Film Diary: Deepwater Horizon (2016)

In 2010 eleven men lost their lives in a catastrophic fire on the Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig situated in the Gulf of Mexico. Directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg as our rig employee Mike Williams, Deepwater Horizon is the movie adaption of these events.

It is difficult not to compare Balthasar Kormákur’s Everest (2015) with this film. Kormákur skilfully told a tragic story and trusted the audience to come to their own conclusions as to the attribution of responsibility. Berg , however, let’s you know who are the heroes and who are the villains from the get go. I am not an expert on the legal ramifications of the Deepwater disaster, or the apportionment of blame, but from a characterisation perspective I feel the film loses something in not allowing for more subtlety in this area.

That said, Deepwater Horizon is a powerful film, as you would expect with such subject matter. Wahlberg is convincing as the ‘everyman’ hero of the piece, and Kurt Russell provides gravitas as rig chief Jimmy Harrell. The film uses humour and a naturalistic ‘hand held’ camera style to bring us into the busy, dangerous world of life on a deep sea drilling rig. Berg spends a respectful amount of time establishing characters and setting, building tension as we move towards the terrible event. The cinematic representation of the disaster itself feels brutal and raw. The confusion and horror of the incident is captured well, as are the heroic actions performed by many of the crew.

I went into this movie with little knowledge of the Deepwater Horizon, aside the terrible event itself as reported in UK media at the time. No background knowledge is required to be moved by this film. Functional and hitting all the right beats, Deepwater Horizon is a solid and respectful piece of film making.



MCU Stats: Examples of Qualitative and Quantitative Data

Examples of Quantitative Data:

  1. The MCU has grossed  $10,229,359,480 to date, worldwide.
  2. 3,310 crew members worked on The Avengers. (2016). Marvel Cinematic Universe Franchise Box Office History – The Numbers. [online] Available at:

Stephen Follows. (2014). How many people work on a Hollywood film?. [online] Available at:

Examples of Qualitative Data:

  1. Iron Man relaunched the career of Robert Downey Jr.
  2. Kevin Feige is fundamental to the future success of the MCU.

Graser (2014) cited in “The Marvel Studios Phenomenon: Inside a Transmedia Universe
By Martin Flanagan, Andrew Livingstone, Mike McKenny” (2016). How Kevin Feige Secretly Saved The MCU. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Sep. 2016].


Film Diary: Rocky (1976)

While it is a cliche, it’s easy to forget what a talented actor and writer Sylvester Stallone is.  Much parodied and maligned, ‘Sly’ has managed to reinvent himself for each generation, maintaining box office pull into his late 60’s. While he has had significant other roles, he will always be best known for the down-and-out Philadelphia slugger, Rocky Balboa.

In simple terms, Rocky is a masterpiece, and the 1976 best picture Oscar confirms this. Made on a budget on $1m, it went on to gross $225m worldwide. Director John G. Avildsen is experimental with his choice of shot in the film, sometimes a little too so, but nothing can detract from the awesome performances in this movie. Stallone is fantastic, eminently  watchable as the punch-drunk, loveable fighter/gangster enforcer. Talia Shire is perfect as the cripplingly shy Adrian. Burt Young is Paulie, the hard-drinking, self-centred brother of Adrian, holding on to Rocky’s coat tails as the boxer gets his shot at the big time. Carl Weathers, as Apollo Creed, treads the fine line between a convincing individual performance and a parody of Muhammad Ali perfectly. You believe in Apollo Creed, he is not an Ali clone. And, of course, Burgess Meredith is Mickey, Rocky’s Trainer. Meredith looks like he was born in a Boxing Gym.

There is a lack of sentimentality in this film, something that was abandoned for the sequels. The characters have nuance and depth, light and dark sides. We are rooting for Rocky, but know he makes money by collecting for the local mobster. Paulie provides comic relief, but his tirades of drunken abuse towards those close to him is disturbing. Apollo is effervescent and lights up the screen, but has an ego the size of the planet. Actually, on thinking about it, Paulie is pretty much a jerk in all the films.

The film has a big idea, but feels small and intimate. Like Adrian, we fall in love with Rocky, we care about him. We feel the punches he takes, and cheer him on when he swings at Creed. The subtlety of Stallone’s writing linked with Weathers performance enables us to like Creed. He is not a cartoon-villain. He is a rounded character with believable motivations. This is an artistic decision that would pay off in the sequels.

While maintaining the Rocky franchise over 4 decades, Stallone tried many times to reinvent Rocky in other roles: Over the Top (1987) – Rocky drives a truck, Cliffhanger (1993) – Rocky on a mountain, Copland (1997) – Rocky as a cop, Grudge Match (2013) – Rocky as, well, Rocky, it looked like to me. He wanted to capture the lightening in a bottle formula, the character that we would believe in. But we don’t want Rocky as anyone else, Rocky in different clothes, or in a false beard. We want Rocky. We don’t even want him to box anymore, (Creed 2015). We’re happy just to have him around.


