If I had it my way…

With tonight’s BAFTA Award Ceremony just hours away, I took some time to reflect on the years’ cinematic offerings, and to work out who would have my vote if I were in charge. Highlighted in bold are my favourites in the category. Italics are the films I think will take home the prize:

BEST FILM

  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • The Imitation Game
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Grand Busapest Hotel

“Boyhood” is a beautiful film and a remarkable achievement, but the technical brilliance of “Birdman” clinches it for me.

OUTSTANDING BRITISH FILM

  • Pride
  • The Theory of Everything
  • ’71
  • Paddington
  • The Imitation Game
  • Under the Skin

“Pride” takes this category for me because of two key things; firstly, it chronicles a story which makes me enormously proud of my British (Welsh) heritage, and secondly, it was just so damn fun. But alas, I expect “The Theory of Everything” will take home the prize. A win for “’71” would also make me happy, and show more open minded voting from the BAFTA members.

BEST FILM NOT IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE

  • Ida
  • Two Days, One Night
  • Leviathan
  • The Lunchbox
  • Trash

A tranquil and delicately crafted film, with fabulous performances and stunning cinematography. I’ve barely heard a criticism made of it, although “Leviathan” is also a frontrunner.

BEST ACTOR

  • Jake Gylenhall – Nightcrawler
  • Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything
  • Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game
  • Michael Keaton – Birdman
  • Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel

All five gave undeniably solid performances, but I think Gylenhall had the hardest job in selling such a creepy and unlikable character as protagonist. Eddie Redmayne is solidly tipped to win it though.

BEST ACTRESS

  • Julianne Moore – Still Alice
  • Reese Witherspoon – Wild
  • Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything
  • Amy Adams – Big Eyes
  • Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl

“Still Alice” was a moving portrait of early-onset dementia, made utterly captivating and heartbreaking by Julianne Moore’s performance (if little else).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • J K Simmons – Whiplash
  • Edward Norton – Birdman
  • Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
  • Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
  • Ethan Hawke – Boyhood

JK Simmons has quite rightly been on a winning streak at all the major awards ceremonies so far. If you haven’t yet seen “Whiplash” I cannot recommend it enough.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
  • Emma Stone – Birdman
  • Imelda Staunton – Pride
  • Keira Knightley – The Imitation Game
  • Rene Russo – Nightcrawler

From my perspective “Boyhood” could have been swapped for “Motherhood” and I would have happily watched Patricia Arquette endure all the pains and joys of matriarchal responsibility.

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Richard Linklater – Boyhood
  • Damien Chazelle – Whiplash
  • Alejandro G Inarritu – Birdman
  • Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest
  • James Marsh – The Theory of Everything

Although I rate “Whiplash” and “Birdman” more highly as films, it is undeniable the clarity of vision and sheer determination that went into the making of “Boyhood”.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Damien Chazelle – Whiplash
  • Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Dan Gilroy – Nightcrawler
  • Richard Linklater – Boyhood
  • Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr & Armando Bo – Birdman

The script sustained tension from the word go, and with some of the best dialogue I’ve heard all year. Also, he gets points for writing a commercial film about Jazz drumming!

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • Graham Moore – The Imitation Game
  • Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl
  • Paul King – Paddington
  • Anthony McCarten – The Theory of Everything
  • Jason Hall – American Sniper

A difficulty with telling a story based in history is that the outcome is already known, and so tension and intrigue can be difficult to sustain. However Graham Moore’s script deftly did both.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Dick Pope – Mr Turner
  • Emmanuel Lubezki – Birdman
  • Robert Yeoman – The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Lukasz Zal and Ryzsard Lenczewski – Ida
  • Hoyte van Hoytema – Interstellar

How Dick Pope managed to make the whole film look like a Turner painting is beyond me – although the film lacked momentum I’d have happily watched the picture all day.

PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • Adam Stockhausen & Anna Pinnock – The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Suzie Davies, Charlotte Watts – Mr Turner
  • Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis – Interstellar
  • Maria Djurkovic, Tatiana MacDonald – The Imitation Game
  • Rick Heinrichs, Shane Vieau – Big Eyes

The production design made this film. From the hotel itself to the amazing bright palette, it was flawless.

