Oliver Park: The Future Of The Horror Genre

Interview by Jakob Lewis Barnes

The horror genre is a tricky place to make your name, but Oliver Park is an up-and-coming director taking the independent film scene by storm. Stepping behind the camera, after making his name as an actor, the future is bright for Oliver Park, with his short film ‘Vicious’ enjoying success on the festival circuit, and upcoming short ‘Still’ set to do the same. We caught up with Oliver to speak horror, filmmaking and the future.

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Sarah Hawkins & Myah Hollis: Or Die Trying – Bridging the Gender Gap

Interview by Gillian Finklea

Sadly, the issue of gender inequality in film and television is still a problem which haunts the industry. But, thanks to projects like ‘Or Die Trying’, the issue is becoming more and more readily discussed and action is being taken to give women in film a much louder voice, slowly but surely. We caught up with Sarah Hawkins and Myah Hollis, two of the brilliant women behind this project, to learn more about their work and get their opinions on the gender gap in Hollywood.

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Kenton Hall: One Year Later

Interview by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Around this time last year, I had the pleasure of interviewing the writer/director/star of indie flick ‘A Dozen Summers’, Kenton Hall. In the year since that interview, Kenton Hall has seen his little independent film go from strength to strength – achieving festival circuit success and fighting a certain merc-with-a-mouth in the DVD charts. Coincidentally, I’ve also been lucky enough to work with the man himself on my upcoming short film ‘Harlequin’. So, I thought now would be the perfect time to ask Kenton some questions about his whirlwind of a year.


JLB: So, you’re pretty busy right now with the DVD release of ‘A Dozen Summers’ – how are you finding that particular rollercoaster?

KH: Exhausting? It’s been strange; Two years of hard slog and emotional turmoil. (Take note, young filmmakers, this game is not for the faint of heart.) I can’t pretend it’s not exciting to see my film on shelves – a physical item that people can take home – but I think rollercoaster is a pretty good word to describe it. In a way, the hard work has only just begun, because now we have a shot at a much larger audience and we need to let people know we’re there, and then march them to the till, or to press the button online. But I’m super proud of what our team accomplished. It was – as far as we can figure out – actually impossible. But there it is, all shiny and shrink-wrapped.

JLB: I remember you were chasing ‘Deadpool’ hard in the pre-order charts – did you end up beating that son of a bitch?

KH: You mean the OTHER part-Canadian fourth-wall-breaking movie? I’m afraid Mr. Reynolds and friends JUST held us off the top spot on Zavvi’s chart, but we snagged it as soon as ‘Deadpool’ was released into the wild. So, yeah, we got number 1 on the Zavvi DVD pre-order chart. That was…odd, but cool. I won’t pretend it wasn’t cool. Especially for a little film like ours, which probably cost about the same as Ryan Reynold’s assistant’s snack budget.

JLB: ‘A Dozen Summers’ has proved to be hugely popular and pretty successful – what kind of doors has this film open for you?

KH: Well, I’m going to stop you there. I want it to be made very clear that I didn’t say it’s been “hugely popular and pretty successful”, because that would make me insufferable. It’s great that it’s meant something to people though – and, hey, we’re human, we love to feel loved. And there have been some people that have not enjoyed it, which is their prerogative. But, overall, I think people “got” what we were trying to do, which was to make something a bit different, a film which had a little something for everybody, be they 12 years old or 12 at heart – and that’s a huge demographic, so it is a big ask. Those people who loved it, really loved it though – and it is films that did that to me when I was younger that started me on this path in the first place, so I can’t complain.

In terms of doors, I’m trying to stick my foot into a few that have opened a crack. There are a lot of stories I want to tell, and one or two that other people want me to help them tell. I don’t want to jinx anything. Genuinely, a lot depends on what happens over the next couple of weeks – an official chart placing would be useful. (Hint, hint, people. The next seven days are the time to give “A Dozen Summers” a shot. I’ll be ever so grateful. There may be dancing.)

