Notes from a Masterclass with Alex Garland

At the pre-residential weekend of the BFI and NFTS Residential course, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina was screened for us, and after the screening he gave a masterclass on directing/writing/being an artist, and here are my (really messy) notes from one of the best days of my life:

Alex Garland talked a lot about how he prefers sticking to a schedule by shooting in 10 hour days – he said that he doesn’t do breaks/lunch breaks etc. as he does not want to go over time since 1. it will annoy producers/cost more money, and 2. he knows his cast and crew have other commitments such as a family to go home to etc.

Since he was an author/screenwriter before becoming a director, Alex (I don’t feel like I’m on a first name basis with him but let’s go with it) talked about collaboration vs. isolation. He said how he preferred directing as it allowed you to collaborate with people and work with a time to create a vision, whereas when he was writing he found he was in his own head, which can be jarring for both the writer and the work itself.

Ex Machina fact: it was shot in six weeks, 4 weeks were shot in Pinewood studios and 2 weeks in Norway, it is set in Alaska (this is not stated in the film).

Alex Garland words of wisdom number 1: make the right movie for the right cast.

The director brought up new points of view for me about Ex Machina and how to watch it. For example, he asked ‘who’s the protagonist of Ex Machina?’, and it’s like…crap, man…IDK? To me, it feels like the protagonist changes…it goes from Domhnall Gleeson to introduce us to this new world, then Oscar Isaac to show how isolated it is and contrast the two sides between Gleeson and Isaac, and then Alicia Vikander, the New Human? I feel like we definitely go into her point of view when her and the other AI kill Isaac’s character, as the blood that pours from him feels more alien and inhumane than Ava putting skin onto her magnetic/robotic ‘body’.

Alex also talked about the noises of Ava and how they were purposefully made to sound like a heartbeat…direct quote: ‘the noises of Ava make you feel she is alive’. He talked about how these effects were added in post by the sound designer, but I annoyingly can’t remember how they made the noises.

The rest of his talk consisted of more words of wisdom, so I will title this section ‘Alex Garland’s Words of Wisdom number 2 to infinity:

A director must understand the direct of photography’s fingerprint/style, and react in an immediate way to this.

The writer and the author are always the 2 people who are closest to a character – writer hands the character over to the actor.

It is important to understand actors and what they do, since what they do is quite isolating (I found this really interesting as all the other directors from the masterclasses said something along the same lines too – something I had never really considered before. But, after being on set the actors really are the odd ones out).

Film wants to exploit – always think about why violence/why nudity/why this gender? Always give a reason for something.

Concept/theme and character – work as hard as can (I don’t really know what this note means but I’m putting it down in case I figure it out later).

Just write scripts and don’t use script editors – the producers can act in the same way.

Know the argument of a film.

Themes, character and place should all support each other.

Adjustment to include everyone else.

Grammar of camera.

Industry does not take sex seriously – it exploits it. Always have valid reason for including sex in film.

All production companies are hungry for scripts.

Writer and producer = very close relationship.

Make sure first film is good, since this is what the rest of your career will be largely based off.

It is the screenplay’s job to tell people what the room is going to be like – don’t overwrite in a screenplay, be restrained.

Understand why shots go together and why they don’t. He also said don’t hold shots too long, but I think this is a stylistic choice if he’s meaning in the way I thought he meant in terms of Citizen Kane style length shots, but he could’ve meant to be sparing in how these shots are used too.

‘Auteur theory is bullshit’ – Alex Garland, 2016. He did say he believes Wes Anderson, Hitchcock etc. are auteurs in terms of styles, but he was more focused on how the auteur theory suggests it is the director putting in all of the work to the film, when really it’s a collaborative process.

Alex Garland, if you are somehow reading this – thank you so much for the masterclass. It meant a lot that you came, I don’t know why Ex Machina wasn’t nominated for more awards (not that they are an indicator of a film’s value), and this aspiring director will take all of your advice seriously and work on it.

 

P.S. please give me a job on Annihilation. I will do anything.

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A Month With: An Introduction

This year I’ve decided that I’d like to write about films more, so I’m going to use this site to try and do that. Each month, I plan on spending a month with different directors that interest me, where I watch/read about/dissect their films and then talk about them here.

I’ve made sure I’ve begun my year on a good start by choosing Orson Welles as the first director of the month, where I’ll watch Citizen KaneMacbethOthello and Touch of Evil (and maybe The Third Man, even though he didn’t direct it).

If anyone actually reads this/what I write, please contribute to the discussion as what I write is just a starting point from my mind. Any suggestions for directors/films would be appreciated too.

Oh, and, happy new year.

