Flatshare is a new comedy-drama series by James Barber. Brought to life by the award-winning director, Grant Taylor. It’s an LGBT series that follows the trials and tribulations of four housemates living in Peckham, exploring issues such as sexuality, gentrification and identity. The show features some of the brightest emerging acting talents in the UK including Shaun Cowlishaw (Fools Gold), Andrew Rowe (Great Expectations), Ani Nelson (Brothers With No Game) & Nic Bernasconi (The Man from U.N.C.L.E).
We spoke to James Barber, Flatshare’s writer and creator, to talk about how the web series came about and what we can expect from it.
Presh (Big Picture Film Club):The series deals with multiple themes, from gentrification, sexual identity, class and ethnicity. How have you juggled these different elements in the show’s creation to give each of those issues enough space and time to be addressed?
James Barber (Writer & Creator): It definitely was a challenge exploring all of these themes in just 4 episodes. As a black gay man, I wanted to create a show which was about people who live between the intersections of different identities, the challenges that come with this as well as our ability to thrive within these intersections.
How much of your own personal journey is in these characters?
JB: Writing Flatshare for me was definitely a way of making sense of my own personal journey. It’s so rare that I see people who look like me, who are messy, complicated and flawed on screen. And with Flatshare, I wanted to create a space in which I could exist in my fullness.
We have seen in recent years an increase in more filmmakers choosing to directly distribute their web series’ digitally, on platforms like Youtube, rather than first pitching to a TV network. How did you weigh up the pros of having full creative control over developing the series, versus the cons of not having the resources of a TV network behind you?
JB: I pitched the script to a few production companies who expressed some interest but chose to sit on the fence. For me, the most important thing was getting it made at any cost. As the executive producer, I had lots of creative control, which enabled me to make the show how I wanted to make it without compromise. It took over two years to make due to not having all of the resources I needed, but I was still able to make a show that looks better than some of the things I see on TV.
You successfully crowdfunded to allow you to produce the series. How was the response to the campaign? Despite setbacks in other areas of creating the show, did that give you confidence that people believed in this series?
JB: The campaign did well because I used it as a platform to share the personal reasons why I wanted to make the show which resonated with people. Running the campaign, as hard it was, taught me that what people connect with is a human story which at its core is universal.
Comedian, Lenny Henry recently delivered a petition to parliament calling for a greater number of BAME (Black & Minority Ethnic) writers, producers, directors in UK television, given how underrepresented those groups are within TV production. What barriers would the industry need to overcome to allow for better representation of black writers, producers and directors on TV?
JB: I commend Lenny Henry for raising this issue, because all too often, the focus is on-screen representation, which in my opinion is just window-dressing. I personally would like to see the UK adopt something like the ‘Inclusion Rider’ policy to fully commit to ensuring that we have diverse writers, producers, and directors behind the scenes, otherwise I don’t see much changing. The industry needs to be held accountable. It’s time to shake things up!
Whether you’re pursuing a career mainly in theatre, television or film, gaining a foothold in the world of acting is notoriously hard and competitive. Long and often unsociable hours and lack of consistent work can lead increased stress and anxiety, so how can emerging actors persevere in such an environment? We spoke to Welsh actor, Richard Goss, to discuss his career in front of the camera so far, mental health & advice for fellow emerging actors. With a resume that includes roles in The Rise of the Krays & Wrath of the Titans, alongside a slew of short films, Richard Goss is a name to watch out for.
Presh [Big Picture Film Club]: “Breaking” into the film industry is notoriously difficult, what have been the most important lessons you’ve learned in helping you navigate in the industry and build those necessary connections?
Richard: Perseverance. You have to persevere through all the challenging times in this industry with no one replying to your emails, no phone calls, no castings, working in day/night jobs you hate just to survive between acting roles. You need to have a burning desire and a belief in yourself which surpasses all of those negative aspects, keep working relentlessly and applying pressure to be seen. Always be professional and courteous to everyone you meet, whether on set or auditions or workshops. You never know who will be in a position to help you in the future and likewise, you must help people in return.
BPFC: With that being said, organisations like ArtsMinds have highlighted the prevalence of mental health issues within the film industry. Are there steps that you’ve taken to look after your own mental health in a stressful industry? And are there any tips you would suggest to actors?
Richard: That’s a good question as the mental health aspect is often overlooked or not discussed openly. Personally, I found concentrating on my physical fitness and physique has helped my mental health. It enforces discipline and commitment and honestly, I just feel fantastic after a good workout. I train 6 nights a week, a mixture of bodybuilding and martial arts. I’ve trained in Krav Maga for eight years and boxing several times a week which releases anger and stress. It’s healthy to have other hobbies outside of acting. I love video games (obsessed with Red Dead Redemption II and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey!), reading, travelling. Also learning other skills which can be useful for acting such as horse riding, archery, martial arts, music, etc. If you live in London, it’s always good to get the hell out of there for a few days every now and then too!
BPFC: From acting in a war film (The Final leaves of Winter) to crime drama (Rise of the Krays), you’ve had varied roles, but also parts that are very distinct to a particular time period. What is your process for getting into character? How does this change with varying roles?
Richard: The process changes from role to role but always begins with the script. You develop an idea in your head from the page of what the character is going to look and sound like, you start practising in your room and building the character, the mannerisms, the voice, the accent. And you have to research the time period, the cultural setting, social class, the characters overall arc, does he change and grow throughout the course of the film? And ultimately does it serve the directors vision for not only that character but the film itself? You can’t get caught up trying to show off a character, it has to serve and respect the script. I hope all of that doesn’t sound too pretentious! For some roles, I will stay in character because it’s easier to maintain an accent or mannerisms that way, but there are some which luckily are easier to switch on and off.
BPFC: Short Films have seen a surge over the last few years, particularly with platforms like YouTube and Vimeo acting as their primary distribution platforms. As an actor, how have those platforms shaped how you are able to promote yourself?
