Every story tells a picture

by director and actor Lily Taylor

Every story tells a picture, every picture tells a story. My literary obsessions seem to work this way, with hard-edged moments glowing out from the pages and insisting that I return to them again and again. Solid objects hover in and around these moments, a pearl dropped and found (or unfound) in pale blades of grass, a smoothed shard of sea glass, ocean-green and softly grained, a gold chain nailed to a tree. More recently – an oval stone, rounded, almond-eyed, a human head, levitating, tapping at the skylight. A man, dead, ancient, lying on a beach and turning slowly into a tree. A leaf, full. A watch, removed from the wrist and flung, sideways, into a canal. The undoneness of the thing. The absolute not-doneness of it.

I chased that vision of sea glass, like John of ‘Solid Objects’, taking his role as he surrendered everything for the pursuit of fragments – the resulting film became another of these fragments, a short 5-minute piece of film, cut and stuck into sequence. Screening The Beachcomber for the first time in Oxford, in the company of my most wonderful friends, was one of the best things of the past year. In November, we screened it again at Picturehouse Central, which was another highlight of the year and of my move to London. With the addition of Jordan’s score – which is perfect – the film was properly whole and complete. (I think, or, at least, hope, that Woolf would have approved.) Thank you so much to all of my friends who came to see it twice!

With that moment deliberated and revised, translated, screened, and concluded, I’m ready to greet the next one. This time, the watch and the collage, the conversation by water. The challenge of dialogue and 16mm film. I’ve been warned of the difficulties of casting and 30-second takes (turns out it’s much easier when the only character is me and the most difficult direction is stepping painfully into pebble-churning, freezing waves in the early morning). I have a week at home to deliberate script cuts and tweaks, to ruminate on the best pictures for this particular story. For now, I don’t want to give away any more. But it is all very exciting – festooned in the additional excitement of Christmas as I travel home through solid, grey, Shropshire fog.

 

Lily starred in The Beachcomber, as well as directing James, appearing in London Time and acting as marketing director for Plenty. Read more from her blog here.

Scoring The Beachcomber

by composer Jordan Dobbins

I first encountered Andrew, Ashley and Lily’s The Beachcomber in Oxford, performing live pieces based around Woolf’s The Waves at its first screening. As with any creative endeavour, six months on I am both pleased and unsatisfied with the finished soundtrack. I thought I would write something for the blog about how I tried to navigate the subject matter which is at the heart of the film (which is best understood from reading the original Woolf short story). The following is the, probably misguided, methodology I went about in turning those ideas into a score that somehow mirrored Woolf’s prescient ideas and feelings that still speak to our 21st Century culture.

To me the film, and the Woolf material it stemmed from, was about navigating two integral human processes in a capitalist society: the search for meaning and the creation of value. I wanted the music to have a sense of searching at its core (derived from that most Woolfian of symbols – the sound of the waves) which is heard most prominently in the rhythm of the thicker textured sections that accompany the first visuals. This searching is complicated, for me, by the protagonist’s kleptomania: who owns these objects, and who instils them with meaning? That idea is further muddied and confused when overlaid with the concept of nostalgia which is present in the film (and which I was told was on the mind of the film makers as they created the piece) – do we view our understanding of innocence and the past as commodities of consciousness in an age where all things gave a ‘Return on Investment’? I hoped to capture the feeling that these questions left me with in the transitions between the filled out piano to the stripped back, more in focus, sections that are interspersed throughout. These sections were based on the old music hall tune ‘A Little of What you Fancy Does you Good’, which I felt chimed nicely with both Woolf’s context and the film’s subject matter. The manic collecting of the protagonist is mirrored in these sudden changes of tone; just as they cannot force these strange found objects to stand in lieu for intangible parts of our mental processes of remembering, so my appropriation of the music hall tune is unfitting and unwieldy.

Perhaps the thinking that was behind the music is more apt than the final piece itself, but I enjoy hearing people’s opinions and analysing my own feelings about the music (which change on the daily). It was a great project to be involved in and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to stretch my untrained creative muscles.

