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.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


Lockwood awakes complaining of feeling "fuggy". He hasn't been the same since The Bad Lieutenant. I know things are bad when I offer him £7 to go and get his haircut and he says he'll just let Strigner do it: the very idea of letting our production designer loose on his follicles was enough to bring him out in shakes just three weeks ago.

We manage, all the same, and despite Strigner being delayed by dog health issues, a quietly productive morning. I complete the entire shotlist for "Bloodless Offering in B Minor" in the Snuggle Office whilst Lockwood deputises for Strigner in the studio. At 11am I pop my head round the door to find he has built the beginnings of a fine miniature for our model shot of an ancient Greek marketplace. However, when I return an hour later he has progressed no further, painting the same tiny radish and muttering about his veg stall being structurally unsound.

We escape into the cafe area for pizza pie, a concoction of toast, cheese and tomato that looks and sounds like something I might make (I don't make things) but tastes superb, and briefly alleviates Lockwood's fug. Strigner's right hand woman Suzanne Thompson arrives with a bagful of handcrafted veg and a bad head: on Strigner's arrival we finally get around to singing the Institute's anthem, a discipline that has been neglected three out of the last four days.

Buoyed by our Fat Larry imitation (and personally by Strigner's remarks on my own improvement at same) we crack on at a mild canter. A pleasant moment occurs as we stand by the window to the secret garden (should a secret garden have a window?) when Nexus Sally, distracted from her homework, wistfully imagines we are talking about the weather: whilst Sally is not far off, I am taken with the idea of imagining other people wasting time in mundane conversation whilst daydreaming oneself. Such pockets of time are undervalued, ephemeral and uncontrivable. If only you could tin them for emergencies.

The rest of the day is spent messing around with togas and attempting to keep Lockwood from harming himself. He is left painting quietly in the studio and we pretend not to be disturbed by the occasional perverted assertion that issues from his troubled lips. Tomorrow Doris rolls on the next episode of UNIVERSAL EAR. An early night for all.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010


Lockwood spends the morning alone in the studio, no doubt grunting and hooting in response to the ridiculous "find your natural voice" book his head has been stuck in for the past two days. If that's his natural voice, surely losing it was the whole point of drama school?

The first thing I achieve once on set is Lunch, and it looks for a while like that's as good as it's going to get. Even as I allow myself a self-congratulatory "whoop" on having hunter-gathered carbs, protein and pro-biotic yoghurt for the pair of us, Lockwood tells me it's the wrong kind of carbs and the bottom falls out of my day.

A ray of of light appears in the form of a visitor to the Snuggle Office: Ian from k'motion Films, who is - until Nexus Alistair introduces him - a stranger. We talk of our respective ambitions, struggles and triumphs, although I decide not to mention the post-lunch slump thing (I don't know if Ian has eaten by this point but there's no evidence of any slump on his part), and generally reassure each other of the nobility of trying to create something from only a wisp over nothing. Ian has big plans, he also has a lunch partner waiting him for out in the cafe so Lockwood and I reluctantly allow him to leave, whereupon the energy in the room dissipates and I impulsively down the remaining yoghurt in one.

To the cafe, then, where I don my 'serious' look so that Lockwood doesn't guess I haven't a clue what to do next. I have him shift some furniture around to make up a set for "Stampys", the postal service members club from where Harley Byrne introduces each episode. But it doesn't feel right, and we decide to save the cafe environment for our next-episode-but-one, in which the space is to feature prominently. We retire instead to the studio, to which I have Lockwood drag more furniture. We are able to utilise some of the Lumpenbal donations - a splendid bicycle, an Egyptian tea set - to create the Stampys set. But then it comes time to actually film it, and I find I have nothing. I don't even have the notes we made whilst rehearsing the scene several weeks back, as - whilst embodying the spirit of original UNIVERSAL EAR director Francis Dove - it seemed to make more sense to lose them and perform instead from a memory of a contrivance of an interpretation of a script. This somewhat indefinite, analogue approach is in fact completely inappropriate here, as it is our intention to shoot Byrne's performance "lo-res" - glitching from emotion to clunking emotion with nary a segue from one to the next. (Doris, the Super 8 camera, is to record this sympathetically by gearing down to 12 frames-per-second - not least because we're running perilously short of film stock).

