Recently cut adrift in the city of Manchester by her musician ex, Twenty-year-old Carmel McKisco's on the rebound but doesn’t know it. The flotsam and jetsam that wash up at the dive bar in which she works become foils for her troubles as she enters a whirlwind of self-doubt in her world of broken souls. She's in danger of joining them until she meets an American, Lucas.
In his hotel room the seeds of her future are sown.
But, like the city she wanders day and night, her past lies in every shadow.
Based on the award-winning novel by Gwendoline Riley
Ross Bliss is an experienced film producer in the corporate world and through more creative work maintains an undiminished enthusiasm for, and love of, film as a medium.
An active director of 4 companies over 15 years, since 2001 Ross has owned and managed Redshift Ltd, a full service digital design and production agency. As well as his responsibilities as a company director he has personally produced, directed and edited over one hundred films for clients as diverse as Great Ormond Street Hospital, Somerfield, the Association of British Health Industries, the UK Government’s FiReControl project, Quadron Services Ltd, Kimal Plc, and The Kitchen Design Show.
A regular attendee of Cannes Film Festival, Ross completed their Producer's Workshop in 2013.
He has produced a number of fictional short films and been involved in many more including one of Channel 4's Coming Up strand, Money Can Buy You Love. Two of his films, May Day and Ego have been screened at Cannes as part of the Court Metrage sidebar. Actors whose first or early work was in Ross' films have gone on to appear in Like Crazy, Mad Men, Thunderbirds, Green Wing, The Tudors, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and more.
D W Mault describes himself as a citizen of Europe, born in Liverpool.
Back at the almost beginning, 4 A's at A-level had him accepted and on his way to study PPE at Magdalen College, Oxford but instead David found himself setting up and running Liverpool’s premiere listings magazine. His responsibility was as Film Editor and this is where he received his cinematic education. For over ten years, every actor or director who came to the UK, DW interviewed; his own private (and free!) film school.
Now an established film critic across many regional written and broadcast media, David wanted to branch out and began work on his own scripts.
List3 was David's first short film and it screened at Cannes, Berlin, Taos, Kino, Sao Paulo, Clemont-Ferrand, London and other notable festivals. Grass and Quirk followed as community based projects before he was selected by North West Vision to make a film within their Digital Shorts Scheme, Hell's Corner.
D W Mault represented the UK in the first Berlin Talent Campus, co-curated the show that, as part of Liverpool Biennial, showcased Harmony Korine's photography outside of the United States for the first time, and he continues to mentor children to create short films.
Cold Water will be his first feature film.
COLD WATER is the debut novel from Gwendoline Riley.
Written when she was just 22, it won the Betty Trask Award as well as being named by the Guardian as one of the 5 best novels of 2002.
Gwendoline won the 2008 Somerset Maugham Award for her novel JOSHUA SPASSKY, which was also shortlisted for the 2007 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, and she received a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship in 2011.
Now in her early thirties, she is already working on her fifth novel.
Cold Water has also been translated into Italian and German.
I feel like a loaded gun. But what’s a girl to do?
Because Manchester isn’t Paris,
you can’t sit out under lime trees.
Cold Water is a poignant picaresque of barmaids and barflies; eccentric individuals all somehow tethered to their past - not least our hero/anti-hero Carmel McKisco, who is nurturing mordant fixations on both her lost love, Tony, and her washed-up adolescent hero: a singer from Macclesfield.
As she spins out the days and nights of an unrelentingly rainy winter she finds herself compelled to confront her romantic preoccupations, for better or worse. Carmel McKisco is wry, volatile and full of longing: a twenty-year-old girl working nights in a Manchester dive bar. Cut off from her family, and from Tony her carefree ex, she forges strange alliances with her customers and daydreams half-heartedly about escaping to Cornwall; her own Elysian Fields.
