Filmmaker of the Week: Scott Forrest

Our filmmaker of the week is Scott Forrest, founder and director at film company Forrestfire Productions. Scott directs short films as well as music videos. His primary interest is in the stylings of film noir, with comedy, sci-fi and supernatural concepts also in development.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

My name is Scott Forrest. After five years moving around the UK I have returned to Scotland with one goal; create. I’m a film-maker and photographer, using the name Forrestfire Productions. Since graduating film school in 2011 I have been working on various projects and have lived in Edinburgh, Glasgow and most recently London. Between odd jobs I make short films and music videos, as well as portrait and event photography.

It all started back in school in Aberdeen. My friends in the year above took a media studies class and this led to them making a witty and ridiculous Lord of the Rings parody called The Allegiance. Awed and inspired that it was possible to make a film with just a camera and basic editing software, and that the technology was available to anyone I began my own Star Wars Episode III inspired spoof called Dark Edge. The project snowballed and became an hourlong epic full of characters, silly stunts and visual effects. Taking a few weekends to shoot and almost two years to finish, the result is still available online as an awkward beacon marking the bizarre start of my journey. This wasn’t the end of Dark Edge, but we’ll get back to that…

Leaving school my ambition had always actually been graphic design, something I still try to do where I can, but not professionally. Over the first year it dawned on me that my interests were starting to be focussed much less on print adverts and more towards the still and moving image. I chose Photographic & Electronic Media as my subject and learned about photographic techniques in film and digital formats, as well as film-making basics. Throughout this I continued shooting fun projects such as Neo-Western Silver Streets and its sequel/ spinoff; procedural action thriller Silver Streets: LEGACY.

Graduating after a final year of unachieved ambitions and failed works in documentary and narrative, I felt there was still more to learn. I attended a film event in Glasgow, and became enamoured with the new course at Screen Academy Scotland; MA Film. I applied, interviewed and was delighted to be accepted into the very small class that was the first to take the fledgling course. Making new friends including my regular Director of Photography Steve Cardno and learning new ways to evaluate and create narrative fiction, my mind was opened to concepts beyond my previously very narrow ideas into a wider world. I began to appreciate films from other languages and styles. There were a couple of issues. I was having difficulty generating ideas and§ finding collaborators with compatible approaches.

Can you tell me about your work?

After completing the course and having one of the best years of my life I found myself adrift in an adult world with no idea of how to find work. I moved to Glasgow where the majority of Scottish TV was produced. Unfortunately, it was during a time of cutbacks from the BBC and the first incident of bad timing that has often been an issue in the proceeding years. I did as much freelance work as I could; assisting with corporate and music videos while revving up towards directing and producing my own work again. In 2012 I started Forrestfire Productions. Initially it was a registered sole-trading business, now it is essentially a title for my work as a self-employed freelancer. My first music video as director was ‘Black Metal Girlfriend’ for my friend and regular client Ryan Wyness. This is a very basic video, but the funny nature of the song and narrative has kept it as one of the most popular videos and a great proving ground for my editing and basic colour grading skills.

We would repeat this approach (albeit less successfully) with his song “How Do Ugly Guys Get Hot Chicks?” ‘Sweetness’, our third video together was far more interesting. I’m still very proud of it for its subtle use of fantasy elements and an ending that really catches the feeling of the song. Inspired by Bioshock Infinite and daydreams of the girl that got away, everyone involved was very happy with the result.

Around this time I also shot the video for ‘Me and My Seaside Car by Go.Star.Fall. This was a unique challenge in that the song hadn’t been recorded at time of shooting. This posed an editing challenge, as the tempo was not consistent with the live performance. Editing around the footage of the sand car allowed a quick paced edit to work with a slow song. My last video in Glasgow was something very different, working with rap music for the first time and shooting in various locations including a recycling plant in Perth. We tried to keep up as best as we could with the groups’ ever-expanding list of ideas on how the video should work.