JLB: Well, we all want to see Kenton dance, of course. Now, I’m going to be very selfish and veer the conversation towards ‘Harlequin’ for a while – how did you find that whole experience?

KH: Well, other than the fact that a lot of people I love are frightened to death by clowns, and therefore will probably never speak to me again, it was great to get back in front of a camera and do something different. And I love working with people like yourselves who are just trying to make something unique. Plus, short film is a real love of mine. Our producer on ‘A Dozen Summers’, Alexzandra Jackson, is the director of a film festival called The Short Cinema, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and therefore I’m going to plug the hell out of it – it takes place in Leicester from August 24th to 27th and you can get tickets here. I expect to see you all there, having also bought ‘A Dozen Summers’ and being geared up for ‘Harlequin’.

JLB: Have you managed to get all the clown make up off yet? You really threw yourself into that character (which made my job a lot easier) – what was your process/preparation for becoming Charles the clown?

KH: I do bathe, you know. Although there is a tricky spot in the middle of my back. No, I’m back to what passes for normal in my universe now. 

It’s very kind of you to say such nice things about my performance. Preparation? Like most actors, I have what might charitably be referred to as a fluid relationship with reality. There’s more of me around than there used to be – perils of being responsible for small humans – but it’s still relaxing to cast yourself off and slip into someone more comfortable for a while. Now I know, in this instance, that you wouldn’t think my character screamed “comfort”, but it’s an exorcism, of sorts. I may never have been exactly in Charles’ oversized shoes, but playing someone who is struggling with his identity, with his need for and abandonment by an audience? Hell, son, I’ve been preparing for that part for my entire life. Also, I like being made-up, so that was a win.

JLB: And we got your delightful daughters in on the act too, to play a couple of unimpressed audience members – do you enjoy working with the girls?

KH: At the risk of appearing sentimental, I would work with them all day, every day; I love their company. They can be challenging, but that’s kind of the beauty of those two. I like to see them grasp the idea that hard work brings rewards. Plus, they’re genuinely funny and genuinely kind, so it’s a pleasure. I’m proud of them, because they care about the world and they’re paying attention. That’s all any parent can ask.

I’m also counting on, if they do insist on remaining in the arts, them repaying me with work in my dotage, when my looks – such as they are – have faded and I’ve been reduced to making commercials for stair-lifts.

JLB: We’ve said it before but the success of your film really is quite inspiring for indie filmmakers – what role in the landscape of cinema do you think indie film plays?

KH: If we inspire anybody, that’s good news. Independent film is the lifeblood of the film industry. Low budgets mean having to concentrate on script and character to make a film work; You can’t hide behind spectacle. Production value, we all aspire to; Emotional value, however, is essential. Our film is flawed, and a lot of indie films are, technically, flawed. But what you’re seeing, in most cases, is an unvarnished view of the soul of the writer and/or director, and the result of the love and talent of a large group of people who couldn’t have been doing it for the money, because there wasn’t any. How can that not make it one of the most important threads in the filmmaking tapestry? Other opinions are available, but I’d have to hear a hell of an opposing argument before I stood down.

It is, however, up to all of us to make it work. Distributors, broadcasters and exhibitors need to take more chances, sure, but why should they, if we as an audience don’t? How can they make their living? We need to watch more indie films and talk about more indie films before we get to make more indie films.

(P.S. Did I mention that ‘A Dozen Summers’ is available now, wherever DVDs are sold? I did? Alright, then.)

JLB: And finally, where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

KH: I have a picture in my head that puts a smile on my face, let’s just leave it at that. 


You can order your copy of the brilliant ‘A Dozen Summers’ here (and we really urge you to do so – our praise can even be found on the DVD cover). And if you’re itching to see what Kenton is up to next, check out the teaser trailer for our short film ‘Harlequin’ here.

Kristof Kiraly: VFXtraordinaire

Kristof Kiraly may not be a household name, but as a visual effects artist, Kiraly has played a part in making some of the biggest films of recent years. From ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ to ‘The Jungle Book’, mass explosions to vast landscapes, Kristof Kiraly is the man with the magic touch who, along with his team at Double Negative Visual Effects, gives your favourite films that extra kick.

