Tuesday, 24 January 2012

[533] Interview With Nick Brandestini

Darwin was my surprise film of the London Film Festival. Buried relatively deep in the programme, it nevertheless stuck out because of its rather compelling hook. The first feature-length documentary from director Nick Brandestini, Darwin is a documentary about a small town in Death Valley, whose ageing population numbers less than three dozen. Who are these people? What has led them to live in one of the least hospitable areas of the globe? And what are their lives like?

It reads like an episode of the NPR radio show This American Life, where erstwhile esoteric stories can give great insight into the workings of the USA and its inhabitants. Darwin fits this mould perfectly, quickly moving away from the freak show titillation of its premise and finding great depth in the personal histories of the town's residents.

It is remarkably well-judged, especially as Brandestini becomes more intimate with his subjects, and, considering the budget level, it is more beautiful than a shoestring, festival-bound documentary has any right to be.

At the LFF, I had the pleasure of chatting with Brandestini about Darwin, over coffee and macaroons. Naturally, I had to ask about both the act of interviewing and the process of putting together this mostly one-man production...

- This film has a great set-up. A town in Death Valley with just 35 people living there. It’s so compelling. How did you find out about the place to begin with?

I didn’t find Darwin at first, but similar places, because I was driving to Las Vegas in the desert, and there were other areas, and I was curious about who would live in such an environment, with this heat and nothing to do around. So I was looking for a documentary project, I only did two short documentaries before, and I thought, okay, this is something that fascinates me, and it looks great. So I thought this is the perfect topic.

I just wanted to know more about the people. It was a boom town in 1874, when it was founded, until 1877. So, like, three years, it had 3000 people and then whoops, it just died. Now there’s 35 people.

- And most of the population is in their middle age, or older, so you got the sense that this is a community with no future. How did you go about making contact first time?

The hippie lady was organising these parties. She’s the unofficial mayor, more or less. Or she thinks she is. She was the first that I contacted. She was a bit reluctant - she said ‘yeah, you can be here, but no cameras allowed’. But then later on she trusted me, and said ‘okay, let’s do this’. But it took her two days for her to say it was okay. And the other people had no problem at the beginning.

- How long were you there for?

Five times over a period of two years. A week each, or ten days each time.

- Were there people there that were cautious about you, or reluctant to speak to you?

At the beginning, yeah, but after a while they opened up.

- There’s a difficulty with this kind of documentary... When you have a set-up like that, it could be easy to all into the trap of exploiting the ‘kooky people living in the desert’, and making them figures of fun. How did you go about dealing with that?

It was 100% clear that I didn’t want to make fun of them. I never wanted to make a ‘freak show’ out of them, because Darwin has a very bad image in the surrounding areas. And I know that it’s not like that, and people have the wrong impression of these people. So I just wanted to make it real, while still keeping it interesting and exciting. Because that’s part of what attracted me to the place, because it’s not a normal suburb place. It is special, and I wanted to show it in a positive way.

- In the second half of the film, you get quite intimate with some of the residents, and we see beyond the kookiness of their living circumstances. Was that because you’d grown close to them over time?

One thing that I’m sure helped is that I’m Swiss, I think they found that funny and curious. And if it were an American, they would be more reluctant or skeptical. And also, even though I told them that I hoped this film would play in festivals, they didn’t believe it. But I always told them that that was the big hope. And the crew was only me, so the camera was a professional one, but it was only a camera and they didn’t feel threatened. And I don’t know, they just wanted to share their stories. But it took a long time for some of them to open up.

- Do you think the film will turn Darwin into a minor tourist attraction?

That’s a common question. Everybody asked it. But it’s kind of funny, because it implies that the film is seen by many people, and so far it’s only at festivals, so it’s not likely! You have to really want to go there, because it’s quite far off the regular track.

- This is your first feature-length documentary, what were some of the major differences or challenges that came with the larger canvas?

