An Audience With Toby Jones

For the final part of the Oxford Literary Festival actor Toby Jones gave a talk at the Sheldonian Theatre with Professor Simon Kövesi. The immediate thing which struck me about Toby was his wit.

Toby JonesToby comes from a theatrical family but he originally wanted to be a director rather than an actor. He realised a knack for making people laugh around a table (being younger these weren’t the people you would ordinarily be invited to socialise with). He went on to studying Drama at Manchester for three years (and joked you could end almost any assignment with a statement along the lines of ‘and this is why the death of theatre is all but imminent’).

After this he then moved to L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris which was to be the making of him as an actor. Here he learned the important lesson to stop questioning what he thought the audience was thinking. Toby was candid enough to state some of the earlier performances could have been better. When you start out you are so keen to show the full range of skills and put absolutely everything into a performance, when in actual fact the performance will benefit from less range and sharper focus. He also stated the importance of ‘not over-analysing’, something he did initially.

He also talked a bit about ‘drama’ as a form of therapy. If you go to a therapist you are essentially telling a story. And indeed, you are putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Now that Toby is an established name he doesn’t have to as much about auditioning – the roles now come to him. He did give an interesting insight into the world of ‘tapes’ (where an actor is filmed and told to read lines usually with very little preparation – cue classic actor line: “what is my motivation?”). Most established actors did this in their earlier days and agents would fire them off to Hollywood, most never seen again. He joked that this is every actors nightmare – knowing that some of this stuff may still exist and it could resurface at any point on an embarrassing clip show.

Toby also has done his fair share of biopics, including larger than life characters such as Truman Capote, Alfred Hitchcock and Neil Baldwin. It was interesting to hear how he approached playing these well-known characters. Rather than focus just aping mannerisms, he would dig a bit deeper and question like “why did he speak like that?” (eg. Capote had a notoriously high-pitched voice, which Jones put down to his upbringing with three older women – this was the only way he would get heard). Interesting when making Marvellous, Neil Baldwin was on set during the filming (must have been an odd experience). After acting one of the more affecting and difficult scenes Neil exclaimed: ‘We’re going to win a BAFTA’. And he wasn’t wrong!

Something coming across by this point is that Toby is interested in people and looks for the empathy within a scene – he’s even managed to sell falling in love with a giant flea (yes really)!

One audience member (presumably a budding thesp himself) asked “what advice would you give to aspiring actors starting out today?”. He chose to answer this carefully, but followed it up by saying “if you the type of person who listens to advice from others about acting, then maybe acting isn’t the best choice career path”. But he rattled off a range of skills and jobs actors who don’t make it can also do – being as actors are also gifted communicators. He ended by saying “there is no real reason for an actor to ever be out of work. If you aren’t acting, write material to perform.”

I didn’t get to ask the question lurking in the back of my mind: “being as you no doubt get so many offers, how do you pick your projects?”. You’d expect a standard answer like it was a good story or it was with someone I always wanted to work with. But then you shouldn’t necessarily expect the expected with Toby Jones.

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Restless

Having a difficult month. I’ve got a viral infection which I can’t seem to shake. I recall catching a similar infection which took over three months to recover from. In particular my sleep has been badly affected.

Last night I went to sleep at 4am. I really didn’t want to do this, but my brain continued to race and recycle mundane thoughts. I couldn’t shake this! Of course I was also piling additional pressure on myself to try to sleep knowing how few hours sleep I’d actually get. Add in my asthma and the constant wheezing/coughing which happens when I lie down. Finally mix in the clocks going forward an hour to British Summer Time (body clock all over the place). I think I managed about just under 3 hours sleep!

As a family we all suffer sleep-wise. At one end of the spectrum is my wife who is constantly exhausted and regularly takes naps during the day. At the other end are my children and I. I’ve always been a light sleeper, the slightest noise will keep me awake. Last Sunday my eldest made a lovely Mother’s Day flower clock. The ticking mechanism kept me awake. Speaking of my eldest, she has been a poor sleeper ever since birth. We took her to a specialist about her sleep and she came back with autism diagnosis. My youngest was initially a better sleeper. Sadly the knock on effect of my eldest not sleeping has rubbed off on her now. We start the bedtime routine at 7pm. We are lucky if they fall sleep 4 hours after this! We’ve tried every trick in the book to attempt to change this exhausting cycle.

It’s amazing how much lack of sleep affects you. Earlier this morning I made a stupid slip-up which I’m sure I might have avoided had I got more sleep. With blurry eyes I withdrew from the wrong film festival – a rather costly mistake which I might not be able to rectify. Naturally, I’m feeling cross at myself and rather stupid.

The impacts on of lack of sleep on your well-being, memory and health are well documented. I’ve definitely been feeling more moody, erratic and my immunity level feels low. Thankfully I have a pretty quiet weekend planned. Hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to catch up with more sleep – fingers crossed (children – are you listening? Let daddy sleep!). 🙂

Film festival submission

And so it has begins. I’ve never personally submitted to any film festivals before (even if I’ve worked on a number of films which have won awards). Honestly speaking, it can feel a little overwhelming and alien. There are so many festivals to chose from, so many pitfalls. Looking through some of the previous winners you might also be forgiven for wondering if your film is well be good enough. I know we are going to be competing against more technically accomplished films. On the other hand I truly believe our film Emmi has a compelling story with something interesting to say.

