Category: In Conversation

James Richardson: “As much as podcasts have grown I think we are still very much at the tip of the iceberg in terms of their potential”

James Richardson is a football broadcaster and journalist known for hosting the iconic Football Italia in the 90’s as well as the Champions League Goals Show more recently. To read an interview where he talks in length about these and football in general click here. When his face isn’t on your screen his voice is in your ears as the host of several podcasts, from The Totally Football Show to Truth and Movies.

Richardson began his journey into podcasting as the host of The Guardian’s The World Cup Show, covering all the highs and lows of the 2006 World Cup. Following its huge success the show evolved into The Guardian Football Weekly, a twice-weekly show featuring Richardson as host and a selection of journalists discussing the week’s football news.

It was during his 11 years there that he cemented his reputation as a broadcaster who can seamlessly integrate puns and humour into his work. This ability was a major factor in building the large following the show amassed, allowing the team to play several sellout venues across the UK. In 2017 he decided to call time on his time at The Guardian to start his own production company, Muddy Knees Media, with long time producer Ben Green and former guest Iain Macintosh. Their first podcast? Football, obviously, entitled The Totally Football Show.

“It was a little bit of a leap in the dark although we weren’t reinventing ourselves particularly. I guess we felt that people would still be listening but we have been really happy with the response and the number of listeners we get. The world cup made a big difference, we threw a lot at it and our listenership seems to have grown. I’m really happy with how things are going. Not just with listenership but also after a year of doing this we have met and been able to bring in lots of different kinds of people and some fresh ideas.”

There were few surprised when Richardson announced in December 2017 a Italian football podcast, Golazzo. “The thing about Golazzo is, because of Italian football in the 90’s on Channel 4, there is a sentiment for that period and Serie A in general. I’m aware of the wealth of stories there are to tell about Italian football.”

Would he expand his empire to cover the top 5 European leagues? Perhaps not. “I’m not sure you would have the same kind of built in audience for say a La Liga show or a Bundesliga show. We get about 60,000 an episode for Golazzo which is a very healthy listenership. As much as podcasts have grown I think we are still very much at the tip of the iceberg in terms of their potential and the way that people can use them as a forum and a way of covering different sports and leagues.”

“In the same way that we have shifted across from watching linear tv to basically sitting on things like Netflix, Apple tv, and streaming boxsets, I think increasingly people won’t be tied down to radio schedules but instead just pick up audio on demand. It is much easier if you are commuting or making a car journey rather than listening to whatever happens to be playing on the radio, so you can follow things that you are interested in. Or even things that you have no interest in at the start but in half an hour or an hour will give you an understanding of a subject you’ve never previously known about.”

“The potential of podcasts is huge. They’re so cheap to make and they tend to be free to download. The percentage of the population that is even aware of them or let alone used them is still relatively small. It isa huge area of growth that we are going to see.”

There is the crux of the problem. Podcasts have the potential to change the way people listen to audio shows, but how to advertise them in a way that would attract new listeners? “For our podcast we don’t particularly advertise it, it’s more of a word of mouth thing.”

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“I think for podcasts in general it’s something that more and more people are becoming aware of like ‘what is that icon on my home screen saying podcasts?’. I guess it’s a generational thing as well as more young people are into them. Generally though people are becoming more and more aware of the potential that they have. The new ways of enjoying content.”

“In the same way that years ago nobody knew what an Apple tv was or downloadable tv content was and now it’s become completely normal. Even my mother will watch boxsets. It takes time. There was such a traditional way of consuming television and radio content that it takes time for people to switch across.”

“In terms of how we advertise that’s a tricky one. I don’t know how you do it. We don’t particularly have an advertising budget we rely as I say very much on word of mouth. At a guess I would think that you’ll start to see a lot more podcasts advertising on other podcasts. This happens already I know we have had adverts for another show on our podcast. I think there will be a lot more cross-pollination that way.”

“The thing about podcasts at the moment is that they are two different kinds: the ones attracted to the fact that podcasts are a very democratic kind of thing and they don’t need to be tied in with a production company or have a big budget, you can put something out with very little expense; then you do have increasingly companies such as Apple or Spotify who are getting involved and they will start, if they aren’t already, doing major pushes to get people aware of what they are doing.”

“Stuff like that, while advertising one podcast in particular, will be advertising the whole idea of podcasting in general. For example Serial’s huge success woke a huge section of the population up to what podcasts are, what their potential is, and the sort of stories you can tell. Maybe people thought it was just a sports thing or like a blog, but the fact that you can get drama which is almost unputdownable really pushed the whole field forward.”

“I think that people like Apple as they get involved in this will want to expand the market as fast as possible which will hopefully bring many people with them.”

James Richardson: “The staple of English pundits that float around don’t really have any expertise to bring to it”

James Richardson is a football broadcaster, podcast host, and journalist who specialises in Italian league Serie A. His love for all things Italian was sparked by a girl he met in Rome, 1990, which resulted in him learning the language and the league. That girl started a chain of events ultimately creating one of the greatest football shows of all time, Channel 4’s Football Italia.

