Monday, 21 December 2009

The Ghost Film

I've started a new website for a feature film I want to make called The Ghost Film. Please take a look.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009


"Film is a picture story. There is a plot, but it's told with pictures, just like our lives. I've never done a telephone interview, I think you've got to look at someone, to check that you're making sense"

Nic Roeg (director; The Man Who Fell To Earth, Walkabout, Don't Look Now, Performance)

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

A summer's influence

I've spent the good part of the summer working on feature length scripts and outlines. These include The Airman,  The Ghost Song and The Summer House. During this time I watched a number of films as a way of learning about genre or ways in which films handle specific moments within a story.

The Ghost Song and The Summer House (both ghost stories):

Let the Right One In
The Innocents
BBC Ghost Stories at Christmas: A Warning to the Curious, A View From A Hill, The Signalman, Number 13
Dark Water
La Boucher

The Airman (a rites of passage film set in Soviet occupied Estonia):

My Way Home 
Muukalainen (The Visitor) 
The Go-Between

Books read during this period which helped in my research of my scripts include:

M.R James stories
Memories Denied by Imbi Paju 
Thursbitch by Alan Garner

Music influence:

Fever Ray

Monday, 8 June 2009


Cinema is best served by emotion and story.

Cinema should take you somewhere.

The best films leave you thinking long after the light has died.

Films can be short, medium or long. The story is more important than the number of minutes.

The worst cinema is sometimes made by the best people. And vice versa. 

Friday, 5 June 2009

Cinema is a desire...

"The French New Wave taught me that cinema is a desire, not a school. Cinema just happens, full stop. Nobody can tell you how to do it or what the rules are. And you do it with new faces. Personally I don't like actors who have already been the bearers of other withered desires. Isn't the camera more suitable for discovering than filming - for discovering  the inner soul through those big, big mystery-revealing close-ups of which I am so fond?"

Catherine Breillat (director 36 fillette, Romance, A ma soeur) taken from Sight & Sound May '09. 

Thursday, 4 June 2009


I'm reading Voices of Akenfield by Ronald Blyth. It's an extraordinary book with first hand accounts of life in a Suffolk village. 

Friday, 8 May 2009

KEEL - Best British Short Film - EIFF

I'm pleased to say KEEL has been put forward for the Best British Short Film award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and will be premiering on the 27th June. 

A promo for KEEL can be found here. 

Sunday, 3 May 2009

KEEL promo


A holidaying father and his daughter encounter a girl who is intent on becoming friends, even if it may lead to tragic consequences. KEEL is a ghost story concerning obsession, friendship and a simple act of betrayal. 

KEEL is premiering at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on the 27th June.

For more details please see:

Friday, 17 April 2009

If they follow you...

"Well, first of all, screenwriting isn't really writing: it's really part of the oral tradition and it has a lot more to do with the day your uncle went hunting and the dog went crazy and the bird got away than it does with literature. One of the indispensable ways of of judging whether an idea will work as a film story is oral presentation - you have to tell your story to someone. 

When you first get an idea, maybe its five minutes long, then the more you tell it, the more you elaborate on it and the longer it grows. When the story gets up to about forty-five minutes in length and is still holding your listener's attention, so that you know that if you walk out of the room they'll follow you to ask what happens next, then you know you have something that will probably work on screen."

Paul Schrader (writer; Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Affliction) taken from Schrader On Schrader published by Faber and Faber. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

If only it were that simple

"All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun"
Jean Luc Godard 

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Possibly, maybe...

"Since the Old Testament there haven't been any new stories. Everything that has ever happened is written down in the Old Testament. Starting with the holocaust and fratricide to incest, everything has happened before. So what I don't understand is why we always want to invent new stories because we keep repeating these old stories in our lives every day."

Bela Tarr (taken from Sources of Inspiration published by SOURCES)

Sunday, 12 April 2009

A woman and Chabrol

"A woman confronting men is a proper subject, it is inexhaustible."
Claude Chabrol

Friday, 10 April 2009

From conversation to story

I overheard a woman say to another woman: "I didn't want him coming in, he had blood all down his front".  I didn't hear the rest of her conversation and can only speculate as to why he had blood on him:

1) the man had been in a fight.

