Our Creative Journey!

A magic moment in the highlands of Scotland.

So a month and a half ago, my fiancee Dave and I embarked on a voyage. Not exactly a holiday, not exactly a work trip–somewhere in the middle. It is a creative expedition. It was based on an idea that we never really go anywhere or have time for anything except when work is involved. Our best trips away together have mostly been short journeys within New Zealand to go and record sounds.

So we figured if we were ever going to go on any big overseas trips, then we should involve our work in the creative industries. Last year, we had two friends who had both offered us to come and stay at their artist residencies.

The first was from Peter Roberts, a picture editor who had a residency in Ibiza off the coast of Spain for writers. It was a house once used by famous New Zealand author, Janet Frame. This sounded like a perfect chance for me to focus on the second instalment of my children’s sci-fi adventure and Dave could work on his feature film scripts. 

The second residency was in Trélex in Switzerland. Our friend Nina Rodin runs an artist residency for all manner of creative artists and she has not had many sound artists stay at Trélex. Her husband David Rodin went to school with my Dave, so he had been talking for years about the idea of heading over to visit them, but the idea of doing art at the same time was doubly fantastic. Not only would we do plenty of sound art, Dave and I both love painting, photography, video-art and composition, so there was plenty of things for us to experiment with that we normally never have time for.

It would have been so easy to think; “Oh yes, that would be lovely to travel overseas and work on our art,” but never actually get around to it. For once Dave and I wanted to jump on such an opportunity and go for it.

Last year was a big year for Dave as he directed his first short film. And my book is in the final stages of preparing for publishing, but I wanted time to dive into the second book before the first one comes out. With a heavy work load planned for the back half of 2017, we decided that from the end of March to June would be the best chance we had to head to Europe for a couple of months. When we get back Dave has his short film screening in some festivals as well as a very exciting writer’s workshop to attend, so now is the perfect time to get things moving on the writing front.

Though we were only planning on spending two weeks at each of the residency locations, our process of creating art was one that we would  engaged with every day of the trip. We record sound every single day, no matter where we are.  I’ve been keeping a couple of creative journals with sketching and writing ideas. And of course Dave has his trusty camera  and I have the GoPro.

Sound recording in Switzerland.

We started out in the UK, spending a few days In London with some friends before driving up north to Scotland. We stopped in to see relatives I had in England, but for the most part we were travelling heavily every day and visiting as many attractions as we could all the way. All the while, we were gathering sounds, video footage and artistic photographs to inspire our art. Some highlights were Stonehenge and Avebury, the Roman baths and Lindisfarne and of course, the castles. Edinburgh and Stirling castles where stunning, but some of my favourites were the derelict ruins standing alone in the mists without tourists and gift shops. Places where you could sit and sketch and soak in the ancient landscape.

The longest we spent in one place was four days in Skye. Skye was breathtaking. Such wildness and isolation, I felt very much at home there. I guess in many ways it’s similar to New Zealand. Harsh weather and rugged landscape permeates the cultures of the Antipodes and the Hebrides with a similar fortitude. The first two weeks in the UK was so jam-packed full of excitement and adventure it felt like a lot longer than two weeks. I planned on doing more blogging on the journey and I also had hoped to start up a video blog, but we’ve been busier than I expected and quite often without very good Internet access. So I thought I should make a start somewhere. Better late than never.

Today I have more time on my hands because yesterday, I badly sprained my ankle.  There is nothing quite in injury to allow time for retrospective and slowing down to appreciate what you have. For example, I am incredibly glad that I only sprained my ankle and and didn’t break it. Today is 18th  of May and we have exactly one month left of our trip. We will arrive back in Wellington on the 18th June. The trip has been in some ways longer than I could have imagined and in other ways has flown by.

Our two weeks in Ibiza, was amazing. The warmth was a welcome change from Scotland and we made sure we explored the landscape there and went swimming in the crystal blue waters. I had a lot of trouble with asthma and sickness, and yet we still got a lot of writing done. It was so incredibly luxurious to be able to focus on writing, considering it a full-time job instead of having to cram it in around a normal workload.

Enjoying writing in my journal while sipping sangria at a cafe in Ibiza old town.

We were in Barcelona for only three days after that and though we didn’t get to see much of the city, we saw a lot of the Gothic Quarter where we were staying and had very splendid time enjoying the food and wine of that beautiful city.

