Friday, 31 December 2010

Let's just try and take 2011 one stupid day at a time

This time last year, I predicted that this time this year (i.e. now) everyone would be compiling predictions as to what will happen next year (2011) - and I was right.

Building on the success of last year's prediction, I have compiled a list of top tips for the filmmaking trends and tropes of '11. Here they are in no particular order, except for alphabetical:


Nobody knows what the real fall-out is going to be from the demise of the Film Council. Filmmakers are facing unsure times now that it's unclear who we should butter up to and why we wasted so much time buttering up to the previous administration. The industry therefore has a surplus of emotional 'butter' which will surely be spread over the subject matter of its output, although it’s too soon to say whether this will manifest itself metaphorically or otherwise.

Furthermore, there will be a portion of butter (metaphorical) for each and every one of our darling online supporters as we try to milk them, piecemeal, for the budget of our next picture. This is called crowd-funding and, considering the feeding of cow offal to cows resulted in BSE, the Institute advises against it in its purest form. Instead, try the alphabetically convenient:


Similar to crowd-funding, but more hands on, 'crowd-producing' involves directly engaging an online fanbase with the ongoing production process. A list of tasks (chiefly: sums, phone calls and ego-management) considered too mundane for the director but too important for the crew will be made available online, with fans encouraged to pick a 'chore' and deal with it efficiently parallel to sorting out their own complex problems (messy divorce, looming audit into dodgy former business). Like crowd-funding, crowd-producers will be expected to stump up cash for their slice of the glory, but in this case it does not have to be their own.

The Institute is also looking into ways of making 'crowd-mothering' - a network of reassurance and (where feasible) hugs for insecure filmmakers - into a workable initiative.

Increased importance of L'Institute Zoom on global film scene

Here's Armend, the Institute's marketing man: "We do a variety of fine work here at the Institute, and we also make films. By ceaselessly going on about what we're doing and thinking about doing, and bandying our name around in connection with upcoming awards until it's a virtual inevitability that we'll win them, our marketing strategy is intended to catapult us right past 'annoying' and into the lucrative realm of 'familiar background noise'."

Words are cheap in the internet age - there are over 1,000 of them in this important and prophetic article alone!


What is your USP? Last time I went to a networking event I left after thirty minutes and threw up next door, then came back and told everyone I met that I'd just sicked and that I was developing a web series about electronic brain augmentation. People were genuinely interested in the sick.

Already a prevalent trend, Notworking is to Networking what Cloud Gazing is to Cloud Computing. The idea is that while you sit down by yourself and have a cup of tea, the ether/the others can sort themselves out and inspire/inform/employ you at their will. Notworking is at its best unpredictable, and at its worst pleasantly predictable. The important thing is to allocate a precise time when you are Notworking, otherwise you are just not working, which can be guilt-intensive.

Nuisance Campaigns

Combining the sophisticated punch-in-the-face tactics of internet rollover ads with the time-proven effectiveness of the nagging child, Nuisance marketing will be the phenomenon you can't escape in 2011. GPS and online social networking will enable pushy campaign teams to track the movement and desires of the potential audiences. When the marketing team becomes aware of a congregation of the appropriate demographic (in pubs, shopping centres, at funerals), they will spring into 'life' to create thematically linked 'situations', which the target audience must negotiate in order to 'survive' or 'escape', depending on the theme of the film. (This idea was originally conceived by Guy Debord, but he didn't word it very well and nobody thought they could make any money out of it). Cloned SIM cards and hoax profile pages will be used to stir up and externalise the tension hinted at in the semi-public relationships of online social network users, creating a genuinely malevolent 'nuisance'. The Nuisance campaign will continue until each would-be audience member gives in and commits to seeing the film.

In the case of smaller arthouse films, a one-to-one stalking-type approach will be utilised. The underpaid but otherwise jobless quirky-faced star of the movie will travel from city to city with the director and his girlfriend, and spend a week at a time personally harassing (in character) the handful of local pseuds whose purposely obscure online Likes suggest they might actually 'get' the film and forgive its dismal production values. When the locals have created a vehement enough online campaign to justify a screening, the director will arrange for the film to be shown on the city's Big Screen, or just underneath it on his MacBook.


