This series of posts depicts the epic journey I’ve taken across the land of student filmmaking. From the deep-rooted plains of the 4:3 aspect ratio to the wonderous tundra of half-decent modern indie cinema, you’ll read about the trials I endured throughout my years of learning.     

The wonderful adventure of non-compulsory education continues…

Okay, so this wasn’t strictly a college assignment that contributed to my college education but I did end up using all the equipment at my disposal, provided by the college. At the time, Doritos launched a Super Bowl ad competition targeted towards budding filmmakers and a huge cash prize of about £300,000 for the winning ad they picked. Now, the dormant cynical side of my brain should have seen this as more of an opportunity for the favoured crisp brand, rather than some dude in his late teens thinking he’s surely going to win more money than he’d know what to do with. 

It was quite a genius business strategy by Doritos, one I believe they peddled for about 10 years. They literally own the rights to every entry including those that were not picked (mine) but it wasn’t like it we were all unaware. By now they must have decade’s worth of ideas that in the grand scheme of things, cost them hardly anything. You need only search YouTube for the copious amounts of diverse videos made by all sorts of filmmaking talents across the spectrum and a lot of them are true masterpieces. Comedy was the general consensus as far as genre was concerned and aptly so, because it’s quite difficult to paint junk food in any other light.   

Obviously, I thought I had the best idea going and thought for sure I was going to win that money, just like now I’m sure I’ve purchased the winning lotto ticket. It’s hard not to dream but sometimes harder to accept the fact that it is just that, a dream. Anyway, I began to throw ideas around and eventually had something tangible. 

They offered a really cool media package with logos, music and sound effects that could all be used to the creator’s advantage. There was a lot of variety to put it mildly and I was grateful for it considering I was a one-man crew. Honestly, the only real production value came from this package, other than the premises if I do say so myself.

If memory serves me, I shot it on a Canon XM2 Mini DV camcorder with onboard microphone. Didn’t have time to faff about with a boom pole wielding sound person because I was greedy and wanted that sweet, sweet prize moolah to myself. In a way this was my first solo project not mentioning the performers, which as per usual, were my reluctant buddies. An old friend of mine from school, Keval, between him and his family ran a newspaper shop in Chertsey called Chandlers at the time and it wasn’t the first occasion he had offered the place as an authentic backdrop. There was a student film production held there called Jimmy about a psychotic curly redhead axe murderer and his overzealous father. The film was given the Sin City treatment I way of grading but the only colour shown on the spectrum was orange. I actually assisted a bit on this production as we all come from the same friend group, even to this day just about.   

The initial idea for the ad actually came quite quick to me but the final product was an evolution of that first spark. I wanted the ad to be about the Chilli Heatwave flavour to begin with, mainly because it’s my personal seasoning of choice. Anything hot and tangy is usually my jam when it comes to snack food so naturally, I wanted to pay homage to this beloved flavour. Throwing concepts around regarding hot stuff, red stuff and tasty stuff I originally thought of the jolt you get when you take a bite out of that first nacho. A jolt lead to a kick and then a kick lead to a punch. Boxers punch, and boxers wear boxing gloves… 

Sooner or later I narrowed this mess of ideas down. It started with a man purchasing a 230g shareable pack of Chilli Heatwave Doritos, to later stepping out into a bright and cheerfully lit high street, opening the packet, taking that delightful first bite while basking in the sunlight, then BAM! A boxing glove erupts from within the packet and punches our unsuspecting crisp muncher in the teeth. Sprawled out on the pavement with crumbs and God knows what else on his chest. The image of a night out well spent. Some might say.  

Not only was this a bit violent I thought, I tested it at home and no matter how small the glove was, it just wouldn’t pass through the bag’s opening. Luckily a couple of my housemates were into their taekwondo so I had a surplus of gloves to requisition. I had some crappy catchphrase put aside like ‘They pack quite a punch’ but it just wasn’t meant to be in the end. 

