Cherry takes on London

The line-up for the 53rd London International Film Festival was announced today, and you have not just one opportunity to see Cherry on the Cake, not just two.... actually, I'm not quite sure how many times they'll be screening it. But there's certainly a lot of opportunity to engage with it!
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Festival Season!

It's that time of year.

'Cherry On The Cake', the NFTS graduation animation I edited is playing at the 12th Shanghai International Film Festival in the International Student Shorts Award section this month (incidentally competing against another NFTS graduation animation from the year before which just won a Welsh BAFTA), and 'The Love Bureau', the NFTS graduation documentary, is at Archipelago in Rome next week.

Other graduation films which I wasn't involved in are also doing really well - another animation called The Incredible Story of My Great Grandmother Olive was nominated for a Student Academy Award (Best Honorary Foreign Film), and one of the fictions went to Cannes (Cinéfondation) - see producer Michelle Eastwood's account at FilmLondon.org.uk.

There are also three animations, a documentary and a fiction screening at Edinburgh this year, with 5 graduates who worked on them named amongst Skillset's Trailblazers for 2009.

It all seems as if it's finally starting, that our yeargroup which officially finished in December is starting to make an impact and become known. People are passing on work to each other through word of mouth and being asked to recommend people from other disciplines for future work, we're getting involved in small collaborative projects with each other... exciting times indeed.
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Graduation film update

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXFx0YnzYoM[/youtube]

From the TV graduation project, 'TV or Not TV?', some clips have been uploaded to YouTube by the producer/director, Guy Press. Please rate and/or comment them!

TV or Not TV? YouTube Channel

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And the animation  which I edited, 'Cherry on the Cake', has had its DVD packaging finalised and it looks glorious. It's now ready to be sent off to festivals.

DVD cover for Cherry on the Cake DVD interior for Cherry on the Cake



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Please follow the embedded links above for further information about the projects and how to contact the producers for any enquiries you may have.

NFTS '09 Graduates - links

With the graduation ceremony at the start of the month came a lot of new websites (or at least placeholders) from my yeargroup at the National Film and Television School. We have profiles on the NFTS website for the next year or so with links where available (a lot of people don't seem to have sites yet), but I thought I'd collect them all together in one place in case anyone reading this is interested in seeing what other people from my year are up to. Or you've found my site via searching but want to know more about someone from a different discipline.

I find it interesting that the Cinematographers and Composers seem to be most on the ball with this, whilst some courses (directing fiction, screenwriting, production management diploma) don't seem to be represented at all... and because of course changes we had no digital post production or sfx/vfx diploma graduates in our 'class', but the courses are alive and well.

So here we are, for your investigative/ hiring purposes:

"How do I get into the NFTS?"

I'm starting to get a lot of emails and questions from people who are considering applying to the National Film and Television School this year or next, asking for tips and advice on the application procedure.

I can't really say anything specific, mostly because I just don't know. They'll be looking for different things each year, depending on the general skill level and interests of the applicants (there's no point in having a class of 8 people who are all at completely different levels of experience, technical knowledge etc). I have a fairly limited knowledge of the procedures outside the post-production section, and the knowledge I do have is three years old. Some of the things I'll say may be more relevant to some courses than others, and the knowledge I have related to the applications procedure comes from having been at the school for two years and talking to the other students rather than being involved in or enquiring in-depth about the selections.

However, I'll pass on some notes expanding on the points I try to mention to everyone else who asks me, so that I can direct people to this page in the future. This is more of a guide to things you may want to think about before you start your application than what to actually write - above all, be yourself. Don't assume that what I'd write is in some way more likely to get you a place than what you'd write. Not only do things change, but you're the one who's going to be going through the stages of the applications - and potentially up to two years at the place.

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1. Do your research

The school's website is at http://www.nfts.org.uk . From there you can view course information, an online copy of the prospectus, information about the school's history and alumni (famous and recent), details of the application procedures for each course.... just about everything you need.

By having found this page, this probably isn't something that I need to be saying to the people who are reading it - but the number of job interviews I've been to when I've casually mentioned something I've seen on the company''s website that interested me and the astonishment it has sometimes caused.... I've learnt to not just assume that it's taken for granted that I've taken even 10 minutes out of my Facebook/ Twitter/ sleeping time to read up on a company or specific role before an interview.

This isn't just a tip for the applications process - it's to make sure that you know that you want to go. The majority of courses last two years. That's two years in which you're not earning money (and have to pay fees), two years in which you're handing your life over to the projects you're doing at the school on some very intensive courses, and for some students at the school who I knew, two years in which you may not be able to even visit your home country or see your family (international students are a huge part of the NFTS, don't let the 'National' in the name put you off!). This the structure of a typical UK undergraduate arts degree where there are two hours of lectures and then a lot of time in a bar - this is a 5/6/7 days a week 8-20 hours a day undertaking at the really busy periods for some courses.

