Dan Wagstaffe

Dan Wagstaffe

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The King of Ballydoyle - and son!

(Above) Top Irish trainer Aidan O Brien celebrated another victory for the brilliant Ballydoyle stable when 8/1 shot Tapestry shocked the racing world with victory over hot favourite Taghrooda (1/5) in the 3.40 Yorkshire Oaks, Group 1 on day 2 of the Yorkshire Ebor Festival at York.

(Above) Aidan O Brien deep in conversation. The man is a class act.

(Below) Joseph O Brien in the parade ring before 3.40 Yorkshire Oaks, Group 1 race earlier today. He was riding Venus De Milo also trained by father Aidan.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Joe Orton, Islington and Sloane Square

Yesterday, I visited the capital after a lengthy run of work shifts. When I visit London, I like to spend time at the British Film Institute. The building is the home of the British Film Industry. It's a creative zone which offers a film library, mediatheque, well-stocked bookshop, cinemas, restaurant, bar and coffee lounge. My plan was to enjoy the BFI and travel to Sloane Square early afternoon to watch a matinee of Vivienne Franzmann's play Pests at the Royal Court Theatre.

I have been reading about sixties playwright Joe Orton. I was aware he lived in Islington, North London before his death in 1967 aged 34. He lived in a small top-floor flat in a pressure cooker atmosphere with his older, long-term partner Kenneth Halliwell. I put my iPhone to use, discovered Orton's prior residence was five minutes away (off Angel Underground Station), and decided to track down the flat. I found the property after walking around in circles for twenty minutes. The presence of builders and young families made it difficult to hang about taking pictures. And we mustn't forget, Orton was murdered in the flat!

(Above) 25 Noel Road, Islington. Top floor flat (window open). Joe Orton was murdered by his partner Kenneth Halliwell in the flat on August 9th 1967.

Orton arrived on the literary scene in 1964 with his radio play The Ruffian On The Stair. The commission followed a period when Orton had been sentenced to six months imprisonment alongside Halliwell for defacing library books.

(Below) A few of the books Orton and Halliwell altered. The book covers are currently on show at Islington Museum. The six month prison sentence gave Orton the opportunity to bring detachment to his writing. This proved to be the catalyst for his writing career.

Later in the day, I enjoyed the matinee production of Pests at the Royal Court, Jerwood Theatre Upstairs. The piece directed by Lucy Morrison lived up to its hype as uncompromising in-yer-face theatre. I was particularly impressed by Joanna Scotcher's set-design and the strong performances by Ellie Kendrick (Rolly) and Sinead Matthews (Pink).

Royal Court, Jerwood Theatre Upstairs (below).

Here is a link of the set-design https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQ0_Ci5L678

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Cheltenham Racing Festival 2014

I attended the Cheltenham Racing Festival for the first time yesterday. The day began early. Even so, I only managed to buy one of the last three copies of the Racing Post in the local shop. The newspaper costs £2.10 but this doesn't appear to affect early morning sales...

The front page read: 'OFF TO A FLYER - Epic Champion Hurdle kicks off the greatest show on earth'. 

The journey to Cheltenham lasted four and a half hours. However, a decoy to avoid road works meant a picturesque journey to the racecourse.

Upon arrival, I parked in a local rugby club several miles from the racecourse. The club was a throw back to an earlier period in time as dozens of middle aged men fought their way through full English breakfasts and pints of Guinness before a day of gambling.  

I realised Cheltenham was no ordinary race meeting when I dared to walk through the middle of the first car park - six polished limousines (blacked out windows) stood to attention on my left, whilst the highbrow, South-West countryside, racing elite shared landed gentry beverages to my right. The weathered, affluent, handsome, ugly faces wore racing green clothing and confident facial expressions.

I visited the Guinness Village (below). The Guinness tasted beautiful. However, the Irish medicine cost £4.70 a pint...

I was delighted to catch a glimpse of my two favourite Cheltenham charges of yesteryear - Denman (below left) and Kauto Star (below right) - in the parade ring.

