The Art of Stephanie Sinclaire :: Painting, Art, Film, Theatre, Writing

Stephanie Sinclaire Lightsmith

Stephanie Sinclaire Lightsmith

Theatrical Reviews

THE SHADOWMASTER

TOP FIVE CRITICS CHOICE, LONDON

Benedict Nightingale, The Times

 

“Pleasingly topsy turvy…The tiny stage, house one side and garden the other, is delightfully designed by Georgia Lowe.”

Fiona Mountford, The Evening Standard

 

“Joanna, played with finesse by the suitably glamorous Charlotte Radford, turns … from a steamy seductress into a cardigan wearing drip of a wife … Helen Anker shows her versatility as the snooty Lady Caroline who turns free spirit in the woods, and Neil Henry who at one moment seems perfectly cast as the sappy and crooked servant and at the next inhabits the skin of a money-hungry city worker with similar ease, is as thrilling in his acting as in his magic, while Billy Geraghty’s tormented artist is masterful.”

Kate Jackson, What’s On Stage

 

“FOUR STARS….Director Stephanie Sinclaire has cast her characters beautifully and added modern relevance to her adaptation….This is an elegant, stylish production … ”

Aline Waites, Ham & High

 

“Satisfying emotional resonance”

Andrew Haydon, Time Out

 

“Keith Faulkner plays Lob with confidence and ease, his fluid body drifting around the set controlling the action and keeping the servants in order. Neil Henry as the butler Matey turns his hand to some real magic, which is always a delight, and in the second half pairs off with the snooty Lady Caroline – Helen Anker, in a plum role. Naomi Preston-Low steals the show as the perky and precocious innocent of the piece, Margaret.

 

In a love triangle, Oliver Stoney plays a seedy musician who cheats on his wife. Katherine Kastin is Mabel, a vivacious actor who brings energy to the role and works remarkably well opposite Charlotte Radford as the flighty Joanna. Billy Geraghty and Oona Kirsch complete the dinner party as a couple on the verge of emotional collapse, mourning for the child they never had Stephanie Sinclaire’s direction is tight and is complimented by a superb artistic team, including some wonderful movement – considering the intimacy of the King’s Head stage – by Marc Urquhart. Georgia Lowe’s wonderful set creates a mystical wood and ancient manor house beautifully coloured and enchantingly lit by Peter Harrison”

Paul Vale, The Stage

 

“More Pan’s Labyrinth than Master of Shadows. A magically mysterious piece that feels like a collision between A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I was particularly taken by Neil Henry’s weirdly louche servant. Keith Faulkner plays the master of ceremonies, Lob, like Gene Wilder on angel dust. Helen Anker transforms enjoyably from stuffy Lady Caroline to lively woodland sprite … UNMISSABLE”

Camden New Journal

 

PETER PAN

‘BERNSTEIN’S SCORE TAKES FLIGHT AT LAST
… Stephanie Sinclaire’s delightful production of her own adaptation synthesised from JM Barrie’s various versions of his self-invented myth is uplifting … the tunes are lovely; the wit (Bernstein was his own lyricist) is deft and mischievous; and the new arrangements written by Mike Dixon, which orchestrate the music for piano, cello, clarinet and flute, combine breadth and crisp clarity managing to project everything from dreamy sensuality to the tongue and cheek attack of Tiger Lily and her Braves. Hook is brilliantly played with a flamboyant, nervous energy and drolly self-guying swagger by the hilarious Peter Land (who doubles as the neurotically sly and cowardly Mr. Darling). The delicious mermaids sing solipsistically of the lazy, hazy sea and sand delights’
Paul Taylor, The Independent

 

TOP FIVE CRITICS CHOICE THE TIMES
‘Seventeen months after the death of its founder Dan Crawford, the Kings Head can still claim to be one of the most enterprising outfits in town. Imagine: 22 performers somehow contriving to share a stage that’s the size of a largish handkerchief and even managing a soupcon of flying. Imagine it again: a pub theatre in Islington giving the British stage premiere of the score that Leonard Bernstein wrote for Peter Pan in 1950 … and the world premiere of the complete score … splendidly raggety Lost Boys … Kastin is a fine Peter … she’s absolutely credible as the exhilarated lad-Barrie’s wishful self-portrait perhaps – ‘who always want to be a boy and have fun’.

 

Lisa Holliman is a sweet apple-cheeked Wendy and Peter Land … gives a certain menace. Stephanie Sinclaire’s production is clear, surprisingly uncrowded … warm and good-natured. This is a revival that gives them plenty to wonder at.’

Benedict Nightingale, The Times

 

FOUR STARS SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
‘Despite the physical limitations, the production and performance values could not be higher, and that’s before one even mentions that the director, Stephanie Sinclaire, is making theatre history. This is the first time Bernstein’s score and lyrics for the play have been performed in their entirety … it’s a chamber piece of great fun and emotional richness. The score, arranged by Mike Dixon for three performers (piano; clarinet, flute and piccolo), is lyrical, jazzy and ripe with pastiche and nostalgic elegy. It places narrative above musical fireworks, allowing a versatile cast, led by Lisa Holliman as a sweet pure voiced Wendy, crack on with the story. For children, it’s a snappy no-nonsense telling; for adults it’s a troubled tale of burgeoning sexuality’

Tim Auld, Sunday Telegraph

 

FOUR STARS SUNDAY TIMES
‘It is the first production to use Leonard Bernstein’s complete score, lovingly orchestrated by Mike Dixon for three players to suit the Islington pub theatre’s, er, intimate space….this early work offers a snapshot of a composer exploring his potential, and songs with a vigour rare in children’s theatre. Stephanie Sinclaire’s production does Bernstein and Barrie proud, staying faithful to the original while refracting it through the prism of a more knowing age. She’s helped by Katherine Kastin’s feisty Peter and Lisa Holliman’s Wendy, who captures the awkwardness of adolescent awakening. Lost boys and pirates lend colourful support.’

Matthew Davis, Sunday Times

 

‘IF IT’S A HIGH CULTURE VERSION OF TRADITIONAL SEASONAL ENTERTAINMENT you’re after, director Stephanie Sinclaire’s adaptation of JM Barrie’s children’s classic, featuring a rarely performed score by Leonard Bernstein, may prove the ticket. Peter land delivers a gorgeously sung soliloquy; with punky hair and eye make-up somewhat reminiscent of Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie, Katherine Kastin’s Peter has impressive, almost alarming, emotional depth. This is a ‘Pan’ that doesn’t seek to conceal the darkness at the heart of Barrie’s tale, with orphaned Lost Boys (a particularly adoptable bunch) and disconsolate lost pirates competing with unsettling intensity to secure the rights to be mothered by Wendy. Kastin is the star of the show.’

Robert Shore, Time Out

 

‘IN THAT TYPICALLY RESOURCEFUL WAY OF THIS EVER AMBITIOUS THEATRE that always likes to think bigger than it is – they’ve pulled off a rare theatrical first … to reconstruct Leonard Bernstein’s 1950 Broadway musical version of the JM Barrie story, interpolating songs that had been written for later versions but never before used in theatrical performance … director Stephanie Sinclaire lends it an earnest sincerity that is charming and eventually disarming. The emphasis is inevitably on storytelling rather than spectacle and complete with a live Tinkerbell (rather than a light effect), it has a poignant appeal for young audiences as well.’

Mark Shenton, The Stage

 

‘ON A TINY STAGE, YOUNG HEARTS WERE SENT POUNDING as we watched Peter Pan, Wendy and her … brothers fly! It always surprises that a venue no larger than a lost boy’s soap-dish should stage such a professional and extravagant production with apparent ease. Stephanie Sinclaire adapted and directed the piece with obvious love for Barrie’s original tale. This production benefits from the musical score of Leonard Bernstein, skilfully arranged for an orchestra of three by Mike Dixon. Bernstein’s interpretation is light-hearted and fresh and caters to adult and child tastes alike. As for the cast, this 22 strong ensemble play their hearts out with professionalism and commitment that is worthy of praise. The result, real love and adoration from an exceptionally young audience, accompanied by pure enjoyment by young at heart adults. Lost Boys, Charlie Wild, Liam McDonnell, Ben Boorman and Luke Shoefield created a wonderful comic team. John Fricker’s manic Smee is particularly worth of mention. The Kings Head … has created a children’s entertainment worthy of any West End theatre.’

Kevin Quarmby, Rogues and Vagabonds

 

‘SMALL MASTERPIECES OF COMPRESSION. This is the theatrical premiere of the full score written by Leonard Bernstein. The main Neverland section is exuberant, with Katherine Kastin as an ebullient Peter. It turns the most cramped theatre in London into a place of fun and fantasy for a brief while, and when Peter made his famous appeal to the audience to revive the dying Tinkerbell (Meg Dixon) by clapping our hands, even hard-bitten critics were applauding like billy-o.’

