I was 21 when I entered a daunting world of camera’s, lenses, roles, and technicalities. I’m not a natural when it comes to technical things, and I’m not a one for following rules but I’d studied film for over 6 years but the act of making was something different, it was a calling. Whilst learning how to create films was fun, I soon learnt how much emotional and creative energy it took to create film. I remember when I completed my Masters in Filmmaking final film, ‘Horseface’ – a short film about a family on a small rural farm with little to no connection to the outside. Filmed over 5 days with a budget of just over £300 and a crew of 4 and a cast of 3, the process was exhausting. As I finally finished the film and received my ‘A’ grade, I felt nothing: no joy, no pride – I felt like a failure. I couldn’t watch the film because each flaw was a testament to my incapability. I felt like a fraud, a stooge, like that grade was some aspect of vanity and the mirror had finally cracked.
Over the next 4 years I worked on my camera skills, on my directing, lighting and scripting. I made a vow that if I couldn’t do it myself then i couldn’t claim the glory. It was only through trying and self appreciation that I was able to overcome my inner demons. I re-watch Horseface today with pride. For the amount of work that I put into it, for the direction, strength to hold a team – I remembered the 3rd day of the shoot eating a mars bar whilst driving back from dropping off an actor after 17 hours of directing, producing and filming, and the sensation of the sugar rushing around my body after a day without food. I remember the constant adrenaline rush, fulfilling every role where possible, using every contact available and managing a team of filmmakers, friends and family, pushing against every constraint to get that image out of my head and into reality then out again into film. Being able to understand the lengths that I had gone to, and the hurdles I had jumped to make the film, made me realise that the failures I saw were nothing compared to the effort I had put in. Since then, I have made 2 other fictional films, 2 documentaries, and a reel full of commercial and promotional film. It has only been through creative courage, confidence, and self appreciation that I have been able to gather myself up to make another film.
Lily Levin and Tally Taylor on the set of Horseface: you can watch Horseface by following this link
Filmmaking is more than technical, it is mystical
There are two ways that I have experienced filmmaking as a mystical force, firstly in the sense of materialising a story, and secondly, materialising something from nothing. Having no budget is a constraint but also a blessing as it means you have a boundary that you can push. I’ve always believed in ‘beg, borrow, steal’ and I stand by this – if you can’t find a way to do something, you find a way to make it. I’ve made all my own props, I’ve enlisted the help of friends, family, and strangers, I’ve filmed where I shouldn’t and filmed who I shouldn’t. I stand by the idea that Art can be free and unconstrained, and in a medium that is so heavily focused on expensive overbearing equipment and Hollywood budgets it is easy to become overwhelmed. You say to yourself ‘how can I make this without xxx or xxx’, but if you want to make something you can – if you want it, you will find it. You may sacrifice mental energy, time, relationships, dignity, quality, but if the essence of your art form is not based in the material world, the material world cannot dictate its existence.
Documentary is one of the most accessible forms of filmmaking, it can be done on zero budget and it gives you the ability to work with real stories. My latest documentary ‘TITS’ looks at how breasts are represented, how it feels to have mammaries, to have them grown, stared at, beaten, busted, removed, licked and looked at. My producer, Lily Levin, and I have worked tirelessly to find participants with alternative viewpoints and diverse bodily background. As a fellow thrifty filmmaker, I have learnt from Lily that tenacity is key, she has taught me to ask without fear, to use your contacts, make friends and surpass social boundaries. After seeing a few other films with a similar subject, I wanted to push the art style of the film – we decided to film with no faces and just breasts, hands, and bodies. At first I thought this risk wouldn’t pay off – we are so connected to faces especially when people are talking, but I found myself freed when viewing the footage. Its given room for both I, and hopefully my audience, to focus on the subject with much less judgement and let the subjects bodies be the centre of communication.
To find out more about ‘TITS’ visit the website at www.titsdocumentary.com
My advice to owning your art form
These are my top tips for any filmmaker who is just starting out:
Be an artist: Now this is open to interpretation, but the main message is that it is nothing if it ain’t art. Being an artist means putting your all into what you do, living and breathing. Break convention, and do it in style. If you want to make something, make it, and don’t always follow the script. Play with symbols, make your own symbols, and follow your own narrative.
Compromise: One of my mantras is ‘Change what you can’t accept, accept what you can’t change’ and whilst I still barely understand what that means, or even know if it actually makes sense, the idea is that being stubborn isn’t always fantastic. Be willing to make changes, take advice, and listen to your audience. It’s not always what you want to hear – deal with it. Sometimes you can’t get the exact angle you wanted, or the performance or prop, if it can’t happen – accept it. Work out what is essential to you, and what can change, and don’t be alarmed when what you thought was essential becomes something of a idol to your impending failings – again, accept it, deal with it, change it, laugh it off.
Ownership: Expect to have to do everything and take helping hands and miracle workers as blessings. Why do I say this? Because if you don’t take that responsibility, then it is not your film. Making a film is a bit like raising a child, put your all into the film and hope that you have done everything to make sure that that film (or child) will be as healthy, and as sassy as possible.
Cheat: I mean it, cheat. If it means you have to sway a few rules, push something a bit further, or have to find alternative ways to get your result, do it. It doesn’t always pay off but at least you’ve tried. The second way I advise cheating is in the same way we say ‘cheating death’. Cheat by buying second hand, cheat by using that location that you may or may not get away with, cheat by making something that was £1 look a million dollars. If you are on a low/no budget, you have a great excuse – you have nothing to lose that’s not worth losing anyway.
Reward: Yourself. I mean it, pat yourself on the back, revel in your successes, laugh at your failures, and if you have done everything within your limits to make whatever you are making, you have won, no matter the outcome, so celebrate the bad bitch you are.
And most of all, remember: Only through the action of doing can you get any further – making mistakes, take chances, and appreciate imperfections, because somewhere in the hodge bodge, there are gems, be it shots, characters, ideas and even in the finer details. follow your strengths and acknowledge your successes, however big, or small they are.
So from one artist to another, you may think you are garbage, but all I can see is gold – so keep shining on through!
Tristan is a London based Filmmaker.
Over the past few years Tristan has completed several personal film projects including Better the Devil, a fictional documentary following Satan as he reclaims a more pedestrian life down in South London, and Tristan and Lily’s first collaborative documentary Grampy, a film following Lily’s grandfather as he re-discovers his tragic post-war childhood. His most recent documentary project ‘TITS’ sets out to reclaim and celebrate breasts through a series of interviews about personal bodily experiences.
Tristan’s work is visually focused, organically formed, and looks to challenge, humour, and hypnotise.