However, if there's one thing that'll make you slap yourself across both cheeks and face up to your professional obligations, it's having a photographer appear on set and ask to snap you in action: and that's precisely what happens, as Kit from Hong Kong pops her head bravely through the studio door and asks what we're doing. Kit packs an arsenal of proper old cameras herself, and by redirecting some burning tungsten from Lockwood's gurning face to Doris's mechanical curves I am able to draw her right in and ascertain that she is no rush to leave.

Will you help us, Kit, get these three shots? Kit is no rush, wants to get some pics and agrees to extra as a Stampys tea-girl. I quickly scribble a direction ("billowing vowels", "Bond [Roger]") on each of Lockwood's prompt cards and we're ready to go. Once Doris is whirring, we all get caught up in her momentum: Kit pours steaming tea, Lockwood clunks from "hard consonants" to "condescending pity" with zero grades of performance in between, and I aid him by holding/swaying/rolling his cue sheets in the direction and distance I think he should stare with each line. Before we know it, we've burnt through 48 feet of Tri-X on Lockwood and used the last couple of feet for Kit's close-ups, and are wrapped for the day. It's only 16:30 so Kit takes this opportunity to turn her cameras on Lockwood and I. Hunter becomes hunted as we hold our respective contraptions (Doris for me and the Universal Ear for Lockwood) feebly at each other and allow our likeness to be captured by Kit's vintage bellow-hinged Polaroid and medium format Rolleiflex. We say our goodbyes, and Lockwood and I high-five.

The excellent mood is only soured when Lockwood is shortly after given some free chocolate cake by Steph and Hannah in the cafe and I get none. What hurt the
most was the way he wolfed the remainder down when he saw I'd caught him.

Cast, extras & runners needed for UNIVERSAL EAR

This week production starts on the next episode of UNIVERSAL EAR, on an open set at Manchester's Nexus Art Cafe.

"Bloodless Offering in B Minor" is a swedes-and-sandals epic in which our hero Harley Byrne travels back to Greece, 425BC in order to record the pulsating rhythms of an immolated artichoke. But his arch nemesis BEING has arrived ahead of him and spun a web of tangled identity and multiple disguises amongst the religious community. In the balmy, fetid-smelling air of the temple of veg, Byrne finds himself attracted to his host's official greengrocer, Thersites. A boisterous and tender relationship blooms between the two men, compromising the success of Byrne's mission.

We need!

1 chap to play the REAL THERSITES (any age 18+)
->auditions this afternoon and tomorrow (Weds), shooting Thursday and Sunday this week

1 couple to snog in the background of our opening sequence
->get in touch, we'll work out a time to do it

Set decorators, prop/crafts people and runners are also needed Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday & next Monday... however much or little you can do, please get in touch (experience not essential).

Please email info [at] or drop into the studio at Nexus Art Cafe, on Dale Street opposite Vinyl Exchange; or leave a comment below.

This week we will be there 10-6 Tues-Thurs and 12-5.30 Sunday.

Sunday, 23 May 2010


A day of fleas, Hawaiian shirts and the baddest of lieutenants. More soon.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Second UNIVERSAL EAR episode going into production

L'Institute Zoom are continuing to reshoot the entire lost UNIVERSAL EAR serial in our temporary film studio at Nexus Art Cafe.

UNIVERSAL EAR is a perpetual adventure series, charting the progress of Harley Byrne – arch-explorer and former postman – and his mission through space, time and sound to capture and make available for download “all the world's music, ever”.

The first episode "A Flea Orchestra In Your Ear" will wrap on Sunday 22nd May, and the production is looking for extras dressed smart (black tie) and carrying musical instruments (talent non-essential) to join us from 2.30pm-4.30pm to 'perform' in the flea orchestra itself. Please show up at the cafe and ask for the UNIVERSAL EAR studio.

