TransAgenda – A Film Programme

‘ THE TRANS(A)GENDER’ – A Film Programme Curated by James Land

For this essay I have decided to explore a field in which I have a particular interest. Although I cannot say that this is my first choice career wise, selecting films and finding links between them is something that, if only recreationally, I find very pleasing. My own-curated programmes at home always achieve widespread acclaim – despite only ever having a grand audience of one, possibly two, and the links that thread the films together are, at best, tenuous. Once you have seen every one of the 400 plus Blu Ray’s and DVD’S on your shelves, the last remaining and most logical choice is to now re-watch them with a new and reinvigorated interest via the freshly discovered connections between them. In the latest example, to celebrate ‘Movember’, my partner and myself sat through my programme of ‘Great Movie Moustache’s’ (I did say tenuous). The pool of films to choose from was large and, to be honest, could have included any film made in the 1970’s or in which Tom Selleck starred. To make the connections more detailed, I chose films in which the lead characters represent the humble moustache from a different perspective. They were:

 

There Will Be Blood (Anderson, 2007)

The Great Dictator (Chaplin, 1940)

Serpico (Lumet, 1973)

Easy Rider (Hopper, 1969)

There is more than just the moustache that links the films. In this programme, in descending order, the lead characters in each film are representative of their pecking order in the consumption of an ideology – American Capitalism. It’s obvious; Oil provider, enforcer of ideology that is facilitated by said oil, the keeper of peace for the ideology and lastly, a group of hippies at odds with the ideology (despite ironically riding everywhere on oil guzzling motorbikes!). Of course, this is not the programme which I will present in this document, it is just an indication of the level of detail that one would assume has to be considered before even attempting to curate one. For my dissertation I am directing a short documentary about a pre-confirmation transgender man. With that in mind, here I will present: The Trans(a)gender – A selection of films that celebrate Transgender cinema.

There are many examples of how institutions or cinema’s programme films around the oeuvre of a particular director or actor. As I write, to promote and celebrate the release of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘The Hateful Eight’, the BFI are running a programme of his back catalogue, all projected in 35mm film – a sentiment in itself that alludes to the strong beliefs of Tarantino and something to which I’m sure he would insist upon. ([1]). The BFI are, perhaps, the most notorious institution for topical programming in the UK. Further to their focus on a particular filmmaker, they also curate programmes that celebrate particular genres. Last autumn was the BFI ‘Love Season’. Films such as Doctor Zhivago (Lean, 1966), True Romance (Scott, 1993) and Casablanca (Curtiz, 1942) were screened in a celebration of love on screen and it’s many interpretations ([2]). For my programme, I will be showing four films that represent the transgender community in a balanced but, hopefully, diverse way.

Despite the fact that there are relatively few films that focus on, or include transgender characters, those that are available provide ample opportunity for range – that is, distinctly different individually in either tone, style or nationality, yet uniformly identifiable within the transgender paradigm or genre.

The four films I have chosen are as follows:

Bound (US 1996, L. Wachowski, D. Wachowski)

Tomboy (FRA 2011, Sciamma)

Boys Don’t Cry (US 1999, Pierce)

Beautiful Boxer (THA 2004, Uekrongtham)

The thought process in selecting these films was to try and provide an equal distribution through the programme in terms of which gender it is the protagonists/actors/directors have transitioned to. Boys Don’t Cry revolves around a trans –man, Tomboy around a trans – boy. Beautiful Boxer tells the story through the eyes of a male to female transitioning character whilst, a little differently, although not featuring transgender characters, Bound was co –written and directed by Larry Wachowski – now Lana Wachowski and offers a more contemplative view. For example, the fascination of retrospectively watching a film, having the knowledge available to you now that was not at the time, of the writer-director’s gender. Does it permeate into the film? Are there any references in the performance/script/cinematography or elsewhere that point towards its creator dealing with their gender identification? Also, these films are intentionally selected to depict their subjects from as wider reaching areas and backgrounds as possible. This selection includes two films from starkly contrasting areas in the USA (California and Nebraska) as well as France and Thailand. In the case of Boy’s we have a shocking and pessimistic outcome, though in Tomboy and Boxer less so. For a community of people who are used to a lack of real cinematic range and content that depict the realities of the world that they inhabit, I feel it’s imperative to try and select films that will tell the stories of transgender people from backgrounds and environments to which they are unfamiliar, in turn, inviting a more global viewpoint on transgender life – for better or worse.

My choice of location, based on the assumption that the BFI be off limits, would be elsewhere in London. During my research for my own film, and whilst talking to its subject, it’s clear that London represents the beating heart of the transgender community. Attitudes towards gender and sexuality have always appeared to be more progressive in London than most regional cities bar, perhaps, Manchester ([3]). The Soho district is synonymous with the LGBT scene and at one time was a specific area where bohemians and members of the LGBT community could safely experience the London nightlife. Therefore, the most obvious location for the programme too be unveiled would be the Curzon, Soho.

The BFI already has its own LGBT film festival ‘BFI Flare’, held in March ([4]). There is also the London Transgender Film Festival, which is held in August. To avoid a clash with these already established events, this programme will run in January. This is widely regarded as the worst month to release films in the cinema, and slotting in during a ‘dump month’, as mentioned in The Guardian, would be a sound tactical choice. “the US, January is “dump month” at the movies. The films no studios believe in or care about – the stuff that doesn’t get screened for critics, the stuff that barely gets promoted beyond blurbs from obscure websites and suspicious raves from local TV chefs and weathermen – suddenly become the sole choice available to regular filmgoers hungry for fresh fare ([5]). I already have a primary target audience in the transgender community but the aim is to reach out to all genders and sexes. By very definition this programme will appeal, primarily, to that specific group but my chances of attracting non-transgender cinema enthusiasts are dramatically increased if there are limited alternative options. During this quiet period this is also a beneficial for the cinema. Attempting this programme during the summer months or during the pre Christmas and Oscar season would be almost impossible.

There are many ways in which this programme can be marketed and publicised. Firstly, as this programme will run in the Curzon, they will have a vested interest in attracting customers. Short promo videos will be screened to cinemagoers during the trailers up to three months before the programme starts. Curzon has an app similar to that of the BFI player. On here we will also screen the promo video, directly into peoples homes before they watch any home rental. Online materials will include adverts or sponsored articles on websites such as transliving.co.uk. Print media can include advertisements in publications such as Total Film, Empire – although, this would most likely be less effective than in a more highbrow publication such as Sight and Sound. The former two focuses more of their column inches towards mainstream releases where as the latter concentrates on independent, avant-garde and European productions. There is potential for a conflict of interest as the Sight and Sound is a BFI publication and BFI Flare would be two months away from this programme, however, Flare covers cinema from the whole LGBT spectrum where as this programme is centred towards one aspect of it. Aside from that, this is a curated programme celebrating films that are already in existence. BFI Flare is a competition driven festival featuring new films and content. I feel that there is enough of a contrast to override any initial concern.

