Hanging with the pioneering Lumière Bros

Where it started — a creative film challenge for also modern Brits.

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David flying a drone in the Cinema. Photo, Mykaell Riley

A cinema buff, or [amateur] historian is no pre-requisite to appreciate the deco and what took place in this historical ornate theatre, more than a hundred years ago. The walls whispers to you. Staff too swear by a ghostly figure who treads the stage at night.

This is that place you read about that birthed cinema in London on Regent’s street where two Frenchmen, the Lumière Brothers, pranked the living daylights out of London’s gentry.

As the audience sunk bank into their seats to a new mystifying technology, a train came hurtling at them in the guise of flickering spooled images come-to-life. They would make for the exit, fleeing for their lives. What would they make of a drone shot, quite literally?

“Jeez man you’re cutting it fine”. “Well, I don’t have that budget”.

When you’ve recently bagged half a million pounds plus change to tell a story, and there’s not enough in the kitty to make a film, could you call that a paradox? In fact, we should start counting.

Mykaell Riley is about to launch the story of the academic year. In fourteen days and counting this former prodigious musician, turned academic, with credits that include Bjork’s Venus as a Boy, Soul to Soul and Mark Morrison’s’ Return of the Mack he’s going to have to make one of those speeches to the cognoscenti of London, executives and his benefactor.

Next paradox. He should be featured in the Guardian newspaper, the BBC, or CNN International, not because he’s cracked some new nano-genetic code, nor discovered an ancient tomb. Riley’s behind an epochal story around woofers, wailers and untold worldly opinion; what Jamaican and black music has done for Britain. Price tag: £500k, plus. Benefactors? The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Frankly, the AHRC wouldn’t even give as much as a fiver, unless your idea clears several qualitative heuristic and hermeneutics hurdles.

Another paradox, as you scratch your head thinking, how’s that possible? That is until you follow Riley’s line of thought, his pitch, at Jamaican music’s contribution to the UK politically, culturally, economically and the rest — thus far held in abeyance.

Before the word ‘start-ups’ was coined, black music UK was a prototype underpinning several characteristic, burgeoning and complex. The tangible visual activities of a roll call of local acts who would become global names, such as Bob Marley is an obvious choice to mind, but it’s just the tip.

A tip that continually is stimulated and drives impulses that trigger the dendrites of black music’s billion pound enterprise. However, it’s not been truly measured. At the Jamaican High Commission, Riley points to a popularly presented slide from the Guardian newspaper — an info graphic that captures music’s contemporary history.

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It shows the influencers: Mick Hucknall (Simply Red) and Noel Gallagher meeting Brit PM Tony Blair, and US group Public Enemy. Black UK acts are powerfully conspicuous by their stark absence. That’s the sum of Riley’s task, and it’s barely got going, but five hundred gees has been costed, and spent, and we’re standing in the refurbished Lumière Cinema, thinking the launch event needs a film.

First I mock up an invite. It’s official now as the University’s publicity picks up the launch date

Necessity begets invention. Hence with the clock ticking inexorably to 11 days to go, as Denzel Washington would say, ‘time to go to work’.

Here’s the challenge listed.

  1. Renowned for its historical breakthrough in technology, how do we pay homage to the use of this venue and its acoustics?
  2. The film is a no budget, so however cheaply we make it, its integrity for the audience should be able to hold up to scrutiny when projected on a big screen.
  3. A film about Jamaican music, you’d expect its score to reflect this theme. We’re aware of the journey of black music in dub, reggae etc. — a source of acknowledgement for one generation — yet it has various spin offs e.g. grime. How do we reflect this?
  4. Black music isn’t just about music. That’s just one of its many signifiers. Cue politics and the social power of lyrics.
  5. The film needed to capture a particular mood that would reflect London, particularly at night, when woofers were doing their most. Cue David Hayward, a friend, drives me around London, as I film with my iPhone. My Go pro attached to the roof shears off because of how cold it is. It’s still working.
  6. Archive. No money? We need archive. Nuff said.

What we did next?

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Ideas are not linear. They’re a mess, driven by a desire to succeed and fear of failure. It’s amazing what you can do with a prop. My 25-year old Super 8mm camera contributes to a time yesteryear. Mykaell makes three passes up the stairs captured with an iPhone, hooked to handy cam (seen here with me demonstrating below to audience in India).

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David using iPhone

The effect is this:

Mykaell’s timeline of black music adds a sense of knowledge to the shoot in line with its academic cause. Using a time-lapse Intervalometer, we shoot half a second stills over ten minutes.

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When sped up on an editing timeline, the result is as follows:

Ghostly

We wanted an ethereal feel of the cinema so we flew a phantom 4 inside the theatre, warned by management not to scratch the screen’s surface. Not a problem as the Phantom 4 has collision detection. However, whether it was because of the make of the building and surrounding material e.g. metal, which made calibrating the camera to control a difficult task, I often couldn’t steer its flight, so Mykaell and had to chase the drone around the cinema.

Here’s a clip of that shot, we would use.

TWO DAYS TO GO

If only we had more time….if only we had more time. We’re back in the cinema testing the file, its brightness and sounds. They appear to hold up well.

LAUNCH DATE

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This is Bass Culture, the short film illustrating Mykaell’s three- year research which involves multiple collaborations interviewing the stalwarts of black and Jamaican music across the world to establish a definitive on its contribution. We hope we’ve kept our end up with the hanging thought of the Lumière Brothers legacy on this stage, some hundred plus years ago.

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Mykaell Riley and David Dunkley Gyimah

Written by

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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