The Cloud Machine – 20 minutes short film

FeaturedThe Cloud Machine – 20 minutes short film

The idea for The Cloud Machine came to me quite spontaneously a few years ago and, as soon as it did I remember experiencing that, not-so familiar,  feeling all artists are desperate for, when an idea seems to have a life of its own. I’m not going to tell you the ending of the film (because I don’t want to spoil it) but it does work well and has a really nice sense of completeness to it.

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Shannon and Finian – The Cloud Machine 

The film is pretty much a travelogue and tells the story of 2 children as they are reunited with this misfit father on a country journey to find (you guessed it) the Cloud Machine. Their father, Finian, is a storyteller who hasn’t really ‘made-it’ in a worldly sense but has an amazing imagination and takes his children on a journey into an imaginary world as well as on a  real journey. The conflict in the story, however, comes from his relationship with his 8 year old daughter, Shannon, who following his 1 year absence, has ceased to be the loving, imaginative girl he remembers but has become a cold and hard-nosed realist who hates story telling almost as much as she does her unreliable, story telling father.

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During the course of their journey, though, and their transition into imaginary realms – the barriers between Shannon, Finian and her small brother, Ciaran are broken down until, at the foot of the magnificent cloud machine, a new resolution is reached.

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“The Story Weaver’s Cottage” Location from the Cloud Machine… 

This is a film in the manner of Fellini’s “La Strada” or “Whistle Down The Wind” – and loosely fits into the magic realist genre – my absolute favourite genre – if it is one. Also, I would really like the movie to be a landscape film, something akin to Renoir’s “A Day in the Country” in this case the country being the beautiful woodlands south of Croydon (yes they really exist).pc9

A scene from “A Day in the Country” Jean Renoir 

Anyway, If you want to know more about the film or even pledge money to help us get it made  then please follow this link to our kickstarter page below:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thecloudmachine/the-cloud-machine?ref=email

 

 

Reflective Statement

Reflective Statement

The process of keeping a blog of the academic research I have conducted as part of my M.A. in Film and Television has been an extremely rewarding experience which has helped transform my creative process, from being something solely instinctive and at times unreliable, into something much more reflective, with closer ties to  my academic interests.

One example of this is how, at the start of my blog, I held a mixed-bag  of vague misgivings about mainstream cinema methodologies which I felt  might be somehow limiting the kind of film I could make. However, after time spent researching and writing blog entries focusing on the work of critical/film theorists, such as:- David Bordwell, Fredric Jameson, Louis Althusser, Mikhail Bakhtin, these initial misgivings and impressions have been replaced by a much clearer conceptual picture of  an unconscious and potentially  limiting aspect to cinematic production which I am now better equipped to avoid.

I have found, though, that as well as using my academic postings to confirm and boost my opinions and hunches, another extremely unexpected benefit of keeping the blog has been the way in which this period of sustained reflection and research has turned some of my cherished, half-formed beliefs on their heads. One example being how, at  the at the start of my blog, I was very sure that my final year film would be made following the traditions and conventions of a Neo-realist approach to filmmaking, favoured by directors such as Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Shane Meadows. However, after reflecting on my own earlier film work and by encountering film theories such as the ‘transcendental (film) style’ of Bresson and Ozu, as well as reading  Paolo Pasolini’s concepts  surrounding ‘free indirect discourse’ and ‘first-person film-making’, I have come to feel that a purely neorealist approach to filmmaking is potentially as restrictive as the mainstream approach to movie making I was looking to avoid.

As well as focusing on the work of theorists and academics I have found that having a place to store and reflect upon my own work has been hugely beneficial. I say this as often in the past I have had the tendency to dismiss the films and art pieces I have created as being the result of creative serendipity and chance. However, by sitting my past  work side-by-side in the context of  an academic blog, I have been able to detect themes that I was previously unaware of, which I can now develop as core elements of future film projects.

To conclude then, I feel that this excursion into critical and cultural thinking has given me an opportunity to assess the value of my own instincts and assumptions, ultimately acting as a consciousness raising exercise which has led me to a greater understanding of myself as a creator and filmmaker.

References 

Bordwell, D., & Dawson. (2006). The way hollywood tells it: Story and style in modern movies (1st ed.). Berkeley, Calif;London;: University of California Press.