On social media there is the ability to tailor ads based on browsing history. Caitlyn Jenner is arguably the most high profile member of the transgender community at present. Any of her articles or posts that trend on social media should be targeted for pop up advertising. An idea I also had was to run a advertising campaign on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter which involves the systematic release of photo-shoots involving ordinary members of the transgender community. To add a cinematic feel, the shoots will be recreations of famous film characters from easily recognisable films – the title from each one beginning with a letter that forms the acronym ‘TRANS’. For example:

Taxi Driver

Romeo and Juliet

Annie Hall

No Country for Old Men

Slumdog Millionaire

Transgender men or women that have made the transition to the sex of which the said characters are would represent the lead characters from the film. Each would have a background colour scheme that featured one of the five stripes in the Transgender flag. These choices might need refining but, as an example of a strategy, I think they indicate the intention. Once all released over a course of days or weeks, they would be released once more alongside each other in one poster – completing both the acronym and the flag. The images would be converted into GIFs that showed a transition from pre confirmation to confirmation. This could include the hashtag #trans(a)gender. Further to this, we would invite people to use the flag for their profile picture in the same way that was implemented around Gay Pride.

Curators Note:

I am delighted to be offered the opportunity by the city of Westminster and Curzon cinemas to present this programme of films to you. Apart from my love for the cinema and my desire to promote and show a wide range of films wherever possible, this programme carries a greater significance – to represent a community of people on film that rarely have this opportunity.

The Transgender community are living in exciting but crucial times. Widespread media attention and increasingly divisive debate is raising social consciousness. Despite this, there are many, many men and women, boys and girls living in fear of persecution from the outside community. This selection of films is designed not only as a sentiment of support and encouragement to those at the wrong end of prejudice, but also as a celebration and reminder of the marvellous diversity and vibrancy within the transgender community around the world. I hope non-trans people will enjoy these fantastic films that will warm their hearts, and will let them know more about their neighbours, colleagues and schoolmates.

As with any programme, condensing your initial choices into a selection that is diverse, comprehensive yet somehow still narratively linked is tough. So many brilliant films were considered but in this selection, we feel we are allowing a gentle blend of tonal and emotive experiences that tell the transgender story without compromising the melancholic realities. With selections originating from the USA, France and Asia, what’s fascinating, yet not surprising, is the uniform nature of the transgender oppression and how unprejudiced this oppression is, irrespective of race, geographical location or religion.

Because of the limitations in terms of dates and funding it is never possible to programme as many as films you would like but I hope you will find current selection as fascinating as I do. There are many more transgender films out there but sadly, nowhere near enough. This community of people is vibrant, warm and has so many heartbreaking and heartwarming stories to tell. Hopefully, someone may see one of these films and go out there and tell them through the sensual and visceral medium of cinema that we all love.

James Land – Curator

Bibliography

Articles:

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2007/jan/08/awardsandprizes.features – 8/1/2007 – accessed 2/1/16

Films:

 Beautiful Boxer (THA 2004, Uekrongtham. GMM Pictures)

Bound (US 1996, L. Wachowski, D. Wachowski. Gramercy Pictures)

Boys Don’t Cry (US 1999, Pierce. Fox Searchlight)

Casablanca (US 1942, Curtiz. Warner Bros.)

Doctor Zhivago (US 1966, Lean. MGM)

Easy Rider (US 1969, Hopper. Columbia Pictures)

Serpico (US 1973, Lumet. Paramount)

The Great Dictator (US 1940, Chaplin. United Artists)

The Hateful Eight (US 2015, Tarantino. The Weinstein Company)

There Will Be Blood (US 2007, Anderson. Miramax)

Tomboy (FRA 2011, Sciamma. Pyramide)

True Romance (US 1993, Scott. Warner Bros.)

Websites:

 http://www.educationuk.org/global/articles/lgbt-uk/ – accessed 12/1/16

http://www.bfi.org.uk/love – accessed 12/1/16

https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::permalink=quentintarantino&BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::context_id – accessed 14/1/16

http://www.bfi.org.uk/flare – accessed 14/1/16

http://www.educationuk.org/global/articles/lgbt-uk/ – accessed 14/1/16

[1] https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::permalink=quentintarantino&BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::context_id=

[2] http://www.bfi.org.uk/love

[3] http://www.educationuk.org/global/articles/lgbt-uk/

[4] http://www.bfi.org.uk/flare

[5] http://www.theguardian.com/film/2007/jan/08/awardsandprizes.features

Finalising Pre-Production

The film was always going to evolve from the early ideas. Just as a decent script takes tonnes of research and planning before any words are written, a documentary also takes an age to work out what story you are going to tell or was approach you wish to tell it with. So far we had a documentary broken into three sections – each climaxing with an artistic set piece – two of which yet to be decided. The final set piece would be the choreographed dance routine to a contemporary version of Swan Lake.

KAY Treatment. Kay Doc

Throughout the remainder of December I met with James several times and Emily more. The dance sequence would have it’s own shoot period in late March so planning this was less important than finalising the films structure and content. We had sourced various pieces of music after I created a Facebook post and received many replies from some of my music producer friends in Bristol. Emily set about securing permission.

It took so much time to arrange the order of the film. I wanted to give the dance sequence priority and felt that we should dip in and out of footage of Kay and the dancers rehearsing for the final sequence. As this would be the set piece in which Kay fully reveals himself as a fully fledged man, it felt the most important.  The issue was what would constitute the other segments and how to incorporate them. Whilst talking to Kay during our weekly conversation, he started telling me about how his recent performance at an open mic night had convinced him to finish off his creative writing degree. Naturally the conversation got deeper and from there we managed to strike gold. Kay would write and perform some spoken word poetry. I asked Kay to focus the piece around his early life so we could use it at the end of the first segment of the film. I wanted the film to charter his transition chronologically to show the gradual physical transformation, so the first segment would be focusing on his early “gender neutral” days. I asked Kay to try and write a few short letters to his 5 year old self. I thought that this might enable Kay to start thinking about his emotions when younger This, though, would live or die by the quality/quantity of the archive footage promised to us by Kay’s mum.

James had been getting frustrated at the lack of any solid script and seemed to be getting less convinced about how convincing the film could be. His main concerns were the quality of the set pieces, worrying that the audience might not buy them. My argument was that the quality and skill was not the point and, much rather, the evident relationship that Kay has with art – is in itself the point of exploration. We did agree, though, that if the quality was too poor, the film wouldn’t support it’s central thesis. I hadn’t read any of Kay’s own personal spoken word poetry but I had been keeping an eye on his blog and had seen videos of his choreography so was more than happy that this wouldn’t be the case. To be honest, I much prefer the idea of the dance being slightly out of time and the spoken word sounding like it comes from a hobbyist as seems more real. If all of the performances were flawless I think it would be much harder to convince the audience that this guy isn’t just a natural artistic genius with a born talent that just happens to be transgender – thus rendering the whole narrative and theoretical approach completely pointless.

