Monday, 28 November 2011

Our Soundtrack!

I decided fairly early on in the process of developing the style of Life Just Is that I didn't want to use a traditional score, and that the only music in the film would be diegetic (i.e. that it would come directly from within the world of the film in moments where, for instance, the characters themselves are listening to music on a stereo). The main idea behind this was that I wanted to avoid any kind of manipulation of audience emotion: I wanted to see if I could draw out an emotional response to the film purely through audience identification with the characters and their situations, rather than through a few strings ringing out on a soundtrack. Rereading Robert Bresson's Notes on the Cinematographer during development no doubt also contributed, with three of his maxims never straying too far from my mind:

'Build your film on white, on silence and on stillness'

'Be sure of having used to the full all that is communicated by immobility and silence'

'No music as accompaniment, support or reinforcement. No Music at all*.
The noises must become the music.
*Except, of course, the music played by visible instruments'

Conflicting with these ideas, though, was another: that of Life Just Is as a covert musical, in which characters sing to one another and in which music clearly plays an important part.

So, the point was never so much to abandon music as to use it in a way that mutually supported the characters and the story, without resorting to the falsification of the moment or fabrications of emotions that traditional scores can sometimes bring. 

With all that in mind, finding the right music for the film became extremely important.

It's therefore with great pleasure that I'm now able to announce, for the first time, our full soundtrack listing!

I know it's very easy to be hyperbolic when writing a piece like this (we are trying to promote a film here, after all), but what makes this announcement even more exciting is that some of the bands listed below are among my all-time favourites. I feel incredibly privileged to have been allowed to use their music, and I'd like to thank everyone involved for their kindness and support. I'm genuinely touched. The Wildhearts have been my favourite band since I was nine years old, and being able to use their music in my debut feature is something of a dream come true.

It was through The Wildhearts that I discovered some of the other bands listed, including Deckard, who I first came across when their singer supported The Wildhearts' frontman Ginger during an acoustic tour some seven or eight years ago, and The Jellys and Plan A (both of whom feature ex-Wildhearts members, and both of whom are now sadly inactive).

Another sadly inactive band is The Lustjunks, who were a regular fixture on my local music scene when I was growing up. I always seriously loved their stuff, and I'm glad that I was able to track them down and include them here. (I can also exclusively reveal that Andy, their frontman, is working on a new album – so that's certainly something to keep an eye out for!) Also culled from my local music scene is the terrifying, crushing behemoth that is nate_seacourt, who can currently be seen tearing apart venues across London (literally).

The rest of the bands came to me through our music supervisor, James McWilliam, and although I didn't know many of them until Jim suggested them, I'm no less excited about using their music in the film. Thanks to Jim's hard work and the generosity of the bands he contacted, I think we've managed to put together a genuinely interesting, exciting and eclectic sound track: Animal Kingdom have just finished recording their second album with producer David Kosten, The High Wire recently supported Coldplay across multiple dates during their Viva La Vida arena tour, and The Heart Strings' second album will be getting a physical release in January 2012.

Anyway, that's enough of my waffling – I'll let you have a listen for yourself...
- Alex

Music tracks and artists featured on our soundtrack, listed in order of appearance:
(Where possible, song names link to Spotify/Soundcloud tracks, band names to official websites. To download the free MP3s please right click and 'Save Target As...')

And Rear Lights - The Lustjunks (free MP3 download)

Dreaming in A – The Wildhearts

Music tracks performed/quoted by the cast of Life Just Is, listed with the names of their original artist, in order of appearance:

On My Mind - Will De Meo

Moving Along - Plan A (free MP3 download)

Lemonade Girl – The Jellys

Dreaming in A – The Wildhearts

Monday, 31 October 2011

Taking the Myth Out of Transmedia

When one of the speakers backed out of our event 'UPGRADE: Building a Creative Career in the Digital Age' last week, I started making notes in case I needed to give the speech himself. Luckily a replacement speaker was found, but rather than waste the prep work I'd already done, I decided to turn it into a vlog. It's basically a short talk in which I aim to take the myth out of transmedia and get people thinking about how they can maximise creativity, audience engagement and revenue potential. Here's the video, but for those who prefer to read rather than watch, I've included the key points in text form below. (We'll be back to our more regular type of blog/vlog posts later this week).

What is 'transmedia'? Also known as 'cross-platform' or 'multiplatform', 'transmedia' is a word used to refer to the practice of telling a story across multiple platforms and formats. An example of this would be The Matrix Reloaded, which used transmedia storytelling in two distinct ways: 1) they expanded the story itself across different media (the film and the computer game, Enter The Matrix), and 2) they used different media to expand and enrich the universe that the film takes place in (by telling other stories – in both comic books and animated shorts – set in the world of the film).

