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USW Film: A Day with the Filmmakers of Tomorrow

I spent a day with the wonderful film students of USW Cardiff.

Photo Credit: Chris Diamond

It was my pleasure and privilege to spend a day with the film students of USW Cardiff, a diverse array of brilliant minds and wonderful talents, to find out what they had to say about the experience of making a film.

On the 17th of January, 2023, I made the decision to be an imposter amongst a room of film students. Guided by my good friend, and talented filmmaker, Cai Barnard-Dadds (who I recently interviewed here), I attended the screening day for all the student’s films of the last semester, a 3-hour event in which I bore witness to a fantastically varied set of short films.

I made it my mission to speak with as many of the brilliant minds behind these smaller cinematic experiences as possible, in awe of the sheer talent on display during the screenings. I made my presence aware to the filmmakers in what was a somewhat poorly-timed announcement (I was immediately informed by staff that students had panel interviews to get to), and with my photographer Chris, and the ever-present Cai at my side, I set off to try and talk to as many of them as possible.

“Everyone is unique…and I want to try capture that”. Photo Credit: Chris Diamond

Jacob Evans – Sewing Together A Documentary

The first filmmaker I had the pleasure of speaking to was a confident young man named Jacob, who sought me out immediately after my announcement, which in turn filled me with confidence that perhaps this day would not be in vain. Jacob created the charming documentary Upcycled Bags, which, in his own words, “was about my friend, Charlie Palmer, who has in his own time made jeans into tote bags.”

Jacob is from “A really small, old-town village” in North Wales, one which he did not name but, I think his description makes it seem far more exciting, don’t you? “I’ve been into filmmaking a while now, documentaries especially”, he said, “…trying to get the story out of who’s who, the people on earth.”

Jacob believes there are plenty of stories to tell, stating “Everyone is unique…and I want to try capture that.” That rings very true of the variety of documentaries screened that day, which had topics ranging from farmers confronting loneliness and mental health through their automobile–based passions, to an intimate and kind-hearted documentary about someone’s grandparents’ struggle through the cruelty of cancer, a story that clearly stole the hearts of everyone in the room.

So why did Jacob choose his topic, then? “Reworked clothing is coming up now… we wanted to catch the line of popularity”. It wasn’t a case of instant inspiration for the young director though, oh no: “We went four weeks without knowing what to do, what subject to go for.”, and I can imagine why that would be a struggle. In a day where so many projects of passion are being shown, you need to make sure you stand out!

It’s not like he had the crutch of others to fall down upon, either: “Our assignment was to do it on our own… so that was the biggest struggle…I was cameraman, I was everything”. However, “Once I started doing it [filming]… it slowly came together”.

Jacob’s final words for our conversation were rather reflective, stating “Once it’s out, you love it or you hate it, but it’s something you’ve worked on, and something you can reflect on in the future. You can be like “I did this!… It’s not every day you’re gonna feel motivated… but I’m proud of myself now”. And you know what? If you’re reading this, Jacob, you very much should be proud. Well done.

“Look at others who do the work you really like, regardless of how successful they are, and strive to be at that level”. Photo Credit: Chris Diamond

Will Smith and Louie Walters – To Project And Subvert

Next, outside the venue, I managed to catch Will Smith (no not that Will Smith) and Louie Walters, the director and cinematographer respectively of the stunningly shot subversive crime-thriller Judgement, which follows a young woman fleeing from a crime scene whilst a detective follows suit.

All is not as it seems in this narrative, however, something both students were keen to point out: “The most interesting hook is the kind of gender expectations we’ve trying to put on these characters the first time you see them” was Will’s take on it, with Louie adding “Its sort of a play on people’s expectations, the way they see things versus how they were”. This very much appealed to Will, with him adding “It was a really interesting dynamic [the subversive nature] when I read the script, so it was an easy choice [to direct]”.

I won’t spoil the film’s twist, but I will spill some of the behind-the-scenes struggles the two shared with me; Louie faced a continuity nightmare when “There was one scene shot by a river, which then rose dramatically on the final shooting day, so I had to change location”. Will, on the other hand, was honest about having to scale back his ambition: “At the start, I kind of hoped for the film to be a little bit bigger… so we didn’t get the final, perfect vision we had intended, but I still think it came out really well”.

I capped off the conversation by asking the two students to give some advice to aspiring filmmakers, an idea that seemed to amuse Will a bit. “It’s all about preparation”, he said; “Preparation is the key thing, and I didn’t quite have that in mind going into this film… prep prep prep, it makes everything so much easier.” Louie, on the other hand, spoke more of ambition, stating “Look at others who do the work you really like, regardless of how successful they are, and strive to be at that level”, a wonderfully inspiring note to end their segment on.

