Beginning in late January, several members of Young Arnolfini have been involved with the BFI Film Academy Bristol, one of 24 regional academies established by the BFI as a way of providing filmmakers aged 16-19 an opportunity to expand their technical expertise, meet like-minded individuals and help produce their own short film by the end of it. What follows are some of our experiences.
The term ‘gap year’ is one of those idioms so very apt in explaining itself. Either positively or negatively, a year between Sixth Form and University always feels like a gap in time. What you choose to do in this time can completely shape the virtues in delaying higher education. Halfway through my own gap year, I’m shameless enough to boast that pursuing a place in the BFI Film Academy Bristol was a bright idea. Besides putting on a party based on TRON and making a short documentary, one of the most enjoyable parts of the programme was a visit to Pinewood Studios on February 14th. Here is a piece I wrote shortly after:
Moira Shearer breezes gently through a dreamy landscape of expressionist proportions, Dennis Price prepares his scheme to murder 12 of the D’Ascoyne family, Dirk Bogarde breaks barriers in the greatest exploration of homophobia depicted on screen and Barry Foster lures his victims upstairs in Hitchcock’s most explicitly sadistic film: it’s possible to glorify Pinewood Studios without a single utter of any multi-million dollar, mainstream movie. The truth is that this Victorian estate, turned into film studios by Charles Boot and the irreplaceable J. Arthur Rank, has housed some of the finest British directors, actors, cinematographers and so on in the nascent stages of their careers. Yet it’s entirely understandable that Pinewood has established an inexorable link between it’s world class talent and that behemoth of all Western film industries: Hollywood.
Entering the 007 stage can feel rather aptly like entering the pre-development stage of a Bond villain’s lair. You half expect scarred Donald Pleasence to stroll across the upper walkway -whilst stroking a white cat, of course – as dozens of servile henchmen hastily attend to their errands in whatever volcano/submarine/ice fortress they have been assigned to. But I need not say that this isn’t the case, and it never was. Those magnificent structures, crafted especially to accommodate the wildest of stunts, in that oh-so flawed franchise were designed and built by a crew of hundreds. During a tour of the studios, we had the privilege of talking to two of them – production designer Stephen Scott and cinematographer Robin Vidgeon. Neither studied film before finding work with the industry, with Scott’s original field of expertise being engineering. One needn’t make much of a leap to uncover the link between Scott’s practical-minded precision and it’s blend with his love of architecture and nature. For instance, with Hellboy, notwithstanding the Hungarian location, he took the antiquated look of a local synagogue and reshaped it into a modest library for the film. Vidgeon, too, possesses a keenness for inventiveness, telling us that he particularly enjoys working with first time directors as a way of keeping his involvement in the medium fresh.
Further senior words of wisdom awaited us as we visited an auditorium used specifically for sound mixing and for screening rough cuts of a picture to its financiers Sound designer Glenn Freemantle received an Oscar nomination in 2008 for his work on Slumdog Millionaire but his other work on Shame, V for Vendetta and Never Let Me Go – as well as Danny Boyle’s increasingly high octane filmography since The Beach – ought not to go unmentioned (or should that be unheard?). Freemantle noticeably lit up with excitement when he leapt at the chance to divulge us on the genuinely exciting Dolby Atmos technology, which should be in over 700 international cinemas by the release of Monsters University. When describing this to others, rather than using the terse simplification ‘It’s like 3D but with sound.’, I prefer to imitate Freemantle’s demonstration: he claims that with 43 speakers around the room, you can make a sound as minute as a buzzing fly travel in every direction around an audience, as opposed to the standard 5 speaker surround system utilised in all multiplexes. The possibilities for innovation here cannot be underestimated – he elaborated on this example by saying if you wished to design the sounds of a war zone, you could have a helicopter pass over the audiences head, but with distinguishable sounds of each propeller, all the while bullets continue to whizz back and forth, bouncing off the walls. Time for cinema to get its groove back…
Billie (Originally written Feb 24th):
It was a freezing cold, and unfortunately cloudy night, we were doing our best to find Failand Observatory. However this proved to be almost impossible, and we spent a good hour and a half driving in circles in the dark, and trespassing on farms.
Failand Observatory just seemed to not want to be found.
We all agreed that there was a slight horror film, Blair Witch project feel to the whole situation. The dark, winding, misty roads. The empty fields. The full moon. And the naïve, young documentary crew.
We finally reached a walled house with a large iron gate, with a sign next to it which clearly said in big letters ‘The Observatory’. This seemed like a fairly obvious indication that this might be the place we were looking for. Although none of us had been to an observatory before, we were quite surprised to see that it was this large, ominous house at the end of a gravel drive way. Zoe got out to investigate. When she returned, she told us that there was a confused old woman on the other side of the intercom, and this probably was just someone’s house. At this point Tom joked that he half expected to see masked figures performing satanic rituals in the garden. We decided to leave.
We phoned John, one of the members of the astronomical society.
He asked if we had a compass. We didn’t.
Following John’s directions we arrived at what appeared to be an abandoned old farm, with no sign of John or any of the astronomical society. By now we were all getting frustrated and slightly paranoid, so for fear of ‘being killed by a homicidal scarecrow’, we hit the road again. It’s safe to say we got to know Failand pretty well that night. Eventually, with John aiding us over the phone, and standing by the road with a torch, we reached the observatory! Which actually turned out to be the abandoned old farm after all, and we had failed to notice the little path that lead up to a round, observatory shaped building.
After the initial confusion, the night was a complete success! Nobody was killed, and we got some very interesting interviews out of John and his fellow astronomers. We saw the actual moon – not a fake one, this time – through the lens of an incredible telescope, and were completely awe inspired by its texture and detail. A shame it had been cloudy, but nonetheless an incredible experience, which should’ve got us some great footage. A special thanks to our driver, for having an unquestionable amount of patience and determination!
As consumers we tend to accept what we are visually given without much question when it comes to cinema. Cars can turn into robots, mythological creatures exist and space and time travel are indeed possible. On a more basic level than this, we accept that, within one scene, the viewpoint can change dozens of times whilst appearing effortless. I started this course with no experience in film whatsoever, with little idea what to expect, and soon found out that the process of filming one scene alone is anything but effortless.
I was part of the Bristol Old Vic Section of the Academy and spent my time working as part of a team to create a short film. Despite having to miss two sessions early on and possibly being the least experienced person on the course I had an amazing time working in the Animation and Art Departments. We were visited by several working professionals, and had the opportunity to watch films for free at the Watershed. you can read about some of those experiences here, however for now I thought I’d show you a piece I wrote after seeing Catfish for the second time:
I recently saw the documentary film Catfish at the Watershed for the second time. As I’d already seen this film before I was able to focus less on the narrative and more on the cinematography. I really liked the use of social media, and online platforms to help tell the story, for example, the use of GoogleMaps to demonstrate the distance between the characters.
The directors, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, use a mix of professional and entry-level cameras to shoot the film and, to help the narrative, often use screenshots of the emails being typed.
In case you haven’t seen the film (which I would highly recommend) it follows the story of Ariel Schulman’s brother, Yaniv and his relationship with the family of a girl called Abby. It brings to light the problems of developing friendships via the internet, and has been so successful that there will now be a television programme where Yaniv will follow online relationships to find out if the parties are being truthful to one another. I really hope they continue to use the mix of camera styles into the series.