Brett Harvey

Brett Harvey’s body of work ranges from music videos to feature documentaries, the latter of which provide the focus for today’s interview. After the resounding success of his directorial debut on ‘The Union: The Business Behind Getting High’, fans clamoured for more. Thankfully, Brett and his team listened, and brought us another fantastic documentary in the form of ‘The Culture High’.

Interview by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Q. The Culture High focusses on a very provocative and prevalent social issue. Why did you choose to explore this topic?
A. Initially, I wasn’t interested in pursuing the topic of marijuana prohibition for a second time. I thought we had covered most areas in our first film ‘The Union: The Business Behind Getting High’. Then two elements changed the tide.  First was the overwhelming demand from fans of our first film to do a second instalment.  Second was the clear need for the public to have a better understanding of how various sectors of society are structured, and how those structures inevitably prop up and perpetuate such damaging ventures as the war on cannabis.  It seems to be an underlying issue that goes beyond the war on drugs.  Whether it’s the political realm, the pharmaceutical industry, law enforcement, or mainstream media, there is an ever growing disconnect from engaging evidence based policies. ‘The Culture High’ was a chance to step beyond marijuana prohibition and examine how these factors affect society’s ability to govern itself effectively.
Q. In the documentary, a wide range of respectable figures speak out in opposition of the existing prohibition laws. How did you go about gaining the support from these various politicians, scientists and law enforcement officers?
A. This is where having the ‘The Union’ under our belt came into play. The respect we had attained from the first film allowed us to garner trust from interviewees for the second one. Prospective contributors were able to see our approach on the topic and have a clear understanding of our intent and abilities as film makers.  The second element that was in our favour was word of mouth; each time we would complete an interview the interviewee would have suggestions of others that we should talk to. Things snowballed from there and before we knew it we had over 40 interviews.
Q. The Culture High also features an array of celebrities who advocate the lifting of prohibition laws, such as Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa. How valuable is this kind of popular culture support?
A. Pop culture support is critical these days, and to some extent always has been for as long as it’s been available. It’s one thing to have information in a film that people need to hear, it’s another thing all together to deliver that information in an engaging and entertaining way. You need both elements if you’re actually wanting people to give up their time to watch your film. Bringing attention to an issue comes in many forms, as does holding that attention once you have it.  One of the most effect forms of doing so is to communicate ideas through iconic figures in society who inspire, spark interest, or possess the ability to get information across in an effective way.
Q. Despite this amazing co-operation, on the other hand you must have faced a few difficulties in getting the documentary made. Did you come up against any opposition from those who are against the anti-prohibition movement? If so, how did you overcome this obstacle?
A. Opposition always exists when attempting to tackle a controversial issue.  These days it’s much easier to portray the opposition’s point of view, due to the vast amount of historical archiving and mass media clips now available online. Our first experiences with the opposing point of view came early on in filming for ‘The Union’. One of our producers was attempting to secure an interview with a high-ranking law enforcement individual. Apparently, this individual refused to do the interview because marijuana had been referred to as a ‘plant’ at some point during their initial conversation. He said “marijuana is not a plant, it’s a drug” and because the producer had referred to cannabis as a plant, that meant the producer was a left winger and would not be able to have the interview. The individual then went on to say that nobody else within that police force would be doing an interview for the same reason. It was bizarre for us, because early on we weren’t really exploring marijuana for legalization, we were more focussed on examining the underground market. We were still in the discovery process. But our antennae soon went up, signalling that something was really off here.