Alvarez, J. L., Mazza, C., Pedersen, J. S., & Svejenova, S. (2005). Shielding idiosyncrasy from isomorphic pressures: Towards optimal distinctiveness in European filmmaking. Organization12(6), 863-888.

Morson, G. S., & Emerson, C. (1990). Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a prosaics. Stanford University Press.

Jameson, F. (1989). The political unconscious: Narrative as a socially symbolic act. London: Routledge.

Marx, K., & McLellan, D. (2000). Karl marx: Selected writings (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pasolini, P.P. (1965)  ‘The “Cinema of Poetry.”’ Heretical Empiricism. Trans. BenLawton and Louise K. Barnett. Washington: New Academia, 2005. 167-186.

“The Embrace” – idea for a short film using ‘free indirect discourse’

“The Embrace” – idea for a short film using ‘free indirect discourse’

This will all need to change radically! – but for now here is an idea which combines something of the neorealist styles of Andrea Arnold with the formalist approaches of Bergman or Godard. 


Log-line:  

A university security guard’s grip on reality begins to slip as he becomes increasingly convinced that a young lecturer is behaving suspiciously and needs to be brought to justice.

Tone/Genre 

“The Embrace” is a psychological thriller in the  manner of “Mulholland Drive” or “The Machinist”.

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Locations

The Embrace will be shot on campus at Hertfordshire University.

Visual Style 

The film will have a mosaic-like structure made up of moments of extreme realism contrasted with lyrical dream-like sequences something similar to the slow motion scenes from “In The Mood For Love” (2000). As the film progresses the dreamlike moments take on a darker aspect reflecting the fracturing thoughts of the protagonists psyche.

The visual influences for this film sitting somewhere between Goddard’s “Alphaville” and Richard Ayoade’s “The Double”.

Key Concept: ‘Free Indirect Discourse’

The main idea behind the script is to resurrect a style of voice-over as employed by filmmakers such as L. Bresson and  E. Rohmel and their use of a literary technique called “free indirect discourse”. The use of free indirect discourse deliberately creates ambiguity making it difficult to say who is telling the story  – an objective narrator, the film maker or the main protagonist, and is a device I intend to use to reflect the increasingly unstable psyche of my main protagonist. As well as this I will also  be employing a more familiar voice-over technique called, “the unreliable narrator”, which (think;  Lolita or Catcher In the Rye) I will use to create a deliberate tension between what the audience sees and what the protagonist tells us we should be seeing.

Main Characters

Paul Chambers:

A security guard in his mid 30’s. Handsome and strong but in a place/world where his strength and good looks are entirely redundant and unnoticed. Has worked as a security guard with the university for around 2 years but in that time hasn’t managed to form any meaningful relationships. Has a history of undiagnosed and untreated psychological problems. Ex-football supporter.

Ben Wright:

A 25 year old university lecturer, currently studying for a PhD in Humanities. Sociable and well-spoken,  has a tendency to cut corners and take liberties when it comes to abiding by university authority (steals photocopy paper, uses milk from the cafeteria for his breakfast cereal).

Ivana: 

A pretty, 20 year old Bulgarian barista, working in the university’s coffee  shop.

Okwute & Nnaji: 

Nigerian security staff.


Treatment: The Embrace

Please note: The sequence of events in the treatment  will definitely need to be re-thought. 

The film opens in a university common area crowded with talkative young students. The common  area spills out into a smart new cafe space where IVANA, a pretty Bulgarian barista, is being shown how to serve snacks and use the till by an older English lady, STACEY.  As Ivana struggles to work the till her movements are accompanied by a man’s voice which talks about her simple, unaffected beauty.

At first we don’t know who these words belong to until we see, waiting in the queue, the well-built security guard, PAUL CHAMBERS, watching Ivana as she struggles to make a sale on the till. The voice-over ends abruptly as Stacey, the older lady, curtly asks Paul if he is ready to order.  Paul blurts out his order in coarse North London dialect.

Sometime later we see Paul as he sits and eats his sandwiches in the small security guard offices. Two Nigerian security men talk to each other in their native tongue paying no attention to Paul.

Paul walks through the university’s crowded public spaces unnoticed by the young students.

We see him in standing in an empty stairwell checking the loosely fitting metal handrail.

Hours later, Paul reenters the cafe to find that Stacey is packing her bag to go, leaving Ivana to close up alone. Paul buys a drink from Stacey before sitting at the back of the room watching as Ivana wipes the white tabletops in the cafe as she closes shop.