Richard: You know, I’m behind the curve with a lot of social media platforms, I grew up in a time before anything like this even existed. Dial-up modems were just becoming a household accessory when I was a teenager. Jesus that makes me sound old. But I’ve discovered some great filmmakers through YouTube so I’m learning! I also think it’s interesting to see if YouTube’s original content will be able to match the likes of Netflix or Amazon Prime, who put out so many good shows, it’s insane. Truly a great time for series and content.
BPFC: Finally, what films are you currently working on?
Richard: I’ve wrapped roles on two films this year: Straight Lines, directed by my longtime friend (and housemate!) Josh Crooks, starring Kacey Ainsworth from Eastenders and Grantchester. That was a really fun shoot as I got to perform an American accent on film for the first time whilst sharing scenes with Kacey and I also had a stunt scene. The second is “The Prince of North West” which is an indie crime thriller, directed by Todor Tragmar, I play an ex-boxer and enforcer for a London criminal gang. I believe it’s going to be black and white, a real film noir style. Both films are currently in post-production and from what I know will be aimed at the festival circuit before a general release which I’m really excited about! Aside from those, I’m developing my own script and I’ve just auditioned for two major US TV series so….fingers crossed!
POSSUM is the debut feature film from writer/director Matthew Holness, co-creator and writer/star of the cult TV series Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace.
The story follows disgraced children’s puppeteer Philip (Sean Harris), returning to his childhood home of
Fallmarsh, Norfolk, intent on destroying Possum, a hideous puppet he keeps hidden inside a brown leather
bag. When his attempts fail, Philip is forced to confront his sinister stepfather Maurice (Alun Armstrong) in
an effort to escape the dark horrors of his past.
We had a chance to chat with writer / director, Matthew Holness, to talk about his debut feature film, his inspiration behind the film, it’s unique soundtrack and much more…
Big Picture Film Club: What were your influences in developing the film?
Matthew: Possum was originally a short story, it was never really the intention to develop it as a film, but I was really interested in a lot of the old silent horror films from the 1920’s – German horror films like Nosferatu, M & various others. I fell in love with those films because they seem to be able to deal with characters with extreme psychological states. A lot of those films are about the First World War, there are so many things going on in those films, but at a level below the surface.
I just thought how could you make a silent horror film for a modern audience. What kind of film would it be? And would it be possible to do that? I knew I had this story I had written called Possum, which was about a character that had gone through something so traumatic that he really couldn’t talk about it. He just constructed a puppet to deal with that trauma and that felt to me like a classic scenario for a silent horror film.
Big Picture Film Club: How was it like working with the [BBC] Radiophonic Workshop? And how did their involvement shape the mood and tone of the film?
Matthew: They are part of the old BBC Radiophonic workshop, they’re not BBC now. They’re their own entity. They came on board during the editing process because my editor, Tommy Balding, and I had been putting temporary music tracks on the footage and the tracks that really worked well were old tracks by the Radiophonic Workshop (when they were the BBC Radiophonic Workshop). There were some old Delia Derbyshire tracks that we were putting over some sequences and they just really captured a mood and strange, other-worldly atmosphere that fits perfectly with Philip’s world. The geography of his mind just seems to come alive with this music.
I tried to license the tracks so we could use them in the film, but during that process, my musical supervisor, Phil Canning, said that that he knew the radio radiophonic workshop was looking to score a feature film, so he set up a meeting. They watched the film and saw what music that we were using as temporary tracks. Luckily, they found it was appealing enough to want to score it. I couldn’t believe it when I found that out, it was an incredible bit of news, but it kind of fit so perfectly. They were just the perfect fit for the film and the character of Philip – and his headspace.
Sean Harris as Philip in Possum
Big Picture Film Club: This is your debut feature as a writer / director, did you find it daunting stepping from in front of the camera to behind the camera? And from a production standpoint how did that transition feel to you?
Matthew: I’ve done three short films beforehand, so I wasn’t daunted by the prospect of directing. However, directing is always a nerve-wracking experience. I certainly get pre-production nerves, as I think anyone does, but actually, far fewer nerves than acting because I just inherently feel directing is more my thing than acting. So I felt far more comfortable directing and writing than I do acting. It was nerve-wracking, but it wasn’t daunting in that sense in that I had previous experience. Having said that the scale of a feature compared to a short, you don’t really get a sense of how different it is until you’re actually filming.
I would say in terms of pre-production it’s still the same level of intensity, in that you have to do all the same sorts of things, and in fact the amount of work you have to put in on a short film is not far off the same amount of work you have to put on to a feature. So pre-production [for a feature film] is not necessarily any more difficult than it is for a short film. Certainly when you’re actually filming then you really do encounter just the depth and length of the entire process; a 4-week shoot is far more than a 3-4 day shoot. You learn to pace yourself, you have to find physical and mental stamina that isn’t necessarily an issue on a short film. You kind of get into the swing of it after a few days, then it’s business as usual and all the nerves go away when you’re making the film.
Big Picture Film Club: A lot of elements of the film are quite spare, like the lack of dialogue or the environments chosen. This places a lot more emphasis Philip [Sean Harris] & Maurice’s [Alun Armstrong] relationship. How was it like building that dynamic between them and showing that sense of shared history together?
Matthew: First & foremost the film is about loneliness, as well as other things, but it was important to locate Philip in a space and in a world where he has no communication with anyone. Therefore he’s shot in very lonely places, those are the places he actively seeks out. The only real communication he with anyone is with Maurice and it’s a very unhealthy and tense relationship. What they say to each other isn’t necessarily what they’re thinking or feeling. It is a relationship that in its current state is out of sheer habit; it’s a very antagonistic, passive-aggressive, relationship.