By this time I was itching to actually direct a short film, my first since film school. I had assistant directed a few but my desire had always been creative rather than managerial. I had been interested in film noir for a while, having dabbled with it previously on a couple of very basic shorts during my undergraduate course. So, along with my brother and co-writer Jamie, Deadly Ground began to take shape. It was a noir that fused classics from the 40’s and 50’s like Out of the Past, This Gun For Hire and Gun Crazy with modern neo noir like Heat and Drive. Noir excites me because it always takes place in a heightened world, where no one can be trusted. Good things rarely happen and shadows paint the psyches of the characters across the walls. My film took in elements of classic noir but in a very contemporary setting, with the antagonistic force being a security company represented by two characters – a sleazy executive and a brutal ‘fixer.’

I then made something a bit more fun. Dark Edge: Edge of Darkness was a ten years later sequel to my first ever project, but with all the knowledge and experience of film school and various productions, along with cutting edge 4k technology added to the mix to demonstrate how things have progressed since 2005. A postproduction marathon, it featured around sixty visual effects.

All the while Complex was forming, another neo-noir, but with a colourful, psychological approach, more in line with 80’s films like Thief and Angel Heart. Complex has been a very difficult film to make, teaching me all kinds of lessons about the kinds of people you should be working with. The writing process on Complex was extraordinarily tough. We started with a simple detective story idea and then worked through various versions looking into a fantastical ‘wheel of fate’ storyline, ghosts, destinies and time travel, a version set on Victory in Europe Day in 1945. Eventually, we settled on something more nihilistic and disturbing. Reading a book about psychology had started as a way to understand motivation and reaction for my characters but l fell down a rabbit hole of mental illness and in particular schizophrenia. Often depicted incorrectly as multiple personalities in fiction (this is actually dissociative personality disorder) the real symptoms of schizophrenia are terrifying (including hearing voices, delusions, focussing on the negative aspects of literally anything) and provided a chilling twist on the detective story we had started with. The whole process has been a challenge. The prep was complicated. Crew members were joining and quitting as better offers arose. The shoot, although smooth, was expensive. The postproduction was unrealistically hard, with similar problems amongst the crew as the edit and sound mix come together. It has taken a lot of resilience to keep forging onward toward a final piece of work and with new members of crew working on it we’re getting very close.

Still from Scott’s film ‘Concept.’

The neo-noir fascination will continue with my first feature-length film project Old Haunts. I’m currently writing and hoping that it can develop towards being shot in 2018.

It’s been a while since I regularly made music videos, but I love the process. I am going to be trying to pick up a few new clients this year as I have access to much better technology and crew than in London. There, it’s very difficult for an outsider to get involved with any production companies without having gone to university with them. My ideal approach to music videos is receiving the track to listen to and the lyrics to analyse. I like to get as much of a sense of an idea as the artist has, along with any reference material they want me to look at as inspiration. From here I’ll suggest a few ideas. I’ll put together mood boards, and perhaps storyboards and shot breakdowns if the idea is complicated. Usually the artist will already have a specific idea and insist on sticking to it. In the case of ‘Comatose’ by Ryan Wyness I had pitched the idea for anther song called ‘Whiskey Lips’ but this was set aside due to the cost and complexity of the idea. By time we were able to shoot, a new album was recorded, so it was adjusted to fit the new song as best as possible.

What’s freelancing like as a filmmaker?

Music video clients, just like any  clients can be frustrating to work with as they always make the same fundamental error when discussing what they want and how much they are willing to pay for it. What we filmmakers do is provide a service. We write, plan, prepare, produce, shoot, direct, edit, colour and render videos. The end result is a video file which we present as a file or a disc. Clients often think that they are paying for the end result, and will be paying their understanding of the value of said video. In fact they are actually paying for your time spent on all aspects of the production, the equipment you have invested in or rented, the endless hours plugging away on the editing software and the numerous re-renders after they provide note after note.