As the scene progresses the everyday activity of wiping tables takes on an almost dreamlike quality as Paul watches Ivana’s graceful movements. As he does so, the voice-over describes how Paul is able to translate her movements,  which, he feels, are signals aimed directly at him. Music plays as Paul’s anticipation builds and Ivana moves from table to table towards the one he is sitting at.

Just as Ivana reaches Paul’s table the mood of anticipation changes however, when BEN WRIGHT, (the same man who was in the queue earlier that morning) a well-spoken young lecturer enters the room asking if it is too late to buy a coffee. Ivana, stops wiping the tables and offers Ben a free filter coffee from the cafetiere. Ben pours milk into his drink, talking freely with Ivana, offering to help her with her poor English – to which she politely declines.

The next day we see Paul as he stands in the cafe area looking over to where Ben is sitting with a a female lecturer. After a few moments Ben gets up and makes his way towards the cafe area, passing Paul on his way. As he does so the security guard makes a point of reading Ben’s name tag as once more we hear the familiar voice-over.

This time, however, the voice suggests that something about the lecturer isn’t quite right – something that Paul can’t put his finger on. The scene ends as we see Ben once more talking casually with the delightful Ivana. Paul writes down Ben’s name down in a small black diary – circling it three times.

Some days later we see Ben enter the cafe area with a small box hidden in his bag as he surreptitiously pours his own cereal into a bowl, before pouring milk over the cereal from the milk container labelled ‘for drinks only’. This is the moment of confirmation Paul has been waiting for, as once more the voice-over speaks about the lecturer’s offence – about how the milk was clearly meant for drinks and not cereal – turning a small crime into something much more serious.

Ivana comes out to see Ben, who moves the cereal bowl out of sight guiltily. She tells Ben that she would like to take him up on his offer of language coaching.

Paul is very worried about the corrupting presence that the clearly criminal humanities lecturer might have upon the innocent Bulgarian girl, starting to investigate the lecturer in earnest – finding out which part of the university he teaches in, even going so far as to check the tyres of Ben’s car in the staff carpark.

Over the next few days Paul shadows Ben like a private detective, listing all his misdemeanours: watching as Ben steals a packet of paper from the staff room photocopier – or uses a door marked “no exit” – or flirts with his pretty female students – watching as Ben and Ivana sit together laughing in the cafe area, all the times his thoughts (the voice over) growing steadily darker and more concerned for the girl’s safety.

Finally we see Ben enter a toilet cubicle only to see Paul in the cubicle adjacent to it  (the voice over telling us) that Paul is convinced that Ben is using his smart phone to access pornographic images of the worst and most degrading nature – (even though this is just speculation).

After this, Paul follows Ben from the toilet knowing that he must act swiftly if he is to bring the felon to justice. As he follows Ben, though, Paul suddenly hears strange folk music playing and as he looks through the door into the cafeteria he watches in amazement as Ivana performs a suggestive but beautiful Bulgarian folk dance to haunting music, before prostrating herself at Ivan’s feet, banging her chest in a strange ritual of surrender.

By now it is hard to say what is real and what is illusion – but one thing is clear,  which is that Paul knows he must save Imogen from Ben. This he does by breaking the fire bell – setting off the alarm, just as the two are about to seal their love with a  kiss.

As Ben goes to fetch his coat and bag, Paul catches the unsuspecting lecturer by the hand, pushing him into the same deserted stairwell we saw Paul in earlier. Ben is completely shocked as Paul advances down the steps towards the frightened lecturer, snatching up the broken handrail as he descends. As the two descend the steps the voice-over now speaks about the similarity between the two men and how, under different circumstances, their roles might have been reversed – how Paul might have been important.

At the bottom of the stairs Ben shields his face as Paul lifts the metal rod to strike but instead lets the pole slip from his hand where it clatters to the floor. The voice-over is almost  incomprehensible

now, stating that Paul finally understands with complete clarity what he must do to resolve the situation.

Ben recoils in horror as Paul puts his arms around him holding him tighter and tighter until both men’s faces are red. At this point something entirely surreal happens (we are now trapped inside the mind of a mad man) and we see images of lights coalescing – or rivers flowing into each other – as the two men become one. When the sequence comes to an end we see that Ben is standing alone and that Paul is nowhere to be seen.

