2016: IN REVIEW

2016. Intense. I’m going to jump straight in with NEON.

At the end of 2015 my producer, Roxy Holman and I were knee-deep in prep on NEON, our supposed final short film. After this we were  to crack on with our first feature. Of course, life often has other plans. We shot for several days in the coldest February I can recall and only suffered minor set-backs throughout the production: namely waking up one morning in a derelict block of flats (for insurance purposes) with my hand frozen to the ground and underground water mains being neglected to the point that they were unusable and a fire-engine having to be called out to supply our rain for a pivotal visual. It was all worth it, though - the talent in front and behind the camera was impeccable.

I won’t lie: I cried a little on the last day of filming which was followed by a journey home where I realised how a feature version of NEON could work: despite spending the entire shoot insisting the buck starts and stops with this short. And so it goes - on top of everything else we’re developing, NEON now has a space of its own on our development white board.

You can find out more about the film over at its site here and and watch the teaser trailer here:

The post-production for NEON began immediately after principal photography ended: which coincided with a directing gig that was to also start immediately: as such, the initial assembly took place in the passenger seat of a Micra as the producer and I whistled up and down the country filming a series of short documentaries for the Government. Jumping from blue-stained fictional fantasy to filming eye-opening accounts of care-givers was a surreal and humbling leap from one extreme to another.

And then there were robots. Well, one…

A brief slapped into my lap and soon we were in pre-production on my only music video of 2016, NATURAL, starring the impeccable Jessica Bayly and Toby Osmond.  A fun if busy-busy single-day shoot (shot by myself with a hangover: I shall not lie - never take your cast/crew out the night before a shoot), we managed to nail our “kitchen-sink Replicant does domestic sci-fi Giallo" as well as tested out a new camera which we were keen to use for our NEON pick-ups. The result was this:

The Cannes Film Festival cropped up in May and ten days of meetings, drinking and partying (and seeing two whole films: double that from my visit a few years earlier) left me with no voice for a week due to excessive yelling every evening over the din of similarly impassioned filmmakers: and that’s what Cannes truly is for me – a hub of passion. The business side and yes, even the festival itself, are important - but it’s the hive of genuine love for film that always impresses me the most. The random meets and conversations over shared smokes and over-priced beer as well as constantly bumping into friends, old and new, at various parties is the finest way anyone who loves film can spend their time. 2017 will see a more focused visit but I still fully expect my face to ache from smiling throughout the festival's entirety and hopefully, this year I’ll be able to keep my voice. Especially if I'm shooting another film immediately after.

Which is what happened with FERRIED.

So, NEON was supposed to be the last short film of ours, right?

Well, FERRIED became short film two of five for 2016, a slight drama about loneliness in the elderly produced and written by a different team than I am used to working with. It was a personal test to change gears dramatically and direct a film that was linear and exhibited a little self-control (NEON features a heavily fractured narrative as well as over 500 edits). The film produced one of my most enlightening experiences of working with actors, courtesy of the impeccable Richard Cordery.

ANIMUS followed which was a an intimate two hander presented to me by the film’s leads, Katie Goldfinch and Jonny Sachon. The script was struck from several workshopping sessions and we shot the piece quickly in a day. A tender film with a focus on emotion, it was also shot in 4:3 - a ratio I adore using whenever I get the (right) chance.

NEON premiered at London’s FRIGHT FEST and a glut of lovely reviews followed (all of which you can find links to here) and the narrative risks we took with the film all became worthwhile. The film received numerous invites to international festivals, both in and out of competition (and, at the time of writing, still is) and also bagged me a best Director award. I won't lie. That was nice.

A whole heap of corporates and docs followed, as well as THE VERGE, an all-female sci-fi action film which was shot during a neatly book-ending cold November.

Over 2016 I also worked on numerous feature scripts, namely THE SIREN, THE CAPTAIN, THE SEA which we are hoping to shoot in November. Further drafts of THE CHARM and TEARDROP were also struck and I am now also working on a treatment for another feature piece set in the world of cage-fighting.

So that was 2016. Like I said: intense. My focus and resolve is in a different state now than at the beginning of the year: a year which I feel I have grown substantially whilst my hair has done the opposite: a clear display of how being prolific can be both good and bad.

Moving on. Here's my best of 2016:

BEST FILM – GRAVE [RAW]

Absolutely hands down the best horror I have seen in years. A twisted yet tender genre piece that explores transitions into adulthood, familial relations and the fear of individuality in a manner that is impeccably performed, technically astounding and that is brilliantly, brilliantly funny. A gem.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: The Invitation, Train to Busan.

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BEST ALBUM – Haelos / Haelos.