Carmel’s days are taken up working in a dive bar in the American Style – all red velveteen on the stools and battered dark wood tables. She sleeps late and her days are nights and vice versa. Her friends mostly work with her: either slight happy Margi or tough guarded Irene, they keep each other company and guard against the dangers of the big wide world and the various driftwood that float against the bar.
When not working Carmel strides through rainy dismal Manchester and its satellite towns where she searches for a figure from her youth: an enigmatic, once tipped-for-great-things, pop star now gone to seed. Spat out, he has landed in Macclesfield and seeks comfort and escape in heroin.
All the time she ponders, thinks and imagines her fraught relationship with Tony. He whom she had hoped was the great love, and knows that he wasn’t, but is still attracted to like a fly to heat and light. A relationship she knows didn’t work and won’t work again but still…
Then she meets an American, Lucas.
In his hotel room the seeds of her future are sown.
But, like the city she wanders day and night, her past lies in every shadow.
Build your film on white, on silence and on stillness – Robert Bresson
The progression of Cold Water will be in slow, measured steps, but each step will be a giant leap. Slowness is both the condition and the consequence of modernity. This is no longer the old question of the relationship between subject and form but one of a daily work ethic endowing each decision regarding the frame or the lighting, and searching every face or word, with the same emotional gravity, the same seriousness, so that the film’s rhythm is perfectly attuned to the rhythm of life. Yet nothing could be further from the documentary pseudo-transparency inherited from Direct Cinema. The singularity of Cold Water is found in an unrelentingly hardworking approach to form, but one based on a rare quality of patience, passivity, and surrender to the people and places filmed.
I look towards a cinema of stillness and intensity. A rarefied intensity in the artistic gaze… a cinema that downplays event in favour of mood, evocativeness and an intensified sense of temporality.
I am trying to reconcile two things – art/great cinema and the very art of common people. Linking them and saying they are the same.
The codes of commercial cinema have become ossified, offering so much less scope for interpretative pleasure. What we need is an artistic enema! A thirst for abstraction at a time when immediacy and simultaneity – culminating in the multiple strand captioning of TV news screens, or the instant feedback of Twitter- are tyrannical demands, forcing our aesthetic sensibility to seek new ways of slowing itself down.
I aim to take the rural elements of Carlos Reygadas and Lisandro Alonso and place them within the urban cityscape a al Pedro Costa and Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Overall I want to create a sense of the other and mystery, not just with Carmel but also with the Manchester of our dreams and of music and of the past.
A ranging primal scream of negative anger will be the score for Cold Water. We want a score that will encompass a sort of post La Monte Young Ambient Violence that alongside the dead waste of inner city Manchester (that wannabe post capitalist playing-field for the stupid and bovine), will hark back to 1970s post Industrial Britain... The time when the North was written off again and again, but rose to fight another day: only for that day to become Cathedrals of Capitalism that we neither need or want.
Any visual technique used by a filmmaker is simply a tool leveraged for an aesthetic story-telling purpose. The tool directly affects how the artist works and so has tangible impact on form, style and ultimately viewer experience of a cinematic work. Aesthetics is what I am concerned with, thus shooting digitally hasn't been decided by cost but because of texture and possibility, because Cold Water will be a night time film with effective use of subterranean shadows.
Three elements are going to be crucial in bringing Cold Water to the screen according to our vision; casting, cinematography and music.
The casting of Carmel is going to be particularly key. We need someone who can hold the audience rapt even as the character is cold, cruel, sometimes dismissive of those around her.
The ability to simultaneously capture the blank, empty nature of her state of mind, within the context of a performance, will be a fine balancing act. We need the audience to care, to stay with her, to empathise because she is real rather than through her actions. We need someone from whom you can't take your eyes, even though you feel the primal pull to look away from her self-destructive behaviours.
As the film is going to be shot digitally in order to freely inhabit Carmel's shadow world, we need to bring in a cinematographer who is comfortable with, and understands the potential aesthetic of, the digital medium.
