Filmmaker Blog: Bella Spencer

Random Acts North filmmaker Bella Spencer has written a blog on the experience of making her short film Staccato. Bella is a neuroscience student at King’s College London with a secret love for filmmaking. She is fascinated by the intersection between science and art, and the results that arise when the  two subjects combine. 

My film, Staccato, is inspired by Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, who suffered from both epilepsy and depression.

I study neuroscience and obsess over music. I’ve always wanted to make a short film inspired by science, but I’d never had the confidence, or the means. Random Acts gave me the opportunity and freedom to create a film that addresses an unusual topic in a creative way.

My short imagines the neural events of an epileptic seizure and the effects on the sufferer’s emotions, while also exploring the paradoxical beauty of the biology behind the destructive condition. I hope that by incorporating themes of music and emotion, the film I have removed the horror associated with old clunky educational science videos and helped to introduce viewers to the wonders of the brain.

I spent a long weekend in Manchester working with mentors, alongside other young film-makers, developing and refining my film. At the beginning my idea was a very literal manifestation of the emotional strain of epilepsy- think sad faces and slumped bodies. Storyboards were drawn and redrawn, ripped up and reordered until I achieved a more elegant method of encapsulating the sufferer’s emotions. The mentors encouraged me to be confident in my idea and to take creative risks  In the end, I decided the film would be animated and set entirely in the brain.

During the residential I developed mood boards for the sound and the visuals. I collated stills of a range of animations and songs to demonstrate the aspects I wanted to incorporate into the film’s style.

The process of choosing an animator gave me an additional opportunity to talk through my idea to a range of people and to hear their interpretation. After months working independently to finalise my idea, it was really encouraging to hear other people being enthusiastic about the project.

Once I had decided to collaborate with Arcus Studios I created an animatic to map out the series of events. This helped to iron out any issues in the ‘narrative’. The animator took my animatic and sketched a basic interpretation. The sound artist used this to map out the beats of the audio. As the sound and visual artists were not working in the same city, let alone in the same building, we relied on the power of email to send drafts between the two to ensure that the styles fitted together.

A month later the style was tweaked, details were added and the final render was completed. Seeing the finished film was quite a surreal moment. It was the first time I was able to see the visuals with the audio so it was a huge relief that they fitted together so well.  Now I know this how new mothers feel. My baby was born.  The pain was worth it.

Random Acts allowed me to have creative control over my project- a novel experience compared to years of overbearing teachers- and to collaborate with talented people. I would advise applicants to use the opportunity to create something they thought was impossible. Creating Staccato provided me with a new confidence that I hope to take forward to even more adventurous and ambitious projects.

Thanks to all the mentors, the animators and the sound artist, I really really couldn’t have made this film without you.


Staccato will be available to watch later this year on Channel 4’s Random Acts website. 

Read Bella’s online magazine Plathoes Cave: 

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