rest of the crew are a mix of new faces and people I have worked with on my previous projects, including the ridiculously talented DOP Azul Serra, Art Director Bianca Turner, costume designer Katerina Dipla, 1st AD Greer McNally and Makeup Designer Kirsty Phillips.You're trying to raise the money via crowdfunding. Can you tell me about that?
The idea to crowd fund via IndieGoGo came from producer Leilani Holmes. After we had developed the script for a few years and as we were getting great feedback and enthusiasm from those who read it on the online forum at www.ottfilms.co.uk we thought it would be great to carry this collaborative element into the funding and production process. Leilani has a lot of experience in utilising social network tools and is a noticeable contributor to the online filmmaking community. By using IndieGoGo we have been able to speak directly to our audience and build a relationship with all the other filmmakers out there across the globe as well as helping us to create a strategy and improve our ‘selling’ skills as in this highly competitive industry, you have to be able to make your project stand out and show why people should want to see it. You can’t just have a great script and expect it to get made, you have to show the faith, commitment and enthusiasm (as well as think a little outside the box) you have for it to convince people to part with their hard-earned cash. We have had a fantastic start to our campaign (which launched on July 19th) and raised $1517 in the first five days so now need to keep our backers so far engaged in the process, as well as seek new ones to raise the rest of our funding which we have set at $7500 by August 23rd.How can people get involved?
We have a number of ways people can get involved in the project, firstly by visiting our IndieGoGo page at www.indiegogo.com/clowningaroundfilm and checking out (and hopefully contributing to!) all we are doing. There is a main video there explaining the project as well as the various perks we have made available for people who want to be part of it and info about all those involved in the film and our goals. We also have a website at www.clowningaroundfilm.com which has more detailed background about all the cast and crew, plus videos and blogs all cast and crew have been contributing to and images we created on a stills shoot to publicise the film and show the visual and ambitious nature of it. From these stills we will also be running an online poster competition for people to enter and design the poster for us, judged by big hitters in the Indie Filmmaking community including Chris Jones, Ben and Chris Blaine and Chris Patmore, which will further raise the profile of the project. In order to really allow people to get involved, from contributing even just one dollar, you can become a part of our private online forum and get exclusive updates and info as well as discuss the film and your own projects as well. You can also follow us on Twitter @summit-nuthinWhat are your plans for the future?
My current plan is to make 'Clowning Around' my last short film before branching into feature filmmaking and so that is why we are trying to show how big it can be and make the most impact whilst showing how good we are at telling unique and compelling stories. By creating an audience interested in our work too, this will serve us well when looking for funding in the future and showing what we can do with little to no budget at our disposal. Saying that, I do have two other short scripts which are ready to be made, so I guess we will see how 'Clowning Around' goes and where I feel my next steps should be as I tend to take things one step at a time and life can change drastically in such a short space of time so I like to keep my options open.Clowning Around on Indiegogo
http://www.indiegogo.com/clowningaroundfilmAnd here's Carlo Ortu's original post.
Sunday, 31 July 2011
Saturday, 30 July 2011
Kevin Smith on Twitter earlier..."Crowd distribution, self distribution or Indie 2.0? http://t.co/tDyB9SH " Dude called me arrogant for NOT spending on marketing Isn't it more arrogant to say "SPEND 10 TO 20 MILLION TO SELL MY 4 MILLION DOLLAR MOVIE!" Also the author branches into fiction when he says I "alienated most of Hollywood". How is this even remotely true? I'm making two TV shows with "Hollywood". The author lives in the UK; how could he possibly know what "Hollywood" is thinking? He says my model works for me only, then deems corporate sponsorship of film to be "smart thinking". So strange to write for a publication called THE INDEPENDENT and write something so sheepishly dumb. This hack calls me arrogant for self-distributing; I call him a shit writer and a corporate boot-lick. Now THAT reads likes smart (and true) thinking. Via @Adolfo_Acosta "why give this jackass more press?" I know. It just bugs me. I spend all of my time telling people that ANYONE can do what I do. And this ass-hat wants to dismiss it as only for some. Why not encourage EVERYBODY to go for it? If an "arrogant" idiot like me can make it work, why not YOU? But shitters like this would rather tell you it's "smart" to have corporate sponsorship, over simply DOING IT YOURSELF. I've spent the last 20 years trying to empower the audience because I WAS the audience. And this cry-baby bitch with a platform to an audience - who could also potentially encourage and empower them to whimsy chase & get it done OUTSIDE any system - instead DISCOURAGES; simply because he's still mad that his free press screening was canceled. Fuck this toad. Why be discouraging? Even if you HATE my guts, why not USE that to say "If fat, stupid, Kev Smith can do this, how can we NOT try it? The man's a fool & a tool, so we've got a real shot too!" But instead, "smart thinking" is to go with your hand-out to brand names in order to tell your personal story, instead of doing it yourself."