26 years after it debuted, Football Italia still holds a place in the hearts of those who watched it every week. “There were a unique combination of circumstances in the early 90’s that caused it to be successful and the biggest factor of them all was Paul Gascoigne. Everyone was desperate to see just how he would get on in Italy.” Says Richardson.

“On one hand, because it was the biggest test an English footballer could have at the time and secondly because he hadn’t played anywhere in 18 months.” Gascoigne missed the entire 1991/92 season after suffering a ruptured cruciate ligament in his right knee while playing for Tottenham Hotspur. During his recovery, there was a media circus about whether he would sign for Italian club Lazio or not, which he eventually did for £5.5 million.

“We were all really interested to see how he would do, whether he was still Gazza. So you have that and the fact that it was essentially the only football that was on TV because Sky had just taken the English First Division away.”

“It was also in Italy where we had just had a really successful World Cup with Italia 90. There was a great vibe around those stadiums, those same grounds where we had seen the World Cup take place. All the big stars of that World Cup were still playing there. It felt almost like a window into another world of football.”

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“You wouldn’t have those things now, not least because everyone’s schedule is saturated by football.” That certainly is one of the difficulties for the modern football fan, a wealth of options and limited time makes it difficult to know what to watch. “I think certainly for Football Italia, doing a proper highlights show with context of who these players are and what these games mean is something that we really don’t see all that much of on TV [nowadays].”

“We don’t get a proper Spanish show or a proper Italian show. We were doing something along those lines on BT with the European Football Show before it was cancelled, but there will always be a place for a show like Football Italia.”

Nowadays you can find Richardson on BT Sport’s Champions League Goals Show. Hosted on BT Sport 1 it has a panel of experts, one for each of the top European leagues, who watch all the night’s games giving opinions and analysis on the action as it happens. The most attractive aspect of the show is that every goal is shown, allowing the viewer to have a rounded knowledge of the week’s action.

Having a panel of experts rather than pundits was something Richardson was adamant about from the outset. “Whilst a former pro can give you a unique insight on how to play the game, when you’re dealing with foreign matches there is no point in having someone with only a cursory knowledge, or someone who has just read some research notes into a fixture. They won’t be able to give you anything beyond truisms, whereas an expert or journalist will be able to really bring you information that you wouldn’t otherwise get.”

“Unless the pundit is someone who has maybe played at that club ten years before, most of the time you’ll be giving them more information than they are giving you, which is not really the right dynamic for pre-game or post-game analysis. I’m really a strong believer that pundits can be ex-players, only ex-players can know what it’s like to be on the pitch, but equally, in terms of summing up a game it’s not like they are the only one who can do it.”

“If you were to buy a newspaper and all the match reports were written by ex-pros, I don’t know how much fun that would be. We trust journalists to do the job of reporting and analysing in print and in other forms of media so why punditry should only be the province of former players is something that I’m not clear on.”

“I guess that’s just the way it’s always been done but particularly as I say with foreign matches, the staple of English pundits that float around don’t really have any expertise to bring to it. It made total sense to use people that actually know and understand what these games are and BT was completely on board with that.”

With the results of the show being so positive there have been calls to introduce experts and journalists to other programs such as Match of the Day. “I think everyone in the country has a view on what they would do if they were in charge of it and it’s difficult because it kind of belongs to everyone.”

“Equally it’s extremely difficult to plot an editorial course that’s going to upset the least amount of people, but I do think you could do that more with shows like that. It is a show that, in as much as they try and do other things, has a lot of things they haven’t tried to do yet.”

Another potential opportunity is for Match of the Day, highlight type, shows of different European leagues. “I think one of the issues is an audience for that because things are getting increasingly fragmented. Sky did have the rights for La Liga and then they, for whatever reason, decided it wasn’t a viable thing. BT got rid of the European Football Show and I guess [the] audience was probably a significant reason for that.”

“I think now that everyone watches television on demand it means that people can catch up whenever they want. So I absolutely think there is room for a highlights show for things like the Italian and Spanish leagues. Everyone loves to see Italian or Spanish goals but most people would struggle to find 90 minutes of their Saturday or Sunday night to sit down and watch two foreign teams in a league which they might not have too much skin in themselves.”

“A properly put together and explained highlights show though is always something that will be popular, perhaps even more so than the live games.”

With BBC, BT Sport, Sky, and now Eleven Sports owning rights to different leagues it is becoming increasingly difficult, and expensive, to keep up to date with what’s going on regardless of the format. “You need three subscriptions now to watch the biggest leagues. I think it must be really hard for the average viewer. It costs me a fortune but then it’s kind of what I do anyway.”

“Then again if you go back 20 or 30 years nobody really expected to be able to watch all of these things on TV. We had a brief period in which suddenly there was everything all over the place and now we are reverting to an era in which you maybe specialise in one league. There’s no question about it though, it is frustrating for a lot of people to not be able to follow the sport they love in different countries.”

In Conversation with Lynne Ramsay

Lynne Ramsay is a Scottish film director and screenwriter who specialises in visceral films with themes of guilt and death. She has been described as one of the best British filmmakers of her generation. Despite this lofty praise, Ramsay is one of the most down to Earth people I’ve had the pleasure of talking to.

