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Young storytellers with award-winning vision

Posted on Nov 3, 2023 by Samara Husbands

We speak to three category winners from the first ever Stories in Motion short film competition, a co-initiative by Canon and CVP, as entry open for this year’s contest…

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Open to those aged 18 to 25, this May saw prizes awarded in the inaugural Stories in Motion competition, an initiative by Canon and CVP aimed at finding and showcasing young talent via the medium of short film.

There were three entry categories for 2023: music video, documentary and scripted short. Entrants could submit films for all three, though were allowed just one entry per category. The judges were looking for a command of cinematography, editing and colour, plus originality regarding subject matter.

With a fresh call going out for 2024 entries, we spoke to the three category winners from this year, including grand prize winner Daniel Simpkins, who, as well as receiving a CVP voucher like his fellow finalists, bagged a Canon EOS C70 camera and an RF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens.

The cinematography and editing in Simpkins’ one-and-half-minute film, Farm Life, focusing on his farming cousin Jeff, led to him topping the documentary category as well as the competition overall. Having enlisted friends to help with the project, the young filmmaker found their encouragement invaluable, noting: “I’m quite a perfectionist – you never feel you’re ‘good enough’. But I had friends who saw my footage and said ‘You’ve got to do something with this.’ They really pushed me to finish it and make it into a short film.”

With a day’s initial shoot followed by a further day spent gathering audio, Simpkins acknowledges that enlisting friends meant the end result “cost me next to nothing. But I didn’t know what to do with it when I’d finished – I’d never made a film by myself before. Then I saw news of the competition via CVP because I’m on their mailing list, and that it was free to enter. I thought if I got anywhere, it would be a way to reward my friends for helping me, as it would probably mean free drinks and a nice evening.”

The confidence boost of the double win has encouraged Simpkins, who works for a camera equipment hire company by day, to make his next project grander in scale. His upcoming film focuses on a group of Cornish enthusiasts who explore mines. “It’s a unique hobby involving unique people,” he enthuses. Envisaging an end result between ten and 20 minutes in length, the hope is for the finished film to be submitted to the Sheffield DocFest.

Red or dead

Winning best scripted short for his five-minute thriller Red Room, fellow filmmaker Chas Harrington is also seeking to extend himself with his next projects. Currently working in film and TV as an assistant director (AD), he was likewise able to pull in favours to help realise his creative vision for the competition.

“Telling an interesting story in five to 15 minutes is a good challenge,” Harrington explains. “And, going forward, if I want to direct longer-form projects, it’s good preparation to be able to get a lot of story out in five minutes. I also love working with actors in developing their characters over such a short space of time.”

With his mini-epic inspired by “the horrors of the dark web” shot over three days, the first day involved pre-lighting “as the camera needed to move all over the place without us seeing every single light stand”. The second was a full day of rehearsal – as the short was filmed to look like one unbroken shot. “And then on the third and final day, we shot the whole thing, in two takes technically, as there’s a whip-pan between exterior and interior.”

Given that the majority of the film is indeed dark both in terms of subject matter and its actual look, Harrington notes that sound design and music were as integral to telling the story as performance, cinematography and lighting. “90% of the film, except for the dialogue, is completely sound design,” he agrees.

Being selected as one of the winners of Stories in Motion has already expanded the fledgling filmmaker’s network of contacts. “After the screening, lots of people came up to me saying: ‘I was terrified and uncomfortable, but really enjoyed it’ – and cards were exchanged,” he enthuses.

As someone working in the business already, Harrington admits: “The aim is to transition into doing this full time, although I quite like having the day job AD-ing. I’m able to do a job for five months, save up and do a short film at the end of it. That works really nicely.” Even though the equipment used and the individuals involved vary from one project to the next,“it keeps things interesting with different kit and crew and helps to make each film as different as possible.”

In terms of advice for anyone entering next year, “it’s all about being able to tell a fantastic story in a short amount of time,” he responds. “But it doesn’t have to be a linear narrative, or too complicated – save that for later on in life!”

Sound advice

Winning in the Stories in Motion music video category this year was freelance filmmaker Luis Hindman, his visuals accompanying Just Come Home with Me Tonight by Scottish singer Joesef.

Like Red Room, most of the action takes place in near darkness, with a deft and subtle command of lighting and colour. Here, the initial setting is a nightclub, before heading into artificially lit streets.

Posting beneath the video on YouTube, singer Joesef notes that “we are nerds for colours and old Wong Kar-Wai films, so that’s influenced the aesthetic.”

Video director Hindman also cites Kar-Wai and adds Xavier Dolan, saying the intention was “a dreamlike depiction. I have to give credit to my DOP Nikita for that. It’s the fourth film I’ve done for Joesef, so we speak the same visual language. He really cares about his videos, but I still had a lot of creative control. This was filmed in one day. We couldn’t do a full night’s shoot, so it was 11am to 11pm.

“From 11am until it got dark outside, we shot the interiors. I planned it shot by shot as we had so much we had to get. I filmed the whole thing on my phone as a rehearsal, so I had a live storyboard. We were so precise, there’s nothing we shot that’s not in the final edit.”

The win was welcome as, confidence boost aside, it was a chance for Hindman to see his work in a cinema, and have people come up to him and talk about it afterwards – something he hadn’t experienced before. “Usually, my relationship with how one of my videos is received is looking at the view count online, reading comments you can’t put faces to. But here it was fellow filmmakers and industry people meeting face to face.”

As for what’s next, Hindman is now working on a short narrative project funded by the BFI and Film Four, which he says is “stylistically a continuation” of his Stories in Motion video.

In terms of advice for next year’s competition entrants, he concludes: “It’s really important when you’re making a thing to enjoy that process for what it is.”

The winning shorts can all be found individually on YouTube. For more Stories in Motion details – including how to enter for 2024 – head to the URL below. 

Originally published in the November/December 2023 issue of Pro Moviemaker.

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