Next week we begin work on the second episode, a swedes-and-sandals epic entitled "Bloodless Offering in B Minor". Wednesday 26th & Thursday 27th we will be making sets and costumes, and rehearsing and shooting on Thursday, Sunday 30th and Monday 31st.

Our film studio is to the right of the cafe counter and is open 10-5.30 Mon-Thurs and 12-5.30 on Sundays until further notice. Whenever you see the door open, you are welcome to come through and say hello, whether you'd like to help or just be nosy.

You can also follow our progress online at, and join our Facebook group.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Extras needed in Manchester this Sunday

Please join us at the UNIVERSAL EAR film studio in Manchester City Centre this Sunday, as we film the final shots of first episode, "A Flea Orchestra In Your Ear".

We will be shooting the Flea Orchestra itself so require extras in smart dress (preferably white shirt, plain black/dark tie, dark jacket), with whatever musical instruments you can bring. We have a few shirt/ties & instruments so feel free to come along and borrow. You don't have to be able to play the instruments as we will add the music later.

The shoot should last from 2.30pm-4.30pm. The cafe will be open before, during and after if you'd like to factor your Sunday mellow into the day. Extras will become a part of cinematic history, and one day receive a DVD of their work.

Please email armend [at] or just show up at Nexus Art Cafe on Dale Street in Manchester's Northern Quarter this Sunday from 2.30pm.

what Nexus looks like from outside (far prettier inside)& please forward this call-out to anyone who might appreciate it.

If you would like to join us earlier to help make up some costumes, we'll be in the studio from 12 ... please drop in.

UNIVERSAL EAR stars Lockwood & Betts in the studio

Thursday, 20 May 2010


This weekend at UNIVERSAL EAR Studios

Just to warn you, the studio will be closed Friday 21st-Saturday 22nd May: please watch here or on Facebook or for updates on what's happening next...

Tuesday, 18 May 2010


Lockwood and I awake, once more, to the sound of drilling and hammering next door. 8am sharp every morning, our industrious - indeed, industrial - neighbour treats us a complex treat of sensations both sonic and vibrational. I'm able to shake it off though, better rested for having regained custody of "the bed" as we call it - "the bed" being a bed, rather than an arrangement of armchair cushions and folded sleeping bags on "the floor".

I had dreamt of being a child again, moving to a mansion and "Far And Away" style staking my claim to all of the best and biggest rooms (including the basement) before my sister got home. She wasn't happy. Many of my dreams these last weeks have involved me being a child, perhaps because deep down I consider myself to be hideously out of depth leading a reconstruction project off-site from the familiar environs of Zoomcitta. Or perhaps because it's like having a massive toy set. Or just because of Lockwood's liberated, childlike attitude towards bodily functions.

Lockwood fooling about behind a Romanian doorThe journey to work involved high speed collisions in both eyes (greenflies), the only levity being provided by the sight of a taxi driver getting roughed up in the middle of the road, presumably for being an inconsiderate road lout.

light schoolRather self-satisfied for having set up today's first shot last night, I am rather gutted when the starlet Tuesday Betts points out that this scene requires soaking our hero Harley Byrne (who has just landed in a lake) which means his costume will be out of action for the rest of the day. Instead, we dismantle the set and prepare the "romantic dinner" scenes. My swagger soon returns as I singlehandedly concoct an ingenious lighting set up out of some garden lights (sans stand), two redhead pots (with barely a directional stand between them), a reflector and a tea tray. Lockwood and Betts have done themselves proud setting up the actual location (dinner table in log cabin in front of window with mountainside vista) and refuse to acknowledge my burgeoning cinematographic genius. Fortunately, Nexus gaffer Emily walks in at this point to see what we're up to and I'm able to quite naturally introduce the fact of my genius into general conversation. Emily has just returned from gardening class and, having successfully photosynthesised over 50% of her runner beans in the past three weeks, can also claim to know a thing or two about the taming of raw light: we instantly gain a new mutual respect, or at least I think we do, as there are still big yellow blotches in my eyes and I can only make out her feet.