I think I mentioned this on Twitter once but I haven't worked out all the technicalities yet and just want to reassert it was my idea before someone steals it. Basically, "3D-N" is metaphysical 3D for existential arthouse-type films. The characters and locations appear all around you in suffocating detail, but it feels like something's missing.


This year we'll be seeing a lot of movie villains in hats.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Aidan Smith awarded "Best Music" for It's Nick's Birthday score

We are most proud to announce that the Institute's staff composer Aidan Smith has been awarded "Best Music" for his It's Nick's Birthday score at La Cabina Medium-Length Film Festival, Valencia.

Whilst the Institute's staff were too thinly spread over other award ceremonies, diplomatic functions etc., to attend the prize-giving in Valencia, it has been reported that on being told the news privately Mr Smith responded with modesty, gratitude, and bouts of nervous mock-boasting followed by fierce self-degradation and an unsureness about where to look.

Mr Smith's solo work can be appreciated here, with his nightwear/pop outfit Pyjama Party represented here.

(Here follows a music video the Institute made with Mr Smith some years back).

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

It's Nick's Birthday screenings in Valencia, Bucharest, Poitiers

Our hermitcore musical It's Nick's Birthday goes on a mini-European tour next week, stopping off at Valencia, Bucharest and Poitiers:

It's Nick's Birthday @ La Cabina International Festival of Medium-length Films
WHERE: MuVIM, c/ Quevado 10, 46001 Valencia
WHEN: Saturday, 20th November 2010 , 20.00 & Saturday, 27th November 17.00
COST: €2

It’s Nick’s Birthday @ Bucharest International Experimental Film Festival
WHERE: one of two venues (program to be updated)
WHEN: Friday, 26th November 2010, 16.00
COST: enquire at venue

It’s Nick’s Birthday @ 8th Festival O.F.N.I.
WHERE: Cinéma Le Dietrich
WHEN: Saturday, 27th November 2010, 23.15
COST: €6

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Institute's company anthem receives prime-time television coverage

As followers of this blog will know, each morning the employees of L'Institute Zoom gather to sing our company anthem - Zoom by Fat Larry's Band. Although the song fell out of the charts some years ago, it seems the opening up of our working processes for public scrutiny at the Institute's temporary Universal Ear Studios complex over the summer has drawn attention back to the R&B classic, as it was recently selected for performance by one of ITV's talented X-Factor participants.

Elitists among the Institute's staff have discouraged me from sharing the video, but X-Factor is a family show with high production values which, whilst I consider it a little racy for viewing by my own offspring, is nothing to sneer at. And just look at Simon Cowell's displeased face! Priceless. My only reservation is the alteration of the lyrics from "sunrise shine in a midnight sky" to "sunrise shine in a morning sky", apparently just so that it makes sense.

Thanks to Nexus Steph for the tip-off.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010


Yesterday afternoon I dropped into Nexus Art Cafe, scene of the Institute's now-defunct Universal Ear Studios complex, where Nexus Al suggested that I cast an eye over our former workspace as he'll be clearing it out at the weekend and doesn't want to chuck anything he shouldn't. Everything seemed to be in order, but I couldn't help noticing the rather excessive approach that had been taken to the removal of our Snuggle Office door sign, as designed by UNIVERSAL EAR 1st AD Rowan. I suppose the end of any snuggle is a wrench.

Post-brew, I had a chance street encounter with Girls Of Unfortunate Climes art director Rebecca Manley, whom I'd not seen since she departed the Nexus studio for the bright lights of London, leaving our versatile crew with bits, bobs, and instructions for a full pop-up set & costume design. Manley is looking forward to her forthcoming solo exhibition in Germany, where she is to create a physical representation of the entire internet. The artist and designer, who habitually wears a crinkle-cut Pringle around town, hinted that the work may involve a mirrorball, and I daresay there will be plenty of coloured paper involved too - as we parted ways, however, I realised she had neglected to mention whether her version of the internet would be functional or not.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Do you have a FACE? Are you interested in THINGS?

