Category Archives: Interviews

Revolving World of Colour

Revolving World of Colour
Wayne Madden

Even though Colour Television was a staple of the American diet from 1958, the

UK had to wait until John Newcombe won the Men’s singles at Wimbledon nearly a decade later, before the first colour images were projected onto European TV screens.

John Logie Baird, the inventor of television, first demonstrated colour television in 1927 but despite its popularity, high prices and the resulting scarcity of colour programmes, the format was not as widely used in its initial outing. As time moved on, however, cheaper alternatives and formats were created in order to make the expansion of colour film a reality for all mediums and budgets.

Barry Sandrew, PHD, an internationally recognized entrepreneur, digital imaging expert and visual effects pioneer invented digital colourization in 1987. “I invented digital colorization in 1987 at my company, American Film Technologies, as an alternative to the very poor quality that was being delivered using the initial analogue process.”

But new technology is not necessarily always greeted with Universal acclaim. Back in the mid-80s, there was a well-known and controversial campaign to colourise classic movies which led to heated public debate. Ted Turner (the media mogul and founder of CNN) spearheaded a movement in which he believed classic films, among them Orson Welles “Citizen Kane” and Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life”, should be colourised for the benefit of future generations. He believed that classics such as these were being ignored by viewers in favour of colour film.

This is an argument that goes back to Thomas Edison, in the late 20th century, who colourised film by hand as he perceived that audiences would not enjoy his own black and white work. It’s a popular misconception; therefore, that colour film was a more modern cinema trait. Victor Fleming’s 1939 musical fantasy “The Wizard of Oz” is one of the most well-known pieces of the time to have been shot purposely in colour (using two tone Technicolor), although the basic technology had existed for almost 40 years beforehand, with the earliest examples going back to 1902.

Technology aside however, there were also plenty of examples where black and white films were colourised in pre-production. Howard Hughes and Alfred Hitchcock created films in black and white, only to remake them in colour, citing both artistic and financial reasons.

Kevin Shaw is a colourist, with over 30 years’ experience in the industry. He believes there is some truth in the notion of a stigma towards black and white on film. “There is a feeling that black and white is “missing” colour rather than being seen as an alternative medium,” says Shaw, “and I believe this inclination persists today.”

Sandrew argues the very objections to colourization is what made it popular. “The fact that colourization was a “hot button” issue actually helped AFT become more popular with both clients and fans of colourization,” says Sandrew. “If people didn’t like colourization they didn’t have to buy nor watch it. Guess what…they did both!” Before Turner, there had already been a counter argument that colour film was damaging to cinema. French director Francois Truffaut argued that colour should not be used at all, making a statement in 1978 that “colour has done as much damage to cinema as television.

It is necessary to fight against too much realism in the cinema; otherwise it’s not an art. From the moment that a film is in colour, it’s not cinema anymore.” Shaw agrees somewhat with Truffant’s statement. “A director has to have a good, artistic reason to use black and white, and that doing so invokes a particular meaning to the project, it is a genre in its own right so not appropriate for all concepts.” Certainly there are examples of this. Alfred Hitchcock shot “Psycho” purposely in black and white to meet what he felt was the required tone for the film, as did CBS Productions with Rod Sterling’s original “Twilight Zone” television series. In both cases colour was offered and refused as a medium.

In the 21st century, it’s perhaps hard to imagine a time when directors had such creative control over their own productions, especially productions with such important financial outcomes for their respective studios. Barry Sandrew agrees that films such as these are classics, which he says have been helped significantly by colourization. “The directors and actors were paid for their work,” says Sandrew, “that does not give them perpetual creative rights to the film. They do not own the film nor did they, in most cases, put up a dime to make the film. Colourization has actually served to subsidize the restoration and preservation of some of our most treasured public domain black and white feature films. In that regard, I believe that colourization has actually done a great service to these classics.”

Professor James O. Young, of the University of Victoria, wrote an academic paper entitled In Defence of Colourization in 1988 that stated once a work is modified it is no longer able to express its creators original intentions. His paper was written at a time when the first Turner produced colour films came under criticism, namely because low quality colourization, restricted by the technology of the day.
But Young still believes its possible colourization can have a negative effect on a film’s artistic merit. “Appropriation from earlier art ought not to be prohibited,” he says. “Artists frequently borrow from their predecessors in a variety of ways and do so (some of the time) with good aesthetic results.”

