"Film-making: it’s just mucking about really!"

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In sixth week, the Oxford University Film Foundation will be holding its annual festival. This year’s exciting programme of events includes a talk and Q&A session with screenwriter William Nicholson (Gladiator, Les Misérables), a music video showcase from emerging classical-meets-indie band Clean Bandit, and a 24-hour filmmaking challenge. I met up with OUFF President Tom Shennan to talk about the festival.

What can we expect from this year’s festival?
There’s something for everyone. There’ll be competitions, screenings and talks by people with all levels of experience. We’re showing student films, independent films, and there’s a Q&A with a director as well. Anyone can get involved, whether they’re at a basic level or have already done filmmaking before. First there’s the 24-hour film challenge, which is perfect for people who have never made a film before, as it’s just a bit of fun. Then we have a Cuppers competition, for slightly more experienced filmmakers who have made a film up to six minutes in length. Then finally we are also having a screening night for students who have made films between 15 and 30 minutes.

Most of the festival programme is made up of short films. Do you prefer them to feature-length pictures?
If you’re a student filmmaker you don’t have a big budget, or a lot of time, or a big team. Short films are the easiest way of showing what you can do, and experimenting with what you like. It’s probably best to make a five-minute documentary and find out you hate it, rather than a 20-minute one. Also, this year I’ve opened the competition up to music videos and play trailers, because they’re a big thing in Oxford. You have to make films where you can. There’s a big audience for theatre here, but not so much for films.

How are the films being judged this year?
Half of the OUFF committee is entering films themselves, so obviously we can’t judge it! Instead we’ve got Tim Barrow, who’s a Scottish actor/director/writer/producer to judge all the Cuppers films. African Outreach are sponsoring our 24-hour challenge, so they’ll be judging the entries and deciding on the brief. It could be a theme, or a line of dialogue to include, or a prop to use in the film. Finally, we’re holding a scriptwriting competition in participation with North Oxford Property Services, for which they’ll be awarding a £100 prize.

So how did you first get involved with filmmaking?
I started out making a few music videos on my handheld digital camera, no HD or lenses or anything. Then I entered a competition run by Polydor Records on Youtube. I got to the national final, which made me think I could actually make a career out of it. So I bought a proper DSLR camera. I’ve shot a few trailers since then, and I wrote and shot a 15-minute drama last term. It’s going to be shown at the longer film night, and also at the Ultimate Picture Palace later this term.I’m thinking of applying to the National Film and Television School postgraduate course next year.

What do you particularly enjoy about making a film?
When I’m actually shooting a film, there’s nothing I dislike. When I was doing my short film, from getting up at 6am to getting home late at night, I had fun the whole time. What I didn’t like was having to help my producer get all the props beforehand, which involved carrying filing cabinets around central Oxford! I used to like editing when I made my first films, but after having spent all of Christmas doing it, I will never edit again!

Who would be your dream speaker for the festival, and why?
Edgar Wright. He was friends with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost at university, and went on to direct Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Then he went to Hollywood to do Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. It’s such a nice career arc. And I like that his directing style is instantly recognisable. I invited him to come, but unfortunately he couldn’t make it.

How do you think the Oxford filmmaking scene compares to other universities?
The culture of theatre, which I think is greater here than at other universities, has a big impact. Anyone who might be inclined to direct or act in films is taken into the theatre world. It’s a good thing in some respects, because the actors here are already brilliant and don’t need much direction! But I think we do suffer because we don’t have access to proper lighting rigs, or a green screen, like many universities do. One thing we do to combat this is by having Brookes students on the OUFF committee. They really know their stuff, and we’re always trying to negotiate deals to use their equipment.

What would be your advice to a novice filmmaker?
Just do it. Don’t worry about what could go wrong, because everything will. It can be fun to work within constraints. You have to be inventive to achieve the effect you want. You end up doing things like putting a tripod on a towel and pulling it across a table to get a tracking shot. Anyone can make a film nowadays: you can shoot HD on an iPhone. And if you’re a member of OUFF, you can come to all our workshops for free, and they’ll give you all the skills you need. Filmmaking’s just mucking about really.

Finally, what are you looking forward to the most about the festival?
I think most people would say William Nicholson. But I’m most looking forward to the awards night, where we get to see all the Cuppers entries. It’ll be really interesting to hear what Tim Barrow has to say about the films.

For the latest news about the OUFF 2013 festival, check out its facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OUFF2013.
Tickets for non-members are £4 for one event, or £10 for the whole week. They can be purchased here:  www.wegottickets.com/OUFF2013.

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