While you may not have the resources to work on a scale as large as that of The Matrix, that doesn't mean you can't think in cross-platform terms when conceiving projects: even something like a Twitter account set up and run in-character can be effective. Indeed, the possible platforms are endless: social media sites, live-action games, computer games, widgets, mobile phones, films, web shows, TV shows, live events, merchandise, websites, DVDs and comics are just some of the platforms you can consider to help tell your story.

Filmmakers have to acknowledge that the way audiences are consuming their work has changed: the sanctity of the cinema is not what it once was. Technology and the hyperactivity of the modern age have shattered it. Once this fact is acknowledged, the next step is to try and understand it and, more importantly, to try and turn it to our advantage.

Although it's true that genres like science-fiction may, in some ways, offer more obvious opportunities for a transmedia approach, it doesn't mean that opportunities aren't there for non-genre based projects too. For example, when we were in the development stage on Life Just Is, my producers and I had several conversations about the possibility of making a webseries to go along with the film. Consisting of five or six episodes, each episode would have focused on one of the film's lead characters and explored their lives in the run up to the moment at which the narrative of the film begins. In other words, the series would have offered a further emotional and psychological insight into the characters in the film by exploring some of their backstory. In addition to considering the webseries, we also discussed the possibility of telling these stories in comic strip form. Although the prequels didn't ultimately come to fruition, I was excited by the creative possibilities that they offered: as the writer/director of a film which focuses intensely on the lives of its characters, the opportunity to explore them in even greater detail was something that appealed to me.

The reason why we never took the idea of the prequels beyond the development stage was simply down to budget constraints, and when conceiving transmedia projects you will need to think about the cost of each of the different elements, not only in terms of finance, but also in terms of time.

However, while transmedia projects may well require a bigger outlay, it's also true that, potentially, they offer a greater capacity for revenue return: simply put, by creating multiple works, you have multiple products which you can monetise. And this is a key point to remember: each element you create has value within itself.

Another important consideration in conceiving a transmedia project is to think about how your audience is going to travel between platforms, and this needs to be thought about in terms of both the physicality and psychology: for example, how are they going to move from the cinema to the internet and, more importantly, what is it that is going to make them want to make that transition?

Here, perhaps, is where genre helps. Mystery aspects are a good way to hook in an audience, as is mythology: think about the buzz which surrounded The Blair Witch Project when it came out, another film which can be said to have utilized transmedia elements: again, they used the medium of comics, but they also made a television mockumentary – The Curse of the Blair Witch – which expanded upon the world of the story and made you want to know even more about it.

The use of the word 'expanded' here is key. If you want your viewers to actively engage in transmedia content, the work needs to add value to the story you're telling. It shouldn't just serve to promote a central product, but should genuinely help enrich the world and/or the characters of your story, because ultimately creating a world or characters that people want to find out more about, that people want to get to know, is going to go a long way to encouraging them to travel between platforms and seek out the further branches of your project.

Another point to remember is that not all audience members will engage with your project in the same way, so you really need to think about the way in which people will be consuming your work. Again, The Matrix Reloaded serves as a good example: half the storyline of the film was being told in other media, so viewers who weren't engaging with the project across the multiple platforms were only getting half the story. Literally. So you need to make sure that your project isn't alienating to people who only want to dip in and out, or to engage with it on only a single platform. But you also need to make sure that it's engaging enough for the viewers who do want to see everything.

One final aspect of the transmedia user experience that shouldn't be overlooked is the desire for interactivity: sitting back and watching as a passive viewer is no longer enough for many people. In his keynote speech at the Power to Pixel conference in 2009, film producer Ted Hope said that 'we have to go from giving the audience a monologue to having a dialogue with them', and many audience members do now have a desire to contribute back. Story Architect Lance Weiler has spoken about how audiences should be seen as collaborators, while Hope spoke in his keynote about seeing ourselves as enablers, not creators: we need to look at ways in which the 'crowd' can contribute to our work, and not be afraid to let our viewers create on the same level as us: why not allow the user to become the co-creator, and therefore the promoter, of our work?

There are many ways to encourage audience participation, from remix competitions to fan-fiction to crowd sourcing ideas. (For those of you who don't know, crowd sourcing means asking your followers to contribute ideas, storylines, or designs – or whatever – to your project, usually through an online community). Of course, co-creation is only one form of possible interactivity, and things like games or comment boards also invite audience involvement. But whatever approach you take, it's by turning the viewer into an active participant that you can achieve the highest level of audience engagement.

In short, the new technologies and the new ways in which projects are consumed calls for there to be new forms of interaction, and these new forms of interaction allow for increased revenue potential, increased audience engagement, and increased creative output. In other words: It is an exciting time to be a creative.
- Alex

Saturday, 29 October 2011


A few photographs from 'UPGRADE: Building a Creative Career in the Digital Age', the event that we put on earlier this week in association with Student Film Festival London. Photography by João Serejo.

