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:

Ten Questions with film director Ben Barton

BEN BARTON IS A SEASONED FILMMAKER RENOWNED FOR HIS TRADITIONAL STYLE OF FILMMAKING. WE WERE LUCKY ENOUGH TO CATCH UP WITH HIM AT A RECENT SHORT FILM NIGHT TO CHAT ABOUT HIS WORKS, HIS PASSION FOR SUPER 8 AND HIS CONNECTION WITH DAVID BOWIE.

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

BEN: Well I grew up on the Romney Marsh, and now live just along the coast in Folkestone. I’m married to an amazing man, 14 years together, we have an adopted son and live in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of town. I love the country life. I’ve been making films since I was about 11 – film has always been my passion. But I work as a professional writer, journalism, copywriting and poetry too. That’s my bread and butter.

Some people get insulted by the word ‘amateur’, but I don’t. That word comes from the French for ‘love’, the same as ‘amour’. It means you do something for love rather than money, and that’s exactly why I make films.

HELLFIRE: You are known for your classic style of filmmaking with your shorts such as ‘Little Red’, which we screened at a recent Hellfire Short Film Night. What is it about the old style that appeals to you?

BEN: There’s a bit of a family connection. My dad made films on Super 8 with me and my cousins in the 80s. I still have all his films. So I grew up with it.

And there’s Derek Jarman. He famously shot films on Super 8 too. He was our local celebrity where I grew up, you used to see him on the High Street or in the local bookshop. When I first started making art, and coming to terms with my own sexuality, Derek was my hero. So I guess I began my own Super 8 filmmaking to follow him. That’s how it all started.

HELLFIRE: You recently made the ‘Abducted’ short film, can you give us some information about that?

BEN: There’s this annual competition called ‘Straight 8’ where filmmakers all over the world shoot a film on one 50ft cartridge of Super 8. The winners get premiered at Cannes Film Festival. The catch is you don’t get to watch the film – you have to send it to the judges undeveloped. That means no editing, and you have to construct the soundtrack completely blind. Then the judges watch all the films, with the big boys up against little artists like me.

I didn’t make the cut this year, so no Cannes for me. But I don’t mind. I still got a great new film out of it. It’s a thriller, a first for me.

HELLFIRE: What is it like to shoot on Super 8 – what are the pros and cons?

BEN: Well the main benefit is the aesthetic – Super 8 has that nostalgic, painterly quality that you just don’t get on video. And it can’t be faked.

As for the cons, well there are plenty! The cameras I use are 45 years old so they can break. It’s incredibly expensive: around £15 per minute shooting time. So you can’t just shoot away as much as you like. Then there’s the patience required. The film gets sent off to be processed in an old-fashioned photo lab, so it can take up to a month before you get to see the results. I also edit all my films by hand on a splicer and projector, so that takes a lot of time too. Of course I could do it all digitally, but I just feel closer to the films doing it this way. It’s really hands on.

HELLFIRE: What are your thoughts on the way filmmaking is going, is there still a place in the industry for older formats such as Super 8?

BEN: Obviously digital is the major thing now, and it’s here to stay, but I think it’s important we don’t let ‘real’ film die out. Kodak are launching a new Super 8 camera this year, so that’s a step in the right direction. Personally, I can’t see why we can’t have both.

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

BEN: I have an eclectic taste, but have been into horror films since I was a young kid. I’m a massive genre fan, especially French and Spanish horror films. And I’ve been obsessed with Hammer Horror all my life.

But generally, I love cinema that makes you think, rather than big rollercoaster thrills. Don’t get me wrong, I like blockbuster movies too, they’re a part of the magic of cinema, but my own personal taste is more low-key. My favourite director is Derek Jarman (of course) but also Kenneth Anger, Maya Deren, Robert Bresson, Michael Haneke and Andrei Tarkovsky. I love nostalgic cinema.

HELLFIRE: What is your favourite part of the filmmaking process?

BEN: Editing, I think. I love seeing it all coming together. That’s the magic of filmmaking for me. I actually find shooting quite a stressful process. Sometimes it’s hard to get what’s in my head into the shots. Lots of trial and error. It’s when I’m alone and the elements all come together – titles, final edit, music – that I start to enjoy it.

HELLFIRE: What film projects are you currently working on?

BEN: I’m editing my lo-fi sci-fi film called ‘Stella Erratica’ which I shot late last year. It was a big project that involved me hiring a NASA spacesuit. I was all set to shoot in Folkestone one weekend, then I was informed by the spacesuit company that David Bowie needed one for ‘Blackstar’ over in Romania! So his production team asked if we could fly the suit over there first. Of course I said yes! For the inconvenience he paid for my suit hire – such a kind gesture. It was only 500 quid but a lot of money for me. I had no idea it would be Bowie’s final project. When he died just a few weeks later I was devastated, like millions of others. So I want to make sure I do this film right. That’s why I’m taking my time.

I also have a horror short that I’m hoping to film this Summer, plus a longer film called ‘Demigods’ that’s currently in the writing stage – set to be my longest film yet at over half an hour. I’m slowly working up to that first feature!

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

BEN: To just get out there and do it! I spent too many years stuck in my own head, planning films I wanted to make, writing outlines and scripts, all just dreaming of ‘one day’ when I had the budget or time to actually make them. But now I know you have to just get off your arse and make the most of what you have.

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

BEN:In the past, I’ve always been a bit wary of having my films online. Back when YouTube was quite new someone downloaded all my films and started selling DVDs on eBay without my permission. In anger I took them all down, and even today I don’t have much online.