EDITING

  • Tom Cross – Whiplash
  • John Gilroy – Nightcrawler
  • Douglas Crise & Stephen Mirrione – Birdman
  • Barney Pilling – The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • William Goldenburg – The Imitation Game
  • Jinx Godfrey – The Theory of Everything

The editing of “Whiplash” struck me in two ways… Firstly, for a film where the predominant action is talking and playing a drum kit, the tension never eased up. Secondly, the editing and the music worked so beautifully together, with cuts matching different refrains and beats.

SOUND

  • Thomas Curley, Ben Wilkins, Craig Mann – Whiplash
  • Thomas Varga, Martin Hernández, Aaron Glascock, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño – Birdman
  • Wayne Lemmer, Christopher Scarabosio, Pawel Wdowczak – The Grand Budapest
  • Walt Martin, John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, Alan Robert Murray, Bub Asman – American Sniper
  • John Midgley, Lee Walpole, Stuart Hilliker, Martin Jensen – The Imitation Game

ORIGINAL MUSIC 

  • Antonio Sanchez – Birdman
  • Jóhann Jóhannsson – The Theory of Everything
  • Mica Levi – Under The Skin
  • Hans Zimmer – Interstellar
  • Alexandre Desplat – The Grand Budapest Hotel

That jazz drum soundtrack was sublime, and made even more fabulous by switching from non-diegetic to diegetic by occasionally catching site of the drummer!

SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Paul Franklin, Scott Fisher, Andrew Lockley – Interstellar
  • Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, R. Christopher White – The Hobbit
  • Stephane Ceretti, Paul Corbould, Jonathan Fawkner, Nicolas Aithadi – Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Erik Winquist, Daniel Barrett – Dawn of the Planet Apes
  • Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Tim Crosbie, Cameron Waldbauer – X-Men

The visual effects on this film have lead to new theoretical theories emerging from physics. It is an inspiring example of science and art merging to produce something incredible. Plus, a lot of the effects were created before filming, and were projected onto the windows of the spaceship to allow the actor’s something to perform off, which is a much more inspired approach than relentless green-screen.

OUTSTANDING DEBUT BY A BRITISH WRITER, DIRECTOR OR PRODUCER

  • Hong Khaou (Writer/Director) – Lilting
  • Gregory Burke (Writer), Yann Demange (Director) – ’71
  • Paul Katis (Director/Producer), Andrew De Lotbiniere (Producer) – Kajaki
  • Stephen Beresford (Writer), David Livingstone (Producer) – Pride
  • Elaine Constantine (Writer/Director) – Northern Soul

Why Jonathan Asser wasn’t nominated in this category for Starred Up baffles me. His win of Best Newcomer at London Film Festival was very well deserved. But in its absence Lilting should win the prize. Sadly I don’t think enough voters will have seen it, so I expect ’71 will tae the prize. I expect Pride will miss out because Stephen Beresford has already had a rather successful theatre career, so no one will be routing for him as a “debut” talent.

EE RISING STAR

  • Jack O’Connell
  • Shailene Woodley
  • Miles Teller
  • Gugu Mbatha-Raw
  • Margot Robbie

If Jack O’Connell doesn’t win this I might throw a tantrum – but I expect the franchise fans of “Fault in Our Stars” and “Divergent” might seal a win for Shailene Woodley.

Who wants to place some bets?!

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The Fox’s Verdict

As the award season gets into swing it got me thinking about what my favourite films have been thus far over this past year… It’s been a good ‘un, with a real range of films managing to capture the audiences’ heart (and the critics’ praise), but are my pick for the top ten:

1. Whiplash – a brilliantly self-assured film from novice director Damien Chazelle, with perfect performances and an incredible soundtrack that had me gripping the sides of my seat without once letting up from the opening scene until the very last frame.

2. Birdman – A relentlessly fun and technically brilliant piece of filmmaking, that manages to be self-aware with out seeming self-indulgent. The ensemble cast are phenomenal and the drum soundtrack is to die for.