4200 Formative 2: Reflections on ‘Discovery Film’ and My Previous Experience



So, on our first day on the Digital Film Production BA/BSc, we’re put into groups, assigned roles and told that we have 2 weeks to make a film. The remit is that the film must be 90 seconds long and that the final shot, or shots, must feature a ‘reveal’ or ‘discovery’. Sound daunting? It was. Fortunately I was part of a dream team. L-R: Arron (Director), Rebecca (DOP), Michael (Camera), Kelvin (Producer) and David (1st AD). Not pictured is Pamela, who had a Voice Over role.

The team always worked well together, even under pressure. Our original idea, though good, was beset with location problems. This wasn’t Amityville style production issues, no bleeding walls or anything like that, but 3 (or maybe 4?) locations fell through. With time running short and our scheduled shooting day approaching, the group decided to start fresh with a new story we could shoot at an available location. As co-Producer I felt this was the most sensible course to take. We went for a Python inspired sketch. Both Kelvin and I are writers, and this claim was put to the test as we got together to write the script on the morning of the shoot. Kelvin is a pleasure to work with and a talented writer, so the script was duly churned out before shooting was due to start.

I’ve written several short (un-produced) radio plays, and I’m currently co-writing a screenplay. I am confident in my ability as a writer, and my ability to come up with new ideas.Being in the company of other creative individuals bolstered that confidence. I always felt that no matter what the challenge, one of us would have a ‘light bulb’ moment, and that was always the case.

The shoot went superbly: Arron is an inspiration. He managed to direct the film from inside a wardrobe, and come up with several new ideas in the process. Rebecca was a great DoP, and really came into her own post-prod in the editing process. She even managed to make my wooden performance passable. David was a steady influence, often pitching in with a quick burst of common sense, which was much needed. Kelvin was calm and composed, facilitating from the sidelines. And sticking gaffa tape on the floor/camera/door frames. Pamela gamely spoke her lines time after time (I believe we did 14 takes at one point). She’s got a great voice and there is probably a well of un-tapped potential there. Michael was a star as camera operator.

After some editing ninjitsu, led by Rebecca, we trimmed the footage down to 90 seconds (ish). It works, not technically perfect, but it is funny (even after 50 viewings). Given the time frame and the remit I believe it’s something we can be proud of.

Note to self:

Before filming, Put a battery in the external battery powered mic. Otherwise you are left with the Canon 80D built in mic audio. My bad.

In terms of prior experience, and in addition to writing: With my professional background in project management and organisation, I naturally gravitate to leadership in any group situation. In the academic environment it is important for me to take a step back at times and let others take the wheel, I feel I am striking a balance in this area.

Music and sound are also areas in which I also have previous experience. I made music for as long as I can remember, most recently using Ableton Suite. I love this DAW, it is so cool. I’m looking forward to linking up with the audio guys and getting some tips off them. This week I have been stealthily eavesdropping on their conversations, and, while most of it sounds like Russian to me, I can’t wait to learn more about sound. I already have some ideas for the sound production on my narrative film, and would love to get one of the audio students to work on that with me, if they were interested.

Shot Analysis: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Image result for photo : were gonna need a bigger boat

Jaws (1975). Okay, I’m cheating. This isn’t one shot, it’s a few shots. For brevity, let’s look at Brody (Roy Scheider) throwing chunks of fish into the water, mouthing off at his crew mates. If we look at the shot, there is a ton of space to the left of Brody, where the blood from the fish chunks is visible in the open water. If we are using our analytical brains, this is a sure fire warning that something is going fill that frame: It’s a set up. But the tone of the scene (a hacked off crew member that cannot swim, having a moan) misdirects us, so when the shark does appear behind Brody, it’s a shock. I know it’s cliche to talk about the rubber shark (or sharks), and Spielberg’s well documented problems (and concerns) whist filming,  but I’m going to anyway: He thought the shark looked dumb, he was worried audiences would laugh, the shoot was a nightmare (Spielberg decided to go for realism and shoot in open water, rather than a tank, leading to bouts of sea-sickness for crew and cast) etc..etc.. But this is the first scene in which we see the shark, and the results are quite stunning, holding up even today. The scene is testament to Spielberg’s skills as a director, and his ability to adapt to and overcome limitations.

Cousins, Mark ‘The Story of Film’, Pavillion, 2011


Depth of Field: Definition

Depth of Field is the range of distance in front of the camera lens inside which objects produce sharp images as seen on the cinema screen when the film is finally projected.

Salt, Barry. “Film Style and Technology in the Thirties.” Film Quarterly 30, no. 1 (1976): 19-32.