Cheltenham is a special race meeting. Horses, owners, trainers and jockeys pride themselves on delivering first class performances. On this occasion, I was privileged to witness a record breaking win as Quevega became the first horse to win six times at Cheltenham. I filmed jockey Ruby Walsh riding the horse into the parade ring (below).


(Below) The Cheltenham crowd gather in the parade ring.

(Below) Myself, in front of the main stand. The famous Cheltenham hills in the background.

I found myself standing in an 'area' between the crowd and the racetrack itself (possibly by default) for the main event which was The Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy won by Jezki.

(Below) Former National Hunt jockey and Channel 4 Racing presenter Alice Plunkett (left) on the turf.

I thought catching a glimpse of racing legends Denman and Kauto Star would be enough for one day, but upon leaving the racecourse I bumped into ex Hull City legend Dean Windass (below):

However, the above 'moment' meant I found myself off-centre whilst departing the racecourse. This consequently meant I found myself in a random field stepping into six inches of mud.

However, this messy end to an enjoyable day didn't put me off a return trip to Cheltenham next year for Gold Cup day!

Friday, 7 March 2014

On the sofa with film-maker Ray Hyland

Ray Hyland is a film-maker based in Dublin. I recently caught up with Ray to discuss his latest film Riffed to be released in April 2014.

(Above) New Talent: Irish Film-maker Ray Hyland.

DW: Hi Ray, I last interviewed you in April 2011. What have you been doing for the past 3 years?

RH: Hey Dan. Well since then I have done a few different things. I was living with a friend (Pat McKenna) in Dublin who has been an integral part of my movie making schemes since the beginning. Pat was keen on making a start on his own projects so I helped him as best I could. I also got back into the habit of writing for the first time in a long time. Finished a novel but probably need to 'fine tooth comb' it before it's ready for public consumption. I lived in County Kerry for a year from 2012 to 2013. It is on the South West Coast of Ireland and is renowned for its passions in Gaelic games, literature and fishing. The rain falls everyday but they didn't mention that on the brochures. I was there for a media studies course which I quite enjoyed. The course covered quite a bit including photo shop, illustrator and video production. I had been making various video projects since Swayed in 2010 and All About Andy 2011. These ranged from traditional Irish music videos to school plays and introduction videos for a University. I thought the course might help with aspects of my video production. I have since recognised how important it is to have as many skills as possible. 

DW: Let's talk about Riffed. I've watched the trailer and it looks original and exciting. Tell me about the origins of the idea?

RH: Okay this is going to long winded but stick with me! I usually have about 5 or 6 ideas floating around in my head but since 2011 I had actively avoided the topic of 'my next film' when people asked me. I was disappointed by the way the other projects had gone before. Swayed had plenty going for it but I shot it on a camera that was too old and didn't have the first clue how to get it viewed by people who wanted to see films like that. All About Andy was a good project but again we went down the road of using popular music which is a definite no no. I had been running short film nights since 2011 with Paul Halpin and we were getting in all types of films, good, bad and indifferent. I could see some films that were better than my own but couldn't figure out whether this was because of talent, access to equipment or the fact they had specific producers and tutors in their colleges who told them about upcoming festivals. It was too easy making excuses and the breaking point came when I wrote a script for this guy who wanted to see his idea come to life. It was while I was down in County Kerry and he turned out to be a complete time waster. No offence to him but it was a harsh lesson to learn. The only way you get better at making films is to make them. The concept of Riffed was borne out of a desire to have a guy walk along a corridor into work, shot on a nice smooth dolly, something that simple set it all off. I had worked in an office for about 6 years back in the noughties so I knew once I got in there all the bad memories would start flooding back and they did!

'Riffed is based around the time of the 2009 recession. A British company is closing its Dublin office due to the downturn and it's up to local area manager 'Glen' to decide who to keep'.

Ray Hyland speaking to IFM about Riffed.


DW: Riffed is filmed in black and white. Some critics might level arrogance at film-makers who chastise colour. In 2014, there is High-definition, Blue-ray disc and 3DTV, I'm interested to know why you made this decision? 

