Video Essay-ing

Today I started a project which has been in the back of my mind for a good few months. I have finally begun putting together a series of video essays, the first of which revolved around my BA dissertation – it’s a topic I didn’t want to let go of as I enjoyed the process immensely. What better way to revisit my work then to translate my study into a video that is both informative and entertaining.

I haven’t had much experience editing so it’s already been an interesting experience, it’s been nice to do something practical and to be able to zone out from the real world. I spent my summer living and breathing video essays in my spare time.  The best are short and concise, so it’s my personal challenge to adhere to this, by having a balance of all the information possible while maintaining pace. I’m looking forward to getting on with the process and perfecting it before I release it to the world. Then I can move on with my other ideas. It’s great to have an outlet to reduce stress, and even better that the outlet is somewhat productive. Watching clips from the films I studied just brought that research excitement back to me, I was lucky to come across such an interesting topic. I’m desperate to continue with the topic somehow, but we’ll see.

 

Past Work – (4/2/2016) – Feature on Transgender representation for Rushes Magazine

The death of Leelah Alcorn, an American transgender girl whose suicide in December 2014 gained international attention sparked a nationwide debate, bringing transgender awareness into a spotlight. Leelah, only 17, was isolated from friends and forced to attend conversion therapy in hopes that she could be ‘’cured’’. While Barack Obama has recently condemned this dangerous therapy, Leelah’s untimely death is a harsh reminder that this issue is far from resolved. The reality of this situation is that her story isn’t unique. In fact, the size of this problem is reflected in the statistics recorded in a recent survey carried out in the United Kingdom, revealing that 48% of trans people under the age of 26 have at some stage attempted suicide. The media have a responsibility to represent and raise awareness. In America, GLAAD (The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) is a non-governmental organization established in 1985, which strives to promote understanding, acceptance and equality by monitoring media representations. Matt Kane, associate director of the organization comments on the awareness raised by any trans character in the media, stating “In absence of actually knowing someone who is LGBT, sometimes seeing a story about them on television or in film is the next best thing to fostering understanding and empathy for people”.

In the United Kingdom, The arrival of Julie Hesmondhalgh’s transgender character Hayley Anne Cropper onto the cobbles of Coronation Street in 1998 marked the first transgender role on serialized British TV. Since then the representation of the trans experience has shifted more and more into the public eye. Both Hesmondhalgh’s portrayal, and the Coronation Street writers and researchers received praise from transgender groups. 17 years later, Eastenders’ own writing cohort has announced that they are currently looking into the development of a trans character to debut in Albert Square. In an episode last year from Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks. Modupe Adeyeye’s character Blessing Chambers revealed her past life, being born as Tyson Delaney. Channel 4 also commissioned a sitcom for this year and made British TV history by casting trans woman Bethany Black in the role of trans woman Helen Bears in Russell T Davies’ Cucumber as a side role and in its sister anthology show Banana as a protagonist of one episode. The episode features a symbolic moment in which Hesmondhalgh makes an appearance that metaphorically immortalizes the passing of torch between Hesmondhalgh, a cisgender woman who played a transgender woman, and Black, a trans actress and comedian. But why did Eastenders take 17 years to begin to think about representing trans issues?

In December last year, the BBC published their second Equality Information Report. Just before this was released, acting director of the BBC Tim Davie said ‘the BBC aims to be the most creative organization in the world but to achieve that our content has to speak to all of our audiences’. Along with companies such as BAFTA and ITV, the BBC is now part of the creative diversity network, which ensures promotion and celebration of diversity, similar to the GLAAD organization in America. BBC’s action plan states that their content and output will ‘deliver high quality programming which reflects modern Britain accurately and authentically’. BBC has become aware of its lack of trans representation, and has also taken note of the accuracy of this representation. It is possible that the announcement of a trans character is in the works that came from executive producer of Eastenders Dominic Treadwell-Collins was in response to this realization. The report summarizes in the following point; ‘At the BBC, we are focused on highlighting more female voices in news and current affairs in particular, and ensuring trans people’s life experience is accurately portrayed’. However, the announcement from Treadwell-Collins came with a specific condition for the new role, the requirement for a trans actor to play the role. He has said it is a necessity in order to tell the story convincingly, but does this mean that only transgender actors should be given the opportunity to play transgender roles?

In film, the controversy of a cisgender actor playing a trans role has risen before. In fact, the issue swings endlessly in and out of news. In 2014 Jared Leto starred in Dallas Buyers Club, as ‘Rayon’, a HIV positive transgender woman living in Texas in the 1980s. His performance won him best supporting actor at the 2014 Oscars, and raised trans awareness, yet his performance, achievement, and acceptance speech garnered intense criticism from the trans community. Many questioned why he was cast, and others were disappointed he didn’t mention trans people while retrieving his accolade. At the Oscars ceremony later this month, Eddie Redmayne is in competition for his second award for Best Actor, starring as transgender icon Einar Wegener in the Danish Girl (2015). However, Redmayne has spoken out about the controversy, stating it’s a valid discussion to be had.

einargerda3-xlarge-768x433Eddie Redmayne as Trans Icon Einar Wegener in The Danish Girl (2015 Focus Features).

Meanwhile in US television, Laverne Cox, a transgender activist who is quickly becoming a household name in America, has notably thrived in her role in Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. She plays a trans woman incarcerated in prison for credit card fraud and has stated it has given her a platform to speak out about transgender rights. However, she has also placed her concerns into the public arena. ‘Trans need jobs’ states Cox, but she personally can’t hold anything against actors such as Redmayne and Leto, stating that ‘wanting to play a wide variety of roles is the nature of being an actor’.

