I started making short films when I moved to “Swinging London” in the 1960s and discovered, three doors down from my flat in Richmond, a lively amateur movie-making group called the Centre Film Unit. Several projects soon ensued, especially spoof documentaries. My favourite was Knees, loosely inspired by “Bottoms No.4” a 1966 avant-garde movie by Yoko Ono, which featured numerous celebrities’ naked buttocks. My film – and her’s – soon disappeared into obscurity. More fruitful was a collaboration with my wife Penny, who was active in West London’s emergent poetry and folk music scene. This included experiments with verse-based films as an early variant of music videos.
Fast forward to the end of the century. Alongside my career as a journalist and magazine editor, I also dabbled in corporate and event videos, helped by my three children, all of whom had become active in the media. Joining in 2009 proved especially inspirational and I have since written and made over 30 short movies for entry into competitions and on-line media. I have also been involved with other club members in their projects, including Al Grandy, with his wry satire on local government parsimony “La Gloire de Sutton”, Liz Lees, with “Duvet Day”; Andy Lear, with “Seance” and “The Great Incomprehendo”; Ian Durrant with “Borrow!”(winner of the 2012 Film London Award), Patrick Bloomfield with “How to Split the Atom” and Harry Lynes with “Rufus is Dead”. Harry has starred in several of my comedies, such as “Xmas Robot”, which won Best Senior Film at the 2017 Sutton the Movie competition, and “Boot”, also made locally in 2017.
The great thing about belonging to a film club like SFM is that you can tap into a diversity of creative talents, not just photography, lighting, editing and sound design but areas like acting and music composing. At the same time, pooling all club revenue into jointly-owned equipment makes it possible to achieve a well-made product which can be shown at film festivals. And, of course, you can have a lot of fun, too. Films which I particularly enjoyed writing and making have included “How to Save Money in the Pub” (about the Rimsky Korsakov Beer Jacket, for people who like to visit pubs but are short of cash)plus similarly informative quasi-commercials on “Scrooge: the nail that thinks it’s a screw”, made with Paul Read; “Piste: the pure vodka cocktail in tablet form”; and “The Xanadu Smoking Helmet”. Several club members spent an evening multi-tasking to music in “The South Cheam Formation Walking Team” while parkland near SFM’s weekly venue was the setting for an improvised reality video “The Tree People of Cheam Park”, followed in mid-summer 2017 by the equally bizarre “Invisible Horses of Nonsuch Park”. Many of these projects were kick-started by regular Club Challenges where members were tasked with thinking up and making films on a specified theme.
Some of these productions have gone on to be screened successfully in short film competitions. “Sound of Fury”, where a curmudgeon’s brunch is noisily interrupted by two over-active dogs and an impatient visitor with a faulty sat-nav, won the Best Short Comedy award in the American Motion Picture Society Awards 2011. Dramas on darker themes have also been tackled, including two films based on stories written by my wife Penny: “You Need Hands”, in which a door-to-door detergent salesman subjects a stressed housewife to a terrifying ordeal; and “Come Back Daddy”, a country music video (written and performed by Penny)which depicts a parental split from a six-year-old’s perspective. In “Pond Life”, a self-destructive park visitor shows no regard for friends or environment while in “Garden Party”, guests are bewildered by a low-flying aircraft. I have also experimented with verse formats in films such as “Cutting the Edge”, a poetic sidelight on the financial crisis; “Affair”, about a burgeoning but flawed romance; and “Morning” and “My Mother’s Mac”, both about bereavement.