My first experience of one shot movies and Hackney, at the One Shot Movie Screening and Awards Ceremony at Hackney Attic.
Despite having spent the day fiercely tackling the unfamiliarity of East London, I became timid as I faced the building on the opposite side of the road, square on. It was difficult to take it all in in one snapshot, it was much bigger than I expected and the giant letters mounted across the front screamed out to me in a wide panoramic view – PICTURE HOUSE – My final destination. I was standing still on the edge of a dark road, my feet over the curb, breathing quite heavily after my rapid walk down Mare Street, and timing the traffic that attacked from all sides. I was unsure of where I was about to be and what I was about to see but in the spirit of adventure I stared deep into the unknown, hurled myself over that curb and sprinted towards the other side…
Well, Hackney Attic, the venue at the highest peak of the Picturehouse, is really quite lovely. You can always sense an atmosphere as soon as you step into it, and this was one of those better ones that invites you into the inner circle straight away, leaving no one on the outer edge twiddling their thumbs like an awkward extra. As I approached the top of the stairs I could hear chatting and laughing and lots of orders being placed at the bar. As I walked in people smiled and acknowledged my existence and that’s when I realised this was a first for everyone. There was no pretense or pompousness, everyone was genuinely interested and supportive of the organisers and film makers. Chairs were set up cinema-style in front of the stage and screen area. I found an empty chair near the front but unfortunately directly behind someone else, giving me a one shot of a head amid the top ten entries and winner of the One Shot Movie competition. Well life sometimes throws a challenge like this your way, and the key is to stay calm and just move your head in the opposite way to the person in front (no time to think and about the poor person sitting behind you).
I didn’t fully comprehend the challenge of making a movie in one shot until the screening began. I found myself feeling tense, like I sometimes feel at the theatre, because I knew the actors, the directors, the camera men, needed to capture their vision in one go, no tricks, no cuts. I could only imagine the length of their bloopers reel. The films were made by local and international directors and as a whole, they covered a wide range of themes, from funny and witty scenarios and motifs, to darker and more philosophical narratives. Apart from the uncompromising ‘one shot’, it was clear there were absolutely no boundaries, which made it difficult to compare one film with the next. Some of my favourites however included, The Fight, Directed by Alex Goddard (UK), which was simple but clever and hilariously funny. It focuses on one man preparing for a fight, uttering a long string of ‘fighting words’, with the help of props. He threatens to ‘Squash’ us as he brandishes a squash (as in the vegetable) in his clenched fist, and a butterfly appears as well as a man dressed as a bee – and credited as Bee.
Owen Marshall’s (UK) Life After also made me chuckle in my seat, presenting the scenario of a man, or at least his voiceover, attending his own funeral. I think it worked well as a concept because it is something we’ve all fantasised about at one point or another. However, in this case it backfires, when he finds his best friend having an affair with his girlfriend, his pain-in-the-arse sister trying to claim his house, and a stranger sitting on his stairs. Korimarka, by Juan Alberto Guerra Alvarez (Argentina, Bolivia), explores death and rebirth, as a young boy speaks with his grandfather in a graveyard. It was beautifully simple as one shot, showing a wide span of scenery and finally revealing a graveyard. It was quiet and thoughtful, and stood out as something quite different. Other films included Liars, by Oscar Nobi, which features a funny conversation between friends who decide to finally stop humouring each other; Conscription, by Jack Bottomly, a dark momentary look at a suicide in 1939; We Are Such Stuff, by Joshua Kohn, an interpretation of a nightmare; Purpose, by Adam Comrie, which tries to shed some light on gang culture and the meaning of life; and of course the winner, Faux Depart, by Shekhar Bassi, a film that tells the tale of Fahim and Hasshid who plan to swim to London to begin a new life.