It later occurred to me that not everyone likes the spice and perhaps a broader appeal was needed to win the hearts of the judges. So, I picked the cheese flavour instead but it meant changing my approach to the idea. I still wanted to take the comedy angle and I was still adamant to involve the packet in some way. Much like a boxing glove, it hit me, and the answer was obvious.

The story is simple. A young gentleman (my old mate Aaron) goes to his local corner shop, purchases a packet of Tangy Cheese Doritos and heads home to sit in front of the box. What’s he watching? Who cares?! He’s got a big bag of Doritos to keep him company and that’s all that matters to him. Those tasty triangles of powdered delight, the vibrant orange glow of the foil packet, a small moment of personal bliss…

But it’s ruined by a swift and unforeseen enemy in the form of the dude’s flatmate. Like magic this predatory guy (my old mate Matt) appears beneath our hero and snatches his prize, quite literally from under him. There are no more snacks left to snack upon, he is defeated and left hungry. ‘Settle the Craving’ felt like a natural slogan to superimpose over the end. It was a quick and quirky ad that I enjoyed making if anything.   

Most people I’ve screened this to laughed at it and got the message and I stick by the concept like cheese dust on fingertips.                





This series of posts depicts the epic journey I’ve taken across the land of student filmmaking. From the deep-rooted plains of the 4:3 aspect ratio to the wonderous tundra of half-decent modern indie cinema, you’ll read about the trials I endured throughout my years of learning.     

The wonderful adventure of non-compulsory education continues…

I’ve always felt that producing a zombie movie is a certain rite of passage into independent filmmaking. Either that or a film about teenage depression that always begins with the monotonous wakeup ritual of getting out of bed and eating a bowl of cereal.

What started as an overly ambitious short film of around 30 minutes in length, ended up a trailer for a non-existing feature length film. This was going to be epic! More epic than anything we had ever attempted in our short introduction to filmmaking and boy did it hit us hard when we discovered our limitations. Of all the low budget shorts I’ve gotten involved in over the years, this one failed to meet our unrealistic expectations the most. ‘Unrealistic’ being the operative word we obviously ignored at the time. Dead Nation was supposed to be a thought-provoking zombie film set in a near future United Kingdom half way through World War Three. Several years before our story begins, an unknown nation had dropped nukes of some description on this former Land of Hope & Glory. The film intended to explore a team of military and civilian personnel, tasked with entering the restricted fallout zone (now apparently safe to enter with no scientific explanation at all) to relieve a previous team who set out to survey the areas. Like true horror movies that begin this way, the previous team had stopped responding to all communication and nobody knows why they’ve gone dark.

I might add that we only wrote half of this epic short and planned to wing the rest. The main protagonist was a wildlife photographer who was supposed to document the birds and the bees of the fallout zone while leaving his two young girls behind in the safety of civilisation. That was pretty much all we had in terms of character development and you could tell he had children because of a conveniently placed story mechanism in way of a polaroid picture he kept close to his heart. Cheesy like Red Leicester but we weren’t to know better until it was too late. It was set in the near-future so god only knows why he’d have such a retro print on him.

There was also a campfire scene which introduced the zombies and ended with our dysfunctional group half getting eaten and half splitting up in different directions. We had a sequence in mind which sent our fleeing characters into a maze of apocalyptic buildings whilst being hunted by the hoard. We actually took a long time and much effort to research locations for said sequence and really came up trumps. We discovered so many listed/abandoned Pripyat like buildings that were all too perfect as a backdrop but for a lot of them, it meant we would have to film guerrilla style. Trespassing to be more exact and although we were committed visionaries, we weren’t ready to commit to a criminal act and involve several cast and crew members in the process. Although abandoned buildings have a certain aesthetic appeal to them, most of them were fenced off with added guard dog security. Filming there (if we made it in to begin with) would surely lead to a prison sentence if we were caught. 