“I bought so many bowls… big round ones, oval ones, deep ones… people thought I was absolutely bonkers”. Photo Credit: Chris Diamond

Phoebe Parker – Felt Faces And Bowl Heads

After watching the puppet-filled psychological drama Feltface, I knew I had to track down whoever was responsible for crafting these brilliant little characters, and my salvation came in the form of the Essex-based (“it’s very far away”) bundle of joy known as Phoebe Parker, a delightfully charming set designer who carried a clear lightness about her that left a smile on my face whenever she spoke.

“I got into set design from the perspective of: what can I bring to the audience to immerse them into these crazy worlds.”, she told me. “My original inspiration was Alexander McQueen… I wanted to do graphic design, and then I saw Alexander McQueen burn a car and was like, this is it, this is what I’m doing.”

In regards to the actual film, which focuses very heavily on a dysfunctional and downright abusive parent-child relationship, Phoebe said “It’s a very traumatic film to watch… if you have troubles with your parents, you can relate.” However, the story wasn’t Phoebe’s responsibility, the world around it was.

You see, Feltface surrounds this made-up children’s show, with puppets and sets that could be ripped straight from CBeebies. “We tried to make them [the puppets] really quickly, whilst still looking as good as possible”, Phoebe told me. “It’s something I never thought I’d be doing, making puppets”. I took the time to compliment her work, as it had left me very impressed (really, if Feltface has a digital release, be sure to check it out).

Phoebe also had a lot to say about bowls: “At this point, I was really into bowls”, she told me. “I’m serious! I went into shops and was like ‘I need bowls’. I bought so many bowls… big round ones, oval ones, deep ones… people thought I was absolutely bonkers”. Perhaps you are, Phoebe Parker, but to see someone talk so passionately about bowls was oddly inspiring.

Lastly, Phoebe had some advice for aspiring set designers: “To the amazing audience out there…be prepared to put in all your effort [into set design].. and for someone to turn around and say we don’t actually need it, we don’t like this, we don’t like that… it’s your design, but its someone else’s vision… don’t get too attached”. Well, I certainly got attached to Phoebe’s crazy creations, and I hope anyone else who watched did too.

Phoebe requested a special shout-out to Katya Hutchinson and Scarlett Wilson, who also worked on the set and costume for Feltface, but sadly I did not get a chance to speak to them.

“There was that moment where me, the producer, and the cinematographer were huddled for warmth like: we have nowhere to film, we have no more time, what do we do?”. Photo Credit: Chris Diamond

Harri Dobbs – Caves…Why Did It Have To Be Caves?

By this point in the day, all the students had scattered, and the prospect of any future interviews was looking slim. Luckily, Cai came up with the idea to search the Student Union, and there we came across a group of filmmakers more than happy to discuss their craft, the first of which was vastly entertaining Harri Dobbs.

Sat there eating his chips, the tone of Harri’s interview felt slightly different to the others, as we were surrounded by his friends (including Cai, who had gotten distracted and was now lost in conversation) who were all making background conversation whilst we spoke, giving this segment a very friendly and informal tone.

Harri had directed Writer’s Block, “a story about a creative person who’s entirely limited in what they can do, but not limited in talent… It’s an idea I clicked with so quickly”. The story veers between a writer, struggling with the creative deadlock their publisher puts them in, and evolving scenes from their book brought to life with stunning fantasy costumes.

“I watched films growing up, it was a thing me and my dad would always do”, Harri told me. “that swapped from ‘this is a magic thing I don’t understand’ to ‘I could make these’. And now I am making them, and that’s so weird to me!”. Many wish their greatest interest could become their career, and Harri has clearly put in the work to try and make this come true.

Of course, making a film is no one-man effort, and Harri was quick to praise his set and costume designers: “We had two incredible designers, Rosie and James, who did so many hours of work. I tried to help out as much as I could but… I’m shit. I’m dogshit at that stuff.” And that praise was well deserved, as the armors, costumes, and world of Writer’s Block look fantastic.

Harri was clearly enthusiastic about the project: “Its difficult to be stressed in a meeting when someone is saying ‘How are we going to get the dragon to fight the big knight’… lecturers were like you’re aiming too high, but I think there’s only one thing we couldn’t achieve and I’m so proud of that.”

