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More of the Same Tomorrow: The Benefits of Independent Projects



INFLUENCER: Ben Lankester on his long, epic journey creating the short film/music video hybrid for Clapton Fox

More of the Same Tomorrow: The Benefits of Independent Projects

My relationship with Clapton Fox, an East London band, has stretched over a number of years. We've shot a number of music videos, but we’d never filmed in Warsaw, the hometown of Robert Kaniepien, the band’s frontman and driving force. An initial idea to shoot a narrative promo in this city - which I’d never visited - soon spiralled into a much bigger, more ambitious project. We’d done music videos. What could be next? Robert had five song ideas percolating, so over beers on Stoke Newington High Street, we soon landed on creating a longer form piece, a short film of sorts that would accompany this new EP. We started by calling it an ‘Albumfilm’, but the name never stuck.

It was in these early pub meetings in Autumn 2013 that I met Swedish artist David Hedberg, who would be my creative partner through what would end up being a near five-year journey to bring this project to the screen. Together with David, Robert and our fourth co-producer Rolfin Nyhus, we embarked naively on a filmmaking adventure that would spiral mercilessly out of control over the next 50+ months.

To say we made this film unconventionally would be an understatement. Looking back, we had no idea of what the project would become when we first travelled to Warsaw with a crew of eight Brits for a four day shoot, supplemented by Polish talent while we were out there. With the films of Tarkovsky a key reference (particularly Stalker), we started shooting with a rough script and shot list that would enable us to get the most out of these extraordinary locations we’d first visited on a recce a few months prior. During the recce, snow covered all of our locations, lending each of these liminal spaces a truly otherworldly quality that is hard to articulate. However, between the recce and the shoot, Europe would enter the warmest winter it had seen in decades, melting all the snow and bringing temperatures up to around the freezing mark. This ended up a lifesaver, as I dread to think how we - or David, playing the lead role of Walking Man - would have gotten through it in conditions any colder. But get through it we did - just.

As independent shoots go, this was a doozy: paying off ‘security’ guards every few hours as we filmed our ballerina in an abandoned factory location, me falling through a hole in a roof in another dilapidated location on the final day, our Airbnb owner having a full meltdown on us when we were a few minutes late to meet him for check out... The list goes on. This was textbook low budget, seat-of-the-pants filmmaking where at any moment things could go horribly wrong. No permits, no fixers, no risk assessment. Just out there, fighting the cold, getting the shots, getting the hell out of there.

Returning to the UK in January 2014, we had little idea that More of the Same Tomorrow would eventually emerge years later from the footage we had smuggled home. Simply put, this film was made backwards. Over months of research, reading, editing and experimentation, the thematic patchwork of the film finally began to take shape, David and I discovering what we wanted to say as filmmakers, what we wanted this stunning photography we had on our hands to actually speak for. We took long breaks, often months at a time, returning with new ideas, fresh takes and concepts, challenging each other, falling out, drinking red wine and tearing our hair out.

It was roughly half way through the process of editing the film that we decided to incorporate archive footage, an idea that took us to Prelinger, a now defunct company run out of San Francisco by the lovely Skip, who only works one day a week but relished the challenge of helping these penniless British boys to finish their art film. He didn’t charge us a dime, but the process of obtaining dozens of clips from various sources and getting them fit for duty alongside our main camera footage (shot on RED) was painstaking and exasperating. Another challenge, eventually overcome, hugely rewarding upon completion.

During the making of More of the Same Tomorrow, David learned After Effects from scratch, moved back to Stockholm and had a baby, while I made and released a feature, bought a house and got married. Over that time, More of the Same Tomorrow - originally titled Mokotow, at some point thereafter Time In Hand - was a constant in our lives, an ongoing passion project we sometimes felt no passion for, a noose around our neck, the source of sleepless nights when we felt the moment had gone. When I think about why it took so long to finish, the honest answer is that we needed to grow as filmmakers and artists over that period in order to really understand the film we wanted to make. Looking back, it was impossible to rush. Fittingly, it needed to take its own time.

Making independent work is hard. It’s like pushing a boulder up a mountain - most of the time it’s nothing but pain and suffering and frustration. It often feels impossible. But the question I always ask myself is, if I had to go back to the start, would I do it again? And the answer is always yes, just differently. Ultimately, the beauty of creating a short is that it generates food for thought and an incredible opportunity for filmmakers to reflect. With More of the Same Tomorrow, I’ve learnt a huge amount about the process of filmmaking, about patience, about work ethic, about collaboration, about what’s really required to make a film that’s actually about something, that really has something to say. In fact, I probably wouldn’t change a thing about this one, because the lessons I’ve learned are - as perhaps they always should be - the thing I value most about the entire experience.

We released More of the Same Tomorrow on Vimeo this week. There is an irony in making a film about time and then - in 2018 - asking people to invest 22 minutes of their day in an experimental essay film about time itself. Ads and features are easier asks, whereas shorts sit in that troublesome middle ground where you’re somehow asking more of someone. But I realise now, nearly five years later, that we didn’t make it for anyone other than ourselves. Just writing this piece has reminded me why I make films in the first place, and I just want to get on a plane back to Warsaw and start the whole process all over again.

Ben Lankester is a director at The Progress Film Company

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The Progress Film Company, Fri, 10 Aug 2018 12:00:48 GMT