Two segments down just the middle section to go. The obvious choice at this stage was to focus the middle third of the film on Kay’s teenage years. I say obvious because this is the date of Kay’s life where he began to fully accept that he was trapped inside the wrong body. Despite this, he felt unable to act as such and, essentially, acted as lesbian to bridge the gap. This is the time when I met Kay through his brother and how I first remembered him – circa 2002. At that time Hip Hop music was becoming mainstream in the UK for the first time. Eminem and Dr.Dre were regularly in the charts and we all had dreams of growing up as Devon’s own Hip Hop stars. Kay was desperate to be part of our group and used to drop in on our writing and rapping sessions in our “studio”(a double tape deck and a microphone in his brothers loft). It was clear at the time that Kay was impressionable and seemed to be seduced by Hip Hop culture. Around that time the film 8 Mile was released and Kay has included this in his list of inspirations. It’s easy to see why: Man proves himself against the odds using nothing but the power of the word. After further conversations with Kay, we thought it would be useful to represent his teenage years with a Hip Hop theme. When considering the angry, rebellious attitude that Hip Hop embodies, it seems even more fitting.

I though it might be interesting to explore the social expectations of yesteryear as a stark contrast to current attitudes. I ploughed through hours of public domain infomercials on You Tube and various other websites. There was one in particular that I thought could work. It was called As Boys Grow and is an American puberty info film. I wanted to introduce the film with it and explore sipping in and out of it a few times throughout the film. In the end the fact that it was American undermined the point. If I was going to use this approach it would have to be British. Eventually I struck gold on Archive.org. with A film called Learning to Live. Completely British and free to use, the film sets about determining the gender expectations as boys and girls grow up and what to expect of their roles in society. This was our film.

So as the Christmas break concluded, we had a solid structure in place. James was much happier after seeing the story on paper (to date he only had the proposal) and began to visualise the film. Although Emily always seemed happy with the plans and progress to date, she, like James, had become evidently more enthusiastic with this, the final plan. This also marked the first point of the pre production process where things felt rounded. A solid blueprint was now in place and, as long as we stuck to it, we knew we would have a structurally and thematically coherent film.

 

“Rear Window” Textual Analysis

rear-window

To what extent can cinematography be used an effective method to communicate with an audience?

The ability to express emotion through non-verbal communication is arguably one of the greatest qualities of humankind. The physical manifestation of emotion via art is an advanced skill that sets us aside from all other species and provides the opportunity to present a portal to the soul that might otherwise be unachievable through words. All art forms have a particular fundamental element to their DNA that defines them. A choice of Colour in a painting, tempo in a composition or language in a poem can evoke a particular response or emotional reaction. Cinema relies upon many contributing art forms that constitute its own existence. These, typically, include drama (writing and performance), (motion) photography and music, although, as cinema has evolved, it has encompassed emerging art forms that have spawned from rapidly evolving technologies (CGI, Animation, Motion Capture etc.). Despite this, though, perhaps the most fundamental component to Cinema is cinematography, which itself, conversely, is a mergence of component elements (composition, lighting, movement). Sergei Eisenstein states: There is no such thing as cinema without cinematography (Eisenstein, p 28). In this document, I will examine the opening five-minute sequence of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window,(1954) – a section famous for its use of cinematography. By looking beyond the principle function (to allow us to see), I will discuss how two different elements of cinematography (Composition and Movement) are used to communicate with the audience and how successful, if at all, the implication of these methods is.

In order to answer to the question, first it’s important to establish what the messages being communicated within the film are. In Rear Window, Hitchcock explores, spectatorship, voyeurism and claustrophobia. In the very opening shot Hitchcock alludes to all of these themes by his simple, but effective, choice of composition. Hitchcock argues: ‘The basic rule of camera position and staging is that the importance of an object in the story should equal its size in the frame’ (Truffaut, p68). In Rear Window, before any camera movement and as the credits appear the sight of the apartment window dominates the static frame – signifying its importance. Three blinds open before our eyes, one by one and left to right, to reveal the small apartments opposite. This reminds us of the way in which a theatre’s blinds might open a play and reveal the set beyond. Hitchcock is doing the same here. He’s literally telling us, visually, that this is where the drama will ensue. In his book, Cinematography: Theory and Practice, author Blain brown confirms this: ‘a static frame is a proscenium. The action of the scene is presented as a stage show’ (Brown, p15). We could easily be exposed to our environment from outside the window but by looking from within we feel as though we exist from within. As no character has yet been revealed, it’s clear that Hitchcock is showing us a perspective and not the perspective of anyone else. Brown continues: ‘A static frame is not without value, it can be a useful tool that carries implications of POV or world view’ (Brown, p15). Hitchcock reveals the window in three parts using three small blinds as opposed to one large. This could, and probably does, allude to the three-act structure of the film, although, what’s more noticeable about this method is that we feel an air of suspense. It’s because of this slow reveal that we acquire a sense of significance about the space to which we are being revealed. Once the blinds have opened, there is an abundance of information crammed into a tight frame. Almost every millimetre of the frame is filled. Because of this, we gain a spatial relationship with the world in which we now are established to inhabit – the tight framing reinforcing the economy of space and making us feel a sense of claustrophobia – which later will be revealed to parallel the mind state of our protagonist. Although we don’t know it yet, the composition of this establishing shot is the first of a series of cinematographic clues that hint towards the voyeuristic undertone of the film. We are the spectator and are intrigued as to what lurks behind.

ABOVE: The opening sequence from “Rear Window”