With the closing of our Universal Ear Studios complex, the Institute has today announced an end to its brief policy of openness.

We have, however, taken a bold step into the future by establishing an official Facebook page:

Please join it for updates and strictly non-interactive interaction.

Brain spill, reports and news will continue to be published on this very blog, with unofficial leaks leaking from

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Understanding "Girls"

When the postal service took delivery of Harley Byrne’s one and only documentary for them, shot in Manchester in the Spring of 2012 and edited from his hospital bed over the subsequent weeks, they quickly decided to lose it. Far from the portrait of a robust but alienated local population that they had sought, the commissioning body perceived Byrne’s vision of the girl gangs it represented as nihilistic and self-reliant; doomed, yes, but preferring a fate concocted by the arbitrary forces of nature to security under the patronage of state or corporate powers. Where was the letters-to-mum narrative device Byrne had agreed to structure the film around? Where, indeed, were the teenage girls Byrne had originally identified as his subjects – and who were these twenty-something imposters in pig-tails and moonboots?

As a consequence of none of this having happened yet, these questions have not yet been asked. The flawed clues dredged back from the future for us at L’Institute Zoom’s Future Films department being fragmentary at best, our own questions today may go unanswered. Much of what is written here is wrong. The prehabilitation of Girls Of Unfortunate Climes (a.k.a. Icy Video@Abel’s Vagina) over the next two weeks will only cause more problems.

Firstly, it has been asserted that Byrne shot the documentary on a shed-built “one-man filmmaking machine – a contraption to record and re-interpret the spirit of a given subject rather than to reproduce light on film or pixels”. How, then, are we to pre-interpret the mess of visual textures that “Girls” presents? A typical scene features a Mancunian underpass, badly exposed on grainy celluloid; across the shot dances a ‘teenage’ girl in an anachronistic spacesuit – however, her image has a pixelated, apparently digital patina and her shadow is out of sync. A crude silhouette of roadside foliage in the foreground fails to distract the viewer from the sense that these images have been composed from separate sources. Is this documentary? Would it encourage you to buy stamps? What (if any) of this is real?

Secondly, Byrne himself had it that his machine would not reproduce photographed light, but rather record the spirit of events and fabricate them into a movie using entirely new light: it was not a camera. Yet close analysis of the mobile ‘shot’ that leads us up Abel’s Vagina (as a certain stretch of the Princess Parkway is colloquially termed) suggests that Byrne’s recording device was mounted to the handlebars of a postal worker’s bicycle. Would this be appropriate for such a device as Byrne describes, netting “spirit” rather than photons? Perhaps - but it seems unByrneian. He was never a cyclist, opting for the reassurance of feeling his feet against the ground. (He never learned to drive, and would change the subject when the question came up in conversation.) He preferred to work alone, but could there have been a second documentarian, on a bike? If so, what happened to him when the girls took Byrne captive?

Thirdly, did Byrne have permission to film the girls – and if so, who did he negotiate this with? It seems to me, from what little Byrne’s film actually teaches us about the “Girls”, there are three possibilities:

1. For Byrne to have got close enough to study them satisfactorily he would have needed their permission. We see that they are highly territorial and willing to kill in bloods cold through hot. Given the deferent adulation the gang show towards their apparent leader, Ms. Selena Jolly, the decision would surely have been her call. She can be seen manipulating the dramatic/aesthetic effects of the gang’s behaviour in Byrne’s presence. Indeed – even allowing for the impaired judgement of the bereaved – it is only in Ms. Jolly’s absence (through death) that the remaining girls turn on Byrne.

2. Byrne was unable/chose not to gain permission, captured the “spirit” of events from a distance and embellished/structured the material according to his own sensibilities and background knowledge, if any. The girls, after all, had footage enough of their own from their perpetually reeling camera-phones, and hardly need engage with a square like Byrne.

