How I Made my Debut Short Film ‘Black Fish’ for the BBC – by Simi Abe

A still from Black Fish, written and directed by Brunel Creative Writing graduate, Simi Abe.

On September 16th 2019, I was fortunate enough to have my short film ‘Black Fish’ added to BBC iPlayer and shared across the BBC Arts social media pages. It all came about because I applied to the BBC New Creatives development scheme. And I only came across the scheme by chance while scrolling through Facebook. 

The Application 

When I saw the post on Facebook about BBC New Creatives, I was most interested in the fact it was open to both emerging filmmakers and those without prior experience.  I fell into the latter category; I’d only decided I wanted to direct films the year before, just after completing a degree in Creative Writing. So coming across this opportunity to have a short film funded by the BBC and Arts Council England, that could be shared on one of the BBC platforms, seemed like a great learning experience. And fortunately, I had a script for a short film that fit the brief: under 5 minutes. 

Although it looked like the perfect opportunity for me at the time, I almost didn’t apply. I was worried that my script was too ambitious (it was) and that I wasn’t up for the task of directing it. Thankfully, I went out on a limb and sent in my application. 

To apply, I had to send my application to one of the five media organisations assigned to different parts of the country. They functioned as support to the New Creatives, our production partners and they bridged the gap between us and the BBC. These media organisations cover: London, South East, South West, Midlands and the North. Living in the East, I sent my application to Screen South.

The Interview 

I knew the process of making the film would have to be completed within three months, yet I was still surprised to get a response to my application so quickly and was asked to come in for an interview in five days. Naturally, I was nervous; I had little interview experience and this one was conducted by three people. Fortunately, it went well and three days later I heard that I had been a successful applicant. 

The Training 

Three training days were held over two consecutive weekends led by the team from Screen South. The training was held in London and we had talks and exercises about the script: how to approach the story, how to edit it, storyboarding, distribution, working with a crew and the logistics of the scheme. It was a useful three days in which I also got to meet the other New Creatives and heard them talk about the stories they were hoping to tell. We all had varying backgrounds and levels of experience and although I was one of two people that had never made a film, most of us hadn’t been a part of a development scheme. Knowing I wasn’t alone in that sense was encouraging.

Pre-Production to Post

I applied for the scheme in March, the training days took place in April and the films needed to be completed by June. It was a tight deadline and quick turnover but it was necessary to keep momentum. So the Monday after the last training day, I shouldn’t have been surprised (and yet I was) that work would begin at full steam. 

Screen South had set me up with two producers and they had planned for a two-week pre-production period and the filming would be done in one day. Naturally, there was a lot to work out in such a short space of time – the script had to be edited to accommodate the budget and time we had (edited six times, to be exact), the storyboard, the shot list, wardrobe, actors, props, location, etc… all had to be sorted and signed off by Screen South in time for the shoot. 

Filming was a little hectic because we had a number of tight deadlines and time restrictions. The script, although short, had a fair amount of action and would have been more conveniently shot across two days. Yes, it was a stressful day and I went into it a little nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. I was on my feet all day except for the brief minutes I spent having lunch, but in spite of this, I enjoyed the experience of being on location and seeing something I had written slowly come together. It was a long but valuable day for my development as a filmmaker. I learnt a lot from my shortcomings and mistakes, all of which will be informative going forward. Not only that, but it also served as a lesson in trusting my ideas and being sure about how to communicate them.

Post-production began at the start of May and ended at the end of June. It was surprisingly the longest part of the process. It took twelve versions of the edit and many revisions of the score. It was enjoyable working with the editor and composer to rework the film and share ideas. I felt confident in my choices even when they had to be revised after receiving notes from the executive producers at Screen South. It took a lot of back and forth to get the film ready for the colour grade and sound mix at the Post House. At times it didn’t seem like it would come together but eventually, it did and it was a huge relief seeing the film completed.

Post Post-Production

When the film was sent to the BBC at the end of June, I didn’t anticipate that I’d hear from Screen South in September congratulating me that my film had been selected as one of the first to be on BBC iPlayer. And better than that, it was the first to be shared on social media. It has had 46,000 views across Facebook and Twitter to date, which I didn’t anticipate. It’s been humbling and encouraging having seen the response of friends, family and strangers online. It’s motivated me to keep pushing towards my goal of being a filmmaker which feels all the more possible now.

My short film, Black Fish is available to watch online now and you can find out more about the BBC New Creatives here.

Simi Abe

The Brunel Writer Prize 2019

The Brunel Writer Prize is awarded to the student(s) who achieves the highest graded 600 word article submission for the Creative Industries module on Brunel University’s Creative Writing programme. This year’s prize is shared between two students: Renée Dacres and Russell Christie. Renée’s article discusses diversity in the publishing industry and a new publishing venture that aims to address diverse representation in children’s books. Russell’s article focuses on autobiographical writing and in particular, perceptions related to working class fiction and autobiography.

