1972-4 Made various super-8 shorts at the VCA and Melbourne Teachers College as well as a 30 minute U-matic video documentary on Fitzroy Vocational Education Centre and a 16mm B&W short (unfinished) with Melbourne University Film Society funding.
1975-77 Attended London International Film School.
Wrote, directed and edited Straight Trees 1976 (B&W 16 mm 18 minutes).
Wrote and directed Another Battleship Potemkin 1976 (B&W 35mm 10 minutes)
1977 Sound recordist and camera assistant on documentary in Switzerland and Germany.
1978 Assistant editor for various companies in London, including The Central Office of Information, British Transport Films and London Weekend Television.
1979 Assistant Editor on The Knowledge (a feature) for Euston Films and BBC Open University programmes.
1980-84 Freelance assistant editor (later editor) for ITV companies throughout the UK, including Thames TV (London) Central TV (Birmingham) Yorkshire TV (Leeds) HTV (Bristol and Cardiff) Southern TV (Southampton and Dover) Anglia TV (Norwich) Tyne Tees TV (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne) Scottish TV (Glasgow) and Ulster TV (Belfast).
Programmes ranged from Thames Television’s prestigious series on the history of Northern Ireland – The Troubles – over ten months on a seven-day week (1980-1) – to children’s programmes such as Magpie (Thames) to daily news, current affairs, religious, local social, agricultural and historical documentaries. For Ulster TV, I edited the three-part series on emergency procedures at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, ‘Trauma’, broadcast on Channel Four in 1983.
Several brief returns to Melbourne.
Wrote, produced, directed and edited – Sophia Loren’s Eyebrows (1980 16mm colour 30 minutes)
Wrote original feature script The Kindly Old Lighthouse Keeper (1981) submitted project to funding bodies including BFI Production Board and Channel Four, unsuccessfully.
Wrote, produced, directed and edited – Scissorman (1982 16mm colour 30 minutes)
Wrote original 30 minute short – Australian Gothic (1982) – submitted to funding bodies etc.
Wrote, produced, directed and edited – Harrier Attack! (1983 16mm colour 26 minutes)
Wrote feature script Experiencing Difficulties (1984) submitted to funding bodies etc.
1985 Returned to Melbourne permanently.
Worked as sound editor at Film House, South Melbourne briefly.
Failed to find any other employment in the industry or related teaching.
N.B – I now have a channel on You Tube where digitally remastered versions of Harrier Attack!, Scissorman, Sophia Loren’s Eyebrows, Another Battleship Potemkin and Straight Trees can be viewed.
BRIEF NOTES ON THE FILMS AS OFFERED ON FACEBOOK
Strictly, this was not a Mrs Bell’s Films’ production. It was made during my first year at the London International Film School in 1975-6 pacing instruction in documentaries. It was an extra-curricular activity. Following indifference from the school, Mrs Bell’s Films inherited it as my first proper sound film, a movie drunk on its own sound track really. You can tell it was made by someone who had been to art school – but it also flaunted my reading matter at the time, from psycholinguistics to sociology and right-wing activism. I watched a lot of Open University initially, on reflection, probably too much. It’s a kind of surreal riposte to British empiricism, taking the documentary of ‘facts’ as a happy hunting ground for the comic and absurd. It turned out Peter Greenaway had also been mining this seam from inside the Central Office of Information (COI) where I too briefly worked a little later (and for him). But his take was less expansive, more arch, fussier. In passing, I found him well up himself.
You can view STRAIGHT TREES here
Mrs Bell’s Films was not really a production company. It was just the name of my account at the film labs I used in London. I forget whether it was Humpheries, Kays or Ranks – or some combination. There was a print shop in Soho that made up business cards very cheaply – and can-labels – since little film production companies were forever starting up and disappearing there. Around 1980 Mrs Bell’s Films duly appeared. The name was actually inspired by an obscure indie record label somewhere in the north around that time, with a name like Mrs Baker’s Records. I liked the mocking, homely touch. Having an East End council flat as my business address fitted perfectly.