The winner, Shekhar Bassi said the competition, ‘Made me want to do something [pause] completely different’. I think anything that gives you a passion or a drive to create is a worthwhile thing. Trying to create something different in an industry where creation takes place every day is a real challenge. I’ve seen short films before but the one shot generates a different kind of momentum and authenticity, and tests the directors and actors within the space and time that they’ve got. The organisers, Daniel Birt, Kier Menzies, and Daniel Palmer, mentioned one shot scenes from big blockbusters such as the Dunkirk beach scene from Atonement and the Copacabana steady cam shot from Goodfellas, which demonstrate how smooth and stunning the one shot can be. You could tell the competition had only just been born, it didn’t exactly flow like a Goodfellas scene, but the organisers were welcoming and enthusiastic and got a good response from entrants.
Maybe as the competition grows more popular in the years to come, the one shot movies will push further and become more spectacular.
– Scarlett Hermon
Traveling from Raynes Park to Hackney Central when there’s a football match on and you’ve unfortunately missed one essential part of your route of your planned train journey makes you around 15 minutes later than you originally thought. Sweaty and angry, you trudge mindlessly for ten minutes in one part of a train station and next minute you’re running like a madman (and presumedly swearing like a Jeremy Kyle guest) trying to get to your destination. When you reach said destination with minutes to spare only to be told you have to queue for your ticket. When you have your ticket you’re then told you have to run up five flights of stairs to reach the top. The ‘Attic’. The ‘Hackney Attic’ to be exact. Sweaty and panicky, and regretting wearing a suit, you get yourself a large coke (no ice), find a seat and settle down for the evening ahead… if a movie camera had been following me on my journey to this event, I would’ve been a clear winner for next years competition…
But here I was at the ‘One Shot Movie Awards’, a competition created by Daniel Birt, Keir Menzies and Daniel Palmer, and I was in for a fascinating night. What lay ahead were 10 short films, sent in from all over the globe, with one thing in common; they all told different stories using one continuous take, no cuts, no multiple camera angles… and the effect was extraordinary. After a very entertaining introduction from the three creators, the evening commenced. Ranging from the dramatic to the hilarious, the 10 films in competition were involving and had me astonished at the amount of work and choreography that went into making them. My particular favourites were Oscar Nobi’s brilliantly acted ‘Liars’, a tale of a man inadvertently blurting out what he really thinks to friends, which used the one shot brilliantly to make some very comedic reveals.. and I also enjoyed Alex Goddard’s ‘The Fight’ which featured a guy pumping iron… and other things. I also admired Joshua Kohn’s ‘We Are Such Stuff’, a nightmarish tale which was clearly meticulously planned out and was a frantic, pumped film.
The winner of the £1000 prize was ‘Faux Depart’ directed by Shekhar Bassi. A worthy winner, the story of two men preparing to swim from their country to England in a bid to have a better life.
I managed to ask Keir and the two Daniels some probing questions…
You’ve clearly been inundated with films for this competition, did you find whittling it down to 10 finalists difficult?
Dan P – Absolutely! We found it extremely difficult, not only because of the sheer number of entries but the serious quality of many of them. Not to mention there are only three of us! We’re all really happy with the ten shortlisted films, it’s funny actually because we independently reviewed the entries ourself and collectively selected the final ten and to see what choices each of us made was interesting. There were many crossovers and some hotly debated wildcards. One thing you do notice is that ten films over the course of an evening requires a lot of consideration when it comes to the running order. Five. Break. Five. You have to get this right to keep the audience guessing and to almost create a narrative and rhythm to the show… This was something we worked long and hard at.
Keir – It was really difficult coming to a consensus on about four of them. Six were pretty much all agreed upon. The three of us all have our little favourite genres/ references and tastes, and in the end, there was a bit of a stand off, but that part of the beauty of this process.
Dan B – And not only did we watch all of the films, when deciding the top ten we had to watch them 2, maybe three times. That makes it more complex because with more viewings you start to notice elements that might have passed you by on initial viewing. So my top ten was always fluctuating but, with much discussion, we got there in the end.
Were there many short films that you wish got into the final but didn’t?
Dan P – There were a few, but those selected nailed the brief, but most importantly for fairness and a level playing field, our rules.