Q. Your documentary is obviously a very divisive project to present to the public. Do you think the controversy surrounding the film only serves to inspire more people to watch it and learn the truth?
A. It’s tough to say. There’s a portion of society that will instantly write the film off before understanding what it’s about, because their view of prohibition is heavily reinforced through their social structures. That’s something ‘The Culture High’ attempts to break down. We examine the idea of a “my team versus your team” mentality and reveal how it creates a tunnel vision. It’s logical to think that the controversial topic of marijuana prohibition would garner a massive audience but the problem is that we are now flooded with marijuana documentaries,TV programs and movies. This has actually turned a lot of people off the topic. That’s one of the reasons ‘The Culture High’ steps beyond marijuana prohibition to examine various sectors of society. The purpose was to bring some fresh perspective to the topic and keep people engaged in a very important social issue.
Q. During a more poignant section of the documentary, we meet young Jayden David and his father. What was going through your mind when you witnessed the very clear benefits of his medicinal marijuana use?
A. This isn’t the first time we’ve witnessed the medicinal benefits of marijuana first hand. In ‘The Union’, we met Greg Cooper, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and ataxia. In order to participate in the interview, Greg had to smoke cannabis in front of us, which let his body to relax and allowed the involuntary movements to subside. Right before our eyes his body settled and he was able to give answers in a calm and collected manner; it was stunning. In the case of the David family, there was a whole new example of undeniable medicinal benefits. Jayden’s father, Jason, had seen his family torn apart by Jayden’s illness and dependence on pharmaceutical drugs. Additionally he had documented the entire process. So for us to enter their lives at a point where they had finally found the medicine (CBD oil) that would bring them some peace was extraordinarily emotional. The story really deserves to have an entire documentary dedicated to it, as it is a shining example of how a father’s love for his child will conquer injustice at all odds. I am in awe of their strength.
Q. Do you think the prohibition laws will ever be lifted on a global scale?
A. As Steve Rolles states in the documentary, “the whole house of cards is already coming crumbling down”. Experimentation with “evidence based policy making” is starting to take place on a global scale. Uruguay, Portugal and an ever-growing numbers of states in America are charging forward. Suddenly regulating cannabis doesn’t seem like the boogie man story that we’ve all been led to believe it would be. Positive results are flooding in from around the world and it’s getting more difficult for governments to back up their claim that they are trying to protect you from harm by throwing you in a jail cell over your preference of a stimulant. That being said, marijuana prohibition is still ticking and it’s my guess that we haven’t seen the last of the punches to be thrown in its attempt at self-preservation.
Q. What would your advice be for anyone who wants, or even needs a legalized source of cannabis?
A. Educate yourself and proceed from there. Don’t get locked into tunnel vision, and always base your course of action on a reliable base of knowledge. Once you get to that place, share that information. Become active on social media, and build on what is already a growing movement towards sensible, evidence based policy. The key to the downfall of marijuana prohibition lies in our willingness to expose its faults and present a better option.
Q.What can we expect from your next project?
A. Our next project is headed in a very different direction.  Completing two lengthy documentaries on cannabis prohibition and the issues surrounding society’s handling of it, has really taken its toll on me and the team, both mentally and physically.  So, our next project is a feature length documentary called ‘Ice Guardians’, which journeys into the lives of those who perform the role of the ‘enforcer’ in the NHL.  After that… who knows where we go next!