Congratulations to Renée and Russell.


THE KNIGHTS OF CONUNDRUM:

Is the publishing industry really changing?

by Renée Dacres

Knights-Of-logo-01-787x175So, you want to be able to sniff a freshly printed book hot off the press? Maybe even a book you’ve had a hand in publishing?

As Creative Writing students, it’s often assumed that many of us have a love of books (but don’t worry, I won’t tell Will Self if you don’t). To that end, it’s also assumed that many of us want to get involved with the publishing industry.

As a Brunelian, you are part of a very diverse community and some of us may be guilty of taking that for granted at times. University is enough of a bubble in its own right, without taking into consideration what and who comprise our environment.

The Equality Act 2010 prompted the start of Brunel’s Student Success Project following their five-year plan for 2015-2020. The scheme looks specifically at why there are gaps in the attainment of 2:1 and first class degrees for BAME students. Whether there is actionable proof of improvements is unknown because of the lack of available data.

The progress of racial diversity within the publishing industry is also questionable. There is certainly a push to encourage more BAME candidates to apply for entry roles, what with initiatives like Hachette’s Fresh Chapters eight-week internship programme or HarperCollins’ BAME Traineeship . If you ask me, it seems likes these schemes amount to noise and not much else. After all, research by The Publishers’ Association from 2018 shows that the percentage of BAME respondents to the Diversity and Inclusion survey fell from 13% to 11.6% compared to 2017. The 1.4% fall suggests that these schemes aren’t doing enough to encourage BAME candidates to apply for roles.

Let’s compare these figures to those of us studying at Brunel.

In 2014, there were 14335 students at Brunel. Of those students studying at Brunel who are UK-domicile (i.e. home students) almost 38.8% of the total student population was classified as BAME, not accounting for those who did not wish to disclose their ethnicity. That is around 5590 students. If the publishing industry was to use the student body at Brunel, they would have to increase the number of BAME employees by 27.2%.

That’s over a quarter of the entire workforce!

However, with the birth of Knights Of, it seems that there is actionable proof that the publishing industry is trying to change. Knights Of is a publishing house dedicated to increasing diverse representation in children’s books.

Their shake-up of the submission process is also worth logging in your writer brain. Authors are free to pitch their novel ideas through a “Live Chat” function with one of the team and if they like your idea enough, they’ll ask you to send over a synopsis. This seems a lot less scary than submitting to an agent or publisher the way we normally would, don’t you think? I think this level of approachability is very important; not only when it comes to encouraging BAME authors to submit their novels, but also when it comes to making job applications. The publishing industry is notoriously aloof, so it seems that a shift in tone is necessary if the PA truly wish to achieve their goals of improving ethnic diversity.

The Publishers’ Association suggests that 15% of employees should be Black, Asian and minority ethnic. This is despite the fact that the 2011 census data suggests that 24% of the population in England and Wales would be considered BAME.

Alternatively, the publishing industry should be aiming for a workforce which is representative of the country’s demographics. Hence, they should aim for closer to Brunel’s representative 38.8% BAME demographic. After all, even if that target is not met, it’s still a significant improvement on current conditions.

Maybe if more of us felt like we were represented by the books being published and the people who publish them, we wouldn’t be so worried about offending Professor Self? Because we’d all love books.

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Renée Dacres is a writer of stories, screenplays and personal essays hailing from the grey area that is the Essex/ London fringe. Which one is it? Nobody knows. She has hopes of writing a novel in the future, with interests in both publishing and television development. If you have penchant for ramblings, you can find plenty on her blog.

 

 

 


FACTION FICTIONS

by Russell Christie

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Unfortunately, the Spread-the-Word, life-writing competition email didn’t tell me why my submission had not made the longlist for this year’s prize, just that it hadn’t. Leaving me to my own speculations as to why my story had not made the cut. Was my life-writing too fictionalised for their category? Memoir may be the new novel, but is novel the new memoir? What is the relationship between autobiography and fiction and how does the autobiographical fiction I had submitted differ from what is categorised as life-writing? And: is memoir what it used to be?

An event at Brunel – an examination of autobiografiction in light of The Burnett Archive of working class autobiographies – offered to further stoke my grief-fuelled speculations, or ameliorate them with free wine!

Working class investment in writing autobiographically based fictions has historically been modulated by conscious political positioning of the texts by the genre’s major exponents, apparently. Autobiography fictionalized enables distance and circumspection in using the material of a life. It is a different mode of exposition from the promised authentic intimacies of memoir: it takes place in a fiction form. Significant scenes are often transposed onto other incarnations and protagonists in a distancing that mediates against easy nostalgia. Stripped of the requirement for a psychological accounting of self, this fictionalising ‘shows’ the basic facts. The distinction between fiction and memory in this context is one of genre markers based on style and perspective rather than documentary truth. Fiction is showing, memoir is telling, life-writing is telling by showing.

