Tuesday, 26 January 2010

New year

I've not got time tonight to blog properly, but I'll be posting an update before the week is through. By then I'm hoping to have settled a few promising leads I've had recently. My 'major' supporters (ie. those that have donated significant contributions to funding the research) will have received one of the regular updates already. It gives an added layer of insight into the project and a heads up of announcements before they go public. For yes, there will be announcements. I'm pretty sure of it now. The research has been too good for there not to be.

At any rate, I'll be presenting a couple of conference papers between now and April too, two companion pieces which may well make up the bulk of one of my chapters. I'll post details later this week.

Till then.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Cash and the new year

End of 2009 is now fast approaching so its worthwhile me updating you all on the cash crisis - which needless to say continues.

I've managed to eventually find one funding application I should be able to apply for, but its a tough competition and I have absolutely no faith that I'll secure the finances needed. And if I do, there's a good chance that that will cause more problems for me in terms of my other employment. I'll cross that bridge *if* I come to it.

As I'm still juggling finances I've had to cut back on some of the research work I wanted to do. There's still a few collections out there and archives I need to raid, which I hope to do between now and September 2010. Then with maybe one or two additions I plan on simply writing and finishing my draft thesis for the 2010/11 academic year. Unless of course I stumble upon a new archive collection or something...

My attempt to raise funds via fundable was a mixed success. I had quite a bit pledged, but as I didn't reach the target it was never processed. Although one of my pledgers did very kindly donate via paypal directly  - money which was swiftly used on some vital digging.

If you do feel like donating, there's a paypal donate button on this page, and everything is welcome. I'll keep to my promise of copies of the thesis for big donors, and regular updates for anyone that gives to the fund.

I've a pile of paperwork culled from my last research jaunt to London to go through over Christmas - some of it very juicy, and fascinating. Fingers crossed I can make sense of the partial records.

Monday, 12 October 2009

New structure... new domains...

First of all, thank you to those who pledged support to the PhD last month. We didn't hit targets so I didn't collect any money however :(

Over $300 was pledged, which would certainly help pay for a few research trips to Dublin, or a day or two of work in London! A couple of peeps have donated directly, and you still can - just use the donate button on the blog to the right, or drop me a line by email if you want to send cheque or other method of payment. I'm still desperately in need of finance to keep going, and juggling cash is getting harder and harder. Why can't I find a sponsor?!

On to other things...

I've restructured the PhD project this week, which is helpful. Waiting for feedback from my supervisor, but have bullet pointed the main chronology and the areas I want to look at and topics for discussion (as well as some of my theories). The emphasis is much more on the 1930s and 40s now but should still be taking in material from 1911 through 1966 and a chapter on the present day. Rather than regurgitate old material I'm trying to incorporate as much of the new material I've found so far as possible. Is certainly a challenge but I'm fairly hopeful - gives the project more meaning. I'm just hoping I can find the right linking devices as the piece comes together.

As part of that I've decided to try and write a couple of articles with a view to journal submissions, and then expand them for the thesis. The first is something of a revisionist approach to Hammer history which should challenge a few expectations. The second will be an examination of some of the orphaned films - Exclusive/Hammer films which have been forgotten. I have a list of something like a dozen so far which I'm 75 - 95% certain are Hammer/Exclusive films, but which have gone unacknowledged for years.

I'll let you know how I get on... and with some more detail.

Been spending a fair bit on books lately too - can't even indulge in material for pleasure. Nine out of ten purchases are directly linked to the PhD at the moment. Expensive, but is too difficult to get down to Dublin and raid Trinity Library, or I find other material which needs constant use. I'm writing to people I can find who might be able to shed light on material too - trying to secure data, leads and interviews. Painfully slow process.

As for new domains - well, I've now got several domain names bought for use on the resulting research website(s). You'll already know about www.exclusivefilms.co.uk (sorry folks, nothing really there yet), but I've picked up a couple of others too rather than let them go to waste. I hope to be able to build a real collaborative information source through the PhD, but you'll have to wait a while yet before I can start publishing the content. The problem with these sorts of projects is that things need to be published the right way if you want your work to be counted and accredited. One or two might even hold until the post-doc project. Yup. I already know what that should be, and if feeds straight into this one :)

Back to the grindstone. More letters to write, and books to read and articles to prep.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Voices from the past

I've been quiet on here recently, but I can assure you all that I've been kept incredibly busy at the same time. The summer loomed and I took every chance I could to get caught up on some research - fitting it in alongside some other work I was doing. I've been plundering archives across the UK and Ireland, turning over many stones and finding more than I could ever have bargained for...

