Q&A with KTV’s Arnie Voysey
With now only a few short months left of his film degree, Arnie Voysey has been running KTV for the past couple of years. Having worked on the crew for Avengers: Age of Ultron and The Tunnel during his time at Kent, Voysey has been determined to develop KTV as a springboard for aspirant film-makers like himself. In 2015 he directed and co-wrote the Student Media’s flagship feature production Julia Rose Marks, which won “Best Drama” at the annual KIC Awards (KTV, Inquire and CSR). His follow-up, Incredible – a nerve-wracking thriller about a man’s bid to protect his dream of a family – headlines the 2016 KTV Festival. Prior to its premiere, Joe Regan caught up with Voysey to discuss his latest movie, student-filmmaking and life after UKC.
JR: What are the creative origins of Incredible?
AV: Basically, it started off in late July, after finishing JRM. I wanted to do something feasible that would best use our resources. I wanted to work with five characters and make them really engaging. I tried to develop what was the focus of my last film – getting the audience to empathise with the characters.
JR: How is a project set-up at KTV?
AV: We are very open with people who want to do projects. We will produce an announcement for anyone at Kent, requesting potential projects – be it a feature, short or TV show. In most cases we don’t respond simply with a yes or no to their proposition but we look for people with the skills needed to complete the project. The director/producer needs to have team-leading skills because films will always be collaborative exercises. It can’t be a one-man show. They need to be able to build teams. We create groups of 15 to 20 people on our productions, so a prospective writer/director really needs to have enormous drive to see the project to the end.
JR: When I think of great gambling movies my mind turns back to the 1970s and beyond: The Gambler (1974), The Hustle, etc…; I would find it difficult to name a good film about gambling this century. Would you agree that the growth of online betting has made it harder to create an engaging, convincing portrait of the action? High-Stakes card games conducted in smoke-filled rooms are in some ways anachronistic when the online betting market is reportedly worth up to $1 trillion.
AV: Incredible is not so much about gambling but about how much an individual is willing to sacrifice to get what they want. The film is all about people wanting things that are beyond what they can get.
JR: Well that ties in quite neatly with a lot of the discussion around politics at the moment. How far does Incredible reflect the perceived decline of “Social Mobility” in our present “Austerity” Culture?
AV: Yes, the protagonist is from a well-off background but he travels to his new work placement, where he is in a completely different world. The film centres on his ability to interact with people from a completely difficult backgrounds. Money is the key factor. The film is about him going from one world to another – it’s the voyage and return concept.
JR: Who are the film-makers who are important to you?
AV: I wouldn’t say there is a specific influence for the film. The Deer Hunter (JR: A 1970s “New Hollywood” classic about the Vietnam War) is the closest thing we have to a storytelling inspiration or reference point; it is a film I love – it’s my favourite film. It achieves so much power in its climax because the film commits two hours to finding out all about its characters. It is wonderfully cinematic; it’s a gorgeous film. The concept of the Russian Roulette Game as an expression of the characters passively giving themselves up for no-real benefit, willingly giving themselves up – that is the most prominent influence on the film.
JR: Is it sad that the student film-makers of today are bred not on film, the physical property through which the art-form was born but instead digital, the video alternative?
AV: I would say that it would obviously be very exciting to work with film. Working with digital is not the shortest process anyway, however, I have just finished 3 months on post-production. Over the last six weeks members of the team have dedicated themselves for sixteen to eighteen hours every day to finish the film. Incredible wouldn’t be made without this level of commitment and dedication from the team towards this project. I personally think that we wouldn’t be able to make the films we do without digital; it would be a completely different game. Digital has a lot of benefits, ease of use, available storage… The cost of film alone would be beyond our budget. I am not a camera guy as such, storytelling (which involves the camera, obviously!) is what I love about film-making.
JR: I have been in classes where I have heard contradictory information about the legal constraints on using previously produced music. Did you feel inhibited by copyright restrictions when putting together the music for Incredible, especially since you are so senior within KTV?
AV: For the entire soundtrack in Incredible, we have the legal rights to every track. We paid for each individual track and have a legal contract to prove it. We very carefully selected our soundtrack – we listened to several thousand songs. To give an idea of the tone of the music, think American Beauty (JR: The Best Picture Winner at the 2000 Oscars). Cinema is 50% audio, so you have to spend as much time on the Sound Design as you do the Visual Design.
JR: Who do you consider the audience for student films to be, if you approach it from that perspective at all: fellow students or the general public?
AV: This is one of the most important questions for any student film. I think you have to see it in terms of layers, the core viewers: people directly involved, plus their friends and family. Students who want to make films and act in films (we get a lot of people who want to act these people are equally interested), these people are the next tier. Beyond that we have students with a casual interest. For any project, you need to know your audience. A film doesn’t exist without an audience – if no-one watches it there is no point to it – it has no value.
JR: Do you view student films as experiments, “Test Drives” for their writers/directors or fully fledged works in their own right?
AV: 100% experiments: it is much better to make the mistake now rather than in five years’ time with a budget of £100,000 with producers demanding a high-quality films. That is when you don’t want to make a mistake! There is nothing bad that can come of making a film as a student, from each project to the next I feel like I have improved. Bearing in mind this my third feature and I have making shorts since I was eight years old and not stopped, I have made small amounts of progress already and I continue to improve.
JR: So, what was your first feature like?