I reflected that the frequent designation of working class fiction as inherently autobiographical, characterizes working class people as inescapably marked by their situation in a way that middle class writers supposedly transcend. Working class fiction gets categorised as autobiographical because it is suffused with a coal dust which does not appear in the milieu of a middle class oblivious to its own saturated marking with clean crockery and Evelyn Waugh conversations. The middle class, of course, are equally marked by the biographical limitations of the bourgeois imagination. Aren’t they, Alan Hollinghurst?

Denying autobiographical pertinence to your writing – even to speculative fiction – is to pretend that the imagination is undetermined and un-situated: a standard bourgeois conceit and ideological ploy. Fiction no more exists than freedom. Everything I write displays my historic circumstances. I cannot help but express the autobiographical configurations of my life, channelling the people who have influenced me, the travel I have been privileged to, the language that gives birth to this tongue and no other. How would I write outside of this? There is no universal writing, or even any universal to know, apart from this binding we are all subject to: this thrown-ness into our own narrow and total worlds, which we then only transcend through sharing as a limitation, as a specific embodiment, as ourselves.

And where is the proof that would differentiate fact from fiction? Even if you video your whole life, what would you be evidencing in the editing: psychological structure, political reality, one story among others? It’s a naïve understanding of truth that easily marks fiction from documentary. As in the contemporary shift from nostalgically reflective, purple prosaic memoir to the stripped back, New Journalist, first person prose of life-writing, it is the form that distinguishes genres rather than the events these forms are built around.

It is the tenor, the intimacy, the pose, the hands-up, the hidden-ness, the sentences, the perspective that distinguishes fiction from life-writing and memoir. These are genre markers. Fiction has a fiction form, irrespective of its factuality. Self assertion, ownership and marketing is part of the form of contemporary autobiografiction. And what you remember, told as fiction, is not memoir. Except perhaps for Thomas Wolfe’s Of Time And The River and, ahem, my submission to the life-writing prize. Is there more wine?

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Russell Christie is a novelist and procrastinator who’s lived in several countries, often undercover and in various states of legitimacy. He enjoys throwing in curve balls from left field, especially dialectical materialism (still!) and Buddhist ontology. He came to Brunel (like everywhere) to escape the forces of the state but ended up quite liking it (like everywhere). His first novel, The Queer Diary of Mordred Vienna was published in 2015.

Guest blogger Lucy Hunt, Winner of the Brunel English writing prize 2018-19

Congratulations to Theatre and English undergraduate Lucy Hunt who is the overall Winner in this year’s English writing prize at Brunel University London.

Read on for Lucy’s guest blog:

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image copyright Dominion Theatre / Bat Out Of Hell The Musical

I would do anything to watch Bat Out of Hell again (and I would do that!)

by Lucy Hunt

EnglishBlogPicture2It is safe to say I was a ‘bat out of hell’ when tickets went on sale for Jim Steinman’s award-winning musical at the Dominion Theatre earlier this year. If the large, fiery motorbike towering over the entrance isn’t enough of a hint, this musical is loud, excessive, and it’s batshit crazy!

Since its opening, Bat Out of Hell has received divided opinion due to its lack of conformity to a typical musical – instead, it seems more like a fairy-tale being held hostage by a rock concert. It centres on Strat, the forever eighteen-year-old leader of a group of mutants called “The Lost” whose DNA froze during a chemical war, causing them to stay young for ever. Raven, who later becomes Strat’s love interest, is locked away in her room by her father Falco, the ruler of the dystopian land of Obsidian. If Peter Pan and Rapunzel didn’t just pop into your head, you will probably be amongst the confused half of critics who don’t understand the unusual yet captivating style this musical takes on.

The jarred storyline is matched by the equally jarred yet extraordinary cinematography that director Jay Scheib brings to the musical. Throughout certain scenes of the show, cameramen are on stage and the actors perform to the camera rather than the audience. As the video is projected across the backdrop, so much is going on in all parts of the stage. It is this futuristic style that makes this musical so different but refreshing for the theatre industry. It brings the advantages of the cinema into the theatre, exploiting the strengths of both movie-making and theatre to create an explosive masterpiece.