Interview by Jakob Lewis Barnes

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JLB: Working in visual effects seems like a very specific and technical field of filmmaking, was there a particular moment where you realised that was what you wanted to do?

KK: From a very early age, I was obsessed with creation. I spent hours drawing, sculpting or playing with Lego. I’ve always wanted to understand how things work under the surface. I think it’s this kind of curiosity which led me to the world of computer graphics.

Like many other artists, the big blockbusters were the real push for me; I remember watching behind-the-scenes documentaries of ‘Star Wars’, ‘Jurassic Park’ etc. and realising that people do this for a living was a life-changing experience. Of course I had no idea how I could break in to the industry, but I dived in deep and spent all my time learning VFX on my own (this was a time before YouTube tutorials). With that knowledge, I was fortunate enough to secure a job with a small VFX company where I really started growing, and after six years I got invited to MPC (Moving Picture Company) in London.

JLB: I imagine visual effects to be an extremely challenging and painstaking task, so what, in your opinion, does it take to be a top visual effects artist?

KK: In my opinion, a good VFX artist has to be a good problem solver, because that is essentially what we’re doing most of the time. In this very technical world, things go wrong all the time and you have to figure out how to fix them. The ability to work under pressure is a must-have skill too; time is always compressed and the number of tasks can often be overwhelming.

Also you have to be open to learning new things all the time, because the industry is rapidly evolving and if you stop learning you’ll get left behind. And finally, learn to leave your ego at home. A movie is a team effort where your work is always open to criticism, changes and sometimes it can even be completely thrown out. That’s the nature of the beast, but that is also why the end result is usually much better than the first version.

maleficent

JLB: On IMDb you’re credited as “Environment Technical Director” – can you clarify exactly what that entails on a day-to-day basis, and on a larger scale in the filmmaking process?

KK: Environment Technical Directors are responsible for creating environment scenes, that match the photographic quality of the plates they are dealing with. In simpler terms, everything that isn’t a character, vehicle or prop is environment. Creating environments requires both technical and artistic knowledge, as it involves everything from matte-painting to modeling, texturing, projections, lighting, rendering and even composition. As I said earlier, it is creative problem solving on every level.

JLB: Your filmography includes quite a few superhero movies such as ‘Thor: The Dark World’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, but who is your favourite hero (or villain) and why?

KK: To be completely honest, I’m not a huge superhero or comics fan. I personally prefer movies that are closer to reality; I am more excited about everyday superheroes like the journalists of ‘Spotlight’, or the computer scientist Alan Turing, who helped Britain win WWII. But if I had to pick a superhero movie it would be Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, with its dark atmosphere and Hans Zimmer’s unforgettable score.

JLB: Recently, films like ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ and the upcoming ‘Assassins Creed’ have opted for more practical effects rather than CGI – can you see this becoming a common trend?

KK: I think everyone agrees that going practical is the proper way of approaching any shot. It gives the film crew a physicality they can relate to. The actors can feel that they are part of the environment, the DOP can set the lights up properly and figure out what lens and camera movement works. Of course, practical effects are very costly, harder to control and have their limitations. That’s where VFX comes into play – to extend those boundaries, but it should be used sensibly and be based on reality. That’s why it’s good when we have the practical elements.

To be honest, my only problem with this new wave of “practical effect based” movies is their marketing and the way they treat visual effects publicly – as though VFX is just a negligible thing, and practical effects is the holy grail. The fact is that these modern blockbusters have almost no frame which has not been digitally enhanced in some way.

Ex-Machina

JLB: Your company – Double Negative Visual Effects – was part of the VFX Oscar winning team this year for ‘Ex Machina’. Where would you say Ava – the artificial intelligence at the core of the story – ranks among your studio’s creations?