Her latest work, You Were Never Really Here, is a gritty thriller based on a novella by Jonathan Ames. “A friend of mine is really into his genre films. He works with a lot of really interesting filmmakers like Jacques Audiard and so he sent me this novella. I read it in 85 minutes which is probably the same length as my movie. They didn’t have the rights to it so I started writing it on spec to see if it would work out.”

“I had a draft in about four weeks and I was getting into it but it’s a very pulpy, B-movie kind of novella. Ames wanted to make this dime novel but the character was unusual. We talked about the script but he was never prescriptive, the only thing he said to me was he wants it to have the feeling of a page turner and I wanted that too.”

From beginning to write the script purely as speculation to the finished film, there were many twists and surprises “It was strange for me with the script because there was a bidding war at Cannes and I was like what this isn’t even finished yet. Then Amazon bought it and then we were in Cannes the next year it was so fast.”

“Sometimes when you’re under the gun you have to kill your darlings a little bit. I knew I had 29 days to rewrite and prep, it was a nightmare. I don’t think I slept but I think that’s why it’s a bit of a hallucination. It was also super hot in New York, never shoot in summer in New York it’s totally brutal. There was something about going there when I had previously lived in a village with no cars, it was driving me mental. You shut your eyes and it’s just noise. I think that really went into the sound design. I hate to say it but some of the limitations actually brought around brainwaves when you have your back against the wall but it would be nice to have a bit longer time though.”

Part of what made it possible to prepare the script in under a month was the length of the book, at just 96 pages. “With my last film, We Need To Talk About Kevin it was a huge book and was armchair edited. In order to get the money and edit it, we had to cut huge parts of the book out and it was so forensic. For this one, it was about 70% from the original book though it is quite different. Obviously, I would never want to do a straight adaptation.”

The main performance in the film is Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Joe. Phoenix was haunting in his role and ended up winning Best Actor at Cannes but his collaboration with Ramsay began quite unusually. “I think it was a first for both of us. I’ve never not met the actor before but I knew I wanted him to play Joe before I wrote the script that I didn’t even have the rights to. I think I was telepathically willing him to be in the movie because he’s quite choosy. He arrived as soon as we, the crew, arrived, and I was terrified. I had six weeks to look at 90 locations in New York which takes weeks and he was building up and becoming this beast. It was exciting how it evolved really.”

“No-one recognised Joaquin that much, which was great, they thought he was a construction worker or a bum. I remember someone throwing some coins at him when he was on the floor tying his shoe. That meant we could run and gun in a way, there wasn’t that crowd with iPhones or anything. I saw French Connection at this screening in LA and was blown away at how they shot it, without permits! It was just really inspiring because the car chase in that is one of the best car chases ever.”

During this time in New York, she found out her film was going to be in Cannes, just one year after her script was purchased by Amazon. “I got this call from this French company saying I have a meeting in London for four hours. I put two days aside in the schedule I had to shoot stuff in New York and I was just thinking ‘oh my god he’s not giving us the rest of the money to make the film’. He just said to me ‘it’s in Cannes’.”

“It was a lovely thing to hear but I had my head in my hands. Cannes is quite a brutal place and I was still only writing the script, it was kind of surreal, a bit like this film was telling us it was going to be crazy the whole way through. I edited this one in half the time of We Need To Talk About Kevin but it had the same frenetic energy that the prep and the shoot did. Sometimes a film tells you what it’s going to be and it just felt like a nervous breakdown the whole time in the coolest possible way.”

In order to convey the feeling of a nervous breakdown, Ramsay turned to sound. “The sound is like music. It’s subconscious. You don’t know why it works but it does. It stirs you or takes you into a dream. For me I worked on the sound really early, I never understand why some people only think about the sound at the end. With this is was very much the opposite, we’d do a cut and then do sound so that the sound could inform the cut.”

“After that, we’ll get a piece of music from Johnny Greenwood and it wasn’t like that’s the exact place you need to use it. You were looking at the pieces and it was a bit like a puzzle. Joe Bini, the editor, and I were getting all these pieces of music and they were amazing. We took them and put the right piece to the right part of the picture and then cut the picture to the music. It’s not a very conventional way of doing it but that works for me. If you ever watch a non-mixed film you instantly know, it’s a different experience. We were premixing ours the whole way through.”

With a runtime of 90 minutes, Ramsay keeps this film lean. As a result, it never drags, and just as Ames wished, it truly feels like a page-turner. That said, there were quite a few scenes that didn’t make the cut. “It was never really a long assembly but you could have made a Harold and Maude type film with the stuff with Joe and his mum. There was so much good stuff, some amazing scenes.”

“I was constantly thinking that it could be a different film, this hitman living with his mum, a totally different tone. Plus his takes were all so different, sometimes he’d do something funny and other times you’d just think what the hell was that. You just have to let this animal loose. Like in that scene with the drug dealer he really did punch that guy and we were all shocked. Luckily the extra was pretty cool about it. It’s the same improvisation with the scene where he’s singing on the floor of his house with the agent.”