This too was not strictly a Mrs Bell’s Films production. It was made at the start of my second year at film school in autumn 1976, as an exercise in shooting a 10 minute 35mm B&W film mainly in the school’s ‘studio’ – a very challenging room. The production was pretty much a disaster from the outset and went downhill from there. It was the only film in which I was truly, madly, deeply frustrated with the outcome. It was not selected for a ‘married print’ at the end of term – meaning the sound track was then combined with the picture, at the school’s expense, enabling projection at the NFT’s ‘Film School programme’ or subsequent film festivals possibly – probably rightly. But it did have the most original and ingenious IDEA for a short movie and after film school it took me over a year to save up enough to afford a married print. I had a terrible struggle for money after film school – couldn’t afford to return to Melbourne – and finally ditched the idea of writing a ‘thesis’ to complete my studies – concentrating instead on just circumventing the (then) union closed-shop and getting some modest position in the industry from which I might be awarded an ‘open’ union ticket (ACTT) and earn a living wage.
You can view the film in digitally revised form here.
But, diploma or not, I wanted to take ANOTHER BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN with me as some kind of evidence of my studies. It had been a harsh lesson, but one well-learned. My subsequent films certainly were much happier occasions, even for the inevitable contingency and crisis, but I never made the mistake of making those kinds of compromises again. Retraining in digital graphics (2008-10) alerted me to how much easier graphics were now and set me thinking about re-doing parts of ANOTHER BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN – if only for my own satisfaction. It all depended on whether the print was still in a fit state after 40+ years and could be transferred to digital video. Happily, Adobe Premiere Pro has been an enormous benefit there. It now looks more like the film I’d hoped for in 1976, in overall design and impact – not that it makes any difference at this stage, but confirms a few things for me in my old age.
SOPHIA LOREN’S EYEBROWS was the first actual production under the Mrs Bell’s Films label. It was made in the summer of 1980. It took a few years to find a circle of friends after film school, when most students returned to their respective countries. You need some kind of network to be an ‘independent’ film maker and it was not easy to put together. Jokey title apart, the film was intended to be a more sober, conventional exercise and my experience working as a freelance assistant editor had refined my approach. It was in colour and at 32 minutes, a more sustained and substantial ‘drama’.
You can view a digitally revised version of the film (if you have 32 minutes to spare) here.
A lot of preparation went into the script, budgeting, crewing and casting. For various reasons I was a lot more cautious this time around. It was supposed to demonstrate my competence, with a view to seeking funding for a feature length movie. That never happened, although treatments of the proposed feature – THE KINDLY OLD LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER (a more complex love triangle involving two brothers – but also involving a little girl – as in SOPHIA LOREN’S EYEBROWS…) circulated for a couple of years. Now the short seems very dated with talk of women’s consciousness-raising groups and such – it was probably a bit old even when I made it. But I like that time-capsule aspect to movies. I think it’s inevitable, if you want engage with the times, at the time.
This film was supposed to remedy perceived failings in SOPHIA LOREN’S EYEBROWS. Some had found it too slow-moving, too verbal or intellectual, too downbeat. So two years later I tried for something more dynamic, whimsical and upbeat. It did not meet with any more approval however and I began to feel I was sliding into mainstream story-telling and had demonstrated enough competence with shooting rapidly on a shoe-string budget in precarious locations. I had learned a lot about directing actors, spending days in rehearsal, but ultimately I didn’t want to become just ‘a director’ either. That was not the niche in the art film world I was aiming for. By this time I was hustling funding bodies for backing for another short, titled AUSTRALIAN GOTHIC (about an émigré indie rock star in London). That never happened either.
This print has not aged well, unfortunately…
You can view a digitally remastered version of SCISSORMAN (running time: 30 minutes) here .
I took a step back after preceding critical and funding failures. I had gone far enough with low-budget competence and “industry best practices”, as we now say. I decided I needed to demonstrate a little more adventure. It was not enough to be merely the writer of quirky stories, the director of naturalistic or dead-pan performances, I wanted a larger brief.
I wanted something less driven by plot or character than themes or imagery. HARRIER ATTACK! duly recovered some of the experiment and irreverence of my film school days. It was a swipe at the Post-Falklands jingoism of the times, but it also allowed some play with pictorial continuity and audio correspondence, with a more cartoon-like approach. That was where I sensed much more could be done, and I regret not pressing this aspect beyond the opening scenes. The movie probably tries a little too hard for outrage, again died with film festival submissions and funding bodies. By that stage I was pursuing another feature project – EXPERIENCING DIFFICULTIES – a futuristic black comedy about madness and drug dependence. That would have given free rein to my more fragmented approach but after a couple of years of intense lobbying of production boards, C4 commissioning editors and even old Ken Trodd at the Beeb, I pulled the plug and Mrs Bell’s Films ceased trading.
You can view a digitally remastered version of HARRIER ATTACK! (running time: 26 minutes) here.