 

If you found this interesting, head over to Twitter and find:
@theculturehigh     @BrettBKS     @AdamScoreG

 

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Pitch Perfect 2

Written by Molly Dolan

A cappella; an Italian phrase meaning “in the manner of the chapel or the church”. How fitting, given the devoted fanbase who worship the delightful harmonies which musical theatre has given us. Popularity of such a concept has surged dramatically in recent years, or at least that is the case onscreen. Following the phenomenal success of ‘Glee’ – embracing diversity for the oh-so-impressionable teenage population – ‘Pitch Perfect’ opened in 2012 and was a sleeper hit.

The ensemble cast, centring on Anna Kendrick as the audacious Beca, combined to create a comedic and talent-rich film, headed up by relative newcomer Jason Moore. As Moore’s directorial debut, and with a modest $17m budget, the film’s eventual box office ($113m) and overall success was just that, a huge success. You only have to look on YouTube and you will still find videos of ‘The Cup Song’ still circulating today, a real sign of the triumph for this new wave of anti-instrumental performers.

Part of the ‘Pitch Perfect’ appeal is the imperfection of almost all of the characters. Although the storyline is one that we have seen a number of times before; outcasts battling society, outshining the popular, and all uniting in success with a dash of romance, the diversity of characters means that we can all relate to at least one trait on the screen. And the film cannot be mentioned without the term ‘Fat Amy’ cropping up. Rebel Wilson breaks down barriers of unjust, social stereotypes to play the integral role of Patricia AKA Fat Amy. Other female roles include the bitch, the tomboy, the nymphomaniac, the downright strange one and of course, Beca, the icon. All form The Barden Bellas.

The male counterparts, The Treblemakers, led by Skylar Astin’s Jesse, add a perfect amount of masculinity, showing that a Capella can be cool (right?). Add to this line-up some incredible, if not sometimes sassy, humour and you have the perfect recipe for a mainstream musical theatre hit. For me at least, The Treblemakers are a more exciting and talented group than The Bellas, but that just wouldn’t fit into what the film is trying to achieve. Of course the guys who are fun and popular (in a capella world) should win, but we need the underdogs to prevail to provide us with a morally charged undertone.

Following the apparent resolution of the first film, resulting in girl group The Bellas snatching the national title, fans were not left waiting long before the announcement of a sequel was made at CinemaCon (a third instalment has now also been announced). A long two years later and trailers have finally been released, showing The Bellas progression to an international a capella championship, a competition never before won by an American act. Elizabeth Banks returns as one half of the sarcastic, catty and somewhat misogynistic commentator-duo, to both star and direct ‘Pitch Perfect 2’, taking over the helm from Jason Moore, with Kay Cannon returning as screenwriter. The film follows a similar pattern to its predecessor, with an on-stage scandal – “Muffgate” – resulting in embarrassment and indignation for the girls, followed by a turbulent path that hopefully (and most likely) leads to the top.

Following the intense buzz of the first, that still carries on today and accounts for a number one song, a Christmas album and 6 film awards (albeit mostly via MTV and the Teen Choice awards), this sequel is a sure fire hit. With a budget this time of closer to $30m, box office projections suggesting the film could take around 245 million worldwide, not a bad turnaround at all. The only obstacle standing in the way of box office domination, will be the fact that ‘Pitch Perfect 2’ shares its release weekend with the highly anticipated ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. With a very clear divide of interests between the two starkly contrasting films, cinemagoers on the whole will already know which screen they’re heading for, but the appeal of ‘Pitch Perfect’ reaches much further than social outcasts and teenage girls.  

‘Pitch Perfect 2’ takes centre stage on May 15th 2015

 

 

Marco van Belle

Marco van Belle is a journalist turned film director, tasked with putting together a low-budget feature with all the quality of a cinematic blockbuster. To make a film which shows no hint of the electively tight pursestrings, one which wouldn’t look out of place on the big screen, is an impressive feat in itself. But to do this, whilst tackling the classic tale of ‘Arthur & Merlin’, is quite simply magical. 