Friday, 29 July 2011
Wednesday, 27 July 2011
Two things happened in the last couple of weeks which got me thinking about acting and writing. Firstly, I finished writing a feature length screenplay which I started work on 21 months ago, in October 2009. I abandoned work on it last August, telling myself that, after 11 months of slog and with still no end in sight, I “couldn't” write it, that it was “beyond my ability”, hard luck but well done, now the only correct course of action would be to quit, hope no-one notices, and put it down to experience. Let me qualify that by saying that although I would not describe myself as a “writer”, I have written a bunch of full length stage plays and screenplays over the years, along with dozens of shorter pieces (two of my plays have been presented before a paying public, and I have produced a number of shorter works, although I have never produced a feature film). My point is that I did not walk away from it because I thought I couldn't write screenplays in general, I just couldn't write that particular screenplay – it got to the point where even thinking about working on it created enormous feelings stress within me, that's how helpless I felt in the face it. However, this month an intuition lead me back to this abandoned screenplay, and after opening the file and reading what I had already written, I saw that there was nothing wrong with it, all I had to do was finish off the last couple of scenes, and the script would be complete, and since I knew exactly what those scenes needed to be, it was simply a question of sitting down and literally writing them out. I did, and now, as I say, the screenplay is whole, and, for the life of me, I don't know what all the fuss was about.
The other thing that happened was that I had been chatting to an actor who was moaning about his lack of employment, and his lack even of the possibility of employment. I asked him why didn't he write and stage his own play, to wit he looked at me as though I had just landed from Mars. My comment to him was not linked to the completion of my own script, I certainly wasn't thinking about that when I said it, it's just that the idea of producing your own work is such an obvious one: when an actor complains about his lot, what he is really complaining about is his lack of control, therefore, he should give himself over to something that is in his control, namely mounting his own production. The actor in question then went on and demanded to know how could he possibly write a play. And I'm sure other actors say similar things all the time.
Let me ask you a question: if a director asks you to improvise a scene, could you do it? If the answer is yes, then you can write a play, because all a play is is an improvisation which is written down. The only difference is that once you have written the improvisation down, you can re-craft it, if you so choose that is. If you were in the rehearsal room or on set, and you were asked to improvise, you'd go for it and be damned, you wouldn't sit around worrying about it. At the very worst, you'd look at what you'd done, and work out how you might improve it. You may even look at your improvisation and try to see a pattern in order to make sense of it - and the longer we improvise for, the more far reaching is the pattern, therefore our ability to understand it and draw a conclusion improves, which in turn enables us to shape the material still further. This is exactly the same as writing a film or play. Try it. Just write some dialogue, then look at whatever you've got, and try to workout what you think is going on, and then continue your work accordingly. I remember Harold Pinter saying how, when starting work on a new play, he would only start with a few lines of dialogue, draw a conclusion from it, and go on from there.
Time spent in a wine bar moaning about employment, could be time spent writing, and if you write for long enough, eventually you'll end up with a completed script. Then you can employ yourself. And if there's anyone out there thinking about writing drama, but was intimidated, or even if it never occurred to them, I hope my simplification may offer a humble starting point. I'll certainly look to take my own advice in future.
Monday, 25 July 2011
Check out this fabulous clip from Skolimowski's Walkover, about an aimless would-be boxer. The film looks stunning, and remarkably, Skolimowski also plays the lead character of Andrzej.
Note the stunning jazz score by Andrzej Trzaskowski.
Saturday, 23 July 2011
I recently watch Szindband, a Hungarian film from 1971 which has been available in the UK for the first time by the Second Run DVD label, about a middle aged man remembering the loves of his life. The film completely and features some of the most astounding imagery, mind blowing at times, I found it difficult to absorb at times, and plan repeat viewing. The trailer doesn't feature English subtitles but the DVD itself does.
Thursday, 21 July 2011
Wednesday, 20 July 2011
"look for the truth and tell it" - Harold Pinter
Dirk Bogarde is a great actor. A great actor. He shows us that a person walking through a hallway can be a work of art. Admittedly, I know less about his earlier work, when he was mainly doing light populist pictures like the “Doctor” series, therefore, when I think of Bogarde, I think of his work with Basil Dearden, his two films with Luchino Visconti, Death In Venice and The Damned, where he co-starred with Charlotte Rampling and Ingrid Thulin. Then there was The Night Porter again with Rampling, and his collaborations with Joseph Losey, The Accident and The Servant, both scripted by Harold Pinter (Bogarde being a natural Pinter actor: austere, urbane, intense, ironic). That wonderful haunted face, an innate oddness, along with that star quality we might call energy, meant that Bogarde cut a compelling figure on screen, and all of which was given expression by Bogarde's technical mastery, he is an actor in complete control of his instrument, a real maestro of acting. Rarely have we seen an actor capable of delivering such intensity of expression with such precision and clarity. And of course, the cherry on top is that wonderful speaking voice with it's force and immaculate diction.
