Founded in 2003, the Met Film School, London, has produced high-achieving graduates that have gone on to be screened at film festivals and won awards for their work. Aesthetica talk to recent MA graduates Megan K. Fox (Directing) and Ben Calloway (Cinematography) about their experience at the school and how their practice has developed since.
A: Having both graduated from the Met Film School, how do you feel that the course has honed what you want to achieve as practitioners?
MKF: Studying at the Met gave me the chance to experiment with stories and styles that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. It was great to meet other filmmakers across the disciplines who were all willing to help each other with new projects, bouncing ideas off one another, as well as having access to the basic kit and spaces.
BC: I spent a lot of time working on one of the small stages in Ealing Studios which gave me the freedom of lighting you don’t usually get with shooting on location. This coupled with the challenges set to me by my tutor Nic Morris gave me a great understanding of my own personal style, but also a solid foundation of the key fundamental skills required.
A: How would you describe the style of the shorts you make in terms of content and/or technique?
MKF: I’m very much interested in coming-of-age drama and my stories always focus on strong female protagonists. Although my style is quite realistic, it’s sometimes tinged with experimental elements as most of my narratives focus on internal struggles. I am beginning to find that allowing myself to stray from reality a little is a helpful tool to understand my character’s frame of mind. BC: My style definitely leans towards the low key side of lighting – I’m a huge fan of the moody atmospheric imagery in 1980s films. This style usually takes a lot of time and money to achieve, so I always try to work with what I have first. After meeting with Directors I like to see what vision they have for the film and go from there.
A: How do you think your collaboration works in terms of creating something original – as you both have different roles, do you have similar visions for what you want to achieve?
MKF: Developing our skills alongside one another as a Director and Cinematographer allowed us to create a short-hand that means we come to a project with a relatively unified vision. I’m often more inclined to keep things simple in terms of lighting and movement to allow the scene to develop organically, whereas Ben naturally leans towards making a scene look as visually striking as possible. That’s where every Director and DP need to negotiate what’s best for a scene, finding the balance between performance and aesthetic that serves the story best.
BC: Having worked with Megan on quite a lot of projects I usually have a good idea of how she visualises her films, easily agreeing on references she puts forward. It’s a fun part of the process figuring out the style of a film. Each piece does have unique properties though, for example with the most recent short Girl we decided on the slightly gritty, washed out look to reflect on the subject matter. Slow Down saw us trying to evoke the excitement of the character’s self-discovery in the imagery through the use of vibrant colours and camera movements.
A: What would you say are your most successful works to date, or perhaps the ones you feel most connected to?
MKF: My graduation film Battle – which has also been the most successful at festivals to date. My skills have developed a lot since then, but due to it being largely autobiographical I’ll always have a strong connection to it. I received really positive feedback from other young women who related to the story, and it had an exciting festival run. Picking up a few awards along the way, it also received a TV broadcast credit in March and was featured last year in Cine-Women Paris’ feature on up-and-coming female filmmakers, which was an honour.
BC: Post graduation I shot one of my best pieces of work, a music video for artist Henry Green, Slow (Dir, R. Samson). I felt that I had produced a piece of work that truly felt mine, which was selected for screening by the British Society of Cinematographers for their New Cinematographers evening. This gave me a great sense of pride and affirmation that I’m on the right path with my career.
A: Could you briefly describe your methods in terms of approaching a new work – what comes first in terms of ideas: narrative or camera technique?
MKF: I’ve written and directed all of my shorts to date, so it all starts with the characters and the
narrative for me. I try to separate writing from directing, so I’ll write the script first without the mental limitations of imagining the shoot. Then when it’s ready I dissect it as a director to figure out what will and won’t work.
BC: Upon reading a new script I sometimes experience it playing out in my head like a finished film, and if this happens I believe it’s a project I can believe in and want to put my all into. I like to see the Director’s ideas first, which is usually discussing shots and locations, following that I can introduce my visual plan for the general look of the film, and any interesting lighting cues such as story motivated lighting.
A: Your portfolios make use of a keen and subtle attention to light, often displaying human moments with intimacy. Is this something you intentionally strive for?
MKF: Definitely. I love exploring intimate moments as these are the times when we are most ourselves. I think we all experience a sort of voyeuristic glee in seeing another human in their most vulnerable moments. When watching a film, it’s the calm sense of connection to a character forged in those bare moments that makes it special to me so I seek in my own films.
BC: I try to identify the key emotional moments of a scene with the Director when watching the Actor’ rehearsals, so that I can highlight these moments with lighting set ups and cues.
A: Do you think thematically your works connect or is every new project distinct from the last?
MKF: A couple of my shorts connect to a larger story that I hope to tell in my debut feature film. I used my time at film school to experiment with the themes and situations present in the feature script. A lot of my stories are at least semi-autobiographical so in that sense they are all connected, but so far I don’t consider them a series. I try to explore something new with each one I make.
A: How do you think your work addresses contemporary issues, as well as being an art form? For example, Slow Down delves into the lives of LGBTQ individuals, and GIRL uses experimental methods to convey homelessness. Do you both feel that your work should address and widen perspectives on political notions like this?
MKF: Film is our most effective social tool, in my opinion. It has the ability to affect hearts and minds in an incredibly short space of time and in a way that resonates deeply with people. I don’t really believe in art for art’s sake – I think the purpose of art should be to raise awareness or broaden perspectives and this is something I always strive to do in my films.
BC: Being a DP this is hard to answer, working on a number of projects my work always serves the Director first so the styles can differ quite a lot. Megan’s films often deal with social issues, something I do take into consideration when discussing her visual ideas.
A: How do you think that film festivals have helped to broaden your careers so far?
MKF: Some of the festivals I’ve been to have given me a massive boost in confidence and helped me to meet other filmmakers. The BFI Future Film Festival was amazing; they awarded me the honour of Best Producer for Slow Down which was a dream in itself but spending the whole week there taking in the masterclasses and meeting industry professionals was an invaluable experience. This is a social industry and at the end of the day it’s very difficult to make a film alone, so the best thing I’ve gotten out of attending festivals has been the friends and contacts I’ve made at them.
BC: The success our films have had at festivals has helped get my name out there and generated work for me on other projects.
A: What are your plans in terms of the future?
MKF: At the moment I am developing a feature script with the help of Corona Pictures, who have been mentoring me since we won the 60 Hour Film Challenge at Colchester Film Festival last year. I will be applying for funding for this project in the new year and hope to eventually direct it as my debut feature film. My plan is to continue making shorts and music videos between London and Dublin as I work towards this goal.
BC: In terms of the future I aim to keep working on short films and music videos, with a view to break into feature film making. I’ve just wrapped on my first TV Series episode as DOP which was a great experience, so I would like to continue to pursue work in TV as well as film.
For more information about the Met Film School: www.metfilmschool.ac.uk
1. Megan K. Fox and Ben Calloway. Slow Down. Courtesy of the artists and Vimeo.