Ian Shuttleworth, Financial Times

 

‘THE PLAY’S THE THING AND THIS MAGICAL PETER PAN SHOULD PROVE JUST RIGHT … Lavishly costumed by Gary Page and inventively choreographed by Marc Urquhart … a delightful Tinkerbell shared by three young girls during the run … everyone will ‘truly believe in fairies’ by the end of this fast paced evening. Emma Munro-Wilson makes an elegant and comely Mrs. Darling while John Fricker’s canine Nana is a star turn.

Clive Burton, Theatreworld Internet Magazine

 

THE QUEEN OF THE NEW KING’S HEAD – Evening Standard

THE QUEEN OF THE NEW KING’S HEAD
By Louise Jury, Chief Arts Correspondent 

When Dan Crawford died in 2005 the future looked grim for the King’s Head. Now his widow has turned around the fortunes of London’s original pub theatre.

Amid a hubbub so noisy it makes lip-reading a requirement, actress Celia Imrie and friends are at Islington’s King’s Head Theatre bar, exchanging reminiscences of productions past. In the theatre itself, Maureen Lipman is testing the bounce on the new bench seating. And at the centre of this excited throng of producers, actors, council dignitaries and other adoring supporters is the elfin figure of Stephanie Sinclaire Crawford, an artist and film=maker who took over as artistic director when the legendary Dan Crawford, her husband and the theatre’s founder, dies more than two years ago.

Dressed in elegant lilac velvet, the 54 year-old American looks like an arty lady who lunches as she tells this buzzing audience details of the new season – her first full programme – n the newly refurbished venue. But she is tougher than she looks,

When she was widowed in July 2005, the King’s Head was £100,000 in the red and the building – also the family home – was crumbling. The rain through the roof was notorious among audiences and actors alike. Its Arts Council grant had been axed a decade earlier.

The theatre world, long accustomed to the King’s Head’s groundbreaking premieres with new talent – Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman and Ben Kingsley all had early breaks there ­ wondered what would happen to London’s original pub theatre, an institution long before the Arcola or the Menier Chocolate Factory opened their doors.

Stephanie says she had no choice but to take charge. She felt like the heroine of Rosemary’s Baby who at the end of the film stands over the crib and eventually has to pick up the cursed infant when it cries. “There was no way I could hand the theatre over. There are ghosts in the walls from a lot of great productions over 38 years.” Besides, what could she have said to other potential managers, she asks: “Would you like to run a theatre that is massively in debt, has no grant and you’ll have no wage?”

It meant enormous upheaval. Though Crawford had suffered cancer for some time, nothing ­– astonishingly – had been said about the future.

“I totally refused to believe than Dan was going to die,” Stephanie says, tears threatening to break through her eyelashes even now. “I believed that if I even thought about him dying it would take something away from the fabric that was keeping him alive.”

The result was that she didn’t know where the fusebox was, let alone details of the leases and contracts held in the higgledy-piggledy offices above the bar.

“I was very, very involved in running the place ­– casting till 2am, doing the bar delivery, budgeting shows”, she says. “I couldn’t live here and be married to Dan and not be. But there’s a very big difference between being a second and being a first”.

Shy by disposition, she deferred to her larger-than-life husband during their 21 year marriage. Left alone and up against it, she has proved remarkably feisty.

“I just tightened up everything. I was fairly ruthless. We probably weathered some rather bad programming thinking only of solvency. I didn’t re-hire when staff left. It gradually lifted the place out of the malaise”. In addition, she organised galas every fortnight for a year, with such old friends as Jeffrey Archer, Patricia Hidge, Prunella Scales and Timothy West. And she drew on her experience in the film world to produce a funding structure than could yet transform the theatre’s fortunes.

Having written, directed and co-produced Silence Becomes You with Alicia Silverstone, she knew it was easier to raise money for several movies than one in a system of risk-spreading called slate-funding. Applying it to theatre, she has got a raft of West End producers and other wellwishers on board.

The consortium is backing a £450,000 season of shows that the theatre has developed and will present itself – the first time that has been possible in a decade. There are strong hopes of some transferring to the West End

It is, she says, a highly commercial programme of premieres, including The Black and White Ball, a thriller to the music of Noël Coward; Grand Slam, a two hader about a failed British tennis player for Wimbledon fortnight, and The Shadow Master, an adaptation of a JM Barrie play by Stephanie herself. (“I love JM Barrie. I partly moved to England because I had a fantasy of living in Highgate as Mr and Mrs Darling,” she says.)

She thinks it’s vital that the King’s Head presents it own work because the theatre – officially a charity – even with its newly improved 150 seats is just too small to make sense commercially. “If you’re just going to be a rental theatre you should get a bigger one. This is just perfect to be inventive in,” she says.

It was not the life she expected, despite a dash of bohemia in an upbringing that took her all over the States. Her mother was a painter and a great beauty and her father a lawyer ­ and she later had a stepfather who was a small band leader who played for Frank Sinatra.

Stephanie studied art and philosophy at university but gave it all up to work as an artist – with poetry, acting, jewellery design and travel thrown in. She married her childhood sweetheart, Matthew Kastin, in her mid twenties and had their daughter Katherine, now 26. That relationship was already in trouble when she met fellow American Dan Crawford – trickily, her husband’s former stepfather ­– and the thunderbolt struck.

It was love at first sight. “I met him at the airport and I fell in love with him there. He was just so alive and passionate, complex, eccentric, a complete original. It was the most unbelievable thing.” Within weeks, despite the family complication, he reciprocated. “It was all rather devastating – beyond reckoning and logic. He was just my soulmate.”

She and her young daughter moved in to the rooms above the pub which she discovered Dan, who had been married three times before, was sharing with everyone from stage hands to his casts. Gradually she eased them out until it was just the family of three but life was never easy.

“I would come home and it would look as if we’d been burgled because the whole living room had been brought down as the next set,” she says. Even now, bedrooms are prone to be requisitioned for rehearsals or dressing rooms. During Peter Pan a couple of Christmases ago “there were Lost Boys falling asleep in the living room all the time”.

But she seems to have no regrets about falling for a maverick. “Perhaps as an artist I wuld have done more for myself if I hadn’t,” she admits. “I did dedicate a lot of my life to Dan. But I learned so much from him that I wouldn’t change anything for all the world. To have a great love is an amazing thing.”

His loss hit her hard. “I went upstairs and cried and cried and cried and felt very angry that he had checked out early.” He was just 62.

As we talk, sitting in the theatre that retains a homespun air despite the £50,000 revamp (mainly the removal of the old tables and chairs and the introduction of benches), the next production is already setting up with much banging and cursing.

Her launch concluded only minutes earlier. There is a sort of chaotic efficiency and I wonder whether she feels she should have taken over the business before. She does seem to have the knack. She laughs. “Dan was a madcap genius who would do anything for his art,” she says, deflecting the observation gracefully. “It’s not a compliment to myself, but I’m probably a lot more practical.”

That said, she won’t make a penny from the theatre until at least 2009, as the deal has been structured so the investors recoup even if the productions do not transfer. She will live on the pub profits though they are being eaten up by the need for more renovations in the Victorian building. “I wouldn’t mind having a wage eventually,” she admits ruefully.

But she isn’t stopping here. She has plans to raise the roof and put a second level on the theatre to increase capacity. It would cost between £400,000 and £800,000. And she would like to buy the pub lease to guaranteee Dan’s legacy long-term. “If we leave, there’s no guarantee that the next person would keep it as a theatre. I would like it to be really secure.”

The King’s Head is obviously a compulsion. Daughter Katherine tried to rebel and went off to earn a first in zoology and work in conservation. But she has found she cannot turn her back on the theatrical life. She starred in Peter Pan and will appear in The Shadow Master – and already acknowledges an historic inevitability that she will, in turn, succeed her mum in charge.

For Stephanie, the worst is finally over. She confesses that having faced her investors and the press this week, it really feels as if the King’s Head is hers, not just Dan’s – even if she is convinced that he still haunts the place. “I’m no longer carrying a torch,” she says. “Or a cross.”

KING’S HEAD PREVIEWS NEW SEASON AND CAST

whatsonstage.com
5 March 2008

KING’S HEAD PREVIEWS NEW SEASON AND CAST
By Kate Jackson

London’s King’s Head Theatre celebrated the launch of its new 2008 season yesterday (4 March 2008). After more than a decade as a receiving house, the King’s Head, set in a historic 19th-century pub in Islington, is relaunching itself as a producing theatre with a new season of seven shows including four world premiere musicals and three plays. The theatre’s artistic director, Stephanie Sinclaire (pictured right, with her daughter, actress Katherine Kastin), welcomed industry guests to a lunch reception and a preview performance of extracts from some of the seasons’ upcoming shows.

