Review: Spotlights - Comedy

What a great start to the month of October! There were very many people at our Comedy night, which was held in partnership with LOCO, the comedy film festival which is running again from 22-25 January (a time of year when we all need cheering up).

Our three filmmakers were Louis Paxton, who talked a little about how the comedy mockumentary was a very easy way of making films with substance over style, which is extremely important on a small budget. Then there was Carolina Giammetta, who began directing comedies to give herself better parts as an actress. Finally we had Ben Mallaby, who showed several comedic films, including an audience premiere (Milk!, which has been online for a while but never previously before for a group audience), and a clip from ‘Island Queen’ which was shortlisted for a BAFTA.

The Q&A afterwards was hosted by Denise from LOCO, who began by asking how everyone had gotten into comedy instead of another genre. Louis chose it because, along with horror, it’s one of the only genres where you get an instant visceral reaction, which is incredibly satisfying – although all of his work crosses genres, including horror and sci-fi. Ben began by explaining how he originally started as a maker of soppy romantic dramas, but ‘no one gave a shit’. So through a network of friends and their partners he found collaborators he enjoyed working with and therefore found his comedic voice, though it’s taken ages. Carolina was bored with the acting work she was getting and started working on comedy as a way of improving her characters. As an inspiration, she gave the example of the partner of a friend who accompanied her on a visit, except he stayed in the car and wouldn’t come inside.

When asked where she found her collaborators, Carolina recommended LOCO as an excellent source for networking, and also began explaining how talent labs and networking events are an important resource for getting yourself out there. Louis met a lot of people on his course though the National Film and Television School. Ben claimed that for him it was all down to luck, and meeting the friends of friends.

Then everyone discussed how difficult it can be to get comedy down on paper, the necessity of working with producers, and how to keep a realistic-feeling freshness when bringing a mix of people to the table. Many times a hilarious script is killed through poor execution, or remarkable talent can elevate a mediocre script. They also all agreed that sound design is the overlooked element of comedy, whether via exaggerated effects, pure silence – and where to factor in space for the audience laughter. The feedback of comedy in front of a live audience, which Carolina has worked with recently, gives actors immediate feedback on how to angle their performances which of course is not possible in film.

Someone in the audience asked how you find editors who are willing to work for no money and the answer is you sort of don’t – you must always return favours, aim to find paid work, or teach yourself. Otherwise you will end up in Louis’ position and owe a lot of people a lot of money.

Another audience member asked how they handle budgets. All of them agreed that with more money come more problems. A bigger budget allows better lunches and more effects but then you’ve spent it all. There are always compromises that must be made but with a bigger budget you can get better things from people – and there is always a way to work around this.

Someone else asked about the production design of their films. Carolina shot in friends’ houses and in the pub she used to manage. Louis managed to hire some friends before they became too expensive for him, and Ben once charmed a property guardian into allowing him access into an old space for shooting.

Denise then asked about the evolvement of their career trajectories. Ben laughed and said that after being nominated for a BAFTA it was all downhill from here. Louis’ movies are getting longer and he is very interested in getting into TV or films, while Carolina is busy working across genres to get as much experience as she can.

The next Spotlights is in November, and if you’ve been coming along to the nights and fancy a bit of blogging experience get in touch with Katie! I’m wonderful but I have some other commitments coming up so it would be great if someone else also had a turn.

Written by Sarah Manvel (@typewritersarah)

Review: Spotlights - Soundtrack

Hello everyone! The September 3 edition of Spotlights was a good one, and not least because it featured birthday cake and a red balloon for Steve.

First up was Spike Morris, who explained the important part of his philosophy, which is that he is not a music video director, but instead a director who works with musicians. His work has been strongly influenced by that of David Terranova, to the point that six weeks’ work with him was more useful than two years of university. He showed a few short films that he made with Oliver Hudson and the financial support of Channel 4. The one I especially liked was called The Hunt, the music for which was done, unusually for him, after the completed film was shot.

Next we heard from Guy Verge Wallace, a young Australian who has recently moved to London. His first music video was a life-size stop-motion animation done in the living room of a friends’ house over five months, for the band Papa vs Pretty. From there he won contests and showed us a few more short films which brilliantly combined animation and music, including one done to a track by K-Pop superstars Girls’ Generation.

Finally we heard from Aneil Karia, who directed the countdown to the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony (the short film with all the London numbers). But he began by doing comedy pieces, and then directed a music video for the band Wave Machines which opened up commercial and other opportunities for him. He also showed us his short film, BEAT, starring Ben Whishaw, about the sounds one man with some mental health problems hears in his daily London routine.

At the Q&A after the screenings, Aneil spoke about his love for music and how all his first wages went to buying CDs, but that he knew he would never be able to make a career in music. However the development of music videos made him realise what the two together could achieve. The emotion of music, its raw power, is the driving and largely unacknowledged force in any film, which has the power to either save or ruin it. Guy agreed, but for him, the emotion is the most important piece of filmmaking to service the narrative, and a source of tremendous inspiration. For Spike, the music is an opportunity to collaborate with such interesting people, which means that his work doesn’t feel like work.