My favourite single of last year was DUST by this very group and their debut album went beyond all expectations. An immaculate mix of styles, full of heart and aching cool, they’re also the best band I saw live this year (which is saying something considering I also saw Massive Attack, Underworld, Jean-Michelle-Jar, Air and 65 Days of Static).

Proof I was at their London gig:

And in case you can't see me, here's a version that clarifies where I am, courtesy of a friend who also attended:

 

BEST COMIC BOOK: The Marrionette Unit

A heady mix of Victorian Steampunk, body-horror and family ties. You can pick up a copy here. And you should.

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And the biggest disappointments of 2016?

Everyone dying, Brexit, Rogue One (sorry) and refusing any anaesthetic before having a large camera jammed down my throat for reasons I won't go into. Oh. And Trump.

If you've read this far, then thank you and have a great 2017.

M

SPIRIT OF COLLABORATION

With this only being the second blog post on my site – and the second to feature death – there is a concern that to those reading there may be a fixation with the morbid. However, there is a strong filmmaking point to be made here, so do bear with me.

Someone I worked with tragically died at the age of 33. This post isn’t about me or my grief: what I felt when I read about his passing amounts to less than zero when compared to what his family and friends have experienced. No, this post is about the importance of not only his contribution to one of those films but also the importance of a collaborative spirit such as he one he displayed.

His name was Teitur Arnason and he was the sound engineer on NEON.

I met the lovely guy just once. I had the best audio mix session of my life, watching him work 5.1 wonders and then we went out on a jolly afterwards that was too short. There were promises of further collaborations, not just in the realm of film, but also the excitement of a new friendship that now, sadly, will never be.

NEON features Paul O’Brien’s immense score throughout its entirety: it’s wall-to-wall music for fifteen minutes, building in intensity and emotion until a final flare to white at which point the end credits kick in. Initially, the credits were an emotional, subdued affair, quiet and tender with a score to match.

And this is where my favourite part of the film was born, due to a huge change and the trust to collaborate.

Teitur prepared us before our first viewing for something ‘different’ during the end credits. Something that he had tried out and felt worked. He was excited.

Paul and I sat through the film. An immaculate mix throughout. Then the final scene played out, the flare to white crashed to black – and Paul’s score was gone: or, rather, that part of the score was gone. Instead, Teitur had repeated the drum-heavy action montage theme from earlier in the film, crashing it in with the first credit. It went from ending on a beautiful, moody moment to announcing itself with a barnstorming, Hollywood style finale.

And it makes the film.

After closing our mouths and shaking off he surprise, we told Teitur how immaculate the decision was and how it changed the entire film for the better and – without a second of hesitation – agreed to it.

And this is what any filmmaker, any creative, must always be open to: improvement.

And this extends to every stage of the filmmaking process. In NEON’S case, Teitur’s contribution: of having the creativity to suggest such a bold change to what had been planned for so, so long. And the result? More than worth it – and not just for the film but for opening my eyes even further on the importance of collaboration.

Of letting great people do great work.

Teitur smashed it with a smile and with some mad, mad skills.

So RIP to him and RIP to anyone who doesn’t embrace that spirit of collaboration.

2015 - IN REVIEW

2015’s been a busy one. In and of itself, that isn’t anything new. However, this year’s been made that much more memorable by being that much more emotional. Ups and downs, strikes and gutters. Having never done a blog before, I thought I’d share some of those peaks and troughs.

The year kicked off with a series of back-to-back overseas shoots and the release of our music video COUNTING ALL DAYS for The Actions. A 4:3 narrative piece, I got to work with some wonderful cast members and reveled in the format.

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A standout client film for me would be my ‘TAKE THE LEAD’ film for Network Rail. Shot on the Red Dragon with some lovely vintage glass, it was a very safety-conscious production, shooting on a live railway line in two-minute bursts… with a dog. It could have been a recipe for disaster, but worked due to the wonderful crew and some extensive planning. There was a bloodier early version of the piece, but it was ultimately reigned in. 

 

This year’s really seen me hit a comfortable stride when it comes to my writing. The discipline, dedication and – most importantly – the enjoyment of writing really waltzed back into my life from March onwards and [thankfully] hasn’t faded since.

 

Feature-wise, TEARDROP (my big, bloody romantic thriller) has gone through several drafts and is finally the taut, terse cousin of those 70s thrillers I love so much (on a side note, I met Roisin Murphy this year whose lyrics from one of her songs helped inspire Teardrop’s finale and I blushingly blurted this out to her confused face). A first draft of my dark comedy-drama, THE CHARM, has been delivered for review and, with a few weeks downtime between gigs, I hammered out a draft of CHIMERA, a full-tilt action-horror. Wanting to write something with no sensible limit with regards to budget or logistics, I spent three weeks having the most fun imaginable.