A common phrase heard in the film world is “make a list, start at the top and work down”, exactly my approach to festival submissions. Whether this is a good move remains to be seen (my suspicion is that you need to be within the “correct circles” to access to some of these festivals). Even so – if you don’t try, you’ll never get in! I’ve been using Film Freeway for submissions (seems to be the current standard for online submission). I’ve found it easy and intuitive to use.

Emmi on Film Freeway
During the past week or so we’ve submitted to a number of UK film festivals – most can be considered “top-tier” along with a couple which are more specific. I’d like to see how these earlier submissions go before getting too excitable.

I’ve already picked up that time is a huge consideration:

  • You need to send in applications in early. Costs go up over time and once applications reach a certain threshold – capacity is full and chances are you’ll be discarded even if you have one of the better entries.
  • You need to be patient. It takes ages for festival organisers to review literally thousands of online screeners!
  • Can you attend the festival dates, are there going to be any clashes?

There are also lots of rules and regulations which are specific to each festival.

Hopefully we can announce how things go as they develop. Meanwhile if anyone else reading this has any other festival tips that they would like to share, it would be fantastic if you are able to add these in the comments section below.

Finishing Emmi

It’s been a busy start to the year for our latest project Emmi but we have finally finished work on the film. The last slog is often the hardest!

In terms of finishing the film it’s been:

  • Music composing (I’ll no doubt expand more on this in a future post)
  • Special Effects (thanks to frequent collaborator Jim Gwilliam)
  • Creating titles
  • Colour Grading (thanks to Daniel Mac-Gregor Gill)
  • Sound Mixing (thanks to Oxford Audio Post Production who have given us a lovely 5.1 surround mix)
  • Creating a DCP (This is a new thing for me. Pleased to say that the digital projection file works – thanks to The Phoenix Picturehouse in Oxford for letting us test this).

Of course the work does not end here, we are currently developing material to help us promote the film – including:

  • The Trailer
  • The Poster
  • The Website

We also will need to work on Festival submissions. We’ll update you with these things in due course, but for now here is the first look at the Poster for the film:

Emmi Poster
To follow live developments on this project, future projects and for any film-making discussion – please follow our new Twitter account here:

https://twitter.com/fernyfilm

The Enchanted Forest

Happy New Year! I spent the majority of my Christmas break catching up on  film watching with the girls. This was mostly a combination of Disney, Harry Potter and Fantastic beasts and where to find them.

My youngest now wants to be a unicorn roaming around in a forest whilst my eldest keeps chanting the “three unmentionable curses” at me all day (thanks very much J.K. Rowling)!

Watching their imaginations grow, I felt inspired to write a piece of music which celebrates these fantasy worlds.

(Direct soundcloud link here)

Deafening silence

You would be forgiven for thinking I’d left my blogging days long behind! I haven’t – it’s just been ridiculously busy! Now that certain milestones (or is that millstones) have cleared I am able to do some composing and film making once more.

We are in the final stages of completing our short film (this was rather shockingly filmed over two years ago). In October I met with Susie Stead (the writer/producer) and we gave ourselves a deadline of finishing the film “before the end of 2016”, the reality is I’d like it finished it even earlier.

This period of inactivity has been helpful in allowing us to reflect with a completely fresh perspective. The most significant change is we have renamed the title from “The Choice” to “Emmi” (the character which the film revolves around). We felt the original title no longer represented the film properly and we wanted something which was short and snappy!

Emmi Title

The film edit is locked but there are a number of post-production elements still to finish: visual tweaks, colour grading, sound. In terms of the sound we are working with Oxford Audio Post Production. They have worked on projects including the Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and the forthcoming Netflix “A Series of Unfortunate Events”.

The aim will be to take the film on the festival circuit in 2017, exciting times ahead!

Bourne Again

Last week I watched the new Jason Bourne movie. With no James Bond film on the foreseeable horizon – this seemed the next best thing (aside from The Night Manager).

In terms of Bourne, I’m in the minority who is not a fan of The Bourne Ultimatum (which most people consider the best). Whilst I can appreciate it on some levels (eg. the excellent Waterloo sequence) I’m a far bigger fan of the first two (The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy). Both of these films have the heart and humanity of Marie (Franka Potente) which is contrasted nicely against the duplicitous cunning of Abbott (Brian Cox). These characters are both sorely missed in the later installments. The new film (which isn’t a strictly necessary addition to the series) plays like a greatest hits album but with slightly different renditions. It’s fun, familiar but not as good as the originals – but that’s not to say it’s not still enjoyable.

I’m also a massive fan of the musical scores from the first two Bourne movies. John Powell’s score for Identity was rather unique at the time – mixing throbbing percussion, atonal electronics, stabbing staccato strings against occasional acoustic elements. Supremacy expanded on these themes in the best possible way and introduced some new material (‘To the roof’ being my personal favourite). Much like the films, by the third installment everything was feeling familiar (in fact they even dropped cues from the first film over the top of some parts). The most recent (Jason Bourne) score is credited to both John Powell and David Buckley. I was sad to learn that John Powell’s wife died earlier this year, I suspect this is why David Buckley has also been involved this time around. He does a good job of weaving together some of Powell’s familiar themes.

I decided for fun I’d also like to try to emulate John Powell’s style and create an imaginary Bourne score. Had tremendous fun writing this! That said it tested my playing ability (the end is some of the fastest track work I’ve done – probably a rebellious response to the torn ligament in my index finger I’m still nursing). Hopefully fans of these scores can have some fun trying to see how many of the original themes they can spot!