When it came to actually put the two characters together on screen, the tension really comes from the fact the Sean and Alun didn’t communicate off-screen. Sean’s a method actor and part of the process for him was that he didn’t want to engage with the outside world at all. He was in character, he didn’t want to engage with Alun, so you’re really seeing them only get together as those characters. On-screen you’re really just seeing these two characters engaging in this fictional world, so that contributes to that intensity. It’s a very powerful method when it works like that, it’s interesting to watch, and very tense to watch and edit together. I think a lot of that comes from Alun and seans approach to the material.
Big Picture Film Club: Lastly, from its festival screenings, how have you found the reaction to the film? Were there particular reactions that you weren’t expecting that surprised you?
Matthew: Not really, you never know what an audience will make of something until you put it in front of them, so I was sort of apprehensive. I wanted two things to work: one, that they felt for Phillip despite him being an initially unlikeable character, I was very keen that they did feel for Philip. And two, I wanted it to be scary and there was no guarantee of those two things going in. Luckily, it feels that the audiences do empathise with Philip and they are interested in him. And I think they do stay with him and stick with him, there’s a kind of endurance test with Philip, and those who do stick with him and feel for his predicament I think really root for him and really like the film.
It’s about a very difficult subject and I think unless audience members feel for someone who’s gone through something like that it’s potentially not something that they can inherently connect to. I’m glad that audiences have come out and really rooted for him, to varying degrees, but it’s certainly a reaction I’ve felt from them. I’m pleased that it frightens people, it seems to get under peoples skin and that was always the intention. It’s a grimy, gritty sort of film, it’s not supposed to be nice, it’s not supposed to have a happy ending, because there isn’t closure for victims that have gone through an experience like that. It was important not to make it a cinematic happy ending because that wouldn’t be truthful to the subject. It’s an unpleasant film, it’s probably a film people won’t watch twice, but that’s the intention behind it. It is supposed to take you to a place where that’s covered up and brushed aside, that’s really lifting the lid off something unpleasant and that’s the point of it.
Big Picture Film Club will be holding a special screening of Possum on Thursday 1st November at Genesis Cinema, London. Tickets & Info:http://bit.ly/PossumFilm
Watch the official trailer for Possum. We are partnering with Bulldog Film Distribution to bring you a special screening of Possum, our pick for the best British horror film this year, on Thursday 1st November at Genesis Cinema. Info: Possum – Halloween Special
BankJob is the brainchild of filmmaker Dan Edelstyn and artist Hilary Powell who together run Optimistic Foundation –a multidisciplinary foundation organisation whose ambitious work spans film, social media, live events and public, participatory art.
Setting up their own community central bank in Walthamstow, East London, Hoe Street Central Bank aims to print its own money to fund local debt relief. They’ve currently raised just over £30,000 to buy back local debt. The documentary, Bankjob follows the journey of this community project and demystifying money…
We spoke with Dan Edelstyn to discuss Bankjob and financial literacy…
Big Picture Film Club: What have you found is the biggest misconception people have around money? And do we have a problem in our society regarding financial literacy?
Daniel Edelstyn: Yes – we believe that the misconceptions around debt and money are the driving factors of our entire lives – and that mass education in these areas could drive huge change.
97% of all money in circulation is created as interest-bearing debt – by private banks, the systematic deregulation of the banks has caused a huge increase in the amount of money – and therefore debt in circulation. Most of this money is created for mortgages – which is a non-productive economic asset, not creating more jobs etc – just creating asset – read house inflation – and boom and bust.
A group called Rethinking Economics have been amazing at demanding a change to the curriculums of the economics departments across universities in Britain – after they observed that none of their courses answered or spoke to the causes of the 2008 financial crash they were living through whilst at universities. It remains true that most economics courses are still based on antiquated ideas which have been largely agreed on to be out of date.
We’re at an exciting time though with economic literacy, there is a ‘new economics movement’ which seems to be sweeping across Britain – however, we’re still on the fringes. These questions need to seep into the mainstream conversation, as we believe that most of the population remain illiterate to the main economic drivers that affect their lives. They need to get over their fear of the subject – and educate themselves actively. Positive Money did a poll among politicians in Nov 2017 and found that a staggering 85% of them didn’t understand where money comes from – imagine what the percentage of normal – less educated people across Britain and in fact the entire world must be – but the story of where money comes from and the power to create it are what are effectively the driving seat of our political system..
BPFC: How did the idea for Hoe Street Central Bank [HSCB] come about?
D.E: We heard about the group Strike Debt, who had bought up and abolished millions of dollars worth of student and medical debt in the US. It was intriguing, they seemed like outlaws and there was something exciting about them – at the time, like most people, my only understanding of debt was that it was a bad thing to incur and that if one did get into debt – the only moral thing to do was to pay it. What Strike Debt did more than anything, was to challenge the received wisdom of what they called ‘payback morality’ and to shine the beam of enquiry up to the top. And to highlight the fact that the powerful economic elites never paid their debts, but that payback morality was, in fact, something always aimed at the people at the bottom, those least able to repay. One of the founding members of the group was Professor Andrew Ross, and reading his book Creditocracy was very inspiring – it was like a secret history of debt and indebtedness, and in it, he was arguing that our western democracies were being systematically stripped away and eroded. In the place of this, a new system was being built – a creditocracy – where access to the basic social goods provided under ‘welfare democracy’ was now being accessed by credit. The case seemed compelling to me, but I was worried by how fringe this all was, I mean it was of central importance to us all – but only being discussed by small indie publishers.
