Producing around Europe with the Walking Cities: Shakespeare Lives project

Our in-house filmmaker Juan Martos teamed up with Diego Almazan to produce the European project Walking Cities: Shakespeare Lives. Here we discussed with him the whole process from the preproduction to the impact of the films once published.

Bridge IV Films. How did you get involve in such a big scale project right after finishing at Edinburgh College of Art? Where did the project come from?

Juan. I finished my MA in August 2016 (graduated in November that year) and I applied for this UK-wide open call for filmmakers that the British Council launched, following the suggestion of one of my tutors. They liked my proposal and Diego and I worked as a joined team for about three months (on and off) across Europe. The post-production took a bit longer, up until December that year.

Juan recoding sound in Athens, Greece

BIVF. Can you discuss how was the preproduction and the research process?

J. The pre-production was fairly quick. As I mentioned, I finished my master in August 2016 and our first film shoot was scheduled in London for mid September. Luckily, we had a clear concept and a well defined style from the moment we sent the proposal. Firstly we discussed the creative approach and the practical aspects of the production with our producers of the British Council Literature team. They sent us briefs with the themes, writers’ profiles, texts and suggested routes for each location. Our task was to envision the films with these materials by establishing a relationship with the writers and their vision.

BIVF. Can you elaborate on which were your visual influences and how was your relationship with your cinematographer on location?

J. At first we looked at a news show called ‘Salvados’ from the Spanish television. We liked the production value and the freshness of its documentary approach. That said, the interviews were a bit static. The key element in this project was to capture the conversational aspect in movement. After all, the writers were going to be “walking cities”. We then studied fiction features such as Linklater’s Before trilogy and Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977); following the lines of characters holding conversations and walking around. As a result we opted for a 2-camera set up for the sittings and a handheld Gimbal System for the moving shots as you see in the finished films.

Once on location, Diego instructed the visual style and technical aspects and I focused on directing talent and in most cases sound recording and operating the second camera unit as well. Having Diego on location was a complete relief. We have always taken the creative decisions as a team. We fully trust each other’s vision and I believe this is thanks to years of collaboration.

BIVF. Here we are impressed by the proximity of the interviewees, the music, the peacefulness and pace of the films. Can you talk about how was the editing and finishing of the films?

J. The idea was to explore how Shakespeare's writings have influenced the people and places where his plays took place and how this source of knowledge still enriches and inspires the new generations in a variety of ways. In order to do that, we had to leave scope for serendipity. Alongside our producers, we designed spaces that would inspire conversations and let the writers talk freely for lengthy periods of time with no much intervention. This approach gained ease and closeness with the subjects, but also meant that we had more work in post-production. We worked with Timo Langer (Mark Cousins long time collaborator) on the edit and, as these projects usually go; once you get the first ones done, the rest are easier to envision as these are the ones that mark the style of the series. Tobias’ music, coming all the way from New York, definitely helped to convey the rhythm of the conversations but also informed the edit as a source of inspiration. They were a source of synergic force.

BIVF. Lastly, we wanted to know what was the ultimate moto of the project for you. Did the message permeated?

J. The concept was to find out whether Shakespeare’s influence - spirit if you will -  was alive beyond his writing. The answer was a satisfactory affirmation. Did the message permeated? I believe so! The series became one of the best performing films on the British Council Art Channel with a combined 12,500 views.