Ben walks back towards Ivana who is waiting outside, the fire bell still ringing quietly in the distance. Ben stands with her and holds her hand. They kiss, as the voice-over speaks out for the last time, saying something profound (but I can’t think what exactly, just yet).


Casting: 

I have already started to talk to actors about possible castings and have uploaded a speculative  advert to casting-call-pro and shooting people.

Crew: 

Will need a good DOP for some of the sequences but am happy to film other sequences myself. Was planning to shoot the film using the new Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera which is small an unobtrusive but have recently been using the iPhone 6, which can film in 4K and has a very nice set of lenses including an anamorphic. As well as this the iPhone 6 has very nice hand held gimbal which will be very useful for some of the action shots. Will also need a sound recordist and a lighting assistant/runner.

Audience and Festivals: 

Using a voice over is clearly a gamble but I am interested to see if I can make the unusual “free indirect discourse” device work. If I can do this I think the film will have a very unusual psychological dimension which might make it popular at thriller/horror festivals such as Michigan’s Thriller-Chiller festival, or Los Angeles Thriller Festival.

Improvisation In Public Spaces

Improvisation In Public Spaces

Moving on from the last improvisation session which we held back in November I decided this time to run an acting session in a real, public location. The session was very productive and, although not quite as dynamic and dramatic as the two films from my previous postings,  has helped me to consider more, how, as a film director, I need to manage the technical and creative issues that arise.

The film was shot using two iPhone 6’s which, although extremely unobtrusive and unnoticeable to the members of the public, have proven to be a little disappointing in terms of image quality. This has led me  to a possible rethink  as to whether or not I can rely on them to shoot my final year film.

I haven’t finished editing the whole piece yet but as a taster here is a scene from the film we shot  at a cafe in Streatham Common. As well as this I have also posted a short video account shot before and after the session in which I talk to the cast about their experiences.

 

A Poetics of Free Indirect Discourse in Narrative Film

A Poetics of Free Indirect Discourse in Narrative Film

I have been following up my last blog on spiritual themes in film by reading  Paolo Pasolini’s paper “The “Cinema of Poetry” (1965), in which he talks about a literary device called ‘free indirect speech’, which, he claims, can add a subjective dimension to film by creating ambiguity around whose cinematic perspective a film is depicting.

Pasolini describes ‘free indirect speech’ as being – “the immersion of the filmmaker in the mind of the character and then the adoption on the part of the filmmaker, not only of the psychology of his character, but also of his language” (2005: 175).

What Pasolini seems to be suggesting here is that the subjectivity of the character in a film is not just given priority, as it is by the use of  ‘voice-over’ –  but that by using ‘free indirect discourse’ the character’s psychology is allowed to extend beyond what he/she says until the images – and ultimately the film itself -has become an extension of the mental projections of the character’s own thinking.

In his analysis of Pasolini’s paper , Heinemann (2012) makes the following observation about the destabilising nature these shifts in perspective can have – “by constantly shifting relationship with the narrative, at one moment encouraging an immersion in the illusionistic unfolding of the plot, the next forcing an awareness of its formal properties, including the partiality and artifice inherent in narrative activity itself.” He goes on to say that, “It is a function of the free indirect speech-act to problematise viewer identification, dividing the impulse between the film’s narration and the character’s narration through generating ambiguity regarding the narrative point of view. Free indirect speech reinforces this ambiguity through the formal opposition it gives rise to – between picture and sound, image and voice – contributing to a polyphonic, multivalent cinema.”

Pasolini talks about this development of a new cinematic language in semiotic terms stating that a  new “technico-stylistic tradition is in the process of being formed: that is, a cinema language of poetry. This language tends to appear henceforth as diachronical in relation to narrative cinema language: a diachronism which is destined to be emphasized increasingly, as happens in literary systems.”

Heinemann describes the way this deliberately disorientating effect is used cinematically  by citing a voice-over narration taken from Rohmer’s film, “Claire’s Knee” (1970) in which the filmmaker uses voiceover to privilege the complexity of the inner life of the film’s character over the certitude of ocular proof provided by the footage. This contrast between twhat the film shows us,  as the protagonist Jerome touches the knee of the girl he desires, and the lengthy account of Jerome’s inner observations, creates a strangely ambiguous mood as the narrator’s subjectivity starts to colour the neutrality of the formerly objective camera’s gaze.