Phoenix punching an extra isn’t the only problem Ramsay had with her extras in New York. “Well, there’s a thing called a tier system in New York. If you shoot something super low budget then you can use who you like but after a certain kind of budget, you have to use a union like SAG extras. You can’t even speak to them there’s this weird system where only the assistant director can. I had this experience with We Need To Talk About Kevin with SAG extras where the shot was down a street in New York and I was saying ‘why are these extras all walking so slowly’, it’s because they all wanted to be on camera for ages. So I was getting into trouble for telling these guys to hurry up.”

“I also remember with Kevin I had to get quite a few waivers because there was a kid that just hung out on set in a Halloween scene. There was a SAG guy who was telling me I can’t just pull someone in like I can do in the UK. I got fined by SAG that day for making a girl cry, but she loved it, she came up to me and went ‘that was the best experience of my life’. It was because I was telling her to really feel the emotion.”

At Cannes Ramsay also won Best Screenplay for her film and it drew comparisons to similar iconic films such as Taxi Driver and Léon: The Professional, something that meant a lot to her. “Just to be mentioned along with those films is amazing. What was great was when I was in Paris on the radio. They did a trailer that was dubbed and asked me about my film. Afterward they played an old clip of Paul Schrader talking about Taxi Driver saying almost the same things I did. It was weird was I thinking along the same lines as him?”

“I was talking to someone recently about the film Five Easy Pieces, a character study of Jack Nicholson. Maybe it’s a bit of a cliche but where are those movies these days, with the real conviction behind them. There’s such good television these days I think we need to elevate the movies. The cinema needs to be a spectacle and not just a marvel one.”

“The first time I went into the cinema and felt like I was in a complete other world. When I came out I was still in it for another couple of hours. That was with Blue Velvet when I was 15. I went with my boyfriend at the time and had to lie about my age because he was a bit older than me, but then he found my school bus pass. Half the audience walked out of that film because they didn’t get it, and they really didn’t. It’s quite a scary film. The way Lynch uses sound, like in Lost Highway, I think it’s very inspirational. You can only get that feeling by being in the cinema.”

Looking forward, Ramsay isn’t quite sure what her next film will be. “I’ve no idea, a comedy. I’ve been thinking of a few things for a while but you don’t finish a film when it’s finished anymore. It gets a release and then you have to go here and here and then talk about it and try to explain it. I’m used to being behind a camera not in front of one you know. I know people who have been doing screenings and such a year after. The thing that makes me feel the best as a human being is just creating stuff so it doesn’t feel that great talking about it, but I think it’s all a part of getting it out there.”

In Conversation with Andrey Zvyagintsev

“There were several radical comments, even from notable figures in the political sphere, suggesting that certain artists ought to go out on to Red Square and ask for forgiveness from the entire Russian people.”

1500 miles from Moscow, director Andrey Zvyagintsev is held in a much higher regard. His latest work Loveless, about a divorcing couple whose son disappears, won the Jury Prize at Cannes, and his Q&A after our interview at HOME is completely sold out.

We meet in a stylish little bar adjacent to a cinema. Myself, joined by Elizabeth acting as translator, and Andrey, joined by his producer, Alexander Rodnyanksy. Andrey had a matter of fact appearance, wearing a plain grey t-shirt, blue jeans, and brown shoes.

Andrey is a calculated man. As he was asked each question he paused to ponder it for a few moments, formulating his answer. When at last he gave his responses he spoke with such assurance that, although I couldn’t understand a single word, I was gripped.

Alexander, on the other hand, had his chair facing slightly away from us, as if he could not be less interested. He spent the entire interview fixated on his phone, seemingly unable to reply to the wave of notifications faster than they came.

I became doubtful of his participation in the conversation yet, sporadically, he would lift his eyes to look over to Andrey, or Elizabeth, or myself and contribute as if he was sat on the edge of his seat as I was, hanging onto every word. Alexander has mastered the skill of appearing oblivious and I was amazed.

Growing up in Novosibirsk, Russia, Andrey can pinpoint the exact film that sparked his love of cinema, Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura. He described seeing it as a turning point in his creative destiny, which changed his beliefs of what cinema, and its language, could be.

“I came out of the cinema and it was as if I couldn’t move – I was in the street with my friend, and he was chattering away, saying, “come on, hurry up, let’s go!”, but all I could say was “Yuri, be quiet, just give me a minute…”

I’m convinced, but it’s just my opinion, that Tarkovsky [the revered and influential Soviet director] was heavily influenced by Antonioni. He never spoke about it, but I think it’s obvious from his films, because the 1960s were a time of renaissance for cinema, all over the world, and the event of the appearance of neorealism, in particular, Antonioni’s Italian brand of neorealism, was like an underground explosion. It had such an influence on everything.

This started Andrey down a path he still travels today. His directorial project was a small project for TV of three twenty five-minute short films. “In the year 2000, Dmitry Lesnevsky [an influential Russian TV and film producer and entrepreneur] suggested I make a series. I decided that I would film each of the three screenplays that the producer had given me with different cameramen — I wanted to play with the style and try things out with different ensembles.”

