Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Of Shark and Man - Big News And Major Progress!

Yes, that would be your first look at the official branding for the film

First of all, behold, the first public look at the branding for "Of Shark and Man." I love it and I think it captures exactly the mood I'm going for, gritty but with a Fijian flavour and a marriage of the industrial urban north of England and something far more exotic. I wanted "different" and that's what I got. I have Sue and David at EDNA Interactive and Kris Allen to thank for the logos and in my opinion, they have absolutely nailed it.

Its been a mad few weeks since the last blog, consumed in the main by completing the Sound Design which meant 12-14 hour days in David Lawrie's studio composing the final pieces of music and constructing and mixing the film's sound.

First of all, I'll say this, the Sound Design in Of Shark and Man is phenomenal, it sounds dynamic and at times monstrously big, all the while retaining the subtleties which aide each facet of the story telling. The attention to detail has been ridiculous, I was adamant I wanted everything to have, not just sound, but a designed and descriptive sonic aesthetic, sound which didn't just offer a simple description of the surroundings you see on screen, but which reaches out of the screen, grabs you and pulls you in there with me. Bad sound design kills a film, no sound design is inexcusable but great sound design can elevate a film beyond anything it could have ever been without it.

I am incredibly lucky to have had a friend in David Lawrie who not only was able to technically do what I wanted, but who also, most importantly "got it." I have heard sporadically over the last few years "but that's not how they do it, you're supposed to do it like this" but I've never really cared how "they" do it, only how I want to do it. That's probably a bit naive but so be it, thus far it's worked and as the saying goes if it ain't broke...

It's a rare person who is willing to spend their first trip back to the UK in a while, sitting down with someone demanding such rabid attention to detail it means going through more than 100 minutes of footage with a fine toothed comb to pick out every single thing that needs a sound (including underwater) and work together to put those sounds in, knowing full well the challenge of actually mixing it all coherently is going to be even more difficult than usual. The simple brief was "don't think documentary, think feature film event." Needless to say, Dave absolutely smashed it out of the park.

So I guess that means I should let you all know that the Director's Cut is finished and not only that, it has actually been seen by a small handful of people, one of whom was London based, Cypriot Singer/Songwriter Eleni Skarpari, also known as Echo Wants Her Voice Back. Eleni was in York, recording with David and I was asked to be the Cinematographer for her new Music Video and so afterwards, David, Eleni and I sat down to watch the film and having seen it, I got her on camera to give her thoughts on the film itself, completely impartial and honestly.

Eleni Skarpari - Reaction to First Viewing of "Of Shark and Man" from Scarlet View Media on Vimeo.

Feedback so far from the people who have seen it (David Lawrie, David's mum, Eleni and David Edwards from EDNA) has been quite overwhelming really in that they all essentially said exactly the kind of things I hoped people who see the film would say. The opinions of people like these are crucial to me, they are all highly skilled and talented individuals with little patience for mediocrity. They judge the work of others based on their own high standards and were all too aware that merely stroking egos was of no use whatsoever. Four people have seen the film thus far, two who were already interested in sharks, two who merely had a normal, passing curiosity in sharks, all different age ranges and all loved it.

There is also a trailer, in fact there will be two trailers as of the early hours of Thursday morning but only one will be released.

I've taken a big risk with the trailer. Basically I got bored of seeing the same thing over and over again and as this film is geared towards a mass market audience, I need to appreciate how that audience works. The shark crowd will look after themselves, if you like sharks or films about sharks, you shouldn't need too much convincing to make the effort to see the film. Unfortunately, to the average person, pure conservation films are "boring" and their trailers often don't do anything to convince them otherwise. They've been at work all day (probably at a job they hate), they're tired, they want to be entertained so the thought of a plodding documentary talking at them about something they really don't care about is not going to rev their engine so to speak. Of Shark and Man isn't really a pure conservation film either, it's an engaging story about ordinary people doing extraordinary things in a tropical paradise.

The idea here is to use those preconceived misconceptions against those people in a way, to hook them in with something they can totally relate to, then let them choose to ask questions of what they thought they knew whilst getting a bit of a thrill along the way. They are in no way being misled, they are instead being told "hey, all those other documentaries you would never normally watch, well this isn't one of them."

Look at the trailer for Blackfish, a trailer I think is one of the best I have seen in a long time and it's no coincidence the film was such a big success because the trailer screams out "watch me!"

With regards to the trailer, I did a first edit and showed it to a few people, here's an excerpt of feedback I got one from one very trusted person who knows about this stuff:

"My husband and I sat here together and watched the trailer. After it was over, I looked at him and said, "What did you think?" His eyes were huge, and his mouth was slightly agape. He said, "I just realized I was holding my breath." He was so mesmerized by what he was watching, that he didn't even realize he was holding his breath. So that's definitely a good sign! 

I mean, I want him to start breathing again eventually, of course. So here's my impression: For me it was like taking a short, powerful journey. The first minute or so I felt like I was looking at myself in the mirror - sitting in a stale office, the vacant expression, just existing from one day to the next. Then the swimming scene - it really resonated with me, and I think it will with your audience too. How many of us just want to dive out of our mundane existence, and go toward something meaningful? Something completely different from what we experience every day? 

