The Money Pit

Ever since the economy started taking its nose dive the prospect of me supporting myself through the PhD has been harder and harder. It doesn\’t help that Trinity have some very rigid policies regarding the implementation of fines.

I got a letter today asking for more money as my last chunk of fees didn\’t make it in by the due date. They were about two or three days late because the bank couldn\’t process the international transaction any quicker, and I don\’t have an Irish bank account.
Taking head and impacting it against a hard brick-based surface.
So unless something miraculous happens that\’s my Easter research trip out now. Just can\’t afford to do it and pay penalties. And I need to find another £2k for the end of September. Am starting to wonder how quickly I could write up the material I\’ve dug up already and how far off finishing I would be.
On the plus side, I\’ve located another archival collection of material from Exclusive in the early 50s which I\’m thinking might be useful for a chapter looking specifically at the day to day business model of the company with individual cinemas. A case study within what is essentially one great big case study.
Over the weekend I also caught Sliding Doors for the first time on Film4. According to the new Exclusive website, it is one of the archival properties acquired by the new version of the company. Well, at least its British and fairly low-budget, which is much more in keeping with the old Hammer/Exclusive model than some of the things I\’ve heard recently.

New acquisitions

A slight distraction from actual writing, but I acquired a few new bits of visual material related to the project this week. Rather unexpectedly I got offered a set of stills from Perils of the Jungle which was an American b-movie from 1953 that Exclusive distributed in the UK. I\’ve not seen it yet myself, but a little thrill to see the Exclusive name on each of them. I\’ll add the images onto the website in due course along with the first batch of material for it. 

Trying to get the balance between posting material for the online database now, and properly collating it before making any of it live. A proper CMS and datatbase would probably be the best way to present it. Any thoughts or requests on what I should include and what you want to see?
I\’ve also been chasing up a lead on some more research material through a couple of library collections. Trying to weigh up whether it would be more cost effective to travel around England and make my notes and photocopies myself or to pay for them to dupe it and send it to me. Just as I start to plan a research trip I find its been moved to another location in another county. Like looking for a needle in a haystack!

Interviews pt1

A short interview this morning via phone with an actor from several Exclusive projects, with a follow up planned for a few weeks time after I\’ve sent some additional material their way.

The paucity of recollection is fine, I\’m interested in memories and instant thoughts rather than lengthy considered responses in the first instance. We are talking 50 or 60 years ago after all! I do think that stimulating memories with written or visual material from the time is a great help and should be employed wherever possible.
Some subjects aren\’t that interested, and I\’ve spoken to a few who have said no to wanting to see their work again. Others are delighted when the opportunity arises. I\’m having to employ both strategies with this research at the moment. I\’d still rather sit down with my interviewees too. You nearly always get more out of them face to face than over a phone line where both of you can be easily distracted. 
The usual rant about needing funds to support the research trips should be inserted here! 
I need to spend a couple of weeks in England this summer interviewing and visiting places if I want to do this properly, never mind more time in the archives of various places. Sometimes it would be easier living somewhere other than Belfast, but it suits me to come back here and write. 
Going to see about heading over to London next month for a couple of days to do some more interviews in person. Its crucial to support the extant paper material.

Connecting with the past…

One of the biggest challenges with my particular project is its particular historical basis. Essentially I\’m looking at the Hammer group pre-1956 when they moved into horror projects with the commencement of The Curse of Frankenstein. From there on, the scholars that have gone before me have largely covered the entire period in great detail, perusing every available document (well… maybe, I\’ll come to that again in a latter blog), and speaking to just about anyone who worked on the films.

Before that, the concensus appears to be a) there simply isn\’t enough material in existence to justify the research and b) there\’s no-one left alive who can tell us anything anyway.

As I\’m not interested in getting into a great theoretical discussion about the films under the Exclusive banner (you could arguable about some of them, but as a whole, that would be much too complex) then I need to find as much as I can in hard records and memories. It can be a painful process, wading through hundreds of pages just for a couple of relevant sentences. I guess no worse than doing a theoretical-based project.