But this year I set up a new Facebook page where I’m sharing short clips and selected films. It’s facebook.com/benbartonfilms if anyone wants to have a look.

Another thing is that, for me, the Super 8 format just doesn’t come across the same on a computer screen or iPad. I’d much rather people came to an actual screening, at a film night or festival, and watch my films with a crowd of people. To have a drink, socialise and chat afterwards. To see them being projected, like they were intended. It’s another of those old-fashioned quirks of mine, I guess…

Ten Questions with film director Scott Lyus

Scott Lyus is a British independent filmmaker based in London. Lyus, 27, has been involved in filmmaking for several years and runs his own production company Crossroad Pictures. We were lucky enough to catch an interview with Scott about filmmaking in general and his short film ‘Silently Within Your Shadow’ which will feature in the next Hellfire Short Film Night on June 2nd.

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

SCOTT: Filmmaking for me all started when I was young. Cinema and watching old VHS tapes was my gateway into this life and to college where I studied film, photography and media for three years. I then decided against Uni or film school on the advice of an old teacher and decided to concentrate on making my own films, working on my craft and developing my own style. This all came to a head in 2012 when I made Supernova, my first film with a proper cast and crew.

HELLFIRE: Tell us about ‘Silently Within Your Shadow’, what’s it about?

SCOTT: Silently Within Your Shadow is the story of Lucette who’s obsession for ventriloquism and her dummy Hugo starts to strain her relationship with her boyfriend Jace. To Lucette Hugo is more than just a dummy, he’s her best friend and represents her ambition as an artist, to her, he’s very much real.  But to Jace Hugo is just a puppet, or is he?

The film is another attempt of mine at a character driven horror film. I did not want to rely on cheap jump scares or blood and gore. I want to make a horror films where story and character are king. So many horror films today rely on the jump scare or gore angle, so I want to try and give the audience a little something different.

HELLFIRE: It’s a very intriguing concept, so what inspired you to produce it?

SCOTT: The inspiration for the story came from my own personal life. The subtext of the film is the struggle between pushing yourself to achieve your dreams, while also trying to put all of yourself into a romantic relationship. Your passion and desire for what you believe is your calling in life and spending your time trying to achieve that can put a strain on your relationship and jealousy on both sides can grow. What breaks first, your desire to achieve your dream or your love for another? It’s a struggle I’ve personally faced and one I wanted to further explore within the film.

HELLFIRE: Who in the film industry inspires you?

SCOTT: So many people within the industry inspire me. From guys like Walt Disney who built an empire from his imagination, to directors such as David Fincher, Steven Spielberg and Jeff Nichols for storytelling and style. There’s also a handful of filmmakers on the current independent scene. I’m inspired by filmmakers that try something different, that don’t just make the same old pictures we’ve seen a thousand times. Especially in the horror genre.

HELLFIRE: You spoke about your thoughts about horror movies. Would you say horror is your favourite genre?

SCOTT: I go through stages of favourite genre but horror is the always present. On average I watch at least 1 or 2 horror films a week. Horror was the first genre I fell in love with, and certainly the one I’m most passionate about. My passion and desire to bring back story driven horror comes from my love of films such as Frankenstein and Silence of the Lambs. The horror genre has so much to explore and you can say so much within it.

HELLFIRE: So what makes a great film for you?

SCOTT: Probably not a big surprise given my previous answers but solid story and character are essential. All my favourite films and those that inspire me have amazing stories and characters that I identify with great cinema. Great characters and story is what last the test of time and that’s what we all strive to achieve.

HELLFIRE: And back to yourself and the filmmaking process, what equipment are you currently using?

SCOTT: Camera wise, Supernova, Order of the Ram and Silently Within Your Shadow were all shot on a Canon 5D. I’m not a believer in the idea of needing the best equipment to create a good film. Story and character will always be the most important part of my work, with a great cast and crew alongside that. I’m extremely lucky to have had an amazing cast and crew on Silently Within Your Shadow, with my DOP from Order of the Ram, Sharad Patel back behind the camera for Silently. Alongside the 5D, Sharad shot the film with an amazing set of Zeiss lenses and Arri lights.

HELLFIRE: What are you currently working on?

SCOTT: I’ve just finished the extended cut of a film we shot for a 60 hour challenge titled Holding Back. We’ve got a brand new colour grade and sound design, the film looks and sounds amazing. It’s a one character piece within the drama genre, so I’m really looking forward to getting it out there and seeing people’s reaction. However the big project right now is the feature screenplay. I’m turning in the second draft to my producer very soon with our goal to shoot by the end of the year. While I cant say too much yet, the feature is horror and is titled Walking Against the Rain.

HELLFIRE: If you could give a piece of advice to an aspiring filmmaker, what would it be?

SCOTT: Go out and make something. Anything. Don’t worry about getting the best camera, equipment or even cast and crew. Find a group of passionate people, come up with a great story and go shoot it. So many people put off making that first film until everything is perfectly in place and the trouble is, it will never be perfectly in place. Going out and telling your story is so much more important than the equipment you use to tell it.

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

SCOTT: You can find my previous films Supernova and Order of the Ram on my YouTube Channel, youtube.com/CrossroadPictures, where you’ll also find the trailer and bonus content for Silently Within Your Shadow; and the soon to be released trailer for Holding Back. Comments are very very welcome. I’m always looking to interact with other indie filmmakers and check out their work. So please check out my films and share yours.

‘Silently Within Your Shadow’ will be screened at the next Hellfire Short Film Night on June 2, 2016 at Lime Bar Cafe, Folkestone. Watch the trailer below.