Sitting by the window of our apartment in Barcelona.

Trélex has been magical. Staying with David and Nina Rodin and their family has been a privilege and a pleasure. Though our time he has been short, already we have achieved a lot. I have been painting and sketching more than I have in years, and I have gotten back into doing my audiovisual art which I’m very excited about. I’ve been continuing writing and Dave has too. He has made some great breakthroughs with his scripts and I’ve been able to help him with editing which I normally don’t have much time for. And of course we have been recording plenty of sound.

A day of sound recording adventure in the forests of Switzerland.

Switzerland is a wonderful place for recording soundscapes. There are lots of public parks and wide open spaces and lots of access to forests and mountains. There is so much more here that we could record but I’m very glad that we have some great recordings of cowbells and church bells and tranquil environments. The bells, the bells!

Our next door neighbour in Trelex and his lovely sounding bells.

 

Now we only have four days left in Switzerland, and I’m very aware of how difficult it will be moving on from here with my injury. With out recording gear, we have way too much luggage, so I hope I can lose the crutches soon. We are supposed to catch a train to France on Monday, but I have to go to the hospital for them to assess my ankle in the morning and then who knows what will happen. Though I hope it heals quickly, I also know that it will stop us from doing big and ambitious hikes which is sad, but like I said, I am very grateful for the things I do have and will make use of this time that I am less mobile by doing more art. As this is a creative journey, you have two create what you can using the tools is that you have available. Though this is my first blog entry on my journey I’m hoping that I will be more productive from now on. Until next time, get out there and create magic everyday!

Dave and I at Stonehenge.

 

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Creative Freedom–Selling Sounds and Selling Words.

Hi guys, It’s been a while.

There has been a lot happening here. I’ve been busy helping Dave get the first of our commercial sound libraries up for sale online. After working in the film industry on other people’s projects for so long, it’s great to finally start making stuff for ourselves.

If you’re looking for some lovely nature sounds to write to, then I highly recommend them 🙂 You can check them out on Dave’s website.

Meanwhile, my publishing plan is ticking along. I just read this article on readsy, interviewing David Fugate, agent of Andy Weir. (Author of ‘the Martian’).

I found it very interesting. Agents are talking more these days about indie-publishing as a positive thing.  He says:

‘I’m a huge fan of self-publishing (in all its myriad forms) and what it has done for both authors and readers. I think it’s amazing that it’s no longer a question of if your work will be published, but how…. If what you’re doing is good, you absolutely will have an opportunity to find an audience for it. It just feels like a much more hopeful, positive environment in which to be a writer…. Now is the best time, in the entire history of the written word, to be a writer.’

And that is what I love about it. The positivity it brings. I feel so liberated knowing that I don’t need to pine my hours away waiting for a rejection from yet another agent. I don’t have to wait months just to get a request for a partial and get my hopes up just to be rejected again. I don’t have to spend hours researching publishing houses and deciding if they’d be interested in my book.

I can spend all that time instead on solidifying my own process, honing my marketing skills and lets not forget, WRITING!

So between our sound libraries, my writing and my work in Sound Design, I am loving my creative freedom more than ever!

 

 

2015 – A Good Year for Sci-Fi

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The year is crawling to a close and it’s time for some reflection on the great Sci-Fi creations that have come out of it.

I’ve been busy working on sounds for both an upcoming sci-fi film as well as the mysterious game for the magical Magic Leap, both of which are absolutely incredible! I can’t wait till they’re released so that I can talk about them.

It certainly is a boom time for sci-fi, in books, films, games, and TV.

Science in general seems to be quite popular too.

This might have something to do with the current push for humans to go to Mars?

https://www.nasa.gov/topics/journeytomars/index.html

 

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Or maybe, its due to a cultural fear of Earths’s demise caused by our misuse of current technologies?

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Or perhaps, it’s the fact that this, 2015, was the year of the future that Marty McFly travelled to in the Back-to-the-Future series?

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Or just maybe, it’s because we’re all eagerly awaiting the new Star-Wars film?

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Whatever the reason, I am loving the eclectic and inspiring science-fiction I am seeing today, from block-busters right down to short films and indie books.

