Ben Tallamy has the air of the Renaissance about him: multi-performer, maker, thinker, and on a good day it looks like he’s just stepped away from a bit of swashbuckling – intellectual swashbuckling, of course!
That sense of adventure is also found in the creative choices he makes. Skit-skatting about Jane Austen, inhabiting a half-way world as an all-powerful magician or leading a sing-song with a self-penned Christmas anthem, to name but three of his many, many roles.
It’s his time as a singer-songwriter that inspired Ben to his ambitious atmospheric short All That Remains. Ben, by the way, among multi-musical embodiments, also fronts the band Catherine & the Owl.
“I did a song a few years ago called the Teignmouth Electron,” says Ben. “It was a solo project that was very much coming to terms with where I was with my work.” That was not living it large on TOTP with a chart-topping rock and/or pop career.
“Stories and narrative don’t relate to real life,” says Ben. “A lot of the time in real life you don’t get closure, and you don’t get an ending. When you apply a narrative to it, you reduce reality.” Trying to write a song about Donald Crowhurst, Ben admits, reduced the avoidable tragedy for Crowhurst’s family and the people close to him. But the creative need continued for Ben.
“I wrote a song inspired by me writing a song – the process of isolation,” he says. “And that process changed me.”
Ben also wrote a short story as a companion piece to the song and as a companion piece to ‘my narrative journey – how I’ve dealt with life not being what I maybe thought it would be like’. In there was a film set on the open water.
It was around the same time that Ben first met Simon Tytherleigh through working with him on a few projects. Over 8 years Simon had hand-built his own yacht, Nellinui, a remarkable feat, and Ben was drawn to that and the relationship Simon had with the vessel he’d crafted.
All That Remains
Eventually, Ben asked Simon if he’d take part in his All That Remains film. “There’s an honesty to Simon’s acting, and this was combined with the authenticity of the way he moved around the yacht,” says Ben.
All That Remains is an original short film about a lone mariner, struggling to escape his past, says the blurb.
Sense of isolation
“A lot of short films think they have push a point, but what we love about film is a character or a moment,” says Ben. “The goal with this was to try to come in on a story that’s already happening and to have a character that you follow who’s engaged with the world: to have that honesty of tone and to layer it in, and to have the sense of isolation and of the sea. There’s only about 8 or 10 lines in it and I would have liked it to have been without dialogue if I did it again. “
All That Remains comes in at a surprisingly sprightly 15 minutes.
“There was a lot of pressure to get it down to 10 minutes,” says Ben. “My mindset is, if it was going to be 10 minutes, I’d make a 10 minute film. Pacing isn’t how long or how short something is – it’s how long it feels.”
All That Remains is a brooding film, with the shots holding gravitas, and objects and moments given time to be dwelt on. The filmmakers took their time with the sound edit and the colour grading, too. Ironically, though, as a director Ben is quite adept at shooting quickly. That was a lesson learned on the epic, as-yet-to-be-released, multi-episode, retro TV cop show Shields Of Justice.
Shields of Justice
“Even though there were a lot of difficulties,” says Ben about Shields of Justice, “looking back, we learned a lot and we had fun, and that’s something to carry through. Even if all the footage was incinerated, it wasn’t a waste of time.”
It definitely wasn’t a waste of time, but it was, and still is, a gargantuan undertaking.
Here are some stats to start to understand the scale of Shields of Justice: the film is 1 hour 45 minutes; it’s got 30 scenes each pretty much in separate locations; and had 300-400 people involved in it. Plus it was all shot on DV, something that is proving troublesome in the mammoth post-production.
More footage than Apocalypse Now!
The idea is that a 1970s TV series got shut down due to a copyright issue and was buried in the vaults. Then, from some found Betamax recordings, it was remastered from a two-part episode into a feature film. And voila, you have Shields of Justice. It’s a comedy, and stylistically, it’s got its feet buried in the ’70s.
“This is how not to make a film,” says Ben with a smile on his face. “We shot more footage than was shot for Apocalypse Now!”
Talking of Apocalypse Now, Shields of Justice has a 17-minute Vietnam war scene flashback, borne out of the idea of ‘wouldn’t it be funny if a flashback went on so long you forget why it started’. Added to that, there is a robotic arm and a dog on a rocket. Obviously.
The Vietnam scene, shot in Weston-Super-Mare, includes a helicopter that saw active service in the real Vietnam conflict as well as the robotic arm, along with a working flame thrower, home-made by Ben.
Now, amongst his other projects, Ben is slowly chipping away at the post-production of Shields Of Justice. Despite the slow-going and technical issues, once completed, Shields promises to be a cult classic.
“A lot of people still ask about it,” says Ben, who talks about the supportive love for the film from those involved as he ponders whether there are any 1970s cop show themed film festivals out there.
Ben’s pretty sanguine about it, and the words of Renaissance philosopher Marsilio Ficino seem to strike a chord: ‘The soul exists partly in eternity and partly in time’.
“Now that I’m in my 30s you have to be able to look back at things and have a good time. And I had a good time and everyone had a good time and we all got on,” he says.
“At least if you fail, it’s on your terms.”
To keep up-to-date with what Ben Tallamy is getting up to: singing, acting, directing, performing, pop over to his site.