Interview by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Q. You were an award-winning journalist not so long ago, so what made you quit the day job and become a film maker?
A. To be honest, it was always my intention to work in film. I have been in love with cinema since I was about four years old, a real child of the 80s and the VHS era. Working with and interacting with film is a real passion, and I actually spent three years at drama school with the intention of becoming an actor.
Q. Arthur & Merlin is a story which carries a very literal legendary status. Did you feel any pressure because of the heritage of this story?
A. Since finishing the project, yes! But at the time, I just felt privileged to be handed the opportunity to add to the vast canon of works surrounding this story. There was of course the normal filmmaking pressures, but we approached the familiar story and went down the route of the origins of it all, which allowed us a kind of blank slate to work with.
Q. Celtic tales such as Arthur & Merlin inspired Tolkein as a young an, but who influences your cinematic vision and techniques?
A. Growing up in the 80s, I obviously adore the work of people like Spielberg, Lucas and Carpenter. But I wouldn’t say I was directly inspired by their work. There are elements I like, yes; sound, imagery, design and editing. But I try not to enforce any personal style on a project, the story is crucial and you have to just kind of take a back seat and let that shine through.
Q. With a low budget and high expectations, did you ever have any doubts about making this project work?
A. Not to blow my own trumpet, but I do feel like I’m pretty good at maximising the potential of a budget. From my work on various short films, you quickly learn to think very laterally and strategically – “Here’s the project. What do we want? How do we make it work without throwing money at it?”. There are of course, unforeseen circumstances which get in the way. One day I took the crew to a lovely field I had scouted out, but on arrival the whole place had been invaded by bullocks. Nothing quite tarnishes the perfect location like mounds of bull crap.
Q. You filmed scenes in my beautiful homeland of Sheffield. I obviously understand the attraction, but what exactly drew you to these locations?
A. For myself and a great portion of the production crew, South Yorkshire is right on the doorstep. When a beautiful place like the Peak District is so close, it does make the decision an easy one. It’s such a timeless setting, and perfect for some of the scenes. We did have to venture outside of Yorkshire for about two thirds of the production, simply out of script necessity.
Q. Do you believe that we will see more low budget films achieving the kind of success that Arthur and Merlin has enjoyed?
A. I think it’s important to remember that the ‘Arthur & Merlin’ project isn’t about setting a precedent in terms of budget. We haven’t done this so people can turn around and say “they did it on a low budget, now you should all do it on a low budget”. This is just a pilot venture, a bit of a challenge. But I think we will see more good looking films, made with a low budget, yes.
Q. Finally, what words of wisdom can you offer to anyone hoping to become a filmmaker?
A. The honest answer would be “DON’T”. It’s weird because it’s so difficult but at the same time it’s very easy. Just make stuff, there is no excuse not to. Admittedly, the first five years of work you produce might be crap. Your family and friends will say it’s great but it’s crap and it’s a long process getting to a good standard. You have to treat it as a second job and make lots of sacrifices, and if that is too much hard work then it’s not for you.

Find out more about the film at: www.arthurandmerlin.co.uk

Follow Marco on Twitter @Marcovanbelle
Follow the film on Twitter @AandMfilm

 

Mad Max: Fury Road

Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes and Nick Deal

News of the plans for ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ absolutely evaded my radar until about a year ago. I knew nothing of the franchise and nothing of the complications in getting this fourth film to the big screen. The project was put on hold for a lengthy 25 years, with financial difficulties, security concerns and the short attention span of Mel Gibson bringing the fourth installment to a standstill. That is, until 2006 when director George Miller declared his intention to make the film, even if Mel Gibson wasn’t willing to reprise his role as Max Rockatansky. Several years later, and my attention was peaked with news that Tom Hardy would be leading the cast for the all-action reboot; I was sold almost instantly.

Back in 1979, a fresh-faced Mel Gibson donned head to toe leather and put his Australian ancestry to good use as the titular character in ‘Mad Max’. The lure of fast cars, big explosions and dangerous biker gangs was enough to elevate the film to cult status; the fans wanted more. And George Miller duly obliged, with the hard-hitting 1981 sequel ‘The Road Warrior’. This follow up excelled where its predecessor failed, with more violence, more explosions and a Max with a darker, more dangerous edge. Literally, everything an action movie should be – success all round. Sadly, a trilogy dictates that there must be a third film, and everybody knows “three’s a crowd”. Roping in the help of a pop diva was always going to be problematic, and as the main antagonist in ‘Beyond Thunderdome’, Tina Turner is nothing more than half-decent. Gone are the psychopathic bikers, replaced by a musical matriarch. Nonetheless, the legacy of ‘Mad Max’ lived on, just about surviving on the grounds of two out of three ain’t bad.

