Two ‘Lucky Dogs’: From a five minute film to a four month adventure

19 December 2012

award ceremony

UCL third year anthropology students and creative partners, Megan Laws and Joshua Lipworth describe their joy at winning the UK leg of an American short film competition and the proceeding four month trip across the USA to film their first long format documentary. The research trip and the film that followed were both made possible through the generous support of UCL alumni and friends.


We came together in our final year of studying at UCL to collaborate on a five minute film through CampusMovieFest; a US-based student initiative which provides students with the necessary equipment and support to create short films and to compete for funding. We submitted a short fictional film to the pilot UK competition, based on the internal dialogue of 62 year old, Michael Harrison, as he roamed from a dimly lit sofa in his home near Russell Square and embarked on ceaseless tube journeys.  The ambivalent tale impressed the judges and we won the Best Picture Award in the London Grand Finale against seven other UK universities. This granted us flights to the International Grand Finale in Los Angeles in June. After approaching UCL for additional support with the project, we were then fortunate enough to receive two grants from UCL Alumni which allowed us to create a short documentary film focusing on street musicians in a number major US cities.

Hollywood to Houston

Upon arrival in Los Angeles, we headed to Santa Monica to stay with family, we enjoyed an evening of true Californian hospitality: tofu stir-fry and a debate on the upcoming presidential election. The four days spent in Hollywood were an intense and surreal exposure to the world of film-making professionals and the aspirations of other young film-makers. We attended a series of workshops and panel sessions with leading directors, producers, editors, actors and screenwriters in the industry. Highlights included a panel session with composer Nathan Furst (Act of Valor) and TV producers Robert Weide (Everybody Loves Raymond) and Philip Rosenthal (Curb your Enthusiasm). Our zealous cheers echoed over the room when Wally Pfister (Inception and The Dark Knight) when he briefly mentioned Christopher Nolan’s affiliation to UCL! Not only did Josh manage to stay true to his Scottish roots and order a kilt for the final event, but our film reached the top 20 pictures out of over 200 films and received a number of positive comments during our screening earlier in the day.

group shot

We were lucky enough that our funding allowed us to fly to Houston where we had been offered the opportunity to film Coldplay’s UK-based support band, Wolfgang. We spent the evening backstage, interviewing band members and filming their set. After watching Coldplay’s performance alongside the on-call security team, we loaded our equipment on a greyhound bus and headed for New Orleans; our ‘Filmmaker’s Mecca’.

New Orleans to New York

New Orleans was an especially formative period. We spent much of our time pacing the French Quarter and Bourbon Street at night in hope that we might find another intriguing character to animate our story. We were lucky enough to meet many: from die-hard blues guitarists, to gospel singers, experimental keyboardists, classical saxophonists and local brass bands, some of whom had performed with musical legends including B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The trip was full of unexpected and cherished moments; hearing a musical prodigy in New York play a Star Wars-Rachmaninoff medley on request to eating home-made Gumbo in New Orleans and capturing a time-lapse Central Park sunset, the list goes on.

‘Lucky Dogs’

The footage is currently in the slow process of post-production and we are hoping to complete the film by April 2013. A recurrent theme to emerge was the importance of the freedom to perform publically in the US, something which is more prohibited in the UK. Each city had its own charm and its own trend of musical performance, which we hope we have reflected in our filming. It is amazing that UCL has been such a fertile place for us to explore film-making despite not offering a film course.  The support we received from the Alumni fund was pivotal in helping us create our first short format documentary. While such a rare opportunity brings with it huge responsibility we are tentatively hopeful that we will produce a film worthy of everyone who has been involved in the project. Finally, we can honestly say that some film-making clichés are true; there was blood, there was plenty of sweat (a serious heatwave!) and there were definitely a few tears. 

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