“Then in March 2000, almost exactly 18 years ago, I met Mikhail Krichman [cinematographer]. It was a complete coincidence, a friend of mine introduced us, and we’ve worked together ever since. I gave up on the idea of making three features with three different crews only thanks to the fact that I delegated the first of the three to Mikhail. After the forty days of filming, I knew I didn’t want to work with anyone else. I knew that I had found a creative partner.”

Their collaboration has spanned several feature-length films but none had an impact quite like their fourth film, Leviathan, about a Russian fisherman who tries to stop a corrupt mayor from seizing his ancestral home.

“On one radio station, the presenter put out the question of whether people considered the film “Russophobic”, despite never having seen it. 48 per cent of people who called in said yes. The reaction in Russia was certainly unambiguous, but there were more positive appraisals and enthusiasm too.”

The Russian authorities, having previously supported Andrey’s work, radically shifted their position after seeing Leviathan. Vladimir Medinsky, Russian Minister of Culture, criticised the film for portraying Russians as a ‘swearing, vodka-swigging people’. He noted that not a single character was positive and suggested that Andrey’s work was motivated by ‘fame, red carpets, and statuettes’ rather than reality. Medinsky went as far as to propose new guidelines to ban moves that ‘defile’ the national culture.

“I suppose things may well get worse. Recently it has been getting more and more difficult to maintain artistic and creative property, an artistic view on life and art, to pose difficult questions and a complex view of reality to your audience. Inevitably curiosity and attraction to the work wins out, without a doubt, this tendency exists all over the world. But I think that’s how it will continue to be. Platforms like the festivals in Cannes, Venice, Berlin, which support this kind of film and provide an outlet and a springboard for it, are very important. In Russia, put simply it’s very difficult.”

Despite the polarised reaction to Leviathan, they weren’t worried about the reception for Loveless. “I knew that Loveless would be divisive in some way, but the thing I couldn’t have predicted was the degree to which it would radicalise people’s opinions.”

“A lot of people were expecting after they had seen Leviathan to queue up and watch another “Russophobic” film. Some people couldn’t shed their opinions towards Leviathan and so they came to see Loveless still saying, “bah, this director has no love for his characters, no love for people at all, no love for Russian people at all”.

“Of course, Leviathan paved the way to Loveless having such a broad audience. And for many people, their interest in Loveless was dictated by their initial experience and views on Leviathan. You could call me a representative of Russian cinema, but I wouldn’t know what to do with that.”

“Taking on a title like that, I would be concerned that it might change my behavior. No one dictated to me what to do to make these films successful. I don’t carry out anyone else’s intentions. I’m not a representative of Russian cinema — that’s the last thing I need to think about. If that was the case, then I’d have to fulfill some kind of imposed role — I’m not interested in that.”

Andrey recognises that his cinematic future may one day lay outside Russia, but that isn’t something he is against. “Today we were walking around the city, and I was thinking we should make a film about Manchester. Maybe a comedy with the Manchester United team! But seriously, if suddenly an idea came to me that was relevant, fresh, and had to be in some other language or in a different country, and felt relatable to me and a natural next step, there wouldn’t be any obstacles in my mind.”

“I’ve already had a little experience on a project in New York where I was the only one who could speak Russian. I had an assistant who acted as a translator for me so she managed the communication. During the scenes with dialogue I wondered whether I would be able to interact with the actors, whether their language would just go over my head, but ultimately, I realised that in principle it was possible. So I wouldn’t see any obstacles there. There’s only one obstacle, and that is to find good people.”

Our conversation ended by asking Andrey whether he was in the process of starting another film. “I have plans, but it’s difficult to talk about it, not just because there are few details at the moment but because I don’t definitely know what the next step will be. I’ve already taken enough of a break, we finished the film in May last year – I’m ready for the next film.”

“It was something of a forced break really, because the awards season started, then winter came around, and now the awards are going on until the Oscars on 4th March. We’ve all just been thinking about that date, and now it’s not far off.” “It’s a good thing you’ve hung in there,” Alexander chipped in, “you’re a survivor.” With characteristic wry humour, Andrey laughed back, “No, we won’t survive, that’s for sure!”

In Conversation with HOME’s film programming team

By reaching out to all demographics of its area, independent arts organisations are a wonderful way to build community in large cities. Here in Manchester, we have HOME, a place where film, theatre, art, and dance converge. But how do film societies work, and what do they do?

A core element of building a film society is its programming, which involves developing an audience through the venue’s choice of films and events. Independent arts organisations such as HOME work on a basis of consent and consensus between the staff and the audience, meaning that the films and events put on must reflect the audience’s taste by finding a balance between the familiar and the unfamiliar, the old and the new, the popular and the obscure.

It is that balance that the film programming team attempt to perfect with every season though multiple facets.

A crucial one is the lengthened running time in the cinema or a slower turnover of what gets screened. HOME’s Cinema 5 allows there to be a rotation of films, a room able to seat around 40 people, and is a unique space that allows opportunities to approach artists through Q&As (although these can take place in any of their cinema rooms), which is a step towards making the cinema goer’s experience an immersive and enlightening one.