However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing, and Harri was quick to warn me: “Don’t film in a cave, avoid caves”. Apparently, trying to get filming permission for a cave had been quite the predicament, causing enough stress that Harri (somewhat) joked ” I unquit smoking for five minutes… there was that moment where me, the producer, and the cinematographer were huddled for warmth like: we have nowhere to film, we have no more time, what do we do”.

However, the film turned out great, and Harri clearly agrees: “You’d be surprised how doable it is. It’s hard, but we fuckin did it… that’s my advice. We fuckin did it”. Yes, Harri, yes you did.

“If you have an idea, work on it. It doesn’t matter if it takes years… or if it happens in the next month” Photo Credit: Chris Diamond

Jacob Stone – Reshoots, Rewrites, And Scares

The next filmmaker I had the pleasure of talking to was Jacob Stone, director of A Helping Hand, which Stone describes as a “sort of thriller-psychological-drama that was very much a power play, and its something I’ve always wanted to toy with as a director”. The film focuses on a tumultuous and abusive relationship between a brother and a sister, as they try to navigate their financial future.

Despite where I’ve found him now, for Jacob, the future wasn’t always entirely certain: “It was a bit of umm-ing and ahhh-ing with University… I was debating whether or not it was the right decision… I know film is such a hard industry to get into”. He was between a rock and a hard place, deciding whether or not to take that leap of faith that going into the entertainment industry requires. He made his choice, however, and decided “That [University] would be the best way to get my teeth into the industry.”

Jacob had a lot of wonderful things to say about his crew, and displayed so much kind-hearted gratitude that there are simply not enough words in this article to do it justice: “I’ve met some really good people that I’d love to call my friends”. However, as with Harri’s tales of torture, it wasn’t an easy, a-to-b project: “It was a very long writing process… the last draft we ended up on was draft twelve… I worked with him [the writer] as much as I could to get exactly what we needed”.

However, even after twelve drafts, things still didn’t feel quite right for Jacob: “We had a week until hand in. We decided we were going to refilm the entire film… it came out so much better than we could’ve ever thought”. This drastic action, despite the payoff, was not a decision made lightly though: It was a really risky move… if it went wrong, we wouldn’t have a film”. However, I can confirm they did have a film, and it was indeed wonderful.

Jacob left me (and, in turn, you) with some words of inspiration for any aspiring filmmakers out there: “If you have an idea, work on it. It doesn’t matter if it takes years… or if it happens in the next month. If you can do it, do it… in the long run, you’ll look back and think ‘I’m so glad I did it’.” I can only hope he feels the same way about this interview because I’m certainly glad I had the pleasure of speaking to him.

“The thing that made me want to do set design is… I like the idea of… the worlds in my head, being able to walk in them”. Photo Credit: Chris Diamond

Rosie Price – A Bit Of A Knightmare

Remember earlier when Harri talked about his incredible designers for Writer’s Block, Rosie and James? Whilst I sadly didn’t get a chance to speak to James, I got to sit down with the delightful Rosie to try and understand the process of creating lifelike fantasy armor for the screen. Immediately, Rosie pinned this to her hobbies: “I’m a bit of a nerd. Very much into DnD… I also LARP, which helps a lot with film.”

Rosie’s fantastical imagination also helps: “The thing that made me want to do set design is… I like the idea of… the worlds in my head, being able to walk in them.” Therefore, when given the chance to create the fantasy world of Writer’s Block, how could she refuse? “It was fantasy, I wasn’t gonna say no to that. It’s something I’d like to go into in the future, so I wanted to have a practice at it.”

The film displays various outfits for its protagonist, including a stunningly realized full suit of armor, one which clearly no easy task to create: “I was reading the script, and it just said ‘a full suit of armor, and I was like what do you mean by this?”. Turns out, they did indeed mean a full suit of armor: “We had just under a week to build the entire thing. It was very much a rush.”

Rosie got in-depth about the creative process they undertook to fit this tight deadline: “It was a lot of looking at Google images and ‘okay, this is metal armor, how did they make that?’… we kind of reverse engineered it, taking a photo and then making it…I think the mix of authentic stuff, like with using real chainmail, really made it look better visually… because the armor was made out of foam.” She then added, without hesitation: “had a friend in Cardiff who had chainmail on them, which was very useful”. I love it.

However, all the chainmail in the world doesn’t make the task any easier, and just as Harri had his stresses with caves, Rosie had her own issues to worry about: “We started painting it, and then our lecturer came in at the end of the day and was like ‘this is too messy, paint it again’ (she looked pained as she said this, and for good reason). It’s just very stressful.” As if that wasn’t enough, “We ran out of spray paint halfway through”, and “The glue, during filming, fell apart, because it was raining a bit.”

