Wednesday, 25 April 2012

He’s the story expert behind The Wrestler, The Lion King, Fight Club and The Thin Red Line, and author of cult screenwriting guide The Writer’s Journey. Here Christopher Vogler explains how his theory of a “mythic structure” can help you become a better screenwriter…

How does the mythic structure work?
The essence of the idea is that everybody at some stage in their lives has to leave what they’re comfortable with. You have to get out of your comfort zone and go into unknown territory that is psychologically and maybe physically scary to you, but the promise of the story is that if you take the risk you will be rewarded – you’ll grow, change or learn something.

Can you apply the structure to all films?
It’s easiest to see in adventure movies, but I don’t have trouble finding it in any kind of drama. I just saw Terrence Malik’s wonderful film The Tree of Life. You could say that has no story, that it’s just a bunch of images and dreams strung together, but I think it still has that mythological feeling to it, of someone in life setting out and being challenged and then learning their lessons and changing.

Do you think it also works for documentary film?
I’ve done a lot of work with documentary filmmakers on this very question and my feeling about is that the audience is programmed to interpret everything as a story, no matter what you do. So I say, why not give them the stories they want – give them a character they can relate to who has a problem and who’s going to be transformed by confronting it. The good documentary filmmakers know that even if we just try to present things objectively, the audience still jumps in and makes a story out of it.

Read the full article on IdeasMag.


Thursday, 19 April 2012

So your illustration, script or story has been returned with a curt, “No, thanks”? Don’t ditch it! Rejection first time round doesn’t mean your work is irredeemably crap. There are many reasons why it may not get picked up initially. Here are a few…

You weren’t sufficiently professional 
Perhaps you’re an artistic genius, but you need to show you’re also someone who can deliver. “The promotional material that an illustrator sends into a company for their consideration represents them as a professional,” says Paul Ryding from The Association of Illustrators, a not-for-profit membership organisation that supports professional illustrators. “It may be a beautiful piece of artwork, with multiple uses, but if it’s printed on flimsy card or is too small, or if the colours are saturated or it’s pixelated, all these things will reflect badly on the illustrator, not as an artist but as someone to work with professionally,” he says, adding: “They may just disregard it straight away.”

The question of presentation is equally important when submitting a script, short story or journalistic article. “Take care,” says Farhana Gani, Editor of online literary magazine Untitled Books. “Bad grammar and misspelt words are off-putting to an editor, or anyone else assessing your work.”

Your timing was off
The arts are as fickle as Twitter when it comes to trends. One year, visual culture, literature and film take their cue from wartime nostalgia, the next it’s all about futuristic robot dystopias. “Some things take a long time, and a lot of blood sweat and tears, to come to fruition,” says Paul Ashton, Development Producer at BBC Writersroom. “Life on Mars took eight years and 37 pilot episode drafts before they got a green light… sometimes great ideas need to just await their time.”

Read the full article on IdeasMag.


Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Set up in 1854, the British Journal of Photography is the world’s longest–running photography magazine. Deputy Editor Diane Smyth tells us how she started out in journalism and where she looks for photographers to feature in the magazine…

I didn’t set out to be a journalist.

I always enjoyed reading and writing, so I studied English at university. I worked on a magazine in Birmingham while I was still as university and the summer after graduating. Then I spent a year in Athens teaching English. I deliberately chose a big language school that had a textbook department - it was good experience in publishing. Back in London I interned at Bloomsbury Books, then I got a job at Marshall Cavendish, a company that publishes part works – magazines you collect over years and put together in binders. After about a year I got a job on a website. Then the internet boom busted and I was made redundant, which was a tough experience.

Following that, I worked on a financial magazine for three and a half years. I didn’t find the subject matter that interesting but it was well paid. BJP was part of the same company. I’ve always been interested in art and photography, so I became friendly with the girl who was Features Editor. One day she told me, “I’m leaving – why don’t you apply for my job?” So I did and got it.

Read the full article on IdeasMag.


Friday, 13 April 2012

From their studio in a Hackney cafe, London Fields Radio serves up an eclectic mix of arty podcasts made by and for the local creative community. We asked station manager Kate Hutchinson what LFR is all about and how she picks new shows…

What’s your role at London Fields Radio?
I run all aspects of the radio station – I’m in charge of programming and the website. I’m the clubbing editor at Time Out magazine and freelance for various other publications, so this is something that I do in my spare time and weekends. It’s completely voluntary, something we do purely because we’re passionate about the idea of hyperlocal radio.