RH: I am not a particularly gifted photographer but some of my friends are. Just about everyone I know now have a DSLR camera, most of them better than mine. But two of my friends Gavin Herbert and Mo McDonald are totally committed to using film as opposed to digital. They have these old Minoltas and Pentax stills cameras from back in the 70s and 80s. I had been watching these guys use these for about the last 4 or 5 years fascinated by the results they were getting. Above all though their composition and use of light was something that stuck with me. I started filming Riffed in colour but it was always at the back of my mind that this dull uninspiring office location was ideal for a black and white film. I was confident that what basic knowledge I had for photo shop and light room would convert to video editing too. I think it conveys the mood of the story too, at least I hope so.

(Above) The character Lewis in Riffed

DW: I understand the film is 60 minutes in length. This is an interesting duration. An hour is longer than a short film and falls short of the normal length of a feature. Did you give the length any consideration beforehand?

RH: This decision was dictated really by the talent. After watching back the audition footage I got writing the script proper. The scenes were just flying onto the page. I think I wrote the whole first draft in two nights, 80 pages just like that. After a few weeks I cut it back a bit but I really wanted to see these guys in action as much as possible. I knew it meant I might be putting myself out of contention for festivals and stuff but in truth that really didn't bother me. 

DW: You have an impressive cast. How did you audition the talent?

RH: I met 80% of the cast at the auditions without really having a script to work off. They were invited to bring a short monologue that I hoped would convey their personalities well. I also got them to do some improvisation after this. I had written out a couple of pages of everyday office scenarios on small strips of paper and divided them into groups. It was a great way of finding out what they were like. Some actors bring more of themselves into an audition than others.

(Above) Actor Clide Delaney.

I had cast Neil Gorman first, that was over a cup of tea and a sandwich in a cafe. Neil was Alan Shepherd in Swayed and he was well received for that. I wanted him to be something completely different this time around. We had met years ago working together in an office and we got through many tough shifts by making fun of our bosses in their cosy little private offices. Emily Elphinstone then, well she plays Tammy who is the daughter of the millionaire businessman who owns the company at the centre of Riffed. She was cast because I had seen her in numerous plays where she was gentle and nice. I thought she might like a change of pace. There were a few others. Ban Kelly has been in a number of short films with me and gets better and better, he's a complete natural. Then Rebecca Grimes, who has a list of credits as long as your arm but was nice enough to come onboard when she could've easily passed. She is a pleasure to work with as were of all of them, I have been very lucky to get this band together at this moment in time.

DW: I read in an interview you did with IFM, that you used an EX 1 and Nex 3 for cameras, Zoom mic and Arri lighting kit. Tell me about the reasons for this choice of kit. You said in the IFM interview that it was 'probably more of a documentary inventory'. Was this a conscious decision?

RH: Well yep it was as basic as all that really. When I was down in County Kerry I had met James Sullivan, an absolute gent if ever I saw one. He was a whiz at all things and reminded me of what I could be if I stopped going out partying every weekend. He came onboard as a cinematographer and I was planning to do the basic lighting set ups myself. This was standard three point lighting, real videography lesson two stuff, but it works. Anyway between the lack of funds and maybe even my own reluctance to get people to help out for free we didn't have too much of a crew so we didn't need that much equipment. Pat McKenna came in and helped out on sound and Gavin Herbert was our stills photographer. I double jobbed as a boom operator for the first weekend, which I didn't mind doing. The choice of equipment was budget based. The EX 1 is fine so long as you light your subjects well and then my own trusty NEX 1 works wonders with an 1980s prime lens. We did also use a dolly for a few key shots but it had a moody front axle so we couldn't utilize it as much as we would have liked. I would highly recommend to any film-maker the selection of ZOOM microphones available. Sony make good ones too but Zoom have a range from £80-£300 so they're very affordable, good quality audio recorders.

DW: I understand the premiere of Riffed will be screened this coming April in Dublin. I'm planning to make the flight over to watch it. What is the plan for the film? Are you going to get a distributor onboard? 

