straight 8’s Alex Glynn got in touch with me earlier this year proposing that we follow up with last year’s article with a bit of a twist: we’d pick one of straight 8’s top-8 selected entrants from last year to write a quick overview about film making process, starting from its conception.
Well, here we are! Say hello to Carlotta Beck Peccoz and her documentary about Derek Jarman’s cinematographer Christopher Hughes.
Over to you, Carla!
I remember hearing about the (now 20+ year) straight 8 competition when I was in film school and thinking “who are those maverick, brave, but especially crazy filmmakers?” I didn’t know then that a few years later, my film, A Portrait (2020) would be one of the winning films in the competition.
straight 8 is one of the most creative and fun film competitions I know. The challenge is to shoot an in-camera short film on one single super 8 cartridge, without editing. that’s 3 minutes and 20 seconds.
This presents obvious technical challenges: for example, synching sound to the images and counting frames, but it also challenges the filmmaker about what they want to say in those 3 minutes and 20 seconds of film they have available.
Our straight 8 adventure started when the DoPs (director of photography), the Wood Brothers (Timothy and Ivan), borrowed their mentor’s camera: his old Beaulieu 7008 with Angenieux zoom lens. Their mentor is Christopher Hughes, who back in the day worked as DoP on some of the late Derek Jarman’s films (The Garden and The Last of England). Christopher is not just our mentor, but also a good friend and the best person to share film anecdotes and passion for the craft.
As soon as I heard about the camera I knew it was finally the time to engage in the straight 8 challenge. And after a few attempted project ideas, I realised that the obvious story to tell was just under our nose: a portrait of Christopher, his love for the arts, and the memories of his time with Derek Jarman.
Everything happened quite organically during the formulation of the idea. We recorded a voiceover in our friend’s studio 01ZeroOne in Soho and then we captured Chris as he went on a journey from London to Dungeness (where Jarman lived and filmed a good part of his work).
Also, we ended up filming Chris while he was shooting a reel of super 8 to support the Art Fund’s Crowdfunding for the restoration of Jarman’s Prospect Cottage in Dungeness. A “postcard to heaven” for Derek.
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Of course, there were things that didn’t go according to plan… For example, we had a loose shot list following the narrative of the voice over, but we ran out of film and completely missed the last shot (which was one of the DoPs’ favourite and most anticipated one, involving emergency flares, to light a final moody portrait of Chris). Unfortunately, our Beaulieu is a little battered and the frame counter doesn’t work, making the whole synching process at best an educated guess.
It was a great day of filming and thanks to another friend, Alessandro Giovanetto, who is a composer, we were able to add the score into the soundtrack. On the technical side, we used Kodak 50D negative film and, for the most mesmerising section on the beach, Tobacco and Chroma Red Colour Grad Cokin filters.
Being selected as a winning film for straight 8 and few other festivals afterwards with A Portrait has been one of the most exciting aspects of this past unexpected and twisted year. Because of COVID-19, the straight 8 premiere couldn’t be hosted, as usual, during the 2020 festival in Cannes, which was a shame. But Alex and Ed – the straight 8 core team – managed to put together a great live stream with comments from some of the most exciting industry professionals (we skipped a beat when we heard Asif Kapadia talking about our work!).
I’ll always recommend that any filmmaker should take part in the straight 8 competition, at least once in your lifetime. It is a compelling and super fun challenge, and as Chris says in the film “you cannot have a wrong answer to an experiment, you just got an answer”, and that’s the beauty of it all!
One tip to prospective entrants would be: don’t overthink it! I always tend to do it. There are some films from different editions which are super crafty and elaborate, they look amazing but they can be daunting if you are in the creative phase…don’t let them influence you too much: sometimes the simplest idea is the best. Just find something you want to say, that is close to you, and then embrace the experiment.
If you fancy trying your hand at straight 8 2021 (and seriously, why would you not at this point?), then please head on over to straight8.net/2021 for all the info and to buy your entry (remember it’s a paid competition).
Better yet, I arranged a 20% discount code for EMULSIVE readers again this year with straight 8’s Alex Glynn! Use code EMULSIVE20 at the checkout to save 20% on your entry price.
Enter now to secure one of this month’s places, and then you’ll have until June 8th 2021 to shoot your film and get it to straight 8
Good luck! 🎞 🎥 🎞 🎥 🎞
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