This week I start conducting interviews for the project, something I\’m looking forward to and dreading in equal measure. In each case I know I\’ll want to follow them up again with more questions, and hopefully most of my subjects will be willing to do that. That and we\’re talking about films made 60 years ago or more – B features that surely aren\’t that significant? Well I guess I\’ll be able to tell you more in a few days.

I\’ve lined up two absolutes, and 1 probable so far. Trying to talk to people from both sides of the camera. It strikes me a little more like journalism than research, but oral research is an important aspect of an historical project. If we don\’t record the memories, then in the absence of paper records, everything is speculative or forgotten.

I challenge anyone to argue against the scholarly nature of Wayne Kinsey\’s books on Hammer – his histories of the Bray and Elstree periods centre themselves fully on oral history and are a crucial research tool. I certainly use both in my researches.

There\’s also something rather humbling about talking with the people who worked on the films that I\’m looking at – and so enabling me to properly connect with the distant past. I spent a week in the summer of 2007 driving around the English countryside with a friend following on from the Hammer at Bray III event, visiting the various sites of the Exclusive/Hammer studios and locations. Walking the roads that the filmmakers and executives had before me, getting a feel for the space and indeed the spatial relationships between the sites. I know the approach doesn\’t suit everyone, but for me it did allow an understanding of sorts.

When research pays off….

As most of my research at the moment is historical, I\’m hugely dependent on original source material, of which there is really very little in Belfast.

I know others have gone through the history of Hammer and Exclusive before in great detail, but I remain convinced that information remains out there which has so far been missed. So I\’m flitting between libraries and archives in Dublin and London primarily, though unable to spend long periods in either city owing to my current funding issues. Which is doubly frustrating as my trips have not been without merit.

For me, I simply have to re-read every paper again myself, particularly as the Hammer group\’s make-up is so complex. It was more than just Hammer and Exclusive, and any number of other companies from within the group are relevant. Unweaving the story is another challenge again.

Yesterday I took the first train down to Dublin and split my time between the Irish Film Institute library and that of Trinity College. I\’ve been using the material in the IFI for a few years, but only started making use of Trinity within the last month (despite having been a student there since October). So, already I\’m looking at books telling the story of British cinema which ignore completely both Hammer and Exclusive. A book I picked up last week on Black cinema was more useful as it had lengthy sections on Paul Robeson and his film Song of Freedom ( incidentally, does anyone have a copy of Proud Valley on dvd as it seems to be the only title omitted from Network\’s Robeson collection dvd set).

Spent the whole day between Trinity and IFI, with only a brief respite when walking alone Dame Street between them. Had to skip lunch just to get enough done in my time, and ended up eating wretched cheeseburgers from McDonalds on the way to the train going home (feeling cheap and dirty as a result). Not even time for my preferred break in Porterhouse for a lunchtime read and a pint. And uggh, the atmosphere in those libraries is stifling. Musty old books and dust heavy in the air… I\’m sure this isn\’t doing my health any good. That, and I should have gloves to handle the stuff from Trinity – very dirty papers indeed.

At the start of my project I stated a couple of aims and theories, something which I cemented with my conference paper from September. I think understaning the history and development of Exclusive is key to understanding the development of Hammer and its later success. Secondly, that there exist films which are technically Hammer but which are currently orphaned or forgotten. Films that the company had an involvement in either as Hammer or Exclusive or a subsiduary, but which have been neglected. I\’ve stated an expectation that there are a dozen or more such titles (including shorts). As a side of my research I\’m hoping to reappropriate some of them.

I think I\’ve pinpointed three titles which need to be looked at and which may be \”Hammer Group\” properties. One of the hardest things at the moment is locating existing paperwork to support my theory. Much of the original paperwork no longer seems to exist, and this is a problem where the orphaned titles are concerned. Unless I can get into other corporate archives, or private papers I may never know.