RH: Yes the screening is going to be on April 15th. I hope it will be well attended. I think it's important the cast and crew get to see the fruits of their efforts. After that I hope to enter it into some festivals. The ideal situation would be that even if we can't get a distributor willing to fund our festivals submissions that at the very least someone might point us in the right direction. Entries are expensive and it's heartbreaking to pay £50 to enter a festival and get a two line sorry message back without any further feedback. If I can pinpoint the right way to go I think we could be onto a winner. But it's the toughest part of making a film, real make or break stuff.

DW: I read somewhere that you produced Riffed on a budget of 2,000 euros. Would you have done anything different if the budget had been significantly larger, say 20,000 euros? Or do you think a film will only benefit when the stakes are in the hundreds of thousands, or even millions?

RH: If we had 20,000 I don't think the film would've looked dramatically different. Granted it might look a little bit more upmarket and polished but with that amount of coin I think the first thing I would've done is pay people. I might go off on a rant here so beware!

Nowadays in Ireland if a film-maker gets 20k it is either because he's got a healthy list of credits or that he's somehow managed to scrape it together with an internet funding campaign. The government run film board over here is not designed to finance films specifically to make a profit. In order to get financed you have to have a proper business plan with a breakdown of staff and how you want to pay them. The actual story, I would guess is pretty far down on their list of priorities. I don't think this is a bad thing. If people can get regular work in this business because of those well policed guidelines then good luck to them.

But the really well financed programming and film in Ireland is not indigenous. A big name from the US or Britain needs to come aboard before you start seeing the big money come in. This is a nation who happily entertained themselves for years before the advent of television. The glamour of America and the United Kingdom is something we can't really rival nor should we try to. I think that Ireland has had a fascinating few years but I don't see it adequately documented in film. I see the same thing time after time now, with us trying to mimic the big American productions with inferior budgets and more importantly inferior writing.

In all honestly this film was made because I wanted to make it. That's the bottom line. It's a hard life being 'just' a writer. You wait and wait for a break that might never happen and I know that some writers get a break because they know somebody on the inside that helps them along. That is the same of both the publishing world and stage and screen. Hell one of our country's most popular chick-lit authors is the daughter of a former prime minister (I wonder how that happened?) I wasn't going to wait around two years in the hope that one of my stories would be picked out of a pile. So now after making it you face the reality that most production houses and distributors don't know you, they see your film and see that it doesn't have their fingerprints all over it. They could argue that your little production isn't up to their standards and they would probably be right. But a pretty looking film does not a profit make.

We have an identity crisis as a nation and it shows up in the work that's out there in the mainstream.

DW: In our last interview, you spoke about the influence of the French New Wave. Is this still the case? Or have you identified other styles? For example, the Dogme95 radical film movement. Would you ever consider shooting a film which adheres to the Dogme95 ten rule manifesto?

RH: Well I must admit I wasn't too familiar with Dogme 95 until recently though unknowingly I have adopted their way or working on occasion. I don't know if that mindset would successful in Ireland in the modern age. Nor anywhere for that matter. I watched Festen which I thought was brilliant but persuading people to go and watch films like that is challenging. Not just for the film's subject but the way the films are made.They are not particularly cinematic and quite often the soundtrack can be inconsistent and I'm not sure people will put up with that. The thing that makes it different to the New Wave (I'm talking Wenders, Godard, Truffaut etc) is that there is no real planning done on the technical side of things. In the 50s and 60s most of the audio was put in afterwards, so you didn't note howling wind or fluctuating dialogue. I would put up with all these little annoyances for the sake of a good story but I'm not sure other people would. Plus the black and white thing, Godard knew his bananas went it came to cinematography. I didn't think so for a long time, now I do.

But Dogme95 was a beautiful concept, it came around just at the right time. Lars Von Trier has such a great mind that even if these films were not always technically great there was something in there worth watching. I wouldn't think it's something every budding film-maker should aspire to however. Not everyone is Von Trier.

Everybody has a camera now as I mentioned earlier. Everybody wants to be the hero in their own lives. Just look at the past week's Oscar ceremony. McConaughey, whose work I enjoy, admitted he is his own hero. I think this perfectly encapsulates the modern age. You see people spending 5,000 on wedding albums and videos. Fuck man, I could make you Ben Hur for that. 