Picture lock on The Beachcomber

Ah, such a great weekend watching Ashley work his magic with the newly-scanned copy of The Beachcomber, which he picked up from our lab in Berlin last week.

The quality is superb and all the light and energy you get from an actual film projection has been lovingly restored in the digital environment. The process was smooth and again reflected the tremendous amount of effort and patience put into each shot as it went onto the film, making the cut painless and the retouching minimal. All a far cry from the long sessions of grading we did on Tantamount, where jarring yellow barriers and brooding grey skies posed great challenges for Final Cut’s presets. Now in a world where every colour can be honed individually (thank you DaVinci), every shot’s existence had been justified on set and where the depth of real film offers limitless scope for bokeh, softening and warmth, I feel like we are starting to become masters of the frames (at least the key ones) in our projects.

On this theme, our next short is going to be governed by rules on colour, framing and visual references just to push us even further. Once you start to see the world through not just a lens, but through a lens and onto a screen, I feel as though the whole filmmaking process becomes infinitely more immersive. We are planning to shoot throughout November and I’m already very excited!

On The Beachcomber, we are now into the final stretch after picture lock, with a copy going off to our new teammate and composer Jordan Dobbins for him to start putting together the score. I can’t say too much yet, but we have very exciting screening plans once the process is complete – watch this space…

As the summer rolls into autumn it’s easy to lose energy on the creative parts of our lives and I don’t think the shorter days help. (At least, I have always found sunshine to be far more conducive than rain to my writing – though my writing does almost always feature gloomy weather!) To this end, I’m looking forward to connecting with new people, and reconnecting with old friends, to being our new projects to life over the next few months. I’m off to Stockholm for a weekend with the aim of coming back to London refreshed and ready to dive in: with the London Film Festival coming up, a screenplay to finish, The Beachcomber to showcase and our new film to produce, we’re going to need all the help (and, in between all that, rest) we can get. Let’s see what happens.

Our new digital cut of The Beachcomber, starring Lily Taylor, screens in London the first weekend of November.

Screening The Beachcomber

by The Beachcomber actor Lily Taylor

Hello. My name has appeared on this site already, as I’ve worked on Plenty and James, and, most recently, The Beachcomber. A few weeks ago I organised a Virginia Woolf-inspired literary evening to accompany the Oxford film screening of The Beachcomber, which I’d like to talk about here.

During the past year I’ve been studying for a Masters degree in English (1900-Present Day) at Oxford. There were moments when I doubted my ability to finish the year (I blame B course – if you know what that is, I’m sorry that you had to suffer through it too). Of course, I did finish the year – I graduated last month, on what felt like the hottest day of the year, and we all enjoyed melting in our thick black embroidered gowns. It was inevitable that I would end up loving the year – bearing in mind that I am certifiably obsessed with Virginia Woolf and the course was (perhaps unfairly) biased towards Woolf and canonical conceptions of Modernism.

However, my time back in Oxford was made all the more unforgettable due to my English group, which was comprised of some of the loveliest and most interesting people I have ever met. We became obsessively good friends in a shockingly short amount of time, and have since started a newsletter, writing group, and podcast – with many more things to come, I’m sure. Another source of inspiration throughout the year was my insistence on punctuating each term with something creative. Even when time was short and deadlines looming, it was motivational and usefully distracting to have a completely different creative project on the horizon. In Michaelmas, this was a play, organised in two weeks with a budget of less than £50. In my final term, I was the assistant producer on another play, Infestation, in London. And in the Easter holiday, I acted in The Beachcomber, which brings me back to the subject of this post.

I don’t need to discuss further the details of the film’s creation – they have been covered here already. But I would like to say that I’d been thinking about this film for several years before it came into being. I read Virginia Woolf’s Solid Objects, on which the film is based, in my first year at university, and was struck by the cinematic qualities of its opening ‘scene’. I didn’t have the means to film it then, but, four years later, here it is, and I was very pleased to be involved in the final product as a windswept beach-wanderer and pebble-collector. Short, soundless, wordless – but it feels to me like a natural reading of the story (I hope Woolf would approve).