Keir – There were a few films that didn’t make the list which had one particular thing that was great about them. A lead actor, a twist, technical difficulty… but overall, we had to consider the sum of all the parts of each movie.
Dan B – We could have had a very good top 15, but there other factors come into play when deciding what to leave out. We had a lot of films that were thematically similar, but of course we wanted to keep the top ten as eclectic as possible.
What is the best ‘one shot’ moment from a movie, in your opinion? (I’m a fan of the one in Pulp Fiction where they’re walking to their table in Jack Rabbit Slims…)
Dan P – My personal favourite is probably the penultimate shot of The Passenger (Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975). The long tracking shot from the hotel, around the dilapidated square and back to the hotel and to a reveal… I also think for sheer entertainment you can’t beat the Copacabana tracking shot from Goodfellas (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1990). It brilliantly introduces the world, the characters, the lifestyle, the atmosphere and ‘coolness’ of being a gangster. And for me, you really feel the hand of the director in that sequence, the director as the force controlling the film and how we are supposed to feel, and as a filmmaker myself that’s just incredible to watch.
Keir – One I always think of is the opener of Touch of Evil (dir Orson Welles). Yeah, it kind of looks like a studio lot, but its so epic and ambitious – especially for the time. I can just imagine the customs guy fluffing his (few) lines and stuffing the whole thing up. An expansive one shot is a really good way for a director to say “look at me, I’ve got a budget, I don’t have to go to close ups”.
Dan B – I’ve always liked the traffic jam scene from Godard’s weekend – it goes on and on and just gets crazier and crazier. I also like the scene from Hunger between Bobby Sands and the priest. What’s great about that scene is not just the fact that it’s an incredibly long take but in Michael Fassbender’s performance you’re starting to see the emergence of a fantastic new actor. Going forward we’d also be happy to accept music videos as there’s another discipline that throughout time had made great use of the one shot idea – from Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues to Massive Attack’s Unfinished Symphony.
Would you consider doing a category next time for a one shot movie with cuts, entitled ‘most seamless cut in an apparent ‘one shot movie’ that doesn’t involve someone walking past the camera like in ‘Rope’… (possibly use a shorter title for the category, it’s a work in progress…)?
Dan P – Haha, very good question! We had briefly discussed starting a competition for short films with as many cuts as possible, think Spun (Dir. Jonas Åkerlund, 2002) but in a short film. But in a way, it might be better to focus on One Shot and make it a household name and not oversaturate the concept.
Keir – Ha, imagine putting that on a trophy! For me, no. I say keep it simple and keep it memorable. One shot! If they can get more in and fool us, all power to them. We’re getting quite forensic on it now, though.
Dan B – We did get an enquiry about whether that was allowed – but really, we want people to keep it in the spirit of the thing…
Were you surprised by how widespread the competition actually became, with entries coming from all over the globe?
Dan P – Actually? Not really. The idea is a very simple, universal one. And early on, we knew if we could organise Withoutabox (the festival application system used by most festivals worldwide!) then the films would come (although, it is a slightly nerve-wracking waiting for the first films to arrive!). We love the global nature of the competition, that’s what film should be about. I love the fact that one of the most talked about films on the night, Korimarka, was Argentinian, and revealed a world that not many people had seen before.
Keir – Yea. I was to be honest.. I was worried that the London base would localise it too much. I’ve now come to realise is that this is a world idea. Anyone from anywhere can win it and film makers from far and wide have responded. We are a world competition and going forward, we want to do more to get the message out to as many varied places as possible.
Dan B – We were glad it did, there was always a concern that the message wouldn’t reach people in, for example, the USA because there’s a lot of festivals there. There are so many places we would love to receive films from that have a great film making tradition – i.e. Japan, China and India. We didn’t receive any films from those countries so our aim next year – get the message to everybody!
So there you have it… A huge success all round and I am looking forward to next years competition… I need to find my movie camera for next year’s journey too…
– Alex Sievewright