Category Archives: Advent Calendar

Day 25: Christmas Teaser

Well sadly there just wasn’t enough interest in the Christmas song (thanks to those who did vote however). In place of this – I’ll share the teaser I previously mentioned on Day 18. It’s only rough but features some new music and I hope you enjoy the very first glimpse into the project. Meanwhile I’d love to know what you think, so please feel free to leave a comment below. And with that, I wish you all a very merry and peaceful Christmas!

First teaser for The Choice



Day 24: One sleep to go

Almost there now. I hope you’ve all made your Christmas lists.

Christmas list

Just one more sleep to go, I hope you’ve been good!

Gillian Sleeps

Day 23: Favourite Christmas Movies

Disclaimer: This is my own personal list, but feel free to agree, disagree or add more in the comments section below.

In alphabetical order:

Batman Returns (1992)
I’m sure I’ve called this the most criminally under-rated Batman film recently. I’ll stick by that!  Tim Burton mixes Gothic and Christmas together to brilliant effect. Gotham has never looked better than this offering amidst the snow. Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it!

Batman Returns

Black Christmas (1974)
This cult film is for those who have overloaded on Christmas sentimentality. The perfect anti-Christmas film in many ways, directed by Bob Clark who would later go on to make another genuine Christmas classic “A Christmas Story” (although I’ve not seen it). This film was the inspiration behind John Carpenter’s Halloween. Rich on atmosphere and character without relying on shock jumps or gore (but *is* disturbing and gets under your skin – even 40 years on!). Avoid the horrible remake. Billy!!!

Black Christmas

Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001)
Personally I wasn’t a huge fan of the other Christmas offering from “Richard Curtis” – Love Actually, but I know I’m probably in a minority. This is the one which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy (in that Vicar of Dibley kind of way) – right down to the naff woolly jumpers, and scenes of snow falling majestically. Just don’t mention the terrible follow-up!

Brigdet Jones

Die Hard (1988)
“This *IS* a Christmas movie!” (said in the voice of Argyle the  limo driver). And you already know this film is the best in the series thanks to Alan Rickman. Honorary mention to Die Hard 2, which “tries harder”, brings the Christmas snow, but just isn’t in the same ball-park (despite still being reasonably solid).

Die Hard - Hans Gruber

Gremlins (1984)
Remember kids, pets aren’t just for Christmas. This has a largely uneven tone – but is essentially a Christmas monster movie for kids (just not really for young kids). Currently enjoying a revival in cinemas (Christmas Eve) for its 30th Anniversary. Who can forget that heartwarming story Phoebe Cates’ character recalls of her dad playing Santa and coming down the chimney. Aww – bless!


It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
Frank Capra’s classic is set around the heart-warming tale of a suicidal man played by James Stewart. Sounds a bit dark? Well strangely – probably the most uplifting film on this list! Sure it’s got its fair share of cheesy moments and over-sentimentality. It does however remind us money is not what makes us rich (and what better time to remember this than the over-commercialisation of Christmas). No man is a failure who has friends.


Miracle On 34th Street (1947)
So is Kris Kringle the real Santa? That would be giving the film away surely! This covers some darker themes also, but essentially at its heart is another feel good Christmas movie. Richard Attenborough’s remake makes for a more colourful and accessible Kringle, but Edmund Gwen is the real deal. I now want to go and shop at Macys.


The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
There are only so many interpretations of the classic Dickens novel I can include!  But this one has the Muppets in and Michael Caine as Scrooge (sorry 1951 version), so enough said!! This one also put Muppet movies back on the map after a bit of a break.


Nightmare before Christmas (1993)
Once again Tim Burton mixes macabre gothic with Christmas to great effect. Okay so this one is perhaps more Halloween based, but watching Jack’s awe at discovering Christmas Town singing “What’s this?” never fails to puts me in the Christmas spirit. Kidnap the Sandy Claws!

Nightmare Before Christmas

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Had to get Bond in there somewhere. This is one of the rare exceptions where a Bond film takes place during a named season (most are nondescript). The fact that the main part is set in Swiss alps helps tremendously (even if the ending isn’t full of the usual festive Bond cheer). Do you know how Christmas Trees are grown?

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

The Polar Express (2004)
This isn’t Robert Zemeckis’ only performance capture Christmas film, but this one (his first) is the best. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched parts of this one on TV over the past few weeks. It is pretty much one set-piece and cliché after another. Even so, it has everything you need to put you in a feel good mood for the festive spirit.