Anyway there was the basic nutrition or the compost – what then started to happen was more investigation, more reading, interviews, a trip out to meet Strike Debt in Los Angeles and NYC, and then gradually a cinematic and artistic response began to percolate and come together. At first, this was me with my director of photography Christophe – and Hilary was back in London working on her projects, but the film was amorphous. It was a feeling of anger that we were all being lied to, it was a set of encounters with victims of the system in the US educational system and the activists who wanted to help them but it wasn’t a film that was coherent – and it didn’t feel right yet, just reporting on something isn’t really my style. I felt restless, lost and anxious like I still hadn’t got to the heart of it all, and that the film I had shot so far was right out at the edges of the onion. I must stress that these things don’t necessarily just leap out fully formed and in this instance, the idea of setting up our own bank and currencies was something that took a lot longer, it really is a collaborative project. One of the major turning points in forming the structure and the identity of the film came when we uncovered the civil society group Positive Money and their critique of our financial system based on how money is created. It was quite mind-blowing – and we took that as the nucleus of the project – and could hang our critiques and our actions on that…
BPFC: Walthamstow is a diverse community, how receptive have the community been to your project? Has it been easier or harder than you imagined engaging with all groups within the local community?
D.E: The community aspect was tricky at first, I remember when I started going around Walthamstow asking the question as to whether it was a creditocracy, (using it as a microcosm of Britain) it was hard to gain access to talk to people. When we came up with the idea of bank notes we struggled to recruit people to go on them. It is a big thing, as it’s asking people to stand up to something a bit, to become a sort of figure of resistance. At the end of the day, this is Britain, and no matter how diverse the community may be, we’re all a little shy over here and we like to hide our lights under whatever bushels we can find etc. After a year or so, really going around meeting and talking to people we began to gain trust and then it became easier and easier – but really it is Hilary who is amazing at believing anything can be achieved and then organising things into reality.
BPFC: Waltham Forest Council has been supportive of your project. Do you believe the same political will exists in central government to address the concerns you’ve raised over our monetary system?
D.E: I think there is a great deal of concern across the political spectrum about the problem of debt after all the British have never been so personally indebted. I do believe that ministers probably are genuine in their belief that if they cut vital services they will save money that will ultimately help with reducing the national debt – post 2008 crisis. However, what has been shown by multiple Nobel winning economists is that when you cut public spending you add to personal indebtedness. So whereas the problem is something that politicians of every hue recognise, there’s no agreement on how to tackle it. Also, it’s our belief that without tackling the root cause of debt – in money creation – that things will not improve. Banks need tougher regulation but it’s not something that the public is really thinking about at the moment, in fact right now, there are so many urgent problems with Brexit and an ongoing plunging pound, faltering housing market that people don’t really seem to know where to start.
BPFC: How has the experience been like filming “Bank Job”? What do you hope the public takes away from watching this?
D.E: It’s very tough making indie documentaries, we made one before which was well received but it was a real struggle though we had money from Channel 4, an investor, and some foundations. This one has been even harder and it’s been very tough, to make these things take massive commitment and belief and it’s incredibly precarious. We hope that the public learns about money and debt, the deep structural problems within our economy and that with this education political will to make meaningful change happens. Right now we are working on a plan for impact distribution to maximise the chances for meaningful change to come about. If we can have a genuine impact and a mass distribution this will make all the risk and the hardship worthwhile and we will be able to go on and make more projects.
BPFC: What have been the biggest insights you’ve gained while going through this journey?
D.E: Some of the biggest changes we need to make are not even being discussed or understood.
We have learned about the distortion of narratives in mainstream media. Before we really looked into economics we didn’t really understand how badly the subject was being dealt with on BBC for instance, and even across other outlets that one would think were ok. The truth is highly political and it’s under strict control.
BPFC: Through HSCB you’ve highlighted flaws in our monetary system, how do we begin to rectify those flaws? And how do you feel a better monetary system would function?
D.E: Given the severity of the crisis, we believe that banks need to be regulated as per the Glass Steagall Act (repealed by Clinton in 1999) which was brought in after the Wall Street Crash – to basically stop banks from taking people’s savings and putting them on the stock markets.
We also really like Positive Money’s ideas around Sovereign Money Creation – so governments are no longer forced to borrow from private banks – they can create their own money backed by tax-payers. Right now in the UK, the government has to find £42billion in interest every year just to pay back to the banks before they can start funding our healthcare, education system and sort out housing, roads etc. Why not at least create some public projects with their own money – such as Abraham Lincoln did during the American Civil War with the ‘greenback’ dollar. We did have a government currency in the UK once before with the Bradbury Pound on the eve of WW1.
We also believe that austerity must end immediately. The cuts to the public spending are making the personal debt problems worse – and mean that as people are made unemployed etc. There’s less money in circulation in the real economy, meaning that the economy is being reverse stimulated.
We would like to see an end to the PFI debts of hospital trusts, schools and other public projects. The PFI companies have already been repaid many times over. Most are based offshore and pay no UK tax – yet they suck taxpayer’s money out of the economy – these debts should be subject to audits to ascertain the public benefit, how much has been repaid – and they should be closed. Debt Resistance UK is doing great work on this with local councils.
Finally, we believe in the right to debt-free higher education. It’s horrible to choose between debt and education and creates a terrible psychological burden to students starting out in life. Our brightest minds need to be able to contribute to our society moving forward, we have huge issues to solve together – and creating free higher education is a drop in the water.
Although funding from arts organisations within the U.K has reduced in recent years this hasn’t stopped an emergence of filmmaking creatives within the U.K self-funding their own projects and utilising available self-distribution platforms to release their work.
Producer, actor & director, Anthony Vander, is the founder of Distortion Entertainment. The London-based production company is among. Fresh off the back of releasing Season 1 of his web series Housemates, we caught up with Anthony as he gears up to release his debut feature-length film.
Big Picture Film Club: Creatively, how do you juggle being a writer, director and an actor on your projects?
Anthony Vander: It took some while getting used to. I’m still a work in progress in all those fields. I would say find a collaborative team of people who are as passionate about your vision as you are.
