Charlie Chaplin Directing City Lights

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Criterion have just released a DVD/Blu-Ray of Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, which is great news. The DVD contains some rare behind the scenes footage of Chaplin directing the scene where the blind flower seller played by Virginia Cherrill meets the Little Tramp for the first time. The clip is fascinating:

As well as director, Chaplin is also the film’s star of course. Here we get a chance to see him try to balance these two roles, without any of the modern luxuries of digital playback that we have today. The atmosphere on set is clearly tense, and Chaplin demonstrates the restless body language of a man frustrated.

Chaplin was undoubtedly a perfectionist. He would do an unbelievable 342 takes of this 2 minute scene, an amount that makes even David Fincher look sloppy.

But it shows us just how far the great man would go to get what he needed. As Richard Brody, in this article in the New Yorker, points out, it was a perfection of results that Chaplin was after. He often didn’t know what he wanted until he saw it.

The above scene was crucial to the film. Chaplin knew that if audiences didn’t believe that the blind girl could mistake the Tramp for a rich man then the whole premise of the movie would fail. The moment has to feel truthful and it is this truth that Chaplin is striving to achieve.

Knowing that resulting film will become arguably Chaplin’s greatest masterpiece, makes this footage all the more poignant and inspiring. It is his complete commitment to capturing truth that I would argue elevates his work beyond mere entertainment and into the realms of art.

 

 

Mr. Invisible Wins In Seattle!

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And the good festival news continues! My film Mr. Invisible won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Choice at Seattle Shorts this weekend. It’s a real honour and I’m grateful to all those who voted for my film. Great to have some love from the Pacific Northwest!

Next up on the festival trail is Tallgrass Festival in Kansas, and we just found out about another one last night. But I can’t share this with you to the official announcement. It’s exciting though!

Here’s the new pair of shiny laurel leaf badges that I’m probably going to get tattooed on. One on each cheek. Can’t decide to go with face or butt…

GrandWinner_SeattleShorts

AudWinnier_SeattleShorts

Just Seen The Photos From Our Bigfoot Shoot And They’re Great!

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You might remember a few months back I roamed around Portland in a Bigfoot outfit for the day whilst my photographer friend Margaret Jacobsen took photos of me? Well I just got a look at the results and I’m very happy!

Look forward to sharing more soon. But for now, this is one of my favourites. It pretty much sums up what I went through in those 12 intense days writing my Bigfoot! feature film…

Ape Man & Machine (Photo by Margaret Jacobsen) ©

Ape Man & Machine (Photo by Margaret Jacobsen) ©

Massive thank you to my talented and generous friend Margaret Jacobsen (check out her work) for collaborating on this project with me in Portland and taking some really excellent photos while I goofed around like an idiot..

3 Is The Magic Number

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Fired! (2012)

Dad Reads The News – Fired! (2012)

Over the next two weeks I have 3 projects playing at 3 different festivals across the USA. Honestly, you wait months for a festival and then three bloody come along at once!

First up, Super Chill, the TV pilot based on our web series is in the Independent Pilot Selection of the New York TV Festival. This is a great chance to share it with some of the major US TV networks and screen alongside talent from Breaking Bad, Saturday Night Live, Heroes, 30 Rock (I’m reading these). Basically actual TV stuff. It’s cool that our little comedy we shot for $500 in Portland has been selected. I’m grateful to all the cast and crew in who helped us make it and gave their time and energies in return for just a few snacks from the Penny Market. Perhaps one of the networks will see potential in it and we might get a development deal… If you’re in New York come down the screening! Details here.

Then it’s on to Austin where Mr. Invisible is playing at the Austin Film Festival. Our film is one of only 12 narrative shorts “In Competition”, which means it is up for one of the big awards there and as the festival is an Academy Award-Qualifying one that makes it particularly exciting. There’s so many great films showing in Austin, it’s gonna be inspiring to be in that environment and maybe meet some of my heroes. Will Ferrell is gonna be in attendance, as is Vince Gilligan, the Breaking Bad creator. Dad and I are planning to dress as Jesse Pinkman and Walter White for the Halloween Party. Stalker Alert!

Then finally we’re off to Chicago where my earlier short Fired! is playing in the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival. This probably marks the end of Fired!’s festival run, but it’s awesome to be finishing up in the largest festival of films for children in the world. The fest is also Academy Award-Qualifying. Lets get two Oscar nominations can we?

I fly out Sunday morning. I’m genuinely really excited. Partly to share my work with new audiences and partly to just stroll around in my bright yellow Breaking Bad overalls looking at my watch and saying to no one in particular “Ah this is awkward, I’ve gotta get off to ANOTHER festival soon.”

Truthfully I’m very grateful to have this opportunity and it’s a nice validation for my efforts over the past few years. Keep your fingers crossed! I’ll post updates on how I get on out there.