Shaw argues that, regardless of 21st century technology, the same rules of artistic filmmaking merit apply. “We design images to fit the concept, to be emotionally evocative and to be easier for an audience to interpret.
It is a creative decision that should be made at the creation stage.” It would seem that the image (and colour choice) of a film is therefore essential to its concept. Sandrew agrees with this up-to a point. “When I re-invented colourization in 2000 the film critics were no longer saying that the work looked shoddy or unrealistic. Instead they were saying that the colourization looked so natural. This raised a new concern from critics that the quality was too high and young people would never know what the film looked like in its original black and white format. So surprisingly, high quality colourization earned negative feedback as well!”

 

Ted Turner had the ability to spearhead a movement which, he personally felt, was of benefit to his consumer and made the business steps necessary to do this. But perhaps more ironically, as Young concludes, “the use of colourisation has increased the distribution of original black and white versions, since these are now often packaged with colour versions.”
Ironically, the greatest benefits come to those who feared their legacy might be jeopardized in the first place. While there’s no doubt life looks better in colour the facts seem to indicate that audiences would rather see them as they were originally intended, sparks of geniuses intact. Colourization, like everything else in Film, has its place.

Plus Booking Fee…Goodbye Yellow Brick Road…

Plus Booking Fee…Goodbye Yellow Brick Road…
by Wayne Madden

On Wednesday July 2nd Elton John (and his band) is set to perform at Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena. The website quotes that he is “undeniably one of the most acclaimed and adored solo artists of all time” and you’ll get no argument from me. His career success parallels few artists of any genre and his recordings are, quite literally, embedded into popular culture.

Tickets for the event are listed at £55 and £75, a look beyond the home page and prices have now risen to £62.75 and £83.75 respectively with the click of a mouse. The rise in price equates to a booking fee of £8.75 for purchasing tickets online, with an optional “missed event insurance” of £3.75 and a further, mandatory, minimum mail or venue collection charge of £2.50 – none covered in the previous charges.

England, like most other first world countries, is a market economy. In a world where we’re more readily checking our pockets and bank balances it seems unusual to pay an additional £2.50 for sending a letter by first class post. Even more unusual when the £8.75 booking fee doesn’t, on its own, include any form of insurance and is more than what you’d be paid for doing an hour’s work on minimum wage.

With new rules introduced in April 2013 by the UK Government to cut down on credit card surcharges, Booking Fee’s for performances have remained unaffected, with Elton John’s performance at Nottingham Arena also demanding a £9.25 fee atop a £75 ticket price via Ticketline. This is far from a regional occurrence.

In 2013 Ticketmaster UK appointed Chris Edmonds as their new chairman. He’d spoken to the BBC about ticket pricing as managing director, in Dec 2012, saying that “there’s a misunderstanding about what the fee’s are for…in reality we wouldn’t see any share of the actual ticket price. That would be shared between the promoter, venues and the artist” and went on to say that “the actual per ticket fees that we charge to our consumer are our sole source of revenue…in some instances some of those may be shared with the actual event organiser”
By that logic, the Metro Arena has already been paid prior to Booking Fee; a quick survey of their website informs us that all online sales are powered by Eventim.co.uk – the English branch of CTS Eventim AG, a German registered company who purport to be the largest ticket seller in Europe and who reported a turnover of €520 million in 2012. What it doesn’t tell us is why £8.75 per ticket is being charged for simply clicking a few buttons. Do we blame the Arena, Eventim, MasterCard, Visa or Elton John?

So, how can you save money? Phones4U Arena in Manchester is just one venue who informs consumers – through its website – that all tickets purchased from the venue box office, and with cash, will not be charged a booking fee. It might seem like small consolation but if you live near the venue and don’t believe the gig will sell out within moments of tickets going on sale then the advice is clear, visit your venue and purchase tickets in person. Organise a pooling system with friends or relatives.

There is also hope for the future on excessive booking and admission prices as the EU plans to crack down on credit card surcharges and online fee’s, calling for them to be more representative of the services offered, though it’s unclear just what changes it will have for companies like Ticketmaster and Eventim who often register business roots outside EU market zones and avoid such laws.