EnglishBlogPicture3It would be wrong to write a musical review without picking up on the vocals, especially in BOOH. It is no secret Meatloaf’s songs are hard to sing, especially when having to jump around and act at the same time. But the cast of Bat Out of Hell deliver no faults. No matter the opinion on the musical, every critic has praised the talents of the entire cast. Andrew Polec deserves particular praise as he tackles eight belting tunes, such as “I would do anything for love”, each night and leaves the audience roaring with applause. But Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton, who play Raven’s parents, steal the show with an electric duet of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”. These songs that are known to be individually ludicrous and comical, surprisingly appear to come together and make sense.

As a jukebox musical would do, BOOH will attract people who may never have been to the theatre, or people who have never heard of Meatloaf’s songs. Either way, this musical provides a fun, jolted experience that makes you so unsure, but at the same time love what you’re watching. It has something for everyone – from comedic moments, to epic ballads; from a Romeo and Juliet vibe, to songs that make you want to get up and sing at the top of your lungs (but it is theatre etiquette not to!).

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Lucy Hunt
is a Brunel Theatre and English student, from Northampton, who spends most of her money on musicals and Disneyland trips. Her biggest achievement is being away from her cat this long whilst at University, and aspires to do anything in life that permits her to break into song and dance in the middle of the street.

Guest blogger Tyri Donovan, runner-up in the English writing prize 2018-19

Congratulations to English with Creative Writing undergraduate Tyri Donovan who was a runner-up in this year’s English writing prize at Brunel University London.

Click here to read Tyri’s blog entry!
(opens in PDF)

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Tyri Donovan
refers himself as a diligent, open minded person of mixed ethnicity – British, Jamaican, Egyptian. Family, Friends, Music and Athletics drives his creativity and passion towards Art, whilst global interactions of langauge engage and educate him within international cultures. Tyri views culture with integrity, respect and sensitivity, as he continues to learn and grow through the interest of people’s own culture experiences.

Guest blogger Shania King-Soyza, runner-up in the English writing prize 2018-19

Congratulations to Film Studies and English undergraduate Shania King-Soyza who was a runner-up in this year’s English writing prize at Brunel University London.

Read on for Shania’s blog entry!

Being a Black British Girl Uninspired by Meghan Markle

by Shania King-Soyza

 

The façade of Meghan Markle’s acceptance into the Royal Family continues to reinforce Eurocentric standards for black women: civilised, dignified, thin, pale and modest are stereotypical characteristics black women are internally conflicted to appeal to. The idea of Markle opposing this standard is improbable…I thought she was white?

Within a BBC article, black British women commented that Markle’s presence “empowered” them as they caught a glimpse of optimism for diversity – she can “introduce black culture to the Royals” they said. Personally, the idea of a black princess dutty wining her way down the aisle, fresh curls popping through her veil as the wedding party feast on curry goat and plantain, and dance to ‘Candy’ is a bit unrealistic…I mean just a bit. However, if she can indeed project positivity and confidence as these women suggest, then who am I to critique their reactions? Some say her marriage is as momentous as Barak Obama becoming president – therefore she must be significant.

Although, it still doesn’t make sense to me…

Genetically and culturally, Markle does not characterise an average black British woman:

Genetically – Markle is biracial and has never referred to herself as a black woman as (rightfully so) she accepts both her cultures and prefers not to reject either. Markle’s complexion is very fair (almost an olive skin tone); she has straight hair, thin lips and nose – she is a very beautiful woman, yet she shouldn’t be idolised by young black girls. The reality of black women being able to see a representation of themselves in such a hierarchy as the Royal Family is still non-existent, as Markle continues to follow the mainstream, Eurocentric standard of beauty. Being able to see a black princess is still confined to Disney as Markle isn’t a Tiana (2009) – though perhaps a Cinderella (1950)?

Culturally – she was born and raised in America – a vastly different environment. Though American culture is highly influential worldwide (affecting Britain massively), she has not experienced the best of British culture– I mean…does she even like Sunday roast dinners? Dead ass. Not all middle- and working-class British women can relate to Markle’s upbringing (or the life she lives now) because it wasn’t British. She didn’t go to Morley’s after Secondary school; she can’t go to Morley’s now – so in what way is she relatable? Sure, anyone can wear outdated clothes, be a philanthropist and besties with the Queen…right?

Meghan Markle does not inspire me. She’s different and that’s okay.

There are many black British women to idolise and feel empowered by such as Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Letitia Wright, Beverly Knight, Emeli Sandé and Estelle. Rich in melanin and black-girl-magic, they can truly inspire the younger generation to love their skin and prosper. The ‘Markle Effect’ is purely a façade of black excellence trying to infiltrate the monarchy. Uninspiring and improbable, she does not represent me…a black British girl.

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Shania King-Soyza identifies as a black girl though her ethnicity is mixed – Barbados and Sri Lanka.  Location and family influence her perception on current affairs. Though she describes herself as unpatriotic, she embraces British culture and is committed to exposing what life is truly like for those whose voices are often unheard.