BPFC:With the success of internet web-series’ like Venus vs Mars, Brothers With No Game and more recently Dreaming Whilst Black, self-funded web series’ about different aspects of black British life have grown increasingly popular and have found a dedicated audience – what do you attribute this success to?
AV: The biggest attribution to this success would be content and representation. All the shows that you mentioned are of high-quality. They tell a story which is relatable and for the most part not always being shown on television screens this side of the pond. I also think one of the aspects of this success would be accessibility. YouTube and other VOD’s is the new TV. Most people watch YouTube more than they watch television.
BPFC:How has the reaction been to the Housemates web series, since it’s release in June?
AV: The reaction has been fantastic. I’m very humbled not only to the cast and crew but also to people who have given their time to watch our show. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback and also questions with regards to season two.
BPFC:What can we expect from Housemates Season 2? Will it still take place over a single day like Housemates Season1?
AV: I’m playing around with a few ideas. Filmmakers on our shores (such as RM Moses, Sebastian Thiel, Monet Morgan to name a few) provided much inspiration for season one and their content continues to do so. It could possibly take place over a single day but nothing has been set in stone yet. Once we look at the character’s arch and explore lineage then we can start thinking about duration and setting.
BPFC:The film industry is going through a period of rapid change: from sources of funding to available distribution platforms. What are your current thoughts on the state of the UK film industry?
AV: I feel the UK film industry is on the rise. We have a lot of prolific filmmakers young and old. Like anything I always feel that there is room for progression especially within the UK film industry. The rapid change is one of ownership, which I believe is in the hands of the artist. A major key is not to seek validation but rather create and build your own vision. I learnt about the industry on the job. I went to acting school, not film school. I feel the funding is there but its accessibility is another factor altogether.
BPFC:You’ve just wrapped up your debut feature-length film: Scales. Can you tell us a bit about the film and How did it come together? When will Scales be released?
AV: Scales is a tense, claustrophobic drama that spends one evening with four characters, who are trapped in a combustible boiling pot of an apartment.
I always loved the idea of a single location film. Not just for budget reasons but the fact that we could create character-driven stories. When I approached Joe he was very excited about the possibilities and began writing. We managed to find an incredible director in Nathan Hannawin who took the film to a whole new level. We are currently doing the festival circuit then the film will have limited theatrical release during mid-2019.
BPFC:What other projects can we expect from Distortion Entertainment?
AV: I’m currently working on a short film Spar, which focuses on the challenges of female boxing and the overcoming of adversity. I have a few other ideas for other shorts. I also a feature film called The Tutor which I have in development, so hopefully, we get that made.
From Grange Hill to Top Boy, Ashley Walters is one of Britain’s most established actors. While he shot to fame as part of the legendary garage collective, So Solid Crew his work in front of the camera – now spanning more than 20 years – is truly one to be admired. With actors from working-class backgrounds being underrepresented in film & TV, Ashley also exists as an increasing rarity within the UK film & TV industry. It’s with this in mind that Ashley turned his attention to the next generation of actors and set up Kingdom Drama School. We caught up with Ashley to discuss his start in acting, his legacy and the future.
Big Picture Film Club: How did you get your start in acting?
Ashley Walters: It was unintentional, my mum was a chaperone for my cousin for when he would go out for castings. My mum took me along to one of his auditions when I was only six years old, and when we arrived, they asked if I could audition as well. Long story short, I got the part, and here we are today.
BPFC: So Solid Crew’s breakthrough into the charts was unlike anything we had ever seen before in music, although it wasn’t without its controversy. In regards to your acting career, did being part of that group help open doors to more acting opportunities or did some of the negative press surrounding the group hinder further opportunities at that time?
AW: No one wanted to touch me after I got out of prison. As far as the industry and the press were concerned, I was a gun-touting gangster. So the doors were very much shut. I was in a very dark place but I knew I had to make a transition, a choice I had made while I was inside.
BPFC: Did you feel an initial pressure to be typecast? How did you ensure you had a varied the roles you went for over the course of your career?
AW: I’ve been blessed to have Claire as my agent. We made a 15-year plan, and the early part of that was to play the type-casted roles. That is what the industry wanted from me. As time has passed, we have found opportunities to play more venerable characters and most of them have worked out.
BPFC: Which roles do you feel challenged you the most and took you out of your comfort zone?
AW:WAZ was the film that really took me out of my comfort when I chose to play for the first time a homosexual character. Being straight and coming from my community and my background created an extra pressure that I put on myself. In the end, after the film came out, I didn’t receive half the backlash that I was expecting and it gave the industry the opportunity to see that I can play more than just one role.
BPFC: Setting up Kingdom Drama School back in 2012 marked a change in your focus to help develop the next generation of actors. What inspired you to set up your own drama school and how has that experience been over the past 6 years?
AW: I wanted to create a drama school that felt like home for people who come from working-class backgrounds like myself. It’s been an amazing journey working with our students and unearthing their talents which would have been missed elsewhere. The passion at the school every Sunday is second to none.
BPFC:Particularly with actors from working-class backgrounds, have you found they are finding it harder to break into the industry in recent years? If so, what can be done to offer people from poorer backgrounds more opportunities to develop their craft?
AW: My advice to working-class actors struggling to break into the industry is to create your own work, partner with the right people who are also on your path, promote your work and build an audience. Focus on the solution, rather than the problem. There are people making award-winning films on their smartphones.
BPFC: Last year you set up your production company SLNda (pronounced Slander) with your business partner, Najan Ward. What can we expect from SLNda moving forward?
AW: We have four very different projects on our slate at the moment:
PIRATES is a fictional scripted drama based in the mid-nineties. The story is based on my experience as a 15-year-old kid coming up as MC on the illegal pirate radio scene.
COMMONWEALTH is an inspirational scripted period-drama starting in the 1950’s. We follow five very different families from Commonwealth member countries from all corners of globe arriving in the UK.
