Interview with Tom Shankland on O2’s Six Degrees of Summer Film Project

It’s not just the Olympics that’s happening this summer in London. O2 Guru TV have launched a film project as part of their ‘Inspire’ series of programmes on O2 Guru TV. ‘Six Degrees of Summer is a short film in 6 parts. Five of the films are directed by award-winning British directors and they’re all short entirely on smartphone.

…however, there’s a twist.

O2 Guru TV is their YouTube channel that offers help and ideas to get the most out of your shiny new smart phone. The Gurus work with creative professionals to push the latest gadgets to their limits.In a cinematic equivalent of the old parlour game ‘consequences’, each film maker will only see the last moments of the preceding film, then they’ll have to start their narrative from there. The six stories will be woven together to create an entire short film and given a special screening in the Autumn.

Overseen by BAFTA winning Writer/Director Tom Shankland, O2 want you budding filmmakers to get involved as possibly become the creative mind behind the fourth film. The competition runs between the 4th and 13th August 2012 and the winning idea for a 3-minute film masterpiece will get to create it on a top smartphone under the guidance of Tom Shankland and given a production budget of up to £1000 to be filmed towards the end of August. We were given the chance to chat to Tom and interview him all about shooting on a smart phone, so we jumped at it and interrupted his pre-cinema dinner (Sorry about that) .

Cult Hub: How much of the project do you see? Are you being kept in the dark from any of it?

Tom Shankland: I am very blissfully in the dark about a lot of the content of the other directors’ films. Because I’m doing the last one, I think it’s quite good not to know what’s just happened, in order to not be unduly influenced one way or another, so I’m trying not to be that informed.

Having said that, I’m trying to make sure that the themes of the films or the characters aren’t too same-y ’cause you don’t want to have six films all about teenagers. So I’m trying to be hands off so I can enjoy the experience at the end when I see them all put together. As long as I know that none of the filmmakers are covering the same ground. That’s the only level of information that I’m digging into.

CH: You’re directing the final film as well as the having directed the first film. Do you have ideas already formed?
TS: There’s a few things that I’m thinking about but I am waiting to see what the final shot of the second to last film is because I do think that is one of the cool things about this is, that you look at the final shot and that object and that stimulates your imagination as a film-maker. In a way that’s quite liberating, creatively, to have a little bit of a rule like that. So I’m thinking in a slightly idle way but I’m definitely going to wait to see what objects I have to play with at the end.

CH: Does writing with filming on a smart phone in mind influence how you write and what you write about?
TS: Definitely, I mean, I think all the filmmakers and the content will definitely be influenced by the smartphones. I suppose from my point of view, with the first one, the way it influenced me was oddly enough was to try to show that you could shoot something quite cinematic and composed on a smart phone and you wouldn’t be obliged to do something that was very handheld and had that found footage feeling of something a bit rough and ready. I thought, you know what, you’ve got all this cool HD quality, you could compose this and shoot and think about it as you would if you were shooting it on an Alexa or a 35mm camera. So that was the challenge that I set myself was to shoot it with the same discipline that I would apply to a composed shoot with a bigger camera. That was me being influenced by the smart phone challenge, could I prove to myself that you could actually use that format to do something that was equally cinematic.

I did do one thing. I thought all the placed that you could put a smart phone would allow you to cover actions and get some quite cool little moments in quite a different way cause it’s very light and very versatile. So having said that I wanted to approach it in quite a composed filmic way, There were a couple of sequences that I scripted in the first film that would really lend themselves to being covered by a smart phone. Because you can put a smart phone anywhere, you stick it down on the ground at carpet level, you can go anywhere with it did affect some of the writing in that regard.

CH: Is that one of the benefits you found of filming on a smart phone, the mobility and accessibility?
TS: Without a doubt. And if you embrace a slightly “available light” look, rather than what

you do on a big professional film shoot as you know you have a truck of lights and lots of grip gear. If you let go of the idea of lighting it and you’re just using the camera to record everything and you’re not really going to manipulate the lighting too much, you can just move so fast and with a few simple bits of black tak to stick the phone up or you can attach it to a broom to get a kind of crane shot. You can do all of this mad cool stuff and that is absolutely one of the advantages of it. You can have a mini home studio if you just look under the sink you could find a load of stuff you could probably use as your grip gear.

CH: Are there any inventions that you’d want to see that would help make filming on smart phones better or easier?
TS: What is quite interesting is that you can get little lens packages now for smart phones that have a tele-photo lens, a long lens, a macro lens and that’s quite cool because often the zoom lens on the cameras are not that great. The trouble is that if you shoot with a long lens and you try to hold it, it goes mental, it shakes like there’s no tomorrow. So I think, the world’s most simple, light tripod would be brilliant for a little phone. Something that you could move around and erect easily but keep it steady then the lenses they’re coming out with would get better results. You want to take advantage of the mobility of the smart phone camera and tha ability to move it but you don’t want that video-y shaky look.

CH: Does filming on a smart phone bring out a difference in performance of the actors in front of the camera?
TS: I think it makes them more relaxed. With the first film, I was shooting with kids who haven’t really done much acting before on camera and we had one professional actor in. I think because the crew is much smaller and the technology is much less intimidating, you can get a slightly more instinctive performance. Particularly from non-actors, that pressure if you’re not used to being shot on camera, some of that intimidating pressure goes away cause it’s just such an innocuous little object. So I think it does affect performances in a good way.

CH: What’s the best piece of advice you have for any aspiring writer or filmmaker?
TS: I would say this for whatever you’re shooting on, the best piece of advice is have a good story. If you have a good story, I actually think the audience would be so forgiving about the way you film that story, even if it’s shaky and dodgily lit. If you have a nice idea and you connect with an audience, you can film it any way as long as you use that camera to get all the right moments and make sure you get truthful performances and I think smart phones can help that cause they’re quite informal. But it’s all about the story.

Tom Shankland was nominated for two BAFTA’s for his short films Bait and Going Down before he’d even graduated from NFTS. He’s most well-known for his horror film The Children (2008) and his television credits include BAFTA award-winning supernatural series The Fades and his work in advertising earned him a spot in Saatchi’s Best New Director’s showcase and a nomination for a BTAA (British Television Advertising Awards). With all these awards and nominations under his belt, O2 have decided he’s the ideal mentor and overseer for their O2 Guru TV project ‘Six Degrees of Summer’.

To enter, watch the video above and follow the instructions. The video also includes the final shot of the last film in the sequence which was directed by Iain Softley which you will need to watch in order to enter. Your film must open with a shot that focuses on something similar or related to the blue object in the final shot of Iain’s film, and it must close with a shot focusing on a different blue object. Tom will select his five favourite entries, then voting will be opened to the public to decide the winner who will create their film with Tom.

You can find out more, watch behind-the-scenes footage, cinematic masterclasses from the directors and enter the competition at

Editor of Cult Hub and also an Actress. Join Genevieve on Twitter or take a look at her website or imdb page.

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