Camera movement is also critical in identifying with the film’s messages. As the scene progresses, the camera leaves its static position and begins to move through the window. Still, no character has been introduced to us and as such, as the camera slowly pans around the courtyard, we feel as though we are spying. This information would usually be relayed to us through POV, cutting back and forth between the action and character. In this case, due to lack of character presence – visually or verbally – we deduce that we are being presented clues and insight into a world that the character already knows. The slow panning movement of the camera mimics that of the eyes. We focus on each subject as long as necessary to ascertain the information we need to form a perception of the world and events going on around us. We establish a wider understanding of the environment with one long camera move. As the camera returns inside the window, we are shown our first glimpse of the protagonist. We know he is the protagonist as the camera movement has moved full circle from within the apartment, around the courtyard and inside again. From the moment the camera pans over the window frame we learn the following a without single word being uttered: there is a heat wave in the city, the protagonist has a broken leg, we learn his name, that he is unmarried, from some of the exotic items in the room we can deduce that he travels abroad from time to time, that he doesn’t mind a strong drink now and then, that he makes living as a photographer and that he was involved in an accident, probably a crash involving racing cars, that his job sometimes can be dangerous and that he has a girlfriend that works as a model. It would otherwise take a long and tiresome section of exposition-laden dialogue/monologue to ascertain what we have inside two minutes through creative application of cinematography. Although this is also a demonstration of the use of mise en scene, the way the camera communicates the information to us makes us feel a certain way. We are learning information that has not willingly been relayed to us by the subject who is, by now, understood to be our protagonist. This is private information. Being so close to the objects in frame literally mimics walking around someone’s apartment and snooping through their belongings. We are fascinated. Rear Window’s story is “about” spectacle; it explores the fascination with looking and the attraction of that which is being looked at” (Belton, p1). We take it all in and await someone to tap us on the shoulder. Hitchcock exploits our willingness to be the voyeur and later cashes in as he asks us to sympathise with the voyeuristic tendencies of our protagonist. He tells us that in this world, it is ok to be voyeuristic as your hero is too. Film critic Roger Ebert writes: “The experience is not so much like watching a movie, as like … well, like spying on your neighbors” He continues “When an enraged man comes bursting through the door to kill Stewart, we can’t detach ourselves, because we looked too, and so we share the guilt and in a way we deserve what’s coming to him.” (Ebert, 1983). Being privy to this information whilst feeling a sense of betrayal to a person who we are yet to meet is a perfect example how Hitchcock utilises the properties of the camera to achieve a desired effect.

In conclusion, from looking at the opening sequence of Rear Window, it’s apparent how cinematography offers a viable alternative to the spoken word as a function for communication. In real life, we interpret messages in our brain that we have witnessed with our eyes. Life doesn’t provide a screenplay or a voiceover. As a species, we are fine tuned to processing images without supplementary information. If it is such that we can interpret so efficiently with our eyes, it must also be true that we can dictate with them. Therefore, for a medium that provides us with twenty-four detailed images every second, surely the single most distinctive element of cinema as an art form is the ability to communicate visually? Much more than a functional tool to act as a visual aid to a script, cinematography should be, and as in this case is, explored as the primary method of communication. Although there are many examples where this is not the case, it’s testament to Hitchcock himself that simply the opening five minutes of Rear Window alone displays perfectly how this can be put into practice. The last word should lay with Hitchcock himself: “The dialogue should just be a sound amongst other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people who’s eyes tell the story in visual terms.” (Truffaut, p272).

By James Land

 

Bibliography

Belton, J (2000). Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. UK: Cambridge University Press. p1 .

Brown, B (2012). Cinematography: Theory and Practice. UK: Focal Press. p15.

Ebert, R. (1983). Rear Window Re- Release review. Chicago Sun Times. 1 (1), 46.

Eisenstein, S (1977). Film Form. 2nd ed. New York: Harvest. p28.

Truffaut, F (1983). Hitchcock/Truffaut. 2nd ed. New York: Simon and Schuster. p68.

Truffaut, F (1983). Hitchcock/Truffaut. 2nd ed. New York: Simon and Schuster. P272

 

 

The Recce

Although I was still developing the script and structure of the film, what was certain is that we would be making at least one trip to Tiverton. Emily, very early on, had scheduled and initial recce to take place before Christmas – allowing me to introduce the crew to Kay and familiarise them with the area. Although we wouldn’t officially start filming until late January, it was a necessary addition to the schedule.

Early December came around very quickly. Jess, our First A.D, couldn’t make the recce so Emily, Sam (Our D.O.P) and I made the journey to Devon. The journey took just over 3 hours and we had to stay in a BnB – so with the fuel and lodging costs, it was clear where the majority of our budget would go. We only stayed for one night and arrived mid afternoon so our schedule was pretty tight. As soon as we arrived we visited Kay at his mums house and spent some time acquainting him and Sam. We investigated potential areas in the house for an interview and took various photographs for our records. Whilst there, Kay’s mum arrived home and we spent a little while talking with her – mainly reassuring her of our intentions. We asked if she was open to the possibility of giving us an interview, on the condition that it was off screen. She seemed hesitant but did agree. She also confirmed that she had lots of family photo’s and some old VHS home videos of Kay and would try and dig them out for us next time we visited. If these were to be in working condition, they would be priceless.

Now that we had the idea of exploring Kay’s life through his art, we had to find ways of keeping the audience visually interested. Although we were yet to determine exactly what the art set pieces would be, it would be useful to capture plenty of footage to play over them – in the event of them being more verbally orientated. We took Kay for a drive and asked him to show us some of the places that he used to dwell. I had a few shots planned in my head so we went and played about with the camera. This was also a good opportunity for Emily and Sam to fully visualise my intentions for some of the segments that were planned. Kay took us to a small park that is in direct view of the house in which he grew up. Further to this, it is a place of poignance for Kay as it was the park in which he has vivid memories of early bullying. I asked Kay to sit on the swing and Sam to set up the camera behind him. To the eye, Kay’s old house (his Dad still lives there) was visible in the distance and I wanted to see if it were possible to line up the two images in camera. We didn’t bring the full range of lenses so it wasn’t possible to frame accurately, but we could tell that the shot was possible on a longer lens and with a focus pull. We tried various angles and positions were confident that we could make the shot look nice upon return.

ABOVE: Testing shots (Apologies for the short length)

Whilst watching some of the works of Julien Temple and reading Bill Nichols, it became clear that visual metaphors are a distinctive feature of poetic documentaries, so I looked at ways to incorporate  some into the film. I was wary of overusing this method and taking the direction of the film into the abstract. This is something that, in my opinion, is often the case with Temple’s films and, to some degree, distracts from the already engaging nature of the subject. If it were to be used in this film, I wanted it to be subtle and to woven into the fabric of the film. Kay had talked about his identification with the themes of Swan Lake/Black Swan (Inner conflict, desires/needs, oppression) but also, the conflict between staying in Tiverton – fighting prejudice/ growing his local media profile and leaving for the the city – being accepted but anonymous. Whilst I was looking online for suitable areas in Tiverton from which to take panoramic photographs for an establishing shot, I came across an image that, in my mind, perfectly represented that conflict visually. Ironically, this particular place had historical relevance and poignance for me.