Well, the structure was a big challenge. This is where my co-producers helped, to shape the film, because it would not have turned out so good if I’d not had them on board to make the film as it is. Now, it has these chapters, and before it was more of a random thing. There’s not one story, but there are different themes, so it took a long time to figure out how to deal with it.

- The cinematography in this film is fantastic. Of course, the landscape lends itself well, but the film looks particularly good for a one-man, low budget documentary.

I just like to make things look good!

- There’s even a helicopter shot in there, with aerial views of the surrounding area.

That was actually not a helicopter, but an old plane. I hired a pilot for very little money, and it was very scary, because it was shaking like crazy, and I was leaning out of the window! Everybody says it looks like a helicopter...

- It looks like you spent a lot of money...

Only $300! [laughs]

To find out more about Darwin, visit http://www.darwindoc.com/. This interview was co-conducted by Paul Weedon.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

[532] Five Things You Need To Know About VIGIDEN

We've been talking about VIGIDEN for quite some time, and I've just realised that there must be a bunch of questions left unanswered. We at BytesCorp believe in transparency - so, dear viewers, do not fear! Below, we address some of the most burning queries about our forthcoming sketch comedy series. Read on!

- What does VIGIDEN stand for?

...We’re not entirely sure. We’ve been talking about this video game news sketch show for quite some time (way back in episode 3 of Behind The Bytes, in fact), and VIGIDEN is an acronym that felt right, even though we hadn’t figured out what it exactly meant. I decided to ask the BytesBoys, Nick Moran and Ed Szekely...

NM: Video Game Digitainment Information News Network...? Maybe there should be two N's, but then it would be VIGIDEEN if you go by rules of Latinate poetic meter. Actually, that’s not right... Oh, I don't know!

ES: Video Game International Digital Entertainment Network. I'm quite comfortable with that.

NM: I don't think that's canon!

So there you go. We don’t know! (Although, if pushed, I think I’ll side with Ed.)

And, what do we stand for? Truth, justice, and the VIGIDEN way. Well, depends on your definition of ‘truth’. And ‘justice’. How about... confident, incisive coverage of an entirely fictitious spin on the gaming industry? Unbound by notions of ‘reality’, ‘coherence’ and ‘sanity’?

- What does VIGIDEN cover?

Everything. It’s a full scale news/entertainment network! We have scoops, analysis and exclusive interviews from all over the video game map. Expect insight from your favourite - and not-so-favourite - video game personalities, all processed through the VIGIDEN blender.

But that’s not all. While we’re newshounds at heart, VIGIDEN is not confined to the newsroom. From lifestyle content to topical discussion, we’ll be filling out your well-rounded diet of FACTUAL(ish) PROGRAMMING.

- Is Chad Makepeace dead?


VIGIDEN runs on from Behind The Bytes. In fact, Behind The Bytes is buried somewhere deep in the VIGIDEN programme slate. (I think they want to forget the whole ‘five episodes, three corpses, and twenty lawsuits’ debacle.)

That means that, amongst other things, Jeff Tozai and Clarissa Ankle are still around. (Don’t worry, Andreas got his just desserts in the end) It also means that Chad Makepeace is very, very dead.

Luckily, though, we dug around in the VIGIDEN archives, and found tapes of his groundbreaking late-night talk show Deathmatch Discourse, with opinions-for-hire Emma Scott and Victoria Bandopadhyay (played by Jennifer Pick and Lucy McCormick, both from GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN).

- Wait... Will VIGIDEN be on Screwattack?

Oh, yeah. We’re back with Screwattack.

They’ve just gone through a major overhaul of their site, and they’re set to take 2012 by storm. We’re mega-excited to be full-on partners this time around.

Imagine our excitement when VIGIDEN was announced at MAGfest last weekend, by Stuttering Craig himself! Check the recent episode of Sidescrollers here, around 44 minutes in.

- When are you launching, anyway?