Everyone is a little bit full of themselves and those who show any signs of shyness are easily ignored. If 500 people enter a film festival and most of them tell stories with the usual cliches you can bet the judging committee will get all hung up on the window dressing completely ignoring the fact the films they've picked are pretty much the same films as the previous years. Why do they do this? Well because there is that fear. Fear of the unknown. Don't get me wrong, I am not an avant garde director (not purposely anyway) who is going to film a four hour long video of a ketchup bottle and liken it to Samuel Beckett. But our base desires are so primitive and they need to be nurtured so that's why we see the same thing over and over again, just with slightly different packaging.

What the New Wave had going for it was it made film making accessible to those who didn't have a background in film or someone on the inside. It wasn't cheap to do however. I think the mistake most people make is that Godard and the like were some kind of beatniks who couldn't afford to make proper films. I think they actively worked the way they did because they wanted the audience to think differently in the theatre, not to spoon fed plots. Unfortunately many have missed the point lately and the internet is all but killing off this free thinking attitude. Without realising we are slowly conforming. Film schools are killing off the mavericks and the only way into the business on your own terms is to make a crazy music video which will probably be seen by nobody because hey, the music channel doesn't show music videos anymore!

I would say the real revolution has been this digital era, specifically with editing software and cameras been something we can all buy now. That is great but there is little doubt that most films are awful these days. There is a reason why we are in this state. Exhaustion, brought on by marathon splurges of box set TV shows, designed by people who work out plot lines on graphs, figure out their target audience on pie charts and leave us all convinced our lives will be empty if we miss one vital episode. The key thing TV has done is make the most of the technology available. Sure it might rubbish you are watching, but it's the most beautiful looking rubbish you've ever seen.

The film scene is much the same, most films are safe bets, rehashed remakes or comic book nonsense. There are a handful of truly great directors out there whose work is appreciated. We should cherish them but instead they are treated like unwanted nuisances in multiplex theatres. It is very hard for newcomers to be creative under these conditions. 

It's a shame there isn't more of a revolutionary streak in people these days. They say the record companies and film companies really suffered with the internet, I just think there's a higher power at work now and we're even more at their mercy than ever. I'd rather be in a situation where I handed over my tenner and that was that, now it feels like I'm handing over my soul at times.

DW: What is next for Ray Hyland?

RH: I said earlier that I always have ideas running around my head. Films that could potentially work. For the next while I would really like to experiment with some things. Riffed is very much a dialogue driven piece. I would like my next film, whenever that is to be completely different. So if that takes two more years so be it. 

In the meantime I'll be staying busy. Writing obviously but also working on other people's projects. I'd love to be in a position where I could help other people along. Maybe make a few quid while I'm at it. That's the most satisfaction I would get, not the big pay day that'll probably never happen. Ideal scenario would that I'd buy myself a nice motorbike and go travelling but you wouldn't see me showing you around my crib on MTV!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Dylan Thomas And Swansea

I enjoyed a week in South West Wales. I used this opportunity to visit Swansea, the birthplace of famous Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Within seconds of arriving in Swansea (I parked next to the Swansea Grand Theatre) it became clear who was the city's favourite son.

(Above) A promotional poster for Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas.

The play is appearing at Swansea Grand Theatre between 18-22nd March 2014. I'm pleased to say the production will tour the UK, therefore I will get the opportunity to watch it.

Moments later, I discovered another play, this time about Dylan Thomas himself, which was due to be performed later in the day. I couldn't resist buying a ticket to watch a play about the great man in his native Swansea.

(Below) A poster for Dylan Thomas 'Clown In The Moon'. The play is written by Gwynne Edwards, directed by Gareth Armstrong and starring Rhodri Miles.

I did think it was unfortunate that a wider range of people didn't make up the audience of 'Clown In The Moon'. The picture (below) says a great deal about the current profile of audiences for much of British theatre.

(Above) Part of the set-design for the play. Image still taken from video uploaded to You Tube.

After the performance at Swansea Grand Theatre, I took a picture of houses stacked up overlooking the city (below).

2014 is the 100th anniversary of Dylan Thomas' birth.

