THE BROOKLANDS YEARS
This series of posts depicts the epic journey I’ve taken across the land of student filmmaking. From the deep-rooted plains of the 4:3 aspect ratio to the wonderous tundra of half-decent modern indie cinema, you’ll read about the trials I endured throughout my education.
College was a great time for me, perhaps even the best time of my life so far. I met my first proper girlfriend, learnt how to drive, got my first car handed down to me by family friends and grew to the legal drinking age not that the law had ever prevented me prior.
It was my first experience living away from family and creating some semblance of independence for myself. It’s true I was living with an old school friend and his family but I had lived in Wales for a good few years before that and now I was back on home turf, so to speak, reacquainting myself with friends long past. College is a little different here in the UK when compared to other educational structures of the world, for starters you begin your venture straight out of school. It was over ten years ago for me now and I had already endured a year of Sixth Form College in the land where sheep are in abundance, so I was a bit older than some of my peers.
Anyway, I studied a BTEC in Moving Images which pretty much covered filmmaking at an introductory level. It was the first time I studied anything remotely close to my interests and I loved every minute of the two years of making rubbish student films. But in the gentle words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “By seeking and blundering we learn.”
Dusting off some of my old DV tapes recently was like taking a big gulp of nostalgia juice. I’m at that moment in life where I would like to declutter and get rid of all the shit that I haven’t used or even looked at for about a decade, only to fill the empty void with more dust worthy crap. But before I do, I want to reminisce a bit. The majority of these student films have been lost to the cosmos unfortunately and the tapes only contain unedited footage mostly. So, this is a good time I feel to write about them while the memory is fresh. The process, the end result and how I felt making it.
This was really the first time I had the opportunity to write a short film, at least in part. From the get go the whole production was a shamble with most of us not really having any hold on what our roles entailed. For whatever reason, I wasn’t actually present for the majority of principal photography or any of the photography really. Not saying that my physical involvement would have contributed positively in any way but I may have been able to communicate the script better in person to the people actually shooting the thing. This goes to show how bad the writing was to begin with. Basically, the story follows a young woman who finds an odd-looking mobile phone while out for a jog. The phone wasn’t really that odd looking, more the manner in which it was found. If my memory serves me, it was just somebody’s old Nokia (no devil horns attached).
We never quite explained the origin of the strange properties the phone possessed but what we did show, and in ridiculous fashion, was how the phone killed the last person who answered a call from it. An outrageous premise I know. So, it set out to be a horror but ended up a comedy and not for the right reasons. If it was made of cheese it would be stilton, mouldy veins aplenty!
I remember it being credited by our lecturer for having a specifically well-lit scene that gave the illusion of a sunrise bursting through a window onto the set. A happy accident but that’s more or less all he had to say on it. All of the talent were film students who had extremely little to no acting experience and that only added to the cringe worthy humour. The evil antagonist eventually gets defeated by way of being thrown in the river from ‘near’ whence it came. When the hero eventually figures out the connection between her outgoing calls and the ridiculous deaths of her friends, she figures the best solution is to give it what I called the Jumanji treatment. The original Jumanji featured the protagonists throwing the board game that had plagued them the whole movie, into the river in the hope it would be gone forever but inevitably it washes up on a beach to claim its next victims. We more or less went with that ending only instead of the infamous drums beating their way into the credits, we had a ringtone. The audio levels were so high at this point it burst the eardrums of anyone watching it and it is the last thing you remember about the film, which is probably a good thing.
Overall it was a delightful mess of things that didn’t quite make a lot of sense but a real joy to watch, if only for its trashiness. Everyone put in a lot of effort and lots had been learned. For example, I have just been informed that the title of the film is actually ‘No Signal’. Much better.
This was an extremely fun project of mine where the brief was to design a controversial ad campaign for an existing product of our choosing. I felt that condoms were a pretty taboo subject between teens and teachers so it felt logical to pick Durex as my fictitious client. I really wanted to freak people out, make them laugh but also inform them about the dependable specifics of their Extra Safe condom brand. Lots of ideas presented themselves, most of which were too difficult or too expensive for us for poor students to make. And so the Extra Strong campaign came to be.
Picture a young sexually active couple the morning after the night before, in bed together looking way too smart and orderly for what we presume was a passionate night of lovemaking. They gaze at each other longingly like all young couples do before they grow up and realise life ain’t ever going to get sweeter than what they are experiencing right now. But they’ve not long been awake and the dude in this heterosexual relationship needs to pee. For all we know he was out on the lash all evening and now that bladder is full to the brim baby! So, he gets out of bed, trying to maintain a hint of sex appeal towards his lover. In a successful attempt at decorum, he gets dressed and gracefully slides on his denim jeans with a seductive grin, only something clings to his belt buckle. Unbeknownst to this self-assured stud the belt buckle holds a rogue used condom that managed to escape the trash! The woman is stunned at the sight but she is in such a state of paralysis that she cannot bring herself to tell the man.
He exits the room, turns to show his lover a seductive grin and inadvertently closes the condom in the door. This is where the idea entered the realm of ridiculous satire that so many adverts seem to exist in. Where wacky scenarios exist and none of the inhabitants seem to bat an eyelash, so long as the product or service is the monolithic centre of attention.
So, our gormless virile male makes his way down the hallway, sure of himself and full of positivity after ‘doing the deed’. Everywhere he goes the trapped condom follows him. Stretched and elongated like a leash, from the doorframe to his waistline and he is completely none the wiser because of fantasy advertising rules. I originally had the idea of him walking around the entire house creating a spaghetti junction of cloudy latex in his wake and even a little dog looking curiously at the potential choo toy. but these ideas were quite ambitious for a zero-budget student project so we ended up with the watered-down version instead. Plus, I didn’t know anybody with a pug at the time and they seem like nature’s clown canine and perfect for the role. Alas our man only makes it to the bathroom in the final rendition but we managed to make the condom look as though it stretched at least several meters, through the power of forced perspective and editing!
He walks over to the sink, runs the tap and smiles at himself in the mirror. What a champion he must feel. By this stage the lady in this story snaps out of her statuesque form and proceeds to open the bedroom door. It’s pretty obvious what happens next and I regret to write that we shot several takes of the sequence. The rubber was released, contracting down the corridor and with such a crisp snapping sound to boot! The actor, whom I’ll name Dan was such a good sport for taking a brutal force to nether region, time and time again, looks directly through the camera lens via the mirrors reflection and we freeze frame for dramatic effect. Fade to black and run the supers, Extra strong? Extra safe. Then fade to the durex logo. It’s worth mentioning that the whole ad was accompanied by a really cheesy, really smooth jazz track that was simply the cherry on top of this metaphorical condom draped bowl of ice cream.
I might add that I also made a poster to coincide with this TV ad which was a little more controversial than comical. To put it simply, it was a BB-Gun pistol with a condom over the barrel and essentially the same slogan. Now the realist might think that a rubber-johnny would never stop a bullet but not before asking why someone would have intercourse with a gun in the first place. The message was meant to convey that unprotected sex might lead to a plethora of unwanted lifechanging events that may or may not be comparable to being shot and the latex shield might just save you. I know it was an outrageous notion but it got me a good grade for boldness… I think.