‘It’s a privilege to do something you love, and not many people get to do that…’ It’s the first line of Jake Cauty’s ice hockey documentary, Panthers, but you also get the idea that it’s something that he feels about filmmaking too.
Panthers is a short documentary which focuses on the motivation, inspiration and camaraderie – plus the brutality – of ice hockey, and takes us behind the ice curtain of Nottingham’s premiere ice hockey team, the Panthers. But there’s more. On screen there’s a combination of passion, humility and a feeling of tenderness and vulnerability. Behind the lens, it’s Jake’s first project solely for himself and a dedication to his father, who introduced Jake to filmmaking.
Much of the power of Panthers comes from the candid narration of ice hockey supremo David Clarke. It also comes from Jake’s interest, experience, music choices and cutting skills. Plus there’s a shot of a Zamboni!
“I’ve always wanted to make something for myself,” said Jake. He first got into filmmaking at 12, when his dad gave him camera for his birthday. At 15, Jake’s dad sat him down to show him Premiere Pro. From there it was media at school and college, followed by the first tentative – and demanding – steps in the industry.
“After college my dad got me my first job, a junior role, just helping out on a series because he knew some people in the industry. And that’s how it started. I fell in love with it and just kept going,” said Jake.
It was a lot of hard work (and a lot of not getting paid). He was eventually contracted to production company Red Handed TV and in 2015 he went freelance. That’s when it started to get really busy.
“I’ve always wanted to do a drama,” said Jake. “Write a script and direct it – probably something like a dark thriller. But there was never time as I was always working on other people’s projects.”
It was in the middle of last year (2016) while editing a promo that he turned his mind to doing something that wasn’t a drama.
“I was doing research,” said Jake, “looking for inspiration for short films, and everyone was saying, make something you’re interested in. So I thought ice hockey.”
Has he played the sport?
“No. I’ve always wanted to, but maybe I’ll get to that. The first time I actually saw a live game was when I went to film it. It was just amazing to watch.”
Filming fitted into Jake’s work schedule, with him travelling to Nottingham for weekend games, capturing the training in the morning as well as the games.
“The more filming I did it, the more people would accept me being there and be more relaxed around me,” said Jake.
It wasn’t until the team’s awards night the players and managers got to see the finished film, and it seems to have gone down well. Members of the squad – both playing and backroom – got in touch, as well as fans. And narrator David Clarke also dropped him a line.
“I don’t think he thought he was going to be such a key,” said Jake. “I don’t think I did either. At the beginning I thought the film would be something quite different, but the way it built up, it ended up being something else. Probably better than I expected.”
In just 24 hours, Panthers got around 6,000 views on YouTube, plus more on the Panther’s Facebook page.
Now the film is destined for festivals around the world, with four official selections and two finalists and one semifinalist in the bag so far.
The film is also a deeply personal project for Jake. It is dedicated to his father who he lost in December.
“That was hard to deal with while making the film, but it was really nice that he’d got me into it, and it kept me close to him while making it,” said Jake.
The film is strongly emotional, and Jake’s use of music is a key element.
“For me, music is more important than the images – at the beginning music comes in when the screen’s blank, the pictures phase in. I always take a long time looking for music to make sure it fits perfectly.”
For Panthers, Jake trawled the music available – he can spot a potential soundtrack by waveform alone. And his criteria for his music choices? It has to give him goosebumps. The bands featured in the film are Audiomachine, Moby and Chromatics.
But it’s the way music combines with the shot that makes the tension, and helps tell the story.
“I like to cut off beat, but have an action on a beat,” said Jake. “In that way it builds more naturally – people don’t really know what’s going to happen, or how it’s going to build. I think they get attached to it a lot easier that way. It’s a smoother journey.
“The ending track for the for the film was a slow piano track. On the last shot, David Clarke is looking in the camera and you’re waiting for the next piano note, and you can hear the notes about to come and the credits roll. I thought that was a really nice touch to have the audience almost expecting something but not really knowing what it was.”
Jake’s covered a lot of hard-hitting, high-octane subjects, including live sailing competitions, wrestling, motor sport, boxing, hurdling and sprint race, Burghley horse trials, live music, for example Zebrahead, Ministry of Defence/British Army, Gilpin Demolition. And it’s the experience of capturing the action and the essence of the performance, the inspiration, power and even vulnerability that Panthers conveys.
Combine that with some other high-end clients, including Mercedes, Disney, Pokemon, ITV, BBC, Sky Sports, CNBC, ESPN, Battersea Dogs Home, Porsche and West Ham United.
“I like making something about someone who’s passionate about what they do. It inspires you, and so the shots and the editing flow more naturally,” said Jake.
In terms of visual inspiration, the more natural the better. Natural images using a variety of lenses and keeping post-production down to a minimum – and slow-motion – are aspects of Jake’s style.
“My favourite thing to work with is slow motion and changing lenses to give a different look,” he said.
Oh, and there’s a hatred of tripods.
“It’s a lot more freeing not to be locked to something – you can move and get into awkward spots, which I had to with Panthers. A lot of the time I was by the rink in a little corner about the size of my laptop, I just had to stand there with players running past me the whole time,” said Jake.
The self-funded Panthers, which cost around £3,000, is set for the festival circuit, but what next?
“Just to know that it’s out there doing well and it’s something I made is good enough,” said Jake.
“I’m hoping that this will give me a footing into doing more film work, and be a bit of a starting point for writing drama. Now I do feel more inspired to know I can do it. I can make something and people like it.”
Jake’s now looking into his next film, a drama, taking inspiration from films like Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines for a short which conveys emotion, but with minimal dialogue. And despite the narration, it’s following on from the technique he used in Panthers.
Part of that freedom of style, structure and editing could come from Jake’s Devon base.
“If it was somewhere like a big film place, if it was London or LA, there are a lot of mainstream conventions. But a lot of time I’ve been left to my own devices,” said Jake.
“I think it’s more relaxing in Devon to just to be able to work more naturally. I don’t want to follow a formula of working: here’s a tripod, here’s a producer and just follow this. I do prefer to work the opposite way.”
It’s an opposite way that seems to be working. And think on this – here’s another line from Panthers: ‘Any person can be the difference maker.’