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

 

 

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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.

Tied Up In Realist Conventions…

Tied Up In Realist Conventions…
After reflecting on my recent narrative ideas (which I spoke about in my last blog) I have started to have a few doubts about my current neorealist film trajectory. It’s hard to say at the moment exactly why that is  but something about the unremitting realism of such a mode of filmmaking  suddenly seems as limiting as the mainstream filmmaking formula I have been critiquing.  With this is in mind I wanted to dedicate this blog to my recent thoughts  on realism vs. formalism…
To begin that debate here is a very appropriate quote from avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren (1960)
“If cinema is to take its place beside the others as a full-fledged art form…  It must relinquish the narrative disciplines it has borrowed from literature and its timid imitation of the casual logic of narrative plots, a form which flowered as a celebration of the earthbound, step-by-step concept of time, space and relationship which was part of the primitive materialism of the nineteenth century. Instead, it must develop the vocabulary of the filmic images and evolve the syntax of filmic techniques which relate those… It must determine the disciplines inherent in the medium”
What Derren seems to be suggesting here is that cinema can never assume it’s full status as a distinct artform – with its own specific qualities and aptitudes – while it remains a prisoner to literary conventions; especially those of causal narrative structures. Her thoughts resonating with the ideas of B. Brecht which I posted in my earlier blog (see here) and his attempts to free theatre from the bourgeois influence of the 19th century novel.
What is film? 
For when I think about film in its barest and most essential form, stripped of all these narrative conventions, it could be argued that it amounts to not much more than moving images and sound. It could also be said that, in its purest state, there need be no coherence or sequential relationship between any of these images or sounds. Obviously, a film of random sounds and images would be impossible to watch but it is worth conducting this thought experiment as a way of catching a glimpse of all the narrative conventions and expectations that we may be unconsciously projecting onto this medium.
To test my theory I made a short film that has absolutely no narrative and consists of an almost random sequence of images and sounds which, apart from being synchronised together, have no connections.
“Apropos Of Nothing”  

 (I intend to keep making such short films as I find it to be liberating…)

Watching it is quite telling as it seems to highlight some of the demands we expect films to meet; demands for meaning and narrative; for logical sequencing; for sounds and images to have synchronous connection; for  our thinking done for us and for there to be no room for ambiguity.

A film I saw recently which does manage to rethink some of these conventions is  “La Jetee” (Marker, C – 1962).  The film contains no moving images and is instead made up of a series of still black and white images over which can be heard music and a voice-over; this formalist device, allowing Marker’s narrative to have a degree of opacity and obliqueness that is very rarely seen in cinema .

With regard to my own filmmaking practice I can see now that as well as rethinking my approaches to improvisation and acting, that I should also be using my time to question one of the unquestioned assumptions most film makers and audiences continue to hold on to –   which is the tendency to see film as a ‘transparent’ medium.

Transparency in Art… 

What do I mean by transparent?

Well, by way of example (this helps me think) if I compare the  following painting… by Courbet (1854) entitled “ Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet, 1854.”

And ask myself a few questions… Such as –

What is Courbet’s intention…?

Does he want me to see the painting? or does he instead want me to see the subject matter of the painting?  – three guys and a dog meeting on a pathway somewhere…

Surely, its the latter, he doesn’t want me to think about the painting at all… The painting, to Courbet is a window we look through into another world. It is NOT to be seen as thing in itself and AS SUCH it is transparent…

So, what’s wrong with that? It’s a nice painting…

Well, if we go back to filmmaking for a second, the efforts to maintain the illusion of reality seriously restricts the possibilities the medium offers us. For, if film needs to be transparent then nothing can, or should,  break this illusion. No ambiguities between image and sound – or  image and image – no jarring editing conventions – no sense of abstraction that breaks the spell of the illusion we are under – no ambiguity that might alienate the audience. In short, it must give up a whole range of its own unique artistic characteristics and abilities in order to maintain this illusion of transparency – never hoping, as Maya Deren urges, to  ‘determine the disciplines inherent” within itself.

Realism vs. Formalism in filmmaking…

This tendency towards a transparent medium that objectively records and documents reality is especially apparent in some of the neorealist films I have been praising in my recent blogs – such as the films of Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Andrea Arnold etc. Films in which transparency and the illusion of reality are paramount,  where the camera is used to give the impression that the viewer is witnessing the events of life as they are lived – often in real settings,  with minimal lighting or manipulation.

formalism

  1. 1:  the practice or the doctrine of strict adherence to prescribed or external forms (as in religion or art); also:  an instance of this

  2. 2:  marked attention to arrangement, style, or artistic means (as in art or literature) usually with corresponding de-emphasis of content

In contrast to realism’s favouritism of content, a formalistic film would not try to hide the fact that the viewer is watching a film. For In such a formalist film – the language, the mise en scene, the editing, the jump cuts, the sets,  the plot and the character would not pretend to be real (or transparent) but instead would draw attention to their own artificiality.