As part of this article I attempted to contact the Metro Radio Arena and speak to someone about the Elton John example, but nobody was available for comment.

Sunderland Shorts’ Film Festival 2017

Sunderland Short Film Festival 2017 – Sunderland One
Wayne Madden

Lights, Camera, Action.

Filmmakers and fans were elated in equal measure recently at the return of the popular Sunderland Short Film Festival earlier this month. The event, in its third year, was created in collaboration with ‘sister festival’ DC Shorts in America and provides a platform for filmmakers and enthusiasts to showcase their work on a national stage.

Creating a festival which celebrates the uniqueness and storytelling of short film, only films less than twenty minutes in length can be submitted for consideration, with screenings taking place over three days and each featuring a variety of shortlisted competitors.

Carys Watford, whose film ‘Theatreland’ screened at this year’s festival, spoke about the importance of an event like Sunderland Shorts, saying: “it’s always great to get your film seen in as many places as you can…if you can go to the festival which is screening it, all the better”. Bernie Mooney, whose seven minute drama ‘Thief’ tackles the topic of sex trafficking in the United Kingdom, was quick to add that “I’ve been at festivals before where nobody has turned up at all to watch your film…so to be here in Sunderland with a full audience like this is very gratifying”

As well as jury and audience based awards; films were nominated for several categories’ with a selection of the finalists films due to be shown to attendees in Washington at the DC Shorts festival this September. This offers locally based filmmakers the opportunity to have their work seen by an international audience and the offer is reciprocated when DC Shorts shortlist was screened on the last day of the festival in Sunderland. Finalists also received a free upload for their film courtesy of Modyst UK, an international digital platform and online cinema.

In 2006 Sunderland became the first and so far only city to sign a Friendship Agreement with Washington DC. This occasion was paramount to the establishment of Sunderland Shorts, as festival director Anne Tye explained. “Sunderland’s friendship status with Washington DC has brought about some real successes, and Sunderland Shorts Film Festival is chief among them.” adding further, “Learning from our friends in the US, and gleaning the knowledge they have gained over several years – growing their event from a standing start to one that is hugely popular and a key part of the city’s cultural programme – has allowed us to replicate this and quickly create a fantastic festival for Sunderland.”

In previous years, screenings occurred at various ‘pop up’ locations across the city, with each screening providing audiences a unique insight into both the artists work as well as a local venue they may never have visited. This year all screenings were localized centrally in ‘The Place’, a creative business hub in the city centre. Hannah Matterson, festival organizer, said: “Since the start of the festival in 2015, Sunderland Shorts has always had the aim of supporting local, small and medium sized businesses across the city.”

“We’ve been known to use coffee shops, art galleries and even boardrooms as cinemas in the past. By doing this we hope to encourage more young filmmakers to take up the art and to become the directors, cinematographers and producers of the future.”

As well as film screenings the event also presented several free workshops, delivered by established professionals in the industry, imparting advice and wisdom. Roar Motion’s Rob Parsons, who operated an informal showcase with business partner Matt Eyre told us: “It’s very important these workshops happen, when I was a student at University I would have loved to do something like this, get hands on with the technology in this way and see it all up close and in person, it’s invaluable”.

Councilor John Kelly, Sunderland City Council’s portfolio holder for public health, wellness and culture, said: “Sunderland is a very warm and friendly city and I’m certain this army of filmmakers, writers and actors will be afforded a fine Wearside welcome. Sunderland Shorts is helping put our city on the filmmaking map, and not only bringing exciting new talent in, but helping our city’s creative bight sparks showcase their own work to a whole new audience.”

Personal screen highlights included ‘Pebbles’, a drama from Jonathan Shaw which saw a woman return to the hotel where she spent her honeymoon fifty years hence. ‘Four Day Weekend’ was a superbly acted American drama about a married couple on a self imposed relationship break, animation ‘The Slow Lane’ was an incredible undertaking in both creation and design, a simple film about a tiny village and the damage of a fallen tree and the surreal ‘Dots’ was less than 91 seconds long, but also provided a unique interpretation into the genre of dance from filmmakers Jody Oberfelder and Eric Siegel.