3. Starred Up – Starred Up managed to stay firmly on my mind for a good few weeks after I first saw it – I say first, because I was so enthralled on a first viewing that I’ve seen it twice since. I felt frustrated when the credits rolled because I knew the chance to make it myself was gone. It made an important political commentary by engrossing you in the lives of its central characters, with two of the best performances of the year coming from Jack O’Connell and Ben Mendelsohn.

4. Pride – The most fabulously uplifting film of the year, chronicling the incredible story of LGSM, a group of gay men and lesbians whose support of the miners during the mid-eighties inadvertently lead to big reciprocal support for LGBT rights in the UK. Dominic West’s dance scene left me smiling for days.

5. Ida – A tranquil and delicately crafted film by Pawel Pawlikowski that examines identity with the deftest of touches. Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski’s cinematography is stunning and Agata Trzebuchowska’s central performance is faultless.

6. Boyhood – A fascinating study of childhood that deserves praise for the sheer audacity of Richard Linklater’s ambition.

7. Only Lovers Left Alive – oozing a wry humour as it mocks its own cliches this must be the most hipster film of the year. The dark and epic soundtrack means it makes for perfect late night viewing.

8. Force Majeure – A beautifully simple concept with a cast who exhibit a perfect stillness, and scenes that are so delightfully awkward you can’t help but love it.

9. Love is Strange – A tender and understated film about the resilience of love with wonderful performances from John Lithgow and Alfred Molina.

10. Inherent Vice – An eccentric amble into the heights of hippiedom – the heavy haze of smoke seems to leech out the screen until you feel stoned just watching. An all star cast helped along by exquisite cinematography (think 35 mm & lens flares) & design (think mint green telephones).

Honourable mention must also go to Julianne Moore for her stella performance in Still Alice, as well as David Oyelowo’s remarkable portrayal of MLK in Selma and Jake Gyllenhaal’s chilling character in Nightcrawler.

On the technical front, Dick Pope deserves credit for the breathtaking cinematography of Mr Turner, and Interstellar for its mesmerising visual effects helmed by Paul Franklin under the advise of theoretical physicist, Kip Thorne.

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The Biochemistry of Filmmaking

My route into filmmaking has been a somewhat atypical. At uni I studied Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (fields which continue to interest me on an intellectual level, despite not following them as a career). Setting up Fox Cub Films during the second year of my studies, I often struggled to find the motivation I needed to succeed on such an academic course, and at times I even considered giving it up in order to more fully devote my time to producing. Luckily, after making the decision to stick with it, I found it began to inspire me in all sorts of unexpected ways…

Ultimately, Biochemistry is a study of life at the smallest scale and it is life which film concerns itself with. Through film we can emotively experience lives different from our own, provoking compassion, empathy and acceptance. It is fascination with the universe that drives both filmmakers and scientists.

First of all, I quickly began using science as a source of stories. When studying melatonin, I would think of the dedication of the scientist who isolated himself in a cave for months on end to study the internal bodyclock; when studying the genetics of cellular lifespan regulation I would project studies from model organisms into a future where humans could live indefinitely; when studying BSE, I wondered about the motivations of the politicians and advisors behind the scenes desperately trying to reassure the nation during the UK’s epidemic.

But the skills I learnt have also proved useful on a practical level…

The human body is at its essence an incredibly complex system of chemical processes. You can examine our inner workings on many levels, and each provides important insight. Anatomy concerns itself with the macro, with each organ performing a specific function that contributes to our over all well being. Cellular biologists zoom in to look at the cells and how they communicate with one another. Molecular biologists examine the molecular machinery of these cells. Biochemists concern themselves with the chemical reactions that allow these tiny structures to carry out their function. As a biochemist you must be able to look at these individual chemical pathways in detail, whilst also bearing in mind that each process is only a fraction of the vast network of processes that allows life to exist. And this is a skill that I have found invaluable for producing.

