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Brenda Blethyn award for Passing Through

Back in the summer of 2023, my film Passing Through won the Brenda Blethyn First Feature Award at the Ramsgate International Film and TV Festival. Brenda is a twice Oscar-nominated acting legend, and has worked with some of my heroes, not least Mike Leigh, whom I consider a huge influence, so it was heartwarming if nothing else to hear her very kind words as she gave out the awards remotely. I got a copy of the video here:

“Passing Through by David Walter Hall is beautifully shot. The setting is the South of France: carefree, happy, sunny but with the unexpected arrival of an estranged son, we’re suddenly plunged into the mysteries and conflicts of the past. Why did he turn up out of the blue and with a girlfriend with as many secrets of her own? I cared about each character with varying degrees of sympathy. I even forgave the annoying visitor from Australia. The performances, led by Mark Little, are faultless and the beautifully nuanced direction from David Walter Hall, who also wrote the screenplay, is really impressive. There’s a great soundtrack too from Jonny Phillips.”

Festival News – Ramsgate and Brighton

Super excited to announce that my film Passing Through will have its English premiere at the Ramsgate Film Festival in June. It will be in competition for the First Feature Prize judged by the legendary Brenda Blethyn.

I am likewise vibing to say that it’s also received an Honourable Mention at Brighton Rocks, the same week, meaning it will be included in the festival hoo-hah and – tantalisingly – may or may not be screened. Watch this space!

Passing Through to premiere at the Belfast Film Festival

I don’t post news updates around here much these days. I remember, about three years ago, I was about to post one. The title was going to be, “We Did It!” and I started writing it, but could barely think it out through a stupor of exhaustion. The “it” in question was the intense three-week filming period of my debut feature film Passing Through. The “we” was, a compact, and at that point equally exhausted team of two producers, a crew, me the director and an awesome cast. It wasn’t that I thought the next steps would be quick or easy. I just thought, the hard part was over.

The hard part had kind of just begun I discovered. Making a film is hard. Finishing a film is harder. It takes money, and where there isn’t money, it takes hard graft. It’s really ideal if there are no pandemics. It’s ideal if the world doesn’t shut down as it did.

Time to cut a long story short. We persevered. We busted guts left right and centre, and today I’m pleased to annnounce we’re in the programme for the 22nd Belfast Film Festival.

Take a look at the trailer right here:

The film screens on Wednesday 9th November at 8pm, at the Strand Arts Centre, Belfast. Buy your tickets here.

Showreels for actors in London

Hi, and apologies for what may be a somewhat keyword-heavy blog post. Needs must I’m afraid. I’m really excited to be launching a new side hustle making actors’ showreels. It’s called Showreels from Scratch, with a view to doing what it says on the tin: showreels made from scratch, as opposed to just edited from existing material, a way for emerging actors to get a foot in the door before they have real screen credits.

I had the great privilege of shooting my first feature film as a writer-director just before Covid happened. At the time of writing, we’re still putting the finishing touches on post-production. It’s been a journey, and along the way I have learned more about filmmaking than I would have done on a degree, grown as a person and found my calling. I’m working hard on the next project(s) while playing midwife to the first one.

And while that’s happening, shooting actors’ showreels is a way to keep my film brain busy until the next big feature, to keep learning and exploring the possibilities of filmmaking and getting the best from actors. And of course it’s a business. The priorities of a showreel aren’t the same as a short film. If you have to make a choice, you want the actor to look good above all else. The plot or scenario is irrelevant to the viewer, it is only there to give the actor something substantial to chew on, some real sense of drama or conflict, and an arc in those two or three minutes to move between a few different emotional registers. It doesn’t have to be a great film to be a great showreel, but I kind of feel like it helps.

So I’ll be writing and directing, working with some great people, and enjoying this new adventure. If you’d like to have a showreel made, please do drop me an email via info@showreelsfromscratch.com.