Then to suddenly get that break, where the music becomes stronger, the colors brighter, the motion faster.... I feel like I'm traveling with you because of how you have engaged the senses of the viewer. And I keep asking myself, "What's going to happen next?" 

I think that is the mark of a great storyteller, if the audience is so engaged that they have to know what happens next. And part of the reason the viewer wants to know what happens next is because early on in the trailer, by relaying your story of your unfulfilled life, and your desire for something more, you have made the audience care about you and what happens to you. The viewer becomes emotionally invested in the first few seconds, and that emotional investment only becomes stronger throughout the rest of the trailer. 

I thought the footage and music tied together beautifully - I know you were especially conscious of the music, and it shows. There was only one little nagging question mark I had in my mind at the end of the trailer, and that had to do with the ambiguity of the plot. I was trying to view the trailer as someone who maybe doesn't know your story. So I was asking myself, "What is the ultimate reason he is doing all of this? Is it to face fears? Challenge himself? Tell the story of the sharks of Fiji? Tell people why sharks are important and need to be helped?" But I don't think that ambiguity is necessarily a negative thing. Asking those questions of oneself would make the viewer want to watch the entire feature to learn the answer. So while part of me was wondering, well, what EXACTLY is this about? The other part of me is thinking, actually that's not a bad thing to leave it a little ambiguous in order to pique curiosity. 

But what it comes right down to is that I thought the trailer was exceptional. Obviously my husband did too, and I'm happy to inform you that he is indeed breathing again. Anyway, I hope all of this is helpful, and I didn't mean to write a dissertation. Well done, David. Very, very well done"

I was of course delighted with this feedback, especially with the comment about ambiguity which may surprise you, as I think ambiguity can drive an audience to watch the film to find out what the trailer i actually alluding to. My idea is, as a very good friend once said to me, "sell the sizzle, not the sausage." Give them just enough to pique their interest and curiosity so they have to see the film.

By the weekend there should be two functioning trailers and some of you out there will actually get a chance to see them and give me feedback which helps me choose which I release. It's not often a film-maker does that so if you're interested, email me at david@scarletviewmedia.com

Finally, how about this... "Of Shark and Man" will get its first ever official public screening on April 25th at Il Muestra De Cine Submarino De Aguimes in Aguimes, Gran Canaria!

Fernando who runs the festival and also Alianza Por Los Tiburones De Canarias was super, super keen to screen the film, which at that point, hadn't even been completed and when the city offered to put me up in my own Villa to go and screen the film along with a Q&A, it was an offer simply too good to turn down! This is going to be an amazing event and a great opportunity to see the reaction to the Director's Cut from an International audience.

I am really looking forward to this, Spain and the Spanish territories have been very supportive of my work, my career started there with A Ray of Light so Fernando's enthusiasm really meant a lot to me. Not only that, it was even announced on TV there that I was going!

Watch from 46:28!


So, if you're in Gran Canaria on Saturday April 25th, come along. The new David Doubilet film is also showing so I'm looking forward to that too!

Bit of a longer blog this time but I thought you all deserved a proper update! Keep an eye out for the trailer and remember, if you want a chance to choose which one goes out, email me!

Thursday, 5 March 2015

I Have Finally Watched Of Shark And Man In Full

Click photo for detail

Today I did something I've been wanting to do for four years, I actually watched Of Shark and Man start to finish in one full go.

That might sound odd but during the edit process the intro section was in a separate timeline as about a year ago I decided what I had wasn't cutting it and ripped the whole thing apart. This was stressful for me as I initially really liked it but as time wore on it just started to seem a bit...ordinary. These days shark films all tend to blend into one another, some good but unoriginal, others utterly turgid and uninspiring, occasionally there is the odd gem (Mexico Pelagico immediately springs to mind) and of course it's impossible not to judge the work of others against your own, so while watching other films was motivated by an interest in anything that had sharks in, there was also an element of seeing what others were doing, with or without proper budgets.

I never looked at these films as a possible source of inspiration though, even the ones I liked (and believe me, if there's a shark film available out there online, on TV or any other format, I've seen it) because I have known what I was going to do with "Of Shark and Man" for almost ten years now and my inspiration comes less and less from shark documentaries as time progresses because I don't just want to be the same as everyone else or take an easy option and I certainly don't want Of Shark and Man to simply become "just another shark film."

So, back to my original point, I was stressing about the intro because although it was certainly different, its execution was ordinary and a bit corny. It took probably a full year to come up with something that really presented the film as it deserves in the first few minutes, both conceptually and artistically because, as wanky as it may sound, I do see Of Shark and Man as a piece of art but of course, art is subjective...

Over the last year we (myself, David Lawrie and various talented Musicians) have been working (and losing sleep) on the soundtrack and sound design for the film and now the intro music has been finalised and believe me, that was a big, big job, I was able to actually take the intro and stick it onto the rest of the film and thus, tonight I got to watch he whole thing as it should be seen.