Casting for the first work in the season, a new musical with music and lyrics by Cole Porter entitled The Black and White Ball, was also announced. The company comprises: Chris Ellis Stanton (The Boy Friend), Mark McGee (Taboo, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Desperately Seeking Susan), Kaisa Hammarlund (Cabaret, Sunday in the Park with George, Take Flight), Katherine Kingsley (Anything Goes), Liza Pulman (Fascinating Aida) and Charles Shirvell (Chicago).

Commissioned by the Cole Porter estate, the musical, which has a book by Warner Brown, is built around existing Porter ditties including “What Is This Thing Called Love?”, “After You, Who?”, “All of You” and “Please Don’t Make Me Be Good”. It’s set in 1960s New York, where Leah is trying to solve the mystery of the murder of her stepfather, Jay St John, 20 years ago. Matthew White directs, with musical supervision and orchestration by Larry Blank. The Black and White Ball runs from 8 April to 4 May 2008 (previews from 25 March).

The season then continues with: Ian McFarlane’s musical Betwixt (6 May to 22 June); Lloyd Evans’ tennis comedy Grand Slam (24 June to 27 July); The Shadow Master, artistic director Sinclaire’s adaptation of JM Barrie’s original play Dear Brutus (29 July to 7 September); American David Gow’s two-hander Cherry Docs (9 September to 19 October); and the premiere of the late Vivian Ellis’ 1950s musical Godiva (9 December to 25 January).

At yesterday’s event, Jon Robyns performed extracts from Betwixt and Kim Criswell and Peter Land performed from Godiva. Casting for those and other productions in the season has not yet been announced. For photos, our whatsonstage.com photographer Dan Wooller was also on hand, along with other guests including actresses Kate Fahy, Celia Imrie and Maureen Lipman.

The theatre, situated in Islington’s historic 19th-century pub, was founded in 1970 by Dan Crawford, who died two-and-a-half years ago. It was the first dinner theatre in the UK and the original London pub theatre, which kickstarted the Fringe scene. Over the years, the King’s Head has transferred 37 shows to the West End, Broadway, national tours and film. The theatre is now under the artistic directorship of Stephanie Sinclaire, Crawford’s widow, who is running it with producer Steven M Levy and associate producer Fleur Brooklin Smith.

As part of the relaunch, the theatre has also undergone a venue refurbishment including an increased seating capacity of 140 (previously 112) on new padded bench seating, new lighting equipment and new men’s bathroom facilities. The new season and refurbishment has been funded by a combination of charitable donations, sponsorship, and a new consortium commercial investment scheme that allows investors to spread their finances across a range of productions.

KING’S HEAD STAGES SEASON OF SEVEN PREMIERES

whatsonstage.com
28 February 2008

KING’S HEAD STAGES SEASON OF SEVEN PREMIERES

By Terri Paddock

 

After a decade as primarily a receiving house, London’s King’s Head Theatre (pictured) is relaunching itself as a producing theatre with a full in-house season of seven new productions – four world premiere musicals and three plays (a world premiere, a UK premiere and a new adaptation).

 

As part of the relaunch – funded privately through consortium commercial investment, in-kind sponsorship and charitable donations – the venue has also undergone a refurbishment which sees a seating increase to a capacity of 135 (previously 112) on new raked, padded bench seating, new lighting equipment and new men’s toilets.

 

The theatre, situated in Islington’s historic 19th-century pub, was founded in 1970 by Dan Crawford, who died two-and-a-half years ago. It was the first dinner theatre in the UK and the original London pub theatre, which kickstarted the Fringe scene. Over the years, the King’s Head has transferred 37 shows to the West End, Broadway, national tours and film. It has mentored and showcased talent including Alan Rickman, Antony Sher, Celia Imrie, Hugh Grant, Victoria Wood, Maureen Lipman, Steven Berkoff, Rupert Graves, Richard E Grant, Clive Owen, Joanna Lumley, Prunella Scales, Denis Lawson, Corin Redgrave, Mel Smith, Kris Marshall, Victor Spinetti, Samuel West, and most recently Shane Richie and James Jagger.

 

Now under the artistic directorship of Stephanie Sinclaire, Crawford’s widow, the theatre is committed to continuing to provide creative and entertaining theatre for the local and London theatregoing community. Sinclaire has been joined by producer Steven M Levy and associate producer Fleur Brooklin Smith.

 

The King’s Head’s 2008 in-house season opens with the world premiere of Black and White Ball, running from 8 April to 4 May 2008 (previews from 25 March). Commissioned by the Cole Porter estate, the musical, which has a book by Warner Brown, is built around existing Porter ditties including “What Is This Thing Called Love?”, “After You, Who?”, “All of You” and “Please Don’t Make Me Be Good”. It’s set in 1960s New York, where Leah is trying to solve the mystery of the murder of her stepfather, Jay St John, 20 years ago. Matthew White directs, with musical supervision and orchestration by Larry Blank.

 

The world premiere of Betwixt – given a sneak-peek earlier this week at the inaugural Whatsonstage.com Year on Year Concert & Awards Show (See WOS TV, 25 Feb 2008) – then runs from 14 May to 22 June 2008 (previews from 6 May). Novelist Bailey Howard and his flamboyant friend Cooper Fitzgerald are magically transported to the world of the In-Between, where their arrival fulfils an ancient prophecy. The musical comic fantasy has book, music and lyrics by Ian McFarlane. It’s directed by Kate Golledge, with musical supervision by Mike Dixon.

 

Grand Slam – the new play by journalist Lloyd Evans, who, with Toby Young, co-wrote the satirical Who’s the Daddy? and A Right Royal Farce, both premiered at the King’s Head – receives its world premiere on 24 June 2008, continuing until 27 July. The comedy two-hander centres on a failed British tennis player and the unscrupulous man hired to act as her bodyguard.Tamara Harvey directs.

 

Artistic director Stephanie Sinclaire directs The Shadow Master, adapted from JM Barrie’s original play Dear Brutus, which Sinclaire revived in the late 1990s and subsequently made into a screenplay which has had two readings with actors including Tom Conti, Patricia Hodge, Prunella Scales and Timothy West. The tragic-comic social satire is set around a summer house party and is billed as “Gosford Park meets A Midsummer Night’s Dream by way of The Twilight Zone”. It runs from 29 July to 7 September 2008.

 

David Gow’s two-hander about modern racial tension, Cherry Docs, receives its UK premiere in a run from 9 September to 19 October 2008, directed by Sherrill Gow. A conflicted Jewish lawyer must defend a violent skinhead accused of a vicious racist murder. The world premiere of Street Magic, a musical for young people based on a true story about a 13-year-old girl involved in prostitution, then runs from 21 October to 7 December 2008. It has music and lyrics by Brett Kahr, who first started working on it after being invited to write a song for charity Kids & Co catering for disadvantaged children in south London, and a book by Lisa Forrell, who also directs.

 

The 2008 season concludes with the world premiere of another musical, Godiva, which has book and lyrics by Guy Boltonand music by the late Vivian Ellis. In the court of Leofric, trouble is brewing – Lady Godiva, the Earl’s wife in all but the eyes of the church, won’t go to bed with him unless he pays his penance to the local Bishop. However, when Leofric imprisons the cousins of Godiva’s handsome tailor Tom, she has little choice but to carry out his demand to ride naked through the centre of the city in order to free them.

 

Written in the early 1950s, this musical has never been produced, though Dan Crawford, Vivian Ellis and Stephanie Sinclaire presented a reading several years ago. This full-scale production is presented as a tribute to Crawford and Ellis. It has musical supervision by Michael Reed, who has been a frequent King’s Head collaborator on previous Ellis’ musicals.

 

Further casting details of the new season will be revealed at a media launch on 4 March 2008, which will include performance excerpts from Godiva and Betwixt sung by, respectively, Kim Criswell and Peter Land, and Jon Robyns.

PORTER TUNER BOWING AT KING’S HEAD

Daily Variety 
27 February 2008

PORTER TUNER BOWING AT KING’S HEAD

’Black & White Ball’ will open 37-week season

By David Benedict

 

Newly refurbished off-West End venue The King’s Head theater is headlining a new 37-week, seven-show season with the world premiere of a new Cole Porter tuner.

 

“Black & White Ball,” a six-character, murder mystery musical with a book by Warner Brown, uses songs from the Porter catalog orchestrated by Larry Blank(“The Drowsy Chaperone”). The show, brought to the venue by producer Kim Poster, plays a six-week run including previews beginningMarch 25, ahead of an April 8 opening.

 

It will be followed by three further world premiere tuners and three plays including another world premiere and a U.K. premiere.

