Dublin, like Paris but Irish.
On Saturday 7th July, I was sitting in the Lighthouse Cinema, Dublin, waiting for the premier of my film, abNormal. A night that started with tightly wound excitement and ended with a fantastic moment in the Cobblestone pub.
The beauty of Dublin took me by surprise. Like many, my only previous experience of this energetic city was a stag night many years ago - a booze fuelled descent focussed more on being VERY, VERY MALE
than on taking in the city.
Through more sober eyes, Dublin is a refreshing surprise, an antidote to London's green but sometimes terse attitude. The Liffey, the river running through Dublin, affords endless waterside strolls; the people are fantastically warm, exuding a powerful confidence. More than anything, the place just feels alive. Buoyed up by Dublin's buzz, I headed to the screening.
When the film started, I was stunned by how good it looked. Almost every film I make sits on the Internet - so seeing it blown up to cinema size was amazing; the Sony EX1 is a fine camera indeed. I was a bit nervous about the audio (I did it myself in Final Cut Pro - no Pro Tools or sound engineers) but it came blasting out of the speakers just fine. Sitting in the dark, surrounded by other humans, watching the journey I'd created, was simply magical: up on that massive screen, Bret danced, Biondo played, Claire mused... They were alive.
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So when the Education team at Wellcome approached me to make a film about 'careers from biology'; you can imagine my initial joy, 'Yes, more than any other genre of film, this is what my body of work lacks, pray continue...'
As a gigging filmmaker, it's very easy to become seduced by the creative ego - the urge to pursue art over practicality, the desire to touch souls taking precedence over the need to eat.
When I have these cravat-waving moments, I remind myself that, even when I was freelance, the opportunity to 'make a film I really wanted to make' was rare, that making a film - any film - is
another opportunity to learn, reach high, exceed expectations... In short, every film is an opportunity to do something important with this short, wonderful life.
We stormed the approach - last thing we wanted was yet another preachy educational film about 'how important it is to get good grades', about 'the fact you should be thinking hard about your future', etc. When I was 16-17, I thought largely about two things - that light could be expressed in the form of an equation, and girls
. I can only explain former obsession as being a result of my inherent geekiness.
Instead, we thought, what if the film was led by an actual A-level student, someone who is actually at that important juncture in their life, a 'young person' literally wrangling with what to do with their future... Once we had the basic plan, the brilliant Jen Staves (@jenstaves), a core member of the team, handled the kitten-juggling headache that is liaising with schools, zoos, universities and so on.
Despite having a great team and a solid plan, the first moment I truly believed we had a watchable film (especially for the target audience), was the day Jen announced she'd managed to arrange an interview at London Zoo - and that meerkats might be involved. For the second time I thought, 'Joy!' but this time without a trace of irony. Every filmmaker comes to realise that, no matter how worthy, important, finely crafted or prescient their YouTube film is, it will never be watched as much as a cat video
- and this was my 'cat' moment...
After shooting three 20 minute interviews with our wonderfully willing (and only slightly bewildered) Ahmed from Winchmore School
, the edit essentially took care of itself - never be more than a minute away from a meerkat...
The truly cool thing about this approach is that we realised the format worked incredibly well - no longer were we preaching to the masses, the students themselves were embarking on a classic voyage of self-discovery... It's a refreshingly authentic approach we may well adopt for future films. As long as the next one has cats.
Gaming's been a relative luxury the last week - even Ghost Recon Future Soldier has been a bit meh... During a train trip north to visit my parents, however, the iPad was put to good gaming use - Indie Game: The Movie journeyed from iTunes to the tablet to my brain and I cannot thank the filmmakers, James Swirsky (@jamesswirsky) and Lisanne Pajot (@lisannepajot) enough. I adore indie games as much as a good triple-A title; Braid blew my mind, Limbo astonished, Journey emoted silent gasps of wonder and, quite possibly, a tear. The reason is simple; at heart, I'm an indie developer, of films - one of those who was inspired by the early years of Rodriguez, Aronovsky, Jackson, Raimi. People who saw that, if you just try hard enough, you can actually make something you love. This sort of creative journey is universal, regardless of whether you're a writer, designer, filmmaker or game creator - and IGTM captures this deeply personal creative journey impeccably. For a start, it's simply beautifully shot, making full use of 35mm DSLR technology, lenses and slider... The filmmakers have a lovely eye and it absolutely nailed my conviction that this is the route for me - there is simply no other way to achieve 'that look' and, from the moment I picked up a camera, it is precisely that cinematic look I've wanted for my own work. Just because we make docs doesn't mean what we make needs to look cheaper, more rushed, inferior - in fact, that sort of paired down look seems to be something Hollywood increasingly aspires towards (Chronicle, The Hurt Locker). Over the course of the intelligently crafted narrative, we experience the motivations, passion, pain, frustrations and elations of a group of micro (a team of one or two!) developers as they literally code away the time of their lives, their souls, into beautifully crafted games that they have no guarantee will sell a single unit. And you know what, I'm not certain they really care - the work these people embark on is so profoundly personal that sales feel almost a crude side-effect of their work. In a wonderful moment, one of the programmers of Super Meat Boy, Tommy Refenes, appears incapable of enjoying a moment of success until he starts watching online videos of other people playing his game: cursing, laughing, screaming! Tommy giggles with delight and, in that moment, every creative hopeful in the world is with him - it's never about the money, it's all about seeing other human beings 'get' what you've spent years trying to achieve, often in the absence of hope, money or support. It's about never, ever giving up.