On the outskirts of the town is a link road that connects Tiverton , and thus the rest of the country, to North Devon and Cornwall and visa versa. For as far as the eye can see are rolling hills and livestock, pierced by the meandering river Exe. In stark contrast a huge concrete behemoth of a bridge curves out towards and over the hills and out of view.  Whilst at college – way back in 2001 – this was a place that we used to spend our free sessions (and some not so free). Here my friends and I would sit underneath the bridge and take it in turns to freestyle rap and beatbox – all of us jaded and at odds with our surroundings and dreaming of a successful future. This image of the green fields cut in hals by the departing bridge seemed fitting for what Kay had expressed about his own conflicts. The coincidence of it being a place that I also spent many pondering hours has not escaped me. On a more poignant note, one of my friends from that time, Tom, tragically lost his life 1 week before I started at Middlesex after being struck by a car in Bristol. He was an enthusiastic and talented graffiti artist and, to my surprise, when we visited the location on the recce, dominating the huge pillar in front of us was his signature ‘tag’: EnzOne. Not that it was needed, or in fact relevant, but this cemented the reasons for shooting here.                 P1000102

Finally, that evening Kay had his weekly practice session with the majorettes. We went along to introduce ourselves and watch them perform. The senior official in charge of the troupe, Lucy, also came along to meet us. We stood up and introduced ourselves, the project and what we were hoping to achieve. We expressed very clearly that we were not intending to interrupt with their own objectives of performing in competitions and that there was no obligation to commit. I asked them to think the project over and said that if any of them were thinking of taking up dancing during or after college, that they were able to use as much of the footage as needed to help them. Emily handed Lucy the consent forms and we left it with them. We must have made an impression as by the time we visited again, all of them had signed and were willing to tale part.

The recce was successful and vital to the project development. It gave Emily and Sam a chance to acquaint themselves with the area – something I think is essential, especially when it comes to leaving home to shoot for days at a time. We also met everyone involved, sourced archive footage, practiced and planned shots and built good relations with our hosts at the guest house – guaranteeing rooms at a discount for the shoot week. We made the journey back to London the next morning and started finalising the structure.

Researching: The Fun Part

After the pitch and proposal Emily and I met and discussed the feedback and reassessed our position. We dropped some things and kept others and took a few days to dig a little deeper. We agreed that the strongest element of the film was the notion of having Kay express himself via art, but also agreed that for this to be confined to a singular art set piece would potentially bore the audience or repeat a riff that might be better off used sparingly. I suggested to Emily that we could stretch the idea further by having Kay perform three set pieces, each of which narrate us through the pivotal moments/eras of Kay’s life. Emily liked the idea but, naturally, had concerns about how this might constitute a documentary and, what strategies we would implement to visually engage the audience. That said, this was an objection that we both felt possible to overcome and we also felt that the new thematic approach was interesting enough to pursue.

With the film now giving priority Kay’s performances, it was clear that we had too many elements and had to lose some. After a lot of deliberating Emily and I agreed that it was no longer necessary to incorporate the element of the story that focused on the small town attitudes. However, we did agree that we would cover this angle in our initial interview with Kay to have more wriggle room in the edit. The most difficult issue we faced was whether or not to drop all of the interviews from the external sources (Kay’s family, schoolteacher, therapist etc.), and make the film more poetic in style – wholly focused on Kay and his relationship with art – through his transition. We felt that this would be interesting and potentially innovative but we also worried that it may be to much of a departure from our own filmmaking sensibilities. Further to this, we seriously questioned where our film would be positioned or categorised if pursued as discussed. Would it be a documentary or would it now be an experimental art film?

I met with my tutor, James, and discussed this approach at length. He liked the idea that we had and said it had a lot of potential. He really pushed me to get a documentary script written but I had no idea how to approach a structure for the film. James pointed me in the direction of some films that might be of use and encouraged me to explore the unconventional over the conventional. The next week was probably the most enjoyable of the whole process. I spent every day watching films, documentaries, T.V programmes and reading – constantly in contact with Emily and Kay discussing ideas that were coming my way. I devoured anything that was related to the idea, whether it be by style, genre or topic, I tried to saturate my subconscious with an understanding of all of the above. I also watched things that resonated with Kay through various stages of his life – to try and imagine how they would relate to a mind confused about gender.

Below is a list of what I watched:

Films:

  • Black Swan (2010) – The leading example of a contemporary telling of Swan Lake.
  • Saturday Night Fever (1977) – For clues on how to shoot dance sequences.
  • Dirty Dancing (1987) – As above but also a favourite of Kay’s when young.
  • Jubilee (1978) – Genre characteristics of New Queer Cinema.
  • The Last of England (1988) – Poetic mode characteristics and Style.
  • The Elephant Man (1980) – Example of how to handle visual omission of protagonist.
  • Tangerine (2015)  – Latest Trans feature film.
  • 8 Mile (2003) – Influenced Kay/Against the odds realisation via artistic expression.
  • Hercules (1997) – Influenced a young Kay and example of coming of age.
  • Tarzan (1997) – As above
  • The Jungle Book (1967) – As above

Documentaries:

 

  • Samsara (2011) – Example of Poetic mode and visual storytelling.
  • Baraka (1992) – As above.
  • Don’t Look Back (1967) – Example of genre blending, constructed reality.
  • Amy (2015) – Perfect execution of archive footage.
  • Senna (2010) – Archive footage and execution of subject interviews (all off screen).
  • Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015) – Using diary entries/home video to act as narration.
  • Ray Davies – Imaginary Man (2010) – Off beat approach to a subject.
  • The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson (2015) – Heavy use of visual metaphor.
  • Tupac: Resurrection (2003) – Narrated from the grave via archive interviews/footage
  • Olympia (1938) – Origins of poetic documentary
  • My Transgender Kid (2014) – conventional exploration of a zeitgeist subject

 

 

 

 

Documentary Proposal

An overview of project:

My chosen pathway for this year is directing and I will be working with Emily Mitchell (producer) on a documentary, which, at present, is untitled. The film will be centred on Kay J Browning – a transgender man whom I have been loosely connected to via old friends from Devon for over a decade.

Synopsis: A personal view into the life of a transgender man and how he uses his art as a form of expression.

The themes that this film will allude to are: Emotional restraint, artistic expression and physical transformation/liberation.

Growing up and living in a small conservative farm town that has little cultural influence and a dated attitude to sexuality and gender, proves challenging for Kay. Rather than attempt the broad scope of a life story condensed into 12 minutes, instead I will attribute the primary focus of the film around a centralised theme, told through the eyes of Kay who is a passionate writer and dancer and has openly admitted to having to rely on both to feel a sense of release and expression amidst unforgiving and foreboding surroundings in rural Devon. In fact, conversely, Kay speculates that his artistic qualities are a direct result of his years of being an introvert due to his surroundings. What was once a coping mechanism is now a talent. Having only recently decided to make the physical transition from female to male, I want to explore his life through his art and how the difficulties that he has had coming to terms with his situation manifests itself in his art and, how his art manifests itself in his life.

The mode will befit the poetic mode of documentary. In his book, Introduction to Documentary, Bill Nichols states: “The poetic mode of documentary moves away from the “objective” reality of a given situation or people to grasp at an inner “truth” that can only be grasped by poetical manipulation”. He also states: “Emphasis on visual associations, tonal or rhythmic qualities, descriptive passages, and formal organization favours mood, tone and texture” (2001 p16). It is clear that, when considering my approach that this film will fall into this category.