Screen Grab from Of Shark and Man

Theoretically I could have watched it sooner extremely easily but truth be told, I almost didn't want to, I was nervous, what if I didn't like it? What if I thought it was boring or kept seeing mistakes? I had actually been putting off watching the film because although people tell me I'm quite good at what I do and people seem to like it, when you've had the amount of people telling you that you're wasting your time or kidding yourself as I have had in the last few years (if I had a pound for every time I heard the phrase "cloud cuckoo land"...) then you undoubtedly experience periods of intense self doubt.

I exist in a bizarre mindset of supreme confidence shadowed by crippling self doubt all of which is driven by an almost psychotic desire to achieve perfection, if that even exists, all of which has both inspired and almost destroyed me in the last few years and all because of a film. It's kind of ridiculous when you think about it but hey, none of us are perfect right?... I am course, trying to address that...

Screen Grab from Of Shark and Man

So tonight was the night, the volume levels were all over the place as there is still a bit of sound design to add and a couple of music tracks to complete (next week) but it was still a functioning piece of work. So what did I discover?

My biggest fear is that the film would drag and get lost in a morass of self indulgence, at over 102 minutes, it would be really easy to bore an audience into a stupefying coma of disinterest and thankfully, even as my own biggest critic, the film absolutely flew by and that, to be honest, surprised me.

When you venture over the sixty minute mark, you're taking a big risk that you will lose your audience, sharks are awesome, we all like sharks but there are people out there who don't and it is they, if you have any aspirations of "changing the perception of sharks," who you need to engage.

Thankfully because of the sheer weight of content and calibre of the people on camera, the film carries everything really well. If anyone was going to get bored of the film it would be me, I have lived with it for almost five years now but at no point did I feel I was being weighed down by the feeling I had to finish it because I'd just spent the last hour watching it.

The music works really, really well and the sound design is fantastic, lack of sound design will kill a film before it gets going and that was a major reason why, when I started the edit, I spoke to David Lawrie about my idea to have sound be another character in the story, to accent, intensify and breathe life into the images on screen. Needless to say Dave has done an incredible job.

Screen Grab from Of Shark and Man

Also, and this was a big thing for me, the film just looks totally different to any other shark film out there and absolutely nothing like a documentary and that is exactly what I wanted because I don't see Of Shark and Man as a documentary, rather a feature length film with factual content. It was a difficult process to get that look right and it started with the filming itself. There is not a great deal of the "guerilla" style of cinematography, achieving this meant impressing on anybody filming when I wasn't, to see the beauty and the drama in what they were shooting. Cinematic was the order of the day and I think we achieved that.

The grade of course plays a big part in the look of the film too and I leaned heavily towards the filmic look, quite high contrast and using colour to tell the story with an almost 1970's look but brought into the modern era. It's not as super sharp as had I shot it on C100/300/500 or RED as I would have done if I were shooting it today (I own a C100 now) but the slightly softer edge actually gives the footage a more distinctive look from everything else in these days of 4,5 and 6K and lends itself well to that filmic look I was so passionate about capturing.

Now, of course it would be easy to say I was biased, of course I am and I certainly wouldn't be here saying "hey, I watched my film tonight, guess what, it sucks!" but I do think anybody with an interest in sharks will enjoy it, learn from it and take something, probably many things away after viewing it, but more importantly to me, I think it fulfils a goal I set from the start, to appeal to people who have no interest in sharks.

Screen Grab from Of Shark and Man

I think the thing I'm happiest with is the concept itself, bridging that gap between the urban landscape and a South Pacific paradise, the "everyman" idea which drives the whole story. Of Shark and Man is not merely people sitting down reeling off facts, it's a journey, a very real story told be real people who are being honest. I had no interest in taking a scientific approach, I didn't want to talk to an endless conveyor belt of researchers in labs repeating statistics, this is about visceral escapism.

That's not to say the film is light on facts, far from it, factual content drives everything in the film and regardless of your level of knowledge, you absolutely will learn something you don't already know, not only that, you will see things you have never seen before and that can only be a good thing can't it.

So what now?

Well, the official trailer is now almost complete and will give you a far better idea of what to expect than simply reading the above. The plan for that is that I will allow a few people to see the trailer privately and give their feedback before its release and this could include you, more on that in the coming weeks.

The website has been registered and is being designed, as are the Twitter and Facebook pages. Behind the Scenes videos will be coming out soon and most importantly, opportunities for you to actually see the film and make up your own mind!

There is also a brilliant opportunity that has been presented to me which I am 99.9% certain I will be able to to do which excites me enormously!

Finally, I just want to say this, if you are an independent Film-Maker who has made or is making your own film about sharks, I applaud you for getting out there and having a go at doing something. The more independent shark films out there the better in my opinion. If you're an aspiring Film-Maker and you have no idea where to start or you have questions nobody else seems willing to answer, please, always feel free to drop me a line and I will always try to help you if I can. I may not be Fincher, Kubrick or Spielberg (obviously, I wish I was!) but I'm always happy to be of any assistance I can.

As always, keep your peepers peeled for updates, after years of hearing "it's almost done," I can now tell you that unequivocally, it's almost done!