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The trailer for Beg Steal Borrow’s forthcoming documentary, Circle/Line, has now gone live.

The trailer features snippets from some of the many interviews that William Brown and Tom Maine conducted between May and August 2015 outside stations on London Underground’s Circle Line.

In the film, interviewees are asked one simple (?!), initial question: are you happy? And from there, the conversations go in all manner of different directions… although in order to see those, you’ll have to wait until the finished film.

On that note, William is putting finishing touches to what he hopes will be at least a preliminary draft of the finished film. Keep your eyes open for a preview screening coming up soon…

Partially inspired by Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch’s Chronique d’un été/Chronicle of a Summer (France, 1961), Circle/Line offers a fascinating insight into the well-being of people in London today – from the homeless to the hopeful, from the ambitious to the activist, from task-driven Londoners to visiting tourists.

We hope that you look forward to seeing the finished film!

 

I have been meaning to write about the progress of Circle/Line for some time now.

In short, editing progresses not necessarily apace, but steadily.

There have been some frustrations along the way. First and foremost is that it appears that we have lost the video files for one interview conducted at High Street Kensington, all of the interviews that we conducted at Gloucester Road, and part of the long interview that we enjoyed at South Kensington (the very final interview that we conducted).

I guess these things happen – and we still have the sound files, so not all is lost; but this might mean that to include those interviews in, say, a finished film, would mean having the sound over other images, which might seem odd with regard to the look of the rest of the film.

Either way, though, having been through all of the footage it is clear that we have numerous wonderful interviews with numerous fascinating people – all talking about happiness in lots of different ways/approaching it from lots of different angles.

How to arrange it now becomes the big challenge.

I hope that the ‘film’ will in fact take several different shapes.

Firstly, I would like to edit together a film in the traditional sense, which includes footage from a range of the interviews conducted, although not necessarily all of them. I shall return to this shortly below.

Secondly, however, I hope also to create a website with all of the interviews (at least in part) uploaded – in 27 instalments, with one shorter film for each stop on the Circle/Line.

This not only will provide a space for visitors to browse far more of the footage than I can ‘reasonably’ include in a single film (unless watching six and a half hour films is your thing), but I would also like to make the footage available for download, so that visitors can then use the footage potentially to edit a completely different film to the one that I put together.

Finally, more ambitiously and more unlikely, I’d love to find a space where I could mount 27 screens, one for each station, and then allow visitors to come and browse the films at their leisure – for as long or as little as they would like, with each monitor (as per the website) screening footage from that particular station.

Obviously, a yellow theme as per the Circle Line’s appearance on the standard London Tube map, perhaps with a ‘yellow brick path’ around the space, might also be good.

Now, I am editing both the 27 short films and the feature film simultaneously – and what is quickly apparent is that it is very tough to know what to include and what to exclude, in the feature film at least.

It is clear that various themes emerge over and over again: the weather, sport, comparisons between London and other cities – both in the UK and abroad, and so on. I shan’t be able to include all of these, and it becomes clear to me that I am editing a more ‘political’ film, in which issues like the cost of living, work, religion, housing problems and other issues are explored, than I am necessarily editing a ‘feel good’ film (although I hope that the film conveys a lot of the optimism of the people that we interviewed).

Tom Maine – with his customary elegance and sensitivity – has captured absolutely beautiful portraits of the people whom we have interviewed, and so I generally feel happy with the look of the film and in a sense edit more to what people say.

However, sometimes one also edits not only because of what the interviewee does in terms of gesture or facial expression, but sometimes one also edits because of chance events that occur in the background.

I am still undecided as to whether it will make the final cut, but Tom has done shots for example through a taxi that pulled up between him and me/an interviewee at Cannon Street – and which look absolutely fantastic.

In addition, small things like a moving crane also can provide visual attractions that do not necessarily belong to the interview. The vertical framing does, in my humble opinion, work very well – and so the point is that while Circle/Line is a vox pop film, in that it features people talking, it is also – I believe – a very visual film.