Polar Express

Scrooged (1988)
Once again another Christmas Carol remake, but much like the earlier inclusion – this one has Bill Murray at his cynical best. Enough said! Honorable mention (and perhaps double-bill) to Blackadder’s A Christmas Carol – which covers similar ground (just in reverse). Bah Humbug!


The Snowman (1982)
A bitter sweet work of art (long before the days of CGI which now make this sort of thing easier). Sometimes shown as part of a double-bill with Raymond Briggs’ other Christmas classic “Father Christmas” – voiced by Mel Smith. It transcends the language barrier even when “we’re walking in the air”. Who can forget that ending?

The Snowman

Trading Places (1983)
As we know – Christmas is a time for giving and remembering those less fortunate than yourself.  This is a deliciously twisted role-reversal comedy which I remember watching for the first time with my parents a few years ago (sorry Mum, I know now that in the 80’s Eddie Murphy swears a lot). How can you not enjoy watching Dan Ackroyd as the original Bad Santa?

Trading Places

Day 22: Going underground

There is something very cinematic about a subway, not that I would ever look forward to filming in one.

Directing the Subway scene

By October we had picked the subway location we liked and worked with Film Oxford and the city council to secure it. The good news was it was near to our main base, reasonably quiet and generally one of the safer environments we might have used (helped by the fact we shot it early on a dreary Sunday morning). The bad news was it was still pretty grim (if only you could have had “smell-0-vision”).

Directing the Subway scene 2

Ultimately it provided us with some pretty moody and menacing footage. In fact I think my favourite shot of the film was filmed here (even if it did need a fair bit of rehearsal and some pretty meticulous timing).

Subway Scene

Day 21: Bedroom antics

Sunday: day of rest. Thought I’d use this as an excuse to cover some of the fun we had dressing bedroom locations in Emmi. The first was a teenage bedroom. We were able to gain a brief insight into “the real thing”. The obvious conclusions were white walls are unpopular, posters need to be plastered everywhere and it shouldn’t be tidy. Pretty-much as you’d expect – so this came together surprisingly easily (with the exception of needing to find the right material to plaster the walls with).

More problematic was the bedroom for our main character Sarah. We almost took an easy option, but something was nagging me about it – it wasn’t quite right for Sarah’s character. In the end crew-member Alex kindly allowed us to come in and use his spare room for the location. There were a couple of small issues to overcome before we started filming however:

Bedroom pre-dressing

Pre-dressing Bedroom wall

It wasn’t just his nephew’s artwork on the walls, the funishings, a lack of curtains, doorways in the wrong place and windows going full-width across the room (the windows are square in the establishing location shots). We only had two days before we needed to start filming!

It just goes to show how some organisation, a lick of paint, a bit of set dressing and boarding up of windows can transform things dramatically in almost no time at all.

Set Dressing ideas

Fully Dressed

Thanks to Alex for this one, I’m definitely glad we went the extra mile to achieve this – it really made all the difference.


Day 20: Fully equiped

As a film-maker it’s easy to chase your tail in terms of equipment. There is so much amazing kit out there right now and it’s getting better and more affordable all the time! One of the nice things about working with the Film Oxford Production Group is getting to share and play with each others kit.

Setting up kit

In terms of Emmi, for lighting we had softboxes, redheads but the real winners were the portable LED panels which threw out a fair amount of light in a confined space and were used in all exterior shots.

For sound we had used a Zoom H6 to record the audio. We had access to wireless lapel mic kits, but in the end opted to record everything with an Rode NT2 shotgun microphone on boom for a more natural sound.

Then there was the camera (or rather cameras). We used a combination of the Panasonic GH4 and GH3 with various lenses. The two worked very well together, I have to say I am particularly impressed with the GH4 for the price. That said it isn’t a low-light camera and you need nice lenses (and ideally the Metabones speedbooster so you can attach faster lenses with less crop on them).

Making everything look more impressive were monitors, matte boxes, follow focus, stabilising gimbals. Toys toys toys!
Toys Toys Toys

I have a GH4 on my Christmas list, but sadly I don’t think I’ve been quite good enough this year!

Day 19: Spare Change

Christmas is a time of giving. I’ve already done my bit for a few local charities this month. Earlier in the week I read this story.  Heartwarming stuff indeed! And not entirely dissimilar to a little film we did last year. Just in case you haven’t actually seen it yet – here it is!