George Miller, the mastermind behind it all – as he is so regularly described – enjoyed an unusual career in the years following the famous trilogy. Perhaps it was the stress of the escaping dream of a ‘Mad Max’ quadrilogy which led Miller to settle down in the director’s chair for the farmyard fun of ‘Babe’. Fair play to the man – the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and smashed the Australian box-office – but surely this was an anomaly, a nice, relaxing family film to break from all the violence. Wrong. Three years later and Miller stepped in to make a sequel. Even more odd, in 2006, the man with a penchant for action and explosions took on the all singing, all dancing ‘Happy Feet’ series. From post-nuclear warfare to theatrical penguins, quite the transformation.

Luckily, George Miller finally managed to give his fourth film life, and we have been treated to multiple teasers and trailers over the past year. From the footage we’ve seen so far, we can make certain predictions about what we can expect from this franchise reboot. Aesthetically and visually, this film looks absolutely stunning. Long tracking shots over vast open desert spaces, filled with intense and vivid colour. As far as setting and environment goes, I can’t think of any trailer off the top of my head which has instilled me with such a feeling of awe as ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ has. As we mentioned previously, this is a franchise which has been built on its reputation for all things violent and downright crazy. This fourth installment looks set to not only continue that trend, but take it to a whole new level with gravity-defying collisions, monumental explosions and incredible slow-motion action sequences all look set to feature prominently. And as far as those crazy antagonists, we need look no further than Nicholas Hoult’s stunning one-liner, “Oh what a lovely day”, to reassure us that this film will be just as mad as its characters allow it to be, and from the evidence we have, I would prepare for full-on insanity.

The trailers, particularly the latest offering, conjure up plenty of memories from the original trilogy. We see the famous gasoline truck which has served Max Rockatansky so well in the past, and there’s the haunting tune of the clockwork musical box which Max gifted to a feral child in ‘The Road Warrior’. Will this child return? Will Max’s HGV save the day again? Thankfully, the leading man himself appears to have adopted a delightfully dark and dangerous demeanour to put Mel Gibson’s portrayal to shame. Tom Hardy is a firm favourite with us, and he looks set to revel in his most action-packed role to date. Alongside him, Charlize Theron has the strong, leading lady role down to a tee. No surprise there. Here’s hoping her character, Imperator Furiosa, may finally be the one to match Mad Max and give him a real run for his gasoline.

It appears that this latest installment will have everything that thrill-seeking moviegoers could possibly hope for. Having seen the trailer in the cinema, there is no doubt that this is a film which needs to be enjoyed on the big screen. Truly, a stunning visual spectacle. ‘Fury Road’ promises to be the highlight of the series; bigger and better than ever before. The years have been kind to Max Rockatansky, clearly benefitting from the advancements in special effects. The action sequences look beautifully crafted and the backdrop that all of the action takes place against is absolutely breathtaking . Let’s just hope the curse of the trailer doesn’t strike again and fill us with false hope.

‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ is released in UK cinemas on May 15th 2015

 

Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

In 2012, Joss Whedon brought together the band of Marvel superheroes known as The Avengers, for the hugely successful ‘Avengers Assemble’. Financially, there are very few films to match the success of ‘Avengers Assemble’, grossing $1.5 billion to make it the third highest grossing film of all time (behind Titanic and Avatar). With a budget of $220 million, that’s a pretty nice little profit. Critically, the film has garnered 31 awards and 65 nominations, as well as ranking in the top 200 films of all time on IMDB. Marvel and Disney’s partnership has produced an incredibly successful, lucrative global phenomenon which has seen the superhero genre dominate the box-office in recent years. With both Marvel and DC boasting a hectic schedule slate over the next five years, the power of the superhero movie shows no signs of stalling. But is it all getting a little too much?

What is it about superheroes which very rarely allows us to leave the obsession behind with our childhood? My own love of superheroes started as early as I can remember, with my favourite, Batman. I wanted to be a hero just like him, I had the outfits and the toys, I watched the cartoons and the films religiously, I was hooked. Far from neglecting this addiction, it has thrived as I have grown older and discovered more and more superheroes. I always harboured a certain reluctance, even ignorance, to the world of Marvel, aside from The X-Men and the detestable Spider-Man movies of the early  2000s. But then, in 2008, along came Robert Downey Jr. and Iron-Man to save the day, inspiring me to delve deeper into Marvel’s rapidly expanding cinematic universe, to find Captain America and Thor.