As a producer you have to oversee each step of the project from script to screen, and I tackle the practicalities of this in the same way that I view the human body. Each member of the team is essential, some may exert larger effects, but if one person, however small their role, can’t carry out their task to the best of their ability then there will be problems. At the same time, the complexity of making a film makes it impractical to micromanage! You have to know when to devote your energy to supervising the “chemical reactions” – for example the specks of paint going onto a a set build – or when it’s best to approach it as an anatomist, and make sure the bigger pieces of the puzzle come together. After all, you’ll care less about the efficiency of enzymes breaking down your lunch  if you’ve got a punctured lung. Being able to clearly see which elements have the largest impact is particularly important at a lower budget level, where you regularly have to make sacrifices in one area or the other.

Just one of many biological networks which occur place in your body!

Just one of many biological networks which occur in your body!

Another thing that I always enjoyed about science was its objectivity, and this logical approach to problem solving is another tool that I use daily as a producer. There’s an expression amongst filmmakers that “whatever can go wrong will go wrong”, and I learnt very early on in my scientific studies that when a problem arises to keep a cool head and try and tackle the problem in a rationalized and practical manner. There’s also a precision to scientific research which comes in handy, and its methodical nature has prepared me well; make lists, plan in advance, keep a record of every step you take and you’ll be much better equipped when something inevitably doesn’t go to plan .

Finally, I remember in lectures as a student I would regularly feel overwhelmed by the vast amount of information we were being given. Molecular biology is undeniably complicated – sure, some recurring rules can be applied – but ultimately, listening to the professors who had devoted their lives to researching one specific protein, or one reaction pathway, I knew I would never achieve that level of understanding. And this is essential as a producer. Know your skillset. Ask for advice. There are people who devote their life to one element of the craft. A huge part of the job is bringing people together who know better than you, and then stepping back to let them do their thing.

If a script is the DNA, producers must be the transcription factors; we bring together the people needed to start turning the script into the conversations that go on to become the film. And we regulate and control this process as best we can to make for a viable and successful final product. Now geek out!

(Transcription factors are the squirmy little yellow chaps on the DNA strand right at the start)

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Misogyny in the Casting Room

There seems to have been some good media coverage recently of the statistics from the paper “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World” by Martha M. Lauzen which assessed the top grossing 2300 films of 2013 to show that women made up only 29% of speaking roles – a figure that dropped to 15% for women-protagonists.

Misogynist casting callAlarming, but not unexpected results. But what happens when you assess the quality of the roles for women? Lauzen’s paper describes how female characters are significantly less likely to have ambitions or to be portrayed as leaders, and are significantly more likely to have an identifiable marital status. However, the best demonstration I’ve seen of the appallingly stereotypical and superficial nature of many roles for women has come from an actress called Katrina Day on her blog Lady Parts. Here she lists exerts from the most misogynistic casting calls she’s comes across on casting websites – This Buzzfeed article outlines it nicely.

Misogyny in the casting room is going to be hard to avoid when your casting call reads “dream of any teenage boy… perfect physique, always eager to please her man”, but for all those great actresses struggling to be one of the 29% of on-screen characters, there’s pressure to silence your inner disgust and apply, just to have another credit to your name.

My call to all you wonderful actresses out there is to treat these type of casting breakdowns like a dog that’s rolled in fox s**t and get the hell away. If they find they can’t cast these roles then they’ll have to start coming up with better. Similarly I implore all producers and directors to uphold some sort of “don’t be a misogynist a***hole” code of ethics, and make sure these type of casting calls aren’t going out. But MOST IMPORTANTLY I call for all the writers out there to come up with something better than “Drunken girl slapper”, “Female. 20-30. Smoking hot…” or even “stereotypical trailer park prostitute”. Write some great roles for women because there’s a mass of great acting talent aching to perform it. And let’s face it, whatever you write is going to be better than “beautiful girl (non-speaking)”.

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The Skulk Series, part 4: Kate Hartnoll – writer/director of SMITHFIELD

SKULK: (noun) a group of foxes

Welcome back for our fourth interview in The Skulk Series – a collection of conversations with writers, directors, actors and other wonderful people to have worked with Fox Cub Films.