a romantic meal as seen through a 19th century Romanian windowHaving achieved all this, our three-person crew breaks for pies, which we take in the Nexus garden: it's barely noon but we're hoping the post-lunch slump will get confused when it turns up at two and finds us all fully digested. We crack through the dinner scenes, then I pretend to go through my script whilst my actors build the outside of the cabin for Byrne's big wet arrival scene (really I am napping). Naturally, having each done the work of a dozen disparate crew members today, we are slowing: but we nail the cabin, whoosh through a self-congratulory analysis session and bid Betts au revoir: she has done all her scenes for this, the first episode of UNIVERSAL EAR. She casually points out that she won't be back for at least a fortnight but, giddy on our success, we overlook this and I make a mental note to develop a simmering resentment at a later date.

Lockwood as Doris sees him

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Scott Bradley performs our institutional anthem

Following on from yesterday, here's a more modern take on the Zoom anthem. The pop artist Scott Bradley doesn't seem to have truly expert control over his diaphragm - but he's having a lot of fun, and that's not a bad place to start.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Night cafe - extras needed

Tomorrow night 2am-6am (that's Sunday morning to early-risers) production of UNIVERSAL EAR will move into the main cafe area of Nexus Art Cafe, as the crew reimagine the "orange room" as the atelier/hideout of Harley Byrne's degenerate artist brother Santiago.

Each episode of UNIVERSAL EAR opens with a scene in which Harley must convince... his brother, a temporal cubist, to find him a path through time and space to the origin of the track he is to hunt down. This week we will attempt to get three episodes worth of these scenes - and we require extras (dressed as degenerate artists/temporal cubists) and helpers to do so.

Says director Graeme Cole: "We also need a PRIEST and a BRIDE, or at least people dressed up as those. No lines, you're purely extras. In constumes. If we get more than one priest and/or bride, well we can make that work too."

Please drop into the night cafe or message me or Graeme through Facebook if you'd like to be a part of it.

Zoom Anthem

Every working morning at the Institute, we all get together to sing our anthem - Fat Larry's Band's "Zoom" - before the day's business begins. Whilst our Future Films department is temporarily relocated at the Nexus Art Cafe studio, they continue to fly the Zoom flag and can be heard performing "Zoom" ahead of the ongoing production of UNIVERSAL EAR each day. If you're in the cafe, please feel free to join them, or listen from your table with a cup of tea.

In the meantime, here is the first in a series of cover versions for the sake of appeal. You might particularly look out for Stevie D's choice to whistle through the instrumental section, and to punctuate the number with a kiss at the camera. Stevie D, we at L'Institute Zoom salute you and your interpretation of our official anthem.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010


The original, 2012 version of the time-travel adventure serial UNIVERSAL EAR is considered - by those few who are aware of it - to be the greatest act of filmmaking folly to have ever been committed to celluloid.

I beg to differ. After eight days of attempting to "prehabilitate" the same series in a public film studio no bigger than my flat (tiny), whilst putting up lead actor Stewart Lockwood (mansize) in afore-mentioned (tiny) flat, a full two years before the original was even made, our endeavour seems follier. Francis Dove, the director of the 2012 original, at least had some finance behind him - even though he never seems to have made up his mind whether the finished work would be destined for TV or cinema or internet, or even whether he intended it to be seen at all. We have only donations of junk (some really fantastic junk), and it is little consolation that Dove - who was in something of an emotionally bankrupt state when he made UNIVERSAL EAR - would have considered the physical accoutrements of his own set to be little more than the flotsam of a sinking reality.

Furthermore, it's difficult not to feel the pressure of time constraints when one begins the reconstruction of a series that had over 1,000 episodes. You can imagine how Dove was actually quite pleased when his leading man Byrne boycotted several episodes, leaving Dove to cut together performances from outtakes from shoots gone by. We don't have that luxury - we're working on a strictly first-take-counts basis, which means there's nothing left on the cutting room floor at the end of the day.