Indeed, we set out to create a portrait of London – or at least of London’s Circle Line, the people that pass through and/or inhabit it, and a sense of the relationship between the two by staging the interviews in the street, near public transport, and with an emphasis on the vertical in order to see the human figure in relation to the giant buildings that surround her.

I hope that others consider the film to be successful in presenting not just a series of portraits of people interviewed in London, therefore, but also in many respects a portrait of the city. In the spirit of Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin’s film from which Circle/Line draws inspiration, I hope also that the film is a ‘chronicle of the summer’ of 2015 in one of the world’s most vibrant cities.

The next time I post, I hope that it will be to announce that a cut of the film is ready. But everything continues enjoyably and hopefully with the result of producing a watchable and engaging piece of work.

Below are some stills – from interviews at (clockwise, starting top left) Kings Cross, Liverpool Street, Embankment, Edgware Road, Notting Hill and Bayswater.

And also keep an eye out for a trailer and a poster somewhere in the pipeline, too!

Long time no blog – for which apologies.

But there have been some interesting/exciting Beg Steal Borrow developments over the past few weeks – with even more brewing – so keep a look-out for future events, too – since there hopefully will be screenings of SelfieUr: The End of Civilization in 90 Tableaux and The New Hope to announce in the coming months, both in the UK and further afield.

The script

Let’s start with the script. William Brown’s screenplay, Kiss and Make Up, is in competition for six awards at the Oaxaca FilmFest in Mexico, which takes place 9-17 October 2015.

The script, a comedy that tells the story of a man who disguises himself as different people in order to stalk his ex-girlfriend, is one of the screenplays selected for the Global Script Challenge. And at Oaxaca, William will hopefully be meeting other writers and film people in order to be inspired.

Circle/Line shoot completed

While this blog does not constitute a final diary entry for the film per se, it is to announce that cinematographer Tom Maine and director William Brown finished shooting Circle/Line just before the end of August – and in spite of heavy rain that often made stopping people in the street for an interview next to impossible.

We did a mid-July shoot at Edgware Road, meeting in particular a couple of former students from Kingston University who are engaged in trying to do charitable work in the Middle East, before then filming in late August at Paddington, where we had a fascinating interview with a somewhat distraught and unemployed man, who feels hopeless with regard to being able to turn his life around – particularly in relation to finding a job.

There followed a rain-soaked interview Bayswater with, amongst others, a man from Sicily who talks to people about God, and a very chilled-out/relaxed guy from Australia who seemed to know the formula for happiness.

At Notting Hill Gate, we met some visitors from Germany and a student from Italy, before at High Street Kensington chatting with another German woman and a man on his way to watch the Arsenal play.

At Gloucester Road, we spoke in particular to an Argentine lady who is hoping to find a way to stay in London, a city that she feels that she loves. And at South Kensington, our final location, we chatted to two men, one French and one British, who are working on an app that is designed to help people to maximise happiness.

Given that the topic of the film is, with a hat tip to Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch’s Chronicle of a Summer, about how happy people in London are, this seemed a most appropriate interview with which to finish principle shooting. For, the final interview combined not only people also engaged in happiness, but also an Anglo-French effort to achieve it.

Now, for the edit. More news to follow when the film is ready for preliminary screenings.

The Benefit of Doubt

But, before that, Beg Steal Borrow are also set to shoot a new fiction film, The Benefit of Doubt, which retells the myth of Ariadne after she has been abandoned by Theseus in France’s Nice.

Starring En Attendant Godard lead Hannah Croft in the Ariadne role, the film will also feature performances from Beg Steal regular Nick Marwick, and Greg Rowe, who makes his second film with us after a small, but memorable role as an R2 unit in The New Hope.

Filmed in Nice, The Benefit of Doubt hopefully will also pay homage in part to Jean Vigo’s À propos de Nice, one of the great short films that was shot by Dziga Vertov’s brother, Boris Kaufman.

