Itch Film presents “Prophecy” the film Documentary

2018

PROPHECY

 

This is a rare, intimate exploration of a single oil painting and the first major film to reveal the motive and techniques behind each stroke of paint as the artist creates. The audience is plunged in to the artist’s darkly comic obsessive mind, what starts as a blank canvas, emerges Peter Howson’s monumental oil painting; PROPHECY.
Howson is a former official British war artist who works from his imagination. He draws inspiration from world unrest, religious beliefs and mythology, utilising classical technical skills from his heroes, Goya, DaVinci, Bruegel and El Greco.
The film sticks deliberately and rigorously to the frame work of the painting itself. We observe the canvas as it is made and mounted onto a wooden stretcher, the struggle and turbulence of its creation in Howson’s Glasgow studio. We follow its journey through the commercial Art world, across the Atlantic to New York for its first public exhibition, the sale and its final destination on the wall of a private art collector in London’s Canary Wharf.

Inventive filming techniques and hypnotic camera work make the invisible, visible, revealing how the unseen images in the artist’s head are transferred to canvas. We discover what it takes to create a large oil painting, the techniques, the materials, the skills, the thinking behind creation, and the intensions and difficulties that push Howson to achieve this ambitious, masterful and detailed 6ft x 8ft canvas.

This film draws us right into the artist’s eye, magnifying the apocalyptic world of Peter Howson’s painting; PROPHECY.

DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT

As a filmmaker I have always been fascinated by the process of painting and the possibility of discovering the images buried below the surface of the final painting. This ‘lost’ art is what I strive to expose to my audience. Observing the artist’s creative process is like seeing into their mind.

I am acutely aware that being accepted into an artist’s studio to record their journey and exploration of a yet unborn image is a delicate and privileged position. I have been fortunate to have opportunity to build relationships with many artists and experience this process of capturing their art-work in creation. The concept for Prophecy was a natural development from these individual films that I have been making during the last thirty years.

I first collaborated with Peter Howson on one of my early films, a BAFTA nominated series titled Inside Art. The painting he created unexpectedly took nine months to complete. We were with each other nearly every day of that time, so I learnt a lot about his practices and rhythms. In the intervening years I have observed and filmed him working in a few different studios, his approach to painting and his character made him the perfect artist to work with for this film. He works daily, regular long hours and paints one canvas at a time. The lighting and space in his Glasgow studio make for good filming conditions.

I was the only person Peter allowed into the studio during his painting sessions, so I set up four cameras to capture complete coverage, three of which were static and the fluid camera which I operated. These cameras were positioned; straight on to the canvas to capture the build-up of the painting in stop-frame, another on his paint table and palette to capture the paint detail and another on wide framing to take in the action around the studio. The final camera which I operated with manual focus was on wheeled legs with an old fashioned boat moy-head. Peter painted all day and every day, except Sundays, for four intense months to complete the painting. Sustaining these concentrated filming requirements on the manual focus camera and managing the three other cameras, over that length of time was an arduous workload for me. It also created over the whole project more than 700 hours of data to process, which I did in the evenings.

We sited six microphones around the studio all recording simultaneously to pick up ambient sounds, atmos, dogs noises, the paint mixing sounds from his work-table and a directional mic to pick up the action on the canvas. We also had a chest mic on Peter which he put on every morning. But interviewing him with no back-ground sound was challenging, because he darts around the canvas painting whilst listening to very loud classical music to block out the surrounding world. My main focus for this film was to capture the creative process without intruding on its natural rhythm and process, whilst I was also keen to hear Peter’s thoughts in real time.

I made copious notes on colour and technique during the painting’s creation which informed the next stage of film-making. Once Peter had finished the painting I transported key items from his studio in Glasgow to my film studio in Kings Cross, London, to reconstruct his space around my motion control rig. I spent many weeks painstakingly re-creating Peter’s paint squeezes and tube pick-ups, re-shot photographs, images from publications, page turns amongst many others shots to help the edit and Peter’s story unfold visually.

We set up my editor Joby’s suite in the studio and worked alongside each other. After the first edit block assembling the narrative, we then worked on the chronology of the development of the painting to ensure it progressed accurately as Peter had painted it. Working together in the same space allowed me to create and shoot shots and immediately try them out in the edit.

Music was an immensely important part of Peter’s working practice, informing and perhaps mirroring his mood and approach to the canvas. It had a strong impact on my experience of being in his studio. He plays music very loudly drowning out the world around. If felt appropriate for the edit to look at composers Peter had listened to while he painted Prophecy. I found in Latvian composer Peteris Vasks, the variety of mood, drama and power to work with our edit.

The post-production work was done at Molinare, London. I had previously worked with re-record mixer George Foulgham, on my first feature Sony Pictures Classics release For No Good Reason. The main challenge for Prophecy was the music in the background on much of the audio I had recorded in the artist’s studio, it meant we had to entirely create the soundscape. We had to re-record every single brush stroke, so I took a canvas and set of paints into the dub and George recorded me painting whilst watching the edit. The colour grade was sponsored by FilmLight who provide Baselight system so I was fortunate to work with super talented colourist Asa Shoul. He came to see the painting when it was at my studio and for the grade sessions he had a set of paints to refer to for accurate colour representation.

Director Charlie Paul

EDIT

Editing Prophecy was unlike any other film in my career.

From the outset the Director Charlie Paul, had decided that the painting itself would be the main character of the film, so it had to be shown as an entity that went on a journey. The creation of the canvas itself would become the opening sequence and we would follow it during the transformation, the character literally evolving in front of our eyes and traveling thousands of miles until it’s journey was complete.