Someone like Benjamin Kracun, whose recent work on Tom Shkolnik's The Comedian and Paul Wright's For Those in Peril not only shows he is an artist with an Arri Alexa, but that he can manipulate a live environment, bending the image to his will in the most testing of real world circumstances. We need someone like this to ensure that we can bring the architectural shade and texture and desolate beauty of Manchester to bear on the spiritual drifter that is Carmel McKisco.
The music will be the foundation of Cold Water. It is crucial to both avoid the comforting cliche of 'Manchester music' and yet reflect the fact it has become the post-industrial lifeblood of Manchester culture. Many of the characters in the film are musicians and the diegetic music will be supplied by found local music heard in bars and venues using real local bands.
The non-diegetic music will be a commissioned score that provides a sonic backdrop to Carmel's emotional state. A 'primal scream of negative anger', white noise to drown out the real noise. A key name that keeps coming up is Benjamin John Power of Blank Mass and Fuck Buttons who recently provided his first cinematic score to the Ben Wheatley film A Field in England.
The key to the ultimate success of this project in finding an audience is the marriage of a European cinematic sensibility with a genuine character, in a real British city. The chance to see ourselves reflected through the cinematic prism of the likes of the Dardenne Brothers, Leo Carax, Bruno Dumont, Pedro Costa and Jean-Luc Godard. The proliferation of online distribution has not only found a new audience for this type of cinema, but it has found the original audience who may have been without a Watershed or a Picturehouse, and therefore have had their passion dwindled by the ossification of mainstream cinema. Embracing this, along with the fully-rounded female protagonist and the brilliant novel, will be the defining factors in finding Cold Water its audience.
What attracted me about adapting Cold Water is also its biggest challenge. Plot, as such, does not really exist in the novel and that will need to be carried forward in the film. It is a story of character, moments and the mundane, happening in real time - which in effect creates what Freud talked of as the mystery of the other.
Pedro Costa, channelling Tarkovsky channelling Sarte, said that when you shoot an ashtray for a second it is an ashtray, but shoot it for 30 seconds and it becomes something else entirely. This gaze must reveal the underlying truths of Cold Water, of Carmel, and of Manchester.
Cold Water shows a world who's interior life has been created as an escape from the dull throb of reality and the day to day. Whether it’s Kevin – the sad sack hard boiled romantic who kills the night blues living in a pretend world of Bukowski, Runyon and Fante; or Katja an emotionally demanding Czech émigré who eventually pushes Carmel away with her existential despair that revolves around Wilde, Nico, ballet beauty, Theda Bara and Montgomery Clift.
Memory linked with the psychogeography of Manchester acts as a strange riff on a Greek chorus. There are trips to the moors, Macclesfield, train journeys that let the unspoken tales of the post-industrial north where “we do what the fuck we want” tell its whole horrible story, tales of Victorian legend that turn Manchester Cathedral into a alternative universe where it’s still ruled by Queen Victoria/Charles Dickens.
Ultimately escape is the only answer… Carmel is faced with many opportunities but misses them because of her own human will that creates defeat at the chance of a minor victory. Faced with this eventuality she does what all indecisive emotional cowards do, she runs away not knowing where...she is going only to change her environment which in effect changes nothing… same song different disco… but that’s a whole other film…
There are no happy endings in Cold Water, in fact there are no endings or beginnings, there just “is”. Mistakes are made, lovers don’t get together – they have one drunken fuck in a filthy toilet, one night stands are just that – tourists leave and they never see each other again even though they both want to.
Cold Water writes the legend, paints history, sculpts monument. This is also the counterhistory of a place where walls tell legends... MANCHESTER...
David and I met through our love of cinema, working as film critics in the North West, David professionally and me whilst living in Liverpool as a student. Back then cinemas were quite happy to open a free bar tab for the writers after an early morning screening so we spent many hours, drinking, and setting the cinematic world to rights whilst wondering how to create the opportunity to do it our way.
After a spell in Manchester, I moved back to the South West as a business decision. My, then fledgling, design and production agency was growing and relocation was needed to allow that to happen.