An audience member asked where the ideas come from; Guy replied that he has, so far in his career, only worked with friends/people who have a similar ‘headspace’. When he’s provided treatments, his friends have been generous enough to give him free rein in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Spike and Aneil have worked with bigger labels and marketing teams who have more involvement, and also provide better equipment and crews. Aneil then discussed his experience of using songs within BEAT, which required the band’s sign-off and how he was able to get their permission. And all three filmmakers there’s no traditional or set route for making a music video with a band anymore; there’s even no consistent expectations from a band about how you will work together. Aneil and Spike discussed their experience with choreographers and how they are able to translate an inarticulate vision into something concrete the dancers can work with.

Another audience member asked how their studies have helped in their career. Guy studied digital media in Australia but under the aegis of art school and has no plans to study film. Spike did 18 months of a TV production course which he did not find helpful, but luckily was able to get some family assistance to get him on the right road. Aneil also did a few courses that were not strictly directly relevant and was intensely relieved to quit and leave them behind.

When asked which musicians they wish to work with in the future, Aneil said Aphex Twin or Philip Glass, Guy said Lady Gaga, Katy Perry or anyone in K-Pop, and Spike said ‘people I haven’t heard of.’ His next project is working on new techniques for music videos and podcasts, to try to use multi-camera live gig-shooting techniques into the studio. Guy is working on a comic book series, and Aneil is preparing his first feature film, about an unusual bank robbery.

Next one – 1 October! There might be cake – although I’m sure you’d be welcome to bring your own if you fancied it. Though Katie does make excellent cake.

Written by Sarah Manvel (@typewritersarah)

Review: Spotlights - Animation

Hello fans of Whirlygig Cinema!

It was a lovely night of animation on August 6th.

First up was Martin Pickles, who is very active in the British animation scene, not least because he runs animation film clubs and also teaches a course at City Lit. The second presenter was Stella Salumaa, who has worked in Estonia as well as the UK, in both Claymation and live-action animation. And lastly was Edwin Roston, who prefers to work on stream-of-consciousness animations, preferably in partnerships with musicians or other creatives.

All three gave us an overview of their careers and their films, with clips from the very beginning of their careers – in Stella’s case, including the film which got her accepted onto her graduate animation course – and going right up to some works in progress now. Then they all sat down together to discuss how they work and why.

They all agreed that the strength of animation is its difference to live-action film, and all agreed that if something could be done solely as live-action, then it should. Of course, as CGI becomes more mainstream in cinema, it can be argued that live-action is becoming more animated. As Martin pointed out, animated films work best when they depart from literal filmmaking into something more abstract or fantastical. Edwin explained how he works best when is not following a set script and is able to let the film evolve organically.

The audience for their films has broadened out with their websites, but generally they imagine the people who will see their films as either festival audiences or their friends. And all three agreed on the importance of Flash, especially for their commercial work, as it allows them to work much more quickly. Stella explained how editing with the computer software allows her to focus on the work – although for the most part she storyboards in her mind ahead of time so doesn’t shoot much unused film. Martin is able to edit within Flash and therefore discards very little, Edwin depends more on his frame of mind as to whether he uses all the footage he creates.

Stella then discussed the difference between two-dimensional and three-dimensional animation. The different techniques of course provide very different results, but the main issue for a filmmaker is that of cost. One of Stella’s student films was a 3D animation which accrued costs for the space, the materials and of course the assistance of other filmmakers. She was lucky, and knows it.

When asked what other artists they admire, both Martin and Stella mentioned Zbigniew Rybczynski, whose short film TANGO won an Oscar in 1983 (and apparently earned him a night in jail for his trouble). Edwin spoke about the early works of David Lynch, and also several painters whose compositional skills he admires. They motivate themselves through keeping a strict routine and working hard to deadline, and try very hard not to ask for feedback too early in the process, so they do not become overwhelmed with other people’s opinions.

As for their next projects, Edwin will focus on completing the work in progress he showed us a few minutes of, Stella is animating a few music videos, and Martin is animating a series of lectures for schoolchildren.

The next event on 3 September will focus on Soundtracks and we hope we’ll see you there.

Written by Sarah Manvel (@typewritersarah)

Brand new Spotlights programme launched

We have now launched our brand new programme of Spotlights events, which will run monthly from August 2014 to April 2015. Last night, dozens of filmmakers and film fans came along to our launch night at the Hackney Attic to hear us announce the new line-up, and watch a specially curated programme of shorts by filmmakers featuring over the coming months.

Over the next 9 months we will cover a variety of topics and genres, including animation, soundtracks, comedy, screenwriting, art, family affairs, documentary, sci-fi and non-acting performance. We are extremely excited by our line-up of 27 filmmakers and screenwriters, which include BAFTA nominees Michael Pearce and Ben Mallaby, BFI filmmaker in residence Victoria Fiore, Encounters Grand Prix and Scottish BAFTA winner Jamie Stone, London Short Film Festival winner Nick Abrahams and the mastermind behind the Olympic Opening Ceremony countdown sequence Aneil Karia. And many, many, many more.