Being a part of a large city, the people working at HOME take it upon themselves to reach out to different demographics/communities in the area It is important for any film society to develop an ethos surrounding their film programming. HOME Mcr has done so by limiting the amount of Hollywood/Blockbuster films, ensuring that a certain number of films are UK/World cinema, showcasing a proportion of documentaries and animation each film calendar, but also by making sure each season to programme a film which reaches out to a certain community in the area. For example, hosting half of the Jewish Film Festival, discounted tickets for students in Manchester, a £1 ticket scheme for people from an impoverished background, or hosting a workshop in January for creatives with disabilities.

By installing such initiatives, HOME has seen results and proven how important programming is within the building of a film society’s audience and their loyalty to the organisation. There is a real creation of community, and the volunteers within HOME help this community function and thrive. Film societies depend on a large staff of both employees and volunteers, who either indirectly or directly tend to the audience’s experiences, by greeting the audience, introducing them to the concept of HOME or simply talking about the event they are about to or have just seen.

Places like HOME make it their duty to prevent certain films from falling into the abyss, or not being widely shared with future generations – planned well in advance, “States of Danger and Deceit” had been in the making for over a year in order to coalesce with the one hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. This is when the idea to showcase a retrospective of European thrillers came up. Senior Visiting Curator for HOME and Film Studies Professor at the University of Salford, Andy Willis expressed his personal concern that some canonical, pivotal films of his generation had never been heard of before by his film students.

At the centre of the film team is the Film Programmer for HOME, Rachel Hayward, and is pivotal to the smooth running of each film calendar. Her role involves a lot of public relations, connecting and creating links with people in the industry, as in Arts organisations, the employees are all trying to share the art, whether that be theatre, paintings, or films. “Everyone tries to help each other,” Rachel explained, when talking about the process of putting together a film season for HOME, locating often niche material and obtaining the rights to showcase it.

HOME’s Artistic Director Jason Wood started off as a filmmaker, but after co-directing three films, realised “it was going to be quite hard to make a career out of”, then moving on to work in distribution. At Entertainment Film Distributors, Jason worked on releasing independent films, including Paul Thomas Anderson’s first two films, and Se7en by David Fincher. Progressing to work in exhibition at Picture House cinemas for ten years as programming manager, he then joined the team at Curzon Artificial Eye as director of programming for five years, and during this time began to write film articles, notably for Sight & Sound and The Guardian.

What appealed to Jason about Curzon, in the beginning, was that “they were a cinema which showed almost exclusively independent films, not many of the Hollywood blockbusters”. It was when “they wanted to go much more mainstream with their programming”, partly due to financial benefits, that Jason knew he couldn’t work with them anymore.

Previously, Jason had been involved with the Cornerhouse in Manchester and their film programme, and gradually developed much more affinity with their agenda than that of Curzon’s. The opportunity then came up at HOME for Jason to take on the role of artistic director, in “a cinema that was truly a space for independent thought and filmmaking.”

What Jason, Rachel, and Andy work towards developing at HOME is a “film programme led by culture, not by commerce”, showing films that might have an alternative point of view from the mainstream or an urgent commentary regarding race, class, gender and/or sexuality. HOME has “proven that you can show a film programme which is led by culture and not just a need to make money”. In fact, as HOME’s cultural led programming has been so successful, other venues have reached out to the programming team to programme their venues as well, such as the Art House in London.

The people behind places like HOME are truly committed to the idea of culturally led entertainment and have shown what the cinema-going experience can be like if you treat your audience with respect, sensitivity, but also financial inclusion.

In Conversation with Andy Serkis

To play performance capture roles you need to study every movement of the creature you are to become. You need to put in painstakingly hard work and have a meticulous eye for detail. Andy Serkis has been at the forefront of this for over 16 years, a longevity that deserves overwhelming praise. But he is hanging up his performance capture suit for now in favour of sitting in the director’s chair.

It’s early on Friday, October 27, in Media City, Salford. Andy is bearded, in a black leather jacket and jeans. A radio interview completed, he strolls into the cafe, the strain of tirelessly promoting his debut film, Breathe, visible under his eyes. Yet the moment our conversation began he perked up dramatically.

From playing The Fool in a stage performance of King Lear to Gollum in The Lord of the Rings: there are few who could make such a transition. Serkis has a versatility that very few actors possess. Not only that but is renowned for being one of Hollywood’s nicest men, with a true passion for film.

‘I love the power of the shared experience. Watching people go through an experience together and being totally transported by characters in whatever world they exist in. That you are moved and educated and changed by something that is an emotionally powerful experience.’

16 years ago was a different world, franchises and universes were few and far between and CGI was in its infancy. People were skeptical when Lord of the Rings was announced, the 1978 animated version still leaving a sour taste in their mouths.

Serkis wasn’t interested in the role at first. Three weeks of voice work for a CG chapter in New Zealand, ‘it sounded dull as hell. There must be a dozen good roles in this film.’ Then he started looking at the book and his opinion flipped, ‘Oh my god, this is amazing, he’s the best character in it’. Serkis auditioned and the rest, they say, is history.