Stylistically, the themes will be explored in the film using narration from Kay. This will include diary entries, social media posts and/or poems that Kay has authored, and will guide us through the film. Visually, we will see archive footage and family photographs of Kay at different ages. These will appear chronologically and will show the gradual physical transformation, as Kay gets older. To add more dimension to the story, I will interview Kay’s family members, school teacher, psychiatrist and also an M.P who deals with the geographical disparity in attitudes towards the transgender community. I also intend to ask the question to his psychiatrist: To what extent may it be possible that artistic output can be a result your upbringing, surroundings or trauma as a child? All of this will help characterise Kay from external sources rather than Kay’s own personal thoughts.

Further to this, Kay, in his current physical form will be almost entirely visually omitted from the viewer until the end of the film where he will reveal himself during a self choreographed dance routine to a contemporary version of ‘Swan Lake’. Despite not seeing him fully, I intend to entice the audience by frequently intercutting close ups of Kay in his current physical state. This will include extreme close ups of the eyes, tattoos, Kay shaving his hair, weightlifting and, generally, any typical masculine imagery. Using these juxtaposed images, the audience will form their own expectations as to what Kay currently looks like. This, I feel, will allow for greater impact at the climax of the film when imbedded amongst the aforementioned dance sequence – to which we will frequently allude to. This stylistic method will be implicated for two reasons, both of which are representative of the underlying themes. For example, this will serve to create a sense of restraint and/or frustration on the viewer’s behalf, will be a direct reference to the gradient of Kay’s transition and, will serve the metaphorical approach adopted with the use of ‘Swan Lake’, itself a story of inner conflict, emotion vs. objective and transformation. It must be made clear, though, that at no point will the viewer be confused as to who is narrating the story; nor will they be uninformed as to Kay’s gender.

 

ABOVE: The eerie blend of costume, choreography and cinematography in this version of Swan Lake in the film, Black Swan (2010, Aronofsky), are a definite reference point. 

The film will have obvious avenues of potential exposure of which we like to exploit. The LGBT film is fast becoming a genre of its own. As I write, the transgender film Tangerine (Baker, 2015) is receiving widespread exposure in Art House and commercial cinemas, proving that the topic has scope. Festivals we intend to submit to include the BFI Flare festival and the London Transgender Film Festival as well as the less niche, Sheffield Doc Fest. Similarly, as the film explores art as therapy, we can do further research as to contemporary art festivals.

 

ABOVE: Trailer for, the iPhone shot, Tangerine (2015, Baker)

Context:

Although there is no intentional thematic link between this project and any other project that I have directed so far, upon deeper reflection, one theme that is prevalent throughout my work is the idea of contrast, acceptance, and a sense of being at odds with ones surroundings. For example, in the music video I directed for MDA2900 last year, the subject of the video was a faceless man who arrives in the city from a small town and attempts to fulfil a sense of achievement amongst his new and alien surroundings. In Lost and Found there is the centralised theme of old and new, the passing of time and the bitter sweetness of life. In A Score to Settle, my final script for MDA 2100, a mysterious, likeable homeless man of principle comes to the aid of an unwelcoming, superficial and vacuous city worker who had failed to recall a previous attempt to help her – such is her self-absorption. Without venturing too far into the psychoanalytical, it’s evident that my own artistic expression is a subconscious manifestation of some of my life experiences to date. This adds further justification for me to make this film.

 

In terms of the themes explored in the film, and as explained in the pitch, transgender equality, or lack thereof, has become a hot social and political talking point. In some ways, gender equality has become the last, and certainly the latest, taboo in modern society. It’s because of this that the film will be possible. For example, would a film focused around a gay man or woman in 2015 be worthy of making without any further extenuating circumstances? I don’t think so. My brother, Daniel, came out as gay twenty years ago at a time when doing so attracted a stigma. He himself says that the transgender community are at least a generation behind where he was at that time. With transgender based documentaries being commissioned on terrestrial TV and popular soap operas such as BBC’s Eastenders casting transgender characters, as a topic of conversation at least, it appears that trans – equality is part of the zeitgeist.

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Research:

My research for this project has been extensive. The first and, probably, most fundamental area was to subscribe to Kay’s various social media groups and look through his back catalogue of posts. Kay is a relentless social media user and this, to this date and on going, is a lengthy, but fruitful process. Alongside the social media, Kay has had moderate exposure within the national media for various reasons. Notably, these include ITV’s The Jeremy Kyle Show and ITV Fixers. Kay has received attention in the print media, referencing an instance where he was the target of public discrimination by his local nightclub – a point that will be referred to in this film.

Aside from this, I have been reading the aforementioned Introduction to Documentary. As a response to the feedback from the pitch, the style and even the mode of this documentary have undergone massive changes. Reading this book has helped me to contextualise this film a lot more efficiently. The film was pitched as a reflexive documentary that was dictated by the interviews and, if honest, I would have to say that the primary focus of the film was confused. It seemed as much about a town as it did about Kay. Nichols’ terminologies in the book have given me a clearer perspective. Here is an example: “The historical footage, freeze frames, slow-motion, tinted images, selective moments of colour, occasional titles to identify time and place, voices that recite diary entries, and haunting music to build a tone and mood far more than they explain”(2001, p42). To some extent, this book has and will be my bible.

Visually, there are plenty of examples of existing work that I have explored, and many more that I will. Channel 4 have aired the documentary My Transgender Kid which, although different in almost every approach, at least offers an introspective into transgender life and how people on the periphery of the subject deal with having a loved one whom society deems different. This will come in useful when interviewing Kay’s family.

 

ABOVE: The visually stunning Baraka (1992, Fricke)

 

I am currently working my way through as many poetic documentaries as time will permit. This I hope will ingrain my subconscious with an instinctive knowledge of the sensibilities that constitute it. These so far have included: Baraka (1992, Fricke), Rain (1929, Franken & Ivens), The Last of England (1987, Jarman), In the Shadow of the Sun (1981, Jarman) and Olympia (1938, Riefenstahl).

 

ABOVE: A trailer for Derek Jarman’s The Last of England (1987)

 

Other films that I have watched with close attention are the recent works of Asif Kapadia: Senna (2010) and Amy (2015). The reason for this is the method and style of the interviews that Kapadia has adopted. He restricts the viewer from seeing or hearing himself and allows the voices of the subject on screen to guide us through the narrative. This shows a craft and dedication that benefits the overall aesthetic of the film. Aside from the cosmetic benefit, by allowing the subject to be only visibly identifiable on screen via archive footage, and conducting the interviews without a camera present, the testimonies that we hear are considerably more candid. This therapeutic approach will be fundamental to this film.