My own favourite Sci-Fi highlight of the year is up in the air, pending the release of the aforementioned Star-Wars film 😉

But aside from that, I’d probably have to say the most inspiring Sci-Fi stuff I’ve seen this year is the films and projects I’m working on. Unfortunately I cannot disclose any details about these jobs, but one day, I will.

Working with a host of creative people in the film and games industry is just about as fantastic as life can get. I feel very blessed.

Are you loving this Sci-Fi boom? What is your pick of the best Sci-Fi highlight for this year?

 

 

 

Book vs Film Review: The Martian

the-martian-trailer

As someone who works in the film industry, I am not a huge advocate of the – ‘films ruin books’ – argument. Though there are certainly cases where film versions do no justice to the books they are based on, there are also cases where I believe films have enhanced and improved aspects of a particular book. Mostly, I think it’s unfair to suggest that a film can ruin a book, because it is not like the existence of the film can erase the book from history. Nor is anyone forced to watch the film if they loved the book and want don’t think the film can live up to the experience they had reading it.

Having made that claim, let me say that I do enjoy reading a book prior to watching the film. This is mostly because the film only takes 2 hours (or 3+ if its a Tolkien experience), while a book takes a lot more time, allowing me to get swept away to another world for much longer.

The Martian was no exception. I made sure I read it before the film came out and I am sure glad I did.

 

Book. *****

This was an exceptional book, living up to it’s notoriety completely. Totally worth the hype. Methodically researched and beautifully crafted, I was hooked from page 1. The story telling is inventive and fresh. Although at times, it runs the risk of losing dramatic tension, because we are being told about dire situations after the hero has effectively dealt with them. However, Weir keeps us engaged through the use of great characterisation and choice of places to switch points of view. Weir’s protagonist Mark Watney, is compelling and real. The secondary characters are well fleshed out too, considering how little time we get to spend with the rest of the cast. One of the things I loved most about the flight crew was that, as Weir suggested in an interview, they are all exemplary human beings. Unlike some sci-fi’s where we see astronauts fighting amongst themselves or losing their minds, Weir recognises that we only send people into space who are fully capable of handling the associated pressures. The drama is centred around the dangers of space, not the people who have signed up to be there. Despite the heavy maths and science that is present in the text, it is also fast paced and thrilling. The balance is achieved, once again, through great characterisation and humour. I don’t read a lot of hard sci-fi, especially as it can be brutal, overly-technical or too dark. The Martian, however, kept me smiling for days.

 

Film. *****

This film was spectacular. There has been a lot of wonderful sci-fi films released over the past few years, such as Gravity and Interstellar. As a sound editor, I am capable of enjoying a film like this on 2 separate levels. I watch films from a technical standpoint, analysing the sound mostly, but the visuals, the editing, and the craft of the film-makers in general. On this level alone, the Martian was fantastic. Great sound, great visual effects, both practical and computer generated. I want to go to Mars just to listen to that beautiful dust storm. I want to drive a rover across the rolling red plains. The film lived up to my imagination of the scenery and exceeded my expectations of what would be delivered. In terms of the story itself, I think the film-makers stayed very true to the feel and tone of the book as well as covering much more of the plot than I’d expected. If this was a recreation of my book, I’d be blown away. I love Ridley Scott’s representation of Weir’s vision. The science is as close to accurate as possible, though the technical details are never overdone. Reality never gets in the way of a good yarn. It’s still all about the character and his story.

So for me Book vs Film? Well, they’re pretty even in terms of my enjoyment, but since the film wouldn’t exist without the book, then perhaps I’ll let the book have this one.

How about you did you like one and not the other?

http://gizmodo.com/how-nasa-helped-make-the-martians-user-interfaces-reale-1734698612?utm_campaign=socialflow_io9_facebook&utm_source=io9_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

 

Imagining Beauty

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’, so said Keats. I wonder what each person sees in their mind what visions are conjured when they hear that phrase. Or perhaps, what they envision when they simply see or hear the word ‘beauty’? The mystery of the mind and its complex machinations is at the heart of all art, no matter how small or great. The child sitting at a desk at school writes what he or she sees of the small world that they know and the great universe they can imagine. The rulers of countries sit at their desk signing their name and attaching it to ideas and dreams they have about the future.

