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netribution > features > interview with may miles thomas > page two


Why did you shoot in B&W and what did you shoot on?
There are two reasons why I opted for monochrome. First, on a technical level, because I shot on MiniDV, I felt the colours wouldn't be stable enough, given the resolution of the format. Second, and more importantly, 'One Life Stand' was influenced by the Italian Neo-realist movies of the late 50s/early 60s. As the entire movie was shot on location in Glasgow, I felt that black and white offered a wonderful sense of timelessness, as well as lending a grace and beauty to the most mundane of environments.

Were you happy with the visual results on the big screen?
When I first saw the projection tests at Digital Projection in Manchester, I felt disappointed because of the lack of contrast. I was assured that an increase in output would resolve that. On the second occasion I felt encouraged, even excited. By the time we had outputted to digibeta and did a master grading, I was delighted with the result. When you consider that the original material was acquired on MiniDV, it's something of a miracle to see it projected 30 feet wide. Having said that, my intention was always to tell a story since I felt that an audience would forgive the format if the story was engaging enough.

Where did the influence for the 'fixed camera set up' come from?
Again, the decision not to move the camera was informed partly by the limitation of the format, to reduce the amount of artefacting. On an aesthetic level there was something very pure about the rigour of shooting statics, which meant I had to anticipate the edit more carefully than if the camera was moving. You see this in Ozu, Pasolini and the early Bill Douglas films to great effect. My aim was to create a sense of motion and rhythm in the edit. This meant of course I had to shoot more set-ups than on an conventional shoot, but the freedom of using a small camera in enclosed spaces made the process faster than if I had shot on 16 or 35mm.

Trise has been described as having 'a well of loneliness and self disgust open up in her' is that accurate and where did the idea for her character originate?
That description came from one of the critics. I wouldn't say it was accurate, but I'm gratified at the level of engagement that prompted the perception. Trise is an amalgam of women I know. She's a particular archetype - the martyr mother - who in the course of the story transforms gradually from a mature, loving - if deluded - adult to a wilful, selfish and inconsiderate adolescent. What's interesting is that her son's character develops in the opposite direction.

How did Maureen Carr tackle the role in comparison to the way it
was written?
Maureen is an extremely accomplished actress, but like most women finds it almost impossible to gain work beyond minor character roles. She didn't deviate from the script, because I discouraged improvisation, but to her credit she handled the range of emotions experienced by the character seamlessly and underplayed Trise with great charm and sincerity. She is one of those actresses who does nothing beautifully.

How did you get Gary Lewis on board?
Gary simply loved the script, so much so that he asked me to write more scenes, but I refused, telling him he had 'the woman's part'. Gary Lewis is one of those actors who will do anything if he likes the project enough, regardless of budget. He's the most unstarry actor I've come across - he's completely grounded.

In your opinion, what's the state of the Scottish film industry?
The state of the Scottish film industry is not that dissimilar to the entire UK experience: Not enough production, not enough risk-taking, not enough imagination. There's been very little made here in the last couple of years and as with the Lottery funded films made through the Arts Council of England, the Scottish Arts Council backed films have failed to attract audiences and thereby recoup. To be positive, I feel there is a desire in Scotland to adopt a more flexible and risk-taking strategy - to make low, even micro budget movies that exploit new technologies, to develop new talent through an increase in short film schemes and to encourage a partnership with private funding sources. In my view, producers need to be in production, not development. I believe Scottish Screen, the main public body, acknowledges this, but as with all government-backed institutions, it's a soft target, charged with the difficult task of nurturing talent with little resource, whilst remaining accountable to the state.

