‘Tickle the Ivories’ dir. Glenn Hanstock

A documentary produced and directed by Glenn Hanstock focusing on the street piano busking festival of the same name which takes place in Liverpool and is organised by Open Culture.

Producer-Director: Glenn Hanstock
DOP: Chris Davies

C8: How did you come across the Tickle the Ivories event in Liverpool and what made you want to document it?

GH: I became aware of the Tickle the Ivories piano festival last summer when walking through Liverpool city centre on a beautiful summer’s day. After sitting to watch a number of the pianists playing, it suddenly hit me that the pianos themselves were responsible for drawing together unique characters from all walks of life with very different life stories to tell.

Ironically, London based Raindance favorite director Col Spector said to me a couple of years ago that certain documentaries find you and ‘Tickle the Ivories’ did that with me. It really did.

C8: How did you approach documenting the aesthetically? What decisions did you have to make at the start of the project?

GH: A good documentary always looks to answer a central question and I wanted the film to document the pianists and their music equally, to be completely subjective, emotional and beautiful.

Early decisions made included deciding on the central theme of the film: why is music so important and why as human beings are we so moved by it. After this further watching the pianists performing prior to shooting informed certain aesthetic decisions I used in order to tell the story. For example, use of slow motion, ideas for intercutting performances and looking at the piano from the inside out as if it were a living thing.

C8: How early on was the decision made to shoot in black and white?

GH: The decision to shoot in black and white was made very early on. With the subject of the film being the piano, it seemed a natural creative decision.

C8: What did you shoot on and what was the reasoning behind this choice?

GH: We shot on the Panasonic GH4. The reason for doing so is because for a camera of its size, there’s really nothing to compare with how powerful it is. It’s ability to shoot in 4K, at varying frame rates up 96fps in Full HD and conform time lapse sequences in camera are but a few of the things this amazing camera can do.

Additionally, for an observational documentary; like ‘Tickle the Ivories’, where the crew is small and you are working in a busy city center with the public, camera set-up and breakdown times have to be fast. The GH4 ticked all the boxes for the film both technically and creatively.

C8: Did you face any obstacles while shooting? How did you overcome them?

GH: The main obstacle I faced with the film was the issue of copyright. Many of the pianists we filmed played pieces and in one case a medley of songs, which, for a film with the size of budget we had to work with, didn’t have a hope in hell of financing releases for.

The way I overcame this was to use an original score composed by Florida based composer Chris Zabriskie and piano performances of music that now lies in the public domain with the composer being deceased for 70 years.

C8: Did all the musicians featured in the film open up naturally to you or did you have to coax them throughout the shoot?

GH: We shot a large amount of performers and some were better than others. In pre-production I’d contacted a number of the pianists and asked them to answer some questions like why they played, when they started playing and how they felt when they played.

From this I ruled out certain pianists from their responses and knew in other cases that they had to be in the film. For example, when one pianist told me when he played “El Chocó” (“Kiss of Fire”) he felt his fingers travel back to his hometown of Buenos Aries and come back to play every single note, I knew this guy had the passion inside I was looking for.

As director, it was then my task express his passion through the film.

C8: The film won Best Documentary at the 2015 Lift-Off Festival in Liverpool. What do you think has been the key ingredient to the success of the film?

GH: Essentially, ‘Tickle the Ivories’ is a selection of human stories in chapters, tied together by music. I think the key ingredient to the film’s success is its heart and passion. The film has real emotion, something more than just a combination of pretty looking images and sound.

People connect with people on a deep level. It’s how I saw Tickle the Ivories right from the beginning.

C8: What advice would you give to emerging filmmakers looking to shoot their first documentary short?

GH: Make films. Seriously. As Robert Rodriguez once said “If you’re a film maker, make films. In my experience I’ve come across two types of filmmakers, those who go out and make films and those who talk about going out to make films. Don’t be the latter.

The more you shoot the more you learn and more like minded people you meet.

C8: What had you done up in your career until this point and what have you done since?

GH: Before ‘Tickle the Ivories’ I’d produced and directed a 3 minute short ‘Small is Beautiful’ which gained positive attention from esteemed film writer and novelist Frank Cottrell Boyce (‘Millions’, ‘24 Hour Party People’, ‘Doctor Who’, ‘The Claim’ and ‘Brookside’) and worked a number of times in daytime drama for multi-award winning Liverpool based production company LA Productions on Jimmy McGovern’s Moving On series 5&6 (BBC1).

Before that I’d produced short music videos, commercial commissions and short narrative films.

Since the film was only completed in January 2015, I’m still very much in the process of promoting the film to festivals and production companies.

C8: What, do you think, makes for a good collaboration?

GH: For me, good collaboration always comes when all involved with a project are on the page and making the same film. There’s a definite need to share creative vision, or control it.

C8: What’s next for Glenn Hanstock? Any exciting projects on the horizon?

GH: In May I’m working on Liverpool Sound City 2015 as director in charge of film crews at the event.

At the moment I’m in the middle of promoting Tickle the Ivories as it’s been selected for Sheffield DocFest’s Videotheque and Plymouth International Film Festival where it’s nominated again for Best Documentary and prestigious Roger Deakin’s Award (Roger Deakins is the Cohen Brother’s DOP of choice and also shot Skyfall)

The hunt is also on for the next documentary. Maybe, once more, this one will find me!

You can find out more about Glenn at Electrobank Media: http://www.electrobankmedia.co.uk/