The film was not yet digitised, so couldn’t be shared online, which led to my plan to host a screening accompanied by other Woolf-related contributions in Oxford. The deadline for dissertations coincided with the completion of the film (processed, edited, and ready to be shown). I asked/coerced/harried my English group into creating their own pieces to share at the event, and though everyone was worn out after essay submissions, the quality of the contributions was astonishing. Pieces included short stories inspired by objects and the sea, poetry ruminating on spaces, and a musical deconstruction of the opening pages of The Waves. All accompanied by homemade vegan cakes and plenty of wine.

For the purposes of this event, we decided to play ‘Meeting Again’ from Woolf Works (which I could but mustn’t ramble about for many thousands of words). Played alongside the film, the music fit perfectly, mixing in with the sound of the projector. With more time and unlimited funds, it would be wonderful to commission an original soundtrack; that may have to wait for the next film now, or it may emerge during the course of the summer. I very much enjoyed working on The Beachcomber, and I’m so glad that we were able to screen it in Oxford, a place that will always be very important to me. As with any event, things can always run more smoothly, or be more polished. But it was so much fun to present creative work to a group of friends, and to draw thoughts, words, and ideas out of each other. I will certainly continue to organise events like this one, and am already planning another book-inspired project that I’m very excited about. In the meantime, thank you so much to everyone involved. I look forward to seeing you at the next one…

From marketing the successful Plenty to directing James, starring in both London Time and The Beachcomber, Lily is appearing in a special big-screen showing of The Beachcomber this summer before stepping into the role of producer for Radcliffe Camera’s next film project, to be announced soon. Check out Lily’s blog at www.lilyfreeahleoma.com.

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The Beachcomber: ready for screening

Monday night was spent drinking celebratory cocktails with my two favourite film-cutters: Vania Flaccomio (editor at Pink Banana) and Ashley Hughes (whose new portfolio showcases the best of his analogue film talents). Among other things, we were celebrating the fantastic news that The Beachcomber is ready for screening.

The final cut came after a long notes session several weeks ago, and several reviews of the shot list and paper edit over recent days as Ashley and I tried to marry competing themes, tensions and ideas in an order which was perfect. Cutting Super 8 stock is a delicate process: the negatives contained on 3-minute rolls are developed and printed positive onto a spool, which is then sliced into scenes and takes. Those raw slips of film are hung on a frame ready for the assembly process – you can see The Beachcomber uncut in the photo above. Ashley’s 5-hour task was then to identify the best of the shots and assemble them into order, shaving the transitions as he went, using a splicing machine which incorporates a light-box, rollers and a cutting tool. Special tape with sprockets is used to join the pieces together, making the final cut.

Running in tandem with the visual cutting process, I revisited the shoreline of Budleigh Salterton in making the soundscape. One evening after our day of shooting had wrapped, I had headed down to the edge of the waves with a DSLR and recorded seven minutes of rolling waves, which made a captivating sound: a peeling roar as they came in at an angle along the shingle towards where I was sat, and a sucking, rolling grind as they pulled back out to sea against the steep bank of pebbles. Pumped loud through a speaker amidst the audience, this soundscape literally immerses the viewer in the story of the film. The majesty of a Woolf soundtrack was really solidified on Friday night when I had the pleasure of joining Lily at Blenheim Palace to watch Max Richter, Ray Chen and the breathtaking Aurora Orchestra premiere Three Worlds, the soundtrack to ballet Woolf Works. That perfect summer night reminded me of the real power that a soundscape can have; collaborating with Max Richter now tops the list of dream projects.

We are excited to be hosting a preview screening of The Beachcomber at Canary Wharf on Saturday, following which the official premiere – as part of an evening of spoken word, rehearsed readings, excerpts of Woolf’s work, art and cocktails – will be taking place at Turl Street Kitchen in Oxford next Wednesday. This venue, which has relaxed leather-furniture scattered across warped wooden floorboards and beautiful views across historic Oxford, fits our Woolf/Bloomsbury theme well, and I hope The Beachcomber is the first of many screenings we can host there.

