Director Ben Cox introduces us to the metal artist Alan Williams who is well versed in creating vivid and diverse creatures that are brought to life through the use of recycled metal. The visuals not only detail William’s remarkable creations but help us relate to and understand the vivid imagination behind this creator. DN caught up with Ben himself to discuss the creative vision behind the documentary, his inspirations and expectations for the piece and his previous work.
What was the inspiration for making a documentary about a metal artist?
I wish my answer to this question was more interesting but it was just because I really liked character profile pieces. I therefore set out to make a film about a traditional smith or ‘maker’ having seen lots of artists profiles on Vimeo, and wanting to find something ‘traditional’. I think I just stumbled across Alan’s website one day whilst looking for blacksmith’s around Brighton. Of course, I was blown away by Alan’s work and therefore got in touch with him pretty much straight away. Funnily enough, it turned out that he actually lived in one of the houses opposite mine, I don’t believe in fate but it did become very convenient for shoot days.
The sound design plays a massive part in immersing the audience into Alan’s workshop. How did the choice for a more ominous slower score come about?
The sound design became a really important aspect in creating a sense of place and really transporting the viewer into Alan’s studio. There is something amazingly textural about the sounds of Alan’s workshop and as the film developed it became increasingly obvious that they had to play a bigger role, I went back for an afternoon and rerecorded a wide variety of sounds which conveyed the atmosphere within the workshop, we spent quite a bit of time banging different hammers on the anvil until I got what I was after.
I really wanted to create a dreamlike sense of being in the studio with Alan, almost as if the audience is inside his head, in order for them to more easily connect with his creative process.
Regarding the music, I was really lucky on this project to have my friend Samuel Organ (Mount Bank) on board, who is an extremely talented musician. Sam did a fantastic job in reflecting the dark undertones of Alan’s work in the score and he really lifted the film with his writing. Sam took care to use instruments that create sounds from the resonance of metal, in order to further add to the tonality of the piece which is why he used a lot of piano and horns in the mix. Sam really smashed it out the park on this project and I’m really looking forward to working with him again in the future.
As a filmmaker, what was the visual style you wanted for this documentary? Did it evolve as you shot or did you have a clear plan going in?
I took a lot of care with the shooting and editing of this film and I set out with a pretty clear idea of the visual style. I really wanted to create a dreamlike sense of being in the studio with Alan, almost as if the audience is inside his head, in order for them to more easily connect with his creative process. There were several things I did to achieve the look I was after, the first was that I pretty much shot the whole project on a tripod, something that up until this point I had never done. I love shooting hand held but for this I didn’t want any camera movement distracting the viewer from the story. I definitely found a new appreciation for my sticks but they’ve had a lot of attention recently so I’m back to handheld for the next project.
Secondly, throughout the the process I was careful to film and edit so as not to move the viewer’s eyes around the frame too much between shots in order to make it easier for the viewer to concentrate and get lost in the story. Finally, I also used a lot of macro photography to give the viewer a grater sense of how detailed and refined Alan’s work is and give them an idea of the level at which he is working. One of the things that almost happened by accident was the sparks and welding flashes that can be seen throughout the film, they were not something that I had planned and it was Alan who originally suggested the idea of using his angle grinder to shoot sparks around the seahorse. I knew that presenting and lighting the final pieces was going to be a key aspect of the film and I spent a long time making sure that each piece was lit beautifully. I love mixing different colour temperatures and this was a great opportunity to do so, I was happy with my lighting but as soon as we added the sparks to the seahorse shot I saw that this was an amazingly simple way of bringing the pieces to life.
In the description to the film you state that this project “surpassed all my original expectations”. Could you elaborate on this?
Working with Alan was really an amazing experience and the project has definitely changed the way I see myself as a filmmaker. When I set out to make this piece it was at point as a young filmmaker where I was frustrated. I thought that the projects I was working on didn’t have the budgets or time to really enable me to make the films I thought I was capable of making. I therefore set out on this project with the intention of creating something that defined me as a filmmaker, I decided I would give myself as much time and all the equipment I needed so as to make something I was really proud of.
A year on and having completed the project, I have realised that I don’t think I’ll ever make something that defines me as a filmmaker as that will always be something that’s growing and developing. Now, I no longer feel that I have anything to prove, what’s most important is to be working on projects that I want to fully invest myself in because they excite and inspire me, and really just enjoying the process. I think this is something that Alan himself is really good at, just making the art that he wants to make and I really respect that about him. Of course I am proud of the piece and know that together Alan and I have produced something really special but when I look back now I don’t think too much about the final product but more about the time we spent making it and how much I enjoyed it. I can safely say that Alan is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met and from the process a good friend.
In spending time with another creator of art, what did you learn from Alan? Did he inspire you in his process?
Alan is a true artist and master of his craft, I find his outlook and art incredibly inspiring. Alan has been practicing as a sculptor for 13 years but it’s only really in the last 3 that he’s been able to consistently make money as an artist. He has told me lots of stories about how he struggled, eating beans on toast for months only to sell a piece and be able to go out fine dining for the evening to celebrate. What I find so amazing about Alan is he has stuck to making the things that he really wants to create, not to please a marketplace but because it’s what he loves to do. He is such a talented and humble guy and I find it so rewarding to think that I have played a part in helping to share his work with a new audience.
Looking at your previous work, that includes documentaries on coffee waste and unique hairdressers, you seem like a filmmaker who highlights and pays homage to alternative work, is this what drives you as a director?
I think as a director it’s not necessarily always the subject’s craft that I am attracted to. I think that what excites me the most is presenting untold human interest stories that really inspire me. I have always been interested in social justice projects so when I made the transition away from schooling and coffee into filmmaking, it was always something I was going to take with me. Now, I am always on the look out for people who represent values that I think are important, and a lot of the time these people are almost certainly individual in their outlooks and the way they express themselves. I think as a director the thing that really drives me is just learning new things and pushing myself out of my comfort zone, it’s a real buzz. I think that for me the best thing about this job I have made for myself is that it holds such amazing variety and I really relish that. It’s just all very exciting.
I think that for me the best thing about this job I have made for myself is that it holds such amazing variety and I really relish that.
In a follow up to my last question, what can we expect from you in the future? Any new projects planned for the upcoming year?
I’m always looking to push myself and don’t like to feel too comfortable, so despite loving the freelance life I have recently taken a position as an in-house director at the Progress film company in Brighton. It’s a real up and coming company with loads of awesome clients and a really good opportunity for me to be exposed to some great projects and larger production environments. They’re a great group of filmmakers and really understand that personal projects are an important part of keeping people like me motivated and so they are sponsoring the production of a new project I’m directing that will sit as one film in an online series. This is going to be a short conceptual piece about the decline of Welsh Hill Farming in Snowdonia and I’m really looking forward to shooting that in the next few months. Longer term and in my free time I have set out on a project with an amazing woman which will focus on the creative process and mental health, this is going to be a really interesting project but because of the subject matter very sensitive, so far it’s been tough (mostly because it’s not something I know a lot about) and I have learnt a lot, but I know that it’s going to be an amazing journey, and like Alan she has a deeply inspiring outlook and story.