Thursday, 3 February 2011

The missing Scorcese

Here is the link to Scorcese that we didn't get to see earlier...

Great debates going on today on all kinds of fronts! It is important to continue this questioning outside of Symposium also. This is the platform to share our thoughts across all the filmmaking spectrum... let's keep it up!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

On Narrative

James: Firstly I would like to thank John and the audience for an incredibly intensive Symposium session this afternoon. I am physically exhausted. My mind is also racing...

If I understand John correctly, he is advocating a lateral-thinking style of non-narrative cinema whereby provocation of ideas is the purpose, as opposed to a fixed polemic or argument. In other words – it is about the means, not the ends. I present you with random, discontinuous sounds and images and YOU detract a meaning as opposed to the filmmaker foisting a meaning upon you.

I am actually a huge fan of Edward De Bono’s work on lateral thinking and I can even be convinced that this would be an avenue to explore to see whether it reignited audience interest in cinema. I understand that John wants it to simply be a broader church, and to include the provocative, lateral cinema alongside the narrative kind, just to offer more challenges to disillusioned audiences.

My problem is that this kind of filmmaking is still only a means, and not an end. It draws no conclusions and makes no points. It is a process and an exercise to provoke you into thinking and engaging. At best, it can only provoke, it can never resolve. Furthermore, at its most pretentious moments, it works on the assumption that you are not capable of this exercise in ordinary life, as if you must be woken from some kind of passive slumber. You can feel alienated as an individual for ‘not getting it’, as if there was some higher, conceptual meaning. But I’m imagining John argues “No! There is no higher meaning, there is only whatever you want it to be!”

And there lies the crux of my argument. The audience wants to share a collective experience. I quoted Nassim Nicholas Taleb in Monday’s “Everything You Know Is Wrong” lecture – “it is hard for us to accept that people do not fall in love with works of art only for their own sake, but also in order to feel that they belong to a community”. Walking out of the cinema and into the bar with your friends to try and interpret the provocation seems like a valid example of community, but I would argue that this is not missing from narrative cinema, and can in fact be far more precise and focussed in narrative cinema.

The temptation is to ridicule narrative as a failing model, that we have run out of stories and the audience is bored. I believe this is not the case. There are plenty of stories that are still to be told, and can in fact be reinterpreted and retold in fantastical fashion (e.g; Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’). If cinema is failing it is because Hollywood believes that technical spectacle and big stars are the only advantages over other media. If studios woke up to the potential of cheaper production and the possibilities of digital media in the exhibition sector, we could see challenging, thought provoking, entertaining narratives that fulfilled audiences time and time again. At that point, I believe that the lateral-thinking non-narrative experiment will be exposed for what it really is – a lazy way of filmmaking that carries no purpose other than to provoke thought.

I therefore believe that it has limited appeal, limited audience and limited lifespan.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

How it's going!

A great day of discussions and debate! Symposium is off to a flying start. Thanks to Emmet Dwyer who emailed about 'The Strangest Secret' after James's first lecture. Many thanks to those of you who came and heard Stephen Hurst discuss his first film experience. We hope it was useful.

Today a whole gang of excited filmmakers took a logline from the Random Storyline Generator and prepared to make their masterpieces. You can see their efforts on Friday at 10am in the TV Studio... Should be fun!

Monday, 24 January 2011

Symposium No. 3 - Everything You Know Is Wrong

Don't be dispirited by the gloomy news these days - EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG! We're going to be discussing the positives as well as the negatives of the current paradigm shift in filmmaking at this year's symposium. We've got some great stuff lined up - including, but not exclusively -

Screenings of

Friday, 5 February 2010

Bill Garrett - Storytelling

After a great closing speech at the first Symposium, a great tour of the BBC Centre on the London visit and an honorary doctorate from Staffordshire University at the 2009 Graduation Ceremony, Bill Garrett once again closed Symposium with a fascinating look at the process of storytelling. Helped with prizes for audience contribution, Bill was excellent at getting to the core of how and why we use technology to communicate. Another excellent end to Symposium... thanks Bill!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Ben Thomas on directing actors

Actor Ben Thomas came in and delivered an inspiring presentation upon directing actors. You can see the first 15 minutes here, but for the whole presentation you need to contact James Fair directly for a copy.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Be Kind Rewind Protocol

The Be Kind Rewind Protocol - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly from James Fair on Vimeo.

Michel Gondry's "Be Kind Rewind Protocol" was designed to put the fun back into filmmaking, by making us forget all the fixations with style and procedure, and strip it back to being about rough and raw, quick fix excitement!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


Inspired by the conversation with John in the last Symposium No.1 (Things To Make & Do) James decided to shoot Rosie using completely different approaches to those which he was used to. You can read more about his experiment here.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Who's telling the truth?