 

The ambitious season represents a significant move forward for the venue and its artistic director and chief executiveStephanie Sinclaire. The venue has struggled in recent years following grant withdrawals and difficulties with its old-fashioned auditorium, which was formerly London’s only dinner-theater. Refurbishment has increased capacity from 112 to 135.

 

Steven M. Levy (formerly of Broadway management company Soloway/Levy) has joined as executive producer to co-create, structure and finance the work. Echoing the recently announced “Donmar in the West End” season, they have made the venue a subscription house – a rarity for London.

 

To fund the program, Levy has created a consortium spreading the risk across the season, rather than having each show separately produced, as in the past.

 

Levy told Daily Variety that the season would have a top ticket price of £20 (about $40), and was budgeted overall at $900,000 to cover up-front production costs and running expenses plus a contingency fund.

 

“Those figures, with a 50% break-even for plays and a figure slightly higher for musicals, allow for the investment to be earned back and to make a return. If any of the productions transfer, so much the better, but the budget is not dependent upon it,” Levy said.

 

Other shows in the season are Betwixt, a comic fantasy musical with book, music and lyrics by Ian McFarlane (previews beginningMay 6), and Grand Slam, a new comedy by critic-turned-playwright Lloyd Evans about a British tennis player and an unscrupulous bodyguard (previews June 24).

 

Sinclaire also will stage The Shadow Master, her own screenplay adapted from J.M. Barrie’s tragic-comedy “Dear Brutus” — which she then plans to film as an independent feature.

 

Cherry Docs, a drama about a Jewish lawyer defending a skinhead by Canadian playwright David Gow, receives its U.K. preem in September, followed by Street Magic (with book and direction by Lisa Forrell and music and lyrics by Brett Kahr), a rite-of-passage tale of the young daughter of a Brixton brothel owner from Jamaica.

 

The final world premiere of the season is an archive discovery. Godiva, music by Vivian Ellis, book and lyrics by Guy Bolton, is a comedy about the medieval lady who famously rode naked through the streets. Successive revivals in 1983 and 1993 of Ellis’s 1920s tuner “Mr. Cinders” gave the King’s Head its greatest hits.

WORLD PREMIERES, INCLUDING “NEW” COLE PORTER MUSICAL, TO BE PART OF KING’S HEAD SEASON

Playbill
25 February 2008

WORLD PREMIERES , INCLUDING “NEW” COLE PORTER MUSICAL,
TO BE PART OF KING’S HEAD SEASON

By Mark Shenton

 

Islington’s pioneering pub theatre, the King’s Head, will produce its first own full season for the first time in a decade under the artistic directorship of Stephanie Sinclaire, who has taken over the running of the theatre following the death of her husband Dan Crawford in 2005; Crawford founded the theatre in 1970.

 

The season — which will include four world-premiere musicals and three plays — will kick off with the opening of Black and White Ball on April 8 (following previews from March 25), a new musical featuring the songs of Cole Porter.

 

The theatre has also undergone an extensive refurbishment that has increased the seating capacity to 135 (from 112) on new raked, padded bench seating, with new lighting equipment and new gentlemen’s lavatories.

 

Black and White Ball has a book by Warner Brown, and Broadway’s Larry Blank is musical supervisor and orchestrator.Matthew White directs the musical, which is set in 1960s New York. According to press materials, “Leah enters a dilapidated but elegant ballroom, searching for answers to a mystery that has haunted her since childhood. Who murdered Jay St. John, a celebrated author and her beloved step-father, twenty years ago in this very room? And can she clear the cloud of suspicion over her mother’s head? She summons the ghost of Jay to help her remember…” It is scheduled to run to May 4.

 

It is followed by another new musical, Betwixt, with book, music and lyrics by Ian McFarlane, that opens on May 13 (following previews from May 6) for a run to June 22. The show, which has been in development at the King’s Head since July 2007, previously had a workshop production in Covent Garden in 2006. Kate Golledge directs, and Mike Dixon is the musical supervisor for a show described in press materials as “a witty musical romp, set to a richly comic score.” It follows fantasy novelist Bailey Howard and his flamboyant friend Cooper Fitzgerald as they are magically transported to the world of the In-Between. Their arrival fulfills the ancient prophecy that the oppressed land and its kidnapped Prince Haydn will be rescued by a conquering hero and a great queen. Setting off on their journey Bailey and Cooper encounter a host of curious characters, from the seductive Nymph Queen to a deranged theatrical troupe, the evil Languidere and a singing disembodied head.

 

Lloyd Evans, theatre critic for The Spectator who has previously co-written the plays Who’s the Daddy? in 2005 and A Right Royal Farce in 2006 with fellow scribe Toby Young, will go it alone as playwright for Grand Slam, running from June 24 – July 27. Tamara Harvey will direct this two-hander comedy about a failed British female tennis player and the unscrupulous man hired to act as her bodyguard.

 

Stephanie Sinclaire will then direct the world premiere of a new adaptation of JM Barrie’s Dear Brutus, entitled The Shadow Master, running July 29 – Sept. 7. Sinclaire previously directed Dear Brutus in the late nineties, following which she secured the film rights. The resulting screenply, The Shadow Master, has had two readings, and will now be brought to the stage, with plans to move into a film shoot after its run here with the same ensemble of theatre actors.

 

Sherrill Gow will direct the U.K. premiere of David Gow’s Cherry Docs, running from Sept. 9 – Oct. 19. The two-hander explores modern racial tensions through the lives of two diametrically opposed men.

 

Another world-premiere musical follows: Brett Kahr’s Street Magic runs Oct. 21-Dec. 7. Lisa Forrell directs the rite of passage tale, based on a true story, that charts the journey of a young girl, Sugar, the daughter of Desdemona, a Brixton brothel owner originally from Jamaica. The story contrasts Sugar’s discovery of young love with local boy Rem and her horrific introduction to prostitution, both on her 13th birthday.

 

The King’s Head then revives its long-standing relationship with the late British composer Vivian Ellis — whose 1920s musical Mr. Cinders was previously revived there before transferring to the West End — by staging the world premiere of his previously unseen early fifties show Godiva, featuring book and lyrics by Guy Bolton. Running Dec. 9, 2008 – Jan. 25, 2009, it is described in press materials as “a musical tale of Anglo Saxon attitudes to a soundtrack of minstrels’ lutes and debauched singing where (almost) everything will be revealed.” Set in the court of Leofric, the Earl of Mercia, trouble is brewing – Lady Godiva, the Earl’s wife in all but the eyes of the church, won’t go to bed with him unless he pays his penance to the local Bishop. However, when Leofric imprisons the cousins of Godiva’s handsome tailor Tom, she has little choice but to carry out his demand to ride naked through the centre of the city in order to free them.

 

The King’s Head box office can be reached by calling 020 7226 1916. For further details visit www.kingsheadtheatre.org.

THE DIGITAL CINEMA REPORT

THE DIGITAL CINEMA REPORT
May 2005

IN PRODUCTION: SILENCE BECOMES YOU

By James Careless

An In-Depth Look at the Making of a Digital Feature Film
By Steve Shaw
Digital Film Consultant
Digital Praxis Ltd.

Consultant Steve Shaw shows us what happened behind the scenes for the creating of Silence Becomes You, a joint-venture feature shot in various locations throughout Europe.

 

A plan is formulated

 

Silence Becomes You started principle photography late in December 2004, as a co-production deal between companies in the UK and Lithuania. It’s unique as it’s a 100 percent digital cinematography feature film.

 

All the images were captured using a Thomson Viper camera in uncompressed FilmStream RGB 4:4:4 Log 2.37 operation, with all digital intermediate post-production performed via Quantel iQ, assisted by additional digital image processing systems for 3D and 2D vfx work.

This project came to be because MotionFX, the UK post-production facility,invested in digital cinematography and digital intermediate equipment at the very start of its introduction to the market, with the purchase of a Viper camera and iQ DI system in mid 2003.

 

From that time experimentation, testing and the odd short film and commercial enabled MotionFX to build an operational digital film environment, with limited market alternative or peers.

 

Late in 2004 MotionFX partnered with Digital Praxis, a digital film consultancy, with the intention of developing a full digital cinematography feature film, working in partnership with an existing film production company. With the knowledge gained from this initial testing a true scene-to-screen digital film production and post-production operation could grow and develop.

 

A partnership is reached

 

Dragonfly Films is a production company that was already in discussion with MotionFX. Stephanie Sinclaire, director and writer with Dragonfly Films, had a previous history with me from our on the Oscar short-listed short film The Dance of Shiva. Jack Cardiff who was DP The Dance of Shiva, also on Silence Becomes You.

 

The script was ideally suited to a digital cinematography project as it’s a psychological thriller set in a rambling old manor house. This made the use of digital cinematography an easier option, as the main restriction with its use at present is wider mobility since the camera is tethered to its uncompressed disc-based recording medium.