The reception.

LJI Writer/Director and SFFL Programmer Alex Barrett giving his introduction.

Social Media Expert Justine Priestley giving her presentation.

Case Study Talk #1: Videomaker Simon Panrucker.

Case Study Talk #2: Director and comedian Mawaan Rizwan.

Case Study Talk #2: Director and comedian Mawaan Rizwan.

Producer Amy Mathieson talking about Transmedia.

The panel QA.

Alex Barrett during the QA.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Crowd-Funding Effect

Although it might seem slightly off topic for this blog, I wanted to write a short post about Ginger Wildheart's recent success over at Pledge Music with his Triple Album Project. Why? Because we've always tried to make this blog interesting and informative to other filmmakers, and Ginger's record-breaking crowd-funding seemed like something relevant that we can all learn from. And, lest that still seems too random, there are also more direct connections between Ginger and Life Just Is: he's been very supportive of our project and kindly given us permission to use two of his songs in the film (more on which another time...). I've also recently directed a video for his Ginger Wildheart Mutation project which stars Life Just Is cast members Fiona Ryan and Andrew Hawley.

For those of you not in the know (and if you're not, you really should be!),
Ginger is a British musician who found a following in the early nineties leading the rock band The Wildhearts. He's a prolific song writer who has worked on a number of projects over the years (including a recent stint in the Michael Monroe band), and who is now working on what is perhaps his most ambitious project yet: a triple album. In true independent spirit, Ginger decided he was going to do the album off his own back, crowd-funding it by pre-selling to the fans through 'pledges'. This is 'music made for the people by the people'. The triple album will only be available to those that pledge (a stripped-down, one disc version will later receive a general release, with the track listing for that version decided by those that bought the triple album). As always with crowd-funding, different benefits are offered for different pledges: £10 gets you a download version, £20-25 a deluxe 3CD set, £25-30 a signed version of the deluxe 3CD set and £100-110 gets you the albums on both CD and vinyl, plus your name in the special thanks list in the sleeve notes. All this info, and more, can be found on the Pledge Music Page, along with the amusing little video embedded below.

The campaign was launched last week, with 60 days set as the period within which to meet the target. But it took Ginger a mere six hours to reach his target, and within 24 hours the campaign had reached 200% of the sought amount.

So, how did this happen? Obviously it's impossible to know for sure, but the answer seems simple to me: because Ginger has built himself a loyal following of dedicated fans. It's important to understand that there was little publicity around Ginger's campaign, and the whole thing was achieved seemingly through a few tweets from
Ginger and his cohorts Rich Jones and Gav McCaughey, and a few posts on Ginger's Facebook page.

At this point you might be thinking 'what does this have to do with filmmaking?', but let's break it down. Ginger's worked hard to build his following. Yes, there's the back catalogue of work, but there's also more: there's the respect and gratitude he continually shows to his fans, there's his outright honesty in speaking about his life (public and private) and there's his approachability (see, for instance, his
Formspring account). All of this adds up to a personality behind his work, and one that his fans can access and, for want of a better expression, get to know. It's simple, really, but it bears pointing out: if you want your fans to actively engage with your work (in whatever medium you're working in), you need to give as well as take. Yes, the work needs to be good, but that in itself is no longer enough – you need to put yourself out there. Sure, if you're Terrence Malick maybe the mysterious approach works, but the rest of us need to make ourselves heard in an overcrowded market place. And how can we do that? By getting ourselves known as individuals with a personality that people want to (and can) engage with and support. Ginger's campaign worked because he inspires passion within his fans. And with a bit of hard work there's no reason why we, as filmmakers, can't do the same.
- Alex

Thursday, 23 June 2011

EIFF 2011

I've written elsewhere about the changes that Edinburgh International Film Festival itself has undergone this year, but there's also been another big change since Tom and I attended the festival together last year: Life Just Is has been shot!

Prior to Tom and Christine's trip to Cannes in May we had a batch of branded USB datasticks made up, which featured a QuickTime video of our promo, along with a document containing a synopsis, cast and crew bios, and other important info. We also had a set of postcards of the film's poster printed. Picking up from where Tom and Christ left off in Cannes, I took these with me to EIFF and handed them out to appropriate Sales Agents and distributors.

The festival was quiet this year, meaning that I didn't manage to give out as many as I would have liked, but it's still been a worthwhile trip, and the emails I sent out to distributors prior to the festival (asking for meetings) have also resulted in several companies expressing interest in seeing the film, which is amazing.

In addition to Sales Agents and distributors, I also met a number of other filmmakers who were interested to hear about the project and offer me some invaluable advice. So, despite being slightly less busy than last year, EIFF 20211 has been another great experience.