All of which is to say, we've rather jettisoned the idea of shooting a whole episode every week, and are instead basking in the luxury of time and tightly parametered space that residency chez Nexus brings us. We've shot maybe 15% of "A Flea Orchestra In Your Ear" which was meant to wrap last Sunday; we're reveling in the spirit of our 2012 alter-egos; trying things out and enjoying the company. Certain disciplines (morning meeting, warm-up/L'Institute Zoom anthem, closing analysis "What have we achieved? What went wrong?") remain, have even begun to stretch out over the so-called productive hours in between. We may add more - rhythm is important. Join us, and we can beat out time together.

Monday, 10 May 2010

This week at UNIVERSAL EAR @ Nexus Art Cafe

First off, Mr Cole sends his apologies for being unable to contribute a truly comprehensive blog entry at this point. He has the UNIVERSAL EAR crew working around the clock to find a time-efficient blogging technique that can function alongside the day-to-day pressures of working in a film studio alien to one's usual surroundings (the latter being the currently sealed off Zoomcitta complex).

This week the studio is looking to employ short and long term (one hour or three weeks) art department volunteers. There are sets, props, costumes and backdrops that need painting and building out of assorted donations of junk: please drop into the studio or message us via the Facebook group. (There are now also some photos of what we've been up to).

This week the studio will be open:
Tues 11th 10am-5.30 (outtakes, freezedried emotion tinning)
Weds 12th 10am-5.30 (set design & making for "A Flea Orchestra In Your Ear" & "Bloodless Offering in B-Minor")
Thurs 13th 10am-5.30 (shooting some more "Flea")
Sat 15th 10am-1pm (rehearsal with recurring guest character "Santiago Byrne" .. and watch this space for possible Night Cafe action)
Sun 16th 12-5.30pm Tuesday Sundays - shooting with the starlet Tuesday Betts.

Please drop in for a chat about how you can become involved. We need you.

Thursday, 6 May 2010


The day of the Lumpenbal, our launch party in the 19th century European tradition, whereby at the end of the ball season - when all are broke and broken by hedonistic and sartorial extravagances past - the doors to the final ball are thrown open to tramps, vagabonds and spent socialites alike to revel in their collective downfall. (More details on our intentions and conventions can be found here).

The day is largely dedicated to continued set-building (above) for first episode "A Flea Orchestra In Your Ear" - once we've Zoomed, warmed up, and further explored Higginson's temporal cubist work-out (below). I'm careful to earmark a wedge of day for the preparation of the ballroom; however, this wedge becomes smaller and smaller as we apply ever fiercer concentration to cardboard manipulation in pursuit of the perfect screen log cabin.

At 3.45, Lockwood and I hold a meeting with Marie Louise Cookson, a semi-pro announcer, to put together a bit of a show for the "speeches" bit of the ball. The atmosphere is strained and Lockwood and I wonder whether Cookson is ill, or perhaps feeling the pressure ahead of her intended performance in front of up to 150 people. Lockwood and I throw up some suggestions as to how we might approach the public introduction to the UNIVERSAL EAR serial and our prehabilitation of same: I mainly concentrate on funny stuff, while Lockwood becomes somewhat stuck on the question of "what are we trying to achieve here?". To paraphrase our producer, Nathan Povey, if we spent all our time asking ourselves what we were trying to achieve, what would we ever achieve? (Don't try to answer that). Finally Cookson snaffles the best of my material and announces she must retire from the meeting to fashion her notes into some kind of script. Before she leaves, it is revealed that the reason for her spikiness today is that she has taken yesterday's failed audition rather personally - particularly criticising the medium of rejection (SMS text message) and the tone (frank). I look to Lockwood to back me up, but he is apparently searching for something valuable under the Snuggle Office sofa; Cookson leaves, hardly on better terms than she had arrived, and I fear our on-stage chemistry this evening may already be compromised.

The day segues so smoothly into the evening that I almost forget to slip into my ball gown. I have at the last minute asked production designer Strigner to continue working out back away from the festivities this evening, so we might guide guests through to show them the studio at work. Friends and strangers alike begin to teem into the cafe, and we receive - among other donations - a pair of crutches, a fine but immobile bicycle, and a set of Egyptian crockery. First AD Rowan makes a poignant and complex statement about the instability of matter, the ephemeral nature of propriety and the subjective quantification of man-made space by smashing one such hieroglyphed teacup on the floor and bursting into tears. (I will call to mind this impromtu performance a week later whilst watching Gordon Matta-Clark's Conical Intersect (1975) at Kate Taylor's FutureEverything film screening - but pound for pound, Rowan's piece is more affecting.)