These buildings are also extremely unsafe. Just because they are listed, doesn’t mean they aren’t dilapidated. Though we might have been willing to shoot at these places illegally, we’d have to try and wear safety gear at least. The urban exploration appeal wore off eventually and sadly we were simply too unprepared and poor to pull it off. The closest place to fit the description was actually right around the corner from one of our houses and if I recall, it was a former football club house that burnt down some time ago. Lots of rubble and lots of burnt wood! We shot a sequence there for the trailer in the end so it wasn’t a totally wasted venture.  

Speaking of illegal acts, we also had a bunch of plastic toy replica guns at our disposal that in hindsight, we really shouldn’t have used in public forests. Those zombies aint gunna shoot themselves though, so we asked around and found quite a few willing enthusiasts that didn’t mind volunteering their guns for a cheeky props credit. Everything we scrounged looked pretty real to me, hence the potentially illegal part but it was so varied that I came up with the idea that the war has pushed the country back a bit progressively and like us, the military would have to use whatever weapons they could get their itchy trigger finger hands on. One of our performers actually tripped up during a running segment and landed barrel first into the dirty forest floor. He was holding an AK47 replica that broke coincidently. We managed to fix it but to this day I don’t think the owner new what we did.

You can’t have a zombie film without blood and for what we wanted; we would need a lot. We first looked into buying it in bulk from a theatrical prop company but considering we had no money for this epic, it wasn’t very economical. So, we thought we’d make it ourselves from a funky recipe we found on the tinterwebs! Lots of corn syrup and red food colouring was about all I remember for the gruesome concoction but I remember the delivery mechanism for the fake blood very well. This was from an equally helpful website illustrating how to make a DIY blood cannon for gunshot exit wounds. I was so excited for this as it involved general gardening tools that everyone seemed to own already. Some sponge, a length of hose, a pesticide pressure sprayer and some duct tape were all we needed and luckily, we had.

Before we committed entirely to this cowboy method of practical special effects, we wanted to test it. Our cameraman Matt had a young model friend who said he was more than willing to help us out in this endeavour and quite frankly I was amazed that anybody would volunteer at all. There were zero complaints from me, I just wanted to see how this thing looked through a lens and needless to say, I was far from disappointed. We figured we’d shoot the test in the woods surrounding the college on a quiet day when we wouldn’t be disturbed. Last thing we wanted was to frighten the shit out of any passers-by so this spot in particular was great for privacy. As the camera was being set up, the co-director, Chad, proceeded to hook up our volunteer with the blood cannon by feeding the hose up his trouser leg to his chest. The guy was wearing a cheap t-shirt we bought with a cross cut out where the hose ended. This was so the blood had someplace to go and not build up underneath. The other end of the pipe was attached to the nozzle of the pesticide sprayer which was cleaned out and full of fake blood. The American gentleman on the tutorial video said that to really pull off a convincing gunshot blast of crimson mist, we needed to pump the sprayer about 50-100 times. Chad did this without effort but the more he pumped the greater the resistance and all were worried it might go off by itself.

The moment came and everyone was on standby waiting for Matt to press REC. The camera was rolling and Chad counted down before pressing the release button. What happened next, I can only describe as unrelenting. The effect I had in mind might have been similar to that of an average pistol shot. What we achieved was more in relation to somebody getting shot point blank range with a 50-calibre sniper rifle. It was like the guy was exploded in half, even more so when we played the footage back in slow motion. You know that sound when it just begins to rain and you’re surrounded by foliage? The pitter-patter of water droplets on leaves? Well, that’s the sound that came immediately after we pulled the trigger on our dismayed performer. It was quite literally raining fake blood on the trees around us. Chalk it up to a miscalculation on the hose length or the viscosity of the blood concoction. Either way, we messed up and it was brilliant. 