Sometimes clients can be wonderful collaborators and together you can find a balance between your ideas and theirs. Sometimes they will be happy until the very last stage of the project, and then suddenly have a batch of notes that aren’t all reasonable. One example was a musician asking for parts of the video to be in slow motion, months after us shooting at 25 frames per second and them having no interest in slow motion. It took a lot of patience and explaining before they could understand the requirements of shooting with high frame rates at the time to achieve the look, something we could easily have done if it had been part of the plan.

The final stages of rendering out a video, uploading it, getting notes, making changes and repeat can be delightful or strenuous, depending on the attitude of your client. Just remember that your attitude should be friendly and helpful all the way though this, even if your patience is long gone and your brain is frazzled.

What are your tips for other creatives?

The most important thing to do when dealing with any kind of creative work is to be prepared! If you aren’t sure of yourself when dealing with clients they can feel it and might be reluctant to trust you with their precious song or project. So, do your homework, create documents to present your ideas and speak with confidence! I have certainly been guilty of under-preparation and I refer you to the rule of the seven P’s used by the army: “Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance!” (This can be altered to the 5 P’, omitting Prior and Piss, but I prefer the Andy McNab version).

The biggest struggle for me has been attracting clients beyond friends and friend-of-friends. Everyone needs to find their own way to do this, but the best results seem to come from targeted marketing in places where you’re most likely to reach your desired client base. This might be a website advert, a social media post or an actual post to a real life noticeboard somewhere. It’s hard for me to offer much more advice on the matter because I’m still figuring things out myself.

This year has seen me return to Scotland with the intention of settling in Edinburgh and working towards shooting Old Haunts. In the meantime I’m rethinking my approach to this business. I’m trying to focus more on what makes me happy whilst making enough money to live, not just survive like I was in London. I’m simultaneously full of regret that my big move to London hasn’t led to a job in film or TV, and excited about being back in Scotland with a bit more wisdom and experience behind me. It’s very hard to do this alone, and often I find myself taking on far too many tasks. I am still trying to find a producer to team up with and have yet to work with one who I click with in order to build upon each project. This has probably been my biggest handicap creatively as so much of my mind and time is taken up with the responsibilities and challenges of producing everything myself.

Some words from Scott’s clients

Green Beers

We love Green Beers’ story about working with Scott on this video: “Scott is a great guy that we’ve known for years, he really, really cares about what he does and he’s so brilliant at what he does. He does everything he promises himself, everything he promises people he works with and treats everyone with respect and honesty. Scott’s the nicest dude in the world and as of writing this, ladies, he is currently single! We recorded that video on a Sunday afternoon of the craziest weather of pouring rain and gorgeous sunshine. We had no plans, we just went to the closest supermarket, bought a bunch of discounted/out of date food, went to Hazlehead Park in Aberdeen and had a great day coming up with dumb ideas as the day went on. The highlights of the day were air-guitaring topless in front of innocent families in the park and Scott almost throwing up when we coughed up some ravioli. That stuff burned! We cleaned up our mess and got a ride home in Scott’s car, and we smelled so bad after throwing up food and drinks all over ourselves. We felt awful because later that evening, he had to take his date out in that car…”

Craig Souter

Scott directed and edited Craig Souter’s a cappella cover of Hold Back The River by James Bay. Craig comments: “Scott’s a wonderful guy to work with. His dedication to the project and attention to detail created a fantastically effective, yet simple video. Throughout the whole process he remained considerate to my artistic vision, never overshadowing, he kept us headed towards right direction. A most lovely, creative experience.”

Terry Bling and Princyboii

Terry Bling and Princyboii loved the results of Scott’s work: “It was good working with Scott. Very professional and he works fast.”

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Becca is the Marketing Executive at Twine. She loves literature, music, film and make-up. She spends a lot of time complaining about the mismatched angles of her winged eyeliner and stalking drag queens on Instagram. Otherwise, she’s helping Joe by writing blog posts and keeping Twine’s social media running.