 

I also broke the back of short film NEON, a long-gestating short romantic thriller that I just couldn’t nail tonally. A bold, rainswept, bloody romance, we’re now in pre-production for a February shoot and have assembled a stellar cast and crew. I can’t wait to call action on some insane visuals courtesy of Stil Williams and some mind-blowing effects work from Dan Martin (both of whom I worked with on previous short film SKIN). I’ll be writing more on that very soon.

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Music video wise, our KUBRICK music video for Stig of the Dump picked up a UKMVA nomination, which wasn’t bad considering it was shot in my kitchen using live-action rear-projection. It’s also playing at 2016’s London Short Film Festival on January 12th in the category ‘Lo budget Mayhem’ and has been nominated for Best Lo-Budget Short Film.

I also shot a sweeter piece than I’m used to (while still maintaining a little grit, however) for Jack Rose’s cover of CHASING CARS. Shot by DOP Aaron Rogers on some gorgeous [different] vintage glass (sense a theme of the year here?), it’s got some lovely performances from the likes of Rosie Day and some lovely 200fps fun.

This year’s also seen me heavily rediscovering my passion for photography (Instagram here) and I have a trio of photographs being exhibited at the wonderful ZEALOUS X event beginning this week, from January 7th-17th. It’s fantastic event highlighting work from creatives across numerous fields, most of which is free to view, so I implore anyone with an interest in film, photography, art, dance and music to pop along to the Rich Mix in Shoreditch and be overwhelmed by the amount of talent on display.

In terms of life, 2015’s been emotional.

 

For two of my closest friends, 2015 saw in the births of their first children. As you can imagine, there’s been much merriment and joy with these new arrivals, not to mention me holding up my hands and saying “hell, no” whenever asked if I want to hold the wriggling sprogs. They don’t bounce.

 

This year also saw the suicide of a friend and colleague. I say friend, but said friendship was a burgeoning one and many others knew her much better. However a handful of meets, working up and down the country together, and several drunken evenings playing Cards Against Humanity and talking about films, writing and life don’t count for nothing. The saddest outtake in a strange way is the fact that her unrealized work as a writer will remain that: unrealized. The very reason we connected in the first place was based on the strength of her writing, and she was developing a feature that was truly original. Such a waste of talent reflects such a waste of life in the worst case of art mirroring life I hope I’ll ever know.

 

A positive of this (if there is one) is that it’s opened my eyes to not being quite so insular: to sharing my work more, to engaging with other artists and filmmakers more, to being more social and more positive. Life’s too short not to.

 

And speaking of short, this blog was supposed to be just that. In wrapping things up, here’s my selection of the best of 2015.

 

BEST FILM - Green Room

Caught at 2015’s BFI London Film Festival, it’s a taut, slow-burn thriller that turns into a stomach-churning gut-punch of a survival horror. The cinema exit smelled of chunder which gives you indication of how hardcore this film gets, but it’s the innocent hearts of its lead characters that float what – in lesser hands – could have been a wholly unpleasant 90 minutes. As it stands, Saulnier’s measured directing and keen command of pace ensures that there are enough laughs and bittersweet beats to counter the swastikas and box-cutters.

 

HONOURABLE MENTION - Mad Max: Fury Road.

Because it made me cry. Three times. Three fucking times.

OTHER HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Room (heartbreaking), High Rise (perfect adaptation), The Overnight (that dance), 45 Years (that final shot) The Gift and The Final Girls.

 

BEST ALBUM – Grimes: Art Angels

As if I couldn’t love Grimes anymore, her new album pushes her further into pseudo post-pop-princess mode with some charming and angry collaborations as well as a candidate for the year’s best song, Venus Fly, which I’ve had on loop for the better part of three months.

 

BEST SONG – Haelos: Dust (Unkle remix)

One of those tracks that stops you dead in the middle of the street when it peaks. Sublime. Wonderful videos from Jesse Jenkins too.

 

BEST COMIC BOOK – Oink: Heaven’s Butcher by John Mueller

A beautifully crafted re-release, this features some of the most beautiful artwork I have seen in a comic book. A post-apocalyptic tale of enslaved pig-people, it’s a heartbreaking journey of discovery for an escapee who transcends his enforced ignorance and embraces his fate. Wonderful.

 

In terms of the worst of 2015? Fantastic Four, Blackhat and freaking out Gillian Anderson by mistake. Twice. But I won’t beat myself up about that last one – one of my resolutions is to go easier on myself.  And to wrap things up quicker.

As such, thanks for reading.

M