On a related note, my film reviews from the festival will be appearing on Directors Notes over the coming week.
- Alex

The LJI branded USB datastick

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Life's Just Networking Photographs, May 2011

Some photographs from our final Life's Just Networking event last night. I'd like to say a MASSIVE thank you to everyone who's ever come along to one of our evenings, and to all the filmmakers who have shared their work. I'd like to think this isn't the end, but the start of a new era... the first leg of our Life's Just Events journey may be over, but who knows what the future will hold! Thanks again to all those who have travel along with us!

'Life Just Is' Associate Producer Augusto da Rocha before the event.

'Life Just Is' Associate Producer Roland Holmes before the event.

Filling up.

'Life Just Is' writer/director Alex Barrett (left) talks about his short film 'Canbury', along with soundman Jason Creasey (centre) and actor James Wallace (right).

Watching the QAs.

Director Thao Dang (centre) and actor Tom Ruddock (right) talk about their film 'Scot Tells Amanda He Wants to be More Man'.

Watching the QAs.

Murat Kebir, Writer/Director/Editor of 'My Dad and Spike' and Editor of 'Life Just Is', gets animated talking about his short film.

Watching the QAs.

Director John Michell talks about his film 'Barry'.

Watching the QAs.

Producer Jay Taylor (left) and Director Lawrence Page (centre) talk about their film 'Love Hound'.

Fiona Ryan, star of 'Life Just Is', talks about her role in 'Love Hound' and acting with her canine co-star.

Watching the QAs.

Murat Kebir (left) talks about his new project.

John Michell presents his new project.

Thao Dang talks about getting ahead and building a presence through Social Media.


LJN host and organiser Alex Barrett (right) with LJN regular Ralph Stenzel.

'Life Just Is' casting assistant Barnes Cook with LJI flyer.


Some of the cast and crew of 'Life Just Is'. Left to right: Alice Caronna (1st AD), Jason Creasey (Sound), Fiona Ryan ('Claire'), Alex Barrett (Writer/Director), Niina Topp (Production Design), Tom Ruddock (DIT) and Roland Holmes (Associate Producer).

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Cannes Promo

Over the last few weeks, alongside working on the edit, I have also been spending time trying to put together a short promo for Tom and Christine to take to Cannes. Distinctly not a trailer, the idea was to put together a short reel featuring several short extracts from the film (in case you're wondering: we want to concentrate on really getting the film right first, before cutting the trailer. Plus we felt that the extract-style promo reel might better serve our purposes here). The point, of course, is to try and raise awareness of, and interest in, the film among potential Sales Agents and Distributors. We're planning to get the promo put onto branded USB sticks which Tom and Christine will hand out during their festival trip (though we'll also be doing an online version to send to other contacts).

Putting the promo together has turned out to be much tougher than expected: our aim was to introduce all six of the main characters, convey something of the film's tone, its style, its themes and of course, its story - all in under five minutes, something which has been made even harder by the length of many of our scenes. Many of the clips we tried - which work brilliantly in the film - simply didn't work when divorced from context. However, Murat was able to step in and save the day, suggesting a great extract which works on its own merits and cutting down some of my choices, bringing us in at a punchy 3 minutes 20 seconds. It may not quite offer the all-encompassing setup that we had originally wanted, but I believe that it gives a good impression of the film and hopefully it will entice people to want to know more. We'll be doing a special launch for the promo, pre-Cannes, at our final Life's Just Networking event on May 10th, so why not come along and judge for yourself?

The full programme for our special finale will be announced on Tuesday, and features films made by and starring the cast and crew of Life Just Is.

- Alex

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Life's Just Networking Photographs, April 2011

Photography by Daniel D. Moses.

Battersea Power Station as seen from The Duchess.

People arriving.


The cast of 'Bubble Burst'.



Filmmaker Sankar Jayaraman doing some networking before the screening of his film 'Bubble Burst'.

LJN host Alex Barrett doing his intro.

'Bubble Burst' actress Carmen Gabriele.

Director Sankar Jayaraman is joined by his cast for the 'Bubble Burst' QA.

Simon Rickards and Augusto da Rocha talk about their film 'Retreat'.

Filmmaker Xavier Rodriguez talks about his film 'Prey'.

'Life Just Is' Executive Producer Christine Hartland relaxes on the sofa.


Director Ben Hyland doing some networking after screening the trailer for his feature film 'Frontman'.

Sankar Jayaraman presenting his new project.

James Rumsey returns to the LJN stage to talk about an upcoming project.

Simon Rickards presents his new film.

LJI Associate Producer Roland Holmes watches Howard Cohen's presentation on comedy, 'What is Funny?'.

Howard Cohen talks about Community United National Television during his presentation on comedy, 'What is Funny?'.