10-07-14 / 'WHAT THE'
Valentine's weekend, February 2004. The previous year had been a shitfest and I'd made nothing since the testing experience of What About the Bodies. Unsure what I wanted to do with my life and generally feeling under the cosh, regular collaborator and fellow pulp sci-fi fetishist Tim Cunningham gave me a short story he'd written. A particular element of said story tickled my fancy and I found myself adapting it into a script we could shoot over a weekend. The film saved me in many ways and I have very fond memories of making it, the best way, with a supremely dedicated skeleton crew doing it out of pure love.
14-06-14 / NEW COMMERCIAL / HAMBURG SHORT FILM FESTIVAL
A one-day commercial shoot in Barry Island for the Welsh goverment. A hasty wrap and race for the train to London. Editing at Envy the following day, then grading and VFX preparation the next. Hard to believe we were shooting in Wales only two days before. The VFX team began their wizardry while I made my way to the airport for the annual Hamburg Short Film Festival.
Strolled off the train at Gatwick, a mite frazzled, and almost dropped a payload as the train pulled away with my bag and passport still on board. An airport staff member was nothing short of angelic, calling the guard at the next station to have the bag found and switched onto the next returning train which, miraculously, worked out JUST in the nick of time. Legged it through departures with one minute to spare, brain ejaculating with gratitude for the human race. This doesn't happen often.
Didn't submit a film to the festival this year, but managed a quick happy birthday video for their 30th anniversary. John Smith's contribution was quite brilliant. The festival's regular Wall is a Screen event (screening films on public wall spaces around the city) surpassed itself by showing each film in its original format, combining a 35mm projector, a 16mm projector, VHS, Betamax and Betacam machines. No mean feat on the street yo. Massive audiences due to the balmy temperature, which climaxed in a dramatic storm the following day. Moments before the eerie sky emptied its bladder, clouds billowed in weird waves like something from War of the Worlds. Gentle Germans squealed and scampered inside, fleeing wind, rain, and potential alien invasion. Time to slip into the film market and see some recommended titles.
Always good to see a new one from the ever-reliable Jay Rosenblatt (The Claustrum) but the film that really snapped me out of my torpor was Hannes Vartiainen & Pekka Veikkolainen's Emergency Calls (Finland). For the rest of my stay I found myself jabbering on about it to anyone who happened to be standing next to me. Probably my favourite short of this year so far.
Returning to the commercial in London, the visual effects had come along nicely. It was clear we were in good hands with this team, and I'd work with them again in a heartbeat. Having others do the VFX legwork is new for me. Two days of this, followed by half a day mixing sound, and everything was finished. A quick pint, a train home, and the hectic but satisfying fortnight was over.
04-05-14 / BRUSSELS / A FLIGHT FROM HECK
Unfortunately I only got to see the programme that included Stew & Punch and I regret not seeing more because the selection was solid. The show was easily sold out, only being able to accommodate half the massive queue outside, and you can't ask for better than that from a festival. Look out for Jean-Francois Asselin's Memorable Moi (Canada) for rapidly escalating comedy, or Carine May's La Viree a Paname (France) for the best lead actor's face I've seen in ages. I've no idea if the other nine international programmes were as good or if I just got lucky to screen in good company. Unless of course my [in]tolerance is calming with age, in which case it's compensating by becoming more aggro in other areas (no thank you), but more on that later.
Some reflections about Brussels: There seemed a curious lack of dogs. Also, cars didn't have brakes, especially at zebra crossings.
The various comic art murals around town were smashing and I'd now like a colourful Asterix brawl to liven up my house (no offence TinTin, I love you too). The Jean-Claude Van Damme statue (yes, there is one) is a missed opportunity that might otherwise have been a much-photographed attraction with people lining up to be kicked in the chops by the Muscles de Bruxelles. Conversely, Manneken Pis is so swamped it's creepy. As if hordes of people scrumming to fill their phones with pictures of a boy's bronze todger wasn't unsettling enough, on this occasion said digit was poking out of a bright orange raincoat. Like a flasher. One waffle store even has him poised over the delights on offer, but it seems okay to suggest soiling waffles with boypiss so long as he's wearing a funny hat. One can't help wondering, if the statue of JCVD had him lashing into a shop doorway, it might send tourism through the roof.