Cocteau X Siouxsie Sioux

A while ago I edited together clips from Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête (1946) with the song Siouxsie Sioux and Brian Reitzell created for Hannibal, and I realised I haven’t shared it here so here it is:

‘It is a privilege to be timeless’: On Time in Orphée (Jean Cocteau, 1950)

Jean Cocteau’s 1950 film Orphée is the retelling of the classic Greek myth on the legend Orpheus, in which Orpheus has to travel to Hades in order to save his love, Eurydice. However, Orphée presents things differently, as Orpheus (played by Cocteau’s lover and the wonderfully handsome, Jean Marais) finds himself falling in love with a princess, who is Death, that came to visit him in a local café. Unlike La Belle et La Bête (1947), in which the protagonists are (arguably) awarded a happy ending, Orphée finishes in a much more somber tone, reminding audiences what has been communicated throughout the film thanks to the constant shots of mirrors and reflections; that love, no matter what time or place you are in, can never be defined or translated. However, the films are similar in that they both present an idiosyncratic and poetic interpretation of time travel – Belle travels to and from the Beast using a lavish glove as a transportation device, while Orpheus and co. glide through mirrors into Hades; whilst one travels within the confines of the same world and the other from life and death, the scope and breadth of the distance they travel to and from remains just as impactful due to the reasons for doing so.

orph1 Belle

Just like Belle transporting back to her home is futile due to her love for the Beast, Orpheus knows that traveling to Hades in order to save Eurydice is in vain since he evidently is not going for “both” of them, as he explains to Death’s driver, Heurtebise, but for Death herself. Yet, the Death he is striving after is his own death; this is unrequited love at its greatest peak, as for Orpheus to be with Death would be fruitless, since the only way this could happen is if he were to die. It is here we can draw parallels to the filmmaker’s life as Cocteau and Marais’s relationship was affected by the fascist air left in the remnants of the war – perhaps, at one point, to the infamous lovers, they felt their love was only possible if it were to transcend the very essence of time itself, and the only way that is possible, according to this film, is through death.

The voiceover at the opening of the film declares, “it is a privilege of legends to be timeless.” This, along with the dramatic, non-diegetic composition by Georges Auric (whom also worked on La Belle), and the well-known tale of Orpheus all draw the spectator in to the dramatic, grandiose setting; the inevitable decline from this state begins as soon as Death appears. Ginette Vincendeau describes the legendary Greek’s humanisation yet transcendence perfectly in her essay for the BFI, stating the film “navigates between myth and realism, boulevard theatre and surrealist poetry, the fantastique and post-war politics.” The point here, in terms of the film’s time travel theory, is that there is none: instead it’s an abstract, poetic concept that would play on the radio channel Marais’s character becomes obsessed with.

orpheus2

The dolly shots presented in the Hades sequences (which have inspired other directors, for example Spike Lee) by director of photography Nicolas Hayer emphasise the point of time travel in the film: it is supposed to be poetic and outlandish because the form of time travel the film manifests is something we see everyday; the decaying of our faces and exacerbation of our personality. Heurtebise was not wrong when he declared that it “takes long to die,” yet, this film reminds viewers that through art, in all its forms, audiences can time travel to different worlds.

An Ode to the BFI at Southbank

The ethereal home of every cinema lover.
The ethereal home of every cinema lover.

Picture this: you feel lost in life, never finding any place/destination/space you can occupy in which you truly feel you. One day, while looking on the BFI site, you realise they have a public building in which any old soul can wonder into and read books about film at their library and buy books about film and films in their shop and watch films and talk to like-minded people about the downfall and sudden resurgence of Justin Bieber…JK, obviously *stands on a mountain, snow falling around me, shouts into the void distance* FIIIIIIIIIIIIIILLLMMMMSSSS.

This is what walking into – actually just being outside it – felt like when I was in Southbank last Friday (the 3rd) at the holy temple of cinema that is the BFI, which I think stands for the British Film Institution, but I could also extend my incredibly deep conceit of the Biebster here and say it stands for Bieber Forever Inside (our hearts), but…I’ll digress from this and take a serious, David-Foster-Wallace-talking-about-post-modernism-stance here to express how much this place, AKA ~~~~~HOME~~~~~ is everything I love.

First of all, besides the ridiculously expensive costs of the tube, it was easy and 100% unstressful to find — if you’re arriving at Victoria Station, just go to the Victoria tube station, get the District line to Westminster, then get the Jubilee line to Waterloo. The walk from here is about 10/15 minutes to the BFI, but – word of warning – if you’re looking for lunch, DON’T!!!!! EAT!!!! AT!!!! SOUTH BANK!!! unless you are willing to pay £6 just for a small cheeseburger (there is a McDonalds and loads of other fast food chains at Waterloo station, and I’d wished I’d eaten there. There’s also a café in the BFI but I don’t know how expensive it is because I didn’t go in, so, take the risk if you wish). Anyway, the point is I had no trouble locating the BFI on the way there and back home…it’s pretty accessible and also very pretty.

The inside of it is even prettier…it honestly felt like I was entering into something that wasn’t real because I’d heard of Richard Ayoade and other directors and famous film people going there so it didn’t feel real that this same thing could be open to…me? A self-conscious teenager? It was amazing.