Scene ideas

The site includes a fun and potentially useful showreel scene ideas generator. This started life as a spreadsheet for my own purposes, listing prompts for character types, relationships, situations people might find themselves in and very generic obstactles which with a bit of imagination might apply to any of the situations. So it randomly spits out the idea of a divorced couple assembling furniture together, maybe in a gesture of reconciliation as one of them settles into their new and unfamiliar home, while one of them annoyingly finds the other’s foibles a bit too amusing and the relationship starts playing itself out all over again. You have to use your imagination sometimes…

Samples

Here are some samples of showreels I’ve shot so far, including a few old ones from a couple of years ago.

Oddults (a Blessing)

I wrote this song lyric for a friend of mine, set to a lovely melody called Oddults I came across by the Scottish pianist Bill Wells. It features on a couple of his albums, in different arrangements, but it goes a little something like this:

My words go like this, and are inspired by the idea of a traditional Irish blessing. They’re a bit sentimental.

May your heart be your home,
Filled with quilts and candles.
May your joy endure my jealousy
Unjangled.
And may Love,
That old friend,
Ramble home in the end,
Caked in smiles whistling through the trees.

Like the stars, like the seas,
May your dreams be boundless.
May they bloom in twilight galaxies
Around us.
As the light
Wanders in,
May each morning begin
Webbed in gold, charged with fantasy.

The distressed and denied,
Let them find salvation
In the songs that ease them from their
Situation.
And may you
Find in me
Only means to be free.
May you laugh like you’re almost there.

Lonely Woman lyrics – revisited

Over coffee this morning I realised there was a line in these song lyrics that I wrote ages ago that had been bothering me. I write lyrics so seldom these days that the ones I have written tend to rattle around. I fixed a word, and it’s better now.

On her way to church one morning
She hears her mother’s song
Rising like heat from the ground:
“Little honey bee,
Seize ev’ry sweet day softly;
Don’t hurry back to heaven.”

In that tender voice, unfolding,
Fresh as the summer corn,
Dark as the sleek nevermore,
“When they buried me,
Nobody cried like you babe,
Oh nobody looked so frail,

Thinking of your life,
With all of your bright lights,
And all of your blue nights.
Oh, oh, oh…”

In the greasy heat of evening,
Up from the earth below,
Devilment tightens her jaw.
“Who will walk with me?
No one to hold my cold hands.
Oh nobody to save me.”

Here is Ornette playing the original piece, with Don Cherry (cornet), Charlie Haden (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums), from the album The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959):

Here is a transcription, so you can play along at home.

TV Tropes

The first time someone told me about TV Tropes I didn’t get it. It was on a Facebook group and I thought I was being shown some online version of the dreaded (by me) writers’ manual: well-meaning books about well-made plays that sell better than plays themselves. Or Save the Cat, the most egregious example, which allows bad screenwriters to be just as emotionally manipulative as their heavyweight counterparts, through the use of bullet-pointed lists, like screenwriting judo. I haven’t actually read it, but I’ve never seen eye-to-eye with anyone who has.

Anyway, TV Tropes. It’s none of the above, and is actually fascinating. Yes, it’s reductive, but that’s the point. It’s MO is to spot common tropes in works of fiction, from Shakespeare to comic books. It’s not there to say whether they are good or bad: a trope is not necessarily a cliché, though the words are sometimes interchangeable. And the truly unique elements of any work by their nature won’t be in there. Thinking about what works have in common also helps us look at what makes each unique.

So, for the writer, it does have an instructive role, but without telling you to avoid or include certain devices. They’ll be there anyway. You have to resolve yourself to the fact that there’s nothing new under the sun, and that anything you do, however original, will contain tropes used elsewhere. Then once you’re okay with that you can then think, am I using these tropes well? Am I subverting them? Am I making them feel fresh? I realise I’m guilty of using the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope a bit, and this no doubt says something about me. But confronting that fact at least forces me to think about how I’m using it, which is something for which to be grateful.

2-minute soundtracks: a filmmaking exercise

Just thought I’d share this.