In the longer run, following these screenings the film reel will make its way back to the lab in Germany for a high-definition scan, and we look forward to being able to re-open the story with the use of digital editing techniques before launching the film online at the end of the summer. I can’t wait to share it.

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The Beachcomber: editing begins

Moving an 8mm film projector and its soundproof case across town to Canary Wharf and installing it in my apartment was shown to be well worth the effort, following a fantastic weekend in which Ashley and I watched the rushes and completed the paper edit on The Beachcomber. The next stage of the process is a delicate one, as Ashley returns to the lightbox and splicing tools to produce a first rough cut from our positive prints.

We were lucky and sensible to shoot the project largely in order. Another major advantage came in the form of our limited resources: rather than the gargantuan effort of searching through dozens of takes on Tantamount or over 250 shots to begin putting together James, the assembly process on The Beachcomber is made cleaner by our 1-take rule on set. Moreover, we reversed the workflow that we had applied on previous digital projects: rather than spending little time planning angles and a lot of time in the pre-edit, we spent hours setting up every single frame during our long weekend on location in Budleigh Salterton, and it is paying dividends now.

After the paper edit, in which we watch the entire thing, note the excess shots we intend to cut, re-order any that were captured on spare film, and judged for general quality of each take, the rough assembly involves cutting the reel in the middle of the ‘dead space’ between shots and re-splicing it in order. It is a painstaking task for Ashley, though not as fragile as that coming next weekend: the fine cut involves many re-runs of the rough cut, notebooks in hand, and then the film is physically re-opened on the cutting board and a few frames here and there are moved and discarded.

Simultaneously, digital work is beginning this week on our soundscape. Captured live on location and designed to provide an immersive viewer experience in the very diverse settings of our London, Oxford and online screenings, refining an audio world separately from the visuals is a new and exciting step in exploring a more artistic side to production.

I look forward to posting again next weekend, when The Beachcomber will hopefully be ready for release!

Good news, and a new approach

Exciting news has arrived for the London-based production team on The Beachcomber as we received confirmation that our developed film stock is on its way back from the lab in Germany. After a three-week wait in which much has been discussed on the creative front, this has provided a welcome opportunity to give an update, and talk about some other exciting changes happening over the rest of 2017.

Firstly, as you may already have noticed, I have decided to get a bit more involved in my post-writing. Those of you who know me or have worked with me will know that I spend a lot of my days working as a lawyer. Having this space to discuss ideas, debate issues and share our team’s news is an incredibly welcome part of my creative life, and I have decided to make it a little more personal to reflect that. This is the fiftieth post on the blog, which I think offers a perfect opportunity for a change.

By way of an update on The Beachcomber, Ashley and I followed a lovely morning at Columbia Road recently with a long discussion about how we were going to approach the editing process, the best ways to work with the sensitive and organic-feeling raw footage, and what our objectives were in making the cut. This was interesting to consider as a novice to working with film stock; previously, my approach to a digital edit was like a series of ever-tightening concentric circles, each bringing us close to a final concept. We have kept that notion in some respects: our edit plan here will be to treat the first cut as a simple assembly but, while in the digital world that would be an admission that it required relatively less effort, with the ability to physically move around our film stock we are excited to be approaching it as the potential place for a complete retelling of the story. Then will come a finer cut, based on performance, where the cutting table will become the site of more typical directorial decisions. Lastly, the final cut to sharpen and hone the overall aesthetic.

I am really looking forward to screening this film for the first time alongside its soundtrack. Again by virtue of shooting on Super 8, we have an entirely separate sound process and decided to embrace that with a single, all-consuming soundscape running throughout the film. Taken with the footage, this should be mesmerising, and hopefully quite haunting too. While I don’t wish to spoil the surprise, we developed the idea some months ago but its overwhelming effect was pushed home – aptly enough – when Lily and I saw the fantastic Woolf Works at the Royal Opera House. I can’t wait to see its effect on the audiences at our two screenings in London and Oxford this summer.

As well as this film, keep your eyes peeled for news of upcoming film and theatre productions, screenwriting projects, Edinburgh festival talk and the first previews of our new media venture, all coming soon.