How does your approach differ from mainstream radio stations? 
With mainstream radio, you have a playlist; therefore it’s sort of dictated to you what you’re going to be listening to by an unseen board of music directors. We don’t have a playlist and we’re internet only. There’s a little booth in the window of [Wilton Way] Cafe and the majority of shows are recorded from there within cafe hours, so you’ve got the noise in the background – the coffee machine whirring and chitter chatter. Then we upload the shows onto Mixcloud and that feeds back into our website.

How did LFR start? 
They opened the cafe about two years ago. Someone suggested to David McHugh, the co-owner, that having a radio station in the corner might be a nice idea, so it’s something they built into it. Although it doesn’t dominate Wilton Way, the cafe is the cultural creative hub of the street and the radio station is the mouthpiece. 90% of the people who present [shows] live in the surrounding streets and they’re talking about the sorts of things that happen to them in the area, the characters they meet and how things are changing.

What do you look for when you're commissioning new shows?
We’re not interested in people who want to be the next Zane Lowe or Annie Mac. It’s very much an arts and talk-based station. While we pride ourselves on having great musical selection, it’s more likely to be someone who’s rifled through their grandad’s ’70s punk collection than [someone playing] new fresh dubstep.

There’s a great new show we’ve just got called Page One. This fantastic guy called Adrian just sent me a couple of paragraphs, and it stood out so much. He reads the first page of a book and that’s what his spoken word, books and poetry show is built around – it’s just a really interesting idea, rather than having a bog standard poetry show where you introduce someone and they read a bit.

What advice do you have for someone thinking of setting up their own hyperlocal station?
The idea with London Fields Radio is that it becomes a London-wide thing so eventually we’re going to have a Peckham radio, a Brixton radio and a Notting Hill radio so if people are interested in franchising our idea then they should come and speak to us! But if you’re thinking of setting up a hyperlocal station [elsewhere] I’d suggest you start small and focus on the quality of podcasts. Don’t try and do everything immediately – it’s not about becoming the next 6 Music. With London Fields Radio, we’re not branded, we’re completely independent and DIY. We have no budget – that’s what happens – however it means we are completely grassroots. If you have that mentality, only good things can come of it.

To pitch a show for LFR or to discuss setting up your own hyperlocal London radio station email Londonfieldsradiokate@gmail.com.

This article originally appeared on IdeasMag.


Thursday, 12 April 2012

Music videos have made household names of many a director – from Spike Jonze to Hype Williams – while established film auteurs, such as David Lynch, have also dabbled. We asked some music video makers for tips…

Be original
Let’s face it: watching a clich├ęd music video is pretty soul destroying. Worse still, a rubbish video detracts from the song, and this is the number one thing you want to avoid. “It’s all about innovation,” says Ben Strebel, who has made music videos for Clock Opera, Crystal Fighters and Phoenix. However, Ben argues, this doesn’t have to mean coming up with an over-complicated and expensive concept. Find your inspiration in the everyday. “Do what you know best,” advises Ben. “If you can project something that you know about, you’re going to be telling a story effectively. The best stories that you tell are either stories you’ve experienced yourself or that surround you,” he says.

Working with musicians
“Accept jobs from bands that you like or can relate to in some way,” says Sing J Lee, one of the winners of IdeasTap's 2012 Future Film music video brief. “Otherwise there will come a point where you'll just hate the song or can't quite connect your ideas to them and both you and the band will suffer.” Craig Heathcote, who has just directed his first music video, Dusk till Dawn, for pop artist Jason James, agrees: “Have a strong song – the song’s got to be worth the video and the effort.”

The degree of input the band will give you varies dramatically – some get very involved, while others will give you a brief that is wide open. “It’s really exciting when the band knows what they want. Then it’s about offering up different layers or different ways of interpreting what they’ve said,” says Ben. “[Sometimes] it can be literally, ‘We don’t want performance, we don’t want a narrative – we’d like a concept.’ That’s it.”

The band as a brand
Making a music video is a highly creative process, but it’s also a commercial one, so remember that you are marketing a band or artist as much as you are making a short film. “You’re trying to find a language that will give them an identity,” says Ben. To this end, Sing recommends good old fashioned research: “Know their appeal, attend their shows, know what their vision is and [get to know] them as individuals – that way you will produce something strong and in keeping with what they're all about.”

