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).

Monday, 23 March 2009

A man, a woman, a story

This photograph shows:

a field of corn
a thin old man
violin and bow
poised fingers
round wire rimmed glasses
an eye behind reflection
a bent nose (possibly broken)
a tie and fastened collar
creased, puckered lapels (an old jacket)
grey short hair
a moustache and stubbled chin
browned weathered skin
missing front teeth
A woman (younger but not young)
long neat skirt and jacket (circa 1920's)
a stockinged ankle with shinned shoes 
a pencil or pen held against a notepad
dark tidied bobbed hair 
a plain face with frown marks
straight back chairs (one leaning)
uneven ground

each of these details can tell a story or is part of a story.

The photograph is of the great fiddle player J W Day (aka Jilson Setters or "Blind Bill Day") and his manager Jean Thomas,  taken in Rowen County, Kentucky 1926. The self-taught fiddle player Day was a recluse who lived in the Kentucky mountains. Aged 65 he was discovered by Thomas (a traveling court stenographer) who presented him at Ashland's American Folk Song Festival. Thomas managed Day and he traveled the world, recorded for RCA Victor, played at folk festivals, high society functions and to King George V at the Royal Albert Hall. 

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Days by Philip Larkin


What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Philip Larkin


Mangetout was commissioned by the BBC, received Critic's Choices in the UK national press and was seen by 1 million people. It was my first commissioned drama and was based on my nephew's experiences of communicating as a child (he is profoundly deaf). The film mixes reality and fantasy as an uncle comes to stay with a deaf boy's family and eats everything around him, toys, ashtrays etc. The boy is delighted, until he starts to regurgitate his uncle's past.... The still (above) is a continuity polaroid taken during filming and shows the boy lying on top of a room full of circus paraphernalia that he has regurgitated in the night. 

Friday, 20 March 2009

100 word story

Can you write a good, original 100 word story with these images? 

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

A game for stories

Take four random images from or 

Place them side by side.

Connect the images to make a story.

With the same images make another story.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Today I saw....

Not far from me,  lives a blind man. In the Spring and Summer he stands in the corner of his small garden by the gate post and suns himself. I haven't seen him all Winter but today he was there with his head raised to the sun.  Nearby a man was weeding the blind man's garden which is full of bright yellow Daffodils. 

Jonas Mekas - filmmaker

365 films by Jonas Mekas, collection of 40, classics and guest filmmaker Jim Jarmusch with Tom Waits. 

Monday, 16 March 2009

The Shoe Tree

The Shoe Tree was inspired by a tree in a local park which has over 200 shoes in its branches. I wrote a story in a notebook and put it to one side, then there was an opportunity to make a film in Estonia, so I wrote the script in one sitting.  Sometimes scripts or stories come out like that, the more instinctive the better. 

Note books

Ingmar Bergman wrote in yellow coloured paper note pads. When he heard that the company that produced them was closing, he bought up as many of the pads as he could.  I think I'd do the same with Black & Red notebooks (in fact I've already started storing them). They're the only kind I like writing in; pocket sized, un-fussy and practical. Other makes I've bought still remain unused.  

I keep one note book where I write the first idea for a story and nothing more. Each entry is dated and the notebook can contain over three years worth of stories or ideas. I'm not sure why I choose to use this method, but there is something interesting about keeping a single idea untouched within a notebook. I tend to use the computer or other notebooks to develop the story further.   


Photos by Vitas Luckus (1943-1987)

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Visual ideas

Before making a film I pull together images and arrange them on sheets of A4 paper. I use the photos to further explore the story I've written or to find the visual style of the film, particularly the colour & textures of the piece. I share these images with my cinematographer as it's a way of communicating ideas and finding a visual style.  The page of photos (above) is one of six I made for a short film I'm hoping to make called Blackbird. 

A writer's challenge

A challenge:

Write 52 short stories in a year (one every week).

In the second year write 4 novellas (one for each season)

In the third year write a novel.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Stories read this month


First Love by Ivan Turgenev  - a bitter sweet story of unrequited love. Highly recommended. 

The Fox by D.H Lawrence -  Post First World War, a young soldier stays with two self efficient women at a country home and decides to marry one, with tragic results. A psychological story which examines friendship, love and jealousy. 

Dr Glas by Hjalmar Soderberg - a surprising novella concerning a doctor's adoration for a female patient that leads to murder. Beautifully written as a journal, this story feels contemporary in tone despite being written 103 years ago.  


Filming Keel - summer 2008

A short ghost film set in a remote part of the Finnish coastline. Represented at international film festivals by the British Council.