In this instalment we meet Kate Hartnoll, director/co-writer/co-editor of Smithfield and ask [amongst other things] about the joys of shooting nights, on a low budget, in the rain.

Kate

Having trained in Cuba, this is the first film you’ve made in the UK. How did that experience differ?

For a start Smithfield was also the first film I’d made out of film school, so the experience was always going to be very different, but I really enjoyed making Smithfield. Even though I’m fluent in Spanish, I was surprised by how much easier was to direct in my native language. It’s not just the language either: directing a film about London (my hometown), with actors from London, just seemed to come much more naturally. This isn’t to say that the end result is necessarily better, or that “easier” by definition is something to aspire to, but it definitely made for a more relaxing process and allowed me to make much more instinctive decisions.

What drew you to Smithfield market as a place to set the film? 

The original idea at the heart of Smithfield came from co-writer Tansy Huws, but I loved it from the start. I love the bustle of Smithfield market, and the idea of a parallel night-world that most people don’t really ever see, but that has played an essential part in London for centauries. I remember walking around Farringdon early one morning years ago, and the surprise of turning a corner and being confronted by a truckload of swinging carcasses and a group of very cheerful men in blood-splattered aprons. And it’s not jut the market – the whole area seems to come alive at night – there are a lot of clubs around there, and St. Barts Hospital never completely shuts down either. We wanted to contrast the bustle of the market and the night streets of London – kinda scary, unknown but very alive- with the antiseptic, hushed and institutional corridors of the hospital.

What were the biggest challenges you faced making it? 

Money of course! We shot on a low budget and couldn’t pay the rather high fee to shoot inside of Smithfield Market on a working night. So we shot around it – all the bustle at the gates are The Real Smithfield, but when our protagonist, Esme, walks through the gates, she actually walks into the wholesale meat market in Birmingham.

Butcher

Similarly, we didn’t use extras, all the butchers you see in Smithfield are real butchers and other night workers, and a lot of the footage was shot documentary style, in working and open markets and cafes. We spent a lot of mornings hanging around both markets and getting to know people – but in many cases we didn’t know exactly what we would find or the precise shots we were going to get until we turned up to shoot. It was a risk worth taking, I think. These scenes have a vibrancy and immediacy we wouldn’t have got in more controlled circumstances. I think the Cuban training came into play here – we were very much trained to work with low budgets and have a healthy respect for cinema verité and neo-realism.

Very few films can claim to have a female director, DOP, producer, writers and protagonist! Did you make a conscious decision to have such a female orientated team?

It wasn’t a conscious decision, just the way things panned out. We just set out to hire the best people for the job – and everyone involved was just that.

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Are you aware of any gender bias in the industry? And if so what do you think can be done to conquer it?

Film crews are obviously usually very male dominated, but I’ve never found it an unfriendly or biased environment to work in. I don’t think you can argue with the fact that, historically, most films have been told from an unquestionably male perspective, but this is changing and will continue to do so, hopefully.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a Cuban archive-based documentary at the moment and have a feature script I’m working on with many of the Smithfield crew. I’m interested in developing the style explored in Smithfield – night streets, real people interacting with the fictional story, arresting images and a rather dark tale to be told…

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BILL – hitting the festival circuit!

It’s been a good initial festival run for Bill, with international screenings at Iron Mule Comedy Festival in NY and Palm Springs Short Film Market as well as a number here in the UK. 

For those of you based in London, Bill will be screening tonight at Portobello Road Film Festival for FREE! So no excuses not to come join us –http://www.portobellofilmfestival.com/2014/sept04pop.html

We’ve also made it onto the trailer for the Isle of Man film Festival – which you an check out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkGlzatmABY&feature=youtu.be and have been selected to screen before the closing night film at Aberdeen Film Festival!

Go Bill, go!

To keep up to date with the festival progress of all of Fox Cub Films projects then please like us at http://www.facebook.com/foxcubfilms and on twitter at @foxcubfilms 

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