More news will certainly follow after the shoot, which takes place from 1st to 9th October, with Tom Maine taking up his regular duties as cinematographer, and with Andrew Slater also returning for production duties – with help from Annette Hartwell and Lucia D. Williams.

Day 9: Wednesday 10 June (Mansion House and Cannon Street)

Cameraman Tom Maine and I were apprehensive as we reached Mansion House. Our experience at Moorgate, also a Circle Line station that sits in the City, had been so poor (and dispiriting) that we feared more of the same.

However, that fear was not wholly necessary, for, despite some rejections (always disheartening), we did manage to convince a few people to talk to us. Brian, the first person with whom we spoke, seemed to enjoy the interview and took my number, since he works at an advertising firm and thinks that he might need interviewers for a show that he is producing in which people discuss what it is like to be thrown out of an aeroplane.

I have no idea whether to believe Brian, and the way he spoke to me led me to believe that he thinks me younger than I am, but either way it was nice of him to offer potentially to offer. Who knows? Maybe my interviewing skills will transfer to a new project before too long.

AJ, Ves, Prash and Kerry all followed, with Kerry perhaps being the most vocal. ‘No,’ she insisted straight away, she is not happy. And she laughed. ‘Why,’ I asked? ‘Money,’ she responded with a smile. ‘I have expensive tastes and I need lots of it.’

Over from New York and studying in London for a year, Kerry said that she is enjoying her time here, and is most happy when walking around London. I find it odd that Kerry, fun as she was to talk with, wants money for happiness, and yet is most happy when she is doing something, walking, that is free. Perhaps I should challenge people more with regard to their definitions of happiness.

Tom finally featured me in some wider shots of the interviews today – mainly with Brian and AJ at Mansion House. This made me think of my friend Jonathan Taylor, who has directed episodes of such high-profile BBC documentaries as Great Ormond Street and Protecting Our Parents.

In late 2014, Jonathan gave a masterclass on making observation documentaries at the university where I work. I remember him saying that more or less the first key lesson he learned about making obs docs – from a figure as influential as Roger Graef, no less, Graef being one of the giants of British documentary – was that while the film wants to give the impression that you, the filmmaker, are invisible, in fact you have to be absolutely visible and fully participating (after a fashion) in the events that you are seeking to portray.

The logic is that if you are invisible, or say nothing, then people will not open up to you. It is only by being fully present that your subjects can trust you, Jonathan explained. And given that so many of our interviewees have a propensity to speak for as long as possible in abstract terms or in generalisations, without ever being specific about things that interest them, what makes them happy, then getting them to open up becomes important.

Therefore, even though Circle/Line is not an observational documentary, I believe that this idea of needing to make yourself present is equally true with Circle/Line. The more I put into these conversations, the more I get from people in terms of them opening up and moving beyond those generalisations – even if the film will not reflect my participation as it emphasises the people whom we have met rather than me. In effect, while based increasingly on conversations rather than on monologues from the participants, it is through a two-way conversation that the most interesting things that people say can come out.

This evening a few people did the usual ‘walking away as soon as they see us coming’ routine. This is fair enough and one learns not to take offence, even though we (or at least I) believe that everyone with whom we have spoken for this film has had a few minutes of interesting fun with us. Maybe this is not true in the eyes of others, but thinking that you are offering people something that in fact is, or might be, quite pleasant, makes the out of hand rejection quite disappointing.

Thinking about these rejections, Tom and I discussed whether one of the reasons why various people seem unwilling to talk to us, and many completely unwilling to open up to us if they do, is because we live in a society that is much more media savvy than it used to be. It is safer to give nothing away, even about one’s own happiness, except to speak in vague generalisations, and rarely if ever with specific examples about personal experiences. (Maybe I am a bad interviewer.)