ABOVE: Director Asif Kapadia on Amy (2015)

Lastly, two other films that are worthy of note are Tupac: Resurrection (2004, Lazin) and Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015, Morgen). These films have an interesting approach to telling a story from a perspective of someone who is no longer alive. In the former, the director uses hundreds of archive clips, visual and audio, that piece together the story. The resources are so plentiful that the film is actually narrated by Tupac Shakur – seemingly from the grave. In the case of the latter, the director utilises diary entries and animations from the personal archive of Kurt Cobain. Whilst the resources available to these filmmakers are considerably more plentiful than what are to me, they offer prime examples of alternative methods to delivering narrative in documentary without over reliance on the ‘talking head’ style.

ABOVE: In Tupac: Resurrection (2004, Lazin), Tupac Shakur appears to narrate us through his life story, years after his death. 

ABOVE: A similar direction is taken in Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015, Morgen) with added animations.

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Methodology:

My brother, Daniel, will compose the music for the film. He will take the original music from Swan Lake and add his own creative style to the piece. This will be used during the bulk of the film and will be compatible with the piece used for the dance scene at the films climax – which is an urban reworking of the same source music and is available on SoundCloud. Daniel is in the early stages of composition as we speak. Swan Lake is now in the public domain so can be used for this film.

ABOVE: Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake

 

We will be visiting Tiverton in early December to meet with the participants. The idea is to build a rapport so that when the interviews take place, the subjects feel more at ease. As Kay and I are already well acquainted, his family members are already more warm to the idea than they would be if it were someone else. Also, whilst on this trip, my D.O.P – Sam Wain – and I will scout the area for the best locations for the external and establishing shots.

Kay has the music and is in the early stages of conceptualising his choreography. The routine will be performed with the Tiverton Town Majorettes – a dance group Kay choreographs for currently. Whilst in Devon, we will meet with them during their weekly training and introduce the brief and ourselves. Kay will work with them on a weekly basis to construct the routine. I will make further visits to the group to establish how to maximise the potential of the routine cinematically and work out the technical implications of doing so.

Kay will be asked to keep a written and spoken diary and will record his inner most thoughts at any given opportunity. Further to this, Kay has agreed to sit and reflect upon pivotal moments of his life with me, to purge the most relevant for the film. Once we have the chosen narration elements, Kay will come to London to record them in the recording studio.

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Project specific challenges/Contingency to deal with these:

 There is always the potential issue of representation when making a film about a specific person – especially when you happen to know the family. Also, I originate from the same small town and would not want to represent it, or the people there, in a negative light. To counter this, I have made my intentions for the film abundantly clear and have outlined to all involved the direction for the film. Aside from this, there is the logistical issue (travel costs etc.), however, as the crew is very small, this will be well achievable given our maximum budget of £1000.

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Schedule

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

 Nichols, B (2001). Introduction to Documentary. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Filmography:

 Amy (2015). Directed by Asif Kapadia. FILM. UK. On the Corner Films

Baraka (1992). Directed by Ron Fricke. DVD. US. Magidson Films.

In the Shadow of the Sun (1981). Directed by Derek Jarman. DVD. U.K. Dark Pictures

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015) Directed by Brett Morgen. FILM. US. HBO/Primary Wave Films

Olympia (1938). Directed by Leni Riefenstahl. DVD. GER. Pathfinder Home Pictures

Rain (1929). Directed by Mannus Franken & Joris Ivens. NDL. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BD9_gMfoi6I

Senna (2010). Directed by Asif Kapadia. DVD. UK. Arc Entertainment

Tangerine (2015). Directed by Sean S. Baker. Film. US. Mongolia Pictures

The Last of England (1987). Directed by Derek Jarman. DVD. U.K. Anglo International Films

Tupac: Resurrection (2004) Directed by Lauren Lazin. DVD. US. MTV Films

 

 

MDA 3400: The Pitch

Last year the pitch was undertaken in our producer/director partnerships but for this year, we were all alone. Emily, having two projects to pitch, was up before me and had to provide lots of detail about the logistical, practical and financial arrangements for the film. I had less than 10 minutes to present the subject, style, themes, messages and approach.

ABOVE: Kay on The Jeremy Kyle Show

It was challenging keeping to the time limit and, to be honest, I struggled to keep to the pace that I had practiced without rambling slightly. What also made it difficult was the fact that, at this early stage, Emily and I weren’t fully committed to the approach we had and knew that ideas would unravel as we got further along the filmmaking process. Going into the pitch, however, we were certain that we had to have more than just an interesting subject and that the primary focus of the film would have to be nuanced or, at very least, with the microscope on a particular strand of Kay’s life.

In the earliest versions of the treatment the film was going to charter Kay’s transition, as it does now, but instead, would highlight the difference in social attitudes towards gender/sexual equality between rural and metropolitan areas. Kay had had massive amounts of abuse and bullying through school and had also received widespread prejudice during his transition. One incident of note was being made to use the disabled toilets whilst at Tiverton’s solitary nightclub on an evening out – in front of a large queue of patrons. Kay would later win a court case and damages against the institution but the emotional scars would outlast any temporary financial relief. Emily and I were in agreement that this would be our angle, if only temporarily or to allow further exploration.  Having both grown up in rural surroundings in the South West, we felt an understanding of the local attitude and thus, that we were in a decent position to handle the subject and tone.

The next agenda was discovering a cinematic language for the film. The early idea was to explore Kay’s association with the Tiverton Town Majorettes – a dance troupe with which he had been involved since the age of 4. Initial conversations with Kay had revealed that he was an admirer of the film Black Swan and from there we developed the idea of having him express his emotions on screen through dance. This idea was in a primitive form at this stage and we still considered it crucial to undertake interviews with those in Kay’s life. Kay had suggested that his mother, sister, schoolteacher and therapist would be open to contributing to the project, giving us options.

I thought that to explore Kay’s transition and the environment in which it took place, it would be narratively dysfunctional to have Kay giving on screen interviews alongside the other contributors. To name just one reason, all of the contributors could be, as a result of their affiliation to Kay, one dimensionally positive and/or only serve a function of re-affirmation. I thought that it might be interesting to explore Kay’s transition through his dance and have this as our primary visual relationship with Kay throughout the film. This would mean restricting the audience from Kay as he looks now until the climax – but not without the potential of voiceover narration/interviews.

This was a hard sell to Emily. She liked the idea of the Swan Lake theme but, quite rightly, objected to the idea of the complete visual omission of Kay throughout. Emily agreed to try and source archive video’s and photo’s from Kay’s family – something we agreed would eliviate some of the frustration from the restriction of Kay.

ABOVE: The pitch slideshow

Going into the pitch, if completely honest, neither of us were completely happy with what we had. The subject was interesting and relevant but the style and approach was troubling us slightly. We knew we were on to something, but the pitch came slightly to soon. Kay visited London to meet Emily a few days prior to the pitch. We discussed our ideas with him and he was excited about the prospect of the dance element. He agreed to choreograph and perform a routine especially for the film. Emily and I were in agreement that we would present the film as conceptualised but not be too bogged down by objections and criticism received. After all, we were struggling to get our own heads around the project so would do well to convince everyone else.

