Submissions reach unprecedented numbers

Three weeks ago we opened the entry process for the next Hellfire Short Film Festival via FilmFreeway and we have received an unprecedented number of submissions. Read more

Ten Questions with film director Becky Matthews

AT A RECENT SHORT FILM NIGHT WE WERE LUCKY ENOUGH TO SCREEN DOUBLE WORD SCORE, A GREAT SHORT FILM BY INDEPENDENT FILMMAKER BECKY MATTHEWS. AFTERWARDS WE WERE ABLE TO CATCH HER FOR A FEW MINUTES TO DISCUSS FILMMAKING.

HELLFIRE: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into filmmaking.

BECKY: I’m a writer-director based in London, and I pay the bills by freelance copywriting and scriptwriting. I’ve always loved film from a young age, and I watched lots of films at home. I was obsessed with Star Wars, E.T, Labyrinth (still am) – the usual 80s kid story. I grew up close to Pinewood Studios and was always aware of its importance in film. My first taste of life on a film set was in my teens. I did work experience on Kavanagh QC and I was an extra in Mojo at Bray Studios when I was 15. I spent the whole time looking at what the director and crew were doing and realised I didn’t belong in front of the camera at all. I studied Writing and Publishing & Media and Cultural Studies at Middlesex which included modules on scriptwriting and I made some short documentaries and radio plays too. After Uni I went down the usual route of television production, working as a runner then production assistant / researcher but decided it wasn’t for me, so I focussed on writing. I couldn’t afford Film School so I did a night course at City University tutored by a director called Darren Paul Fisher who encouraged me to pursue screenwriting and I joined a comedy group Kaylosia (who I have continued to work with), as a writer and then I said “I’ve got this idea for a film, and I’d like to direct it” I was initially looking to team up with a director, but realised the best way of getting something made was to go for it myself. I was lucky to have a great crew that I trusted and it gave me the hunger to want to continue working with actors too.

HELLFIRE: We screened your short film Double Word Score at a recent Short Film Night, can you give us a brief synopsis of the film for those who haven’t yet seen it.

BECKY: It is a romantic comedy about the ludicrous games we play in pursuit of romance. Holly is a coyly romantic academic, who is intelligent but habitually guarded. Jack is the perennial nice guy, afraid of looking foolish. The bitter-sweet thrill of the romantic chase plays out over the course of an evening. Scrabble is played, drinks flow, looks are missed and quips are misunderstood.

HELLFIRE: Double Word Score is a great short film and was very popular at the Short Film Night, can you tell us what inspired you to make it and how you came up with the concept?

BECKY: Well, people assume it must be be a bit autobiographical, but I was actually inspired by a song by an indie punk band called Milky Wimpshake. The song is called Scrabble and it’s all about the dynamic of a date playing out, and misunderstandings, mixed signals etc. Visually, I loved using the Scrabble board and tiles, there is a great scene in Spaced where Daisy and Tim play it which was a reference, and it’s a device that allows the characters to communicate without saying much. I came up with it as part of my short course in Digital Filmmaking, the brief was we had to write something that could be shot in a day, one location, two characters, so I pitched it to the group and they picked my idea which was encouraging. So, technically the version you have seen is a re-make!

HELLFIRE: Every filmmaker has their own preferred bits of equipment, what are yours? (Camera, sound, editing, etc)

BECKY: I have only got experience with working with whatever I can lay my hands on, so far!, but I work closely with my crew to decide on what to use, how I want it to look, what are their preferences and what we can afford. We shot Double Word Score on the 5D MK3 edited on avid. I’d love to shoot on ALEXA – Phedon Papamichael’s work on adding a film stock grain to it on Nebraska is just beautiful, that grain is what I love about film stock, so the ability to start emulate the way that film looks digitally excites me.

HELLFIRE: Who inspires you in the filmmaking world?

BECKY: So many people, for different reasons. I think my favourite filmmakers are where you know it’s their work from the opening credits, the ones with a very distinctive style and voice. I love Wes Anderson, Carole Morley, Sofia Coppolla , Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Edgar Wright, The Coen Brothers. There are some very exciting newer female filmmakers too, like Ana Lily Armirpour and Desiree Akhavan who are making really interesting work and I’m excited to see Alice Lowe’s first feature Prevenge.

HELLFIRE: What makes a great film for you?

BECKY: I’m a writer first and foremost, so great dialogue as important, even if it’s quite minimal. I love all kinds of films, but whether it’s a popcorn movie or something more arthouse, it has to make me feel anything other than ambivalent. I don’t necessarily need to like all of the characters, but I have to feel pulled into the story and feel invested in the journey.