 

However, with Flash memory based recording close on the horizon in the form of camera packs, the time was right for a leap of faith to prove the basic technology and workflows in readiness for a sea-change in film production and post-production.

 

An agreement was reached where MotionFX would become co-producers for Dragonfly Films, enabling MotionFX and Digital Praxis to provide the guarantees necessary for the technology used in making the film. In this way MotionFX was able to assist in the film’s production while taking on all post-production, managing all the digital technology, from scene-to-screen.

 

Digital workflow

 

With the agreements in place the workflow was decided.  This involved some very key additional purchases by MotionFX. They included two additional Viper FilmStream digital cinematography cameras, two additional S.two D.mag DFR Digital Film Recorders with numerous additional D.mag packs and an A.dock backup and archive unit with Adic Scalar 24 LTO2 multiple tape Jukebox.

 

For production assistance a JVC HD digital film projector was purchased for immediate dailies review, with the intention of data being loaded into the off-line system for dailies review and archive backup.

 

For post-production there was the purchase of an additional Quantel iQ system for digital intermediate operation, three Digital Fusion 2D compositing stations, an iQ number one and several 5D Cyborgs, and 3D workstations.

 

Sister company Marina Studios in Carasco, northern Italy, was responsible for all audio post-production. This was performed in parallel with the on-line editing and DI in their THX certified 7.1 surround sound screening room. This has a Barco DP100 2K digital cinema projector, calibrated via Kodak KDM LUTs running directly on the Quantel iQ.

 

A truly scene-to-screen digital film operation.

 

The production

 

The production workflow used two Viper cameras, in uncompressed Log RGB 4:4:4 FilmStream mode, capturing a 2.37 image direct to their respective S.two Digital Film Recorders.

 

We captured a 2.37 anamorphic image using spherical Zeiss DigiPrime lenses using the full resolution of the CCD sensor.

 

The S.two’s were housed in MotionFX developed wheeled rigs complete with batteries and chargers for non-mains powered operation – especially useful for roving shots. A number of different Viper camera looms were used depending on camera requirement. We had 10m to 40m multi-core for main set work, providing power and image paths, while a longer Dual HD SDI cable was provided for Steadi-cam and longer roving shots, with the Viper running local battery packs.

 

An AccuScene color viewfinder was used on the ’B’ camera, with an Astro combined waveform monitor and vectorscope used with the normal black and white viewfinder on ’A’ camera. This combination was used for the A camera to enable accurate technical level monitoring for main shots, while the AccuScene viewfinder provides level clip warnings and an image that is camera operator friendly, and therefore ideal for second unit work which requires a more ’un-structured’ approach to shooting.  Often there was just a two-man team operating at remote locations with a Viper and S.two in the back of a car, with small monitor fed from the S.two’s down convert output. This mobility was accomplished by using large 24v dc battery packs capable of 3.5-hour continuous operation, which were also used to provide mains isolation when running on local supply.

 

A Sony LCD 23-inch flat panel monitor, mounted in a flight case, was used for on-set monitoring, specifically for the director and DP, partnered with the Astro waveform monitor for level checking.

 

We did have a small technical problem with this monitor and used an Apple LCD display and Black Magic HDlink converter for a couple of days. It was interesting to see the difference, with both monitors having benefits.

 

Specifically, the Sony has built-in audio capability and an image that was more appealing to the DP and director because the LUT modified to look closer to the true final image. The Apple/HDlink combination was preferred by the technical boys, especially because of its ability to run user defined LUTs, which means that the technical waveform monitoring is performed off of the raw camera signal.

 

Running the Sony monitor off 12v & 15.5v dc was also a big help when in remote locations. We felt this was not possible with the Apple and HDlink combination.

 

It was also very interesting that Arturo Smith, the DP, often chose to see the un-modified ‘green’ LOG image as he liked to see the full range being captured to understand the true level of shadow and highlight detail available in the recorded image. The talent and director preferred an image looking closer to the graded final.

 

There is work to go here, but the possibilities for better interactive viewing, combined with raw data technical monitoring are obvious.

 

Florian Rettich, who monitored images via the Astro for optimal signal levels, controlled the ‘A’ camera signal. He also controlled the S.two disc recorder via an Apple laptop. Flo, as he became known, is now a DFT – Digital Film Technician, and will have a film credit as such.

 

When running both cameras as A and B cameras on-set, both were connected to the monitoring station to enable quick signal checking of both setups.

 

At other times the two cameras were run as first and second unit cameras, shooting independently.

 

The S.two systems can also provide calibrated LUTs to show viewable images balanced for final projection cinematography, removing the LOG and green cast characteristics of the Viper, although as described above, these LUTs were often disabled to enable the full dynamic range image to be monitored.

 

For critical beauty shots, where light level wasn’t an issue, MotionFX-developed optical filters were used to balance the image color characteristics prior to capture. This is a preferable method for color balance, but does reduce the camera operation by about a stop, depending on the density of the filter being used, which in turn depends on the color temperature of the light.

A number of shots also required high-speed capture, and we approached this in two ways.

 

For dance and dream sequences we shot with Viper set to capture 60fps progressive, which when played back at 24fps gives a 2.5 times slowdown. This was ideal for these shots, and for true high-speed requirements we used the CineSpeed camera from Weinberger running at 500 frames per second. This was especially useful for vfx shots including flames and water, as well as a Mermaid shot in a swimming pool. We also shot at 30fps for minor slow motion effects when played back at 24fps.

 

To help with camera depth of focus, ND filters were also employed to enable the cameras to run as wide open as possible, although there was a discussion with the focus pullers, Uli Schmidt and Christine Wagner, about the preferred T-stop position for optimum focus. Their preference was a maximum of T-1.8 for sharpness, although the rest of us preferred higher values for depth of field. We joked that the focus pullers only wanted to make their job easier.

 

Audio was recorded by Clive Copland on a DAT recorder, which was also connected directly to the S.two DFRs to provide in-sync audio with the images. The audio was contained within the image dpx file header. This meant that when reviewing shots and loading into the off-line system the audio was always immediately available and always in-sync.

 

Timecode was also provided from the audio deck to maintain locked reference between the master DAT audio and digital images. This worked like a dream, even when shooting simultaneous two cameras on the same shot.

 

Each evening the day’s rushes were viewed as dailies with the JVC HD digital projector. This provided immediate feedback on the day’s shooting. The playback also fed images to the off-line system and was loaded in real-time via its HD compression codecs.

 

However, one over-looked problem was that with no Flex file being generated automatically from the S.two systems this automatic feed to the off-line system didn’t really work. To solve that a separate digitizing station was set-up for manual data loading and shot logging via a third S.two DFR. This worked very well, but S.two are now very aware of the batch-loading requirement and we have fingers crossed for a Flex file generation capability, or alternative batch load process, very soon.

 

After data capture into the off-line system uncompressed feeds were backed-up to the Adic LTO2 tape archive Jukebox via S.two’s A.Dock backup system. The D.mags were then available for re-use for the next day’s shooting.

 

The Adic LTO2 system generated two cloned tapes. One was a usable copy and the other was a safety, with checksum verification to ensure 100 percent accurate dupes of the original data.

 

Time wise, digitization to the off-line system was real-time with each D.mag recording approximately 35 minutes of material, although manual logging added to the time taken. The archive function took around 400 minutes per D.mag to generate the main and safety backups, which is 200 minutes more than it should be and was due to the two tape sets not being made simultaneously by the Adic. They were done sequentially due to present limitations with the A.dock software. This will soon be sorted I’m told, as we had Steve Roach and Mike Morrison from S.two come over and visit us on-set to see our workflow.

 

As an aside, discussions with the bonding company were not the issue many may have expected, as in reality the safety measures standard with such digital cinematography means that possible data losses are very limited. For example, a single half-hour S.two magazine was the realistic worst case loss and that was because we believe someone literally dropped the magazine into a river. In reality, a lot less worrying than a lab failure while processing 35mm.

 

The use of daily ‘dailies’ review via digital projection was a major benefit as well. It allowed the full production operation to see the progression of the film, while making sure all material was as expected and needed.

 

Having said that, due to the length of days being worked the dailies review process became intermittent at best, also partly due to the confidence the production team gained with the quality of the images being captured. A very positive endorsement for digital cinematography.

And, combined with on-set monitoring, it enabled material selection to be made via informed judgement, reducing the variables for off-line. We could happily delete those takes that were never going to be considered for on-line, such as fluffed lines, missed cues, bad focus pulls, etc.

This betters the more traditional celluloid film based dailies approach for all the reasons listed above.

 

Performing the off-line via compressed HD also helped as the quality was far superior to the normal SD approach used on traditional 35mm film projects.

 

The two Vipers were also used for simultaneous two camera shoots, both locked to timecode from the audio deck for synchronized recording. This worked flawlessly.