3. The whole thing was made up.

It seems best to proceed – both with this essay and the project at large – from the first assumption. We can see where that leaves us afterwards.

Fourthly, the girls of the title all die violently at the end. So how did they post-dub their dialogue? Did Byrne fabricate their deaths in the name of “spiritual” unity? Predict the trouble and have the dialogue pre-dubbed? Have a cast of female hospital staff fill in the gaps at his bedside? Is the effect of badly-synced dialogue merely a misleading technical glitch, a side-effect of Byrne’s peculiar recording techniques? The answers are out there – or not.

Fifthly, the girls brutally murder a policeman – for kicks. Notwithstanding the suggestion that the victim might not be an authentic officer – may instead be a civilian in costume, seeking his own thrills – how are we to understand Byrne’s standing by to coldly capture the event for his film? Was he afraid he would suffer the same fate should he become involved? Hardly – although he no doubt entertained himself with self-defence scenarios in the quiet moments that followed. Rather we should see Byrne as a creature of the street, whose self-preservation instincts were more than matched by an animal indifference to (or acceptance of) the toil and tragedy of a natural world to be found at work with the same cruel innocence in the tangles of the human mind-brain and the bramble bush.

Sixthly, I am not at liberty here to go into depth concerning the “thought virus” that can pass from a mobile phone to human brain, but suffice to say that although Byrne found the idea “a little cognitive” he thought it best to play safe.

Seventhly, the most convincing shots we have recovered of the original “Girls Of Unfortunate Climes” are those featuring the primitivist Lonely Girls gang. These fantastic beasts are generally seen apparently filmed on location (as opposed to the cut-and-paste edit suite trickery of the Space Race scenes). The ostensible use of a long lens lends – on a superficial level – the illusion of authenticity, as the Lonely Girls understood the taking of their image as a provocation: Byrne would need to stand well back with his camera. But Byrne didn’t use a camera. Unless the laws of “spirit”, in the context of Byrne’s spirit-capturing, light-producing, filmmaking contraption, happened to coincide with those of optical physics, surely this long-lens aesthetic was a contrivance added by the so-called “purist” Byrne to evoke the distance he was forced to keep from the Lonely Girls. Didn’t such artifice die with the “noddy”?

Eighthly, hospital records suggest that - aside from the obvious violation – the main physical damage Byrne suffered was the scraping of his face against the gravel as he was dragged across the underpass having been rendered unconscious by Ms. Eve Witherspoon. The use of the phrase “brave, ruined face” in the Future Films blueprint should probably be considered a rare and decadent instance of poetic flair on the part of the engineer who drew it up. However, if the documentary is to be trusted, he was certainly in no state to continue production of it, and the remainder of the film (at least as far as the somewhat perfunctory coda) must be attributed to the spirit-capturing device having been left running (which rather devalues Byrne’s former presence as cinematographer).

Ninthly, although Byrne was rather snappy with the written word itself (claiming, oddly, to have “read more than you’d think”) he didn’t always follow the meaning of certain types of words when they were organised around each other in sentences – particularly sentences of a scientific flavour, given his long-held assumption that scientific knowledge comes free with genetic memory and shouldn’t require further development. This being the case, and yours truly being no expert in weather of the future, perhaps we should consider his description of the fate of the Girls of Unfortunate Climes in terms of his status as layman eye-witness: where once there was acid rain, in post-communication age Manchester ‘information rain’ falls instead – and you don’t want to get it on your shoes.

Thursday, 15 July 2010


A largely uncontroversial day of chance industry encounters and clinically engineered professional conferences.

Only irregularity in the running of Universal Ear Studios today was the discovery that a shady and hitherto unheardof organisation known as "Bad Check Productions" have pinned a call for auditions on our wall display. Let me tell you this, "Bad Check Productions": we will not be intimidated. If you attempt to move in on the Institute's (albeit temporary) turf you will be CRUSHED. However, I have left your ad up and wish you all the best with the casting process.