Keeping track
One criticism that has been levelled at David Lynch’s recent music video for his track Crazy Clown Time is that it interprets the song’s lyrics too literally. Ultimately though, how the content of your video should relate to the song’s lyrics comes down to preference. As Ben says, “It depends on the artist – some people don’t like you to respond to their lyrics.” In these cases, adopt a more intuitive approach. “Take the sentiment or your emotional response to it, or whatever inspires you about the energy of the melody or the rhythm or the way it’s put together,” says Ben. After all, however abstract or literal your vision, the feel of the video has to reflect that of the track. Craig again: “Really respond to the music – the sounds and the pace; your video’s not going to look right if the music’s fast and the visuals are slow.”

This article originally appeared on IdeasMag.


Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Magnum member and University of Brighton professor Mark Power on how knowing the history of the medium and embracing your influences will help you to become a better photographer...

I did a fine art degree and when I left in 1981 I went travelling for two years.

I worked my way around south-east Asia, India and China, ending up in Australia and New Zealand. I took a sketchbook with me, and a cheap £50 camera, and started taking pictures. When I came back, they were exhibited. It gave me that boost in my confidence to think, “Maybe I can do this”. I was a real rookie – and in those days I thought this was an advantage. I thought because I didn’t know what had happened in the past, photographically speaking, then I wouldn’t be influenced and could make my own work. Nowadays I see how nonsensical that is.

Don’t be afraid of being deeply influenced by others whose work you like because ultimately your own voice will come out. I often find myself trying to be Walker Evans, but it's impossible because I'm not Walker Evans, and I’m not working in ’30s America. I suppose I have a certain style, for want of a better word, but I’ve had to work to get there by borrowing from other people, understanding the history and not reinventing the wheel.

From that point of view, formal education is good because if you go to a good college then you’ll be introduced to all of this and you’ll be able to have a sense of where you fit into that continuum. If you don’t go to college, somehow or other you’ve got to do that for yourself – you’ve got to read books, go to exhibitions, you’ve got to have some grasp of some of the theory behind the practice. You should revel in the idea that you know where you fit.

When I started there were very few photography courses and galleries. There was a problem trying to exhibit your work if you were also having your pictures published in the newspaper – you were seen as commercial. It was a big moment when Wolfgang Tillmans won the Turner Prize and the next day went and shot an advert for Nike, because it made it possible that photography could be commercial and also deeply philosophical and personal.

Patience is important. The history of photography is littered with people who were successful after one project and couldn‘t deal with the pressures that came with that. I’m a photographer because first and foremost I love what I do. Any success that might come along with that is wonderful, but it’s incidental.

It took me a long time to get to this point. I still don’t have any money because I plough it into new projects, but that’s what I want to spend my money on. That’s the attitude you need to have. You either do it properly or not at all, because if you do it half-heartedly you won’t have success or at least it won’t last – you’ve got to want it right to the core of your bones.

Mark Power was talking to Rachel Segal Hamilton.

This article originally appeared on IdeasMag.


Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Shy, elusive and nifty on their paws – animals can be tricky to photograph. But there are steps you can take to better your chances of capturing a great wildlife image. Two award-winning photographers and BBC Wildlife Magazine’s picture researcher share their tips…

First off, you have to love it 
“You’ve got to be passionate because it’s frustrating," says Steve Mills, winner of the Birds: Behavior category in the 2011 Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards. “There isn’t an album in the world big enough for all the photos I’ve missed through not quite being in the right place or not having the right setting.”

Fancy kit is less important than dedication
“Having a long lens can help, but obviously not everyone can afford long lenses,” says Richard Shucksmith, overall winner of the British Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards 2011. “If you’ve got good field skills or you’ve got good composition, you can take decent pictures regardless of what gear you have.” This is a view shared by Steve Mills: “There are plenty of people out there with loads of gear but no idea.” Whatever camera you’re using, Steve recommends you make sure you’re completely comfortable with its settings. “Understanding your camera is vital in wildlife photography because, unlike in for example landscape photography, you don’t get a second chance,” says Steve Mills. “I can’t come back in 10 minutes and take the picture because the creature’s gone.”

Start local
“Photograph your local patch, rather than taking expensive trips to Africa or the USA – or to the zoo,” says Wanda Sowry, Picture Researcher at BBC Wildlife Magazine. “There’s not much need for captive zoo animals or captive birds of prey. Concentrate on British wildlife, bugs, plants and landscapes and get to know your local wildlife groups or projects.”

Research your beasts
“If you’ve chosen a species of bird [to photograph], the more you understand that bird, the more likely you are to get success,” stresses Steve Mills. “For example, birds always take off into the wind so by positioning yourself you’ve got more chance of a bird flying towards you initially.” Richard Shucksmith agrees: “You’ve got to know your animal inside out. You need to know its behaviour and what you need to do to get close to it – obvious things like being down wind of the animal so the wind’s always blowing your scent away or, if you’re stalking deer, using all the trees around you as natural screen. You just have to be quiet, be careful, patient and persistent – you don’t want to spook the animal.”