HELLFIRE: Filmmaking isn’t your only passion, music is too. Can you tell us a little about Kid Vinyl?

BECKY: Yeah, music and film are my two great loves and I have been in a few bands. Kid Vinyl is a music blog that is run by my good friend Matt Law who I have been friends with since we were teenagers, and we were in a band called Buccaneer Hearts together too. We write reviews, and features do interviews and occasionally host a podcast too, we cover lots of genres but it’s mostly alternative music. Most of the reviews are quite enthusiastic, not in a sycophantic way, but I’m not interested in writing about stuff I don’t like, I’d much rather share great music that I want people hear about. Matt used to write a cut ‘n’ paste fanzine called The Ballroom Dalek and I used to do reviews and silly articles for that and then years later he started the site. Kid Vinyl is actually what got me writing again after a dry spell. I felt a bit directionless for a while after the structure of Uni, and was looking for a creative outlet. So, when Matt asked me to write reviews it was great, because I could combine writing with my love of music.

HELLFIRE: If you could give advice to an aspiring filmmaker what would you say?

BECKY: Well, I’m still aspiring myself, but I’d say the first obvious thing is, don’t talk about it, do it! Everyone says that now because you can make films more cheaply and easily now, but it’s still very hard! I would say, find good people to work with and perhaps work on other people’s films too, to get some experience and build contacts. I read an article before I got started that said you might be the least experienced person on set that was certainly true on my first short. Know what you want to say, but communicate clearly with your cast and crew about how you want to say it, and how it should look. Also, be patient, you’ll be doing this at the weekend, and after work. It can be frustrating and tempting to rush decisions but don’t, especially when it comes to casting. It’s what I hear at q&a’s a lot, and I completely agree. All of this stuff is helped by teaming up with a great producer, you have someone to take care of logistics as you will have enough to do on set so don’t be tempted to do it all yourself unless you have produced before. They will help you decide on locations too, the fewer location and continuity changes you have to make the better, especially on a weekend shoot.The final obvious thing is to make sure everyone is treated well, even if your budget is tiny and you can’t afford to pay people a lot make sure they’re fed, hydrated and comfortable so no one is left cold, damp and miserable when you’re shooting exterior scenes – basically don’t be a dick!

HELLFIRE: What are you currently working on?

BECKY: Mostly co- writing, at the moment. I am working with a director called Emma Miranda Moore , who I met through the London Film Talent Connect Facebook group. It’s is great to work with someone from a visual background, she is a photographer too and we have co-written a drama short, and I am developing a comedy web series too.

HELLFIRE: And finally, if we want to see more of your work where can we look?

BECKY: I have a few sample scripts on my website becky-matthews.com, and you can see some sketches and a web series I worked on called Churchill: The Lost Interviews at http://www.kaylosia.net.

Ten Questions with film director Jamie Scott Beal

JAMIE SCOTT BEAL IS A KENT-BASED FILMMAKER WHO IN 2015 WON THE FOLKESTONE 52 HOUR FILM CHALLENGE. WE CAUGHT UP WITH HIM RECENTLY TO CHAT ABOUT THE CHALLENGE, HIS WINNING SHORT THE REPLACEMENT AND THE FILMMAKING PROCESS.

HELLFIRE: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into filmmaking.

JAMIE: I grew up in East Kent where I still live with my amazing (and very supportive) wife and two crazy children. I balance my filmmaking with my career as a freelance designer and fuelling my love of all things 80s – namely my synth pop addiction.

Films have been a massive part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Growing up my weekends and holidays were filled with the fantasy and sci-fi films of the 80s.  Fridays were always a day of excitement for me as I knew my Dad would visit the VHS store on his way home from work.  There would always be a family film for us kids and a 15/18 for my parents – but straight away I would pester him to let me watch the other movie.  While my school friends were watching cartoons, I was watching the likes of Aliens and Robocop.  My eagerness to watch films way above my age did catch me out – I didn’t sleep properly for a week after watching A Nightmare on Elm Street!  The older I got the more movies I watched.  Throughout secondary school my best friend and I would rent as many VHS tapes as we could and spend the entire weekend watching movies.  We were in the video store so often that eventually the owner let us rent titles without an adult present and would sometimes throw a couple in for free which really opened the flood gates for us to watch all sorts, from high end blockbusters to the over the top action of the 80s, the independent trashy horror and sci-fi movies of the 80s and 90s and everything in between.