 

 

 

 

 

Pressing Ahead

The pitch loomed and after the deliberation over which project to work on, only a month remained before the dreaded pitch. Emily and I had numerous meetings about what type of story we were going to tell and how to tell it. In general, we knew our audience and where we would be sending the film after completion. Transgender films are none too many and it made perfect sense to aim our films at the Trans festivals of London and Europe. Further to that, we were aiming as high as the BFI Flare – London’s premier LGBT festival. It was hard for Emily to understand some of my early ideas fully without meeting Kay. We started an online chat group and Emily started to follow him on social media; a medium  that Kay avidly, sometimes obsessively, uses to express himself. I gave Emily some web links and she pressed on with her research whilst I tried to figure out which direction this film would take.

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 ABOVE: Transformation, inner conflict and expression in Swan Lake (2010, Aronofsky)

Kay visited London so he could meet Emily and get to grips with the story and we had long discussions about potential avenues of exploration. At this early stage, the film would be a mixture of on camera interviews from Kay, his Mum, Jude, his old school teacher and his therapist. Kay had suggested that all of these would vibe happy to take part so Emily pressed on with arranging consent. The story itself would be focused mainly on how Kay’s transition and would charter his journey through hormone replacement therapy. Also, we would aim to be with Kay during his regular campaign meetings held for his ‘Transpaign’ organisation, as well as fundraising events for the same cause. The issue that I was having was trying to find the story. As interesting as the subject of Transgender and Kay himself are, essentially following Kay around as he fights for diversity equality and attends various meetings lacks the cinematic appeal that attracts me to making films. Further still, this plan lacked any element of conflict and/or jeopardy and, for me, didn’t present the challenge I was looking frond little scope for my own expression. Despite this, we felt that we would have to partly rely on interviews from those around Kay keep visual interest and to have varying insight.

Emily and I are both from rural parts of the country and because of that we both had a deep appreciation of the general nature of the people and the conservative attitude to life. After speaking to Kay, it became apparent that part of the prejudice he was experiencing was due his location. Emily and I felt that, having both left the countryside out of necessity in order to pursue our own ambitions, that we were in a good position to handle this element of the story – from an ethical standpoint. This element worked its way into the pitch and we thought that we had our angle.

Kay is a choreographer for the Tiverton Town Majorettes and has been dancing for the organisation since he was a young girl. He also studies creative writing at Plymouth University and spends a massive amount of his time being creative. I was talking to him online one Saturday afternoon and was asking him about his creative processes. He had posted a quote from Tarzan online and I though it was worth exploring. I was after a metaphorical approach and a theme for the film so it was here that I learned of Kay’s obsession with Disney classics as a child that were centred around triumph against adversity or bred amongst a different species. He also informed me that his favourite film is Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan and that he had based dance routines around it before. From here the conversation naturally escalated and it was here where the story started to take shape.

ABOVE: Extreme close ups of tattoos in Memento (2000, Nolan) give the viewer and the character clues about the plot and character traits, without use of exposition. 

I met with Emily and we discussed the idea of incorporating Swan Lake into the film. As the music is public domain, we would be able to source the sheets and have my brother or a composer re-record it and avoid copyright infringement. The idea was to have Kay perform a self choreographed routine at the climax of the film. Later that week, in Lara’s class, we watched Memento and despite having seen it many times, I was inspired by Nolan’s use of close ups on Leonard’s (Guy Pearce) skin to give clues to the audience. Although there was no big twist for the viewer in my film, I liked the idea of withholding something from them. I thought that if we were to charter Kay’s story chronologically, then perhaps it would add an element of intrigue from the audience if he were not revealed in his current physical form until the climax of the film. Better yet, I could allude to how Kay currently looks by dipping in and out of extreme close ups, similar to that in Memento, to allow the audience to grasp who is narrating the story and build a picture of how he might look – when embedded amongst archive footage – something we were still hopeful of acquiring. Kay also happens to be a lover of body art and this would provide more visual insights into his character and personality without having to be supplemented by audio or narration.

The theme and style was forming and we thought we had a solid idea. The next issue was to convince everyone else.

 

Starting Again

Last year was exhausting. By the time we had submitted all of the work I had little mental or physical energy left. It took me a while to regain any motivation and a couple of weeks was needed to rest. After the stress of juggling 4 essays, a script, this blog AND the film, my immediate thoughts lay well away from film. The climax to the second year expended all of my creative efforts and I needed to distance myself from that environment and let my creative juices re-pool. I took a job with a free range chicken farm and switched my brain off for the next few months. After a while, and during long hours driving and/or on a market stall, I would naturally start observing the world around me and creating stories for the characters I would meet or witness from afar. I felt guilty for neglecting my extra curricular duties and not writing or making anything between May and October. In hindsight, though, that self inflicted period in the creative wilderness was exactly what was required to recompose myself for the year ahead.

To say that I hadn’t had my mind on the next project, though, would be a lie. As early as February I had been in contact with an old associate from Devon who had gained a decent amount of national press exposure. His name is Mr Kay Browning and the last time we had been in contact was circa 2002 when he was called MISS Kay Browning. We had been in conversation for a few months and I had met him over the summer on a trip back to visit relatives. The project was initially going to be something I pursued outside of university as I was unsure that I could research the story well enough to conform to the deadlines enforced. Despite having mixture of emotions about the process and outcome of my last film, I was still determined to go forward with a drama and was considering filming the script I submitted for MDA 2100 – A Score to Settle. I approached others from the course via the MDX 2016 Facebook group and floated the idea of making it outside of uni or, if the idea resonated with anyone, to possibly attempt making two versions with one being for the final film. There were a few likes but no solid interest. I shelved the idea and proceeded with adjusting the script.

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 20.30.43

As last year, the introductory session was daunting. The pitch would be in 5 weeks time meaning that I would have to a chosen project – suitably researched – and a clear idea of how the project would look, what audience to aim for, what style etc. I knew I would want to direct again as I wanted to allow for further progression and the opportunity to right the wrongs from last year. Who I would work with, however, was a separate issue. I felt that I needed a different partner to work with this year and luckily, after learning that she would have to produce two films, Emily approached me. She was attached to a documentary already with Jess but was hoping to work with me  – on the basis that I made the documentary about Kay. This gave me food for thought and I spent a week mulling over my options.

The main consideration was this: With the resources at my disposal, can I make the film exactly how it looks in head? With Lost and Found, one of the major disheartening elements was realising that I had a story that was a: too broad to condense to 8 minutes and b: relied upon locations and actors that were of a level of quality above that what I can afford. I was unsure that I would be able to do any better with my resources for this script and seriously considered the pros and cons. After much consideration, I contacted Emily and we pressed ahead with the prep.