Embracing Imperfection with Mark Jenkin

Ieuan and I are sat on zoom waiting for Mark to arrive. There is a nervous, excited tension in the air. We've both jumped on the call early to check and then triple check our audio and headphones. Mark only has an hour to chat and we want to make the most of it. A buzz sounds "Mark Jenkin is in the waiting room." We take a breath and accept him into the call. Immediately he puts us at ease and asks us a few questions about where we are and what we do and without knowing it we're off to the races.

I was getting to a point where I'd had a project in development for five years and I was asking myself "Am I still a filmmaker? Or am I just a bloke who talks about making a film one day?".

Short Films Big Questions: We both read that you still make Super 8 short films. We were wondering why you still do this? Are you making them just to make them or is it informing the bigger projects that you work on? 

Mark Jenkin: I've come at it from quite a strange direction. I started off not making short films. The first film I made was a feature film or I attempted to make a feature film at least. It ended up being about sixty minutes and isn't a feature and doesn't feel like one. It was never released or anything either. I left university where the emphasis had been on making shorts. When I left I just thought well if you are going to bother with the hassle of making a short you may as well make a feature and I didn't recognise the value of short films. I saw them as a way to make a film while I had feature films in development. 

I then got to a stage that is known in the industry as "development hell". When you have a film in development that year after year doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Around that time I picked up a Super 8 camera for the first time in a while and decided to just make a short with it. There was a cost involved with the film stock and I was a bit scared as I'd been working with video which seemed to be foolproof. All these thoughts were running through my head; "If I shoot on film is it going to come out. Am I going to expose it right?". I was very precious about it but I wasn't counting on having a final film come out at the end of it. When I got the footage back it just looked amazing and I cut together this sort of experimental narrative short film. I showed it to people and they really responded to it. That was only in 2015 so not that long ago. I had this epiphany that actually making short films is a whole separate art form. That's why I love the London Short Film Festival as they really do celebrate short films as a form within themselves. Short Films don't have to be the poor relation of feature films. I've just made two short films for the BFI. They are just short films and they couldn't be expanded into features. 

So in answer to your question I made these short films to release some of the pressure of being in "development hell" where you're just having meetings about hypothetical projects. I was getting to a point where I'd had a project in development for five years and I was asking myself "Am I still a filmmaker? Or am I just a bloke who talks about making a film one day?". The short films allowed me to have that creative freedom and I didn't have to get the OK from anybody. I was doing it off my own back. I did a bit of teaching and with that money I'd buy some film stock and some time to go and make a short. The real value, however, was how I was making the short films. I designed the process which was shooting on film, quite often hand processing the film, then editing it and creating a soundtrack. It made me realise that if I ever got to make a feature film I'd like to make it in this way because this is what excites me. Luckily I had two very supportive producers at Early Day Films who encouraged me to pursue this and that ended up being "Bait". 

"When I was in London I presumed everything had to be going on in London."

Short Films Big Questions: By going back to Super 8 was there an element of trying to be self sufficient and not having to rely on lots of crew to make your films happen? 

 Mark Jenkin: No I don't think so. I grew up here (Cornwall) and then went away to university in Bournemouth and then I ended up in London working in the industry as an editor. I ended up moving back to Cornwall almost by chance. There was some European money here in Cornwall to develop a film industry so I moved back to get involved in that. As soon as I moved home I was immersed in the world that was very familiar to me, it was a very self sufficient world. When I was in London I presumed everything had to be going on in London. Actually a couple of films I made were screened in Cornwall while I was still living in London and I went home to see them screened. They were screened in village halls and I would turn up to a village hall thinking "oh god the film is going to screen to two people and a dog" and I'd open up the door and there would be two hundred people there watching films for three hours with food and drink. I just thought "Well actually this is the centre of the film industry that I want to be in."

That self sufficiency had run through the industry all along. The people who really did the groundwork in Cornwall were people like George Green, Paul Farmer and Antal Kovacs. They were all working in Cornwall a long time before I came back. There was already a support network that was born out of this self sufficiency that came from not being at the centre of the industry. It's a real benefit to have that. To be cut off. To not know the right ways to do stuff. To not quite have the "right" equipment. People here are making really individual idiosyncratic work because they are making up their own rules and making it with the equipment that is available to them. 

To check out the rest of our conversation with Mark, head to our podcast "Short Films, Big Questions"