KK: I was extremely pleased to see ‘Ex Machina’ winning the Oscar for Best VFX. Especially since everyone was pretty sure that it would go to either ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Mad Max’. I think the movie in general was a massive achievement, and the effects served the story well; it wasn’t just a mindless visual orgy but a very organic piece. ‘Ex Machina’ is a great example of why I love to work for Double Negative – it is very much a technology-driven company with some insanely-talented artists.

JLB: For you personally, what is your proudest moment/favourite piece of work in the VFX industry?

KK: I’m extremely thankful that this is my nine-to-five. Working on movies that millions of people will go and see (and hopefully enjoy) is very rewarding. I’m proud of everything I’ve been working on, but my personal top three would be ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘Mission:Impossible – Rogue Nation’ and ‘Spectre’.

Mission Impossible

JLB: And finally, what is the best piece of advice you’ve been given throughout your career?

KK: I’ve been given lots of great advice throughout my career, but two of those stand out as the most influential. The first, is from my late grandfather who told me that you have to learn new things so you have more legs to stand on and that will give you stability.

The other is from my former MPC leader, mentor and friend, Marco G, who told me that in VFX you have to have three things to survive: reputation, connections, and savings.

Dave Vescio

Dave Vescio is a criminal turned actor who, since leaving prison, has gone on to work alongside the likes of Eddie Redmayne, Chloe Grace Moretz and Kate Beckinsale. Dave has mastered the art of playing the villain, but he’s actually a really nice guy, and here’s the proof.

Interview by Jakob Lewis Barnes
Q. You’ve had quite the journey into the world of acting. At what moment did you realize that performing was the way to go?
A. I was always taught to follow my heart, no matter what.  And I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the best people on this planet, or at least be mentored by them. From my childhood, during my time in the infantry and in prison, learning culinary arts and TV photojournalism, to where I am today, and these people were the best of the best at what they did. They taught me that you’ll know when you love your job because you’ll want to do it every single day of your life, and if by chance you can’t do it, you’ll be depressed as hell.  And let me tell you, it does feel like hell when you can’t do it. So, that’s when I knew that acting was my one true love, and I knew that the very first day I walked into my first acting class.
Q. Is there times when you find that your experiences as a criminal have actually benefited your acting career?
A. For sure! First off, I specialise at playing movie villains, so I can always bring real life experiences into each and every single one of my roles, either from my own personal crimes or by having the privilege of being caged up with these kinds of twisted villains at Fort Leavenworth Maximum Prison. I have actually met a lot of criminals since then too, and I’m always researching them in their environments as well. It’s my job to bring the hard truths to the world, that’s what professional art actually is. So that’s what I do, or try to do, with every one of my antagonistic roles. Plus, I get to release my skeletons and confront them, because the truth will definitely set you free, it always has, and it always will. 
Q. You’ve been involved in projects with some huge names, including Chloe Grace Moretz and Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, how did you find working alongside these actors?
A. I LOVE working with the best of the best! It’s the best way to truly learn how to be a better actor. And every single one of my directors has made me a better actor as well. I have been very, very privileged to work along side Oscar winners, Golden Globe winners, Primetime Emmy winners; there’s been a lot of them so far!
