Joseph Ernst’s latest project is something truly unique: the vision of 21st century London through the eyes of the 19th.
Filmed entirely using a 100 year-old wooden, hand-cranked 35mm camera, LONDONERS captures the honest and open lives of the city’s inhabitants. Opting out of the typical digital approach to filming, Ernst portrays today’s London with an almost vintage feel, somehow managing to bypass the cynicism of an increasingly camera-sceptic public.
The soundtrack, performed by singer-songwriter Bat for Lashes, adds to the warmth of the film and shows London as a community, together in harmony.
LBB caught up with director, Ernst, to find out what triggered the cranking…
LBB> What was the inspiration behind the documentary?
JE> It was the early films of Mitchell and Kenyon [pioneers of early commercial movies: [http://bit.ly/9GDZOs
]. I stumbled across them a few years ago and was amazed at how people reacted to the camera. Despite modern society’s camera-phobia, I was convinced that it was still possible to capture the same charm and innocence today, even in a place like London. Especially in a place like London.
LBB> Where did you find the camera?
JE> We spent a lot of time researching cameras - talking to experts online, lengthy discussions with Oliver Schofield (our DOP), and spending eons on Ebay. In the end, a friend put me in touch with a collector called David French (http://www.photohire.co.uk/
). David provides cameras as props for the film industry, so we went round to see his warehouse, which is awesome - he has everything. I explained the project to him; he really liked the idea and mentioned that he had an old 35mm wooden camera that might do the trick. After a lot of love and attention from Oliver and a couple of failed test shots, we had a working camera. Considering the camera’s age, it’s a miracle really.
LBB> Again considering the age of the camera, what were the most challenging aspects of the shoot?
JE> The actual process of prepping and shooting with this camera was pretty complex. We shot on 35mm Kodak film, but the stock today comes in 400ft cans. The problem we had was that our camera took a smaller magazine of around 100-150 foot. If that wasn’t enough trouble, we only had three magazines that could fit the camera, one of which was the pick-up; which meant we could only have two magazines of film loaded at any one time.
Before filming, we had to take each 400ft canister into a dark room and split it into three parts of around 130ft. And to make the shoot even more complex, each magazine had to be loaded and unloaded on location in a changing tent. To seasoned veterans this is probably fine, but when there are just two of you, in the middle of a busy city, it’s a different ball game. Another problem we had were the width of the magazines they used were slightly wider core than modern cameras. (The core is the bit in the middle of a roll of film that you attach to a camera or a projector). This meant that each core – there were around 50 – had to be individually modified by hand to fit the camera: a very time consuming process, but again, thankfully it worked.
LBB> And, with it being shot on film, rather than digital, were you nervous about the end results?
JE> Very, that was half the fun. Not only was it a massive gamble: could we get people to react to the camera? But we had no way of checking whether we had the shot or not until it came back from the lab. All we could do was just point the camera in roughly the right direction and trust the light meter. We only had one take per set-up, which meant one roll of approximately 130ft. The first four or five set-ups were not good. Nothing happened. At the end of the first day we shot at Oxford Circus during rush hour and it was beginning to feel right; I knew we would be ok.
LBB> Were there any memorable moments?
JE> Yes, on the very first day of filming, during the first take, a friend of mine cycled through our shot. We didn’t use the sequence in the final film, but in it he stops and chats. It highlighted the idea of London being a huge village-community. I mean, what are the odds of accidentally filming someone you know in a city of eight million people? Ironically, I never bumped into anyone else I knew over the rest of the filming period.
LBB> So, are you happy with the final result? Were there any surprises?
JE> Yes, I am definitely happy with the way it turned out. At the same time, I look at the final film and I know all the things we nearly got, or didn’t get, or should have got, or that we lost. So I can see all of the ways that it could have been better. It was a similar thing with my first film ‘Feeder’ [http://bit.ly/Oc2DtJ
], which was filmed entirely from inside a mouth. You plan your shots and aim for certain setups, but you never really know for sure if they will work. So from that point of view, almost all of the footage that made it into the final film of Londoners was a surprise. Even now, after the editing process and watching it a million times, it still makes me smile.
LBB> From watching the trailer to 'Feeder', it would appear that you enjoy very innovative and playing with unusual film themes. Could you expand on that at all? What kind of reactions do they spark?
JE> Like many filmmakers, I’m interested in the new, the unusual and the impossible. ‘Feeder’ was a stomach churner for most viewers. Watching it screen at festivals was really interesting because audiences really reacted quite vocally to it. Despite being ‘a short film that will make you feel sick’ it went down pretty well. It is not the sort of film that anyone will ever forget. I hope LONDONERS will also have a similar effect on audiences: something that they will never forget seeing.
LONDONERS will be showing at Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in Alabama, USA on 24-26 August, and Encounters Film Festival in Bristol, UK on 18-23 September.
Director: Joseph Ernst
Producer: Gwilym Gwillim
Cinematographer: Oliver Schofield
Editor: Adam Marshall @ The Whitehouse
Music: Moon and Moon performed by Bat for Lashes
Sound: Ed Downham
Telecine: Vic Parker @ Prime Focus
Title Design: Sean Freeman
Post Production: Marcus Dryden & Richard Greenwood @ Envy
Locations: Algy Sloane
Camera: Candida Richardson & Joseph Ernst
Camera Assistant: Robin Conway, Daniel Ernst, Simon Ernst, Julie Moniere & Michael Williams
Camera Supply: David French @ Photographic Hire Ltd
Processing: DeLuxe / FILM: Kodak
Production: Gladis Haralski Ltd.
Co-Production: Channel 4