A prime exponent of this formalist style being filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard and Ingmar Bergman, both of whom never fall into the trap of aiming for the illusion of transparency, by so doing giving themselves all manner of artistic freedoms not available to anyone enslaved to realism.

I won’t go into what these possibilities are now but do intend to explore the work of filmmakers such as – Godard, Pasolini and Bergman, and how they extend the language of cinema beyond a mere adherence to realism, in my later blogs.

Will conclude by showing some favourite moments from Godard’s formalistic filmmaking –

(if you want to see more – see here)

References

Deren, M. (1960). Cinematography: The creative use of reality. Daedalus89(1), 150-167

Marker, C. (1962).  La Jetée.

A Bout De Souffle =. Dir. Jean Godard. Fox Lorber Films :, 1960. Film

 

Bande à Part. Dir. Jean Godard. Anouchka Films Orsay Films, 1964. Film.

Pierrot Le Fou. Dir. Ge Beytout. Société Nouvelle De Cinématographie, 1965. Film.

Notes From Yesterday’s Acting Workshop

Notes From Yesterday’s Acting Workshop

The notes I  based yesterday’s acting workshop session on! 

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Rules – no clapping – don’t try and entertain – will be recording so no noises – full attention 

1. Couple Talking 

2 people talk about what they did today

tell both actors the guy always hogs the conversation and that you have to assert yourself

This session was OK – and could be run again with different people… 

2. The Visitor (her and him) 

Tell her – he loves you but has been hurt so often doesn’t know how to let you in

Tell him – get rid of her

This didn’t really work and needs to go somewhere… 

3. Group Meeting 

Tell  – A and B always agree with C –

Tell C – you want to get out of this meeting – just say anything no one… nonsense… say what you like

D – be diplomatic – you are running the meeting but don’t accept any old nonsense

If this meeting was about something it might go somewhere – could be good to use with gangsters… or something genre based – what else? Have a think about it 

4. The Lodger 

tell her – he might kill himself stay with him at all costs – be nice but stay with him

tell him – she might be a psycho – try to get her out of the house – think of reason – but be gentle

Could be better if you pushed the dramatic intensity -but how? 

Father, and 2 sons… 

Tell father – A not successful encourage him – but of liar

B – is successful you don’t worry about him

Tell A – boost your father with your successes

Don’t let B bring him down

Tell B – you want a bit of attention from your father your brother hogs him

This really worked – was magical – but how to run it again with the same actors? This is a problem with the method – no room for refinements without following Mike Leigh’s methodology which somehow seems counter productive. Things to think about! 

Naked Flame

Naked Flame

As an addendum to my first blog  I would like to post a link to a film I made when I was studying at Derby University for a B.A. in Film  back in the early 1990’s. The film in question is called “Naked Flame” and was shot on 16mm film two weeks before final submission in my final year.

The reason I want to post this film is because I really like it. This is not arrogance, though, as much of what I make these days doesn’t move me and most of the time I feel as though I am tied up by invisible restrictions  that I am barely even aware of.

Here is the film…

“Naked Flame”, although far from perfect, has a very interesting poetic structure and seems to be following different rules to the linear narrative-driven mainstream approach to filmmaking. What I also like about the film is the ambiguous nature of both the narrator  who is he? who does he speak for?)  and of the skewed sense of place which the film offers us.   Most films try to appear to be firmly located in a knowable objective universe, offering the viewer a clear sense of place, location and spatiality, while this film revels in illogicality and spatial inconsistency.

Another reason I wanted to post this film  is because I would like to use this blog to somehow find a way to understand how it was I came to make this film in the first place. This might sound a bit odd given that I wrote and shot the piece, but to be honest I always saw the film as a minor miracle and have only the vaguest recollections as to how it took the shape it did.

What I do remember about making the film (and why I call it a minor miracle) was being very unsure of what I was doing, following only the vaguest of artistic hunches from ideation right through to editing. As I write this now I can clearly see myself sitting at the Steinbeck 16mm editing suite back in Derby tentatively chopping up the expensive (for a struggling student)  strips of 16mm film and being so distraught and angry with myself for each potentially ruinous new cut that I threw away all my footage in despair. However, as I salvaged the film and threaded it back onto the editing console I made a mistake and put in the  pieces of footage in the wrong order and in an instant was shocked and amazed to see that the film had rejigged itself surreptitiously into the order it is now in today. I can also clearly remember that it was only a few more hours work to permanently settle on a final sequence.

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I am also adding a couple of paintings I made that year (1991) (nothing to do with my degree or anything really) which have the same interesting surreal, mosaic-like structure which I feel is at the heart of the film “Naked Flame” and which I would like to rediscover.