Wednesday, 6 October 2010

CINE @ The Exeter Phoenix 6/10/10


Tucked down a sleepy side-street opposite Moko's, The Exeter Phoenix has an unassuming facade but in fact both harbours and nurtures a treasure trove of artistic talent. Recently, I was lucky enough to attend one such hidden gem. The brainchild of Clayton Fussell and Ashley Wing of Cottage Industry Films, CINE is a monthly screening and networking event bringing together the best of the southwest's filmmakers, actors, crew and so on. Thanks to Clayton and Ashley's intense hard work, CINE acts as an outlet for filmmakers in the south-west, a region where the arts have to shout louder and longer to be heard above the tide of seasonal tourism. Their latest event (on October the 6th) brought together a terrifically exciting trio of short films: John Tomkins' 'Like An Angel', Danny Cooke's documentary 'David A. Smith Sign Artist', and the highly acclaimed sci-fi 'Fuse'; each of which is proof positive of what can be accomplished in the industry with a bit of storytelling nous and a non-existent budget. After a round of Q&A sessions, I was fortunate enough to catch up with both Danny and the makers of Fuse - director Ben Barfoot, producer Lee Wade and star Robin Mayes. Firstly, here's what Danny had to say about his project, 'David A. Smith Sign Artist', a beautifully hypnotic, deliberately paced and ethereal work that brilliantly captures the essence of its subject: the exquisite art of glass making, an increasingly rare practice in today's world.


So, Danny, what was your background coming into this project?

Essentially, I began by testing digital SLR cameras and other equipment. I actually met Dave when repairing his computer, but I saw an opportunity of making a short documentary and I found that what he did was truly amazing. He was passionate about what he did and I really wanted to make a film about it.

And it's a very deliberately atmospheric piece, isn't it? Apparently, you were very particular on the spoken mode of address?

Yeah I wanted to make it completely natural. We spent a lot of time working together to try and figure out what he was going to say. It sounded quite natural but in real terms we wanted to give a direct message about what he was actually doing in the documentary.

And are you attracted to the objectivity of documentary film per se or do your harbour a wider interest in cinema?

Well, this is the first documentary I've really done. But I like all types of film and I wouldn't mind going into any aspect of film as long as I enjoy doing it.

For more information on Danny as a filmmaker, and to watch the completed film itself, visit DavidASmith


Following my chat with Danny, I then caught up with Ben Barfoot, Lee Wade and Robin Mayes of Fuse fame. This remarkable film saw its makers develop a brand new, groundbreaking form of technology, blending real life and animation (almost but not quite akin to rotoscoping) in an extraordinarily ambitious and exciting fashion. The dystopian feature proudly displays its science-fiction influences throughout, although, as the guys explained to me, making it wasn't exactly a bed of roses...

So you're joining me Sean Wilson on a freezing evening outside The Exeter Phoenix with the makers of Fuse: Ben, Lee and star Robin. Thanks guys. So, Ben first, how did this all originate?

It was very long-term in its origins but mainly it came from just playing around with graphics, and playing around with film. I really enjoy animation and cinema and wanted to kind of combine the two together. Fortunately for me, I've got a very talented computer programmer friend and I had an idea for a piece of software that could create an animated, rotoscope look. So I turned to Lee and asked him if he could build an automated rotoscope that would render video in an animated fashion. Those are the origins really.

And Lee, you obliged!

Yeah, like a sucker! [laughs] We started the process of trying to come up with some automated software that would do this. I think next month [at CINE] they're going to show the 'making of', which will show you how it started and how appalling it originally was. It was a difficult process but over the years and through experimentation and trying different techniques and styles, we managed to come up with something that's probably 50% of what we imagined. Currently, I think the second generation of software will take it 50% further than where we are now but the whole idea was: we're a tiny team with no budget and no crew with no artist to draw anything; there wasn't anybody to do anything. If the programme wasn't there to do all the work for us, we would have nothing. What we got was close enough and it allowed the two of us to do the whole post-production by ourselves without any extra manpower.

So what do you think making a film like this adds to it, as opposed to doing it in live action, say?

[BEN] Well, for one, as Ari Folman said about 'Waltz With Bashir', you're kind of freed up when you're not doing photo real, because photo real's incredibly expensive. You know, trying to trick the eye into believing something? I mean that takes a horrendous amount of man hours and it's extremely difficult to make the eye believe that what you're seeing is happening. And to do a film like this meant that we were totally freed up to make whatever we wanted. Really, all we needed to do was take photographs of things, run it through this software, turn it into this illustrated look and use what is the equivalent of 10% of the amount of work in photo real terms. It frees you up basically. It allows you to do what you wantfuse

Obviously, there's loads of film influences in it. The one that sprang to mind when I watched it was Dark City, the Alex Proyas film. Are you guys familiar with it?