Reflections on Mr. Invisible

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On the set of Mr. Invisible (2013)

On the set of Mr. Invisible (2013)

I finally got to share my short Mr. Invisible with the cast and crew this week in London. I hadn’t seen some of them since we wrapped (which was almost 18 months ago now) so it was nice to reconnect with some familiar faces, especially our star Mr. Julian Glover, who was in great spirits.

After the film had finished, Mr. Glover turned to the audience and hailed it generously as “the perfect little film” that does “all the right things”. He also added that the production had been one of the most enjoyable he’d ever worked on.

Despite claims that I had paid him to say this, it was very heartening to hear this from a man who has been in the industry as long as he has and worked with some of the great directors. As someone subsequently suggested, maybe I should just retire now.

Cast and Crew screenings are interesting occasions. It’s is the first time that most people involved in the film get to see  it come together (or fall apart, depending on how good a job you’ve done as Director). It was therefore nice to get such positive feedback from my lead actor, and many of the other people who attended.

I definitely felt from day one on Mr. Invisible like I had a lot to prove. I was directing a team of people that had worked on some of the biggest feature films and TV of the last few years. The camera crew had just come off Game of Thrones, my Assistant Director had just worked with Brad Pitt on World War Z, the Line Producer had just wrapped on Sherlock, and Julian Glover… well, he was Julian Glover.

I, on the other hand, had up till then made only a handful of low-budget shorts. Don’t get me wrong… I’m proud of ‘Le Chat’ (2006, shot on HandyCam) and the rest, but it’s not quite on the same level as Star Wars, Casino Royale or any of the other films on the resume of my talented cast & crew. Ultimately I was given a great opportunity by the Producer to step up my game, and I had to rise to it.

I decided to treat it in the same way I have my previous films, not be overawed, demand the same high standards and attention to detail from others that I do of myself, and ultimately just try to do justice to what was a fantastic script by the writer Richard Sainsbury.

The shooting process is strange. At that stage the film really only exists in the Director’s head. When you are in the early part of your career, there is understandably going to be a few more doubts from an experienced crew, a few more questioning looks, the occasional pair of rolled eyes. Are you steering the ship in the right direction, or leading everyone blindly onto the rocks? Ultimately, you have to just encourage people to trust you.

This can be a lot of pressure, especially when combined with the necessity to constantly make decisions and compromises whilst filming. Perhaps the romanticised view of Hollywood Director is a guy relaxing in a chair smoking a cigar and occasionally shouting into a megaphone. In my experience there is no chair. There is no cigar. Just a lot of face rubbing and soul searching.

The hope, though, is that when your finally come to screen the film, it all feels worthwhile. A crew can forgive your demands, the long days, the physical toil, the quest for perfection, if it leads to a good film. They may even want to work with you again. Of course, if it’s not up to scratch, then it’s a different matter entirely.

On the evidence of the screening and Mr. Glover’s kind words, I think I did alright. Hopefully the film can now go on to have long and successful festival run…

Myself and Julian Glover at the Mr. Invisible Cast & Crew Screening

Myself and Julian Glover at the Mr. Invisible Cast & Crew Screening

One Hundred Years of Laughter

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100 years ago today at the old Portland Hotel, on the location of what is now Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland, Oregon, a Englishman signed his first ever film contract with Keystone Studios. It was a significant moment. In 5 short years he would go from promising London stage performer to the twentieth century’s most recognised man.

That man was Simon Cowell Charles Chaplin.

The intervening century has seen a lot of developments in cinema – the advent of sound, Technicolor, the rise and demise of 3D, Tom Cruise, Dolby Surround Sound, the rise of 3D a second time – but despite this Chaplin’s films still feel as entertaining and inspiring today as they did almost 100 years ago. To me, at least.

Another interesting sidenote to this story is that Keystone also almost signed Chaplin’s English roommate in Portland, but eventually decided against it. He didn’t have a bad career though. His name was Stan Laurel.

I went back to the square in Portland recently to pay my tributes to the great man, take some photos (with the help of Randall Garcia) and reflect on why I still consider Chaplin to be my biggest inspiration in filmmaking and comedy.

I’m in the process of writing an article on him, which I’m hoping to get published. If anyone has any publications they think might be interested then please get in touch.

Perhaps today you can observe a moment of silence, and even trip over a bucket, in tribute to the Little Tramp. Cheers Charlie!

Bigfoot, Super Chill & The Search For The Elusive Oscar

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This Man Should Never Been Allowed In Hollywood

This Man Should Never Been Allowed In Hollywood

They say good news comes in threes… Or at least I thought they did. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard someone say it before. But I’ve been going round quoting it and no one else seems to be familiar with the phrase.

Perhaps I’m thinking of London buses?

Regardless of what they say, I had three bits of good news last week, which I’d love to share with you.

