London Lift-Off Film Festival 2012

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Last week I attended the 2012 London Lift Off Festival at the Curzon Cinema. I was great to head back to a festival that means so much to me personally and this time I had the honour of being a judge. What I love about this festival is its ethos; story is king. It’s not about style, or getting a famous face in somewhere to heighten your publicity (although if you have these skills or contacts, good luck to you), its about the story staying with you no matter how it was produced.

Reviewing the films I received was an incredibly enjoyable process. I’ve been banging on about films for years and finally my opinion was being used for a purpose.

On the night I attended, Killing Anna by Paul Gallasch was screening. When Paul broke up from his long term girlfriend he found himself unable to move on.

After several months of trying, he decides to put on a funeral service for her in an attempt to get over his heartbreak, documenting the whole thing. It’s quite a brilliant, strange and yet incredibly truthful film. Paul lets us into his deepest thoughts and feelings and is so honest about the raw nature of his heartbreak that, although we might have all been there at some point and cringe as he goes through every stage of getting over someone, we can’t help but feel the upmost sympathy for him (and his ex girlfriend).

I also watched the feature Without by Mark Jackson which starts in tedium as Joslyn (Joslyn Jensen) becomes the live-in carer for the vegetative Frank whilst his anally retentive family go on holiday. Between the isolation of a house without TV (apart from the fishing channel), phone signal or internet, Joslyn is left to her own devices – making friends and enemies with the neighbours and never quite trusting the ever looming Frank (is he just putting it on?). Jackson allows us to slowly become acquainted with Jocelyn, her secrets, her loves, the way she and I guess we all behave when nobody is watching, stripping her down one piece at a time until we get to the truth about who she is and why.

The story pulls you in like a black hole; slowly at first, but always tugging, until your entirely sucked into it. This is helped hugely by the cinematography (Jessica Dimmock and Diego Garcia) especially inside the house where shadows seem to grip the edge of everything and only that which is in close focus is apparent. It simply looks beautiful.

There is also a lovely, if unusual cover.

I really love the experience of seeing quality films at festivals, purely because the chances of ever having the opportunity of finding out about them is remote otherwise.

I was also lucky enough to find a few really strong contenders whilst and one in particular that I wanted to talk about here – since horror is my genre of choice. The Hole by AHN Joon-seong, despite being about the 59th film to carry that title, is the story of a young man who whilst trying desperately to stay out of trouble only manages to dig (excuse the pun) himself deeper and deeper into it with his good intentions. For its 20 minute duration I was on tenderhooks as this poor guy just ends up in the most hideous of situations, paying the price for not acting quickly enough to help a woman in distress. It looks and plays out brilliantly and only didn’t make the Lift Off Festival because of programming constraints. It deserves to be championed and AHN Joon-seong certainly seems like a film maker to watch out for. The Hole by AHN Joon-seong.

Being a judge has been a great experience and it all came from getting my short around the festival circuit. It is vital that if you are making shorts that you get them seen by as many as possible. London Lift Off and it’s subsequent festivals is a great opportunity to do so.

14 Index Cards

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“You need fourteen cards per thirty pages of screenplay. More then fourteen…too much material…less then fourteen…you may be too thin… Why fourteen? Because it works… It’s just one of those odd things I’ve discovered out of my experience of teaching and writing screenplays…”
– Syd Field, Screenplay

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Writing Tips #1 Start Talking to Yourself

Last night I attempted to talk to my characters. This might sound odd. It might even sound as if I’m going a bit mad. If you had been there, you’d probably think I was a stark raving lunatic.

The story goes, I was writing more character essay notes and really trying to understand and know as much about my characters as possible. But I kept getting stuck. The questions weren’t difficult: what’s your favourite book? etc, but I was managing to over think these things. It’s a bit like Sir Galahad in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who wants to cross the bridge and has to answer three questions to do so, but when asked what his favourite colour is says ‘blue… no wait… argh!’ and is ejected into the abyss below.
It’s the indecisive part of my brain that would probably have me flying off that bridge too when it comes to making simple, but definitive choices about my characters.

So last night I tried something new. I took the character out of my head (which after all, is where he is going to end up anyway – and the sooner the better!) and sat him down on the sofa opposite me. Having built up my knowledge of this character already by three or so pages, I then began asking him questions. Not only were his answers quick, they were decisive and I was even surprised by some of them.

So yes, this was mildly bizarre because obviously on some level I was taking to myself. But by seeing my character in front of me and asking him questions – out loud I should add, it forced me to define him outside of myself and thus create someone who wasn’t just an aspect of my own personality, but someone i could see as an individual – and this is a truly fun part of the writing process.

As I typed the answers down, there were no indecisive moments because I’d found a way to let go of controlling my character. He was on his own, his answers were fresh and not contrived and hopefully this will make him far more believable.

Here’s some pictures for demonstration purposes…

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What… is your name?

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Sir Galahad of Camelot

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What… is your quest?

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To seek the Holy Grail.

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What… Is your favourite colour?

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Blue… No! Yelarghhhhhhhhhhhhhh!