There have been very few moments in cinema where you witness the birth of a star: Natalie Portman in Leon: The Professional, Tom Cruise in Top Gun, Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In the Fellowship of the Ring when we meet Gollum the audience can’t help but ask the question: who the hell is that? His movement and acting seemed so innovative yet so natural.

2001 seems a far cry away from today. Just like The Lord of the Rings is a far cry from Breathe, his directorial debut. ‘When you’re telling a story as a director you are also creating the world of the story and how you choose to frame it.’ he says, pausing to take a sip of water, adding ‘In terms of is it naturalistic or documentary style or cinematic or poetic? You’re making all these choices.’

This new world of directing can be overwhelming, but Serkis had training, working as second unit director on the second and third Hobbit films. ‘In The Hobbit I was serving Peter Jackson’s vision for the most part. I did big aerial shots, battle sequences and dramatic scenes, it was a very full-on exposure to directing.’

A large part of that work involved green screens, and often he didn’t see the results until months later. The focus was on directing people not performances. ‘Whereas for Breathe, I was very much focussing on the performances, the joy of really seeing what you’re shooting was very special.’ He could take the broad techniques he’d learnt and really focus them down.

‘Obviously on smaller scale films, you don’t have the budget and support as you do with a big studio, you have to be very creative. There are often things that can twist and turn and go wrong in a small movie and you have to roll with the punches and dance around those.’

In making Breathe, Serkis has learned a lot more about directing, and strives to improve. ‘I’d like to have more confidence in leaving the camera in and getting the shots purely from performance, having that confidence and trust in your actors to carry your vision.’

His next film, The Jungle Book, is actually one he began first. Having so many A list actors, they could only find a short window of time for filming with all of them, so the motion capture work was finished long before the rest of the film. Then it was time for principal photography, on real locations and sets.

‘In our minds we had a cut of the film so we knew how we were going to use the animals in those real locations having filmed the performances.’ In a way this is very similar to the Hobbit, in that you can only imagine the end result while shooting. ‘You don’t see what it will eventually look like till a year into post production, that was a big challenge.’

Serkis wasn’t nervous about the performance of his Kipling adaptation, as it comes so soon after Jon Favreau’s version. ‘I think it’s tonally so different from Favreau’s. Ours is a lot darker and much closer to the tone of Kipling’s original book. Rather than live action we used performance capture so it was shot on real locations. It wasn’t CG animals in a CG world.’

‘The story of ours is a lot different, as it focusses on Mowgli’s identity. It’s about a boy who’s a feral child, brought up with animals and has a sort of idyllic childhood, but then realises the laws of the jungle don’t work for him fully. Instinctively because he’s a human being he finds himself challenging that but also in the world of man, the customs and ways of man, cannot ultimately stop his instincts of, well, an animal. He has to create his own identity and that what our film is about.’

After convincing me that his version is worlds apart from Favreau’s he jibes ‘Look, we live in a culture where we’ve had three Spider-man’s in the last ten years, so I don’t think people will have a problem with watching a different Jungle Book. With any great classic work, such as Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddlestone, or the numerous adaptations of Charles Dickens, people are used to the idea of reinterpretations and new interpretations.’

A lot of his work rides the wave of technological advancements, but he thinks the industry is only getting started. ‘I think performance capture usage is still in its infancy. It’s being used predominantly in big budget blockbuster movies, because of the cost of the technology. With the rendering costs coming down and using video game engines, such as Unreal, in the filmmaking process to get real time rendering, you can now use performance capture for television and even on stage.’

The stage, where Serkis plied his trade, building up his reputation before making the leap to film, is still a big part of his life. ‘My company, Imaginarium, has been working with the Royal Shakespeare Company on an actor portraying a character using performance capture on stage.’ When asked if he would consider going back to his roots he paused, look down at his glass of water and said ‘It’s been 15 years, I’m a little bit nervous about it, but I can definitely see it happening.’

So what’s next? Well he has plenty more in the pipeline, although not on stage just yet. ‘We’re working on Animal Farm by George Orwell and that will be a very interesting challenge in seeing how we create those characters. It’s really good use of the technology because you get all of the performance of human beings but translated into, not apes as they are fairly straightforward, but quadruped animals. We have been doing this with Jungle Book but Animal Farm will be taking this a lot further because we will see the pigs transform into almost human-like pigs.’

Some films are so technologically significant that they change cinema forever. James Cameron’s Avatar the most recent example, was almost solely responsible for every cinema changing from analog to digital projection. Cameron transported viewers into a CG world so revolutionary that the world they came back to was revolutionised as a result. George Orwell’s Animal Farm will be one of those films, paving the way for a fresh use of CG.

Another of those films was 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. When all blockbusters around were hammered to fit through the same hole, Matt Reeves tried something truly different. It was essentially a foreign language film, with the language being that of the great apes, and Serkis was their leader.

As the first two of the trilogy was released, critics and audiences couldn’t believe what they were seeing, and there was discussion for a Best Actor Oscar nominations, but they never came. This year, with the release of the epic conclusion, that discussion is greater than ever before. ‘I can’t judge my own performance but there is certainly more discussion about it this year because it is a very central role. It’s also a role where there is a lot more dialogue, Caesar actually speaks and people can connect to that.’