That test footage actually ended up in the final product eventually because it was so absurd. It was just as well because weeks later when principal photography began, we discovered the tubes were clogged and created a dribble and spurt rather than the desired red haze. You had to laugh at the whole situation, it was doomed from the moment we formed any expectation. 

What we ended up presenting to our lecturers was a pretty shoddy trailer, a couple of minutes in length starring half the students in my class acting like cheap zombies to the piece of music Lux Aeterna by Clint Mansell, which was featured in Requiem for a Dream and completely overused for heroic advertising appeal ever since. So, I can’t even show it to anybody on the internet, out of fear of receiving a copyright takedown notice.




This series of posts depicts the epic journey I’ve taken across the land of student filmmaking. From the deep-rooted plains of the 4:3 aspect ratio to the wonderous tundra of half-decent modern indie cinema, you’ll read about the trials I endured throughout my education.     

College was a great time for me, perhaps even the best time of my life so far. I met my first proper girlfriend, learnt how to drive, got my first car handed down to me by family friends and grew to the legal drinking age not that the law had ever prevented me prior.

It was my first experience living away from family and creating some semblance of independence for myself. It’s true I was living with an old school friend and his family but I had lived in Wales for a good few years before that and now I was back on home turf, so to speak, reacquainting myself with friends long past. College is a little different here in the UK when compared to other educational structures of the world, for starters you begin your venture straight out of school. It was over ten years ago for me now and I had already endured a year of Sixth Form College in the land where sheep are in abundance, so I was a bit older than some of my peers. 

Anyway, I studied a BTEC in Moving Images which pretty much covered filmmaking at an introductory level. It was the first time I studied anything remotely close to my interests and I loved every minute of the two years of making rubbish student films. But in the gentle words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “By seeking and blundering we learn.”

Dusting off some of my old DV tapes recently was like taking a big gulp of nostalgia juice. I’m at that moment in life where I would like to declutter and get rid of all the shit that I haven’t used or even looked at for about a decade, only to fill the empty void with more dust worthy crap. But before I do, I want to reminisce a bit. The majority of these student films have been lost to the cosmos unfortunately and the tapes only contain unedited footage mostly. So, this is a good time I feel to write about them while the memory is fresh. The process, the end result and how I felt making it. 

This was really the first time I had the opportunity to write a short film, at least in part. From the get go the whole production was a shamble with most of us not really having any hold on what our roles entailed. For whatever reason, I wasn’t actually present for the majority of principal photography or any of the photography really. Not saying that my physical involvement would have contributed positively in any way but I may have been able to communicate the script better in person to the people actually shooting the thing. This goes to show how bad the writing was to begin with. Basically, the story follows a young woman who finds an odd-looking mobile phone while out for a jog. The phone wasn’t really that odd looking, more the manner in which it was found. If my memory serves me, it was just somebody’s old Nokia (no devil horns attached).

We never quite explained the origin of the strange properties the phone possessed but what we did show, and in ridiculous fashion, was how the phone killed the last person who answered a call from it. An outrageous premise I know. So, it set out to be a horror but ended up a comedy and not for the right reasons. If it was made of cheese it would be stilton, mouldy veins aplenty!

I remember it being credited by our lecturer for having a specifically well-lit scene that gave the illusion of a sunrise bursting through a window onto the set. A happy accident but that’s more or less all he had to say on it. All of the talent were film students who had extremely little to no acting experience and that only added to the cringe worthy humour. The evil antagonist eventually gets defeated by way of being thrown in the river from ‘near’ whence it came. When the hero eventually figures out the connection between her outgoing calls and the ridiculous deaths of her friends, she figures the best solution is to give it what I called the Jumanji treatment. The original Jumanji featured the protagonists throwing the board game that had plagued them the whole movie, into the river in the hope it would be gone forever but inevitably it washes up on a beach to claim its next victims. We more or less went with that ending only instead of the infamous drums beating their way into the credits, we had a ringtone. The audio levels were so high at this point it burst the eardrums of anyone watching it and it is the last thing you remember about the film, which is probably a good thing. 