NAAN BREAD is a hilarious mockumentary based in Leicester and we follow an Indian family mixed with traditional and modern siblings. The business is going down the pan, and a nephew to the family is filming the whole ordeal for a school media project.
THE CHARLATANS is a scripted dramedy that follows 5 lawless students who get expelled from Manchester Unversity and double-cross one of the cities most notorious gangster. The escape to London and use their illicit skills to con, swindle and force their way into the capitals alluring entertainment industry.
BPFC: You’re more than 20 years into your acting career, and it seems like your going from strength to strength, with both your production company and film school established, what’s next for Ashley Walters?
AW: I have always had an itch for writing and directing. I’ve have been writing two scripts since the start of the year and after shooting TOP BOY, I have a small window to bring one of these scripts to the screen.
You can watch Ashley Walters on his new show Bulletproof co-starring alongside Noel Clarke, on Sky One, Tuesdays at 9pm.
Director / Producer, Dom Lenoir and Actor / Writer Producer, Matt Hookings join us in the studio to talk about the upcoming theatrical release of their latest feature film Winter Ridge. We also discuss the lengthy process that goes into creating a film from writing to release – all of which they’ve packaged into a short course for those who are looking for support and guidance. Winter Ridge will be screening opening night (13th April) at London Independent Film Festival, tickets and more info available at liff.org.
Listen to the full podcast here alternatively, you can watch the whole episode on our YouTube channel.
Big Picture Film Club’s First Look series takes a look at upcoming films that have grabbed our attention, with the aim of finding out more about the release and the creative minds behind the projects.
The Isle is the second feature film from production company Fizz & Ginger Films. Set in 1840’s Scotland, The Isle is a Victorian supernatural folk horror set on a island and stars Conleth Hill (Lord Varys in Game of Thrones), Alex Hassell (The Miniaturist, Surbubicon), Fisayo Akinade (The Girl With All The Gifts), and Tori Butler Hart (Edie, Keeping Rosy). It is co-produced by Great Point Media (Lady Macbeth), veteran actor Sir Ian McKellen is an investor in the film.
We spoke with the director, Matthew Butler Hart, about his film you can read our Q&A below:
Big Picture Film Club: Taking a supernatural horror and setting it in 1840’s Victorian Scotland is a distinct combination of styles – how did the concept of The Isle come about? And what were your inspirations for creating this?
Matthew Butler Hart: For us setting what is basically about an old-school ghost story in Victorian times makes complete sense as they were very superstitious times and society as a whole was fascinated by anything ethereal. But the catalyst was actually seeing the island where we shot it, Eilean Shona, which had been a thriving community until the 1800’s when it was abounded because of food plight in the area. A lot of the cottages have been restored now, but as soon as you set foot on shore (the only way to get there is by boat), you immediately feel as if you’re in another time and you can almost see what life was like there in the 1840’s. There was also a local story about a woman who had been found murdered on the island around that time, so various things started to inform where we were going with the story. And I have always loved Greek myths so we essentially mixed Scottish myths with the story of Persephone and the sirens singing sailors to their deaths. The feel of the film is very much in the style of films of the 1970’s, which is a period of film I love, and in particular folk horror, with more subtle storytelling and sometimes a slower pace than we have now with a lot of modern horror films. It’s been compared to The Wickerman and The Witch, so you can quite quickly get what kind of film it is from that, I think.
BPFC:Now on your second feature film, what were the most valuable lessons in producing Two Down – Fizz & Ginger’s first Feature Film – that you were able to apply to The Isle? And what advice would you give first-time filmmakers?
MBH: Two Down was our first full-length feature and has just been released in the UK, and considering we completed it in 2015 I think the first thing we learnt was patience! But I would always say to first time filmmakers is write intelligently. It’s very likely you’re not going to have a huge budget to play with so be clever with where things are set and what is genuinely achievable with your money. And you have to be adaptable. We wrote around locations we knew we could get, and if we found that we couldn’t shoot somewhere, change the scene and use what you’ve got. I think a lot of first films really show up as having small budgets when you haven’t spent time on things like the setting, the sound, and grade. Lots of people set things in their own house, but you’d be surprised what you can get for very little if you look around and ask favours. It’s all about boosting your production value in whatever way you can. Bad sound will kill a film, no matter how good it looks, so we spend the time replacing every sound (not the dialogue unless it’s needed), and Tori and I do that ourselves with our editor Will Honeyball. It’s long and sometimes quite boring and often people will never know that that chair scrape was put on later, but they’ll certainly know if it sounds wrong if you’ve used the sound from the shoot and the perspective or acoustics are with the shot you’re using. And I think getting real instruments on the soundtrack is another way to boost production value. Again it doesn’t need to cost the earth and people are willing to help out a lot more than you think on a first feature if they like the story, and you! It gets harder after you’ve made that first film, people expect more, which I think is only fair enough, but for your first, a lot of people will be happy to help out, you just have to ask nicely! All these things were applied to The Isle and it was one of the reasons for shooting on the island. It gives you huge production value wherever you point the camera, and add a few carefully placed (but never overused!), drone shots of the amazing mountains and woods and you instantly place it in a different category. Again we replaced every single footstep and door creak, and it makes a huge difference. Finding great actors is also a massive part of the process, and again that’s easier than it sounds as there are hundreds of very talented actors there wanting to work on interesting films. It all just takes careful and thoughtful planning and not rushing into anything.
BPFC:Sir Ian McKellen is an investor in the film! How did that happen?
MBH: Sir Ian McKellen has been a friend since my acting days (I originally trained as an actor but have been making short films since I was 14) and has always been a huge supporter of all things Fizz and Ginger Films. He was in our first short film, Egad Zombies (an 18th-century zombie comedy), and has narrated a few things for us. And in Two Down all the scenes with Conleth Hill are actually in Ian McKellen’s pub, The Grapes. Ian is a big supporter of people going out and creating their own work and once came and watched a play we were putting on in a tiny theatre behind a sports pub!