For the moment I can't talk about some of the best finds - I need to gather more material first, and put my thoughts into coherant words - but there are some real coups! Hammer afficianados, and anyone who like me has an appreciation for the Exclusive films will really be excited (I hope!).

When I started the project I was told that there proba
bly wasn't much left to find, but over the last year I've found enough material to fuel two PhDs and now the problem is simply to decide which bits to leave out of my current project focus. I
have every intention of using everything in due course, and making it all available to researchers and the general public - there's no point in any of it otherwise. The project thesis though is being led in large part by the material I've uncovered, and a slight change of emphasis is on the cards, with the project allowing more of the Hammer history to come through into what was seen as an exclusively Exclusive piece.

[photo, left to right: Renee Glynne with Spartacus, me taking the photo at the Serpentine, Hyde Park, 27 July 2009]
Over the last few months I've started my first hand oral history research, attempting to contact
those still left with us who worked on or knew the people involved in the earliest Hammer/Exclusive Films. I've found this to be enormously helpful and shedding some valuable light on proceedings. During the last month or so I conducted two interviews whilst in London - fitting them in whilst over on research for another project. The worst thing is reaching the end of your paid work for the day and then having to skip tea or rest, and grab a train or taxi to conduct your own research. The agony!

At any rate, I spent a very pleasant evenin
g with Renee Glynne over a delightful supper and a bottle of the old vino collapso talking about Exclusive at her home outside London. Renee worked as the continuity person as far back as Man in Black in 1949, and worked for the company on and off (both as Exclusive and Hammer) until Shatter in 1974. Her recall and experience of working conditions was crucial to get on record and I'm delighted she consented. Renee has promised a follow up in the near future which I'm very much looking forward to.

[photo, left to right: Jimmy Sangster and myself at Bray Studios, 4 August 2007]
I also finally interviewed Jimmy Sangster formally. I've known Jimmy slightly for a few years. We were meant to record some commentaries for some of the Exclusive pictures a couple of years back until logistics prevented it, and we both appeared in the same dvd documentary Hammer Horror: A Fan's Guide last year, so this was a real pleasure.

Jimmy's the first to admit he doesn't recall much about Exclusive, but it was again very useful. He also came to Hammer in 1949, as a first assistant director, moving up the ladder to become a very successful writer as well as occasional producer and director. Sixty years later and memories are hazy, but incredibly useful and my thanks to Jimmy too for his time.

I've another return interview to do with another Exclusive contributor, but I'll save that name for another post... it was another treat!

If by chance you know someone or indeed were yourselves involved in the making of the early Hammer / Exclusive films (so pre-1962), then please get in touch, as I'd love to talk with you. I'm also gathering stills and memorabilia relating to the period, so anything at all that you can share would be very welcome. Similarly anyone with information or memories of either Will Hammer (aka. Will Hinds) and Enrique Carreras... I'll be sharing some of my research on them in a future blog.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Help support my PhD...

I'm just about to start the second year of my PhD at Trinity. I've made good progress during the first year, uncovering some fascinating material (including several 'lost' films) and working well towards my goal. I met with my supervisor a couple of weeks ago and there's some slight revision of the project to come to manage it within the confines of the PhD, but I've already decided on the post-doc project thanks to the material I've uncovered (there's probably enough gathered for two PhDs to be honest).

But, self-funding is a struggle. Its over £3,500 per year in fees, plus my research expenses (travel, and materials -bear in mind I live in Belfast, and the research is mostly in Dublin and London), and then I have to live. Increasingly I'm having to take on more paid work in order to get by, and that eats into the time I have to reasearch. I've put myself through my BA and my Masters, and the first year of the PhD, but the various loans, and debts I've juggled are getting too much.

If you have any advice on funding sources, or would be willing to help (however small that may be) either through donations or sponsorship then please do. I've set up a fundraising page on the advice of a friend to see if I can raise $1000 or more in the next few weeks - which doesn't go near paying for everything, but will help. Especially if I can get more.

For details go to http://tinyurl.com/rjesphd01 (you can also donate directly using the donate button on the right).