Speeches next, and charmed equally by Cookson's delivery and Lockwood's bashfulness, I forget to mention many of the key points I was to illustrate during our address. Cookson's turn will indeed be remembered as a highlight of the evening; Lockwood, a some-time stage actor, can only hope his shy demeanour is overlooked by the masses. Is is past 9pm (the ball is only due to go on until 10) and Tuesday Betts has not yet shown up, so I completely forget that we (she) is meant to be crowning a belle and/or beau of the ball: thankfully no-one picks up on this and we are able to make way for our stand-in band Pyjama Party, whose own Mr Beats immediatly unleashes the song of wild elephants and such on the crowd, embellishing the PJ sound with a concrète underscore. Sugden, UNIVERSAL EAR's executive producer and our portraitist for the evening, continues to take one-minute 'screen tests' of our guests, as general photography is absolutely forbidden.

9.54 and a lost looking glamourpuss in fake fur coat, bob wig, cigarette holder and sherry bottle (Nexus is strictly dry) wanders down from the street, scanning the dazzled ball-goers for a familiar face. Next to our cast of beggars and chimney sweeps, the stranger is clearly in the wrong place... until she is revealed to be none other than Tuesday Betts, the female lead of our UNIVERSAL EAR remake and would-be Lumpenbal figurehead. A truly memorable entrance: in the minutes that remain (not too few, as Pyjama Party refuse to leave the stage), Betts allows Sugden to take her portrait, then helps us clear up before emabarking on the drive back to Blackpool. Legend.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010


This morning we are joined by our Production Designer Elly Strigner, whose poster (poster is not word enough for this object-advert) for our Lumpenbal has already caused much gasping around Nexus; also J Addy who will assist her; and his friend "I" who has requisitioned some arts materials from a publicly funded educational institution (due to the Institute's current economic crisis the UNIVERSAL EAR production is entirely reliant on donations and, let's say, quasi-donations). We warm up and sing, then go to work building a set to represent the Romanian mountains circa 1861. The Nexus Art Cafe garden is being "done" today and, given our remit (and desire) to merge the UNIVERSAL EAR production with the day-to-day life of the cafe, I am pleased to see Addy bringing us branches, leaves, bits of bench etc. for our rural backdrop. It soon turns out that he has completely bypassed the cafe garden and instead raided the parks and tree-lined streets of Manchester's city centre. Later, Nexus's own Hannah Mosley brings us some legit foliage and my conscience is assuaged.

Our first auditionee for the role of the real Nola Luna arrives, and we immediately recognise her as Marie Louise Cookson - yes, the promising new Future Films engineer who has been put to work compiling a blueprint for the UNIVERSAL EAR episode Bloodless Offering in B Minor. Professionalism dictates that none of us can acknowledge our mutual familiarity, and a tense and peculiar reading follows behind closed doors. Professionalism further forbids me going into detail here, but the audition is a tempestuous stew of emotions both real and performed (and the distinction is not always clear). Cookson leaves and Lockwood and I agree we picked the wrong day to give up Digestives. The role of the real Nola Luna finally goes to Briony O'Callaghan, despite nearly blowing her audition with an over-convincing Romanian accent: I consult my sound people, who tell me we can warp it down to the quality of accent generally portrayed by the Institute's stock performers in post-production.

A postcard is dropped anonymously at the Nexus counter, without a stamp, addressed to me: it is from the house band. They are, they say, recovering in hospital having become fossilised within a cloud of resolidifying lava somewhere on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. They will not be able to perform at the Lumpenbal as planned the following night. Disaster! I ask 1st AD Rowan to make some calls, and she is able to book us Manchester's premier nightwear-wrapped music act Pyjama Party, who - whilst understandably unable to commit to performing a representative cross-section of "all the world's music, ever", as the house band had planned - boldly promise to segue some classic
concrète from across the centuries into their repertoire. Saved!

