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Tissy with Somewhere, 1942

Fare thee well Tissy

Recently we heard of the sad death of one of the central characters of our second feature documentary film, Living With the Tudors, Tissy or Shirley or Mrs Starkey Bence, depending on whether you met her in 1557, 2007 or 1941 persona.

Tissy was universally appreciated as one of the stalwarts of the UK re-enactment scene, having anchored the fun and games at Kentwell Hall's events for many years, camping there when 'in residence' in her cosy caravan where she welcomed visitors with a glass of wine. When tired of playing 'gentry' in public (stiff corsets and a lot of smiling and waving), Tissy had a 'peasant' costume she could retire into of an evening to take a back seat, but most of us will remember her in her glamourous gowns, sailing by in a stately fashion. Before our time at Kentwell, she had, I believe, greatly enjoyed working in the Tudor kitchen and she was extremely knowledgeable about Tudor life, but never ever boring about it.

It wasn't easy to gain the trust of the re-enactment scene, although we had participated in Kentwell events for three years before beginning to film. But Tissy 'got' us instantly and at times was an incredibly valuable bridge between our project and the re-enactors who worried we were only there to send them up.
Of course, in our film we meet a deeper and more complex Tissy than the character-actor, and we are forever indebted to her for offering an intimate insight into her life story (she was a single parent to her son at a time when it was extremely difficult to be so) and to what in re-enactment fed her sense of fantasy, creativity and fun. A visit from her son to Kentwell remains one of our favourite scenes with her - as they tease each other gently about her multiple identities there is a vulnerability evident in both of them that is very touching. Tissy's sense of irony (not a quality that every re-enactor can share it has to be said...!) and humour is also in evidence in a great scene with Tamsin Lewis (another Kentwell stalwart) and us (all in our Tudor characters) where we discuss a filming matter in coded Tudor-ese (the language of Kentwell) - in the film this conversation is subtitled into English and rarely fails to raise a laugh in audiences.

So it's a fond farewell to Shirley from us at Somewhere.

Sent to the Friezer

These are just the flowers we sent!

Gardens galore

I had a really 'good garden' day yesterday. It began with a beautiful sunny morning at Abbey Gardens with a visit from Capital Growth who were judging the garden for a competition - fingers crossed, as Karen would say - 'we're in it to win it.'
I then headed over to Frieze to see some of our produce on the 'mega-stall' there by Grizedale arts ... And finally to the garden museum for the launch of a new book on London Gardens - also featuring Abbey Gardens!
I met lots of other garden folk and heard some really nice comments about the project. It seems after 4 years and much hard work Abbey Gardens really is thriving - it's a very good feeling to have about a much loved project.

Smile you're at Frieze !

Frieze Today

We find ourselves in Grizedale Arts warped foodie emporium 'The Coliseum of the Consumed' at the Frieze Art Fair today, equipped with fresh produce from What Will the Harvest Be? at Abbey Gardens and pickled produce from Karen's fermented Japanese nuka.
Say 'Hai!, and bow please, if you're passing.

Colchester Gala Screening

We were very sad not to be able to attend the Gala screening of Jaywick Escapes on Friday night in Colchester ... from the sound of the Interweb it seems like it went well though! You can read a nice review here.

Back to School 4 Us

Nina and I were back at our old stomping ground (we graduated in Fine Art back in 1991), Edinburgh College of Art this weekend for the final session of Interdoc, a training programme for independent producers of creative documentary, run by the Scottish Documentary Institute, a gem of an organisation. The weekend ikicked off with a bit of 'pitch' practice, which in normal people parlance is a kind of Dragon's Den approach to presenting your film's potential (visually and verbally) to some VIPs from planet-of-film. Who you hope might give you a supportive smile, then a meeting and eventually some finance. In such supportive company as the SDI, this procedure isn't that stressful, but the idea is to get so good at it (without, of course, losing one's sponteneity, wit and/or hair) that you could confidently pitch to a full Wembley Stadium. Or its documentary film equivalent, probably the IDFA Amsterdam Forum. So our small band took to the pitch spot as we had in Spring's first session, and caught up with if and how each one of our projects had come on. Some of us had filmed (much) more, others had reframed their films, but - not surprisingly - we all still needed money so top marks for coming back to school to learn how. There's a powerful sense of collective support in these practice pitches, one really wills the team that's talking onwards and upwards, but not having pitched publicly often, I wonder if this is the case in the cut throat forum of a 'real' pitch - or do the other project teams secretly cheer when you bump the mike, your taster stalls or you go a bit, or very, blank?!

Once we made it through our pitch rehearsals - the new 4 minute taster for our current project was brilliantly received - we then studied budgets in close detail (cries of "You'll need a third hard drive, so budget it in!" and "You haven't got the rights yet?! That could be expensive...... and even, "You have to budget for bribes ?!....Oh, I see, we call them 'tips' on paper....".

We also got two Skype sessions with major European players Stefan Kloos and Peter Jager. The former Skyped us from a theme park in Germany where his daughter was swimming (this being a Sunday afternoon), a location offering a lively panorama of half naked swimmers behind his talking head, though this somehow rarely distracted from his insights into European Media funding, a holy grail for some though it did all sound fairly stressy to apply for, let alone get. Perhaps a test of a charismatic-enough speaker could be 'Can you hold an audience on Skype talking about European funding, even with nude Germans all around you?'. If the answer is yes, you're probably powerful enough to start your own church.

Peter Jager (of the wondrous Autlook Films) Skyped from the safety of his home office, with only an enigmatic old map on his wall to try and distract us (where did it depict?). A sales agent with wide experience of releasing and distributing 'the best films' (only 10% of all those made, he claims), we were all slightly awestruck by his forensic approach to planning worldwide distribution. To summarise, he advises talking to him shortly after you have had the idea for your doc. No - joking aside - it seems that the best approach is to show a sales agent a rough cut and ask their advice on which festivals to target with it - do not rush the release, he emphasised, though Noe of SDI gently pointed our that by that stage in a film project most film-makers are starving and possibly bankrupt as they limp towards the finish of the film. So it might seem like they're rushing that release, a bit. But with the consensus that piracy and the Web mean there's not that much legitimate 'business' left out there for film, it seems that we film-makers need to help distributors do the best for us by really planning the film release from festival to theatrical to VoD, and not just go straight to our favourite festivals, wait a bit and then plonk the film on our own website and Distrify. And make about $27 across five years. I know this approach because I have done it. It works as long as you expected just the $27 and are cheered by a monthly splatter of emails from fans in Sri Lanka ('How on earth did they get hold of it?' you wonder) and Hackney.

Peter is very probably right - the issue is, as he described in an example that had every film-maker in the room's toes curling, sometimes 4 out of 5 of your top festivals say 'No thanks' so you, the disappointed but pragmatic film-maker say 'Ok let's drop our hopes and go for our second choices'. In this instance Peter says 'That last top festival WILL say yes - hold fire". Give that man a medal for bravery, but it's a tough position to hold when it's your film and your tired, emotional and skint....