Interview with LONDONERS director Joseph Ernst

In an interview, Joseph Ernst, director of the short experimental LONDONERS, talks about making a vintage film in a modern day city, and his experience of being part of film festivals. Ernst’s LONDONERS was screened in November 2013 at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival (ASFF) and will have its London première at the London Short Film Festival (LSFF) on 13 January at 6.30pm. Drawing upon his experience of collaborating with Channel 4 and 4Creative to produce films, Ernst also gives advice to aspiring filmmakers.

A: Firstly, your experimental short LONDONERS (2012) screened at ASFF and has its London première at this year’s LSFF. Why do you think involvement in film festivals is important?

JE: I work as a programmer for Slamdance Film Festival in the States, so I get to watch a lot of shorts. But at a film festival, you have an audience of people who want to see a group of good quality short films. The experience of watching your short becomes a cinematic one: a shared experience with a captive audience. Online distribution is fine, and there is definitely a place for it, but it cannot substitute cinema. There is also something to be said about seeing a group of shorts, themed together by genre, and seeing how they play off each other. This is something that rarely works in online media.

A: What was your experience of ASFF 2013?

JE: I was only up for one day, but it was packed from beginning to end! I started with a networking session in the morning, and I also managed to go to one talk and three screenings. I would like to make a special mention to Sylvie Hohlbaum for her short documentary Beige (2012), which I found very funny.

A: Where do you find inspiration for short films?

JE: Most of the time I get inspired by things that are wrong, as it makes me think of better ways to do or say or show something. But with LONDONERS, I actually got the inspiration from the old Edwardian films of Mitchell and Kenyon. And I had the idea of doing a contemporary version of this. The thesis was that even today, people would still interact with the camera in the same positive, innocent way, to show that the community spirit of this city hasn’t changed at all in the last 100 years.

A: You used a hand-cranked 35mm camera to shoot LONDONERS. Can you explain this process and how it impacted upon your work?

JE: A huge amount of preparation went into creating this film. The first problem was to find the right camera. Film gages were only standardised in 1909, so the camera would have to be post 1909 or we would be unable to find film stock that we could use. LONDONERS was filmed on a 100 year old Ertel Filmette, using an original uncoated 50mm lens, on black and white 35mm Kodak film stock. However, this too had its problems. Today, Kodak film stock only comes in 400ft cans. Normally you would take this 400ft of film, and transfer it into a camera magazine in a dark room. It would then be ready to stick on the camera and shoot, but our camera’s magazines could only take approximately 150ft of film.

We had to take each 400ft canister into a dark room, and split it into 3 parts, on manually modified cores to fit the camera. To make shooting even more complex, each of our magazines had to be loaded and unloaded on the street in a changing tent. The process is old school and laborious. The one thing I learned was to really appreciate digital technology. We all take it for granted, but it really is a life saver, and I’m not sure I would shoot on film again.

A: What has it been like to co-produce a short film with Channel 4, and what tips can you give emerging filmmakers wishing to collaborate with leading film organisations?

JE: Channel 4 and 4creative were a great help and resource in producing this film. I worked with a brilliant producer Gwilym Gwillim. I think anyone wanting to collaborate with film organisations needs to have a very clear and simple idea of what they want to do, and what they don’t want to do, of how they want to do it, and how they don’t want to do it. But within those two ideals, to be open to other peoples’ input. It also helps if your idea doesn’t cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. If the idea is really that good, there should be several ways of making it.

A: Finally, do you have any future projects planned?

JE: Yes. I’m working on two longer format projects. One is a doc that we have started shooting already, and the other is a fiction script that hopefully will go into pre-production later this year. I use twitter @joseph_ernst and Facebook to keep people up to date with all my new projects, and LONDONERS has its own Facebook page

ASFF is now open for entries, inviting filmmakers pushing the boundaries of their medium to submit works in all genres with two new categories, fashion and advertising. For guidelines and information to submit your film to ASFF 2014 visit Deadline for entries is 31 May 2014.

1. LONDONERS, Joseph Ernst (Gladis Haralski Ltd / Channel 4), UK, 2012), Screened at ASFF 2013, Experimental category.