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That’s a wrap on The Beachcomber

Shooting on The Beachcomber wrapped on Sunday evening in the Devon village of Budleigh Salterton, as the team completed a busy three-day schedule in time to watch a beautiful sunset over the sea.

Working on Super 8 film, DP/editor Ashley Hughes is now responsible for the processing phase of the project, with the film stock being sent to a lab in Germany for positive prints the team can use on their edit. As well as providing an opportunity to step back from the material before cutting begins, the film process leaves no room for a ‘solve it during post’ attitude on set. As a result, much more time is spent on set choosing the perfect frame and ensuring its content is precisely what is needed to move the story forward, and creative input came from each member of the team. This type of discipline is exactly what was hoped for by the trio, and means that going forward they are working to hone 26 shots, rather than the 260 which made up the library of digital footage from James.

The Beachcomber stars Lily Taylor, with cinematography by Ashley Hughes, and was produced by Andrew Hall. Screening dates in London and Oxford are slated for mid-June.

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Shooting begins on The Beachcomber

The Radcliffe Camera Pictures director-cinematographer duo Andrew Hall and Ashley Hughes move their work to the south coast this weekend, as actor Lily Taylor follows her film debut in London Time with The Beachcomber.

Adapted from a short story of the Bloomsbury era, the film blends unforgiving English waves and the warmth of the mile-long shingle beach at Budleigh Salterton, as well as the rich imagery of the underlying text. Once again shooting on Super 8 film, the team have spent the past two months plotting and crafting the narrative, reviewing shot lists with the strict discipline that the medium demands. For a team used to the flexibility of three or four angles on a scene, and anything up to ten takes, the new art form presents a welcome challenge.

This weekend will mark the beginning of the organic filmmaking process, after which the reels will need processing and prints will be sent back to the team from their lab in Germany for manual cutting. Although a digital scan will be used to assist the composer and the editing process, and eventually for distribution, the team intend to debut their work on an 8mm projector. Screenings are being tabled for the middle of June and the team are seeing them as opportunities to build their production network. At the London preview in a Canary Wharf warehouse, the hope is that aspiring co-producers and actors will come together for an evening of ‘cinema celebration’, while the official screening in Oxford includes an evening of live music and spoken word, new artworks and photography, bringing together the creative forces the team needs for its future projects.

As ever, watch this space for more.

Announcing: The Beachcomber

In March next year, Radcliffe Camera will be stepping out of London and heading to the coast for The Beachcomber, a collaboration with cinematographer Ashley Hughes (Tantamount, Red Ribbon) and Lily Taylor (James) and the team’s first project to be shot on Super 8 film.

“Shooting on film will present a whole range of new challenges for the team”, the group agree. It will be an interesting collaboration for Ashley, who has worked with the medium on a number of previous projects. As Andrew, producer of The Beachcomber, notes, “in previous collaborations, with a digital setup, we have had the flexibility to shoot six or ten takes of every angle where necessary. On this project, the aim is to capture everything first time and more-or-less in order. This will minimise editing time, and mean that we can take the finished reel almost straight from the camera and say ‘This is our film’ at the end of it.  We’re going to benefit hugely from Ashley’s experience to help us understand what is required when working with 8mm.” Before any work commences on The Beachcomber, Ashley and Andrew are in discussions for another short project using film in January, to get the team ready for the challenges of the process.

The Beachcomber, shot entirely on location in the Devon village of Budleigh Salterton, will be the first step towards a significant adaptation project the team is considering for late 2017. “As with every project, the hope is that the finished film is perfect,” the group say, “but especially in this format and in early spring, we’re treating it very much as an experiment.” Approaching the project in this way, the crew want to learn more about Super 8 and the discipline it instills on set, and are keen to revisit the source material again later next year.

“This is the first time we’ve tried to capture the surreality and vividness of the south coast on camera, as the coastline and its inhabitants start to recover from the winter storms, after discussing it for a long time. Super 8 is absolutely the right medium to do that, but the story we are working up to is so powerful, we think it warrants so much more than a single project.”

Casting and location news, as well as details of the January project which will see the Radcliffe Camera team work on 8mm film for the first time, is coming soon.

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