Filmmaker Ed Sayers on the 20th year of straight 8 and how nothing's ever as bad (or good) as it seems.
Ed in his famous green flares and today.
What are you working on right now?
My top priority at this moment is to try to make straight 8 bigger and better than ever. Straight 8 is the super 8 in-camera-editing short film competition that I started 20 years ago. We’ve just opened our 2020 competition and we hope to continue to challenge people to make a short film on just 15 metres of super 8, with no waste, for a possible premiere at The Cannes Film Festival.
Aside from that I’m developing a second short to direct (the first – Goldfish (2007) – was some time back, featuring a then unknown Michael Fassbender) and a feature, which is taking a long time! Plus making ads and the odd music video.
What/who originally turned you onto film?
I got my first taste of being on set on commercials aged 15. I loved it and started making the connection of what I saw happening on set with what I saw on the big screen in films. I’ve always loved the buzz of filmmaking as a mass collaboration.
I started shooting when my dad lent me a super 8 camera. There’s something very satisfying about all that movement: the film physically moving through the camera, and then the camera and/or the subject moving too, and finally the film being transported past the lamp in the projector, making images dance on a screen… it’s still mind-blowing really.
What has been your career high so far?
The piece of work, that I’ve had key involvement in, that’s best known is probably the T-Mobile ‘Dance’ at Liverpool Street Station. It went properly viral really fast, was extremely challenging to make and went on to win most of the top awards that year. I was the producer for Saatchi (in my role as ‘Ed of Stuff’ - which is another story). But directing is my real passion and the career high there is in the future not the past. That’s the plan.
What was your first job in the film industry?
As the runner on an ad for an Italian make of trainers shot at Silverstone with an F1 car on 35mm film (as was usual then). I was given a walkie talkie and that was it. Smitten.
If I knew then what I know now…
Treat everyone with the same respect, trust, warmth, level of interest. Never waver in that. It’s like a big family, the team. Oh, and stay chirpy, nothing’s ever as bad (or good) as it seems. Consistency and stamina are key.
What is your favourite British film?
I can’t ever do favourites but I’ve always loved Local Hero (1983) and it immediately springs to mind. It’s about displacement. It’s a community film and deals with the petty and banal interwoven with the epic and even cosmic. It’s full of charm. Parochial but also global.
I also love how the sound is constantly interrupted by RAF jets overhead which is something that happened on the shoot and was kept in the edit. Whole conversations are played out without being able to hear them. And at other times the distant whine of kids on mopeds hooning about the outskirts of the sleepy fishing village adds an edgy element of frustration. It’s very European actually, for a British film.
If you could have directed/been involved with any film ever made, which one would it be?
Probably 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). I think to have been even a runner on that set would have been an entire education. I recently saw it with my 15 year old Louis, projected from a 70mm print at BFI Southbank, coupled with a visit to the Kubrik exhibition. I’ve got so much out of it and his approach to filmmaking.
I grew up in Elstree and only recently realised he was editing in his garden not far away. I’ve got my studio in the garden now too. But that’s about all we have in common!
What’s the first film you remember seeing? What was so memorable about it?
Mary Poppins (1964). About 1973 at Studio 70 - the cinema opposite Elstree Studios. My curly wurly melted and that’s not a clever metaphor: it just did and my green flares were all chocolatey.
I saw Superman (1978) with a bunch of pals for someone’s birthday. I remember us coming out of the cinema and seeing all the tall buildings at night and it absolutely 100% felt like we could see him flying around the sky. So impressive when you think how little computers were used, if at all, then. Most superhero films leave me stone cold today, with a few notable exceptions.
What’s your favourite line or scene from a film?
‘What we do in life echoes in eternity.’ Gladiator (2008). I think it’s true.
Who’s your favourite screen hero and/or villain? Why?
Corny as it may be it probably has to be Brando in The Godfather (1972) or Apocalypse Now (1979). You didn’t feel he was acting (he probably wasn’t). Not sure if his antics would fly on set these days. But roles like that, played like that, are the tent poles of independent cinema. Imagine if The Godfather and Colonel Kurtz just didn’t exist in your mind in the way he portrayed them. Sure, we wouldn’t know any different, but there’d be a vacuum in film.
straight 8 2020 is open now at www.straight8.net