Too often people consume their day with negative worries and fears. So much more time should be given to our imaginings. So much more effort should be spent on visualisations of what we hope will be, what we wish to achieve. Especially if those dreams and wishes are of things that are good.

I was inspired just now about the concept of beauty when I was flicking through YouTube watching short animation sci-fi films. There is some outstanding work being done out there, especially by people who are funding the projects themselves. Often I get so caught up in reading current sci-fi work that I forget how immediate and blistering inspiration can come from sight and sound. How the vast landscapes of written text can so quickly be etched into mindbogglingly beautiful reality through the medium of film.

Short films in particular, need to infuse a ton of of ideas into the viewers imagination in a short window of time. Perhaps this gives the short film genre more license to be more disjointed and incomplete than feature films. They offer only fractured glimpses of another world just as short stories do, without being bogged down by the constraints of character development, story arcs and plotting that larger works depend on.

This seems like a great excuse for me to offer a plug for a sci-fi short film I worked on in 2010. I co-designed the sound for a film called Abiogenesis. As the blurb states; “In this breathtaking science fiction spectacle, a strange mechanical device lands on a desolate world and uses the planet to undergo a startling transformation, that has profound implications for an entire galaxy.”

You can buy it here on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/abiogenesis/id644210102 or preview it. There is only a trailer of it on YouTube that doesn’t feature my sound sadly, nor the actual musical sound track by Rhian Sheehan. It has won numerous festival awards that has put it in a position to be eligible for an Oscar award in 2014.

Shameless plug aside, another film I just watched that sparked my interest was one called ‘The Gift’ –

The complexity of the world building and sheer beauty of ‘The Gift’ is laced with a sense of mystery that utterly captivated me. Though it is only a few minutes in duration and barely scratches at the surface of a compelling view of a futuristic Russia, it draws me in and leaves me craving more. The key character is a creepily well animated robot butler with porcelain skin. He is chased and hunted down by police for stealing a strange metallic box containing what we are only told is a ‘unicorn.’ When the film concludes, I know I should be disappointed for not finding out what the ‘unicorn’ actually is, but instead I’m glad. The puzzle is left open for the viewers imagination to toy with. My mind twists and turns over what the ‘unicorn’ could possibly be and what the motives of the people who wanted to obtain it are. As one of my favourite film makers David Lynch once said, “The more unknowable the mystery, the more beautiful it is.”

A riddle unsolved, that is the spark of inspiration that I crave constantly. Like a book not quite completed, the painting I imagine myself creating before I start, a quiet afternoon spent pondering what I will do next year.

When I was younger I used to think endlessly about the universe and what it meant to say that it was infinite. I used to end up feeling scared, intimidated and helpless. When I thought too long about it all, I always wound up thinking that perhaps there was no meaning to life? Then one day, I had a revelation. A moment of relaxation…of letting go. I realised that if we knew the reasons, the limits, or all the answers then it wouldn’t be nearly as exciting or profound or beautiful. Though every day the sun rises and sets, everything is always changing, always fresh. Transformation of matter and energy is endless and so is my daily appreciation for everything that I see, hear, taste, smell, think and feel. Beauty is just that to me, endless mystery.

How about you? What does beauty mean to you? I’d love to hear since only through sharing our stories can new idea be born.

The Magic of Sci-fi

Carrying on from my last post about working in film and how it helps me learn about the crafting of story through my experience with the editorial process, I thought I might take a moment to look at the film I worked on last year that has just come out, Elysium.

I mean, I’m not going to review it, since I worked on it, that would be a little self-serving. No, really, I just want to talk about how difficult and yet enticing it is to write sci-fi these days.

I have always loved science, but I feel that in the last few years so many changes and advances have been made in scientific fields of study that we are really in a very open and exploratory phase of human history. Fields of study that were at one time mocked or ridiculed are now openly accepted as legitimate research subjects or at least worthy of investigating.

I feel that a resurgence of interest in sci-fi films and novels somewhat reflects this shift. It’s an exciting time to be writing sci-fi and getting to work on one of this year’s biggest sci-fi films was a real honour. It was also an amazing opportunity to work with writer/director Neil Blomkamp, who is at the forefront of modern sci-fi story telling.

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/aug/17/elysium-neill-bloomkamp-interview

I loved working on this project and felt honoured to have been part of a team that was so talented and dedicated.