 

Problems

 

To say there were no problems during the production phase would be a lie, but none were that serious or critical.

 

Interestingly, it was the more traditional needs for off-line editorial that caused the first production problems.

 

There had been some initial confusion regarding the off-line workflow, with the kit specification initially being FCP, and then being changed to Avid.

 

I feel the problem with Avid off-line systems is that they are poor at 24fps operation since they’re SD based. This requires an NTSC 30fps approach using 3-2 pull-up to change frame rate from 24 to 30. This means the final edl is not 100 percent frame accurate.

 

The newer systems from Adobe and Apple can directly ingest 24fps HD material, using impressive compression codecs to provide true 24fps editing, with no frame timing issues as with the Avid approach.

 

The Avid kit was therefore rejected and Adobe offered to supply a Premier Pro system in its place.

 

However, learning a new editing system from scratch within such a short time-frame is not a practical proposition, and so editorial returned to the first choice of an Apple FCP system.

 

This editorial confusion was the first major issue for the production and resulted in a two-week delay in initiating off-line. Luckily this hasn’t affected anything long term, as the D.mags from the early days that weren’t loaded into the off-line during this two-week editorial delay were simply re-constituted later in the production for off-line loading.

 

With all that bleeding-edge technology being utilized on a major motion picture it’s interesting that the biggest problem was related to the more traditional requirements of film making.

 

The off-line editorial team also provided DVDs of the rushes and the growing edit to enable production to see where additional pick-up and coverage shots were required. This also helped with continuity checking.

 

The problem we had with this was that as FCP on a Mac uses Quicktime it was not possible to generate 24fps DVDs, so 3-2 had to be implemented. If we had gone with the Adobe off-line system on a PC we could have generated WM9 24fps clips, which would have been ideal.

 

This checking of material also highlights an area where a digital approach could further benefit the production operation, and we are now looking at generating a simultaneous lower resolution copy of all material for on-set checking. A small converter that will provide a real-time Firewire output from a video tap would be ideal, generating WM9 video clips for example.

 

Bringing the camera equipment into a warm interior environment from the freezing outdoors caused the first equipment-based issue.

 

For time-related requirements (too many shots, not enough time to do them) there was not enough acclimatization time given to the camera equipment which resulted in back-focus shifts during shooting, making the image appear slightly soft.

 

As it happens, these first interior scenes were to form part of a fantasy sequence, which was planned for post-production manipulation, so part of our job had been done for us. Lucky, and we allowed more acclimatization time from that point onwards, as you would for any film camera when moving between a dry low temperature external environment and a humid warm internal one.

 

It would also be fair to say that the tape based archive operation was not initially as slick as would later be.

 

The S.two A.dock backup system, working with the dual tape drive Adic LTO2 writer initially worked with only one tape drive, requiring each backup to be done twice, once for on-line use, and the second for safety copy.

 

This was exasperated by a faulty tape drive within the Adic system, and as this had not been planned for we started to drop behind with archiving, filling up more D.mag disc packs than anticipated.

 

However, S.two was very supportive and provided an additional backup system while they sorted the various issues. Great support, and we soon caught up with archiving.

 

We also had an AccuScene viewfinder fail to power-up which was very quickly replaced by the manufacturer.

 

It’s also worth saying that the manufacturers took the opportunity to spend some considerable time on-set seeing their products being used in a live environment to gain first-hand feedback. Their support was much appreciated in this ’bleeding-edge’ production.

 

This included Thomson coming over enmasse to see our workflow and show us a non-working prototype of the soon to be released Venom Flash Pack. Very interesting.

 

Another problem was to do with the amazing resolution of the capture medium. For example, during the first few days of shooting there were issues with skin textures seen on-screen. The problem was that the face powder being used was showing up on the final image, something not seen when shooting 35mm film. The solution was to use oil based face creams that produced a smoother finish. A fantastic problem to have.

 

There was a final problem with timecode, in that for reasons not worth going into, the master timecode source was initially re-set to zero hours each day, rather than increasing an hour for each day. This resulted in multiple timecode values existing within some D.mags, something that we will need to be aware of when performing the on-line from the off-line edl. Not a major problem, and something we corrected half way through the 39-day shoot.

 

It was probably the sound department that had the most issues with the digital film equipment as the fans in the S.two, and to a lesser extend the Viper cameras, are rather noisy when recording low-level dialogue.

 

The camera fans can be shut down, but this has to be done via the operational menus, and so is not really practical, while the S.two DFR fans cannot presently be shut down at all.

 

To overcome this the DFR units were positioned away from the set as much as possible, while the camera fans never really caused too much concern.

 

For the future S.two intends to provide a silent mode for the DFR, which will shut down the fans when the system is in record mode. I’m also hopeful that Thomson will do the same with Viper.

 

Production conclusions

 

We believe the production demonstrated the validity of digital cinematography.

 

The equipment, including Viper cameras, S.two D.mags and operators, worked at minus 14-degrees Centigrade without problem. It got bounced around in the back of some very rickety old cars for 2nd unit work, was set-up in the middle of a wood in two feet of snow, got hooked to the back of a low-loader for through-the-windscreen two shots, and in all cases performed flawlessly. We ran on 12v & 24v DC batteries, local mains and production generator power, even suffering floating earth problems when on local power, all without failure or error.

 

The immediacy of the production workflow was praised by all involved, while the images generated, even before post-production color correction and viewed via basic LUTs, were classed as stunning by all that saw them.

 

In total there will be in the order of 25TB of footage recorded, amounting to more than 60 D.mags filled throughout the production phase, This adds up to a total of more than 33 hours of material. This represents a shooting ratio of about 18:1 and the equivalent of 180,000 feet of 35mm. All the data was backed up onto 240 individual LTO2 tapes, 120 per copy.

 

This is a very good example of the cost benefits of shooting digital cinematography. For any independent film production running a relatively small budget, as with Silence Becomes You, it would be impossible to shoot such an amount of 35mm film. Even with a relatively good lab deal the cost is going to be around 80 pence a foot for the negative film stock, processing and telecine to Beta tape for off-line. Film dailies, transportation, risk in transit insurance would all be extra. The likely total makes the traditional approach cost a minimum of £150,000 to the production company.

 

Going the digital cinematography route costs an average of £35 per minute of material to match the same result, making a total of £70,000. For independent film making this is a significant difference.

 

And that doesn’t take into account the benefits of immediacy, interactivity, short decision-making time scales, full quality dailies, etc, etc.

 

Our conclusions

 

Digital cinematography works, and works well. We expected far more problems than we encountered and were amazed by the ease of the production process.

 

We have ideas on improving the process even further, as outlined above, and when we start our second digital cinematography feature we will be even slicker. There’s no looking back from this point.

 

And the Saturday night/Sunday morning socializing in Vilnius, which tended to include most of the UK and Lithuanian crew, was just amazing. If you’ve never been to Vilnius we would recommend it.

 

Post-production

 

Post-production began during the production phase, with LTO2 tapes being send back to MotionFX’s UK operation for vfx and 3D work to begin. The off-line editorial was performed on location as described above.

 

As this is being written we are nearing the end of the production phase, with main post-production just beginning. It will be interesting to see if the fluid workflow attained so far can be maintained through to the end of production and into full post-production. Experience suggests it can, and we foresee no issues for the on-line, digital intermediate and vfx post-production.

 

The plan for post-production is very straightforward with a digital intermediate workflow approach as used for 35mm shot material scanned into digital.

 

But, with a digital cinematography approach the workflow is even simpler as the transfer of image data throughout the pipeline is very straightforward.

 

The off-line edl will be used to autoconform from the archived data tapes.  The selected shots will be extracted directly into a Quantel iQ via an edl based pull list.

 

The extraction from the archive tapes will be via a 10TB NAS disc system used as a buffer store working in the background to the main iQ operation via a Gigabit Ethernet network with frame transfer rates close to real time. The beauty of the iQ approach is that we can initiate the post-production vfx and grading work as the material is being ingested; no waiting for the one process to finish before another can begin. This is a major benefit in reducing time scales and keeping costs low.

 

When the film is fully loaded within the iQ and autoconformed via the off-line edl it will be split-screen checked against the off-line video to ensure there are no edl errors. Also, at this stage any editorial alterations can be made, based on seeing the edit in real-time on a large projection screen.

 

The vfx shots will already have been sent to the assist workstations for processing, including the new Digital Fusion systems as well as 5D Cyborgs and Alias Maya 3D. Then they’ll be dropped back into the on-line edit as available, replacing the initial background plate loaded during the autoconform. This means we can use the background plate to set-up and grade or pan & scan before the vfx work is complete by simply swapping the shots over while keeping the applied settings. Yet another example of the benefits of our workflow approach using iQ as the hero suite for the DI work.