Busy times at film studio from the future

Hello there, project leader Cole here (attempting to channel the spirit of original UNIVERSAL EAR director Francis Dove).

We're two days into prefabrication of the lost UNIVERSAL EAR adventure serial at our temporary home, Nexus Art Cafe. Frankly, between tea-making, wolf-sourcing and epic holistic warm-up sessions, there's been no time to relay much of what's happened so far - I'd advise you, if you can, to visit us instead and see what's going on. We'll be there 10- 5.30 every day until Sunday, and then publish a new schedule for next week.

Thursday 6th May - set making, preparing for grand Lumpenbal (with last-minute rescue guest spot from Manchester's snuggliest band PYJAMA PARTY)
Friday 7th May - exposure of film begins somehow
Saturday 8th May - A.M. we work with Tuesday Betts on her performance as BEING (in the spirit of the original actress, Brigitte Bridges); P.M. come and play a flea and/or a wave and/or a flame as Downing's original production design gets person-al.
Sunday 9th May - the first of our Tuesday Sundays, when we film starlet Tuesday Betts' scenes for the UNIVERSAL EAR episode A Flea Orchestra In Your Ear.

Anyone is welcome to pop in whenever they can; we're in the studio behind the kitchen, we should have some good signage up shortly. Come and say hello, or watch in silence, or volunteer to paint a set or don a costume. We are particularly looking for make-up people and film (rather than digital) cinematographers, but tell us what you do and there'll be something you can turn your hand to. A bit like those ads for the army only with significantly less killing and that.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010


Lockwood is rooming with me for the duration of the UNIVERSAL EAR shoot. He and I rise at 8am for probably the last time, and he makes us eggs, possibly for the last time. We mount our company bicycles to head in for the first day of production, and then dismount as Lockwood's Raleigh Pioneer has a puncture. He gets the bus instead, and while I wait for him outside Nexus I am joined by the department's Physical Welfare Enforcer Fran Higginson, and our First AD Rowan, who is already busy making calls at 10am. It quickly transpires that there is no-one on the other end of the phone (aside from in her imagination), but Rowan looks professional and I don't know who she'd need to call anyway, so we let it pass. Aside from her frequent breaks for "mummy milk", Rowan will prove to be one of the most energetic ADs I've yet worked with.

Lockwood joins us on the street and we all talk about the situation we're in. Ten minutes later, I call Nexus to ask if we can be let in, and they apologise for forgetting to open the cafe. The schedule quickly takes on what we will explain away as an "organic" evolutionary imperative, with warm up and the performance of our anthem (Fat Larry's Band's "Zoom") postponed whilst we arrange the two spaces into a production office/dressing room (which Rowan, with no little marketing savvy, christens as the "Snuggle Office") and studio space.

Higginson leads us in a combined warm-up/anthem/exploration of temporal cubist space-time. Our Physical Welfare Enforcer has been training with a Soviet martial arts expert who seems to know the secret of most things. We are shown some speculative photo-montages illustrating muscle-use during temporal cubist-based time travel, and we attempt to warm up some of same.

Later, we spend some time developing Harley Byrne's screen fighting technique. The real Byrne, in 2012, had developed his own technique based on a personal biophysics of twenty years in the postal service. In order to make these acceptable to cinema audiences, a special trainer was employed to refine his moves: however, the trainer was 8-months pregnant, and Byrne took her demonstrations rather literally. Fortunately, we have planned ahead and Higginson is well into her third trimester. In just a few hours, Lockwood is punching like a knocked-up parcel vet: indeed, like Harley Byrne.

First day of UNIVERSAL EAR not a failure

The preconstruction of the lost adventure series UNIVERSAL EAR began at the Institute's temporary film studio at Manchester's Nexus Art Cafe today, and no-one was hurt.

Please join us tomorrow to make sets and props or to audition for the role of the Real Nola Luna.

(Photos show leading man Stewart Lockwood and 8-month pregnant physical welfare enforcer Fran Higginson exploring hero Harley Byrne's unique martial arts techniques).