Q. Which actors inspire you the most? And who would you love to work with in the future?
A. Since I’m a villain actor, I am mostly inspired by actors who play great villains on the big screen. Such as Ted Levine in ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’, Anthony Perkins in ‘Psycho’, Ralph Fiennes in ‘Schindler’s List’, and Michael Douglas in ‘Wall Street’. Those were phenomenal performances that will rock the world for decades to come!
As for who I would like to work with, honestly, any major award-winning or nominee actor, or any veteran actor. If I had to pick, then I would love to work opposite Daniel Day Lewis. He’s the most method actor there is and he’s going to beat Katherine Hepburn’s record of winning the most Best Actor/Actress Academy Awards. So Daniel, for sure!
Q. Of all the acting roles in your catalogue, which has been your favourite?
A. So, far it’s what I have on my current acting reel right now: the stranger character in ‘Hick’ starring Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne & Chloe Grace Moretz, the salesman in ‘The Odd Way Home’ starring Rumer Willis & Chris Marquette, and Eddie in ‘The Millionaire Tour’ starring Dominic Monaghan. But, I also loved my role as the sign man in ‘The Trials Of Cate McCall’ starring Kate Beckinsale & Nick Nolte. But, since the movie was sold to Lifetime Television, my scenes had to be cut out due to violence. But, that’s fine; it was great working opposite of Kate & Nick. They definitely taught me a lot!
But, I’m also looking forward to being Bobby in ‘Wolf Mother’ starring Golden Globe nominee Tom Sizemore. It’s a villain role I’ve definitely played before, but not like this. This is new territory for me, so I’m excited to start shooting.
Q. If you could play any movie character, who would it be and why?
A. I love indie films, and honestly, indie film is brand new territory for movies. They tend to be storylines that are so different from any ever told before, or the direction and editing of them is totally brand new. We just don’t do remakes in indie films, only studio movies do that, and I’m just not a fan of most studio films. I also see myself as an artist who is trying to bring the hard truths to the world, and studio films rarely do that nowadays. That wasn’t always the case, but it is nowadays. So, I would rather stick to original characters in original storylines in the indie film world, because that’s what I love most!
Q. Can you tell us anything about your upcoming projects?
A. From August 28th, AMC Theatres  give you the chance to see my lead villain role in the movie ‘Going To America’ starring Eddie Griffin, Josh Meyers, Najarra Townsend, Mindy Robinson, & Penny Marshall. It’s a hilarious story about two crazy guys who break out of a mental asylum, because one of them (Eddie Griffin) thinks he’s a prince on a mission to save a princess. Well, let’s just say that ‘princess’ is my prostitute. So, my character is not happy about that at all! So, if you get the chance, definitely check it out. We won fifteen different awards in the film festival circuit this past year for this film.
Q. What is the best piece of advice you can pass on to aspiring actors?
A. That’s a tough question. There’s so much advice to be given. If I had to sum it up in one neat soundbite, I would say that the only thing stopping you from making your dreams come true is applied knowledge. That’s it. So, go out there in the world and find that knowledge and start applying it to your daily habits. And the ones who have this knowledge are the ones who actually make their dreams come true; only they know how to get there, because everyone else is just guessing and assuming, and we all know what making assumptions truly means: making an ass out of you and me. Only study the best of the best, they will always teach you the way!