As I have perhaps mentioned before, Circle/Line takes its inspiration from Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch’s Chronicle of a Summer, a 1961 film shot in 1960, and which itself is a movie comprised of vox pops of people in Paris – with Circle/Line also featuring a touch of Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme’s Le joli mai (1963) thrown in for good measure

In the Rouch and Morin film, from what I recall, people seem so willing to talk to the camera. Of course, we don’t know how many people said no, nor how long interviews lasted in order to get to what we see in the film. Nor, indeed, how prepped people were (I refuse to tell my interviewees the first question – ‘are you happy?’ – explaining to them that if they know it in advance, then it will spoil the response).

Nonetheless, in Chronicle of a Summer, it strikes me that when someone turns up with a camera in the street, people wander curiously over and want to know more. Nowadays, however, the camera is treated with suspicion, people are wary, tech savvy, and while some people are curious about what we are doing, most are not.

As Tom and I hang outside Cannon Street, I tell Tom about how it is apparently possible to run from Cannon Street to Mansion House in the time it takes for a Circle Line train to get from one station to the other, meaning that one can get off a train at Cannon Street and get on the same train at Mansion House. I shall have to check where that story comes from and whether it is true or not.

Tom and I continue to be concerned that older people are harder for us to persuade to take part in the film and that, oddly, we have not convinced a family to talk to us all at once so far. Still things to work on…

Day 10: Friday 12 June (Blackfriars)

A pleasant evening and people seemed willing to talk. If only all stations were like Blackfriars (especially because the station has a pub, the Black Friar, right opposite – meaning that finding people with whom to talk is, so Tom says, like shooting fish in a barrel).

We discuss amateur dramatics with Luke, the systemic shortcomings of capitalism with Omar, what it is like being away from one’s family with Julien (he has a brother and a sister in Mexico, with the majority of his family in his native France), and the joys (or, as I believe, the horrors) of shopping on Oxford Street and in the Westfield with Anisha.

I even questioned Anisha about several things, mainly because she is contagiously happy, and I am not sure why. Firstly, Anisha, like Kerry, feels that walking makes her happy. Secondly, Anisha suggested that poor people can and are happy and that in fact rich people are often unhappy. I asked her if she plans on giving away her money in order to be happier. She said that she will not.

I am not sure how much I should ‘challenge’ my subjects, but like Kerry who believes that she wants to be rich and yet is happiest doing something for free, Anisha seemed to say that happiness is inversely proportional to money, while also being unable to give up money for happiness.

This is not to single out Anisha; I feel this myself, and assume many people do (not that poor people are happier, but that one might well be happier if one sacrificed more money, while being unable to sacrifice that money). But it does raise the issue that our happiness, particularly if it is linked to money (as the overwhelming majority of responses would seem to suggest so far), is in fact illusory. As Julien says, perhaps we are all in the Matrix.

A final thought: a few people in these last few days – AJ, Ves, Prash, Anisha – all seem to believe that if you truly want it, then you can bring about happiness in your life. I hesitate to agree with this, mainly because to believe that we are the authors of our own destiny suggests a belief somehow that we are not quite in, or with, the world, but rather that we are separate from it, somewhat. For, we can do what we want, and the rest of the world does not constrain us, since it does not really touch us.

I am delighted that so many people tell us that they are happy. But I am always intrigued when people say both that unhappiness exists, that the unhappiness of others brings them down, but that they don’t let the unhappiness of others affect them too much. For me, this speaks of a lack of being touched by the world; happiness thus today becomes something not to be shared, but something more like a wall, or a womb (a matrix, indeed) that we construct around ourselves in order not to be touched by the rest of the world.

And yet, while it heartens me to know that so many people are happy, with exceptions like Kerry unhappy not because of loss but because she has not yet reached the point in life where she wants to be, I am concerned about the lack of touch, as well as the resort to insular as opposed to common happiness. Is constructing a common happiness what I am really wanting to ask people about here? I do ask questions along these lines. Indeed, Omar this evening suggested pessimism about the possibility for common happiness. Maybe I am making the film in search of how we can achieve it.

As Tom and I head home, we work out whether the Cannon Street to Mansion House dash is feasible. I reckon it is. Tom is a little bit more sceptical. Perhaps we should try it when Circle/Line wraps.