We are teaming up with other festivals along the way, including LOCO, London Short Film Festival and Scalarama, to help bring new audiences and new insights to these events.

As always, at each event we will give a platform to just three filmmakers. Each individual filmmaker will be given 30-minutes to present a mini retrospective of their best work and give an insight into their background and creative processes. They will take to the stage to talk about their work and screen their films, and at the end of the night they will take part in a Q&A with the other filmmakers.

The first of these events will take place on Wednesday 6th August, and will focus on animation, featuring Martin Pickles, Edwin Rostron and Stella Salumaa. We look forward to seeing you there!

Full programme and dates

Applications for Spotlights are now closed

Applications for Spotlights events between August 2014 and April 2015 are now closed. Thank you to everyone who applied! Join us for our Summer Launch on Wednesday 2 July when we will announce our programme for the coming months.

Whirlygig Cinema's Spotlights - applications open!

We are looking for filmmakers to take part in our Spotlights events between August 2014 and April 2014. Find out more

See great animation with Whirlygig Cinema in January

Happy New Year to short film fans everywhere! We start the year with two very exciting events, both of which focus heavily on animation. First up, we are hosting our animation-themed edition of Spotlights on Wednesday 8th January at Hackney Attic, where we will introduce you to four exceptionally talented and very diverse filmmakers; Carla MacKinnon, Tea&Cheese (Liam Tate and Jamie Stanton) and Adam Wells.

Spotlights is a monthly short film night that shines a light on the work and practice of outstanding new filmmakers. Carla, Adam and the boys from Tea & Cheese will be given just 30 minutes each to screen and talk about their films, providing a gripping insight into their background, ideas and animating process. Find out more

On Saturday 11th January, we will be returning to Rich Mix one more time for our Making Tracks: Retrospective to celebrate three years of Making Tracks and say farewell to the project as we take a break for the immediate future.

Making Tracks has provided an interactive platform for emerging film talent since 2010 fusing live music with moving image. With support from Arts Council England, we have hosted twelve events at Rich Mix and showcased over 120 short films, all of which screened alongside brand new scores, performed live by The Cabinet of Living Cinema.

On the 11th we will showcase a selection of the best short films and animations to come out of the project, with their respective live scores. Enjoy the films and live music and then party on with music from Shut the Front Door DJs and live visuals by Emily Bailey. See the full programme.

This event is part of the 11th London Short Film Festival, which takes place from 10th-19th January at venues across London.

Time for a whirlygiggle at comedy-themed Spotlights

Image credit: Rob Munday

The next Spotlights is taking place on Wednesday 4th December at Hackney Attic and this time we'll have a special focus on comedy. Come into the warm and meet some super witty filmmakers - writer-director Stuart Laws, filmmaking trio Tim Bunn, Joseph Patrick and Tim Woodall, and animator Rob Munday. You will also have the chance to see two lesser-known performances by British actor Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, Sherlock) and well as onscreen cameos by comedians Julian Barratt and Daniel Simonsen.

Tickets are on sale now - only £4 in advance, or £3 if you rock up on the night with a WhirlyBadge.

Buy tickets Programme

Spotlights returns in November with a new look

Photo: Simon Ball presents his films at Spotlights, Aug 2013. Courtesy of Helen Nias.

We are getting ready to return to Hackney Attic with Spotlights on on 6th November, to experiment with a brand new image and concept.

Keeping the original format, with three emerging filmmakers being given half an hour to present a retrospective of their work through film screenings and chat, we are adding an extra feature. Each event will now focus on a particular theme or genre, to give a more specialised view of the films on show. So by doing this we hope that fans of animation, documentary, music videos, comedy, drama and artist video can really get the most out of the evening. We are keeping the Q&A at the end of the evening as well, so audience members can ask the filmmakers any questions they might have.

Spotlights on Wednesday 6th November will focus on drama and we look forward to welcoming some incredible fiction writers and filmmakers Chanya Button, Phil Hawkins and Fernando Tiberini. This will take place at Hackney Attic, Hackney Picturehouse, 270 Mare Street, London, E8 1HE and tickets are £4 in advance, or £5 on the door.

November programme Buy tickets

We're Making Tracks on Friday: short films + live scores

This Friday, Making Tracks will return to Rich Mix, where we will showcase a fresh new programme of short films accompanied by brand new live scores. The Cabinet of Living Cinema will use a wide range of instruments and foley to bring a fresh perspective to the films, adding a new dimension to the visuals and creating an invigorating live experience. Join the artists and filmmakers as they hear their new scores for the first time and see cutting-edge film in a totally unique context.

Doors open at 7.30pm for an 8pm start. Tickets are £10 on the door, £8 in advance, or £5 (on the door) to WhirlyBadge holders.

See the full list of films here. We hope to see you on Friday!

Image reference: still from Jo Peel's 'Things Change', screening at Making Tracks on Friday 11 October.