2. Why do you want to do the course you're applying for?

Why do you want to do cinematography/ directing/ producing/ sound design etc. rather than anything else? How did you find it? Where would you like to end up in your career? What would you do if you didn't get into the school? What steps have you taken towards your goals so far? How is the NFTS course suitable for your specific needs? Do you have any concerns or questions about the contents of the course and how suitable it is for you?

3. Why do you want to go to the NFTS?

The research you've done into the school will help here. Consider which other options were open to you - other film schools, employment, even waiting a bit longer and applying another year. Have you considered the implications of the time/ financial/ personal/ residential commitment?

Again - this is something you should be able to answer for yourself, and as a secondary consideration as part of an application process. Film School isn't the be-all and end-all of working in film or television. There's no obligation to go. A lot of the courses run week-long selection workshops during which it's stressed that it's as much for you to find out about the school as it is for the school to find out about you. This is a graduate degree programme, and a degree of maturity is expected. If you see the course solely as a means to an end then you're going to have a very rough two years, and you definitely won't get the best that you can from the experience.

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.... and that's all I can really think of to say. You can read the rest of my blog for some of my further experiences at the school (specifically the most recent ones for the overviews). I've met some great people there, and had some good times. Is it for you? That's not something I'd want to comment on for anyone. But hopefully I've given you something to think about before you make your application.

Good luck!

I am a Master of Editing!

Judith Allen MA editing NFTS

... at least that's what the certificate says. If you remove certain words.

My time at the NFTS culminated in 3 days of graduation screenings at the British Film Institute on the South Bank in London. Wednesday and Thursday were industry days - where various members of the film and television industry were invited to see the graduation films and some other selected films from the two year course, and then we could discuss them over drinks afterwards.

Of course, this also means that we got to see each other's films for the first times in many cases - when the films were shorter in the first year with more regular deadlines, we used to all attend reviews and screenings to give feedback and see what everyone else was doing with their brief. But in the second year we all got a bit too busy and had our own films to be concentrating on, and the tradition lapsed - but it was great to see how they'd all turned out after hearing varying amounts during the filming and editing processes.

In addition to the four graduation films, I had two other films which I'd edited in my first year (a fiction - Brixton 85, and a documentary - Davey's Last Order) screened at the industry days, which gave me a new audience reaction to notice and a chance to evaluate the editing decisions I'd made over a year ago... which was both illuminating and painful in certain respects, as self-examination tends to be!

The graduation films themselves all went extremely well - the animation Cherry on the Cake had laughs and 'aww's in all the right places and looked fantastic on a huge screen. The Love Bureau went down extremely well with the right humour - and perhaps in retrospect an overabundance of cats... although it was fairly representative of the rushes! Park Close again went down very well in front of a new audience, although I was double-booked with the screening of  TV or not TV which was unfortunate as the cast and writers were also in attendance and I thought it would be more useful to get the fresh audience reaction there.

Friday was the friends and family day and the actual graduation itself - which may have been more nerve-racking in many respects! Although in true NFTS tradition it was all rather informal... we corrected Nik's (the director of the school) speech en masse, got called scruffy by Michael Kuhn, had official photos taken with the stage party, and given sparkly certificates.

So on with the search for further employment! Whilst waiting for the less official 'wrap' party...

Notable people encountered during my time at the NFTS

Today I went to a preview of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which was followed up by a really short Q&A session with the director David Fincher. How do you make a film like that? Well, you're really meticulous in the way that you do it, working with people who are exactly on the same page as you and with the right technology for the job that you want to do. So ultimately, an ideal film for Fincher who just gives the impression of being on top of everything.

This was probably the last big screening or session that I'll have attended during my time at the NFTS. But over the last two years, there have been quite a few people who've come to the school to share their personal wisdom and experience - and I do view myself as very fortunate to have had the opportunity to encounter so many fantastic people from the global film industry. I'll try to list the ones who really stick out in my mind here - although most assuredly I'll forget someone major.
Brian Tufano. It's easy for me to forget about Brian, since he's around the cinematography department so much. Idolized by the cinematography students, and justifiably so from the work experience, tutoring and inspiration he gives them.

Walter Murch. Came into school for one day only, complete with handouts and powerpoint presentations to illustrate case studies - in which we saw the view of his edit suite inside and out and his favourite mixing jumper (amongst other things). Just as insistent on the "you should stand up to edit" principle as you'd expect, and gave a really useful insight into sound at the same time illustrated by some truly classic sequences from the films he's edited.