As a digital filmmaker what's your stance on the ongoing film/digital medium debate?
I'm not a digital filmmaker, I'm a filmmaker - it's not a case of either/or. The same skills and talents are needed regardless of the means of acquisition. The quality of the film/digital debate is pretty dismal right now and it will be interesting to see how it pans out, because the rise of the digital movie is inevitable. What I do know is that there's an ongoing resistance to digital from all quarters - production, distribution and exhibition. Partly because the UK film industry is so deeply conservative and partly because there's little real understanding of the benefits, since there's so few practitioners who have taken the medium beyond the novelty stage and proved its commercial and aesthetic worth. That's changing. A lot of filmmakers are turning to digital rather than wait years to get a movie made. Thankfully, this is forcing film festivals to accept work on tape for the first time, because unless you have the resource to strike a 35mm print, there's nowhere to play and festival directors are now conceding that some of the most original and freshest work is being shot on tape. In terms of distribution, the world has arrived at an impasse - there seems to be an air of make-believe amongst distributors, the very people who stand to profit from the elimination of print costs. Of course, in all the current jostling for position and in a climate where cinema chains are closing down, exhibitors are unable and unwilling to make the investment to DLP systems. As a filmmaker I'm finding it increasingly hard to be objective about digital - the benefits are so transparent that I'm in danger of evangelising too much. Give me the budget and I'll happily shoot film, but with the state of funding in the UK it's difficult to justify shooting on film. Why restrict yourself to a lower ratio, a tighter schedule and an unwieldy and expensive crew, all conspiring to fuck up your movie?

What's your cinematographic/photographic background?
It's not huge, and certainly not formal. I did some photography at art school. After graduating I worked with video for a community-based project in Glasgow. Then, whilst working for the BBC, I got interested in film and learned about cameras. I bought into Super 8 at a time when people were throwing out their old cine cameras. Later, as a freelance music video director, I worked with some great DPs and learned loads about lighting. I then bought a Sony VX1000, shot tons of stuff and became a better operator as a result.

Did you multi task on One Life Stand to maintain control on the final cut or for financial reasons?
'One Life Stand' was borne out of pragmatism. I decided to multi-task on the movie because, in spite of interest from experienced DP's, we had a tight schedule to meet. I also knew I was going to edit, so I didn't have to communicate the shots I planned - plus I just couldn't justify hiring someone to shoot using a camcorder I had more experience with. It was important to keep the number of crew to a minimum, because we were shooting in tight locations and besides, I wanted to maintain a sense of intimacy, which helped the actors enormously. It wasn't a question of control of the final cut - I was editing at home on a PC-based system I was already familiar with and not having an editor proved an advantage. Frankly no editor would have been prepared to work the number of hours I did to achieve the cut, including the lengthy rendering process to black and white of all the selected takes. Of course, there were financial implications, but we reasoned that what we lacked in funding could be compensated for in time and effort, freeing the money to go on the screen and to pay for the cast, crew and services worth having.

Would you do that again?
On the same budget, definitely. However, on my next project, 'Solid Air', I'll be working with a bigger crew, shooting on HD - with a cinematographer. But I'm still planning to edit the movie myself.

To follow on from that, how would you reply if someone described you as an auteur?
I'd say that by working in this way, anyone can be an auteur. The accessibility allowed by the technology is changing the way people can make movies, if they choose to. I'd say it's like writing a book - making digital movies at this level affords a degree of control unthinkable even five years ago. You own the entire process and that's very liberating. It suits those of us not disposed to interference!

What was the budget and how long was the shoot?
We shot 50 hours of material in 24 days. The budget was mid five figures.

How much different would those figures have been had you shot on film?
Multiply by ten and weep. Plus I would have had less material to play with.

What's plannedfor the film now?
We've had interest from several European and US distributors, but absolutely zilch in the UK, which doesn't surprise me. On paper, the movie's a hard sell - two hours long, black and white, funny accents. But having said that, the costs are so low that I would defy anyone not to make a profit. If we get a release, I'm planning to recut to shorten it slightly and lay in some new audio.

Do you plan to spend the prize money on your next project/s or on a long holiday!?
The BAFTA and Scottish Screen money will be used for another project, but which one, I'm not sure. Life's too short not to make movies. The holiday will just have to wait.

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