After a good festival I landed with a dull thud when reminded how aggravating fellow passengers on a Ryanair flight can be, and by the time the plane touched down I found myself wishing I was a copper so I could throw half of the rowdy bell-ends in jail and melt the key. Then, on the subsequent train journey from Manchester I started to wonder if a) I'm sociopathic, and b) why commuters' collective respect for others plummets so fatally on weekends. First there were two different couples who relentlessly slurped and pecked at each other like hungry birds nibbling at infinite jelly. Then there was a fellow sitting opposite who decided to stare at me like it was going to win him a prize. Happy to see him disembark at Sheffield with my day almost unruined, a couple got on and took his place. I sat willing them not to start necking when, five minutes later, the man leans over to his girlfriend and begins to helpfully pull hairs from her chin, like a chimp might pick flies off its pal. Then I get home to find that the BNP have been dropping flyers through people's doors. I only went away for a few days, so did the UK go mad or what?
24-04-14 / NYC TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL
First off, BIG thanks to the British Council and BFI for the Shorts Support Scheme travel grant that made the trip to NYC possible. Tribeca Film Festival 2014, with 57 shorts selected for competition from over 3000 entries, so Stew & Punch is very chuffed with itself. My apartment was nestled between Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges in Chinatown, replete with all the excellent shabby-chique NY cliches like steaming manholes and fire escapes. Without time to register at the festival centre I went straight to a UK film reception and stood in the corner like a mindful cop, wondering why there wasn't a single British accent and realising that this must make me THE British filmmaker. Frustratingly, I couldn't get into my booked screening of Keith Miller's Five Star (USA) because I didn't arrive 30mins early, pff.
Day 2: Got myself registered and met the super-helpful festival gent Ben Thompson, an indispensible ally from the day my film was selected. Mooched off to do some GoPro filming and sound recording, starting with a walk across Manhattan Bridge from the Brooklyn end. Later, at the Panavision cocktails, I was thrilled to meet Michael Berryman. A bona fide legend throughout my childhood, easily recognised by anyone who has seen the original The Hills Have Eyes, One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest or Weird Science. He was starring in the short film One Please, much gruesome fun and director Jesse Burks, who gave the most delightfully humble Q&A I've ever seen. Got lost on the way home then watched rats scurrying around the garbage across the street. I thought they were cute until I crossed the street to try photographing them and experienced a whole new kind of shudder.
Day 3: Bright sunshine, boom! The first screening of Stew & Punch in the Moral Fibers programme and it went down great. At a key point in the film a stranger sitting next to me bellowed "Shit! Noo! Shit!" hehe. The film was in good company too - not only were the other films solid but the programme itself was compiled with care. As many (but not all) programmers already know, this is utterly crucial - when the order of shorts in a programme are thrown together without rhyme or reason they can easily step all over each other. After all, you wouldn't eat your ice cream before your fish and then end with soup, and so it's the same for short film programming. Lots of encouraging feedback for Stew & Punch, especially from a bear-like man whose huge hand utterly swallowed mine. Met one of my favourite 80s 'brat pack' ensemble actors Casey Siemaszko (Stand By Me, Biloxi Blues, Three O'Clock High), who was very cool and has aged quite brilliantly, the lucky bastard. Ate two slices of pizza that were each as big as my head, then caught a late screening of Talya Lavie's excellent Zero Motivation (Israel), a black comedy about a unit of women serving at an Israeli military base. It kept me wide awake and smiling from start to finish. Highly recommended. Before hitting the sack I perched on the stoop outside my apartment and found much enjoyment watching passers-by freak out in their various ways as they realised they were in the company of my new rat pals. This became a nightly entertainment before bed.
Day 4: Became quite obsessed with an idea for a new short film and spent the majority of the day recording sound. And I finally, FINALLY made it to Coney Island (home of The Warriors, nerds). In 2007 an interview was arranged for me on the iconic Wonder Wheel, which was set to be paused as I reached the top, then due to some issue with my phone network I didn't make it, which I still rue to this day. This time it was a busy Easter Sunday and sunny as hell but COLD. Back to Manhattan and I had the pleasure of seeing Tyler Measom and Just Weinstein's superb feature documentary An Honest Liar (USA). Telling the colourful story of stalwart magician 'The Great Randi', who made it his mission to expose charlatans exploiting magic for money, Randi himself took to the stage afterwards and charmed the pants off the audience. An all-round great experience and a film well worth catching if you get the chance. The second screening of Stew & Punch was as gratifying as the first, then there was the short film party and a bunch of us ended up crashing at an apartment in Alphabet City rented by, believe it or not, an English bloke who studied in Derby under the tutelage of a mutual colleague from Nottingham.