David Yates. Was deep in the Order of the Phoenix post at the time, but was very happy to talk at length about his previous projects and the importance of TV work. State of Play is an obvious example of this - it's a fantastic drama, which everyone should see before the Kevin Macdonald film version comes out. He's an alumnus of the NFTS's directing course. Absolutely wonderful man, lovely to be around and totally unassuming.  Post-production trivia point - he insisted on taking his usual editor and composer with him if he was going to agree to direct Harry Potter. WB agreed.

Roger Deakins. Another fantastic bloke, another NFTS alumnus. Not suggesting any correlation, but you know..... He had all the time in the world for any questions from anyone, spent another day exclusively with the cinematography students (who temporarily found a new idol). He remembers details and answers questions on every shoot he's ever done, talked through scenes from Jarhead, Jesse James... and was just incredibly giving with his time and thought processes. The forum on his website deakinsonline.com gives some insight into the type of answer a typical cinematography question would get.

Darren Aronofsky. Came in the day before we could see The Wrestler in our weekly preview screenings, which he seemed genuinely disapponted about and requested that feedback be sent on to him once we'd seen it. Which was actually pretty mindblowing for a generation of film school students who almost universally hold Requiem for a Dream to the highest possible regard. He opened the session with the fact that he'd applied to the NFTS but hadn't gotten in - quite the ice breaker! Happy to talk on all subjects even those which seemed slightly uncomfortable - such as recasting and associated budget cuts.
Other inspirational names from my time at the film school - whether it was a short tutorial or full exercise/ short film editing supervision:

Stephen Frears - tutored throughout the first year film project alongside Sean Barton during the editing stage.
Alex Mackie - first year external examiner and tutor on our Richard III exercise. Very open, and has been a great help to me.
Barry Vince - came in very early in our film school careers to provide a structured and solid background in editing processes from which to work.
Roger Crittenden -  quite literally wrote the book on editing (or a book, at any rate), and tutored on several fiction films in my second year.
Mamoun Hassan - we spent a day with Mamoun just analysing the opening few minutes of The Man in the White Suit and learnt more about filmmaking than we ever thought possible.

I suppose one of the benefits of a postgraduate degree is being able to appreciate things like this all the more fully - and whilst you still have access to them. But the next stage is to get out there and start making names for ourselves in some form. Onwards and upwards, as they say....

New uploads - showreel, two sketches

Having just joined vimeo (username jaaed), I'm using the handy embedding feature to self-promote. Which of course is what blogs are for.... sort of.

So here's my new showreel, updated from the previous to include my graduation films from the NFTS and some of the animations I've worked on at the school:

Editing Showreel Jan 2009 from Judith Allen on Vimeo.

... and here are two of my favourite sketches from my most recent editing project, 'TV or Not TV':


TV or not TV - 'Corporate Woman' from Judith Allen on Vimeo.


TV or not TV - 'The Facts of Life' from Judith Allen on Vimeo.

On editing actors

I had an interesting experience last week, when we were getting some actors (from the sketch show I'm currently editing as a NFTS TV student's graduation piece) to do some additional voicework to help ease transitions/ smooth over some cuts we've had to make to the sketches.

As we were running late, I had to go to pick up one of the actors from reception whilst another was finishing up in the recording booth. I saw him, went over, said his name.... and then realised that there was absolutely no reason in the world why he'd know who I was. I may have been editing material with him in it for the past month, but he's never seen me before in his life.

I'd read about this aspect of editing before in books, but had always assumed it to be along the lines of seeing a well-known TV or film personality walking down the street. We may watch them weekly on television, but we never think that we know them.

Except from a certain aspect, we do know the people who we've edited. We've actively studied their physical and facial reactions on several different takes in an attempt to judge one the 'best' or 'most apt' for the surrounding scene and performances. We've berated them (sometimes loudly in the direction of the computer monitor without acknowledgement of the futility of such an action) for an utter lack of consideration to continuity between different slates. We've interpreted their intentions and characterisations - and when hard decisions have been made on the subjects we've made them with the actor because of what they've given us to work with. We've made cuts and decisions alongside their performance - to enhance one character trait whilst diminishing another, to engage the audience as if they were there in the room when the scene was being filmed (or even within the mindset and context of the drama they're watching, as appropriate).

It just seems a little harsh at times, when part of the job description involves getting involved to some extent in the emotional journey of the characters that you've been watching on screen for weeks or even months. The lack of acknowledgement can sometimes feel total. They'll likely never know just how much we study them and feel that we know them and/or their character. But it's probably for the best. A self-conscious actor is usually the last thing you want when they're doing their close-ups, and so long as the finished product looks great then everyone's done their job well.