We kept in touch and whenever our paths crossed, normally at a film festival or similar industry event, we discussed our various travails trying to get whichever passion project we were working on, off the ground.
On one such occasion, 'Cold Water' became the topic of conversation. I read the book and could immediately see what attracted David to the material.
After discussing the project, I was excited by what he wanted to do with the film and desperately wanted to facilitate that vision coming to the cinema. David is a visionary director, steeped in the lore of world cinema but at the same time possessing a unique and single-minded artistic and aesthetic vision. This novel represented something that could go hand in glove with that vision. Also, David has been continuously writing for over 20 years so is the perfect person to adapt it in a way that would allow these sympathetic elements to rise to the fore.
Just as importantly, I felt that my skills brought something to the project. A reality. A groundedness. A real world appreciation of what it will take to bring Cold Water to the screen.
I have developed a broad range of skills in business management and communication through being an active director of 4 companies. Marketing is obviously a strength given the nature of the field I work in, but also corporate development, budget management and project planning. I have also written and developed business plans on a consultancy basis. More practically of course, I have produced over one hundred projects commercially, and having been a director I have some understanding of what David will be dealing with.
Given that cinema has always been my passion, like David, I have a strong understanding of the current landscape of the industry from a creative perspective. We know who is doing what, what new actors/actresses are impressing, key technical developments, interesting new cinematographers and directors who inspire us.
I am now developing my understanding of the industry from a business perspective. EIS/SEIS, UK Tax credits, European co-production, sales agencies and distribution models were all just concepts to me a year ago, but I have immersed myself in them and am loving every minute of it.
Both David and I have projects waiting in the sidelines to take advantage of the success of Cold Water.
Psychogeography & Cold Water
CARMEL walking home alone. It’s raining.
Past the museum.
Through the park.
Past a building site. Diggers tower over her.
The greyness is in danger of capturing her.
Grubby industrial Manchester.
This image of Manchester is fundamental to Cold Water.
Psychogeography was defined in 1955 by Guy Debord as "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals."
By no stretch of the imagination is Manchester a picturesque city. It is however, emphatically if unconventionally beautiful. In common with all things beautiful it is fundamentally flawed. It has a compulsion to preen and show off. It is narcissistic, contrary and wayward, and yet you cannot help but love it. It is both admirable and maddening.
Manchester is Carmel McKisco and Carmel McKisco is Manchester, they are interchangeable. As Carmel floats through night time Manchester (as blank as Richard Hell) we need a way to associate her blankness to action and this is where the city enters as it eases us to a pseudo-understanding of a mindless state we only observe. Hence architecture... architecture is the simplest means of articulating time and space, of modulating reality, of engendering dreams; and dreams are what Carmel has lots of, that and time...
As an example of Carmel’s solipsism/depression she can see nothing around her that is not her own image; everything speaks Carmel of herself. Her very landscape is animated. Obstacles are everywhere. And they are all interrelated, maintaining a unified reign of poverty.
All this wouldn’t be possible without Manchester, the city, the urban ennui that only Carmel knows... Juxtaposed against which her wanderings in the dead of the night of her always alert (closed off) mind makes a warped kind of sense of Manchester, existence and the ever knowing possibility of escape... But an escape that she is unable to do, so she is stuck. Stuck in a prison of the mind.
Alongside Manchester and it’s elements that push Carmel (or is it Carmel that pushes) from Ancoats to Macclesfield to the dead loss of Salford Quays: the future ruin that sips from the ghost milk of urban violence... What ever happened to W H Auden’s ideal landscape as one that contained water-wheels, grain-mills, limestone and obsolete machinery... Where is this Manchester, where is Carmel McKisco, where are WE going?
The music and architecture are feelers for what we can never know about our hero as she walks and fights against everything she doesn’t want to be, but at the same time, she will become, because all escape is running, running from a death that was foretold when our mother’s gave birth.
If you are interested in Cold Water
please don't hesitate to get in touch.