I was initially struggling to put together a showreel for 2016. I don’t think my film work has ever been so reliant on its varied soundworlds for their full context and so pulling the strongest images out of that context doesn’t quite work. I’ve tried my best to make something vaguely cohesive from these moments though, looking back at the five films I’ve made this year, it occurred to me that this year’s work has almost consistently been hampered by various production factors meaning that watching all of them back has been a personally frustrating experience. This in light of the fact that so much of what I wanted to do has been great affected by Kodak’s decision to stop making colour Ektachrome, instead choosing to mess around with digital/super-8 crossover cameras. It’s only through hindsight that the sheer level of compromise I’ve had to make this year has been revealed.
The first film of this year was The Menhir Motorway; a film that should have been half in colour. It looked at the edgeland landscapes of The Wirral, especially in Wallasey, but through the prism of J.G. Ballard. I got to use some beautiful music by In Atoms but, for me, the film is weakened by the cheap editing program I was stuck with using at the time. Just seeing the footage used again in the showreel should show how much better it could now look using the professional software I currently use. All the same, I think this one has the strongest of the three voice-overs I’ve penned this year.
The second film, A Walk By Waiting, came about purely by chance when Robert Macfarlane managed to put me in touch with Iain Sinclair. I had been enamoured with Harold Pinter’s work surrounding Hackney for some time, especially his poems which could essentially be walked. This little film was in essence a response to two such poems with Iain giving an excellent reading of both of them. I haven’t promoted this as much as I should as Faber & Faber never got back to me about the rights issues with the poems, and the recording of Iain was done with a questionable microphone. It is, however, I think the strongest of this year’s films.
The third film was the first in a trilogy of films I’m making about Suffolk. Heavy Water turns the Sebaldian coastline between Sizewell B nuclear power station and Dunwich into a Nigel Kneale-esque apocalyptic catastrophe. I was lucky enough to work with Richard Skelton for the film’s musical score and his contribution is probably better than the overall film. Here is a definite example of a project harmed by not having the Ektachrome stock. I had to use a stock of Ektachrome over 20 years old which has come out beyond grainy. Perhaps it is fitting considering the themes of the film but the perfectionist in me winces whenever a colour image appears; a real shame as I love the tri-x stock images in it. The fourth film was a short response to M.R. James’ A Warning To The Curious, No Diggin Here. Again the stock was virtually disintegrating but the film is saved by both an excellent score by Laura Cannell and a powerful voice performance by Paul Carmichael; a voice that also redeems The Menhir Motorway and Heavy Water.
The last film was The Attempt, an experimental narrative project looking at Edward Thomas. Looking back on the film, I’m happy with its ambition and voice-reading by Rob Macfarlane. The images are on the whole nice and I’m almost happy with it overall. There’s 30 second splurge of images on my part early on, rushed and tatty due to filming on a very steep precipice. In hindsight, I should have taken my time to get these shots 100% right as the rest of the film is solid. It was also a pleasure to work with Daniel Thorne on the music who provided perhaps the most melancholic of all of the scores I’ve used this year.
Overall, it’s been a strange year in film terms. These films and others have been screened at plenty of events though none in which they’ve been originally sent to on my part; the day a film of mine gets accepted into a more general short film scenario (competition, film night etc.) will probably be a sign of the oncoming apocalypse. So I’m rather unsure what to do in regards to 2017. I have one big project already shot (the final in the Suffolk trilogy), I’ve been working with a director on his feature film (which I can’t talk about yet as it’s actually a proper film that’ll be in cinemas) and I have plenty of ideas that I wish to explore. Yet, with such personal failure in regards to submitting films to competitions, the increased lack of satisfaction in my own work (though not, I hasten to add with my collaborators’ contributions) and the inevitability of my PhD taking more of my time than it deserves in 2017, the likelihood is that my film work, in this form at least, will be far more sporadic and probably be contained within only one film sadly this year. Who knows though; perhaps time and opportunity may come along when least expected. It’s usually the way.
Jeff Barrett @ Caught By The River
Luke Turner @ The Quietus
Sam Wigley @ BFI