Sometimes, rules need to be bent, tested, broken or even forgotten so for today, and once in a while, Aloud. is free of gender constraints so creativity can remain at its heart. Following the path of my curiosity/obsession with Renew Newcastle, it seemed natural to invite Stuart McBratney, a Newcastle-based filmmaker and musician to feature on the pages of Aloud. Stuart has just returned from a 4 month trip. He visited Hong Kong, Finland, Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Germany, Canada and the USA. We caught up to discover what he’s been up to.
ALOUD: Tell us about this trip. Was it for business or pleasure?
STUART McBRATNEY: A bit of both. Two of the four months were spent in Russia and Ukraine, where I was directing a tv series with fellow Novocastrian Julia Nalivaiko. The series is called Back in the Soviet Bloc, and it’s about her journey back to her homeland to learn about the life, culture, people and food of former Soviet nations. This time around we filmed in St Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Kherson and Odessa, but we hope to return for a second series to film further afield. It’d be awesome to film in places like Kazakstan, Georgia and the Baltic states.
The other purpose of the trip was to shoot a couple more music videos for my latest musical project, The Mischief Engine, and to release the album. I shot one video in Berlin, and another in Toronto, Canada. The album, Soul Delay, was released a couple of weeks ago, and is now available for download.
ALOUD: Can you tell us a little bit about your background, and how you became involved in both film and music?
STUART: Film came first. I decided I’d become a filmmaker at age 7 when I saw The Empire Strikes Back, then I made my first videos at age 11. I was hooked, and was making videos right through high school in my spare time. I then got into film school, and did that full-time for 3 years. By the time I handed in my final piece of uni assessment I was still only 19 years old, and eager to start working as a director. Then reality hit me. No-one wanted to hire a kid. It’d be another 10 years before I’d find full-time work as a director, but I kept busy in the meantime writing script after script, and making a bunch of short films and a feature film called Spudmonkey which received a limited theatrical release in 2008.
ALOUD: You haven’t mentioned the music yet. Where does that fit in?
STUART: The kids at school would bring tapes and cassette players to school. And we’d listen to all this cheesy heavy metal stuff like Twisted Sister during our lunch breaks.
So then for my 12th birthday I was given a cassette player, and it had dual cassette decks, which I thought was awesome. I wanted one so I could pirate my friends’ tapes. But then I discovered that you could actually play two tapes at the same time. So I started cutting together these little mashups of songs. I’d copy a few seconds of one song, and a few seconds of another, and time it so that if I played both tapes simultaneously, it’d create this weird remix thing. My dad had all of these old jazz records with drum solos and stuff, so I’d dub them to tape, and add these drums to tracks like Bryan Adams and W.A.S.P.
Then I found a way to tie video into it. My friend and I would remove sheets of polystyrene insulation sheets from his parents’ ceiling to make guitars. We’d dress up as heavy metal superstars, and we’d then film ourselves miming to these mashups while we smashed our home-made guitars. It was awesome.
So it made sense that at age 14, when I finally picked up a real guitar, that I took to it like a duck to water. I was hooked instantly. No-one had to push me. I would just play for hours and hours. Some days I’d wake up and do nothing but play guitar all day, then sleep, then do it all over again. I got good very quickly, and started writing my soundtracks to my own videos from about age 16 when I got my first 4-track mixer.
Cut to a couple of decades later, and I’m still at it. I’ve been playing guitar for 22 years now, and making videos for 25 years. I’m a professional filmmaker, earning money from writing and directing tv commercials. And for the moment, the music’s been a bunch of side-projects that I’ve done for the love of it.
ALOUD: Where do you seek and find inspiration?
STUART: When I’m writing tv commercials, it’s all about finding that one little spark of an idea that makes you laugh. I focus in on the part of the brain that creates things, and I just channel it. Sometimes nothing good comes out of it, but usually after a few of these intense sessions of creative concentration I think of something that makes me laugh. Then when I’m going through the long hard process of actually making the ad, I have to hold onto that initial spark of inspiration, and remember my reaction when I thought of it.
Writing feature films is a different approach. I generally have a bunch of core ideas that are floating around in my head, waiting to be developed. Then it’s a matter of fleshing them out to see if they evolve into something compelling.
As for the music, it’s less cerebral. It’s just a case of playing what feels right. I just feel it and I play it.
ALOUD: Can you describe your work in a few words?
STUART: My best tv commercials are the funny ones. As for my other stuff, the music and films, I guess I like to tell human stories. But I avoid anything that can be described as “gritty”. I’m not keen on the grit. I like comedies which still have a genuine human side, and I like music which is emotional, but playful too. For example, on Soul Delay, which is the album I just released, the whole thing is a concept album, meaning it tells a story from beginning to end. But unlike other concept albums which are often about really serious themes like war, or insanity or something, this ones’s about a geeky guy who doesn’t have much luck with the ladies, but then he meets a girl on a dating site and flies to the other side of the world to meet her.
ALOUD: What are your hopes and dreams professionally?
STUART: In the short term, it’d be great to play Soul Delay live. For this to happen we’d need for it to go viral online first, because we all live in different parts of the world. But hopefully people will appreciate the music, and the demand will be there.
As for the film stuff, hopefully our Kickstarter campaign will be a success for Back in the Soviet Bloc, then we sell the finished product, get it on tv, and get the chance to make Season 2.
If all goes well with this, I’ll probably use Kickstarter again to raise funds for Pop-Up, my next feature project.
Long term, I just want to keep doing what I’m doing, which is making music and making films. I can’t see myself ever retiring. I want to be like Kurosawa, who made his last film at age 83.
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