Monday, 12 July 2010


On my arrival at Nexus, my first duty is a phone conference with Lockwood. Yes he's well, no he's not found a wife, he has auditions but they feel empty (I picked up this last in his voice). I, in turn, turn to him for strength - I've hit the biscuits again, I confide, following a weekend clearing up bad judgement calls and ill-thought-through plans. "Aren't you listening to the tapes?" asks Lockwood. "Learning from the mistakes we expunged daily to audio cassette during the UNIVERSAL EAR shoot?" Yes, I tell him, I've learned from those mistakes, which has freed me up to make entirely new ones.

First day of auditions for Girls Of Unfortunate Climes today, and there's not much I can divulge here given the sensitive nature of the Institute's recruitment rituals. Of course, given the open nature of our temporary home at Universal Ear Studios, the public were absolutely welcome to come and spy on the process as it happened. But only Nexus Steph showed her face, drawn in by the chorus of our company anthem - a casting rite apparently not widely observed within the industry, which is news to me and GOUC Executive Producer Nexus Emily (who is sitting in on auditions and anthem alike).

We are auditioning four actors at a time for the roles of the Space Race gang, but find that two of the auditions are each two actors short. Having at first misunderstood a throwaway comment* of his during this morning's call, Lockwood has advised me that sedating the first auditionees so that we could see them together with the later auditionees would be both "unethical" and "illegal". So instead, Emily and I read the missing parts, the Exec getting quite carried away with her role (statuesque gang boss Selena Jolly, with me alternately as underlings Agnes Ivey/Neva M. Perdue). Indeed, the way that one audition works out, the invited actors finish their roles several minutes before the end of the script, leaving Emily and I to fully explore the dramatic potential of our would-be screen relationship and really develop our techniques as actors - quite forgetting to assess the responses of the auditionees. As the auditions are not being videoed, we have not only lost our two-handed tour de force forever but have to run through the entire script again. The chemistry is lost, but the actors do their best to match the pungent tension of our exemplary showcase before we dismiss them, and Emily and I break for Danishes and to bitch about "London".

In fact, notwithstanding the panel's own voyage of creative self-discovery, each actor we see today represents theirself with talent, grace and versatility. Not one stinker! And following the flurry of anxiety and logistical deadends that preceded the day, that favourite old, vaguely meaningless Linus Van Pelt refrain thought-bubbles itself above my head... "and did you notice something, Charlie Brown? The world didn't come to an end..."

I even decide not to label this new blog strand "UNFORTUNATELog 1".

* Lockwood was actually suggesting I sedate myself.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Film night to launch Girls Of Unfortunate Climes shoot

Girl Gangs! Delinquents! Deviant Oiks! is a one-off film night to launch the production of GIRLS OF UNFORTUNATE CLIMES at Nexus Art Cafe.

Expect a punchy feature or two, lurid short films & ludicrous documentaries on the problem of THE YOUTH...

...punctuated by an introduction to the GIRLS OF UNFORTUNATE CLIMES project and a brief look at the ROTTEN SYMBIOSIS of CINEMA and BAD KIDS!

Bring your personal teen gang stories to share if you wish...

Cake & pop available at the cafe.

Full bill to be announced shortly...

Facebook event

WHAT: Girl Gangs! Delinquents! Deviant Oiks!
WHERE: Nexus Art Cafe, Dale Street, Manchester, M1 1JW
WHEN: Friday 16th July, 7.30pm-11ish
COST: FREE (suggested donation £2)

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Lost girl gang documentary of the future to be reconstructed at Nexus Art Cafe!

Cast and crew are required for the latest short film project at L’Institute Zoom’s temporary Nexus Art Cafe studio, as we begin production on our remake of Girls Of Unfortunate Climes.

“Climes” is the only documentary known to have been made by
UNIVERSAL EAR creator/star Harley Byrne, and follows the exploits of rival girl gangs in Manchester, 2012. Beginning as a straightforward anthropological film, events get out of hand when the technophile SPACE RACE and primitivist LONELY GIRLS clash – and Byrne is caught in the crossfire.