Forever humble, he downplays the potential of a nomination, but insists that performance capture roles should get considered. ‘The process of acting is no different if you’re wearing costume and makeup or a performance capture suit with dots on your face. The performance isn’t created by someone else, it’s created by the actor, and how they manifest that character.’

‘You could say well, when John Hurt played the elephant man and got nominated for Best Actor, he was totally in disguise and it was created by a great team of artists. Their artistry was augmenting his performance, but only in the same was that digital artists are augmenting a performance. Not by changing the performance but by creating a digital mask. I’ve always maintained that what we do in a PC role isn’t different to any form of live action acting.

Only time will tell what happens at next year’s ceremony. For now Serkis is sneaking his way into more franchises, as Supreme Leader Snoke in Star Wars and as Ulysses Klaue in the Marvel Universe. ‘They approached me for the Avengers. It was because at Imaginarium we were working on the performance capture for the Hulk, with Mark Ruffalo and for Ultron, with James Spader. I also worked physically with Mark Ruffalo to embody the Hulk to greater effect, that was with Joss Whedon. Then Whedon approached me and said ‘Look Andy I’ve got this role and I’d love you to play it’, I couldn’t turn that down.’

From the trailers to next year’s Black Panther, it seems his character is among the main cast. To wrap our time together up I asked Serkis if this was it for Klaue, or whether he survives to be seen again. In return I got a coy smile, ‘I can’t really say that, but I can say he certainly makes his presence known.’

In Conversation with Kevin Everson

Kevin Jerome Everson, fresh from a mid-career retrospective at London’s TATE Modern, travelled up to HOME to screen a selection of his short films with producer Madeleine Molyneaux. Viewers were treated to multiple UK premieres as well as a Q&A, hosted by HOME’s Artistic Director Sarah Perks.

Born in Ohio and based at the University of Virginia, Everson is an award-winning artist and filmmaker and is regarded as one of the most important and creative filmmakers currently working in the USA. Despite this though he remains humble, ‘I’m just from a small town, I just make things and I’m fascinated by people who want to see what I do.’

Art as an opportunity only caught his attention at college. There he studied photography, printmaking and sculptures, before that he was ‘just a big dumb jock’. Since then his films have screened at festivals such as Sundance and Toronto International Film Festival and are praised for their unique style, combining scripted and documentary elements with an obvious formalistic approach. The focus is almost entirely on the African-American experience within the working class whilst abstaining from any generic socio-politcal commentaries.

The 1996 Guggenheim Fellowship winner exhibits a strong sense of labour in his work, ‘I’m very privileged to be an artist, so I try to find artistry in the everyday lives of workers.’ One film in particular, Company Line (2009), centres around a group of city employees battling the snowy conditions to grit the streets.

‘I make films for the subject matter not the viewer, so I’m conscious about how they look and what they say. I find the people who are the best at what they do, and capture them doing it.’ A large section of Company Line is riding along with a particular snowplough driver, watching him at work. There are deeper remarks about 20th century African-American migration to the northern US present here too, depicting a class seldom mentioned let alone seen on film.

The town shown, Mansfield, Ohio, is Everson’s home town and the film was used as part of a trilogy about the first three black neighbourhoods in America. In the early 1970’s the land they lived on was purchased and all the residents in that neighbourhood were scattered all around.

There are more unusual films in his catalogue too. For example Rough and Unequal is a 16mm project where he used a telescope to capture the moon and stars. Commissioned specifically for an exhibition at the Franklin Museum of Art, it was designed to have an effect on the art space as a whole, changing the audiences perceptions of all the pieces on display throughout its runtime.

More recently his 2017 work Brown and Clear that was shown at TIFF divided audiences. It takes place in a bar and shows a man filling up empty bottles with alcohol for the whole 7 minutes and 40 second runtime. Naturally this would immediately turn off a subset of viewers but the variety of techniques utilised make this an intriguing watch.

The story behind the film is similarly intriguing. Everson was visiting a relative and came to the pub he ran. Instantly he was looking at his surroundings for potential subjects. He noted that ‘it was all of questionable legality’. After going back home he decided to drive the eight hours back to film the relative at work.

Medium to close shots are intentional to mask the location and identity to avoid any police trouble. There are numerous interpretations to the underlying meaning of Brown and Clear, one member of the audience suggested that it ‘was a comment on alcoholism’. Everson himself agreed with this adding ‘where I’m from you didn’t get all the fancy alcohol choices you guys have, it was either brown, like bourbon or brandy, or white, like vodka or moonshine.’

Working with a colleague at the University of Virginia, he also makes period films about the history of African-Americans. ‘When we show them in front of the school where there are people of European descent they get upset but they’re not in it. Whether it’s positive or negative they want to be at the centre of it’

Although his art is focussed on the African-American experience, it is unavoidable that it would be primarily shown to white audiences, whether that be at a film festival or a gallery. The main objective though is to spark discussion about the social, political and economic condition present. ‘I never know what people will think when they watch my films but I just try to be consistent. If not then fuck it, i’ll just film more tomorrow.’