The great voice coach, Cicely Berry, tells us that a deterioration in speech is the first sign that a person is ill at ease with what they are saying – it' the stumbling and the mumbling, and the speaking too fast. I say this deterioration is brought about by the speaker's lack of conviction in what he is saying, it is infact a symptom of a lie, the speaker does not believe what it is they are saying, which leads to the uneasiness. The rules of life are the same on stage as they are off, and yet we are told that the actor who mumbles and stutters, and stumbles over words, who adds words that aren't in the script, who says the same line twice even though it is written only once, and who huff, blow, puff and fluff before they say a line, do so in the interests of “realism”. This is nonsense. The actor who muddies the waters with the above listed gak, does so because he is lying to us, and he waffles along hoping the audience doesn't notice, but of course the audience does notice, but they choose to ignore it because they want to have a good time and they're not about to let an incompetent actor spoil it for them.
This is a long long way from Dirk Bogarde, who knows exactly what he is saying, and means every word, there's no vaguery here. It is troubling to fully commit to something, and it requires courage, because you are putting your own self-regard on the line. Perhaps, when analyzing our scene in the script it is easier to skip over that beat we are unsure of, afterall, a script analysis which encompasses every single line requires a discipline of thought which may not be appetizing to many, and we may even kid ourselves that it will magically just snap into place, the acting fairies will sort it for us in the middle of the night. No. I say it's better to make the effort, to work thoroughly and rigorously on our voice, on our speech, and on our commitment to our action, so that when we step before the camera, or upon the stage, we can, in the words of James Cagney, look the other fella in the eye and tell the truth.
Tuesday, 19 July 2011
Friday, 15 July 2011
Wednesday, 13 July 2011
“What makes a fruitful collaboration?” - Ted Hope.
The above question is one of 25 plus questions Ted Hope asked new filmmakers to answer on his blog this week. Most of the questions are equally apt when put to an actor, and instead of trying to answer all of his questions, I have tried to answer the above question only. Collaboration is extremely important to me, and I have experienced many which have been fruitful, and for me, fruitful means that the end product was work I was proud of, that it advanced my interests, that turning up for work each day was a joy, and that I come away really wanting to work with my collaborators again. I have also experienced collaborations where the opposite was true.
But what are the defining characteristics of fruitful collaborations?
Well, firstly, mutuality - each individual in the production sees that the success of the production as a whole, serves their own personal goals. When an individual ceases to think that the production is serving their goals, their energy and enthusiasm drop, they are less amenable, possibly surly, they seem unhappy, and complain (and worse in extreme examples). Of course, the opposite is true when the individual believes in the production, they are focused, energised and have an enormous appetite for work, they enjoy the work even if it's extremely demanding, and we generally produce better results when we enjoy what we are doing. Therefore, the actor has a responsibility to choose to do work he actually wants to do, rather than doing something simply because he was offered a job – there's no point moaning when you find yourself in the wrong place as a result of your own choosing. And how can an actor choose which work to do, and which work to leave alone? By defining his perfect work and measuring everything against that definition, and it's really not that hard to do: what are your favourite films? Your favourite plays? Which parts are you burning to do? Who are your favourite actors? And what are they doing that makes them your favourite? When you get scripts for an audition, which ones excite you, and which ones seem like a drag? It's knowing what you enjoy doing, and why.
Respect for your colleagues is another component of fruitful collaboration, and I don't mean respect in the platitudinal sense of “respect your elders”, I mean that the respect comes naturally; you respect your colleagues for who they are, the work they've done, the way they conduct themselves, the things they say. Again, being around people we respect energizes us, it encourages us to improve, we want to be at our best, and we produce better work, which, in turn, creates a feeling of self-respect, which leads to ever greater accomplishment, and therefore constant improvement. And of course, all of this is underpinned by conduct; whether you have the discipline to keep time, learn lines*, prepare correctly, and if you're going to speak, it's making sure you've got the strength of mind to articulate what you want to say concisely and precisely as opposed to self-indulgent waffle (which other people will allow you to get away with because they are well mannered), and it's making sure you mean what you say, and if you say you're going to do something, then make sure you do it – ensure your words carry meaning. All of this builds trust, and trust is utterly crucial for a fruitful collaboration – again: think about a time when you have worked with someone you don't trust, and think of a time when you've worked with someone you do trust, and note the difference. Ethical conduct and good manners are extremely important in building trust.