Overall it was a delightful mess of things that didn’t quite make a lot of sense but a real joy to watch, if only for its trashiness. Everyone put in a lot of effort and lots had been learned. For example, I have just been informed that the title of the film is actually ‘No Signal’. Much better.

This was an extremely fun project of mine where the brief was to design a controversial ad campaign for an existing product of our choosing. I felt that condoms were a pretty taboo subject between teens and teachers so it felt logical to pick Durex as my fictitious client. I really wanted to freak people out, make them laugh but also inform them about the dependable specifics of their Extra Safe condom brand. Lots of ideas presented themselves, most of which were too difficult or too expensive for us for poor students to make. And so the Extra Strong campaign came to be.

Picture a young sexually active couple the morning after the night before, in bed together looking way too smart and orderly for what we presume was a passionate night of lovemaking. They gaze at each other longingly like all young couples do before they grow up and realise life ain’t ever going to get sweeter than what they are experiencing right now. But they’ve not long been awake and the dude in this heterosexual relationship needs to pee. For all we know he was out on the lash all evening and now that bladder is full to the brim baby! So, he gets out of bed, trying to maintain a hint of sex appeal towards his lover. In a successful attempt at decorum, he gets dressed and gracefully slides on his denim jeans with a seductive grin, only something clings to his belt buckle. Unbeknownst to this self-assured stud the belt buckle holds a rogue used condom that managed to escape the trash! The woman is stunned at the sight but she is in such a state of paralysis that she cannot bring herself to tell the man.

He exits the room, turns to show his lover a seductive grin and inadvertently closes the condom in the door. This is where the idea entered the realm of ridiculous satire that so many adverts seem to exist in. Where wacky scenarios exist and none of the inhabitants seem to bat an eyelash, so long as the product or service is the monolithic centre of attention.       

So, our gormless virile male makes his way down the hallway, sure of himself and full of positivity after ‘doing the deed’. Everywhere he goes the trapped condom follows him. Stretched and elongated like a leash, from the doorframe to his waistline and he is completely none the wiser because of fantasy advertising rules. I originally had the idea of him walking around the entire house creating a spaghetti junction of cloudy latex in his wake and even a little dog looking curiously at the potential choo toy. but these ideas were quite ambitious for a zero-budget student project so we ended up with the watered-down version instead. Plus, I didn’t know anybody with a pug at the time and they seem like nature’s clown canine and perfect for the role. Alas our man only makes it to the bathroom in the final rendition but we managed to make the condom look as though it stretched at least several meters, through the power of forced perspective and editing!    

He walks over to the sink, runs the tap and smiles at himself in the mirror. What a champion he must feel. By this stage the lady in this story snaps out of her statuesque form and proceeds to open the bedroom door. It’s pretty obvious what happens next and I regret to write that we shot several takes of the sequence. The rubber was released, contracting down the corridor and with such a crisp snapping sound to boot! The actor, whom I’ll name Dan was such a good sport for taking a brutal force to nether region, time and time again, looks directly through the camera lens via the mirrors reflection and we freeze frame for dramatic effect. Fade to black and run the supers, Extra strong? Extra safe. Then fade to the durex logo. It’s worth mentioning that the whole ad was accompanied by a really cheesy, really smooth jazz track that was simply the cherry on top of this metaphorical condom draped bowl of ice cream.

I might add that I also made a poster to coincide with this TV ad which was a little more controversial than comical. To put it simply, it was a BB-Gun pistol with a condom over the barrel and essentially the same slogan. Now the realist might think that a rubber-johnny would never stop a bullet but not before asking why someone would have intercourse with a gun in the first place. The message was meant to convey that unprotected sex might lead to a plethora of unwanted lifechanging events that may or may not be comparable to being shot and the latex shield might just save you. I know it was an outrageous notion but it got me a good grade for boldness… I think.