The first was finding out my Bigfoot feature script I’m currently writing has been selected in Round 2 of the Sundance Writer’s Lab. This simultaneously excited and scared me. As readers of the blog will know,the Bigfoot comedy is something I’ve been developing for around 2 years now, researching, working out a story, characters and theme. Perhaps procrastinating slightly. For I’ve been trying to get it perfect in my head before embarking on the script proper. Speaking to other writers though, this is both impossible and pointless, as the thing will undoubtedly take on a life of it’s own as you write the words.

The good news from Sundance then, and the realisation that I had only 2 weeks to deliver them a 1st draft to them was a much needed kick up the arsenal and a call to face my fears and write the damn thing! I’ve spent the last week facing my self-doubt, fear of failure and letting go of my quest for perfection, and been putting words on the page. It’s liberating actually and exciting. I have until midnight on Sunday 1st September to get them approximately 110 pages.

Perhaps it seems reckless or unprofessional to leave it to the last minute. And it probably is. But I really think I needed the deadline. Ever since I was 14 and would stay up all night trying to get an essay done, I’ve always thrived on having to deliver. And regardless of the outcome, I’ll at least be left with a full feature script at the end. I’ve been listening to a lot of Elvis for inspiration.

The second piece of good news involved my US web series Super Chill, which I cut into a TV Pilot and submitted to the New York TV Festival for consideration in their Independent Pilot Competition. I found out last week that it had been accepted! This means we’ll have the chance to show it in New York to a lot of the big TV networks and have the chance to secure development deals for a full TV pilot. It’s exciting that our little production that we made for virtually no money will be shown alongside talent from 30 Rock, Breaking Bad, and Saturday Night Live.

The Festival takes place in mid-October. You might remember we were out there last year in the Samsung Second Screen Storyteller’s Competition. I will let you know how we get on.

And the third piece of good news just came in the form of some very positive feedback about my short film Mr. Invisible. As well as showing it at festivals, we’ve been sharing it privately with certain people, including distributors who specialise in short films. One of them came back and said he thought it potentially might be good enough to be considered for the short film Oscar!

It was very flattering and of course that would require us to do well at festivals over the coming year. Nevertheless it still made me smile and remember my idealistic 5 year plan to win an Oscar by the time I was 30. Could Mr. Invisible be my buzzer beater? The quest continues…

‘Mr. Invisible’ – The World Premiere

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Today’s the day. ‘Mr. Invisible’ premieres in 3 hours at the Palm Springs Shortfest (1.30pm at Camelot 2, Palm Springs). It’s great to be surrounded by so many talented filmmakers, although it also makes you realise how competitive the world of short films is. I’m excited to see how it plays over here. A town surrounded by desert and basking in 100 degree heat is a surreal place for our very British film to premiere. But it’s as good a place as any.

The Shortfest is the biggest short film festival in the world and there seems to be amazing support with the community for the films. It was a packed house for the opening night last night. In true guerilla style I spent most of yesterday getting a last minute run of postcards printed at Staples, then handing them out to people to encourage them to come along. It’s what all the big directors do before their world premieres. George Lucas was stuck in Office Depot looking for tracing paper  an hour before Star Wars premiered. Hashtag bumsinseats.

Here’s what I’ve been handing out…

This production was brought to you by Staples!

This production was brought to you by Staples!

Here’s to a good screening and a warm reception. Spread the word!

Notes From A Secret Underground Bunker

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Behind The Scenes at RevoLOLtion HQ

Behind The Scenes at RevoLOLtion HQ

I filmed a new video yesterday as part of our upcoming Kickstarter campaign for We Like Laughter. When you’re launching a comedy revolution/revoLOLtion you need an adequate HQ, so I’ve spent the last a few weeks searching for a ‘secret underground bunker’ that seemed appropriate. Places were either not quite secret enough or too expensive. But mainly too expensive.

Apparently the more empty, decrepit and shit a place is, the more people will probably charge you to use it. Even the venue advertised at the domain name ‘secretundergroundbunker.com’, although genuine and run by a very amiable gentleman, wasn’t quite right for our needs. Eventually my Dad suggested I look at some of the empty buildings at the Industrial Estate where his offices are. Upon investigation, we found it to be perfect. I was overjoyed that the location of my Dad’s work had just the right level of depression and post-apocalyptic charm for our revolutionary purposes.

So yesterday a crew of us descended on it to film the first meeting. The day was long but enjoyable. I look forward to sharing the results with you soon, and raising some money to fund future comedy sketches. Our aims are humble… To put smiles on the faces of every man, woman and child the world over.

There’s going to be lots of opportunities to get involved. You can check out our facebook page here and join the revoLOLtion!

‘A Chat With Greg Ash’ – Now Screening

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My cousin Chris Ash finally finished editing the interview he did with me a few weeks ago. In it I try to explain my filmmaking journey so far. It’s a kind of ‘Inside The Director’s Studio/Parents’ House’ style piece.

I’m not sure Chris is really cut out for a career in interviewing, although he claims otherwise. I must apologise for my language used at the end of this interview and hope that my 3 fans aren’t offended.