Saturday, 30 May 2009

Recovering lost films

Just before I started work on this PhD project I was told by several experts in the field that there simply wasn't any material left to be uncovered on Exclusive. Hammer researchers (remember of course that Hammer Films is the sister company and the two go hand in hand) felt that the well had been drained dry.

That said, under a year into my research and I'm delighted to say I've uncovered more than enough material to keep me going for the next 12 months. I'm having to look really hard, but archives and chance connections have brought all sorts of surprises to the surface, supporting some of my early arguments, and changing the way that Exclusive should be viewed. Am I overselling the project? I don't know... but I'm still on a voyage of discovery, pulling sources together like any good historian would. I hope that my spin will be different and people will want to read it. Certainly I hope that people will learn something from my research - and I'm constantly indebted to those who paved the way and who have provided the basic groundwork.

Of course, any researcher lives under the pressure of having to be original, and for an historian that can depend on unseen source material. I'm trying to find material which has been missed, but what if someone else manages to turn up the same material and bring it to publication before my thesis is submitted? My work would then be redundant. And it is always a possibility.

That's why the website database isn't online yet, I want to complete the first stage of my work before I start posting material there. In fact I'll probably just issue teasers for now, with the actual main content going live once I've submitted. That way I can be accurate, thorough, and comprehensive. That's also the reason I'm rather oblique when I post here - this is too much of a work in progress to publish great detail for the moment.

The last week has been perhaps the single most productive and exciting on the project so far (and the last month itself has been enthralling). I stumbled upon a reference which forced me to re-examine some notes I made before the project began, and to revisit an archive. In the process I'm rethinking my stance on a couple of films - going back to the 'Is this a Hammer Film' question I outlined at the conference in Trinity in September.

We're reclaiming these orphaned titles, or lost films. Recovering films which have been neglected or forgotten.

Ah... film recovery. I first really got into that idea during the 1990s when I became aware of all the Doctor Who episodes that had gone missing. There's a very public hunt for lost episodes, which has turned up one or two prints in the last decade. More overlooked are the sheer number of films - shorts especially - from studios which no longer seem to exist in the archives. Hammer and Exclusive suffered along with everyone else. There are so many of the short films which seem to be missing, but which I've found myself increasingly drawn to. A huge number of the films still exist, although getting access is always tricky. 

Eventually the project will include details of prints which still exist and where they can be found, so that future researchers can take advantage of the knowledge for their own access. I'm not a believer in hoarding information. 

Take for example the still which accompanies today's entry - its a section from Chase Me Charlie, a Charlie Chaplin film which was re-edited and re-released by Exclusive in the late 1940s. Effectively its a 'lost' film. Forgotten and neglected by nearly everyone, other than as an entry in a filmography. A curio. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Publish publish publish

I've heard it said so many times, as I'm sure any of you working on PhDs or similar first steps to academia, that it becomes something of a mantra and a frightening reminder that you always need to be working with a wider audience in mind.

I'm about eight months into my formal work on the project now, and gathering together my plans for the summer for research. More archival work beckons, and I'm sure by the end of it I'll regret having ever started. Trying to put everything into some sort of order let alone the criticism needed, takes some work.

For most of us, adapting our work for conference papers, and journal publications is a way of structuring our research and aiding the writing of huge chunks of the thesis - at least I think I'm right in that. Publications early on and during the thesis work probably do more favours than anything else when it comes to the dreaded job applications. I'm acutely aware of all of this right now - my girlfriend is in the final stages of her PhD and so the talk of job prospects is a regular topic at home.

So far I've not anything published since the start of the PhD, bar a couple of (largely) unrelated magazine pieces, and one article on Exclusive for the official Hammer site. I've been asked to put in papers to a couple of conferences and trying to come up with a couple of ideas now, which is easier said than done (I don't want to shoehorn my project so it fits with the brief of one).

On a possibly slightly more positive note I've been planning a reference book to go alongside the research, which I'll pitch once I've a bit more done. Some of you will be aware I'm also still finishing off my book on Hammer Films which was contracted long before I started my PhD. I've also been approached about editing another book, which if it happens should be quite interesting. I've got the time set aside in my schedule to do it, and am discussing another book with publishers at the moment. Early days and none might happen, but I think its important to think of these things this early on in the project. None are directly related to the Exclusive project, but there is a connection to be found in each.

How does everyone else cope with article submissions etc.? I'm very cautious about putting my work out there at the moment. I've been burnt before with a publication project, which has kept me away from certain areas in the interim....