Planning and pre-production begins Monday 28th June. The 10-minute film will be shot on digital video, mobile phones and Super-8mm over the last week of July, with a budget of £0. All are welcome to pop into the studio, observe and contribute, with the following jobs in particular still available:

Sound recordist
Art Director
Costumes Director
Costume makers

The Space Race - will also play silent roles of the Lonely Girls:
Selena Jolly (“tall, beguiling”)
Eve Witherspoon (“strong but unremarkable, charmless, forceful, insecure”)
Agnes Ivey (“affable, matter-of-fact, the comedian of the group, possibly a sociopath”)
Neva Perdue (“of slight build, the child of the group, of Slavic descent”)

Milo Byers – broken-down I.T. support worker (brief nudity)
Former astronaut (retirement age)

Please email director graeme[at] with CV/covering note. All levels of experience will be considered and if you think you have something to offer that isn’t listed above, please offer it...

The project will be launched with a film night on July 16th, and can be followed at,, and our Facebook group.

Girls Of Unfortunate Climes


Harley Byrne’s Girls Of Unfortunate Climes documents the social ruins of MANCHESTER where, in the year 2012, the deserted streets are controlled by gangs of delinquent teenage girls. Witness THE SPACE RACE, a band of bubble-helmet-wearing technophiles, who film their every waking moment on camera phones, spy on retired astronauts for fun and hold court on a roundabout at the climax of Manchester’s notorious dual-carriageway, “Abel’s Vagina”.


Witness THE LONELY GIRLS, a tribe of neo-primitives who reject language and live in peace... unless provoked.


And witness Manchester’s unique weather system, where the acid rain of the industrial age has been bullied out by information rain that corrodes with computation!


The documentary cracks its Public Information Film mould when the self-effacing filmmaker is drawn into a life-and-death dispute between the two girl gangs of Abel’s Vagina. Himself now the target of the Lonely Girls, whose code he has broken, Byrne is held as bait by The Space Race who seek revenge for the killing of their sister.


As Documentarian and Girls alike seem doomed, Manchester’s famous precipitation offers up the truth behind the contentious murder. Data pollution is to blame! Wrong-footed by the tide of information, dizzied by animal instinct, unable to escape the cage of societal structure, the girls side-step salvation to be drummed into electronic graves by the power of progress: Condemned by malicious hailstones to exist as two-dimensional video displays on the very asphalt they once ruled. Only our brave documentarian escapes to share the thrills of his bizarre adventure with movie-house audiences the world over...

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

What do we do when our heroes go south?

Lockwood has left the (Nexus Art Cafe) building. He is on a Megabus back to London, where he will have to explain to his family:
a) why he pretended the acting gig was at the Royal Exchange;
b) why he did not find a wife;
c) his hair.
He can probably cover all three with the same excuse: "I was playing Harley Byrne playing himself, a former postman of the future, in the remake of a series that hasn't yet been conceived, on a production that hasn't yet been funded, lost in the semi-fictitious characterisation of a quasi-real character, both of whom had awful hair."

The first run of UNIVERSAL EAR wrapped at 5pm yesterday. Just to be absolutely clear:
- UNIVERSAL EAR is a lost adventure serial from the future.
- L'Institute Zoom have, over the past 5 weeks, attempted to prehabilitate three UNIVERSAL EAR episodes in our temporary, open studio at Nexus Art Cafe.
- We don't know what order the original episodes were in.
- We will continue, elsewhere and elsewhen, to prehabilitate UNIVERSAL EAR when the opportunity arises.
- We will remain in exile from our Zoomcitta headquarters for at least another month, in refuge at Nexus Art Cafe.

What happens next at Nexus will be revealed next week.

Thank you for watching.

Sunday, 6 June 2010


Lockwood and I relaxed last night in front of Takeshi Kitano's Hana-bi: but barely had Nishi bought the stolen cab from the bullying scrap merchant before Lockwood said it was time to turn in. Sharing a room, as we have done for five weeks now, means bedtime for me too.