The initial work was constructing a narrative around the 700 hours of footage captured by Charlie over a four-month period that the painting took to be created in the artist’s studio. Once we were happy with the story and order of the sync, the next challenge was ensuring that the painting developed in its natural chronological order on screen, meaning that large amounts of the artist’s dialogue needed to be covered. The artist often played loud classical music in his studio whilst he was painting, so all the sound effects were created in post- production. Charlie painstakingly re-enacted every single brush stroke, many hundreds of them along with painting effects in the dub. He also added a deep rumble from the traffic on a flyover above the artist studio, which helps create the sense of unease in the artist’s studio Charlie experienced during his time recording the painting’s creation.

The next step was to add a new picture layer of macro shots, time lapses and computer controlled moves into the edit. The director Charlie, has a motion control studio, in which he built a reconstruction of the artist’s studio around the camera. This new layer of footage not only added opportunity for the audience to enjoy the picture creation from literally a new angle, but took us into extreme close up detail of how to paint an oil painting. Enhancing the artists original work with beautiful shots of brushes, paints and canvas. The edit suite was in the motion control studio, so shots could be instantly edited in and adjusted / re-shot as required to fit the edit.

This new layer of hi-end beauty shots took a long time to create, shooting was over many months, so I would spend several weeks in the edit working alongside Charlie, then take a break to return when enough new material had been gathered. I cut the film in five blocks over an eighteen-month period in the end.

The finished film relies heavily on the music of Latvian composer Peteris Vasks and includes two tracks of his with a duration of around 10 minutes each where the pictures and sync were edited around the ebb and flow of the long tracks.

Editor Joby Gee

COLOUR GRADE

Supported by FilmLight

Grading Prophecy was a fascinating project with unique challenges .

It follows the progression of a single piece of art from conception to completion. I felt it was vitally important to see the painting itself first hand, to best see the range of colours and detail of the brushstrokes. The painting was at Charlie and Lucy’s studio whilst they were shooting a motion control shot for the final scene in the film. Seeing the painting in its final form was phenomenal, but it did not prepare me for the extraordinary metamorphosis it goes through when Peter Howson paints over the picture time and again with washes of different colours. To help with this, Charlie brought in to the grading suite, a set of the artist’s oil paints so that we could reference them as they were applied to the canvas.

I did a separate pass on the film, focusing areas of the canvas to draw the viewer in and help to emphasize the changes that occurred as the artist built up the layers of paint.

Following my previous work grading documentaries on the art of David Hockney and Paula Rego, I feel this film examines the artists’ relationship to colour, in more detail than I have ever seen on film before.

Colourist Asa Shoul

SOUND SCAPE

‘It was thrilling to watch it, you know, because it frightened me, and filled me with a kind of sense of joy at the same time‘ …

This is how the artist Peter Howson describes watching a film, as a youngster. And that’s the reaction i hope, as the films sound Re Recording Mixer, the audience will have, being immersed in the soundscape of ‘Prophecy’.

Howson works in a ‘studio’ built directly under a flyover in Glasgow. The constant low end rumble of the traffic, coupled with Peters need to listen to classical music several hours a day whilst working, severely restricted any sound recording on location. Therefore, during the several months of filming the creation of the painting ‘Prophecy’, Charlie Paul the director, a one man band of camera and sound, could only record snippets of location sound and conversation. The usable snippets of location recorded conversational dialogue were painstakingly put together by Joby Gee, the films editor, to create the films narrative.

Given that only a small amount of location sound could be used, the entire soundscape of the Documentary had to be reconstructed in Post production. From the beginning of the film, as we witness the building of the canvas, to the final scene of the film, when we sweep through an office window to reveal Canary Wharf.  The Documentary has aurally three strong characters; Peter, who with the help of sound design, lets the audience into the light and very dark areas of his mind; the ‘studio’ that’s grindingly oppressive with its constant low rubble of traffic, thats then sporadically lightened with beautiful inspirational music. And lastly the painting ‘Prophecy’, from its beginnings as a blank canvas, to its future life on a corporate wall.

As Peter paints, we hear his every movement, building the layers of paint that create ‘Prophecy’. All the sound of the different size brushes, indeed all the handling of the tubes of paint, the mixing of the palette, the cleaning of the brushes, were all post recorded, in a sound studio, after the film was edited, and then fitted to every precise movement the artist makes. We hear Peter walk across his studio, move his old and trusty step ladder, we hear his dogs run around, all this sound has been recreated from scratch. Several hundred individually crafted noises. And then to help draw the eye aurally to Peters movements, especially when he’s painting, the ’post’ sound effects have all been ‘panned’, moved spatially, across the screen. Using this technique, allows the audience, for the first time, to experience the cinema screen as the artists canvas, following each brush stroke, building layers of light, to create ‘Prophecy’. The cinema screen no longer has a projected image of the painting, it has become the painting.

Prophecy

 

Director   Charlie Paul    Producer    Lucy Paul  

Cinematography Editor Charlie Paul  Joby Gee

Exec Producers Lucy Paul Alistair Currie
Ewan Angus for BBC Scotland Mark Thomas for Creative Scotland 

Music Supervisor Ed Bailie @ Leland

Music Peteris Vasks

Post Production  Molinare Supported by Filmlight

Grade Asa Shoul

Audio Re-record Mixer George Foulgham

VFX Artist Daniel Mark Miller

Production Company Itch Film

www.prophecymovie.org