Day 5: After only 3 hours of sleep on a hard wooden floor I zombied my way to see David McKenzie's Starred Up (UK). I would have seen it already during its UK release but I'd already booked for Tribeca so was determined to wait. Simply excellent. The best British film I've seen in ages; violent yes, but terribly harrowing. As for the Q&A, some people really should think before they ask nonsensical questions. The film is a more than worthy successor to the work of Alan Clarke (the obvious but unavoidable comparison) and I finally met lead actor Jack O'Connell, who hails from Nottingham's television workshop and was a potential choice for the mob leader in Soft 8 years ago (ultimately though, I was blessed with the fearsome genius of Michael Socha so I can hardly complain). It filled me with heart to see a Nottingham TV Workshop alumnus flying the flag at a festival like Tribeca, absolutely smashing it, then having a queue of cooing girls wanting their picture taken with him. Damn shame that our schedules didn't allow him to catch his workshop colleagues in Stew & Punch.
Day 6: The problem with NYC is that there's always too much to squash into a short trip. This last day ended up being a hectic runaround, though I managed to grab a relatively peaceful hour in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. My GoPro battery expired and I had to park myself under a tree to give it just enough juice, via laptop, to do what I needed on Brooklyn Bridge. Through all of this I completely missed the director's brunch; the annual event where filmmakers eat lots of free stuff and hobnob with Mr. De Niro. Sneaked into a final shorts programme before leaving and once again it was a strong show, only slightly compromised by the old fella sitting next to me who insisted on biting/chewing his finger all the way through Mat Kirkby's The Phone Call (a very quiet UK film, so gobby slurping was most unwelcome). Sad to leave, but mission accomplished. I won't miss the black bogeys or the ubiquitous "like, like, like" speech afflictions, but I met so many, like, ace people and saw, like, a bunch of cracking films, which is, like, what it's all about. Tribeca really has a good balance of status and intimacy. The sheer busyness of big festivals can often result in standoffish hosting, but Sharon Badal, Ben Thompson and the rest of the team have really got things right here. Binge-watching Mad Men on the red-eye home wrapped the whole NYC experience in an appropriate bow.
Lots of good shorts but some highlights that hang in my immediate skull are Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer's Contrapelo (USA), Kimmo Ylakas' Kakara (Finland) and Arian Moayed's Day Ten (USA). Check them out at a festival near you if you get the chance.
UPDATE: The Israeli feature Zero Motivation won TWO prizes including Best Narrative Feature - Whoop! Very well deserved.
10-04-14 / NEW SITE / 10 AGAIN
Time for a change of clothes, oh yes, so here we are. Welcome to simonellisfilms.com and may you never ask me about the meaning of 'bubtowers' ever again. A few things are different - some streamlined navigation, a few more video uploads, and a spanking new YouTube channel which I'm building slowly but surely. To celebrate, here's the online debut (?!?) of a film I made 12 years ago called 10again:
02-04-14 / ERARTA FESTIVAL IN ST. PETERSBURG / TWITTER / DOMAIN CHANGE
Brilliant sunshine. Light snow. Meeting friends new and old. A hungry chameleon. Insane architecture. Vodka that looked like mushy peas. An intriguing tattoo. Paintings. Getting lost and being rescued. A very bad hotdog. A brilliant real dog. More brilliant sunshine. Sudden cold and snow. Photo-crushing, pouty hangover syndrome... Fantastic to finally make the very brief but long-overdue trip to St Petersburg.
I was on jury duty and also screened a retrospective, repping the UK alongside English legend John Smith. The connecting theme of the films in competition was painting and art, and while this might seem a rather restrictive niche, these were great films of extremely varied execution. The organisers were a great bunch and it was one of those trips where you take away that little bit more than seeing films and meeting new people. We were kindly given tours of the obligatory tourist highlights like the church of spilled blood (below) and the Hermitage museum. Most surprising of all for me was the return of a part of my brain which had been on holiday ever since my Fine Art university days. Big thanks to Vadim, Alexei, Katya, Denis, Lidiia, and everyone else who made it such a special time.
People talk about the UK having a fickle climate but it's got nothing on Russia. During the journey back to the airport we experienced brilliant sunshine, then grey skies and snow, then brilliant sunshine, followed by more snow, all in the course of 30 minutes.
In other news, I finally threw caution to the wind and joined the Twittersphere (#SimonEllisFilms, or use the widget at the top of this page).
Speaking of my Twitter hashtag, bubtowers.com will be changing its URL to simonellisfilms.com (link already active) as part of a general online branding overhaul. It's really the long-overdue result of too many enquiries about what 'bubtowers' means. I'm even planning a YouTube channel, years too late.