2) the man had been in a car accident. 

3) the man was a butcher.

The first two of these explanations are fairly obvious. The third is less obvious and could (with some thought) be the spark for an original story.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

A good script...

"With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece. With the same script, a mediocre director can produce a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can't possibly make a good film. For truly cinematic expression, the camera and the microphone must be able to cross both fire and water. The script must be something that has the power to do this".

Akira Kurosawa

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Remember this....

"Everyone has their reasons."   

Jean Renoir

Saturday, 4 April 2009

A case for speed

Early in his career the director Rainer Werner Fassbinder visited Werner Herzog to ask him if he would produce his films. Herzog's response was that he should do what he did and produce his own films. So far Herzog has made over 50 films, whilst Fassbinder made 35 features and two television series  in his 15 year career. 

On average, Ingmar Bergman shot one feature film per year. He would write his script in winter and produce the film in the summer. His model for making films (working with modest budgets, a small dedicated crew, limiting locations) helped create masterpieces such as Persona and Cries and Whispers.  His technique of regular production has been copied by Michael Winterbottom who has made 16 features since 1994.

Whilst speed of production does not always yield great films, it can enable the filmmaker to work constantly at his or her craft. Filmmakers such as Hitchcock and Micheal Powell made "quota quickies"(1930's UK low budget features) in their early careers and were adamant that this was a firm grounding for their later features. 

Friday, 3 April 2009

You can get it wrong...

"Photography is a fad well nigh on its last legs, thanks largely to the bicycle craze." 

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Satyajit and the Owl

'It so happened I woke up one morning and glancing at the window behind me saw a whitish brown owl (it was more white than brown) sitting on the shutter of a window that opened on the outside. 

The owl had its eyes riveted on me. I came up to the window, looking silently at the bird - it didn't move a muscle. While I stood watching, I heard shouting from the neighbouring flats. Our house was set back from the main road, but could be seen by at least a dozen neighbours from adjoining flats. They were now calling out to the owl and making enticing noises.

My wife joined me. The reason for the excitement dawned on us both at the same time.  In Indian mythology, the owl is the mount of Lakshmi, the goddess of luck and wealth, and an owl sitting on your window must naturally arouse the neighbours' envy. 

All the shouting and crying and whistling didn't perturb the bird at all. It kept its eyes fixed on me. I took out my Leica and took a picture of the bird. The 'click' didn't bother the bird at all. The owl stayed in the same position for two whole weeks and then it was gone. Whether it moved during the night, I couldn't say, but each morning I found it in exactly the same spot - looking at me in exactly the same way. '

From My Years with Apu by Satyajit Ray (published by Faber & Faber). The Satyajit Ray Foundation

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

As you fall to sleep tonight...

The subconscious can create some very unusual and distinctive stories. As you go to sleep tonight ask yourself what is the most amazing story I can tell? The trick is not to accept the first story that comes to you, but to push to find ever stranger stories.

I've made two films using this game: Mangetout is a story about a boy who reguritates the past and Keel is a ghost story.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Poem Film Manifesto


1. The poem film must be an original creation.

2. The poet and film-maker should work on an idea for a poem film. They should explore the idea together. The process of exploration should take no longer than a day. 

3. The film-maker should not interfere with the poet's writing. Similarly, the poet should not interfere with the film-maker's filming. The film and poem should be created in no more than three days. 

4. Both poet and film-maker should push the boundaries of  the poem film. 

5.  The poem film must be shot on film.

6.  A minimal crew must be used for the shoot. Preferably the film-maker and a camera. 

7.  The poet can discuss the poem with the film-maker. However, no lines should be cited by the poet. The film-maker cannot read the poem before filming is complete. 

8. The film-maker can discuss the images they have filmed with the poet. No rushes can be shown to the poet. Sketches or storyboards are prohibited. 

9.  The poet can only show the film-maker the completed poem on the last day of filming. The film-maker can use the remaining time to shoot additional material. 