 

This work will be performed at MotionFX’s headquarters in London, working via a digital projection screening setup to a point where the film is complete except for the full final grade.

 

The final on-line, with vfx shots correctly placed within the film and a preliminary grade, will then be relocated to Marina Studios in Carasco, northern Italy for the final digital intermediate grade, using Marina’s critical digital screening room, and to link with their audio post-production.

 

You might ask why relocate just for the final grade? The answer is simple. Because we can.

 

Given the choice of a THX certified 7.1 critical screening room situated on the Italian Riviera, with great beachside hotels and restaurants, and cheap flights into Genoa, what would you choose?

 

Marina Studios will also be performing the audio pre-mix and final mix on the project, working from the on-set captured audio and later ADR performed in the UK. With the toys at their disposal the sound will be fantastic, matching the glorious images generated by Stephanie’s set design and costumes, as well as Lithuania’s amazing scenery, captured via Arturo’s digital cinematography.

 

The final film was due to fall out pf post-production before the end of March, complete and finalized. The director’s cut will follow, and be available shortly there after. Time scales are easy to compress when all the original digital information is so easily available. You want to make a change – it’s made. No way it could be that easy with the traditional film approach. Hunting through reels of negative to find and scan an alternate shot is something you can only do within the off-line process. We can do it on-line too. How cool is that?

 

Technical crew list

1st Unit DP: Arturo Smith
Camera Operator: Aldo Chessari
Focus Puller: Christine Wagner
2nd Unit DP: Ross Fall
Camera Operator: Uli Schmidt
Gaffer: Joe Allen
Digital Film Consultant: Steve Shaw
DFT (Digital Film Technician): Florian Rettich
VFX Supervisors: Steve Shaw, David Bush
Data Monkey: John O’Quigley
1st ADM (Assistant Data Monkey): Mike Morrison
2nd ADM: Steve Roach
Sound Mixer: Clive Copland
Boom Operator: Jerome McCann

 

SILENCE BECOMES YOU

DIGITAL CINEMATOGRAPHY
May 2, 2005

SILENCE BECOMES YOU

By James Careless

 

Would you shoot your studio’s first feature film using a brand new digital cinematography system – one that offers interesting visual and production possibilities but also the risks associated with any new application? This was the dilemma that recently confronted Stephanie Sinclaire, founder of UK studio Dragonfly Films and co-producer of the 2000 Oscar finalist short film The Dance of Shiva.

 

Why Digital

 

Sinclaire was about to start shooting Silence Becomes You, a film she had written, was producing and was going to direct with actors Alicia Silverstone, Sienna Guillory and Joe Anderson. Silence Becomes You is the story of two reclusive sisters living in an isolated New England mansion who seduce a man for the sole purpose of getting them pregnant. Of course, the sisters’ tidy plan goes awry when love and lust come into play.

 

At about the same time, UK post house MotionFX had teamed up with film consultancy Digital Praxis. Together, with a yet-to-be-determined film studio, they planned to shoot a feature film using Thomson Viper cameras in FilmStream mode. (Viper’s FilmStream mode captures full resolution, uncompressed video – RGB 4:4:4 10-bit log – and transfers it to a disk recorder using Dual Link HD-SDI. Additionally, its CCDs, which consist of 1920 horizontal pixels and 4320 vertical sub-pixels , allow the Viper to support a 2.37 Cinemascope aspect ratio without the need to use anamorphic lenses. In effect, what the Viper gains by using sub-pixels is the ability to support multiple aspect ratios using spherical lenses.) As the first-ever feature to be shot using Viper’s FilmStream mode, the film would demonstrate the quality, portability and flexibility of FilmStream HD video.

 

As fate would have it, Digital Praxis founder and CEO Steve Shaw had worked with Sinclaire on The Dance of Shiva. Having read her script for Silence Becomes You, and mindful that the film’s mansion setting would fit well with FilmStream’s mobility restrictions – currently the cameras are tethered to large hard disk recorders that are not easy to tote around – Shaw spoke with MotionFX about choosing Silence Becomes You to be the first FilmStream feature project. They then approached Stephanie Sinclaire with the idea that MotionFX would co-produce.

 

“I knew it was risky, but it was also fun and exciting to shoot in a different kind of format,” Sinclaire says. “Besides, shooting in uncompressed HD appealed to me because it provided a more film-like look than conventional video would.”

 

Shooting in FilmStream:
The Process

 

Since it takes place inside a mansion set with very few second unit location sequences, Silence Becomes You lent itself well to FilmStream production. The reason is that FilmStream is not exactly portable. To be precise, the Thomson Viper FilmStream digital cameras were connected to S.two D.MAG DFR digital film recorders via “umbilical” cables so that the camera operators didn’t have to carry the DFRs around the set. For field work, Sinclaire’s second unit mounted a DFR on a wheeled cart.

 

On the set, the scenes were shot using two Viper cameras equipped with spherical Zeiss DigiPrime lenses. Sometimes the two cameras shot simultaneously, providing two views of the same scene for easy editing later. At other times, the cameras were shared between the film’s first and second units, with the on-set production accomplished with a single Viper.

 

The Viper A camera output was fed to a normal B&W viewfinder, an Astro combined waveform monitor and a vectorscope. Meanwhile, the B camera feed was sent to an AccuScene color viewfinder. “This combination was used so that the A camera provided accurate technical monitoring for main shots and the B camera, with the AccuScene viewfinder, provided level clip warnings and an image that was camera operator-friendly,” says Shaw. A Sony 23-inch flat-panel LCD monitor mounted on a flight case, partnered with the Astro waveform monitor for level checking, was used for on-set monitoring, “specifically for the director and DP Arturo Smith,” adds Shaw.

 

For beauty shots, MotionFX developed optical filters for the Viper cameras to balance the color characteristics prior to capture; since the filters reduced the camera’s light sensitivity by about a stop, they were used only for those instances “where light level wasn’t an issue,” Shaw notes.

 

A number of shots required high-speed capture, which the production team approached in two ways. For visual effects shots – including flames, water and a mermaid in a swimming pool – the team used a Weinberger CineSpeed digital camera running at 500fps. Meanwhile, dance and dream sequences were captured at 60fps on the Vipers for 24fps playback. HD-DPM+ image sensors provide Viper’s overcranking support. One of FilmStream’s modes allows the camera to capture 1920 horizontal pixels by 720 vertical lines at 60fps. To arrive at the 720p standard, the FilmStream camera’s output switches to 1280×720 at 60fps. During post, these 60 frames per second can be slowed to 24fps, thus achieving a 2.5x slow motion. Although there is some loss of resolution in the slow-motion mode, since the CCDs keep running on 1920 pixels horizontally, the visible loss is small.

 

On-Set Impressions

 

Cinematographer Jack Cardiff served as The Dance of Shiva’s DP. Given how successfully he and Sinclaire had collaborated on that project, she was happy to hire Cardiff as visual consultant for Silence Becomes You. In this role, Jack Cardiff got a lot of hands-on experience with the Viper/FilmStream digital process and the ability to knowledgeably compare it to conventional 35mm cinematography.

 

So what’s his take on this form of digital cinematography? “Presently, the film camera and lens do a superior job because we are fully aware of their capabilities and flexibilities,” Cardiff replies, “and by using certain learned techniques, we are able to capture distortions and flaws that we use for our purposes to create various effects. In most cases, because the digital format is self-correcting, those effects must be created in the editing room, which is now the digital lab. This eliminates some of the cinematographer’s ability to be spontaneously creative.”

 

“Our little tricks on film took the industry more than 100 years to develop; now the challenge is to create those effects digitally,” he adds. “Then and only then will we be able to develop our own new styles and techniques using this digital format. Concurrently, we must remain aware of the fact that presently every problem cannot be solved with a digital camera and lens or even in the digital lab; at present, there still remain effects that you cannot yet get digitally, effects that are possible only using film.”

 

On the upside, it was possible to produce FilmStream dailies very easily for viewing via a JVC HD digital film projector. “The playback from the dailies was also fed into our offline editing system in compressed HD form,” says Shaw. “The uncompressed FilmStream video was then backed up onto an Adic LTO2 tape archive jukebox using S.two’s A.Dock backup system. The D.mag media units were then available for re-use for the next day’s shooting.” The Adic LTO2 generates two clone tapes, “with checksum verification to ensure 100 percent accurate dupes of the original data,” he adds.

 

Postproduction

 

In general, there were no major problems for Sinclaire and company while shooting. However, postproduction was another matter. The problem had to do with setting up the proper offline editorial workflow. The equipment spec, initially Apple Final Cut Pro, was later changed to Avid. According to Shaw, the problem with Avid offline systems is that, because they are SD-based, they are poor at 24fps operation and final EDLs are therefore not 100 percent frame-accurate. Newer systems from Adobe and Apple, however, can ingest 24fps HD material directly. The Avid kit was rejected because of its 24fps timing issues, and Adobe then offered to supply a Premiere Pro system in its place. Unfortunately, the editorial team didn’t have the time to learn a new system from scratch, so the team returned to the first choice of Final Cut Pro. There was a two-week delay in initiating offline while the various options were considered.