CJePYWWWIAAVXGj

The reason I went there was to see The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949), which was just as life-changing as the BFI was, but I’m going to be doing a review on this film when the special edition DVD comes out so I can analyse to my heart’s desire. So, blah, blah, blah, I got my tickets and went straight to the shop as I had half an hour to spare, and oh. my. god. there are so many DVDs that aren’t, like, the latest Cameron Diaz ft. Tom Cruise etc. films (no offence Cam Di and T Cruise if you’re reading, I do actually kind of enjoy Knight and Day in an I-hate-this-but-it’s-kind-of-entertaining way). Instead, there were rows upon rows and stacks upon stacks of French Nouvelle Vague films; Japanese films; Italian Neo-Realism films; early cinema films; just every film movement/era you can think of, they had at least one DVD to represent this. They also had a lot of books on film, for example they had a Gothic history on it which I need to get when I go back there, as well as magazines, such as Sight & Sound, but…

It was time to go in to prepare for the film, and the theatre (it feels too fancy to be called a cinema) was beautiful. Here is a picture to prove it:

I don't know if I'm allowed to upload this please don't arrest me BFI.
I don’t know if I’m allowed to upload this please don’t arrest me BFI.

It was extremely comfortable and the seats I was allocated were perfect and I honestly have no complaints about the whole thing.

To part ways with you, reader, I will leave you with this message: go to the BFI if you want your love for film to be heightened/emancipated/taken to a new world…because I can guarantee that watching a film at the BFI will fill a film-shaped hole in your heart you didn’t even know was empty.

The Big Shave

A year ago I stumbled upon Martin Scorsese’s 1967 ‘The Big Shave’, somehow resulting in me recreating the director’s early short, and, instead of shaving a beard, the ‘big shave’ in my version was the shaving of legs (some of you may be thinking this is a brave act of feminism, and, to that I say…you’re right. It is. Now go write 500 think pieces on me instead of Taylor Swift).

You can watch it below, but, warning, it’s very amateur and not all shots are that great, and the blood/contrast of red with black and white didn’t work out as planned, but…it is my first film I’ve done so for some reason I feel the need to post it/share it online.

If you watch it, thanks! (and sorry).

a review of Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

33725_ppl Taking what was supposed to be a one hour break from studying that quickly turned into a 24 hour break, I noticed that ‘Birdman,’ Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s 2014 film, was available to watch on my TV. So…I watched it. If I hadn’t know beforehand that practically the whole film (bar the scene near the end) was supposed to look like it was shot entirely in one take, I probably wouldn’t have noticed — and maybe this is the point Iñárritu was trying to make. I’m not sure exactly what the point was — there are multiple reasons; some I came up with include he’s trying to show how camera shots often go unnoticed by critics and audiences today, or was practising the opposite of this and emphasising the effect shots, lighting-basically every micro-element in film- has on a film.

Even though the ignorant version of me watching this film wouldn’t have noticed the ‘oner,’ I know I would have noticed the lighting, the angles of the shots, and the use of sound within the film as this was, ironically, emphasised by the fact the film is a ‘oner.’ I use ‘oner’ in inverted commas here, as it’s apparent this film isn’t a replica of an Orson Welles oner, yet it’s persuadable that this is for a reason, too — Welles’ long one-takes are just as constructed as Iñárritu’s, but the difference between them is the former is trying to make it look real, like it’s happening in real-time, whilst the latter chooses to embrace the context of what is partly happening in the film (a man coming to terms with the fact his life is fake due to being fictionalised through the medium of film, art, plays) by being unapologetic in its digitally created extended shot, yet still re-intellectualising the cinematic scope– it’s like what Wes Anderson films would be like if he’d ended up like Emma Stone’s character Sam rather than spending his life in tweed drinking tea. (I’m joking). (I love you Wes).

This brings me to my third conclusion on the possible reason of using a clearly constructer oner; the shot is challenging the audience of today — the constant references to Twitter, Facebook, social media, and going viral completely juxtapose with the two hour long take that doesn’t cut. Films are beginning to get quicker and quicker cuts between each scenes, because, to generalise, directors think their audiences are stupid and have a short attention span. What Iñárritu is doing is asking audiences if this is true — he’s asking us to pay attention to the entire film that contextualises the society we live in; the social media age. And, quite frankly, thank god. Twitter and social media have become so important in our society and culture, but contemporary films seem to be ignoring this, but finally we have a film that accurately portrays what it is like to live in a digital age without over-dramatising their effects.

To go back to talking about my revision, I’m currently studying ‘King Lear’ for my exam in June. It’s interesting watching this film after spending your whole life revising ‘King Lear,’ as Michael Keaton’s character can easily be a replica of the play. In fact, one of the play’s central themes — the idea of nothing — is a central theme in Shakespeare’s tragedy, too. When Lear declares in Act One Scene One of ‘King Lear’ that ‘nothing can come of nothing’ to Cordelia, it can easily be mirrored with the way Riggan treats his daughter Sam, as well as the way he sees the world around him while engulfed in Birdman’s thoughts (for example the man who was screaming about the world being ‘nothing’ only to find out that he was acting to impress Keaton’s character — nothing has become nothing here).

‘Birdman’ is not a film to ignore. It contextualises our society, and asks the questions everyone faces but are too afraid to ask, without forgetting that this is just a film, and a great one at that. However, I would argue this is more than just a film — ‘Birdman’ is indeed the meaningful piece of art Riggan so tirelessly wanted to create.