Zeitgeist provided an exciting start to the Symposium, albeit with technological glitches. There wasn't too much controversy over the film when it came to a discussion, with many people arguing that we shouldn't believe all the hype. Is that educated students speaking though? Would the opinion be different in the high street?
In contrast to the style of Zeitgeist, the screening of Errol Morris's Thin Blue Line surprised a few students. Should we the audience be presented with a truth (like Zeitgeist) and decide for ourselves over its validity? Or should we be presented with various truths and decide our own (like The Thin Blue Line)?

Friday, 22 January 2010

The Symposium takes shape...

The timetable for the second Symposium should be published later today, but here's a quick peek at the sort of things that are coming up: Zeitgeist, Be Kind Rewind Protocol, Thin Blue Line, Ben Thomas, Royal Television Society, Rosie. It promises to be a great week!

Thursday, 17 December 2009


The Symposium will be back in 2010 for another week of exciting talks and presentations surrounding the processes involved in filmmaking. The dates are planned for the 1st-5th February, and will include a variety of new faces...

Ben Thomas will be presenting on the processes of all things to do with acting. Bill Garrett from the BBC will be back to give a talk about documentary. Hopefully there will also be a presentation from the man that made the incredibly viral 'Rage Against X Factor' video. James Fair will talk about the challenge of making Rosie (which was inspired by the last Symposium). Also John & James plan to show the films when they were students. And lots more. You lucky things...

More details to come in the New Year. Have a great Christmas!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

London Trip

Exactly one year after our first Symposium and we are try another first - a London trip that included trips to the BBC and Sequence Post in Pinewood Studios. Thanks to Bill Garrett and Ben Foakes for their support. Good times...

Friday, 14 November 2008

What Industry Wants

Bill Garrett (Head of Technology at BBC Vision) closed our symposium with a unique insight into what he thinks Staffordshire University Film Technology graduates will need to succeed in future. The session was very popular with the attendees, with Bill praising the good work that our students have produced upon the course. He stressed the need for students to be versatile with future technologies, and have many strings to their bow. 
Despite the uncertainty within the industry, Bill remained optimistic that there will be opportunities for determined, entrepreneurial storytellers in the future, albeit the medium may change in between now and the time some of the graduates finish their degrees! Bill judged at last year's GradEx, and with any luck, he will return this year to cast his eye over the quality of our final year student portfolios. 

Bill's closing seminar reiterated the need for us to be making films as opposed to simply be talking about films.

SCREENING: Peppermint

Students got a chance to see James Fair and Gabby Morton Jones' first feature "Peppermint". The film has enjoyed a wide international audience upon it's release on the internet in 2006. It was made it response to the frustration they felt after their "Nightshift" Channel Four series. The production diary for "Peppermint" contains in depth background to the production process as it unfolded.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The 72 HOUR FILM: Watching & Waiting

The four lecturers involved in the 72 hour film gave their insights into the frantic production process. Take a look at the making of video for a sneaky peek behind the scenes:

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Shipman: The Story Of A Serial Killer

Fiona Graham's presentation took us through the commissioning process, and highlighted the factors that shaped the Crimes That Shook Britain series. The audience got a chance to see the transmitted version of Shipman - which we hope to have clips of soon here on the blog! 

3 Hour Film Challenge

Described as 'not for the faint hearted', this exercise lived up to it's billing. Followed by a BBC crew, 25 of the bravest students went from conception through to completion in 3 hours. If that sounds easy, consider they had the following rules:

1.            The film must be exactly 60 Seconds - This includes titles and credits

2.            The Film must have a narrative.

3.            The narrative must have a beginning, middle and end

3.            All Audio must be created on the day.

4.            The film must not contain dialogue.

5.            The first and last shot must be the same.

Here are the results:

Monday, 10 November 2008


Students got a chance to see John Bradburn's first feature "Kyle". The film has enjoyed a good run of success at international festivals and has established John as a strong voice in British independent filmmaking.

My First Movie: "Kyle" & "Peppermint"

The room was so full there were people sat on the floor for this presentation! Thanks for such a great session. John Bradburn and James Fair discussed the development of their first feature films in great detail, incorporating all elements of production. It was a lively Q&A that followed also, which saw the students pose some very challenging questions. The different ways in which John and James created their films set an interesting example of the different approaches a filmmaker can take towards the final goal - making a feature. 

The audio from the session was recorded and will appear on here in full once the symposium has concluded at the end of the week.

Dan Hopkins: Different Ways Of Working For A Filmmaker

Dan Hopkins got the symposium off to a exciting start, talking students through his filmmaking. Once the crazy business of our first day is over we'll put up some of the audio files from the presentation itself.

Dan charted his development as a filmmaker by discussing the journey he has taken since his first film 'Driven' (2000).