February 2nd! On Screwattack! Get excited!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

[531] Tom Hiddleston Interview

Interviews can be so much fun. This is one of my favourites, and this comment captures why:

Just when you thought Hiddleston couldn't get more awesome, he enthuses about The Odyssey for, like a page.

What a charming chap. He looks good in uniform, too.

Before we'd even sat down to chat with Tom Hiddleston, he had us pegged. As soon as he heard the words ‘Den of Geek’, he beamed and joked, “I'm armed. I have so many filters. No spoilers here!”

Well, wouldn't you, faced with one of the stars of the upcoming Marvel supergroup blockbuster The Avengers, squeeze in at least one question?

It turns out that Hiddleston was more than happy to chat about the preparation for The Avengers, and the subtle changes made to his character, Loki, under Joss Whedon's direction. However, there were plenty of other things to chat about, not least Hiddleston's rather rapid rise to fame over the last eighteen months, and his current peak, working with Steven Spielberg on his equine epic War Horse.

Read the full article here.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

[530] Kathleen Kennedy Interview

So my rather negative review of War Horse had an interesting effect on the Den of Geek readership - but I won't let that influence my coverage of the film itself! In fact, I had a spring in my step as I walked up to Claridge's last Monday, on my way to interview both producer Kathleen Kennedy and actor Tom Hiddleston. They're my first interviews of the year, after all! And where best to start, than with reportedly the second most successful producer currently working in Hollywood?

It’s not every day that you get to talk to one of the most successful producers in Hollywood history. So when we sat down with Kathleen Kennedy, who has collaborated with Steven Spielberg on the majority of his films from the last 30 years, we tackled the big question: what, exactly, does a producer do?

With reference to everything from Spielberg’s latest films, War Horse and The Adventures Of Tintin, to the future projects of Lincoln and Jurassic Park 4, Kennedy gives us a detailed break-down of what it’s like behind the scenes of a blockbuster.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

[529] Ideastap Spa Video and Workshop

So far, January's been rather busy, especially where BytesCorp is concerned. Over the last few weeks, Nick and I have been working with Ideastap on a video showcasing their Spa programme of workshops, Q&As and member events. We were provided with some chirpy, enthusiastic talking head footage, and proceeded to shoot extra workshop footage, cook up some motion graphics, and roll the results together into a slick little video.

This time out, I handled the editing, music and general shape of the video, while Nick pored over the (super-sexy) graphics in After Effects and Motion. Then we came together for the grade and final tweaks.

I think it worked out rather well. Here's the finished product.


I think it came out quite well, and it seems like Ideastap are pleased. So pleased, in fact, that they've asked the BytesBoys to host a workshop at the end of this month, titled 'Filmmaking on a Shoestring'. I suppose that's what we've been doing for quite some time now, so we should have some kernels of wisdom to pass on to aspiring video producers. Let's hope, anyway! Here's some info. 


You can read more at their website here. The workshop is on the 31st, from 4pm. Come along!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

[528] Artificial Intelligence Episode Two: The Difficult Second Podcast

Here it is, another episode of the Artificial Intelligence podcast! Once more I venture into the cosy recording studio under Kingsland Road to chat with resident intelligent gamers Joe Ewens and Mat Burt. This time: difficulty in games. Warning: contains many confessions concerning our lack of gaming skill.

Listen here! Read more below!

Hark! Just in time for Christmas, your trio of intrepid Intelligents are back to brave the wintery climbs of the Mount Video Games. The climb will be difficult, but never fear – it just so happens to be the theme of this week’s show.

Michael Leader, Joseph Ewens, and Matthew Burt dust off their monocles and set about dissecting the problem of difficulty in video games. What happens when difficulty and narrative collide? Are indie developers the new wardens of challenge? Will Mat and Mike like their Christmas presents?

Put on your most difficult trousers, press play, and we shall find out together.

Read more about the Artificial Intelligence podcast here.