Here is the text from the movie –

She sat facing me, one leg outstretched, the other bent. Her knee was sharp, narrow, smooth, delicate, within reach. Within reach of my hand. My arm was positioned in such a way that I only had to extend it to touch her knee. Touching her knee was the most extravagant thing, the one thing not to do, and at the same time the easiest. Even as I realised how easy, how simple the gesture was, I also felt it was impossible. As if you’re on the edge of a cliff, only one step away, but even if you want to jump, you can’t.

Ghaffary, M., & Nojoumian, A. A. in their journal aritcle,  “A Poetics of Free Indirect Discourse in Narrative Film (2013) go on to state that “where objectivity and subjectivity or narration / external focalisation and internal focalization merge together and the narrative becomes ambiguous from this viewpoint”, that such moments in a film’s construction can best be considered moments of free indirect discourse. They then go on to list devices such as “voice-over narration, sound perspective, sound bridge, music, POV structure, eye-line match, shot / reverse shot, flash frames, freeze or still frames, slow motion, repetition of particular images, flashback, camera movement, superimposition, matte shot, snorri-cam, and double exposure” that can be used as tools to create such ambiguities. By so saying underscoring Pasolini’s notion of free indirect discourse as a tool of cinematic poetry.

Anyway, I am still processing what I have read but have lots of ideas for possible film scenarios popping into my head as a result of reading this interesting paper.

I will sign off with a list of effects that can be achieved by using FREE INDIRECT DISCOURSE which might be useful in my future film (taken from Ghaffary & Nojoumian’s paper – (2013))

8 functions of free indirect discourse in film:

1) it is a device for controlling the degree of distance between the FCD and the character:

2) it can either raise empathy in the reader / FCD for the character or lead to the ironic repudiation of the character by the FCD

3) Dramatic irony –

4) it can cause “irony of register” (McHale, “Free Indirect Discourse” 208) (the association of the objective or formal style of the total narrative and the semi-subjective style of the FID sequences);

5) it represents internal focalization (focus) or the presentation of the focalized from within;

6) it is a good technique for representating stream of consciousness (Banfield 29; McHale, “Free Indirect Discourse” 209 & “Speech Representation” 437; Rimmon-Kenan 115; Jahn, Narratology N8.9.) (Pasolini sees FID as a useful technique for rendering a character’s stream of consciousness in film, though he does not mention the term “stream of consciousness” [554]);

7) it suggests polyvocality or polyphony (the FCD’s and the character’s voices directly interact with each other, without either of them being dominant) (McHale, “Free Indirect Discourse” 212; Rimmon-Kenan 117);

8) it enhances a film’s power of defamiliarization; FID adds to “the semantic density” of the cinematic narrative (Rimmon-Kenan 115).

Here is an example of how free indirect discourse relates to the more typical – direct and indirect literary devices. (see more on FIS here)

Examples of direct, indirect, and free indirect speech:

Quoted or direct speech:
He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. “And just what pleasure have I found, since I came into this world?” he asked.

• Reported or normal indirect speech:
He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. He asked himself what pleasure he had found since he came into the world.

• Free indirect speech:
He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. And just what pleasure had he found, since he came into this world?

The following is a quotation cribbed from James Joyce’s,  “Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man.”

The muddy streets were gay. He strode homeward, conscious of an invisible grace pervading and making light his limbs. In spite of all he had done it. He had confessed and God had pardoned him. His soul was made fair and holy once more, holy and happy. It would be beautiful to die if God so willed. It was beautiful to live in grace a life of peace and virtue and forbearance with others.

References

Pasolini, P.P. (1965)  ‘The “Cinema of Poetry.”’ Heretical Empiricism. Trans. BenLawton and Louise K. Barnett. Washington: New Academia, 2005. 167-186.

JOYCE, J. (1964). A portrait of the artist as a young man. New York, Viking Press.

Heinemann, D. (2012) ‘The creative voice: Free indirect speech in the cinema of Rohmer and Bresson’, The New Soundtrack, 2(1), pp. 39–49. doi: 10.3366/sound.2012.0024.

Ghaffary, M., & Nojoumian, A. A. (2013). A Poetics of Free Indirect Discourse in Narrative Film. Special Issue on Performance Studies, 269.