Even though this topic resurges from the shallow yet foggy depths consistently, and regardless of how late the BBC is to consciously represent this minority with accuracy, having more trans characters in the world of film and television can never be seen as a negative decision. With trans youths facing daily intolerance and rejection alongside bullying, the writers of East Enders have a great responsibility in handling the introduction of this new character to the square. The awareness generated by this introduction could hopefully generate wider understanding, empathy and acceptance.

Words by Harry Faint

This has been taken from Rushes Magazine – other features and interviews can be found at rushesmagazine.comimage

 

Past Work – (9/6/2016) -Interview with Steve ‘Spaz’ Williams for Rushes Magazine

INTERVIEW: CINEMA FROM THE MAN WHO PUSHED CGI OVER THE EDGE

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(Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 1991 – Tristar Pictures)

“Visual effects have destroyed movie making,” says Steve ‘Spaz’ Williams, self-declared maverick of computer animation, creator of 3D cyborgs, creatures and computer engineered weapons. His comment comes without hesitation, even though he considers himself fundamental in CGI’s overuse in Hollywood. 25 years ago, he was part of a team of animators at Industrial Light and Magic in California (ILM), who were challenged by director James Cameron to bring the fluid liquid metal terminator to our screens. This new terminator was slicker and faster than its predecessor, defined by Cameron himself as the Porsche to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Panzer Tank.

Next, he was asked to provide motion blur on the planned stop motion dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, but he saw an opportunity and took it. He began a covert operation in the dark basement labs of ILM to create the whole T-Rex for Jurassic Park; confident it would look better than the planned use of stop motion dinosaurs provided by Phil Tippet and his team. Williams’ scheme was hatched, to have the test playing on the screen as producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall wandered the halls. “I pulled a bit of a gotcha moment, I ambushed them and they freaked out. There was no denying that it looked pretty darn good.”  The industry responded to this breakthrough by backing the use of CGI. Williams was handed a world full of options, or so you would think. Instead, the team at ILM were given Casper the Friendly Ghost to work on. “I fucking hated Casper when he was 2D let alone 3D, CGI was this beautiful adolescent young girl and was turned into a prostitute in one film.”

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(Jurassic Park, 1993 – Universal Pictures)

Refusing to work on Casper, Williams was given the film Mask with Jim Carrey; a kind of tribute film to the great Tex Avery, creator of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, only using computer graphics of the time. In 1996, Williams left ILM with fellow animators Mark Dippe and Clint Goldman to set up a production company called HoytyBoy. Their biggest work was on The Wild for Walt Disney Pictures, which Williams himself directed. Originally pitched to him as ‘something like Shrek’ the film changed in tone drastically over the course of production. “Every time they screened the film, the audience would become younger, I was not the right guy for that. I don’t do cute.”

It’s a shame that his work on the development of CGI rubbed people the wrong way, specifically with the stop motion team who were raring to go on Jurassic Park. “I created a lot of bad blood, they didn’t really see it coming – they saw themselves as the special effects elite and we saw ourselves as visionaries” he says ruefully. The challenge from the stop motion team is one that Williams took by the throat.

Visually, his work in the 90s stands up well. He says this is because ‘there was more of a synergy back then,” and this is true. The creation of the metal antagonist in Terminator 2 uses animated sequences sparingly. Williams’ role was to blend the animated shots, creating juxtaposition between the CGI and Robert Patrick’s real life performance with practical effects. Williams quickly recalls doing a talk on T2, Jurassic Park and Pacific Rim a couple years back, commenting, “Nobody wanted to listen about Pacific Rim, it’s just a video game in search of a filmsy script”.

Yet these films make money. Pacific Rim generated 411 million dollars globally and a sequel is being made. Whether good or bad, CGI is still breaking ground now. Only last year it was used to resurrect the late Paul Walker in Fast and Furious 7, with plans to recreate Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin for a new scene in the Star Wars spin off Rogue One. It won’t be long before our screens are littered with dead actors. This idea isn’t new though; with Williams saying that him and the team discussed this very idea close to 30 years ago, saying, “Film used to be like taking a chisel to granite but now it’s continuation and just a matter of time.” Williams thought this too was inevitable although the rest of the team disagreed, thinking he was ‘crazy’. He was right; these two films indicate Williams’ level of insight, even at such an early stage of CGI development. The possibilities are endless, but is this a good thing? The form certainly has its comical uses, with the placement of a six-pack on Nicholas Cage in Ghost Rider springing to mind. It even introduces the ability to return to a film and make changes, much to many fans dismay. In 1995 George Lucas tasked Williams to add Jabba the Hutt into a scene that was originally cut for the re-release of Star Wars: A New Hope, as he was impressed with the technological advance in Jurassic Park. Many fans said this degraded the film, yet the changes made are those that Lucas wanted at the time but the technology was not up to scratch. When asked if this was a good thing CGI has permitted, Williams simply states “No, not necessarily.” Funnily enough, Williams was an extra on the film in his teenage years and can be spotted just before the famed cantina scene in Mos Eisley.

With some films pushing for a return to practical effects, maybe Williams will grow to love the form again. J.J Abrams’ recent Star Wars film marked the return of the use of as many practical effects as they could muster, and was greatly received by fans that longed for the feel of the original trilogy and not the green screen reliant prequels. Of course, CGI was still used though sporadic. Could cinema do without CGI? Williams thinks not, “It’s kind of like asking someone to get rid of their iPhone.”

Words by Harry Faint

This has been taken from Rushes Magazine – other features and interviews can be found at rushesmagazine.com

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