And support your collaborators even if they are working on something that you are not involved with. See if you can help them succeed, or even offer a display of encouragement, which, in this era of social media, can mean something as simple and effortless as sharing their work with your own friends. Check in with them, continue conversations in between work – this can be really invaluable, it's a form of work, even if it means just discussing films (etc) you admire, it helps to stay tuned in to eachothers' wave length.
In the end, a fruitful collaboration stems from a group of people who cherish what they do, and are committed to all that that implies. I say we must cherish our work, for me, there is no point doing anything else, as Stanislavsky said; if you don't love it, don't touch it.
What do you think?
*I'm slightly amazed that I'm even having to mention learning lines, many moan about it as though they being treated unfairly, and some just lack the discipline to knuckle down and learn them: if you haven't got the discipline to learn lines, you probably haven't got the discipline to be an actor.
Tilda Swinton got her big break by collaborating, read me blog, "Become That Person You've Been Looking For". http://thegreatactingblog.posterous.com/become-that-person-youve-been-looking-for
An here's Ted Hope's original blog 25+ Things I Want To Know From New Filmmakers
Saturday, 9 July 2011
Friday, 8 July 2011
Wednesday, 6 July 2011
All this bullshit among actors who get scared that a colleague might outdo them professionally, or outshine them in the work, is really just that: bullshit. If your fellow actor is playing the scene brilliantly, don't fume and politic (and I've come across plenty of actors who do), let it be a invitation to self-improvement. And support your colleagues in their careers any way you can; share information, promote them - step outside the cult-of-self for a moment and you might find your life and work become more pleasurable. The most miserable and bitter actors I come across, are this way because they are only happy when someone is kissing their ass, and as someone is only kissing their ass a small percentage of the time, they spend most of their life being miserable and bitter. They hate actors who excel at their work and try to drag them down rather than meet their standard, and they think the whole art of acting exists merely as a mechanism for expressing their own specialness (because mummy and daddy did or did not tell them they were special). However, the other type of actor, the one dedicated to aesthetics, need only turn to his work for refreshment, and not only is he uninterested in denigrating his colleagues, he tries to improve himself not only in his art, but also in his conduct, in order to build better rapport with his colleagues, and create a more productive working environment, an environment of trust and co-operation, and one where the understanding is that by serving the whole he is serving himself. Personally, I find collaborating with artists who I respect much more fulfilling than begging an apparent authority figure to like me, it's more productive too.
The contemporary actor is expected to behave like a child, who, so long as he switches his brain off and is cute and cuddly and does what he is told, he will be petted and coddled. Why? Because many are (secretly) intimidated by acting (and therefore actors themselves): acting is a mysterious business, it cannot be intellectualized, and it refuses to conform to the dictates of science, acting deals with matters of the soul on the one hand and is a physical art on the other. Acting is intensely creative. And so, in our age of reason, we simply say that actors are children and should be treated as such – it is a way of controlling that which we do not understand - and many actors accept the invitation to behave like a child because they think that that is what is expected of them, infact, some even become actors as they think it affords them the opportunity to continue being a child and thus dodge the demands of adulthood*. To behave like a three a year old and be spoon fed, is to relinquish responsibility, and it's safe, non-fulfilling, and unchallenging.
However, to take responsibility means making decisions – deciding who you're going to support, deciding who you're going to collaborate with, who you're going to say “yes” to and why, and in order to make those decisions in the first place, you must have a sense of what constitutes good and bad work, and that means aesthetics (articulation and employment of) and it's a real pain in the ass because it's time consuming, it's hard work, it requires commitment and self-denial, and if it goes wrong then you have no-one to blame but yourself. And so we can see the attraction of the childish path of just sitting there and awaiting instructions, that world where nothing really matters, where nothing is at stake. But if you take responsibility, you will be properly challenged, the demands will ensure honest self-examination in order to ensure that you can operate at your most effective for long periods of time, because you need to be able to, the 9 to 5 trundle just wont cut it. How hard are you willing to fight for the work you want to do? For the life you want to live? To be the person you want to be? To embody the values you hold dear?
*These actors usually quit once they see that the life of an actor is an extremely demanding one, and after they quit, they usually dismiss it as an art form and sneer that those who continue are wasting their time, however, they also say things like “but acting will always be with me”, both denying that acting is anything more than a disposition, and attempting to bask in the reflected glow of whatever romanticism is afforded the craft. “I am an artist, but I'm too sensitive to actually produce any work”.