10. The film-maker must edit the film on their own.

11. The poet and film-maker decide whose voice is used to recite the poem. 

12. The poet can record the poem with the film-maker being present. 

13. The film-maker is at liberty to erase the voice-over from the film if s/he does not like the poem.

14. The poet is at liberty to scratch the film's negative if s/he does not like the film.

Ian Cottage  1995


The manifesto was written after I'd completed the poem film Blue Scars with Matthew Sweeney (the then resident poet at the South Bank Centre, London) in 1995.  Blue Scars was premiered at the Purcell room, South Bank and screened in the UK as part of  the British Film Institute's Film Poems programme curated by Peter Todd. The film was also shown in Delhi, India where the manifesto sparked heated debate amongst the audience. There is an essay concerning poem films and my manifesto here.


"Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, and eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long."

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Filming Derek Jarman

I first met Derek Jarman at the Berlin Film Festival in 1985. He had just shown his feature Angelic Conversations at the Film Kunst 66 and the audience was ecstatic. In the cinema foyer, Jarman was surrounded by friends and admirers. I was with two fellow film students and we approached Jarman, and asked whether we could see him to talk about filmmaking. He wrote down his telephone number and we headed off into the bitterly cold February night.

In June, we met Jarman at his small flat in Phoenix House, London. The place looked like an Alchemist lair;  crammed with canvases, books and  objects from his films (Jubilee, The Tempest, Shadows of the Sun). There was a reporter interviewing Jarman for a magazine. At the end of the interview Jarman let the reporter take one of his paintings as a gift. The man was very touched by his offer.  We talked a little with Jarman and showed one of our film school projects (an adaptation of The Blind Man by D.H Lawrence).  He was kind with his criticisms of our film and encouraged us to pick up a camera and make personal films, to work with friends rather than professional actors. 

I had a Super 8 camera with me and I asked Jarman if it was ok for us to film him. He brought out a musical saw into the sunniest part of the room and we took turns to film. The saw made an incredible haunting sound that resonated through the flat. We filmed Jarman playing with objects in the sunlight: a skull with a tiara, a large gold leaf book, large dress  scissors and a face caste (it resembled a death mask). Jarman played up to the camera, at times taking on the guise of a serious artist before breaking into manic laughter. 

Jarman decided to go up on the rooftop to get some air.  As he walked up the outside fire escape stairs, he saw a shadow of himself caste against the wall. We encouraged him to play with the shadow and he ran up and down the steps and reached out to the shadow. He became lost in his own world.  On the rooftop he was curious about the Super 8 camera and its macro lens. He held his eye up to the lens as I filmed him fall backwards. I also lay on the roof as he walked over the camera. Jarman was beginning pre-production on his feature Caravaggio and here he was playing around for the camera. It was a day I'll always remember. 

I lost contact with Jarman, though I kept a lookout for his name. In August 1993, I saw an interview with him on the BBC's arts programme, the Late Show. Jarman had Aids and looked very ill. It seemed impossible to me that this man who looked so frail and old, was the same person I'd met eight years before. It was very sad.

In 1994, after Jarman died I looked at the footage we'd filmed on that hot summer day and cut together a short film.  I decided to call the film Small Gestures as Jarman described Angelic Conversations as being "from the cinema of small gestures". The film was premiered at the Kiev Film Festival, received a special jury mention at Berlin and shown around the world at major film festivals. Everyone felt the same sense of loss at the passing of this truly unique man. 

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Six words Hemingway

Hemingway bet $10 that he could write a complete story in six words. He wrote:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Hemingway won the bet.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Joys of Storytelling

11. Without fighting, stories have won over more people than all the great wars put together.

12. The greatest religions convert the world through stories.

18. The fact of story-telling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection. Where there is perfection there is no story to tell.

28. We are part human, part stories.

39. The stories of the Egyptians and the Greeks, rather than their poems, shaped the world's consciousness and named the stars.

52. A good story keeps on growing. A good story never dies. 

60. Stories are always a form of resistance. 

94. The imagination is one of the highest gifts we have. 

Extracts taken from Aphorisms and Fragments by Ben Okri (published as part of Birds Of Heaven,  Phoenix books).