I attended the Dylan Thomas Centre (below).

(Below) is an image of Dylan in the window of the centre.

(Above) is a picture taken inside the Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea. In My Craft Or Sullen Art is my favourite Dylan Thomas poem. The permanent exhibition of Dylan Thomas' life is free admission.

Rev Eli Jenkins is a character in Under Milk Wood. In Swansea, there is a pub named after the character (below).

And finally, as a reader of books, I always visit the Waterstones bookshop in each town and city I visit.

I wasn't surprised to see the city's prized asset on the staircase (below left), alongside Martin Amis also born in Swansea (below right).

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Besotted by Shaun Stafford

I have just finished reading transgressive writer Shaun Stafford's latest novel Besotted

The protagonist Benjamin Beerenwinkel is a moderately successful author who has been diagnosed with testicular cancer. 

Besotted follows Beerenwinkel on a harrowing journey into a world of broken relationships, terminal illness, alcoholism, gratuitous violence, unjust local policing, paternity results, gender dysphoria, incest and murder.  

The novel which runs to over three hundred pages isn't for the faint hearted. Beerenwinkel is a likeable character, but he is also a frightening individual. Stafford has created a central character who is put under pressure from the beginning. I couldn't help wonder if any reader who is brave enough to read this transgressive novel might identify with certain aspects of Beerenwinkel's character themselves. I certainly felt able to envisage plunging into the depths of despair which the protagonist did as his health and personal circumstances worsened. I think this is down to the intensity and power of the writing. On a personal level, as a fellow writer, I particularly enjoyed reading the passages about the protagonist's writing activities and the thought processes which occur in a writer's mind.

(Above) Besotted author Shaun Stafford. (Image www.youtube.com taken from my interview with Shaun at the BFI, London).

I also enjoyed the lesbian characters Katie and Anne. I thought they were believable, well developed characters. I liked the development of the teenage girl Sally. I thought Sally's blossoming character worked well in contrast to Beerenwinkel's physical deterioration. I did spot the father/daughter possibility early doors, but maybe this is because I read it as a writer, not a reader. 

The writing is slick. Stafford has also done his homework as far as the information relating to cancer is concerned. The descriptions of the condition reminded me of Houellebecq's impressive knowledge of his subject matter in Atomised

The ending of Besotted was explosive. It reminded me of Killer Joe by Tracy Letts. The final scenes of the novel had a real American gore factor, but it worked. 


Besotted has a dark, unsettling, dysfunctional feel about it - although I think there are extracts in the book which are so well written that it's almost cinematic to read. Admittedly, Besotted is not a feel good novel, but it certainly makes you think about your own mortality. If you've got a sturdy literary appetite then I'd recommend Besotted

Besotted is available here - https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00I36DYKG#_

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Humber Mouth Literary Festival 2013 - An audience with Chuck Palahniuk

Last night I attended a literary event with celebrated author Chuck Palahniuk http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuck_Palahniuk at Middleton Hall, Hull University. The event was part of the Humber Mouth Literary Festival 2013.

Chuck has written novels such as Fight ClubInvisible MonstersChokeHaunted and Snuff - not to mention his latest title Doomed.

My friend Shaun Stafford (transgressive author) was also in the audience. Chuck has been a main source of inspiration for Shaun ever since he first read Palahniuk's novel Fight Club. This book was later adapted into a film starring Brad Pitt.

(Above right) Chuck Palahniuk.

The first half of the evening involved Chuck reading his short story Guts. The story includes graphic descriptions of self-inflicted, sexual injuries (audience members have fainted in the past) and pulls no punches. Last night, there was one reported incident of a person losing consciousness in the balcony. However, Chuck's hypnotic, original storytelling voice meant it was a rewarding experience.

I was particularly happy to give a copy of Shaun's transgressive novel Putrid Underbelly to Chuck's Personal Assistant after the event.

Shaun's version of events http://shaunstafford.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/chuck-palahniuk-in-hull.html

Shaun also filmed the event. It is available to watch (below). The first link is Chuck reading Guts and the second link is a Q&A with Chuck.