Ashes to Ashes: saluting a terrific sequel:


It’s difficult to find a more romaticised view of the 1980s than Ashes to Ashes. If its hideously gorgeous light up black and white ceiling with chromatic abberations doesn’t date it enough, then the intensely colourful fashion and music speaks for itself. While the portrayal of the ‘80s is enjoyable, some would argue that it goes too far in romanticising the decade. However, just when you start to wonder if it’s gone too far, it’s offset with some discriminatory violence or political event which grounds it back to the reality of the ‘80s. While its predecessor, Life on Mars, is a lot heavier and can get quite repetetive, I think that Ashes to Ashes has mastered the balance between the heaviness of the main plotline and the lighter sub plots, now that the writers have worked with the same characters for long enough to be completely comfortable in their natural developments. The twists are subtly executed with sufficient build-up - more so than in most TV programmes I think, because it is a series so comfortable in its own experimental aspects. These experimental aspects are in the very nature of the TV programme, and I think are such a fundamental part of it not only because it is integrated into its unique style, but also because it is used to portray the uncertainty in each characters’ perception and how disconcerting uncertainties in your own reality can be. I think the editing coincided really well with the writing to put across not only what the characters are experiencing from their point of view, but also how this looks to them and feels from their individual perspectives. The atmospheric style created in both TV programmes I think is what makes them so unique, and being repetitive in this way was avoided in Ashes to Ashes by using a new decade as a novelty setting to keep references sharp and reduce the risk of it ageing.

REVIEW OF Life on Mars

Life on Mars starts off as any other British police drama; a couple of detectives are attempting to solve a crime. Until John Simm gets hit by a car and is rocketed into a coma-induced alternatve reality set in the 1970s, where the more experimental side of the writing and editing come into play - truly establishing the elements of Life on Mars which make it unique. But once his new setting has been established, it essentially falls back into the rhythm of an ordinary police drama, only it’s set in the ‘70s. Of course it is  still occasionally spiked with the odd moment of confusion at points where it is assumed the crossing of dimensions is taking place, but the true premise of the storyline is then only properly brought out again when we reach the end of the first series and Simm is faced with unpleasant truths about his father, and realisations that the past is inevitable and the future as he remembers it cannot be altered, as he is living in a time which has already occurred and the consequences of which have already taken place. Series one therefore ends emotionally, but still leaving many questions about Simm’s state of being which leave a lot to be answered in series two. Following on from this explosion of events, series two starts with Simm’s increased determination to return to reality as he knows it. After the first episode, series two could be said to then slip back into the orthodox rhythm of a ‘70s style police drama, but creates a lot more lead up to the inevitable reveal at the end of series, including twists which cause Simm to question his sanity and whether there is anything to get back to at all - causing the audience to wonder if they have also been tricked into his perception as viewers. Although this slightly offsets the inevitability of the finale - in which Simm finally returns home - it does not make it any less predictable. We all know that merely leaving him in his new world without any explanation or reappearance of the modern world would leave the audience with an unfulfilling and unsatisfactory ending which would leave the last two series feeling slightly fruitless. Which is why the very last twist becomes so meaningful; although he had to return to the modern world to satisfy his curiosity and put to rest his purgatory-like suspended state of being, the fact that he had to return to his 1970s alternative reality and that this was presented as acceptable; challenges orthodox expectations of how happiness is expected to be achieved, and also left more explanations open for the sequel, Ashes to Ashes.

Essay one: How to overcome the flaws most commonly presented in student films

I watched two video essays on YouTube about the most commonly found flaws in student films. ‘Don’t touch the fish: why student films fail’ suggests that student films fail because they are too passionate about one specific genre, and want to replicate high budget shots from high budget films to create a genre of film of their own which echoes the highlights of all their favourite genre feature films mixed together. This obviously leads to disappointment in the final product, because they have tried to achieve something which student budgets and deadlines simply cannot accommodate, so the YouTube video’s suggested solution to this is to make a socio-realist film about something close to the heart. However, I personally feel that YouTube - for example - is over-saturated with very clean socio-realist films about mental health and emotional personal experiences within families, schools and friend groups, always generally about five to fifteen minutes long. I accept that if I decided to do something like this, I would be giving myself a much easier job with a much higher chance of success; of creating something to a higher production value and fulfilling the brief I give myself. However, I do not want to make a socio-realist film about an emotional personal experience from about five to fifteen minutes long, because it does not fit in with my style or inspiration. I thought about the downfalls in trying to make a genre film which echoes my favourite films, and I decided to make something of a more experimental structure instead. I decided to base the film around an interview on a live chat show loosely based around the dynamic of The Graham Norton Show, but innspired by The Ben Cobb Show. The film then switches to a flashback as the interview proceeds, and the main body of the film takes place in the flashback, but then switches back to the end of the live chat show interview, and ends as the show does. I decided that this way, I can still use the spy/crime genre that I want to explore, using Ashes to Ashes, Life on Mars and Spooks as my inspirations, but only needing to show a small section of the actual genre, therefore avoiding the necessity for a high budget grand opening and final scene. I intend to create the cinematography and write the structure of the film in a meaningful enough way to dissolve the need for the standard-issue high budget scenes, and therefore still be able to technically describe it as a genre film, as well as experimental. 