Dan described how this film marked his first 'official' foray into filmmaking, being funded by a variety of institutions and budgeted at £17,000. Dan had been experimenting with film from an early age and had attended University in Newport (South Wales) where he described the experience as 'great for networking' and 'working with others'. After a stint in the industry working upon Welsh programme making, Dan began to develop his own strand of visual video and film, outside of the so-called 'mainstream' broadcasters.

Plastic Decay

Plastic Decay was created on film and edited with Avid. Even at this early stage of Dan's filmmaking he developed a strong visual style and a break from conventional narrative storytelling. Discussions arose about the music, which was composed by Dan himself, despite having no formal musical knowledge or history of playing instruments. Dan described how 'the punk' in him meant he doesn't want to learn an instrument as it means he'll start to sound like everyone else. It is certainly this iconoclastic streak that comes through in his work.

There'll be more on Dan, his films, and his music, once the symposium closes and we've had a chance to put all the information together. Please revisit us soon!

Friday, 7 November 2008

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin...

It all kicks off next Monday... we'll be updating the blog as we go through.

Many of the events are now fully subscribed, which is great news. Thank you to all of you who have signed up!

A quick note: the next installment of the "Crimes That Shook Britain" series will continue with Stephanie Slater on Monday 10th November at 10pm on Crime & Investigation channel on Sky. Fiona Graham will be discussing the series the following day in the TV Studio, Beaconside at 1pm. 

Rumours are that there will be a surprise awaiting the 3 hour film challenge attendees on Tuesday. Please be prompt at 8.55am in F11, as time is of the essence.... 

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Latest Symposium update...

Just a quick post to encourage you to take a look at the new John Bradburn and Andy Paton interview upon the Screen West Midlands website , talking about their Digishort "The Gloaming". The pair will be screening the film and answering questions at 1pm on Wednesday 12th November in the TV Studio.

The events of our Symposium are filling up... "Writing Feature Scripts" and "Film Festivals From Both Sides" are now both full. Please make sure you get your spaces at the remaining events!!!

Monday, 3 November 2008

What's on the menu?

It's a going to be an exciting week! Here are only some of the things in store...

Daniel Hopkins will be kicking of the symposium with "Different Ways Of Working For A Filmmaker". Dan is a filmmaker, musician, artist and lecturer. He is currently working on a series of 18 films about the landscape he grew up in, based on the fields on his parents' farm in Somerset. Dan is going to show some examples of his work and discuss ways in which we can be creative in the era of technological convergence.

John Bradburn and James Fair will be discussing the technical and artistic circumstances that surrounded their debut feature projects "Kyle" and "Peppermint". Shot within one year of each other, the two films share many similarities, despite John or James not knowing each other at the time.

Fiona Graham will present "Shipman: The Story Of A Serial Killer", part of a series of documentaries that are being broadcast upon Sky. Fiona developed and pitched the series to Sky last year, which involved scripting and all major character finding and interviews. The factual one-hour films are interview and drama reconstruction using the Sony DSR570 using 35mm lenses. Two more more films are in production; “The Great Train Robbery” - probably the last ever interview with the brains behind the robbery - Bruce Reynolds, and “Shannon Matthews Abduction”.

Benjamin Johns, director and producer of "Nuestro Abuelo", presents his film about a tribe in the remote mountains of central Mexico. Filmed with no prior permission, it gives a unique insight into a tribe who's Shamanic way of life has been unchanged for 1000's of years.

John Bradburn and Andy Paton successfully pitched experimental horror "The Gloaming" to Screen West Midlands and secured funding under the Digishorts programme. John and Andy will discuss the process from conception through to completion.

The lecturers that had a screening slot at the Galway Film Festival without even having a film to show will discuss how they shot, edited and screened the feature "Watching & Waiting" in 72 hours. This is an opportunity to see the film and find out more about the challenges they faced.

Associate Producer Peter Rudge will discuss the background, financing and university partnership of the feature movie Souled Out. The film is set in the seventies Northern Soul scene and tells the story of a young boy who learns about life and love through the music of the era. It was produced in conjunction with Staffordshire University, and students were involved with its production over the summer.

There'll be plenty more exciting screenings, exercises and discussions taking place, so be sure to keep an eye on the blog as the symposium progresses!

Saturday, 1 November 2008

If we want to be filmmakers, we must be making films...

Welcome to our first Symposium, cheekily titled "Things To Make & Do". We've created a week of presentations, exercises and screenings that showcase our commitment to film production at Staffordshire University.

It is an interesting time for the industry, with new technologies offering new advantages and disadvantages for filmmakers. This symposium aims to explore some of the contemporary issues surrounding filmmaking, and illustrate the challenges and opportunities that face future graduates and practitioners in the film and television industry.