Learn more about Dave by following him on Twitter @DaveVescio and on his IMDb page. Dave’s next project, ‘Going To America’, is released in selected US theatres from August 28th.

Kenton Hall

Kenton Hall is a Canadian-born writer, actor, director and musician. A Jack of all trades, and a master of most, we must say. Kenton has appeared in films such as ‘Les Miserables’, ‘Muppets Most Wanted’ and ‘The Theory Of Everything’, but our focus today is his brainchild – the fantastic comedy for and about children – ‘A Dozen Summers’. 

Interview by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Q. They say you should never work with kids, yet you chose to work with a cast full of them for ‘A Dozen Summers’. First of all, are you crazy? And why did you choose to make this casting decision?
A. Well, first of all, I think that, at the heart of this warning not to work with children is the idea that it is somehow, more difficult. To which I can only reply: Yes, it is difficult. It requires an enormous amount of concentration, attention and care from everyone involved to ensure that you foster a creative environment that both caters to a young cast’s needs and gets the best possible version of the film in the can. But that’s as it should be. It’s supposed to be difficult. Nothing worth doing is ever easy. And the rewards – seeing young performers blossom, without the jaded attitude that, sadly, too many older actors seem to develop and, most of all, being reminded that it may be hard work, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be fun – more than make up for the difficulty. Besides, anyone else would have been too tall. 
Q. You gave the lead roles to your daughters, Scarlet and Hero Hall. How did you find the experience of switching between dad and director?
A. One of the best things about writing the script had been talking to them about what I was trying to accomplish with the story, so when they screen-tested and I realised they understood the roles, it was a joy to continue working with them. Again, not without difficulty, but far more joy. I do think it will be interesting to see how different their performances are, when directed by someone else, as they move on to other projects. I suspect even better.
Q. You played the role of the girls’ dad in the film too. How close to the real Kenton Hall is the character of Henry McCormack?
A. I had a long talk with Sarah Warren, who plays Jacqueline, the girls’ mum in the film, during which I basically told her that the character of Jacqueline was actually closer to me than Henry. Wanting to do the right thing, trying their best, but not always sure where to start. She gets there, eventually, and I hope I have too. Henry is who I aspire to me; much more clued up, but still annoying.
Q. Colin Baker offers his vocal chords as the narrator for ‘A Dozen Summers’, how did the collaboration with the former Doctor Who star materialise?
A. I met Colin on another set – a short film by Rhys Davies called ‘Finding Richard’. Completely by coincidence, I was in the middle of casting for ‘A Dozen Summers’ and he was top of my list for The Narrator. As it happens, we met and struck up a conversation and I asked if he’d mind looking at a script if I sent it to his people. He agreed and, earning my eternal gratitude, signed up to do the film. Like a lot of legends, I think people forget how good he actually is, what enormous control of his voice he has and how funny he is. I love his audio work for ‘Big Finish’ in particular, which fans of ‘Doctor Who’ and, basically, fans of great storytelling and performance should seek out and purchase immediately. 
Eight years previously, unbeknownst to him, he had also been very kind to Hero, who plays Daisy, and she’d kept a signed picture of the sixth Doctor by her bedside ever since, so it just felt right on every level.
Q. There are plenty of positive messages conveyed throughout the film. How important do you think it is for young viewers to hear and see these things?
A. I think it’s important to present positive messages in a manner that children don’t find patronising. We do that too often – “Hey kids, positive message coming up! Pay attention now! Don’t litter!” – as though they’re only children, they don’t know any better. Children are smart. They are instinctive. They take their own lives very seriously. The mistake we make is assuming that because we don’t have the same priorities as them, that somehow their concerns are of intrinsically lesser value. We need to guide children because they have less experience – that’s the true purpose of all education – to expand internal and external experience. But if we haven’t learned from our own experiences, they’ll cry hypocrite and quite rightly so. So, we tried to make a film that has positive messages about family, friendship and the colossal tapestry of human variance, but one of its most positive messages, I hope, is: “We’re listening.” 
Q. What would you like viewers to take from the film?
A. A desire to buy the DVD? Sorry. Didn’t mean to say that out loud. A moth just crawled out of my wallet and I got distracted. First of all, I hope it provides 90 minutes of audiences – adults and children alike – laughing together. That’s not a small thing. I’d be so humbled by that. I know my best memories – as a child and as an adult – are of sharing laughter. I also hope that the children watching feel that someone knows that they’re not just their age going on some other age. They have to live in the moment, they have to be who they are in the moment. It’s a being-of-age movie. And I hope the adults try to remember that when they talk to their children too. That’s what I learned from writing it, and I’m still trying. 
Q. Can you tell us anything about your future projects?
A. There are a couple of scripts in the pipeline. My heart is with ‘A Dozen Summers’ at the moment, but there are a couple of stories scratching at the door and mewling. Both comedies of varying hues. I shan’t say anymore. This is providing that anyone lets me make another one. There might be a petition against me once this one comes out. Not every film I make will be for younger audiences, but it’s certainly something I’d like to do again when I have another idea that feels as important to me.  
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you can offer aspiring filmmakers?
A. Never assume that you deserve success because you worked out which end of the camera to point at the actors. It’s the audience that deserves something – your best. Your best story, your best shot, your best performances. And also, some part of you in the story. Otherwise, there’s no connection and that’s neglecting the true magic of cinema. Wow, that got pretentious fast, my bad!

The delightful ‘A Dozen Summers’ is released in selected cinemas in the UK on 21st August 2015, so find it and watch it! You can read our review of this film here. Hunt down Kenton Hall on Twitter @KentonHall and whilst you’re at it, keep up with the film @ADozenSummers

Jennifer Nicole Stang

Jennifer Nicole Stang is a multi-talented, award-winning film director. From a career in theatre and film acting, Jennifer has now moved behind the scenes to create music videos, a web series and short films, all whilst hopping back and forth across the pond. We had a chat with Jennifer about the changing culture of film in her various stopping points and the rise of the female film director.

