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Sean earns his directing stripes; A workshop in Ireland is offering a Birmingham director the opportunity to take an important step towards directing his first feature film, writes.

Byline: Terry Grimley

Young Birmingham film-maker Sean Spencer has something extraordinary to look forward to next month: he is going to be shooting his first feature film.

Not all of it, unfortunately, but probably a good 20 minutes'-worth, with professional actors and the assistance of a top professional crew and even a composer.

This is because he has been selected for the Film-Makers' Lab run by Moonstone International.

Founded by writer and director John McGrath, this fast-track workshop for talented young filmmakers is closely modelled on Robert Redford's Sundance initiative, which once enabled another budding film-maker named Quentin Tarantino to shoot scenes from a feature script he had written called Reservoir Dogs.

"They take you away for two weeks, in this case to Wexford in Ireland," explains 28 year-old Sean, who is originally from Walsall but now lives in Moseley.

"They only run one programme a year, and they select eight directors for it. I don't have the exact numbers of how many people applied, but I'd imagine it was in the hundreds, because it seems everyone has a feature film script they want to make.

"You get to workshop and shoot key scenes. They're professionally cast, with a world-class feature-film crew and mentors.

"Last year the mentors were people like Neil Jordan and Griffin Dunne, really renowned directors. You rehearse, workshop, shoot and edit, and hopefully you come away with something you can use to attract finance.

"The main thing for them is that you're able to develop your voice as a film-maker and storyteller. They really push this idea of experimentation, to do what you want to do. They try to foster that willingness to push boundaries."

Perhaps they spotted this attribute in Spencer's short film Stripes, where he deliberately breaks the rules by switching the angles from which its two protagonists are shown.

His aim was to convey the disorientation of the householder who finds himself the subject of an inexplicable attack by a complete stranger, whom he only gradually comes to recognise as the boy he once bullied at school.

"It's weird the response that film got from people who were bullied in school and people who weren't," he remarks. "It does seem to polarise audiences, in that they are for one character or the other. But I didn't want to make the film too didactic - it's supposed to be morally ambiguous."

Stripes was made for Screen West Midlands' Digital Shorts programme, which also produced Michael Baig-Clifford's Baftanominated Bouncer amongst many other notable films.

Since studying documentary film and TV production at Wolverhampton's Lighthouse media centre Spencer has served a nowfamiliar apprenticeship for West Midlands film-makers, making shorts for Carlton's First Cut and Birmingham School of Acting's Brummiewood programmes, as well as a few others on ultra-low budgets.

He has now joined a growing pool of directors who have proved their worth at this level, but a glass ceiling still seems to prevent the region's film industry moving on to the next level, to deliver a new generation of feature films with West Midlands roots.

Sean's feature script, which has been taken up by independent producer Roger Shannon, is called Magic Hour.

"We signed off on the script last month and now we're at the point where we're about to send it to various people," he says.

"It's something that's been in my mind in one way or another for three or four years. The main development strand has taken about eight months, and it was supported by Screen West Midlands and the UK Film Council."

Magic Hour is the downbeat story of a young man who combines a job as an office temp with heavy drug use and a fiery relationship with his girlfriend.

"It's basically the journey of an anti-hero, watching his descent.

"It's about coming to terms with the life you have and accepting the fact it isn't all you wanted it to be. It's really character and dialogue-driven."

The film's setting is a large city which Sean intends will be Birmingham, but the scenes shot in Wexford will concentrate on interiors. They will be shot on high-definition video, although Sean eventually hopes to make the real thing on Super 16mm film.

"I'm not a big fan of video," he admits. "But I think high-definition is a more filmic format than, say, Beta, because you can do much more with it in terms of lighting."

Moonstone runs from January 23 to February 10 and Sean is hoping to come back with some material impressive enough to persuade potential backers to support the film.

"In the past there has been a real unwillingness to support feature films made in the West Midlands. I don't know why there isn't more of a commitment to local talent.

"But hopefully it's reaching that critical mass now where people will be unable to say no."

The main thing for them is that you're able

to develop your voice as a film-maker and

storyteller. They really push this idea of

experimentation

CAPTION(S):

Sean Spencer - Birmingham's answer to Quentin Tarantino?
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 3, 2006
Words:841
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