BPFC: How has the initial reception been to the film at festivals?
MBH: The Isle has been at two festivals as I’m writing this and we’ve had great reactions. We had amazing reviews when we were up at Manchester Film Festival, where it also won Best Cinematography, and great reactions from it’s screening in L.A at the beginning of the year, which was also a great test to see if the film would hold up with an American audience. As it’s more a supernatural folk thriller than horror, we were unsure if people would get it, but they absolutely have done. It won’t be for everyone, what film is? But we already have a great little core of fans who are still supporting us after just seeing it at a festival, so we know we’re on the right track. It now has two screenings at the Newcastle Film Festival at the end of March before having it’s London premiere at the amazing East End Film Festival. That very much feels like a coming home festival to me as I’ve spent most of my time in London around that area, and to see what other films are playing there it’s a huge honour to have been asked to screen there.
BPFC: What should people expect from The Isle?
MBH: People who like subtle, intelligent storytelling where we play around with what is ‘expected’ of this kind of film, will enjoy The Isle, I think. It’s definitely not a fast-paced slasher horror at all, and we never just lay everything out for the audience, we expect them to pick up the clues as we go along, but most importantly invest in the characters and what the women of the island have gone through when we meet them. For us, it’s always about the people and bringing you into the world that is the most important, and things like traditional jump scares are second to be perfectly honest. Although they are in there too, just amidst a slow creeping menace than all out horror!
The Isle is slated to be released in autumn in the UK. We will continue to keep you updated on the release of the film. Watch the trailer below.
Funding is a continuous challenge for programme and filmmakers at any stage in their career. Emerging filmmakers within the U.K may apply for funding from Arts Council or BFI (or one of its subsidiary organisations), this source of funding is designed to help cultivate talent throughout the early stages of their career.
More established production companies will partner with a film studio to release their project, who will provide investment for the project and act as executive producers ensuring that the key business elements of the film’s delivery and distribution are taken care of. To help demystify this process we spoke with Sarah Poole, Producer & Investor Manager, at Goldfinch Studios to discuss how private film funding works and what you will need to have in place.
Big Picture Film Club: Can you briefly describe your role as a Producer & Investor Manager?
Sarah Poole: My current role is diverse and varies from day to day. On the producer side of my role, I liaise with prospective and current clients in regards to their projects. This takes many forms, from setting up SEIS (Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme) / EIS investment vehicles, creation of a bespoke Investment document, dealing with HMRC / Companies House on their behalf (the boring admin side of things *groan*), attending screenings & events and keeping in regular contact on the progress of their projects to report back to our investors.
On the investor side of the role, I liaise with our pool of high net worth investors and our Fund Managers in order to deploy SEIS / EIS funds to our producer clients. This involves a lot of paperwork and compliance work.
I also currently run the company’s social media accounts.
BPFC: At what stage in development do you begin to work with production companies?
SP: Our Goldfinch Studios brand encompasses a whole host of companies providing a “one-stop shop” for services at all stages of the lifespan of a film or TV project. At development stage, Goldfinch Entertainment can help set up an SEIS / EIS slate to provide monies for the development of projects. Recently we launched our Goldfinch First Flights initiative which works with emerging talent. We also have Goldfinch Media Labs (Brand placement) and Goldfinch Music (for all the music needs of the Film / TV / video game).
We also can help with sales and distribution of completed films / TV Shows and not forgetting we have our production facilities and VFX specialists in York! Our involvement with projects doesn’t end with the investment, we also act as executive producers and advise on distribution, playing a key role from script to screen and after.
BPFC: What criteria do you use to decide which films/Shows you will take on for investment?
SP: We focus on identifying the most commercially and financially viable projects in order to generate attractive returns for our investors. Our strict assessment process involves us analysing information provided about the project, such as reading the script and looking at the finance plan / budget to make sure that there is a high probability sufficient sales revenue will be achieved. We get around 30 submissions per week so we are kept extremely busy!
BPFC: Goldfinch Studios works closely with private investors to fund projects, how do you attract first-time investors and maintain good relationships with existing ones?
SP: We are very fortunate in that we have managed to maintain a loyal investor pool who continue to invest with us. These clients are mainly introduced to us through clients, contacts and word of mouth. With 18 years’ experience in a client facing businesses, I pride myself in making sure that clients on both sides of the fence are provided with a top-notch service 24/7 if necessary. Luckily I love my job!
BPFC:Both the increase in streaming services and the decrease in mid-level budget films making its way to the big screen have changed the movie industry in recent years – how have those changes in the industry and audience affected how Goldfinch Studios works with its projects?
SP: Our assessment process has remained the same, making sure we only take on the most commercial projects and due to the industry changes, we now have to establish that there is a market for the project and take into account the most suitable route to screen which is increasingly not spending big bucks on a theatrical release. As an avid user of Netflix, I find it very hard to criticise the massive impact they are having on the industry. The sheer amount of original content they are churning out is jaw-dropping and their offering is becoming broader & broader over so many genres of film / TV for the audience it can only be a good thing.
BPFC: Before a filmmaker or production company seeks private investment for their project what are the key things they should have in place?
SP: To be able to assess the commerciality of a project, we need as much information as possible in order to see the whole picture as it stands.
The minimum information we would need is a finance plan / budget, marketing pack / treatment overview, details of the team involved and a script.
BPFC:Can you tell us a bit about some of the upcoming projects from Goldfinch Studios this year?
SP: We have two projects entering principal photography in the next month which we are very excited about.
‘Waiting For Anya’ which is based on the book by War Horse author Michael Morpurgo. The cast includes Stranger Things star Noah Schnapp, Hollywood legend Anjelica Huston and iconic French actor Jean Reno! The shoot starts in France very soon!