But in the morning, rather than being super-fresh from our extra zzzs, Lockwood complains of being "beyond fug". Sluggish and woozy, washing his hair for the first time since The Bad Lieutenant fails to straighten his brains out, and he leaves the flat under a cloud to pick up his friend - and our guest star for the day - Jennifer E. Jordan from Manchester Piccadilly.
Midday at Nexus and the three of us take tea and reinforce the fundamental insult parameters within which the studio has come to operate. Tuesday Betts has done the vodka & cider thing last night so rolls up late and full of attitude. Nobody does angry/apologetic like Betts.
Our production design deputy Suzanne Thompson has made an incredible woman-sized teabag costume for Jordan, who will be playing an undercover botanist (Harley Byrne - and, it transpires, Being - has an deep-rooted hatred of botanists). We fill the time til lunch supplementing the tealeaves therein, as they are to become a central image of this episode.
Following lunch we run through the whole, violent scene at the bottom of a tea-cup. Byrne's nemesis, BEING, has miniaturized Byrne under the pretence of enabling him to record the "Song of the Biscuit Crumb Algae" amongst the dregs of a brew at Nexus Art Cafe, back in the year 2010. Really, she has ambush in mind and - distracted by the pathetic tears of our guest botanist - Byrne is attacked, robbed and tied up.
What makes this particularly fun is that the teacup has been built in the snuggest corner of our studio; is lit by two redheads and a pair of garden lights; the doors are closed to insulate us against Nexus's acoustic gig beyond; and Lockwood is feeling worse than ever. We steam him, leap on him, grab him, bind him and gag him in the sweltering heat. Betts, feeling somewhat better for a chilled ginger pop, has lost the prop she requires for the final shot and thus Lockwood is left trussed up like a cartoon villain under the lights for several minutes as false-start after false-start convince us it would be inefficient to give him a break. But break he does, the second we wrap: rather than attend his own goodbye drinks tonight ahead of his departure from Manchester this Wednesday, Lockwood opts to go home to bed. I feel a bit bad for my slight sense of triumph, but shrug it off.

Thursday, 3 June 2010


Strigner may be gone, but she lives on postally. What a parcel!

Lockwood draws a circle.

It is a quiet day at the studio, today.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Next couple of days at UNIVERSAL EAR + acoustic ZOOM

A busy bank holiday weekend for the UNIVERSAL EAR crew begins tomorrow. With series regular Tuesday Betts in town and guest star Jonny Addy on set, there are 35 shots to get before the close of play Monday. Join them to help out at Nexus Art Cafe Sunday 12-6 and Monday 10-6.

Here's another interpretation of our anthem, which is sung on set every morning. MC Acoustic makes the controversial choice of leaving out the coda - but he is performing his own accompaniment, so perhaps he didn't know the chords.

Thursday, 27 May 2010


"Bloodless Offering in B Minor": an artichoke sacrificed to the heavens: duplicity: a greengrocer dressed as a priestess and a radish trader who won't get his/her hands dirty: an omnisexual love triangle between five identity-shifting Greeks, many of them not even Greek. The role of the Real Ianthe is to be played by Marie Louise Cookson, the Future Films engineer who blueprinted the episode for us - Cookson flunked an audition for previous episode "A Flea Orchestra In Your Ear", but has included her own performance as a vital component of the blueprint for "Bloodless". Cookson claims that parts of the signal she received through the modified 2D Quantum Propagada Engine were so obscure, the only way to render them useable was for her to interpret them using Acting. This EARLog is not the place to cynically question the engineering techniques of the Institute's hired help or hint at the use of professional blackmail.

Morning production meeting, and Lockwood takes the thespian context of Cookson's presence as an excuse to further ridicule my Bourbon technique for directing actors (more to follow on that). Cookson nods and smiles, and I sense that she is unwilling to compromise her screen chemistry with him by disagreeing. Cookson - and this is just my intuition - sees there is something in Biscuits, and I make a mental note that should we ever work together without Lockwood, Cookson may be the actor to try my salad dressing method on. 