 

The actual post was done using an offline-generated EDL loaded into a Quantel iQ DI editing server. “The extraction from the LTO2 archive tapes was done using 10TB NAS disk systems,” says Shaw. “It served as a buffer store that was connected to the iQ using a Gigabit Ethernet network.” Meanwhile, visual effects shots were produced separately by MotionFX using Digital Fusion, 5D Cyborg and Alias Maya 3D, then dropped into the online iQ edit as needed. The final edit was done at Marino Studios in Carasco, Italy, along with the insertion of a THX-certified 7.1-channel surround sound audio track.

 

Conclusions (to Date)

 

For Stephanie Sinclaire, shooting in FilmStream has been a groundbreaking adventure. Working in this uncompressed HD format provided Silence Becomes You with a level of visual quality that wouldn’t be economically possible on 35mm. In a very real way, working digitally has allowed her to do more with less.

 

Has it been a scary experience? “I think there’s always something nerve-wracking taking place on a film set, no matter what medium you’re shooting in,” Sinclaire replies. “Fortunately, the MotionFX people were always ready to help when problems arose with the equipment.”

 

This said, Sinclaire is pleased with the results she’s achieved using FilmStream and the extra attention it has generated for Silence Becomes You. “I won’t be surprised if the whole tech world turns out to see the film, to decide whether the risk we ran was justified or not!”

HER CLUELESS DAYS ARE OVER

THE TIMES 
Thursday March 31, 2005

HER CLUELESS DAYS ARE OVER

SET REPORT: Alicia Silverstone’s comeback landed her in Lithuania.
Martin Stevens followed.

I’m in a forest in Lithuania. A few feet away Alicia Silverstone (pictured) is jumping up and down. This is a strange situation – probably for both of us. The one-time Batgirl is trying, in her actorly way, to keep warm in an icy-cold surrogate New England. She’s shooting SILENCE BECOMES YOU, a low-budget independent film by Stephanie Sinclaire.

 

 

Bagging Silverstone is quite an achievement for Sinclaire. But what was the Hollywood actress hoping to achieve by getting numb with cold in a remote corner of Europe?

 

I followed Silverstone to her modest trailer and tried to make sense of her strange career trajectory. After the airhead-teen movie Clueless, and Batgirl in Batman and Robin, did she decide to take part in a small, independent project because it might be a smart move professionally?

 

“I don’t really do that, ever,” she says. “I’m drawn by what inspires. It seems that the only way to make those decisions is to choose what excites and interests you. What you want to do a probably good for your career.”

 

It’s a thoroughly admirable attitude, but unkind people might question the reliability of Silverstone’s antennae. After her success in Clueless in 1995, her career has gone off the boil somewhat. Ownership of the dim-but-nice valley girl personal passed to Reese Witherspoon; and for a brilliantly talented actress, a minor role in last year’s Scooby Doo 2 is a bit of a disappointment.

 

So why exactly was she so excited by this film, in particular? “I absolutely loved the script. I thought it was magical, and weird – it really excited me. I wanted to know who wrote this demented story, and when I met Stephanie it made so much sense. I saw it as a really worthwhile adventure to go on, and I was so high when I first got here. I was so high from inspiration.”

 

All this unchecked enthusiasm might sound a bit trite to cynical ears, but no one would spend hours in the Lithuanian snow unless they believed in what they were doing – or unless they really had to be there. (Though, admittedly, she’s fortunate that most of the film takes place indoors.) And she’s enjoying herself: “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t having fun, but I am particularly turned on by this role. This is one of those great new experiences.”

 

The role is Violet, one of two reclusive sisters (the other, Grace, is placed by Sienna Guillory). And the “demented story” is roughly as follows. In their father’s mansion Violet and Grace live cocooned from the outside world, until they embark on a bizarre plan to seduce a young man, Luke (played by Joe Anderson), so that one of them will become pregnant. Luke’s appearance unsettles the girls’ lives and Luke, likewise, is overawed by the sisters’ passion and creativity. Things go wrong when Luke and Violet develop feelings for each other – Violet wants Luke, and Grace needs Violet. It’s a strange, and ultimately violent, ménage à trois.

 

Sinclaire, the film’s writer and director, is a poet and painter with an 18-year history with the King’s Head theatre in Islington, of which she is associate artistic director. SILENCE BECOMES YOU is her first full-length feature film.

 

A charismatic American in her forties, Sinclaire strides purposefully through the snow as I tag behind. My writing hand frozen into a claw, I ask her to explain her “magical vision”. She says that the film is based partly on her own life as an artist, exploring the idea of “creativity as an alchemical process”. The girls’ father is key to all this. To him, the girls are an experiment – created in his image. For Sinclaire, this is “a form of child abuse”.

 

The film is not arthouse, she insists. “There’s an accessible top note, but with lots more going on.” And bizarrely, given the heavy emotional narrative she outlines, “there’s a lot of comedy,” she says. “Alicia and Joe are natural comedians.”

 

Sinclaire’s confidence belies her lack of experience as a director, although it has been a six year slog to get the film made, she says she no longer feels like a neophyte. “When you stay the course, the actual directing is easy – I’m in my playground.” She is equally unfazed, given her background in painting and theatre, about moving into a new art form. “There is no difference,” she insists. “I’ve always considered myself a storyteller, moving from one medium into the next – the rules of each artistic media are transferable.” Naturally enough for a painter, Sinclaire stresses her highly visual approach to film-making, something the more experienced Silverstone is quick of notice. “I’ve never worked with a director who has worked with every ounce of frame,” she says. “Stephanie’s art directing all the time, she does it beautifully.”

 

Since achieving a very particular look is crucial to the film, she is lucky in the technology she’s using. SILENCE BECOMES YOU will be the world’s first film based entirely on “digital cinematography”, using a technology called Film-Stream. This means that the end result will look like film, but at 40 per cent of the cost.

 

Shooting in 35mm would produce 180,000ft of film. Instead a shoot is stored on the hard drive. Steve Shaw, the film’s cowboy-hatted technology evangelist, explains that not only does this mean that independent film-making will become a lot easier, but that “this is the beginning of the end for film”. If digital is, for the first time, better and cheaper, why bother with film? Scenes can be shot many times over, the data can be written and over-written, encouraging an improvisational, more theatrical approach. And there is instant playback. “It’s a fantastic tool for explaining what’s not going right and correcting a performance,” Sinclaire says.

 

The technology also allows for greater creativity at the post-production stage. Sinclaire can “drain the colours away from memories and flashbacks – make it more noir. Make it look very painterly.” Towards the film’s disturbing climax, Grace has a breakdown and one of her films appears to come alive – a hand reaches out of a rainbow. “I feel like I have a magic wand. I can create what’s inside the girls’ minds,” says Sinclaire.

 

Though it’s easy to be cynical about the Hollywood-ish “incredibles” and “fanstastics”, it’s hard to affect enthusiasm in sub-zero temperatures – no matter how good an actor you are. There seemed to be a genuinely good feeling among the actors and crew. The film’s formula – beautiful people doing terrible things to each other – ought to be a winner.

 

ALICIA SILVERSTONE SAYS NEW FILM MAGICAL

ASSOCIATED PRESS 
Friday February 4, 2005

ALICIA SILVERSTONE SAYS NEW FILM MAGICAL

 

Alicia Silverstone likes the way her new film the mystical thriller “Silence Becomes You” makes her feel uplifted.

 

“This movie is beautiful, magical, romantic and really sexy. And I had an incredibly creative experience here in Lithuania,” the 28-year-old actress told The Associated Press.

 

The British-produced film tells the story of two sisters who bring home a man on a dare, with the purpose of impregnating one of them.

 

Silverstone, whose screen credits include “Clueless” and “Batman & Robin,” said working with director Stephanie Sinclaire helped her renew her craft.

 

As for the time she’s been in Lithuania, Silverstone said she’s fallen head over heels for Vilnius. The actress said she enjoyed wandering the streets at night and was amazed by the city’s history.

 

“I just loved the old town, it is so magical, it’s perfect for our filming of such a mystical story. History was present everywhere on the ground, in the walls and the graffiti. It’s really cool,” Silverstone said.

 

As for her character in the film, Silverstone said she can relate to Violet.

 

“As a person I would like to be more like Violet in some ways, and I would like Violet to be more like me. She is so present at the moment, so free and creative. I would love to be all of those things. But she is a little bit trapped and so attached to her sister. I feel bit more independent that way,” she said.