Announcing: Tupilak

For 500 years the Norse Greenlanders made their home in the wilderness. In 1450, they disappeared without a trace.

But what if there was one left? The mystery of the Norse people first caught my attention in 2016 when I read an article by an Ernest writer on the tupilak, the haunting, cursed figurines that were crafted from bones and awful things to bring wickedness on the enemies of the inuit. The rich, written and illustrated mythology of the Norse made their sudden disappearance – without serious archaeological evidence as to any reason why – even more compelling as a story. And so began a two year project of researching and drafting. The challenge was in telling a story with only one character and a bleak winter landscape, that was on the one hand compelling and on the other avoided the wilderness porn of an SUV advert.

So I’m thrilled to announce the launch of Tupilak, our latest, longest and most ambitious short film yet, starring Lily Taylor (Beachcomber, Plenty, James) and Alex Newton (Citric Acid, Jerusalem), shot and edited by Ashley Hughes (who has worked his visual magic on eight films with me from 2017’s Beachcomber back to 2011’s Tantamount to Treason), and featuring a stunning score from the musical genius of Beachcomber, Jordan Dobbins. Matt Ceo’s striking poster design plunges us straight into the crucible in which our protagonist, Saga, finds herself. Haunted by demons and the wilderness, how will the last of the Norse Greenlander’s survive?

Watch this space for more details, and save the date for our London premiere on Sunday 26 January.

www.andrewhall.org/tupilak

A creative year

As promised in my last post, I spent the last year trying to pursue something of a creative and career reset, and I’m proud and happy to say it seems to have paid off. In addition to rejoining an old client here in London, and starting a Masters degree (goodbye sleep!) in a field that I love, last year gave me the chance to make real progress on some of the creative projects I had been hoping I could deliver for a long time.

I left my Paris-based law firm in February and spent March in Lima, Peru, where I sat on a rooftop for a month and turned my ideas for Robert Armitage into the better part of a novel. Sitting in the sunshine without a care in the world, in a city with amazing food and lovely people, was bliss and I very nearly stayed out there. The change of scene helped my writing, not so much by way of reference (the novel is set in London and Paris), but by giving me some physical distance from the memories of work, commitment, and depressing weather. It is easy to write 3000 words a day when the sun is beaming, you have a cold pitcher of orange cold brew beside you, and you can see the ocean from your perch on the roof.

From one adventure to another, I returned to the UK in April and was immediately off to Snowdonia with Ashley and Lily (Beachcomber) and Alex (Citric Acid) to shoot our latest film. Adapting to the change in climate was a battle but the challenges of the shoot were so rewarding (with hindsight) and it was amazing to see a project that has been two or three years in the writing come to fruition. Over the past few months, we have secretly been squirrelling away on the edit and the score with the amazing Jordan Dobbins (Beachcomber) and I am so proud of what we’ve achieved. We’re starting to launch our material this weekend, so watch this space for more.

I recently started preparatory work on my next script, while also chipping away at the final couple of chapters of Robert Armitage in moments between classes and work. It’s a struggle some days to find the headspace to do creative work, particularly in the hustle of London, but it is always rewarding. So did I succeed in a creative reset? I think I did, and if I ever find myself detached from creativity again in the future (though I really hope I don’t), I’d do the same thing in a heartbeat.

Developing a script

Ashley and I spent five hours in our favourite bar earlier this week thrashing out the plot and basic shot list for what will be our eighth film project together (more on that very soon). After it was over I saw the symmetry between this scripting session and many, many others before, and thought it would be interesting to talk about how we develop a project, partly as a sanity-checking exercise: I want to know that we’re not alone in working the way that we do.

Every film we have made started with some source material that wasn’t film-related. Tantamount was possibly the closest to being developed in the traditional way, growing out of a screenplay for an online video advert for a printing company that never got made. Red Ribbon | Blue Suit, Beauty and Acceptance and Dare I Say were all born of snippets of short stories I had written, the former based around an article I had read about urban architecture imposing ever more rigidly on the way in which we live our lives, and the others just musings on characters I liked. James, I suppose, was written as a script from the get-go, but drawn in spirit from a deep knowledge of and love for Ian Fleming’s novels. And The Beachcomber grew out of Virginia Woolf’s enchanted vision of the sea.

So every time we sit down with a new project in mind, we tend to have about ten or twenty lines of text at the most, and we are aiming to get to a rough list of scenes – or oftentimes a list of individual shots. It is an intense process – we are hard on each other. I take the view that arguing for or against every shot is important at this stage, when we can be at our most flexible with changes, in order to create a film in which every moment is justified. Doubtless the process would have to be different on a longer production, where I subscribe strongly to Darren Aronofsky’s view that your job as director is to give your creative team the world, and allow them to use their skills to fill it. But on a short film, where every single shot is a piece of story in itself, I like to know that we finish a planning session with complete faith in every frame – if we don’t, it will have been argued about for half an hour, and dropped.

Sometimes I like the idea that we should adopt a different working approach, that preproduction can all be about relaxed cocktails and coffees and that abstract ideas will coalesce into a tight shot list when you are confronted with a set and actors. But I know it isn’t true; Ashley is one of those great people who will fight for his moments just as strongly as I fight for mine, and that is why we enjoy writing together. What I am really excited about, and what I want to change for our next project (which we will be exploring in the spring, after a November shoot on our current film) is working with an outside writer, someone who has given us a complete film’s worth of material, where we can take the energy we currently spend on plotting and inject it all into direction, mood, design and style.

For now, I’m delighted we have pulled together a draft of something new, inspired by the wilderness and our fear of it, and I look forward to announcing it soon.

Take a look at Ashley’s work at www.ashleyhughesfilm.com.

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