In another first for Take Five, this months we’re including a bit of video to watch. Good hey? Some great answers again this time and very insightful. Let’s get in there.
Elliot and Alexander are actively involved in the film and TV industry and have worked as freelancers on major BBC dramas such as Dalziel & Pascoe and Hustle, and on behalf of Bentley, Mercedes Benz, Honda, Panasonic, Vodaphone and Sony.
Together they co-produced and directed an independent short film, The Price of Freedom; a drama inspired by the poetry of the First World War which was well received by film festivals, receiving a nomination for a Young Independent Film and TV Award in the Best Short Film category. Other productions include award winning music videos for bands such as the Polydor-signed Envy & Other Sins, and a series of 25 documentary films profiling bands such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Queen; the film profiling the US hip-hop group the Black Eyed Peas selling over 25,000 DVD copies in its first week of release.
Recently Elliot and Alexander directed the one hour documentary special; APOLLO 17: The Untold, the Story of the Last Men on the Moon, commemorating the 40 anniversary of NASA’s final manned mission to the moon, which in October 2011 was represented at the world’s leading TV acquisition market in Cannes. The documentary was subsequently acquired across many territories by the factual programming giants Discovery Channel, PBS and Canal+ and premiered on UK television on the 16 February 2012.
Elliot and Alexander are currently in post-production on another short drama shot on 16mm film intended for the festival circuit, and also in pre-production on two new one off documentary specials.
I was blown away by the proof of concept for Encounter and can’t wait for the full length film. What stage is this at now?
Well, thank you so much for your kind words. It really is wonderful to hear that people enjoy watching our stuff. It never gets old. The ongoing curse with filmmaking, is that by the time you’ve finished a film you’re looking at thinking “ah, we could make that better now”, haha. The Encounter short was made with no budget. We shot it really quickly, but we’re pretty proud of how it turned out. There’s a complete behind the scenes video series online if people are interested in seeing it come together – we’ve tried to make it good fun!
We’re currently in the process of financing Encounter. When we first started out we were planning on making a film that was substantial but still on a relatively small scale, but we hit this point in the writing stage where we realised we had to make a choice: either hold back our ideas to make the film fit within our provisional ideas for budget, or let ourselves make the film we would really want to make if we could. It was a bit of a turning point and at times we’ve lived to regret the decision, but since 2010 (when we finished writing the script), we’ve managed to secure the attachment of some major industry hitters – I wish I could divulge further but as we’re approaching people for independent investment there’s a certain amount of this information we’ve decided to keep private. It’s amazing though, to know that people at the top of the game take you seriously and we’re totally blown away by that kind of support. We think that all came down to the fact that we decided to shake off the idea of making a small independent film and we hope that people take this project seriously because of its aspirations.
We’ve got a facebook page and twitter if people are interested in tracking the progress of the film and we’re doing a complete “script to screen” series on our youtube channel – these videos have followed Encounter from the very start, running people through the processes we took in writing the film and will continue to chart our journey right through to securing distribution and hopefully, one day, the premiere. It’s ridiculously difficult and we’re now starting to understand why people look at you so doubtfully when you say you want to be a film director, but we’ll get there if we keep going. It’s a long road, but we love movies so much, we can’t think of doing anything else with our lives.
What are your backgrounds in film-making? Have either of you had any formal training?
We had the good fortune of growing up in an industry family (though we often say that if we hadn’t we wouldn’t be interested in film and tv!). Our parents have worked in TV for over 30 years and I guess it just rubbed off on us. We’ve not had any “formal” training; such as media/film school etc. But we’ve kind of been casually trained from a very early age. When we started to express an interest in filmmaking, both our parents encouraged it greatly. Our Dad, who’s an experienced film camera operator, started teaching us the basics of cinematography when we made our first short (at the ages of 3 and 5).
We’re both well aware that we’re still quite young, and it’s something we have to consider when financing Encounter, but this is all we’ve ever done and it’s all we want to do. Elliot often uses the analogy “if we’d grown up with a piano in our house, by the ages of 22 and 25 we’d probably be pretty damn good at playing the piano” and it’s the same with filmmaking – that’s not to say that we think we’re amazing at it, just that we’ve grown up around cameras and around the production process and now it just feels right to us, it feels natural. The problem is, it’s much harder to convince people you can make movies than convincing them you can play the piano! Haha.