Interview by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Q. What inspires you to work in the film industry?
A. I’ve always liked to tell stories as a writer, actor, and most recently now as a director. I love so much about making a film, from conceptualising, to actually shooting the film, and continuing onto post-production, editing, score work, etc. So many great films made over the decades inspire me to make movies.
Q. You are quite the globetrotter, having lived in England, Canada, the US and Spain. Is there a big difference in the way the art of filmmaking is approached in each country?
A. Oh yes, there is a great difference in the way filmmaking is approached in each country. At least in terms of funding, the US focuses more on finding private investors, whereas in Europe, it is more common to find funding through grants. Also, the way stories are told in Europe, as well as in Argentina, have a different focus. I think that’s also cultural. England has started to create more “Americanized” productions, so that’s changing the way they look at film and television as well.
Q. Short films clearly play a huge part in your acting and filmmaking career, even winning awards for El Lago (The Lake). What attracts you to these short projects?
A. It’s not that I’m attracted generally to short projects. It’s simply a means to show the industry what kinds of films you want to do, to show your “style” in filmmaking. Short films are simply a way to do what you love when you have limited funding. Although, I have to say, creating ‘The Dream Series’ has been a very fun platform to explore various visuals and concepts, so it’s been a good workout for the creative mind.
Q. Have you encountered any difficulties whilst working as a female director in the film industry?
A. I haven’t personally encountered any trouble as a female director in the industry. I’ve been able to work with people who want to be a part of the project based on the story or concept I present. I wouldn’t work with anyone who thought I wasn’t capable. The gender issue never crosses my mind while working.
Q. According to statistics, only 9% of Hollywood directors are female. Why do you think there is such a lack of opportunity for women directors in Hollywood?
A.  This is a tricky question, and I don’t necessarily have an answer. The industry has been a very male-dominated industry since the 1970’s. Prior to that, during the 30s and 40s, women apparently had greater roles in the industry. I think there’s a big change going on in the industry currently, and the fact that people still have to raise the issue of a gender divide is ridiculous. In my mind I work with someone based on their capability, talent, their willingness and work ethic, regardless of gender. In terms of working with others though, I like to have both a male and female perspective when it comes to various aspects of productions. I think a balance in that regard is healthy.
Q. Can you tell us a little about your upcoming projects?
A. I am pretty excited about what we’re currently working on. We’re in post production for a short film – finishing up the soundtrack and CGI work – and that’s really exciting because it’s the first time I’ve worked with green screen on a project. And the images that we’re getting from our CGI programmer are pretty incredible; I can’t wait to release it! We’re working on a horror feature as well which is also exciting. We’re currently in pre-production, and have been tuning up the script and actually our composer has been producing some beautiful pieces already! We’ve discussed the film in great detail in terms of style, what type of soundtrack, what dynamics there are in each scene, so it’s a great way to think about how the film would flow, and actually has inspired me to change a scene based on the music. It’s been a great experience! And we’ve been documenting our experience making the film on a video blog we’ve put up on YouTube.
Q. What is the best piece of advice you can offer to budding filmmakers?
A. My advice to filmmakers breaking into the industry is to learn what each department does in the making of a film. It will greatly benefit you, even if you don’t wish to focus on a particular department. At least, it has been really helpful for me. As a director, it’s imperative to understand how each department functions, because you want to know how to speak to each department head, to get your idea across. It also makes you appreciate what everyone does on a film set. I worked craft services once, and it was much more brutal than I thought, but it made me appreciate that side of filmmaking as well. Every single person on a film set is essential to the making of a a movie. More than anything though, do what you love to do, and follow your inspiration. That’s the most important thing.
To find out more about Jennifer, head to her IMDb page to see her work and follow her on Twitter @La_Yeni

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

 

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