It takes a strong, determined, and inspired soul like Rosie to overcome such obstacles, so what inspiration did she choose to leave you with? “Just do it… find someone who needs help and be like: I’ll do it!”. Simple but effective advice, once again leaning into this idea of taking that creative leap of faith.

“Whatever you specialize in, just dedicate yourself entirely to that craft… throw yourself into that one role and think ‘this is what I’m gonna focus on”. Photo Credit: Chris Diamond

The Crew Of LIMP – Far From Stiff

From left to right: Guan Yew – DOP, Ben Andrews – Producer, Callum Blacoe – Editor, Emily Adderson – Production Designer, Cole Clarke – Writer, Arwen Harrison – Director

The day was coming to an end. Cai had scarpered off to a panel meeting for his film(which he sadly did not wish to talk about, as he wished to simply remain a “guide” for today), and Chris and I were getting ready to pack up and head off. Then, by some bizarre twist of fate, the crew of LIMP, a dark sex comedy which was a personal highlight of the day for me, walk into the student union.

Whilst we had agreed to meet for an interview at around 6ish, schedules had clashed and I thought my luck had run out, but no. With my half-eaten chocolate bar in hand, I rushed over to try and grab them for an interview, and they were more than up for it. Whilst I should note that producer Ben and director Arwen mostly lead this conversation, the whole crew was very friendly and accommodating.

After some confusing introductions (Cole wasn’t quite sure what there was to say about where he’s from), Ben, with his cliche producer coffee, started us off: “I wanted to have fun, I wanted to make a fun comedy short… I was producing it, which is all the boring stuff like schedules and timings.” However, it very much seems that the experience on set wasn’t boring, as he added “…I’d have to turn around on set, I couldn’t watch it because I was laughing too much.”

I can’t particularly say I disagree with him there; the film was hilarious. It follows a woman who takes her zombie boyfriend into the woods for some undead intercourse, and it’s sprinkled with raunchy and punchy humor. The question is, though, how do you create a film that is guaranteed to get a laugh?

“We couldn’t have done it without Cole [ the writer]”, Arwen informed me. Ben agreed, adding “The script was so strong.” It would seem that the script was a strong source of bonding overall, as Arwen noted that “All of us were drawn towards this because of the script… We were all collaborating together to write the jokes for the script… over a couple of drinks.”

Arwen was also sure to credit the actors for the humor too, though: “Tom [lead actor] I think was especially great… I think improv was such an important part of the script and he was so good at improv.” Ben then brought up a cut line about lasagna. I’m not quite sure what he was talking about, but the crew laughed reminiscently, which in turn left me with a smile.

Emily also noted that “Katrin [the lead actor] was incredible”, and I have to agree. Both actors delivered their lines with a perfect sense of comedic timing, although Ben reminds me that a lot of this is due to editor Callum: “It was legitimately funnier after you [Callum] cut it.” Callum himself added “We obviously wanted to balance the comedic with that somewhat serious ending”, with Arwen agreeing, saying “it was all about tone and pacing”. “Timing as well”, Callum informs us, “…you gotta get that punchline.”

However, the film isn’t all laughs, and whilst I won’t spoil it here, the ending does deliver on the ‘dark’ aspect of dark comedy. Speaking to Arwen on this topic, Ben said “You came along and were like ‘okay but what if we actually think about grief’’… The idea of the gut punch ending was always there… there was a sketch I watched from Aunty Donna called ‘What have you forgotten’… he [the protagonist] forgets these things… its funny, funny, funny, and then it’s revealed he has Alzheimer’s… that’s a real gut punch ending, and I was like that’d be cool to do.”

That’s All, Folks

As we reach the end of the interview, and the end of this article as a whole, I’d like to leave you with some final words of inspiration from this wonderful crew:

Emily: Never take things too seriously, or you’ll just suck all the joy out of everything.

Arwen: Whatever you specialize in, just dedicate yourself entirely to that craft… throw yourself into that one role and think ‘this is what I’m gonna focus on’

Emily: Be confident in yourself and your own ideas.

Ben: Get yourself a kickass crew.

And me? I’d like to give a massive thank you to all the brilliant people who sat down and took the time to speak to me. It was a pleasure speaking to each and every single one of you, and I only wish I could’ve had the chance to speak to a few more. There was a clear display of talent throughout the day, both on that screen and in the theatre room, and I was simply honored to be there.

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