As in previous years, winning films were announced on the last night of the festival, with Irish drama ‘Pebbles’ capturing both Best International picture and a Jury’s Choice award. Best North East regional film went to ‘Mordecai’, a truly original comedy drama from Benjamin Lee about two brothers at their father’s funeral, made with the permission and involvement of an orthodox Jewish community in Gateshead. There was also an audience choice award for James Cookson’s horror, ‘Panic’ while Best UK National film went to the picture that had proceeded it in that screening, comedy ‘Rhonna and Donna’ from director Diana O Pusic about two women conjoined at the hip.

“You make the film you feel passionate about” Carys’ told us, and this mantra can easily be transferred to the positive work Sunderland Shorts are doing making a festival in an area they truly feel passionate about.

“Each year, it is growing, and as we move into our third year, we look forward to creating something that is bigger and better than ever” Anne told me of this year’s event, “establishing a reputation of being ‘the friendliest festival’” making it obvious the team has no plans to slow down. “Short films aren’t an easy sell” Hannah confided, reflecting on the festival overall, “but we’re making steps forward each year to increase our audiences and to engage with more filmmakers from all over the world.”

With such a unique platform and a plethora of talent signing up, there’s no reason to imagine we’ll see the end of Sunderland Shorts anytime soon.

Stained Glass Window At St Peter’s

Stained Glass Window – St Peter’s – Sunderland One
Wayne Madden

A new stained glass window display in Sunderland has brought a vital piece of history back to the banks of the Wear River. Monasteries in both Monkwearmouth and Jarrow are credited as having brought stained glass to England in 674AD, with a new instillation now unveiled some 1,300 years later at Bede’s Bakehouse cafe, St Peter’s.

The Bakehouse Café is so called because Saint Bede, an English monk from the monastery at St Peter who has been called “The Father of English History”, wrote of a similarly named “bakehouse” on the site. Volunteers at the café attempt to emulate the welcoming and positive hospitality Bede experienced to this day.

The display, created by artists Rachel Welford and Adrian Riley, was inspired by ‘The Reckoning of Time’ – arguably Bede’s greatest scientific achievement. Written in 725AD the book calculated a 1253 year cynical calendar, a forerunner to the western calendar we still use today.

Artist Rachel Welford explained that Bede’s observations of day and night were crucially important in the design of the work, saying: “Just as Bede observed the changes from day to night, the windows change with the light, revealing variations in pattern, shadow, reflection and colour at different times of the day and year and in varying weather conditions” and that “Unlike most traditional stained glass they are also intended to be viewed from the exterior of the building as well as inside.”

Rachel says further that “We wanted to make a work that didn’t just illustrate facts, or is a representation of an event; rather it is an example of that event itself. It embodied those concepts rather than just showing a picture”

The stained glass was created at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland. A representative of the centre spoke to Sunderland One about the process of creating such a display saying: “this process would be what’s known as a muff method for making stained glass sheets” and that “it includes hundreds of colours’ in beautiful single color sheets”

Rachel spoke to Sunderland One exclusively about the creation process further, saying: “The type of glass that we used is called Spectrum 96, it’s a fusible glass. Normal glass can’t be mixed, the monastery used innovative techniques at the time so we wanted to use cutting edge technology, using modern techniques. Once we got the designs approved I bought in spectrum stained glass, fusible glass, I then started working with that to create the panels”.

“The mirror layer was one separate layer and then there was another layer of fused glass. I used water jet cutting, it’s a digital process, and it cuts anything abrasively at high pressure with garnet. You’re very limited with the shapes you can do with traditional glass so the use of the water jet meant I could cut different shapes from a number of colored pieces that would be used together on a single layer”

“There are 12 windows, each window had six squares, all in all I had 72 unique panels to make. The mirror layer created the most difficulty; I got an external company to create that for me. It’s took me a year to do this, just over, but it was probably another year when considering the design and authorization processes”

Sunderland City Council worked in collaboration with the local Parish of Saint Peter’s and the Diocesan Advisory Committee of Durham to help realize the fruition of the project. Team Rector of Monkwearmouth Parish, Reverend Dick Bradshaw praised the results, saying: “It has been fantastic to have been involved from start to finish with this visionary artwork reflecting the life and work of Bede”.