AV: When I was 15 I spent every day for 2 ½ years on Tenderfoot, a feature where I was a sound operator, director, producer … everything. Maybe that’s why my GCSE results weren’t what I hoped! After finishing the film, it was selected at a UK Festival, where I had the fun of sitting in a screening where there was only myself and 3 actors. It was hard to pick myself up from that. It is really hard to make a film that no-one sees that is why I think knowing the audience is so important. You have to be persistent and to pick yourself up from disappointments; this applies to anything but especially in film-making you just need to keep fight. (JR: The maverick German film-maker) Werner Herzog once said ‘Every time you make a film you should be prepared to descend into Hell and wrestle it from the claws of the Devil himself’. This perfectly sums up the entire process, everything.
JR: Why does it matter to you that KTV produces features?
AV: Features are one option, it is an important way of telling a story but it is one way of telling a story. If you have less than half an hour’s worth of story then make a short but if your story needs then two hours then you make it feature. It is all about building the format around the story and not the other way around. It’s not specifically about the format. I have seen lots of people make films for the sake of it and the results have been weak. You can tell.
JR: You want to make features though?
AV: I don’t spend all of this time working on my films just to be able to say “I have made a feature” – there is no value in that, it is not about doing it for show. It’s about making the best film you can even with all of the limitations. I have seen great features and great shorts; I don’t discriminate between them. I just personally prefer having more time to develop characters.
JR: You stress production values in your work (JRM won “Best Cinematography” at the National Student Television Awards). Do you think it is important for student films to act as career stepping stones for their makers, mirroring as far as possible the professionalism of industrially-resourced movies? Do you, alternatively, see any merit in conceiving their role as distinct, individualistic “amateur” projects?
AV: Both. Students need to know they are making student films, my films are 100% ‘Student Films’. The audience will grant the students more flexibility, by acknowledging their role as student films but they want to see potential. They want to see that there is something beneath the rough exterior.
JR: What was it like working with people who are essentially volunteers?
AV: Yes, remember I am a volunteer for KTV, as well. It is very, very cool and extremely rewarding to see students put in so much time and effort for our productions. We couldn’t make these films without people helping KTV in this way. Film is expensive!
JR: It does not hinder you at all that some people might not be as committed because they are not trying to launch careers in film or theatre?
AV: No, I have seen people just as committed who are purely involved because they become passionate about the project, even if that is not what they want to do as a career.
JR: Does it affect your handling of actors? Are you inclined to give more or less detailed guidance?
AV: The biggest function of the director is communicating with the actors. Give respect to the actors and they will give that respect back to you because they want to give best performances. I am very careful with casting, getting the right actor role regardless of whether they are drama students. Everyone who appears in a KTV productions has prior experience of acting or they want to learn more. With Incredible, for example, the lead actor (JR: Joseph Johnson) is a history student but he has done acting throughout the last ten years. It’s a difficult performance because his characters is really conflict but Joe did a ‘fantastic’ job – I’m not going to make the obvious joke about the film title! I couldn’t be more proud (of his performance).
JR: Are all director-actor relationships so ‘fantastic’ across KTV?
AV: All of the directors at the festival have worked on other projects and are all fantastic. As an active film-maker I think it is really important to engage with other film-makers’ work, if you want them to engage with you. I just can’t wait to see their work.
JR: What do you hope KTV will look like in two years?
AV: Even bigger and more exciting, with many more members. To continue to be able to be a fantastic launching pad for people who want to make films. Without KTV, I wouldn’t have made my two features. We have great resources here, equipment, permissions, facilities, etc. Above all, there is a great community for meeting like-minded people – I hope that doesn’t fade away after I leave. Two years ago, there weren’t these kind of opportunities at Kent Uni outside of your degree. For anyone who wants to be involved in acting or making in films there will be posts about that on the KTV Facebook page. I couldn’t recommend it more!
JR: How has being such a senior member of KTV helped to advance your career?
AV: I wouldn’t have done the industry work I have without KTV. If you want to work in Film and TV, you should be doing stuff now, I have KTV to thank for allowing me to prove to employers that I want to work in Film and TV more than anything else. This is why KTV is so great! It is not just the product; it is about showing you are committed to the process.
JR: Will the fact that you have made two features with KTV accelerate your career progression?
AV: If you want to work in Film and TV, it shows you have the determination, the drive. If you don’t have the drive now there is no reason to believe you will have the drive in ten years’ time.
JR: What are you planning for next year?
AV: I graduate very soon. I will be balancing paid professional work, alongside developing projects that really light a fire within me. I want to jump to the Big Leagues and give it a go!
Incredible debuts on the 27th March at the 2016 KTV Festival; it will be available from the shortly afterwards
The Festival Programme is as follows:
A Teaching System? The French System (Documentary): “This documentary takes an outside view on the French teaching system. Stephane Furina is our main interviewee, who has written a book on the issue of a minority of French teachers abusing their power unnecessarily and occasionally cruelly towards their students. Through a series of interviews with both teachers and Erasmus students, we delve further into the matter.” – Director Annie Pilnik
Scenes From A Short Film (Short Film): “A short documentary following a student filmmaker’s first real challenge – his own feature film.” – Directors Bence Bardos and Dan Iacono
Natasha (Feature Film): “Natasha is the story of a young man’s arrival at a university, only to find his world revolving around a mysterious girl. As they fall in love, he is beset by frightening dreams and visions he does not understand, pushing him to the boundaries of his sanity.” – Director Harry Nott
Incredible (Feature Film): “An earnest business consultant must live in an urban apartment block as he endeavours to earn enough money to support his fiancée” – Director Arnie Voysey
Samaritan (Short Film): The film traces the self-destruction of the already disenchanted Conall after American Investors take-over the charity he works for – Samaritan is directed by Max Hilton
Flow (Short Film): “Flow is a slice-of-life film that follows a weekend in the life of an up-and-coming rapper.” – Director Faisal Tannir