[BEN] Well, I'm not that big a fan! [laughs] But I know what you mean. That kind of dark look. Everything I seem to do ends up looking dark!

[LEE] There's a lot of darkness, there are computer game crossovers; many different influences. I've always been into making games as well - indie games, Ben and I worked on those for a bit and then we hit on this project. It has the look of those different styles merged together. It kind of grew by itself as well. Not all of it was in a pre-judged style; often it was simply what worked!

[BEN] It was an initial idea but then it became its own beast, as it were.

And you did [in] famously, two shoots?

[Lee] Yeah, two shoots. One was to practice, because we'd never made a film before. The first was totally MacGyver style. We managed to blag some blue-screen paint from a company and we got some bits of wood, we painted them in blue, we painted a blue screen set inside a tractor warehouse that someone lent to us, and we shot the thing there. I mean, the tripods I made out of bits of wood because we couldn't afford tripods; the lighting system consisted of B&Q £5 floodlights, which you put on a metal bar and pulled up! All of our lights were these £5 B&Q floodlights , which my Dad made a controller for so we could just dim them slightly. That's what we started with! That was our initiation into film making! We did pretty well, it allowed us to build the backgrounds, but the quality of our footage wasn't good enough for us to produce anything with the software. So we did a re shoot in two and a half days, right at the end of the project, just to quickly get the characters in better high-definition, just chucking them in. So, yeah, it was a learning process; one shoot was to practice. I know not everyone gets that chance but I'm glad we did!

[BEN] We were free to do what we wanted.

And that brings me onto Robin. What did Ben as director do to you to elicit such a fraught performance?

Well, we did it over four years so it was a long process. And the first shoot we did, it was a learning process. But as it came on, we did the second shoot. [Initially] we had the script and I learned the script in three weeks. I learned all the lines, went to Ben and did some rehearsals

[BEN] Yeah, I think Robin really had a chance to get into the character by doing it once. In a sense, it was like rehearsals wasn't it? The first time round, shoot you once: rehearsals. The second time round: you were really able to see where you were with the character and see what it was that needed to happen.

[ROBIN] Yeah and after four years you sort of get into the character!

[BEN] You'd hope so! [laughs]

[ROBIN] If I'd have got that wrong, it would have been bad!

[LEE] Fair play to Robin though, you realise that the actor's life is not glamorous. We shot the whole thing again in two and a half days and Robin spent most of that under boiling hot lights, sweating. He smelt disgusting! While everyone else could be behind camera looking at the screens, Robin spent the whole time, in the lights, burning a death! There was one person on hand to dry him off with a mop because he kept glistening with sweat. Being an actor is not necessarily all Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie!

[ROBIN] Well, that is my normal smell! [laughs] But the second shoot, this was three days: two days of twenty hours and the last day was twenty six hours!

[BEN] That's even two more than a day!

[ROBIN] I know, we got an extra two! Although we worked for a very long time, getting into that character was great.

One last thing I just want to mention. The sound scape in the film I thought was beautifully done. The opening groaning sound reminded me of Alien3

[BEN] Yeah, that's [credited to] Jason Ward. As we mentioned in the Q&A session, the beautiful thing was there were so many friends. Literally the film consisted of just mates, and family members as well. This was the first time really Jay had ever done anything; I'd gone to him and said I want a vocal choir for the film on certain parts of it. For Jason to make the vocal choir, he harmonised himself eighty times over, just to get the feel of it. He did it all alone, by himself, and then all the sound design on top of it. And there were points where you felt like you were kind of giving something to someone that was so massive, you weren't sure whether it could be pulled off. It was his first film, and I'm just blessed to be able to look at the film and go, these are friends that I asked to do things. Well you don't even ask them, you just team together to do it and everyone's just pulling it out of the bag. I hate the film but I'm proud of my mates! I'm really proud of all of them.

Well I think you pulled it out of the bag brilliantly. I think it's one of the best films I've seen all year, hand on heart, so thanks a lot guys.


For more information on Fuse and its makers, visit For more information on CINE, including upcoming events, plus the work of Clayton and Ashley its organisers, visit

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