I have grown up during the rise of home filmmaking; most of my generation have stories about getting a camera and making short films with a few friends. For me, it started with a FlipCamera in 2008. It was given to me as a birthday present and it was the best; it had 30 minutes of storage, was portable and could stand up by itself! The weekend after I received it, I had an idea at 8am to film a day in the life of my shoe because I thought it would be funny and it also gave me the opportunity to experiment with camera movements. I had to make it right away and, as with every film I have made since, it did not turn out as well as I had planned in my head. However, it was very exciting to do things like tie the FlipCamera to my leg to get a shoe POV. The film ended up having a dark twist to it in which the shoe took up a love for dance, but then got beaten and hanged itself. Although the themes were dark, I really enjoyed the comical juxtaposition of the harmless image of a shoe being hanged with it’s own lace. Not only was this when I decided I loved to make films, it was also where I started to realise the kind of films I wanted to make, which is dark comedies. Films that inspire me in this genre are Wes Anderson’s Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale, the Coen Brothers’ Raising Arizona, Michael Patrick Jann’s Drop Dead Gorgeous, and Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are Alright. A common theme amongst a few of these films that I am also drawn to is dysfunctional families because of the interesting exploration of dynamics between each family member. Coming from a home of divorced parents and an aggressive, alcoholic, recently deceased father, one of the ways I would get through this situation was making jokes about it with my mother. Comedy, in dark times, is not only a way of coping, but it also highlights the absurdity of situations.
When I was sixteen, I went from a liberal, very run-down, comprehensive girls secondary school to a traditional, conservative grammar school for sixth form. The grammar school convinced me to pursue a more traditionally academic degree rather than film. To give an example of the school’s attitudes, it had a timetabled slot called ‘Enrichment’ every Wednesday afternoon and I set out to create and run an enrichment activity through Film Society in which students could discuss and analyse films, since the school did not offer Media Studies. My head of year informed me that Film Society would not be ‘enriching enough’ and threatened to cancel it. So, that evening I went home and planned out a whole term’s worth of presentations and activities as well as bringing in guest speakers to prove that it would be an enriching society. With enough e-mails and office visits, I eventually wore him down and Film Society became the only student led Enrichment. However, the society and the subject were still consistently undermined and this atmosphere ultimately indoctrinated me into reading Mathematics and Philosophy at University of Bristol. This head-over-heart decision was sensible and I understood rationale, but it was a terrible decision because, overall, my passion was clearly in film.
During the first year of Mathematics and Philosophy, not only did I hate the course, I was severely struggling with it. I felt hopeless and unintelligent for the first time in my education and, also, felt I was getting farther and farther away from film. In February, I had an idea for a short film for International Women’s Day; it was a simple idea of using sped up clips and stop motion, but I was excited about it. I started planning out all the drawings/photos and it got to the stage where I couldn’t get it out of my head; I had to make it! I did not have a tripod or camera, so I filmed it on my iPhone 5c on top of my desk chair and cardboard boxes. I filmed and edited it on Windows Movie Maker non-stop until 4am and I loved the whole process. As always, it was not as amazing as I had pictured it, but I was still proud of it and it made me realise how much I missed making films and being creative. After that big step, I bought a Sony Handycam and tripod and started making short videos regularly. This helped me get through my first year, not only because I loved it so much, but, also, making things made me feel not useless. Every time I finished editing a video, I felt a great sense of accomplishment, which I could not feel with my degree that I was scraping through.
My frustrating and disappointing experience of my degree made me very prone to playing on nostalgia in my videos and also developed my interest in wanting to make bildungsroman films. My ideal, perfect film that combines those two attributes would be Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. I love how detailedly he captured the world of the 1970s and the sentimentality he brought in from his own experience. He makes William’s journey charming and adventurous, whilst also keeping it tense and heartbreaking. Other films that capture coming-of-age with nostalgia are Lone Scherfig’s An Education, Drew Barrymore’s Whip It!, Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Nowhere Boy, and Andrea Arnold’s American Honey.
Furthermore, as a half-Korean woman, representation matters in my films. This awards season we have had Hidden Figures, Loving, Moonlight, and Fences showing that it is becoming an increasingly exciting time for diversity in film. However, I would also love to see a rise in East Asian stars as there are currently very few role opportunities, and the roles that do exist are almost always narrow and stereotypical. They are never cast as leads or complex characters and certainly never as leading comedic roles. Therefore, I struggle to see my voice or myself in the portrayal of Asians in film and, thus, I would love to offer that through my work.
I had a very heartening experience as a runner on the set of The ‘Feminist Car Commercial’ Film, which was entirely crewed by women (with the exception of the odd male actor and one producer). Oscar Winning Carly Simon, BAFTA Nominated Natalie Holt, NY IMATS MakeUp Winner, Sara Menitra, Underwire Winners, Editor, Prano Bailey-Bond and Cinematographer Gabi Norland were just some of the crew involved. These women were so wonderfully supportive of each other and so good at what they do that it would be hard to not be inspired on set. However, this experience took a dark turn when the male producer stole all the footage and disappeared after the entire editing process was finished. The fact that all those women were extorted both angered and upset me, because I strongly believed in the project. This demonstrated a darker side to the filmmaking process and has taught me to form a crew that you can entirely trust.
The appeal of a Filmmaking MA to me is the practical side. I want to play with different lenses and explore professional equipment, as I have previously only used basic cameras and editing software when filmmaking. Being able to develop and harness the use of high tech equipment will provide a good starting point for my future as a filmmaker. I have found that a hands-on approach to filmmaking is the best way to improve and challenge myself creatively. I wanted a course that allows you to explore directing, screenwriting, cinematography, producing, sound and editing, whereas other MA courses require you to specialise in only one of those. Although my main interest is in directing, I am very interested in editing, writing, and cinematography as well. I would like to experience all the branches, not only because it gives me more paths for the future, but, also, because I believe that it is important to understand the filmmaking process as a whole in order to produce great films.
I am aware that I am not the best or most experienced filmmaker, but I have a voice and a passion, and I am very much looking forward to growing as a creator and developing my talent. Most of all, I love making films too much for me to pursue anything else.
By: Freyja Pakarinen