With the world adequately educated on the stories of these three heroes, the Avengers were ready to assemble. Throw in The Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow and Director Nick Fury and you’ve got yourself a formidable team. For me, there is something about a super-team joining forces which really excites me. ‘Avengers Assemble’ was a truly amazing film; it’s exciting, fun, full of action and more importantly, it was NEW. A truly groundbreaking film, in terms of visual effects of course, but also a pioneer in the genre of superhero movies itself. To give the world a live-action film, featuring all the best characters Marvel has to offer, this was something special. Even with the resounding success of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy, it is hard to deny that ‘Avengers Assemble’ took the superhero movie to the next level and placed itself firmly at the heart of a thriving market.

Three years later, and the world is dying for more from The Avengers. The sequel, ‘Age Of Ultron’, arrives in UK cinemas on April 23rd, with the USA having to wait another week on top of that. We have been treated to three pretty special trailers, to tantalise our excitement for the grand spectacle, but what exactly do we know about ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’? Taking its title from a 2013 comic-book story arc, the film seemingly diverts from the graphic novel plot in many ways, in which the villainous Ultron has already ravaged planet Earth and New York City in particular. Ultron is created by Tony Stark, as the final step towards artificial intelligence, but his creation turns rogue and targets humanity for annihilation. In the comic-book, Ultron is portrayed as being exceptionally powerful, and whilst it seems he will still have a devastating effect on NYC, Joss Whedon has admitted that he had to tone down the robot’s powers for the movie.

Everyone is back for this one, even the dastardly Loki, plus Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver, Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch and an appearance from The Vision. The multiple trailers for ‘Age Of Ultron’ depict an army of AI robots, led by Ultron ravaging New York City and causing a lot of trouble for the Avengers, in scenes which resonate with the Sentinels from ‘X-Men: Days Of Future Past’. The aspect of the trailers which has caused most excitement though, is the appearance of The Hulkbuster, another of Stark’s controversial creations. The Hulkbuster is Stark’s way of saying “I don’t trust you man” and it seems The Hulk doesn’t take too kindly to such a precaution, with the two pitted against each other in a destructive battle. There are clear tensions amongst the Avengers, and the Hulkbuster underlines this, tensions which Ultron is delighted to manipulate and exacerbate, whilst enjoying a reign of mass-destruction. But the good guys will win in the end, right?

If Marvel’s upcoming schedule slate is anything to go by, then yes, the good guys will prevail. The post-Ultron schedule is headed by ‘Captain America: Civil War’, which will place Captain America against Iron-Man in another internal battle within the troubled Avengers team. With Hawkeye, Black Widow, Nick Fury and more set to return for the Captain America sequel, we are left with no uncertainty as to the survivors of ‘Age Of Ultron’. By providing us with details of this film, before we have even had the chance to enjoy the Avengers sequel, Marvel have removed all elements of surprise and suspense from the experience. Only The Hulk, with no standalone film to come and no cast list released for 2018’s ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, is at risk of being killed off in ‘Age Of Ultron’. Unfortunately, the financial benefits of Marvel’s marketing campaigns means that we can no longer enjoy a little mystery and ambiguity surrounding our favourite films, but then again, we hardly expect the good guys to lose.

Ultimately, all of the upcoming films in Marvel’s cinematic universe SHOULD be incredible and I am personally very excited for ‘Age Of Ultron’ in particular. Indeed, I can’t recall being this excited for any film before. Maybe it’s a good thing that we know what is in the pipeline, I mean, the more the merrier when it comes to the superhero movies. This may be Joss Whedon’s farewell to the franchise, but ‘Age Of Ultron’ is set to be even better than its predecessor, an unfathomable thought. Long live the superhero movie!