September 20, 2017

Art is…The beginnings: Filmmaker insights into making a British feature film

Beth Aynsley and Barry Bliss are the team behind Art is… a new musical feature film about a talented artist struggling to cope with the pressures leading up to her first solo exhibition. Starring Emily Beecham, Paul McGann, Gary Kemp and Will Bliss and with songs by Doug Berwick this British feature is set to be released in the autumn this year.

For those of us intrigued by the process of film making Beth and Barry have kindly written about their experiences so far in making this full length film.

Beth – Producer:
I sit and write this on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in South London. The sun’s streaming through the windows and Art Is… seems a world away. I’m seemingly on top of work for once (due to a postponement in filming), and can think about the project as a whole rather than the project’s minutiae, which is really what I spend my time obsessing over.

Barry Bliss and I worked together on his last project Godard and Others (www.godardandothers.com), successfully I hope, although I was his production manager that time and less responsibility fell on my shoulders. The producer on that, Clare McGann, couldn’t return due to a flourishing law career so Barry turned his penetrating glare on me. He’s the kindest man in the world and impossible to say no to, so after approaching me with the finished script and a composer for Art Is…, I relented. Produce I would.

Things started slowly but soon began to pick up speed. Barry and I wanted to get the creative elements in place first (the production and costume designers and choreographer) which suddenly felt like we were making huge leaps at once. All the elements seem overwhelming until you get an expert to come on board and show you how it’s done. Doug Berwick our composer makes it seem effortless for example. We were really fortunate, finding like-minded and incredibly talented people to work with without too much searching. Looking back now, there isn’t a moment of doubt that we got incredibly lucky there.

We still had the stumbling block of finding our artist however which proved to be a daunting task. How do you begin to find the person who would eventually become the spiritual embodiment of our main character Lulu? There were many factors to take into consideration but mostly they had to fit with our central character – she’s a great artist with great depth and we wanted every member of the audience to register that without needing to be told. Barry and I spent a couple of misguided days trawling the Walthamstow Art Trail for leads, but in the end, again we got incredibly lucky. Someone Barry knew from the local area recommended her friend Sharon Drew, and that was that. Some things are just right. Not only is Sharon a supremely talented artist, with a huge body of work, she has the heart to match. At every stage, Sharon’s done more than we’ve asked of her. She dirtied costumes to make Lulu’s painting overalls feel lived in, she donated her entire painting studio to become part of Lulu’s set, she handed over almost 50 of her paintings and was integral to every day of filming while we were at Lulu’s work space. To say we got lucky finding Sharon is an understatement. She’s a hero.

Sharon and I have briefly spoken about the difficulties of manufacturing the creative life of a fictional person, especially when they’re much lauded in the film. It’s quite a responsibility. Sharon is creating an artist with a different body. The film starts on a White on White painting, something Lulu’s working on in a moment of creative panic before her solo exhibition. Sharon understandably wanted to create this herself for continuity, but went above and beyond and we ended up with two White on Whites as well as a series of other paintings which led in stages from her own instinctive work to the two bespoke paintings for the film. That’s an example of how seriously Sharon took the creation of Lulu.
Although we’re not there yet, hopefully when we get to the filming of the final scenes, we’ll be able to pay Sharon back in some small way. We’ll be staging an exhibition of her work in an, as yet unfound, gallery. I think we’re all really excited about that shoot and the idea is that Sharon will have that exhibition on film forever. It’s not in any way enough, but I hope she’ll be pleased none the less.

So we’re half way through shooting now, with one major location behind us and two to go. Each shoot throws up new challenges, particularly with micro-budget filmmaking. But it’s exhilarating and I think some of the stuff we have so far shows it’s worth the effort.

It seems it’s not as easy to step back from the project as I thought. Monday tomorrow and back to minutiae.

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Barry – Director

In 2009 I shot a film called Godard & Others about a fictional guerrilla filmmaker (Kevin Daly) working in contemporary London. In this experimental film I explored the impact anti terror laws, and in particular Section 44 of the Anti Terror Act, had on our civil rights and our abilities to work as filmmakers. Within the film I pay homage to earlier filmmakers, particularly Dziga Vertov and Jean Luc Godard, with specific reference to La Chinoise Godard’s 1967 classic.

As the film progressed I realised I needed to find a composer who would not only understand and be sympathetic to the storyline and its particular cultural references, but could also create a forceful and original score in its own right. My luck was in when I met Doug Berwick.

It was after the cast and crew screening of Godard & Others that I stood on the pavement outside the venue on Borough High Street chatting with Doug. “I think I’ll write a musical next”, said I with all the unplaced confidence of someone who had never written a song in their life before. Luckily Doug was up for it.

When I sat down and began to ruminate on what I could possibly say in a musical I first thought about my last effort. It had struck me that there was a pattern beginning to emerge from two films, shot 5 years apart. Poppies, made in 2005 was about a playwright who was struggling to get his play about the Great War performed. In his work he drew parallels between 1914-18 and what he perceived was about to happen to his generation. In this story I tried to explore something of the creative process, and by setting it in a specific time (this was just before the invasion of Iraq) was able to document the anxieties of that period. This approach seemed somehow to fit very well with Godard & Others, which in its own way dealt with the artist and the pressures of modern life that surrounded them.

If these two works were linked, no matter how tenuously, then surely a third part would seem reasonable? So now not only was I writing a musical, it had, almost by default, to become the third part of a trilogy.

Well what unifying factor linked the two proceeding films if not the struggles of an individual to create whilst at the same time being frustrated by the world and events around them? This was to be my point of departure.

The only certainty I had was that this time it would be a story seen from a woman’s perspective (Poppies featured Paul McGann as the lead and Godard & Others had Will Bliss as the filmmaker). Tough though it has always been for anyone in the creative arts, in my experience for a woman it has always proved costlier. My next question would be what did she do? This became a no-brainer really – a playwright, a film maker, a …? painter.

Lulu (more cultural references I’m afraid) would be a painter struggling with her life and work, but unlike her predecessors she would, in her own fashion, be more successful. The story would show how she prepared for her first solo exhibition – set against the pressures of her personal life (Kevin Daly is reprised as her partner) and of course addressing the very real fear of dilution of one’s own vision in the face of commercial success. The usual stuff of musicals? Probably not. But then I’ve never written a musical before.

Barry Bliss

 

Beth and Barry will be contributing more insights into the making of Art is… as production continues.

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