Think about what you are capturing 
“Portraits are nice, but they can be a bit dull if you’re not careful,” says Richard, who advises keeping your eyes peeled for, “Interaction between individuals of the same animal or with other different animals, feeding behavior, grooming, fighting.” And remember to pay attention to lighting. “Get up early in the morning, just before sunrise, so you get the sun coming up and the lovely orange light and the nice glow on animals' faces,” he says. “Light’s really important – it can make or break a shot.”

Take LOTS of photos - and then edit 
“Don’t expect to go out and shoot the best photo in a couple of hours,” says Richard. “Sometimes, if I’ve been out all morning with a family of otters and I’ve got 2,000 images, I flick through them very quickly and every now and then you hit one and it just catches you. Once you’ve picked them, you can go through and edit the others.” Richard has another tip for selecting your best pictures: “Get several images together and send them to 10 friends and get them to rank them one to 10. Sometimes what you find is that they’re all picking the same image as the top two or three – then you know you’ve got something with a more general appeal.”

This article originally appeared on IdeasMag.


Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Instead of waiting to be told they’re the next big thing, artists are increasingly taking matters into their own hands by setting up DIY galleries and project spaces, often in unusual settings. Here’s how to do the same…

Think outside the block
“If you see a space, knock on the door find out who the commercial landlord is. Don’t devalue what you have to offer,” says Afshin Dehkordi who, together with Natasha Caruana, founded StudioSTRIKE creative space in July 2010. “We came across this ad for the top floor of an 18th-century pub in Clapham run by a trade union,” says Afshin. “The agreement we struck with the landlord was that we would refurbish the space and run art events, talks, exhibitions, screenings and community cinema in return for low rent.”

Renovation takes imagination
“[Eastside] was just an empty warehouse so everything in it has been generated by projects,” says Ruth Claxton, Associate Director of Eastside Projects in Birmingham. “Our office is an artwork by Heather and Ivan Morrison called Pleasure Island. It was made for the Venice Biennale [but] we were able to use as an office afterwards.”

“We were on a low budget so we had a massive call out,” says Afshin. “We had mums and dads and partners coming in, we made food – it was a bit of a festival day out – and we painted and put in new desks.”

Choose members who share your vision
“Be clear about what you want to use the space for,” says Sita Calvert-Ennals, member and current leader of Residence, a community of theatre-makers based in a former record shop in Bristol. “We had rules about the kind of artists we wanted to work with. If they wanted to be a member, they needed to offer something to the organisation as well.”

“Natasha and I come from photography and film disciplines but we were careful that we didn’t make this a homogenous group of people all from the same field [so] people aren’t competing for the same clients or curators,” says Afshin. “One person we knew and the rest we found by putting ads out and interviewing. It wasn’t so much about the pedigree of their career or what awards they’d won; it was more about fitting in with the other community members.”

Designate organisers 
“Without one person or a few people taking charge, it’s loads harder,” says Sita. “With 10, 15, 20 artists it’s difficult to get everyone in a room together to make a decision – everyone’s here, there and everywhere making work. We have a leader [who changes] every three months. They're responsible for communicating decisions to be made among the group – it’s democratic but things get done.”

StudioSTRIKE faced similar issues: “There was such a diversity of ages – from recent graduates to established artists – it was difficult to find a common ground,” Afshin says. “Natasha and I now run studioSTRIKE as an opt-in process. We come up with ideas and proposals and ask the artists who wants to get involved.”

Aim big
“If you have an idea, just go and do it. Once you establish it, the funding and the profile and everything else will follow,” says Afshin.

Sita agrees: “You suddenly have clout in a way that we, as young theatre makers, didn’t have at all. As an organisation we’re now taken seriously as a voice, which is a useful thing to know when you’re starting out – basically, it’s worth it.”

And, as Ruth points out: “Artist-led spaces don’t have to be this first thing that you do. Actually they can be really ambitious but still remain artist-led, [with] that idea of practice at their core.”

Some useful resources

Capacity Bristol 
Project aimed at opening up empty spaces for use by Bristol’s creative community.

The Empty Space Network 
Website with free downloadable resources for anyone planning on setting up a creative space in a disused shop.

ICA list of artist-run spaces
Check out these artist-run spaces for some inspiration.

This article originally appeared on IdeasMag.

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