I’m rapidly educating myself in the practical skills of film directing and editing. One of my ongoing stratagems is to write and make original 2-3 minute long short films as often as life will allow. To inspire me, and to keep things varied and interesting, I’ve been basing each around an existing piece of music, which then informs the mood and progression of the action. Some of the films are silent, others have dialogue. Some are acted, some are just slices of real life. Sometimes I’ll listen to something and it just suggests to me a line like, “I can’t believe they let me get away with it!” or “how the hell did we both end up like this?” and wherever that comes from I’ll just run with it, put it in the mouth of a character, and see what coalesces around it. It’s quite liberating to write something you’ve no intention to show publicly. Art for art’s sake and all that.

Here’s the list of pieces of music I’ve put together to select from, on Spotify:

There’s a kind of a logic to them, they’re all instrumental (with one exception), all under three minutes, and they all end with some kind of harmonic resolution (with a few exceptions) – they don’t leave you hanging.

Obviously, none of the results of this exercise can be released commercially, not without clearance of the music (and it’s a paradox of filmmaking that it’s almost always cheaper to commission new compositions than to use something already out there, however appropriate), but thanks to YouTube’s licensing agreements, most videos featuring existing recorded music can be uploaded to YouTube non-commercially, with any ad revenue going back to the musicians. I may post a few of them here on that basis in the near future.

In the mean time, you can listen and enjoy, and if anyone out there is getting into filmmaking as well, feel free to try the same approach. It’s pleasingly inverted, if nothing else.

Wanted: film producer

I am seeking a film producer to help me realise my first film. It will be a feature-length low-budget drama filmed and set in France.

Cross Road Blues, which I directed at the Hackney Empire

While I have many years’ experience in writing plays for the stage, and have directed at theatres including the Hackney Empire, I’ve no experience in film outside making short inserts used as projections within stage productions. So, I’ve decided to openly advertising my search for a producer here as an adjunt to the usual informal networking. Maybe the perfect producer is out there somewhere. Maybe it’s you.

Qualities and qualifications

I’m looking for someone with a bit of experience under their belt or someone who is very hungry to learn: who has produced a few shorts perhaps, has worked alongside a producer on a feature, or has experience already in producing low-budget features. You will be responsible for raising funding (including your own fee), recruiting the production team and working with me to organise all aspects of the production.

You can be based anywhere, but London or southern France would be  convenient.

Speaking French would be a huge plus, but it’s by no means a deal-breaker if you don’t.

The film

The film will be a feature-length drama set in the south of France, in English with a mix of British, French and Australian characters: tense, funny, psychological, tragic and redemptive. It’s got a lot of darkness in it, with personal histories scarred by loss and abuse, but also a lot of light, and love and happiness prevail for some if not all of the protagonists.

The location and some cast members are in place, and I have a solid plan to shoot in September 2018. I expect to need to raise a budget in the tens of thousands (GBP).

The script

I have a script treatment (synopsis) at the moment. The full screenplay is a work in progress. Please email me on plays@davidwalterhall.com if you’d like to see either or apply for the role.

And please share this post with anyone you know who might be interested.

Thanks.


Update: This position has been filled!

Cast Your Magic Spell (1st chorus)

I sort of already made this public (in a late-night Facebook conversation about good-love and bad-love, or it might have been real-love and fake-love). It’s the opening number from a show I’ve been writing. There is a dramatic context to this which is revealed in between the first and second choruses of this song, so I won’t post the remainder of it here, as I don’t want to explain the whole conceit of the (as yet unfinished) show. But I think this bit stands nicely on its own. Enjoy.

Cast your magic spell right over me,
Kiss me through a veil of night,
Tell me that you want my body,
Say you’re gonna treat me right.

Drive me to the gates of Hades.
I’ll bring a lunch; I’ll meet you later on.
I’ll buy you something stupid from the gift shop
Or an homunculus to torture when I’m gone.

And when we make our vows, high on glory, just a vessel,
We’ll be dancing, we’ll be spreading fire and light.
And when we go to bed, silk and roses, sweet and holy,
Hot and sweaty, we’ll ascend into the night.

And love will make us gods inside our bodies,
And tame the very thunder-rush of time,
And solder over every long-gone heartbreak.
Oh love, my love: your body next to mine.

I’ll let you decide what type of love is going on there.