However, when it comes to writing my own sci-fi, I often I find myself daunted by the amount of research required to do the work justice. I find that I battle constantly with trying to…

  1. Create accurate and plausible technology and science for my universe without…
  2. Bogging down the text with too much jargon and at the same time…
  3. Keeping it fresh and exciting with ideas and concepts that perhaps haven’t been looked at before or at least are being dealt with in a new way. While…
  4. Being mindful of genre staples/ cliches/ paradigms .Knowing when to adhere to what is tradition and when to steer clear from what is old hat…and lastly
  5. Trying to figure out how a modern teen really would behave in the bizarre circumstances that they find themselves in.

 

All the while I’m conscious that sci-fi readers are among the most critical and scrutinizing of all genre fans. And they have every right to be! I know I’m critical of other sci-fi writers.

Sci-fi writers  suffer all the criticisms of ordinary fantasy. Both genres deal with forging something completely imaginary and trying to make it believable. Readers ask questions like…

  1. Is the world building seamless?
  2. Are the characters realistic for the world that they inhabit? and
  3. Is the social/economic/political structures within the world detailed and well balanced to convince the reader that its all real?

But unlike fantasty authors, sci-fi writers also have to deal with an audience who have a sophisticated understanding of modern science and technology. Every single reader/viewer has their own opinion on how they foresee humanity will fare in the future – for better or worse. This is the key to understanding the sci-fi genre…because sci-fi stories all have something in common. They deal with the concept of our use of science or technology getting out of hand. The classic Prometheus myth. Sci-fi tackles heavy issues dealing with the human thirst of conquering new horizons without taking heed of the consequences. It is a genre that is about looking to the possibilities of the future in order to take responsibility for the actions of the present.

In Blomkamp’s Elysium, for example, we see the dark side of that philosophy. Elysium offers a look at how our current world social and economic structure may lead to a future where social division between the rich and the poor are at extremes and the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. We see a scenario where sacrifices must be made on both sides of the social spectrum, in order for a balance to be re-established.

Without going into too much specific back-story about how the world ended up in this situation, Elysium makes the viewer think about the implications of our current world economic situation and do some hard evaluating.

The sci-fi author must always be looking to the horizon. I find that it is getting harder to keep up to date with the rapid advances in science. It is really difficult to stay ahead of the curb. You have to identify with modern science and project it forwards, to investigate how it may evolve and change in time and what implications it has for the future of humanity, both good and bad.

But if a book takes three years to write/publish then the modern sci-fi writer has to realise that in the time it takes to get the book out there, a whole gamut of scientific discoveries will emerge.

Two years ago when I began writing my book, the Higgs Boson particle had not been discovered…NASA’s Curiosity had not landed on Mars…numerous exo-planets hadn’t been discovered including one Earth-sized planet that orbits Alpha Centauri B. And that’s just scratching the surface of what’s been going on.

Now, having said all this, my story is heavily steeped in what can only be called magic. I worry about this at times, knowing that hard-core sci-fi readers might reject some of my more ethereal concepts. I try to reassure myself that magic is just as valid in sci-fi as physics, since at some point in our human history, they could be seen as one and the same thing.

I tend to think that only by incorporating things that seem utterly like magic to us, can I write sci-fi that is true to what I love about the mystery of science. Or perhaps, I’m just a dreamer who has my head too far up in the clouds? Sometimes I focus too hard on getting the facts right, (especially knowing that my nuclear chemist brother would not approve of my sloppy research). But sometimes, I find it particularly hard to be practical when it comes to some of the core scientific aspects of my work. I prefer to focus on a more philosophical and emotional side of things and sort of let the structural mechanics of the world fall into place around the characters. After all, it’s the character’s story that matters most to me.

So, yes, it’s a difficult and yet thrilling era to be working on sci-fi, I might even go so far as to say it’s magical.

 

 

 

The Sound of Storytelling

One of the great things about working on sound for films is the experience I get in learning how to shape and craft a story by examining how film-makers do it. The editorial process for films is similar to editing a novel, in many ways. The first cut we sound editors receive from the picture department, is almost always too long and in need of a major tidy up. Trimming shots and scenes the way we do in writing to cut out unnecessary detail or to speed up the pacing is a big part of the process. Sometimes it is the reverse also true, and a key scene slowly becomes longer as shots are extended to give more time to let poignant moments linger on the screen. Sometimes, the director even has to go back and shoot more footage adding more detail in the cut to explain things that are confusing or just didn’t work the way they had first imagined they would.