‘The top five most common problems with student films’ proposed that the writing of some student films stumble upon the classic flaw of explaining the plot to the audience through dialogue, instead of through a healthy balance of dialgoue and self-explanatory shots. This is one of my biggest fears in script writing that I might end up making a film like this. I hope that being aware of this will help me to avoid this sort of mistake, however I will not be arrogant enough to assume that I will be able to completely overcome this as a student filmmaker. I plan to learn from each film I make, try to be aware of the mistakes I do not want to make as much as possible, and then hopefully get further and further away from these sorts of mistakes the more films I make, and the more I deliberately try to avoid certain mistakes, hopefully it will take fewer films to be able to overcome each one. I do not think that this particular mistake is exclusive to student films, though. In many Hollywood films which are technically very accomplished, it is sometimes blatantly obvious that the writing was not a priority and it is more about the underdeveloped concept and the VFX. I noticed this specifically in Solaris and Tenet, both very accomplished films in many senses, and both incredibly expensive, but by no means a form of art in my opinion. I think that Hollywood celebrates beautifil glossy films, and there is a side to this which supports films which are an art form and have deep meaning, with films such as Seven, Pulp Fiction, Inception, Goodfellas, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Reservoir Dogs. But the flipside to this is films which seem to be an exercise in VFX and are in no way an art form, but are meant to fill a hole in consumer culture of beauty and a complete absence of rough edges, where the script is unimportant because this is not what it is about. As a student, I do not have the budget or VFX skills yet to accidentally make something in which I hide the lack of script in this sort of film. I therefore think that the low budget aspects of making a student film do face me with challenges, but will also help to ensure that I am creating something meaningful, original, and will help me explore ways of expressing my style on all sorts of types of resources.


Part of the art of filmmaking is the freedom it allows to portray not only factual coverage of a story, but to also incorporate more conceptual aspects which key into experiences the audience have been through - therefore creating a closer relationship to the film. TV programmes such as Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes work almost solely on highlighting more abstract concepts, and keeping the story more elusive instead - an emphasis which means that the audience cannot help but develop a closer relationship with the characters and the story they are experiencing. Life on Mars uses ‘70s TVs to show the link between the ‘70s inspired version of Sam Tyler’s mind and what he sees as the ‘real world’; what is represented as the modern world to the audience of the time. Although the TV is supposed to be the connection to the real world, the production design keeps the answers elusive. By staying inline with the ‘70s style of the new dimension Tyler has stumbled into, it keeps the possibilties open as to whether or not it is a hole in the fabric of time/reality or a questionable moment of insanity. Although he thinks he can hear voices from another world in the TV screen, the programmes playing and the type of TV being presented are still consistent with his current world. The consistency in this dynamic is crucial to the plot twist near the end of series two, in which Tyler is forced to question his sanity and whether the ‘real’ world he came from really does exist. The fact that this

was kept open with the consistency of production design means that this is a viable option which puts the audience in the same boat as him. Neither him or the audience has any idea as to whether or not he is psychotic or going through some sort of paranormal experience. His mental experience was expressed more strongly through the editing and the writing, just enough to understand what is going through his head and what he believes to be happening externally. The consistency in the production design reflects the vividity of a realistic deep dream which any audience can relate to, thereby creating this deeper connection between the protagonist and the viewer. 


Ashes to Ashes is a deeper exploration of this conceptual technique. By this point, the characters are far more established and continue to develop a lot from this groundwork throughout the series. They continue to develop the concept of using time relevant TVs, but by the end of Life on Mars, the structure of each episode was beginning to become repetitive, so Ashes to Ashes added more complexity to the background of the main character, Alex Drake, incidentally making the structure of the episodes more variable, and therefore each series more dynamic and unified to the programme as a whole. It also used the pre-existence of Life on Mars to add depth to her intentions and to introduce some character development which comes with the new decade for some of the original characters.

Explore within the editing, production design and script writing of Life on Mars and then Ashes to Ashes (and then how they work together).

I conducted a survey as primary research for my FMP. This intended to delve into the what aspects of films people find boring and derivative and why. I thought it would be interesting to gain this insight so that I can work on how to avoid these aspects in my own writing and filmmaking, not only for the FMP film but in order to develop all of my future film projects.

From the survey I conducted on people’s attitudes towards crime films, 80% of respondents said that there is always room to make something original, while 20% (1 person) said that crime films have become too derivative and that there is no space left in the genre.  All respondents had one thing in common with their favourite aspects of crime films; the theme of ambiguity and suspense. In terms of least favourite aspects of crime films, two respondents had in common the aspect of drawn out plots which do not balance.

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