Production starts soon at our studio facilities in York for ‘Transience’, a sci-fi from writer / director Carl Strathie which follows a family who is terrorised by otherworldly beings! His most recent film ‘Solis’ starring Steven Ogg (Westworld, The Walking Dead) was also filmed at our Studios in York and is nearing completion so watch out for news of a release!
We have a lot going on behind the scenes at Goldfinch Studios so keep your eyes peeled for news of our exciting new productions and partnerships which are soon to be revealed!
Dreaming Whilst Black is a 9-part comedy mini-series that follows a young, passionate, yet naive filmmaker, Kwabena, who struggles to navigate between his dreams and reality.
For episode 6 of the Big picture Film Club Podcast we caught up with lead actor/writer/director Adjani Salmon; producer/director Laura Seixas; and longtime friend of the club, director Rob Ayling. Join us for a great discussion covering everything from racism, social changes and carving out your own space in the industry.
Dreaming Whilst Black will be available from 18th March via Youtube. Listen to the full podcast here.
Writer/director Mark AC Brown, editor/producer Fred Fournier, and actors Matt Prendergast and Chris Spyrides from the independent dark comedy Guardians, all catch up with Presh as they talk about the cinematic release for the film, living in London and Mark’s daughter surprises us with a call! Listen back to the full episode here.
Big Picture Film Club’s First Look series takes a look at upcoming films that have grabbed our attention, with the aim of finding out more about the release and the creative minds behind the projects.
Winter Ridge is a crime-thriller set in the fictitious English town of Blackrock (filming took place in North Devon). The central plot of the film revolves around a team of detectives tracking down a serial killer targetting the elderly. Winter Ridge even made it’s way to the 2017 Cannes Film Festival picking up distribution later in the year. The independent film has managed to bring together a remarkable cast: Hannah Waddingham (Game of Thrones, Les Misérables), Alan Ford (Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and Olwen Catherine Kelly (The Autopsy of Jane Doe). The crew behind the camera are as equally with the film overseen by award-winning director Dom Lenoir and producers Nancy Bressolles (Rise of the Krays) and Chris Hardman who has worked on films such as Avatar, Star Wars and Kingsman.
We were able to have a Q & A with Director & Producer Dom Lenior to find out more about Winter Ridge, what to expect and when the planned release is for…
Finance is always a big issue when producing an independent feature film, how did you go about funding this film? What challenges did you face in doing this?
Dom: It has been a case of building up a track record and work ethic over quite a few years as individuals and through Camelot. We funded the film largely through the British SEIS (Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme) tax incentives and with private investors. We came to them having formed a relationship on previous projects and due to the quality of work or various shorts we had made prior, as well as a slate of films for the future, we put forward a visible track record in quality and a ready to go film. Having attached cast, high-level crew, and sales estimates definitely smoothed this process over as well and for a cinematic independent film felt like a better route than funding bodies.
How have you been able to put your own spin on the crime thriller genre and what were your sources of inspiration for the film?
Prisoners and Insomnia were big influences and inspiration in terms of the mood and feel of the movie. The initial inspiration came from the writer Ross Williams whose family had suffered from degenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s. The idea was to create a film that was an exciting psychological thriller format but touched upon some of the difficulties families face with someone suffering from an illness. My main goal creatively was to create a film that didn’t feel overly British cop and small close-knit town but something more ominous and isolated. This involved taking a lot of mood influences from Scandinavian and American Detective shows and bringing a really cinematic and atmospheric approach to the visuals, music, characters and setting.
Winter Ridge touches upon how do you go about tackling the subject of Alzheimer’s in a way that is authentic and does not trivialise it?
Mostly the aim was to look at Alzheimer’s in a sense of showing some of the situations and problems sufferers have gone through. We tried to not place too much judgement on any course of action and if anything I think the film hints that there are no easy answers and it is more about shining a light on some of the problems people and their families face.
The film has a crew (both behind and in front of the camera) that have worked on numerous big budget films – how did the film crew and cast come together?
A lot of the connections have come through Camelot; Matt and I have worked with a number of the cast and crew also. This has been something that has naturally developed through years of collaboration on ambitious shorts, meeting them on high budget films and we are lucky enough to have people at that level who believe in both our work and our approach to films enough to have continued collaborating.
How was the experience of screening at Cannes?
We released our teaser trailer at Cannes which received a really good response from the market, within a day we had already sold a major market and interest was high to see the film.
What do you hope people take away from this film?
Reconsidering their views on life and death, how we relate to our families, and how far we will go for the people who are in danger or we love.
Winter Ridge is slated to be released in late spring both in the U.K and internationally. We will continue to keep you updated on the release of the film. Watch the behind the scenes trailer below.
We are proud to release the official behind the scenes trailer for Winter Ridge. Please share the love. Excited to bring you more updates very soon!Dom Lenoir Matt Hookings Nancy Bressolles Chris Hardman Joao Cerqueira M Bulman Arşehit Benjamin Thompson Becky Hall Katie Cresser Gabriella Kovago Abby Shaw Niina Topp Ollie Reynolds Michael Mckell Justin Mc Wanny Paddington Olwen Dolphin Paris Noeleen Comiskey Liana Harris Chelsea Marie Tim Cullingworth Hudson Claudia Archer Di Mitchell Paul Saunderson Morgan Williams Matthew Newcomb Nikita Baron Martin Ross Martin Challinor Lesley Anne Webb Polly Hootkins Ross Owen Williams Janna Fassaert Nathaniel Kast Dom Lee Ian Pirie Ella Road Joss Wyre Jimmy TheBee Bennett Jim Maidment Irene Gómez Irene Maffei Doug Templeton JC Prince Alistair Ager Conrad Ford Rebecca Pendarves Marie Lacey Adrian Gwillym Jamie Chambers