This is true of the novel editing process, sometimes you have to cut huge chunks of writing out in order to keep the story centered on the protagonist and their goals. Sometimes, you need to add more detail to flesh out an idea that needs more development in order to sell a critical theme or concept.

The main difference between film editing and novel editing, (other than the fact that they are completely different mediums), is in my mind, is the fact that from the very beginning, it is a process that involves the thoughts and creative input of not just one person, but many. Dozens or even hundreds of people, depending on how big the project is, put their creative energy into creating a film. Those people might only each have a very small part to play, but they contribute to the overall shape and tone of the film and constantly influence/ inspire or affect the decisions that the director makes as the project evolves.

Working in sound, you really notice this, since sound is the last step in the film creation chain. We get to see the picture edit change over and over and over again, refining the story day by day. With each new version, we alter and enhance our sounds that accompany the pictures in a process that can last weeks or even months. Sometimes you have to work very fast to get all the sound blocked out for temp screenings while other times you might be working on one scene that only lasts a few minutes for weeks on end.

Although the film started in it’s original form as a script written by a single person or handful of people, once it leaves their hands and enters the machine of the film-making world, it becomes a strange new beast. A conglomerate of creative talents. Sometimes this can be a very fruitful, smooth and rewarding process, but sometimes it can go on and on and become sterile or a confused tangle of competing ideas. At the end of the day it comes down to communication and team work.

How this relates back to my understanding of shaping a story is that this endless exposure to other peoples ideas, to the way they see things, affects how I create my sound. The visual effects (VFX) become more sophisticated and detailed, allowing me to think more about the world I’m looking at on screen. I try to make sounds that will immerse the audience in that space. I think about how the sound can affect the viewers emotions. I think about how the sound works with the music to achieve a cohesion between what is really being heard by the characters and what they are feeling. All the while, thinking about the main goal of the film which is – to tell a story.

When I’m writing by myself, I still think through the same process. I’m still thinking about the scene as though I can see it. Drawing on all the senses, to describe what pictures I see in my mind. The hardest part is getting that visceral emotion out into words in a way that is as effective as sound. So in a direct way, I’m always thinking about how the words I write, will sound.

Devices like onomatopoeia, alliteration and assonance, are all subconscious contributors to affecting how a piece of writing flows and how it draws us in. When I’m cutting sound, no matter how big or small the action on screen is, it could be a car chase or an explosion or simply opening a door, I’m always listening to the shape of the sounds and making sure that there is a flow. Every sound has a beginning a middle and and end, just like every story, every sentence every word. When you break everything down, you see that the process of a story unraveling is just like everything in life, breathing sleeping birth and death, all art is a reflection of this process of beginning middle and end. A three act play.

Sound is perhaps the most powerful and primal of our senses. It develops in the womb and is one of our earliest methods through which we can communicate and interact with out world. As a species, sound played an important role in our evolution, helping us to become better survivors in a world full of dangers. Our language sets us apart from other animals. It is through language and written word that we have learned to share our experience and our consciousness with each other.

It was the sound and the shape of words and the emotions that they can evoke that I think first drew me to the act of storytelling. I’m fascinated by the nature of how humans tell our stories and how we have done so since the beginning of human history.  A love of reading is completely connected to our childhood and our past. The stories that were shared with us from older generations, the histories of our ancestors become part of us when they are told to us. There is such an alluring mystery to the process of hearing about something that happened outside of our own experience. And by hearing an account of someone else’s story we are transported into their minds. It enchants me. I am in love with how the sound of words can evoke a world within our minds, a world that no two people can see the same.

This is what I think film is all about. People coming together, to try and take all those individual visions of a story and put them together to form a collective. A meeting point between the vision and imagination of artists working in all different fields. It is as close as technology has so far brought us to sharing a dream amongst others. That is why film is such an amazing force in the world of storytelling, because it’s not about replacing books, its about our desire to share our thoughts and dreams. Outside of people who claim they have telepathy, this is as good as it gets.