This week, Giles Alderson chats with Mark Jenkin about his feature films, how he shoots on film and his latest feature, Enys Men.
On the day of recording the podcast, Mark was taking part in a Q&A session for his film – he mentioned it was the fun part of filmmaking. ‘There’s no pressure on me now. I can’t change the film – it’s too late. So, I just have to go along and react to the audience.
BFI gave me the opportunity to curate a season called The Cinematic DNA of Enys Men, which goes on for a month. I picked 12 feature films and 12 shorts that are an influence on me, either formally or in terms of content or genre or style.’
‘I grew up watching 1980s Hollywood kid’s films. So I was watching The Goonies, Ghostbusters and Back to the Future. I loved going to watch films, but then I saw Derek Jarman’s film The Garden on TV and that was the first time I really thought there was somebody behind the camera making a film.
He shows himself filming – the whole filmmaking process is turned inside out. Which was really eye-opening.’
From Photography to Film
While doing a Biology A-level at school, Mark started to feel ‘out of my depths. I didn’t understand what was going on. And then, I started not going to the lessons and hiding out in the sixth form college’s photography dark room – my mate was studying photography.’
Mark started helping his friend with his photography and ‘one day the photography tutor said do you want to join the photography course? I was really excited about photography. It was an A-level, so I needed to have a GCSE.’
He completed his GCSE course in record time ‘and they were really complimentary of my photography, which gave me a big push towards doing it.’ During his A-levels, he did ‘these photo stories – a series of stills that told a simple story. The other photography tutor said: you are trying to reinvent film, why don’t you shoot 24 still images a second and create a movie reel?’
His photography tutor then lent him a Super 8 camera, which he used to make his shorts.
And then ‘I came up to London. It was such a special occasion coming to the big city. While I was up here, I came to BFI – when it was the museum. They had, from what I can remember, the first MiniDV camera, on a plinth. And that was the future – a cheap way of shooting.’
After that, he started shooting video on MiniDV ‘and then followed the technology – shooting with DSLRs and then higher-end digital cameras’. After 20 years, he realised that he wasn’t enjoying it.
‘For years, I’d just been going through the motions. I had a feature film in development. And then, I had to have a minor operation and had to recuperate.
So I lay on a sofa for a couple of weeks.
I had a box set of Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film – a 15-hour-long documentary. And I watched it twice and it was really inspirational because I listened to him and the enthusiasm and the passion and I thought I used to be that excited about film, when did I lose that excitement?’
Moving Back to Film
After not being able to work out when he lost his excitement, Mark went out and bought a new Super 8 camera and retraced his steps.
And it went well because I used to be really excited about the Super 8 camera, but the world had changed because the labs had closed – you couldn’t get it easily processed at that point. And it was expensive.
So I started hand-processing it and really engaged with it. I started making short films and they ended up in experimental strands of festivals because they were shot on film.’
Having a Shot List
‘There’s got to be a shot list because it’s a very detailed plan for the day but the shot list will change because you go to a location and the light is in a different place to where it was before. And then you go, actually, that doesn’t work anymore, but this looks amazing.’
And it also helps when you ‘get to that point of the day where you’ve got two hours left and you’ve got 11 setups to do. So we try and get it to seven setups. Can we still tell the scene? Because for me it’s all about simplicity. Simplify it and remove things.
And it does change. But I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I didn’t have a shot list for the next day, even if it was just nonsense.’
For more from Mark Jenkin, listen here.