Interview: Blur's Alex James gives his five top tips for budding digital film makers
Alex James, Brit band Blur's eminent bassist and famed cheese maker, was recently tasked with creating a film to help launch the 2013 Virgin Media Shorts short film competition using just his wits and a Nikon D5200 mid-range DSLR.
The result was A Slice of Life, a two-and-a-half minute story starring James himself, set to a solo track that had previously been unheard. And what an impressive effort it is too, especially as he'd never directed before.
Pocket-lint caught up with the musician, affineur and now short film director on his travels to ask him a few questions about how he approached his first film outing and whether he'd consider directing further shorts or music videos in future. Plus, he gives his tips for aspiring digital movie -makers, including a staggering one on how much they will need to budget. It may surprise you.
As you are fairly new to the world of directing video, and used a relatively inexpensive, off the shelf DSLR camera to make Slice of Life, what five tips could you give others initially setting out to do something similar?
"Just go for it - I always wanted to get into film-making, but I had never got around to it, taking that first step and getting started is the most important stage in the process.
"Don't worry if the concept changes – I actually started with another idea which I was going to cut to music but the music just took over. I was getting completely lost in the track as I wandered around Hollywood listening to it in my headphones. It’s similar to any creative process: writing, music, cookery even - things change as the project developed.
"Have fun - I had a brilliant time making my film, and even the tragic ending was fun to shoot! I was on holiday with my family at the time, so the whole experience was enjoyable, and I’ve got some wonderful memories of creating the film.
"You don’t need to spend a fortune - my film cost $45 [£30] to create, and part of that was admission to a roller coaster. If you’ve got the right idea, and some willing friends to help you out, you can produce something really impressive on a small budget. Nowadays you can even film it on your phone if you have a good idea.
"Consider the soundtrack - the song I was planning to use for the film ended up becoming the sole focus. It just took over the original concept, and now the main theme of my film is that life is short, but music endures. The soundtrack is a great chance to showcase new music too."
With this experience under your belt, would you ever consider tackling a music video or similar?
"Actually, I felt like the film turned out a little like a music video. Those are the kinds of films I have most experience with but not on this side of the camera. It's shot like a promo, cut like a promo.
"A two-minute short film like A Slice of Life was a great experience; it’s a manageable goal that can have a big impact. And the Virgin Media Shorts competition has launched a number of great UK directors, so it’s definitely the place to start for any budding film-maker. I really enjoyed the whole film-making process, it was very accessible and a lot of fun."
What part of the process did you enjoy most?
"The editing process was good fun. I don’t want to ruin the ending, but I get hit by a bus at one point, and making that particular moment come to life was great. It's one of those things that feels like it'll never work until you see it in the edit. It's like magic. And of course, filming in LA. The great thing about shooting in Hollywood, is that whatever your film is about, it looks amazing."
The music used in the short film is one of your own solo tracks. Has the response driven you to write and/or release any more material?
"I’m always thinking about music, it’s such a huge part of my life."
Entries to the Virgin Media Shorts 2013 competition will be accepted until 18 July. You can find out more and check out the current contenders at www.virginmediashorts.co.uk. The winners will be chosen by a select panel of judges, including movie directors Shane Meadows and Matt Whitecross, who Pocket-lint spoke to about using an iPhone to make short films last year.