I knew I wanted to make films while I was at Secondary School, but the perfectionist in me was always worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it well and so it was something I never really spoke about, so I was a late starter compared to most and it wasn’t until 2012 that I finally decided it was time for me to become a filmmaker.  I set about gathering as much technical info as I could to compliment the years of watching movies but fairly quickly realised that I was focussing too much on the technical elements instead of actually making anything  so I packed all my filmmaking books away, deleted the 100s of bookmarks on filming tutorials I had saved and began planning my first short.  Was it coincidence that the 52hr Film Challenge was launched around the same time?  I still wonder…..

A still from The Replacement

HELLFIRE: We saw The Replacement as a recent Hellfire Short Film Night.  For those who haven’t yet seen it, can you give us a brief synopsis?

JAMIE: The Replacement centres on a young girl who is abducted and replaced with a robotic counterpart by the government.  Yes, I wanted to utilise the government secrecy and conspiracy angle, but I also wanted to pose the question – what if the government were forced to do something that would be deemed as terrible by the public, but which was for our own good and for our own survival?

HELLFIRE: Congratulations on winning the Folkestone 52 Hour Film Challenge with The Replacement, what was it like to write, shoot, edit and submit a film in such a short time?

JAMIE: It was a great experience as it really dropped me in at the deep end.  I was forced to put in to practice all that I had learned while coping with and controlling my demand for perfection.  It was also a great exercise in planning and time allocation which is a primary factor in film production.  Each stage of the production process was given a strict allocation of time and it was only in areas where I had time left over that I would allow myself to develop that particular part further.

HELLFIRE: The Replacement is beautifully shot, what camera did you use and what is your preferred editing software?

JAMIE: I shot on the film on a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, used the Adobe Suite for post production and used DaVinci Resolve for some of the grading.  Whilst the Pocket Camera is great to shoot with, the look and feel of the shots in The Replacement were equally determined by the lighting and composition choices at the time.  I had a very clear picture of what I wanted to create in the final film.

HELLFIRE: What is your favourite part of the film-making process?

JAMIE: That’s a tough question to answer as I generally enjoy the entire process, but if I had to choose I would say the blocking and the visual design of each shot.  Film is a visual medium first and foremost.  I love emerging myself in the visual element and always try to ensure I am telling the story the most visual way possible from both an on screen action and a visual perspective.  When planning a shot I always start with the basic blocking, once I’m happy with that, I ask myself what more I can do to make the shot more visually appealing without it being detrimental to the story.

HELLFIRE: And while we’re on that subject what is your least favourite part of the film-making process?

JAMIE: Although I don’t really have a least favourite part, the initial treatment/scriptwriting feels the most alien. I come from a freehand art and design background, so the idea of sitting down to create something through writing rather than in a visual way feels somewhat unnatural.

HELLFIRE: What makes a great film for you and who in the industry inspires you?

JAMIE: I’m incredibly visual person in both what I strive to create and what I like to watch.  I try to see the best in any film, but the a truly great film experience would encompass stunning visuals and a great use of light and composition to compliment the performances of the actors and tell the story. I find myself inspired more by particular films rather than individuals, but I am drawn to the works of Ridley Scott, Danny Boyle, Luc Besson and Stanley Kubrick.  Of course I still have a soft spot for the stop motion monster movies I grew up with.

HELLFIRE: What advice would you give to an aspiring filmmaker?

JAMIE: Don’t do what I did – I was so worried that I wouldn’t be able to do justice to my love of film that I wasted years finding reasons to not make films. Grab whatever equipment you can and just make films.  When starting out, making films can feel like quite a lonely exercise.  When I made The Replacement it was just myself and my daughter as the two primary characters, but it created enough of an impact that I now meet and work with other filmmakers on a regular basis.  Learn only what you need to technically and don’t get bogged down by gear and technology.  By all means be inspired by others and experiment, but don’t make films in the style of another filmmaker as you could hamper your creativity – let your own style come through naturally and forge your own journey.  Most importantly tell a story – no matter how simple. I’ve seen so many films by first time filmmakers that look and sound great, but they fail to tell a story.

HELLFIRE: What film projects are you currently working on?

JAMIE: I have just set-up my own production company – Replacement Pictures and am in the process of writing an outer-space survival feature entitled Centurion which I am aiming to shoot towards the end of this year.  My plan is to use this micro budget production as an ‘investment showcase’ for The Haunted which is a psychological horror which I have been developing with a friend and which I will be shooting early next year.

HELLFIRE: And finally, if we want to see more of your work where do we look?

JAMIE: My short films and info on my feature projects can be found at www.replacementstudios.com

You can watch the award-winning short The Replacement here: