An inquisitive eye and the sense of a good story are ideal attributes for a filmmaker, and Luke Hagan displayed them both as he unearthed (which sounds so much nicer than ‘stumbled on’) the story of one of the world’s top designers who lives and works in Exeter.
Luke’s film, the documentary Lord of the Logos, which won Exeter Phoenix bursary funding and will be premiered at its Two Short Nights film festival, tells the story of Exeter-based artist Christophe Szpajdel.
Here’s the deal with Christophe (as taken from the Exeter Phoenix bursary site): ‘With an estimated 10,000 designs to his name, exhibitions as far afield as Japan and New Zealand, and clients from across the globe, Christophe is one of the most famous logo designers you’ve probably never heard of. That’s because Christophe designs logos for metal bands.’
Luke encountered Christophe in Exeter Library (yes, the library, the haunt of world-renown industrious creatives -listen up policy makers!)
“I was at the library doing some writing and I walked past Christophe who was sitting in the cafe drawing his logos,” said Luke. “I saw what he was drawing and I thought, that guy knows what he’s doing. And he was a really interesting character. Later I got in touch with him and said I was a fan. Since I’d seen him, I’d bought his book.”
Luke had managed to find out more about Christophe in the interim. Apparently, if you search the words ‘logos’ ‘metal’ ‘artists’ ‘Exeter’ there aren’t that many results.
It turns out that Luke had already been aware of Christophe and his work from an interview with Vice magazine some years previously.
“He pegged me for making a film before I’d brought it up. He was very keen,” said Luke.
Christophe has a passion for his work and all things Metal, but how did Luke pitch to win the Exeter Phoenix bursary commission?
“I had a fairly solid idea of what the film was going to be. Although we didn’t know what we’d get, the idea was always to reveal Christophe as an incredibly well-known international artist. But he’s only well-known in a small niche.
“A lot of people I talked to before the pitch knew of Christophe -he’s a local character. But very few of them knew he was a famous logo designer. So the pitch for that was fairly straight-forward.
“Also Christophe had a show at the Phoenix a few years ago so they knew of him, so that was helpful as well.”
The focal point of the film was a London exhibition Christophe was preparing for.
“We did a test film with him designing a logo for a pub in Romania,” said Luke. “That was a good chance to film with him and see how he was with the camera and do an interview.”
Filming proper began as Christophe was preparing for a show in Canada. The backbone of the film was always a going to be a sit-down interview with Christophe, with additional information coming from a few more interviews with other people.
Then the opportunity came about that Christophe had an exhibition in the Artizan gallery in Torquay, which offered a perfect contrast to the London show and round-up to the film.
In terms of editing, it took a while to break the backbone of the story.
“There was a lot of material, and figuring out how to structure it and what to focus on took quite a while,” said Luke. Part of the problem was the wealth of material and the restrictions of getting it into a 10 minute film.
“The guys at the Phoenix were very helpful,” said Luke. “It was good to have a sounding board. It was nice to have some feedback about what was and wasn’t working.”
For a film about an artist working in the realm of Black Metal, music was always going to be important.
“We were really lucky because Christophe has so many fans, we were able to get tracks from a couple of bands. One of them is a Devon-based Black Metal band called Dystopian Wrath, who very kindly let us use some of their music.
“And then we got some tracks from a Black Metal artist who goes by the name of Morphesia, from San Diego.
“I was really keen to use music from the scene because ultimately he’s designing logos for metal bands and I didn’t want to put generic documentary music over it.
“It did create its own issues. Before I spoke with Christophe I wasn’t particularly au fait with Black Metal music, so as a layman it was quite hard to find a suitable tone. I wanted the Black Metal music but I didn’t just want it to make everything heavy and dark -it’s a story and you still want there to be changes in tone. But we were lucky with the bands we got. They have really good varied stuff, which did help a lot,” said Luke.
The film comes in at around the 10-minute mark, but there’s plenty of scope and you could easily make a feature.