Since our first film nearly 20 years ago, we’ve just carried on learning, absorbing and observing. We always think so much about learning filmmaking is to do with observation – so many people watch movies, but if you want to learn, you’ve got to really watch them. All the information you could ever want about how a movie cuts, how the soundtrack works, how the lighting has been set up, how the camera moves, what the actors do and how they interact, the costumes, the makeup, the sound, the grading; it’s all there up on the screen and as a filmmaker you can reverse engineer it, start to pick styles and ideas you love. It’s why we think this whole industry is so wonderful, you never stop learning. We’re young, we’ve got a hell of a lot to learn, but there are people who are at the top of the game and they’re still learning on a day to day basis. It’s just fantastic.
It’s also why we set up the youtube filmschool. We thought it would be great to share some of the information and techniques we’ve picked up over the years. It’s sometimes so great to hear that people have really benefited from our videos. We’ve very keen to build up a community of people who really care.
What do you think you’d be more prepared for, zombie apocalypse or robot uprising?
This is an amazing question! Haha. I think, although we spend a huge amount of time on computers (whether we’re editing, writing emails, making posters or even more recently dipping our toe in some basic vfx), we’re still probably not savvy enough to write a super algorithm that could disable the mainframe computer at Skynet! But we know plenty of friends who could, so in some sense perhaps we’d be alright, but I think a zombie apocalypse is slightly more survivable for us.
We were both in the Royal Air Force Cadets at school and were trained in weapons handling, camouflage and concealment and basic field craft… as well as flying, which might come in handy if we could get off the ground! We both also achieved Marksmen Awards on the Shooting Team using the British Armed Forces Standard Issue L85 Assault Rifle. I don’t know whether a steady aim is essential when wielding akimbo shotguns, but when it comes to a zombie stand off, I guess we’re pretty handy to have on your side!!
How much value do you put in collaborating with other professionals?
We value collaborating with others hugely, particularly with experienced professionals. We’ve been brought up to respect the skills, talents and experience of others who’ve dedicated their lives to be great at what they do and when we work with these people, we just listen to what they’ve got to say! They know what they’re talking about!
The industry is built off specialisation, someone who’s decided to work for 20 years as a Sound Designer is undoubtedly going to be better than someone who “does a bit of this and a bit of that”. You’ve kind of got to pick your path and go for it 100%.
We want to be Feature Film Directors and the most important aspect of that job, we believe, is collaboration. The Director is there to communicate their ideas and work with the Production Crew to make those ideas a reality. Working with experienced individuals broadens the Director’s options and the people around them improve their ideas with their specialised knowledge. Nothing excites us more than the idea of working with people who are completely clued up on what they do – it’s like an army of creatives working together to make this huge monster of a thing. As Orson Welles said, “A poet needs a pen, but a filmmaker needs an army.”
So, Elliot is fast paced and Zander is more relaxed – who ‘wins’ most of the time?
It’s amusing that, perhaps we ought to change our bios on our website as things seem to keep shifting! But in general our personalities seem to compliment each other quite nicely; if one of us is stressed and moving at a million miles an hour, the other one will bring us crashing back down to Earth with a reality check.
What’s great about working together (particularly with family) is that you’ve always got support, you’ve always got someone to run ideas by. Elliot will come to me and put an idea out there and then I’ll build on it, that new, fresh idea will spur him on and before you know it we’re just “ping-ponging” off each other, each new idea becoming more and more substantial.
On the other side of the coin, it also means that the ideas have to be rock solid. If one of us is unsure, it’s the other’s duty to convince the doubting one why the idea will work. This process of verbalising an idea often naturally makes it stronger. It’s like if you’re ever forced to write something down that you’ve never explained before, simply putting those words on paper makes it real and forces you to really understand what you’re saying.
It’s almost like natural selection but with ideas! Haha. Only the strong survive! We weed out the weak ideas and move forwards. We’re very fortunate that we have such a close friendship, we know some brothers who barely talk to each other!
I hope you enjoyed reading those. I certainly did. To see more of Elliot and Zander’s work visit the filmography section of their website. Also well worth checking out is their fore mentioned film school on YouTube, a must for anyone with even a slight interest in the industry.
It’s a great feeling that we have such talented and enthusiastic film makers in the UK, I hope and think that we’ll be seeing a lot more of Elliot and Zander in the future.