I cut Lockwood down to size by having Strigner trim his hair: our production designer has never used clippers before, but I assure her "hair's just another material". It's a pity Lockwood can't see Strigner's face, as the range of emotions she journeys through during the process would put a Youtube tutorial on screen acting to shame. Eventually, though, Striggers finds her rhythm and I have to switch the clippers off at the mains when she sails past "Harley Byrne"-style and veers dangerously towards "Travis Bickle" territory.
The Nexus Art Cafe 'secret' garden is dressed as an ancient Greek marketplace, Cookson is dressed as an ancient Greek radish trader. The weather over the garden is changeable, making doubly unfeasible the use of direct sunlight for the scene, as the garden forms a petite rectangle between four imposing 5-storey walls. Given that the ancient Greeks did not have glass, is using light reflected from the Nexus windows going to look inauthentic? As the crew ponder this, shivering self-consciously in our al fresco fishbowl, Lockwood thoughtfully finds a fake fur robe to drape over Cookson's toga'd shoulders. We admire the look, and - like many of the problems the production has brought up - the window issue is soon forgotten, driven away by the current of superficial concerns. We'll see how it looks in the cut.

This morning we are also joined by Adam and Sam, film grads who have wandered into Nexus and - I can only assume - been wowed by our underground movie studio set-up. Adam is quickly put to work lowering in a digital caption from Lockwood's "Stew-Cue" (the latter was pretty jealous at Elly's Strig-Rig getting a proper name), and dusting Lockwood liberally with talcum powder (on film, it looks like dust!). Sam is trusted to manage our most complex sound set-up so far with the addition of an external mic to the cassette-dictaphone we've been taping with, but first he must toss some radishes into shot - a delicate duty which he nails first time. 

Ianthe is torn between her heart and loins (longing for Harley Byrne) and her brains (which have been told he is a veggie fiddler). For reasons of 2-dimensional geometry and the politics of screen pace, "hearts and loins" will be expressed in long shots, brains in close-ups - often cutting between the two during the same line. It should be noted that when Cookson - as the radish trader (a high-born priestess in disguise) - is asked to express desire towards Harley Byrne, she finds the posture technique that Lockwood has previously scorned is in fact really effective at getting her loins aflame. (If you remember, one should imagine the object of desire on a rug which must be dragged towards you, fists hip-high, whilst struggling with one's shoulders not to be dragged in the opposite direction; if - like Lockwood - the eyes still appear terrified, imagine you're at the end of your life and an old friend is walking towards you with his hand outstretched. This technique should not be attempted in nightclubs).

After lunch we cower back in the studio hoping that no-one will notice the carpet of talc in the garden. Crowd scenes next, utilising the home-made gaggle that Strigner (design) and Lockwood (therapy painting) put together yesterday. Cookson is due to stand in front of the crowd but as we are only able to get it a couple of feet off the ground, she has to "stand" perching on a cushion atop two large paint cans (the only combo that works), an adjustment that adds a peculiar tension to her performance. Cookson's technique is uncluttered: we tick off shot after shot until  we find we can progress no further without giant asparagus leaves, which Strigner quickly cooks up out of fiber-optic cables and cloth. There is to be a rare bit of camera movement in this shot but, still startled by the evocative clunk of ad lib leaves, I accidentally tilt Doris too far and take in not only flying veg and Radish Trader's heroic catch, but two cans of paint and Cookson's sport socks. There are no second takes on this shoot, so I devise another angle the sequence requires and am careful not to get carried away this time.

Cookson quivers admirably for her finale, and it's a wrap on today's special guest star. It's also the end of Elly Strigner's last day on the UNIVERSAL EAR set, an emotional moment as we'll miss her instant clunky designs, insults, mischievous interpretation of her 2012 alter-ego Edith Downing and all-round fine company. It feels sort of like the beginning of the end of UNIVERSAL EAR at Nexus, although we still have one and a half episodes to shoot here and over a thousand episodes unrealised beyond that.

Lockwood and I spend the evening at Contact where Dominic Berry is director and compere at Outspoken. As we stand to leave I notice a peculiar halo hovering around Lockwood's head. It is a million tiny talcum powder particles dancing in the limelight.