“I like the way the documentary has come out,” said Luke. “I think it’s a nice, tight, compact story. To tell the story of someone who’s been designing logos for 30 years now -by his own estimate he’s done about 10,000 designs -and of the Black Metal scene, you’ve got to be selective.”
Because of Christophe’s renown and fan-base (we’re talking tens of thousands) there’s hope that the documentary will have an appeal way beyond the usual film festival circuit after its Two Short Nights premiere.
“It’s a compact documentary about an interesting character, I’m quite hopeful it will get seen. Also it’s about a scene that a lot of people don’t know about.”
But Luke’s hoping for a larger scope.
“We’re very keen to show it abroad,” he said. “Christophe is currently at a show in Japan and there’s talks with people who are organising that to possibly show it over there.” Other possibilities are Poland and Canada.
“We’ve got hopes to get it screened not just to festival audiences, but to people that are already familiar with his work but might not know him as a character.”
This has been a learning process for Luke, whose passing interest in Black Metal has been greatly enhanced.
“What struck me most -and I’ve always found this with the Metal community -it’s got this image as very dark and Satanic, but everyone is so helpful and nice and they just want to show you the best of the scene and what it has to offer,” he said.
“It was also interesting -Christophe has opened my eyes to the sheer volume of genres of Metal and Black Metal. He’s so enthusiastic about the entire scene. He loves it all.”
A documentary is a slight departure for Luke, who alongside his usual work for corporate clients, has made music videos, plus the historic feature set in Cornwall, All in the Valley, which picked up Best Feature Film at the Cornwall Film Festival, 2014. (While we’re on the subject of gongs, Luke isn’t a stranger to Two Short Nights success, bagging an award for his short One Year Gone in 2008.)
“I knew it would be hard to make a feature,” said Luke. “But it was so much harder than I guessed and I found it quite draining.
“I spent a year planning everything, and then a stressful year of filming and reshoots and a year of editing. So by the time I’d finished it, it had been three years since I’d written anything.”
The return to creative filmmaking came in the form of Exeter’s 48-Hour Film challenge in 2015. ‘It was quite nice to do something quickly and get back into making things,’ he said.
Another feature could be in the offing -but it’s more just over the horizon than on it.
“I want to try to do a couple more short films to hone my skills,” said Luke.
“All in the Valley, produced by my partner Corina, was a great learning experience, I could have spent the time making loads of short films, but I thought I’d sink my teeth into something bigger. And I learnt so much from doing it, it would be a waste not to go and put that into practice.”
After the experience of Lord of the Logos, would Luke consider more documentaries?
“The documentary format really interests me -the chance to find and tell interesting stories.”
Eight years ago, Luke and the interviewer (that’s me) sat in a dark room at the Exeter Phoenix to be part of the selection panel of the international movies for Two Short Nights that year. I ask about his journey as a filmmaker in the intervening years.
“For a while I was so focused on the feature I wasn’t doing much else, but it’s given me a lot of skills. I now have a stronger sense of how to find and develop the story. And I’ve got a slightly better understanding of how the industry works,” he said.
“Since 2008, things have changed hugely. For a while it was a full-time job keeping up with what was changing. I was fascinated with the latest equipment and the latest rig. After making All in the Valley, I realised that doesn’t really matter. Ultimately it’s about the story.
“I’d rather tell the story than spend hours worrying about whether I had the right camera to get it done.”
For focusing on story, the documentary Lord of the Logos is ideal.
Plus it has a world-wide scope that touches thousands. And a lesson we can all learn -next time you’re in your local library (if you have one) keep your creative eyes open.
â€¢ Lord of the Logos is at the Two Short Nights film festival on Friday, December 2.
(top image: Christophe at Artizan Gallery, Torquay)
Two Short Nights is a film festival of two days of shorts, talks and workshops at the Exeter Phoenix on Thursday, December 1 and Friday, December 2. Something for all ages, and for those working in the industry, etcetera, etcetera