“The new stained glass windows are a fantastic addition to the Bakehouse at St Peter’s, where so many visitors come to relax, enjoy their surroundings and learn more about our shared cultural heritage.”

Sunderland City Council’s Cabinet Secretary Councilor Mel Speding, who was present at the unveiling of the new stained glass windows in April, said: “St Peter’s is an important site for our city, our region and for the country so I’m delighted that it continues to capture the imagination of people of this city.”

Reflecting on the project since its completion, Rachel – who is currently doing her PHD at Sunderland University – often visits the café for lunch with friends and colleagues to observe her work. “The church wardens there have said it really enhances the bakehouse and the experience of people visiting” she says, “it’s a different experience for me each time because of the type of glass and changing weather, there’s always an element of surprise. It’s really lovely to see. It’s doing what I hoped it would”

The Bakehouse Café is currently open Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 10.30am and 2.30pm and for best results the windows can be easily viewed from both inside the grounds of the church as well as from inside the café.

Wonderlands Expo 2017

Wonderlands Expo 2017 – Sunderland One
Wayne Madden

Fans of graphic novels were in their element recently with the return of the ever popular ‘Wonderlands’ Expo to Sunderland. Now in its third year, this free celebratory event was held at City Space, Sunderland University, and paid tribute to the comic in all its forms, with a wide variety of workshops, panels, stalls and talks.

Ordinarily home to the Sunderland City Predators, a converted basketball court was the stage for a variety of stalls, featuring work from a plethora of talented national creators and designers. Artists like Track 11 Design, Drew X and Castle Rock’s Bob Turner were on hand to provide caricatures and commissions as well as examples of their latest work. Others, such as Alan Henderson’s The Penned Guin, provided a humorous example of parody and design with selections from previously established catalogues.

Guests of honor gave talks throughout the day, with a particular fan favorite being Liverpool born John Higgins, colorist on Watchmen; the seminal series from DC Comics written by Alan Moore and later a major motion picture directed by Zack Snyder. “We can’t believe how friendly people are” John said, “The Northern friendship is just magic. I think the thing I enjoy most about it is that you get to meet the fans. 90% of the time we spend at home is in a darkened room drawing, so to actually get out and meet fans is just so important and the fact that the University is presenting it in such a considered way we can give a bit back about how we created the characters and share that knowledge is fantastic”.

The events strong foot fall was just one indicator of its popularity and continued success. Organizer Hannah Matterson, Events and Development Coordinator for MAC Trust, said: “We’re thrilled that Wonderlands [is] back for a third year. We’ve worked hard to make sure the event stays free and we’ve been awarded money from Arts Council England to help support the event.”

Providing an introduction for younger people, ‘The Wonderlands Anthology’ was a brand new comic book available for free – a collaboration between pupils at Farrington Community Academy and St Aidan’s Catholic Academy in Sunderland – where students contributed their own short strips for inclusion and then collected their published work at the event. It was another reminder that Wonderlands catered for all ages and exposures.

Beano illustrator Nigel Auchterlounie travelled from Whitley Bay, on hand to make a rare public appearance at Wonderlands showcasing works like ‘Bunny Girl and Pig Boy’ and leading an informal design workshop. “It’s great here, I’ve never been before” he remarked, “I think events like these are important in widening culture, showing another medium, there are so many other ways to tell a story than television – like in comic books”.

Other attendees to the convention used comics in more serious, yet still entertaining light. Comics vs. Cancer are an innovative forum in which Scottish writer Gordon Robertson used the medium to talk about taking a stand against cancer. “I was diagnosed with cancer” said Gordon, “I wanted to write a blog about it. But there’s so many great cancer blogs out there, things that are heart rendering.

I didn’t have that bad of an experience [with cancer] so I felt I couldn’t do that…I created a comic called ‘Arse Cancer’ and that’s where it went. I taught we could use it to raise money for charity. I had bowel cancer, my first wife died from breast cancer and my current wife has also had breast cancer. Humor is a great way of getting things across we wouldn’t normally discuss, so if it helps people recognize symptoms it could save lives and make a real difference.”

Wonderlands ended on a high, being a positive event for Sunderland, encouraging people to expand their minds, get to know a little bit more about graphic novels and share similar interests. A resounding success for the region.