Tag Archives: sam wells

Luna: the UK premiere of Dave McKean’s new film

2 Oct

Luna

Finally, illustrator turned film-maker Dave McKean has unveiled his long-awaited Luna, which had its UK premiere last night as part of the Raindance Film Festival. I caught it with my son Sam, who loved it. The last time we saw a Dave McKean film together, which was the Neil Gaiman-scripted fantasy Mirrormask, Sam was a wide-eyed kid of nine. Now he’s 18 years old and making films himself. I say this by way of illustrating what a long and tortuous road it is to make an indie film in the UK: Luna was actually shot seven years ago, but it’s taken this long to raise the funding for special effects and post-production.

So – what of the film? I don’t want to say too much, as Luna is still on the festival circuit and not yet on general release (there will be screenings in Picturehouse cinemas across the UK). Let’s just say that it’s a The Big Chill type of scenario, where old friends meet after a long gap in a big old house with a dark past by the sea, and gradually buried secrets and long-held grievances are teased out. But, this being Dave McKean, you can also throw in fawn-antlered wood-children, origami crabs springing to life, and a naked eagle-man of the rocks.

At the Q&A afterwards, Sam asked Dave about a key dinner-table monologue in the film, concerning the blurring of fantasy and reality: how there’s no such thing as an objective, absolute reality when reality is only what we perceive it to be, and when the way our brains process information (particularly when under stress, or grieving) will be very individual.

“That’s my own manifesto,” Dave agreed. “I’m an absolute realist, I don’t believe in anything supernatural, but the way our brains interpret the world and deal with it is where all my stories come from.

“You see, this is real, right here, right now,” he continued, gesturing at the cinema. “But there’s a great, swirling wall of our imagination surrounding this little piece of reality in the centre. In an hour, we’ll all be elsewhere, and doing other things, and you’ll each have a different memory of what I said here, or your own different interpretation of what the film was about.”

Dave is a prodigious talent. He’s designed over 100 album covers; illustrated numerous children’s books as well as, in the last year alone, fat coffee-table books for Richard Dawkins and Heston Blumenthal; he’s written and drawn graphic novels and the covers for all the Sandman comics; he designed the British Library’s recent Comics Unmasked exhibition and the poster for their forthcoming Gothic exhibition; he’s made stamps, and adverts, and worked on Harry Potter films, and held art exhibitions. Oh, and he plays jazz piano and composes songs, including for Luna (though don’t think I didn’t notice the Douglas Adams steal/homage in the song Words!).

In film terms, he is perhaps best described as the UK’s answer to Guillermo Del Toro, though he is also very different. This is what Neil Gaiman has to say about him.

And still he has trouble getting his movies funded and distributed? Sometimes one despairs of the British film “industry”.

Video

Here comes the son: Sam’s ‘Circus Freak’ short

20 Mar

Circus Freak by Sam Wells and Matt Hooks

Forgive me Blogfather, for I have sinned: it has been 23 days since my last post. I’ve been working literally day and night on a bunch of different journalistic assignments. Still am, for the next week. But I couldn’t not write about this.

My son Sam has directed and acted in his first short film, Circus Freak (above). Aww! But actually, if you watch it, you’ll see only two of those letters are correct. The response should be “Wow”.

Am I biased? You betcha. So see what you think. Once you’ve watched it, let me tell you a bit more about it:

As part of his AS Level Film Studies, Sam was told to make a 2.5 min short. No more. His initial script idea would, I worried, run to nearly five. That was pretty much my only input (that, and the pizza phone call joke). Everything else he and his collaborator Matt Hooks worked out themselves.

Eventually they stripped out the character of the annoyingly eager younger brother who makes the protagonist realise, at the end, that family is what really counts. It ate up valuable screen time, and never quite rang true. Instead they substituted a terrific visual ending which still makes me laugh every time I see Sam’s goofy grin.

sam circus freak 2

Is it a coruscating commentary on talent-show dreams of instant gratification? Or a paean to boundless optimism and the hope that springs eternal? I favour the latter, but either way it’s a great lesson in narrative economy.

Every second was pre-planned and storyboarded. Note the details: the shot from under the bed; the camera following the ball as it bounces along the pavement; the close up on the balls in the air before the long shot of Sam juggling; the tight shots on feet, hands, eyes and mouth when preparing for his public show. It’s nice to know that a lifetime of being shown film classics by myself and the estimable Frank Wynne (www.terribleman.com) has been put to good use.

The action is amazingly well edited to the music. This is how precise it is: Sam showed me a near-final cut in which the transition from initial voiceover/montage to live action seemed too abrupt. He thought that carrying the music over by two more notes would solve the problem. It did.

My final take-home from this? If a pair of 17-year-old kids can make a good-looking short with a digital camera and a laptop, so can we all. You don’t need a big budget. You don’t even need a big idea. You just need a tight script, a lot of planning – and boundless optimism. Get out and do it.