However, I\’m now confident that I\’ve locked off the first of the orphaned titles. A Hammer film which has been forgotten about for fifty years. Part of the problem is now locating a print of the film in question, which seems to have vanished. It isn\’t in the BFI, or with Hammer (not surprisingly) or any other collection I\’ve so far looked at. If I can locate more of the paperwork surrounding it, more publicity material and an actual physical print then I\’ll be very happy and will make a hoo-ha about it. Potentially I might even have an investor willing to stump up the money to have a new master print prepared and preserved. For now, I\’m simply adding it to a list of other interesting films I\’m hunting which have no Hammer/Exclusive connection at all.

Yesterday simply cemented the theory and confirmed what I already knew. So the painful page by page research helps. In time I\’ll publish most of the source material or information re. source material on the site.

Exclusive for beginners

Whilst I imagine most of you will know something about Hammer Films – British horror film company – I doubt the same can be said of Exclusive. That\’s part of the attraction for me with the PhD project.

Ironically, shortly after I officially started work on the project Hammer\’s owners announced that they were going back into film acquisition and distribution and so a new Exclusive was born. In the last month Hammer\’s parent company has changed its name from HS Media to Exclusive Media, mirroring the original corporate make-up from the 1930s. Exclusive was the parent company to Hammer, although the group of companies is better known as the Hammer group. Exclusive would also distribute films, as they do now… My project has unwittingly taken on an extra relevance and immediacy which will no doubt filter into my written work. Although this is primarily an historical study there is room for some speculation and critical analysis… otherwise this wouldn\’t be a PhD!

Anyway, I produced a paper for a conference in Trinity back in September, and gave it the day before I formally signed on for the course. That means it doesn\’t count for my current body of work, but thankfully I didn\’t do too much for it, and have left plenty of new material for the doctoral study. I turned the paper into a podcast (the first in a new series) so others could get a chance to listen to it. I might turn it back into a written paper at some point. If you\’re interested, you can get it on Itunes here.

I also wrote an article on the original Exclusive for the official Hammer Films when they announced the formation of the new Exclusive. \”It\’s Exclusive\” is a beginner\’s guide. I did a little consultation with them regarding their new logo and was delighted that they chose to go with something that pays homage to the classic imagery. I\’m hoping to explore that with an article that\’s been provisionally commissioned soon…

Funding headaches…

In a bid to spur myself on with my research I thought I\’d open up a blog. From time to time I\’ll drop by and update you on progress with the project. I already have a website in preparation which will contain some of the research material dug up during the project –

I\’m a self-supporting student at the moment, working out of Trinity College Dublin, and some six months into my first year. So far I\’ve failed to secure funding through the university, but knowing how competitive it is decided to plough on anyway. Fees alone are over £4,000 per annum – several hundred pounds more expensive than if I\’d stayed on in Belfast.

This isn\’t meant to be a moan, but had I sat and really thought about the cost I\’d probably not have started. I\’m working part time at the moment, and have to take every additional shift I can get just to break even. Between rent, and food and fees I don\’t really have any spare cash now at all. The first few months were okay, but I\’m feeling it now. It\’s so easy to forget about the expense of travelling between Belfast and Dublin, or Belfast and London in order to do the archival research which is so crucial to my work. Even more frustrating, it has been paying off and I\’ve uncovered some very tantalising bits of information which are already altering my entire perception of the early Exclusive/Hammer and supporting some of my initial thesis.

When I do get away, time is incredibly short so I sit and work my way through as much as possible, and walk away armed with photocopies of periodicals wherever possible. Damn myself for working from contemporary publicity publications!

I just about managed to scrape together the £2k needed this month for the second half of this year\’s fees, but I\’m looking at having to cut back on the research for the next few months simply because I can\’t afford it. If anyone has good suggestions as to how to get private funding (I\’m assuming that attempts through the university will continue to fail), I\’d welcome them. Even to get someone to cover my basic fees – so around £13k over three years – would make a huge difference. Far removed from my friends who get their fees covered and in the region of £12k per annum support…