From short films to features. Two up and coming film-makers discuss the challenges ahead

James Sharpe, left (director) and James Boyle (producer)

James Sharpe, left (director) and James Boyle (producer)

Moviescope spoke with two up and coming film-makers about the challenge of moving from short films to feature films.

James Sharpe (director) and James Boyle (producer) describe the difficulties of finding funding and standing out from the crowd.

 

Tell us about your latest work.

James Sharpe: My most recent personal project was a short film called FIBS starring Samantha White (below). We’ve had some immensely positive feedback about the film, and it plays really, really well to a cinema audience.

James Boyle: With FIBS having finished its festival run, James (Sharpe) asked me to come on board as Producer of Marketing & Distribution to help organise the online release, re-brand the film (with the help of the creative studio I run) and organise subsequent marketing opportunities for it, post launch. We’re now developing a feature script together called ‘Horse Meat’.

I’ve also been working on ‘Towers’, a sci-fi drama written by Ewen Glass and directed by Azhur Saleem. It’s just been delivered and is starting its festival run.

FIBS from James Sharpe on Vimeo.

Does your location effect funding and networking opportunities?

JS: I’ve spent most of my life living in the East Midlands in Derby and Nottingham, where I struggled to find opportunities to gain funding to make shorts. I made a lot of shorts with no money, or out of my own pocket, but found it difficult to grow as a director making one short a year. Being a big music lover, I decided to become a music video director, which allowed me to make a lot more work, move away from personal stories, and try out loads of different styles and ideas.

I now live in London, and it does feel like there are more opportunities here; this is where the whole industry is. There are definitely a lot more doors to knock on, but the competition here is fierce, and there are a lot of people vying for attention and jobs. One thing London does have going for it is the networking opportunities.

JB: I’m based in London which is great for networking. Funding is an interesting one; when I first moved to London about 10 years ago, funding was less specific for short projects, it was hard to know what funders were looking for and shorts then also had more caché as a medium, which meant larger budgets on offer. What I’ve noticed since then is that short funding opportunities have become more explicit – which makes sense post the crowdfunding/internet/smartphone explosion. Recent examples of this are the ‘Shakespeare Sister’ scheme launched by Film London who are looking for female filmmakers, and their ‘London Calling Plus’ scheme which is aimed at BAME filmmakers; both of these are fantastic schemes. There are also a lot of programs aimed at filmmakers outside of London and in specific UK regions – Creative England’s iShorts is one that comes to mind.

Now that short funding has become more location and/or demographic specific, it is somewhat easier to know what backers are looking for, however, on the flip side, if for whatever reason your project doesn’t fit into those parameters, it can be hard not to feel very definitely excluded.

Fibs - One Sheet - RGB 2000px-1What do you do as a day job while looking for film financing?

JS: I work as a freelance director, writer, editor and creative. Directing music videos led me to directing comedy sketches for BBC3 for Russell Howard’s Good News, and to my first commercials for the likes of Paramount Pictures; directing an interactive narrative short based in the world of Paranormal Activity for the film The Marked Ones. This year I’ve spent my day job working as an in-house director and creative for ad agencies directing (as well as often writing and editing) for clients such as Currys PC / World, Disney, Microsoft, and Playstation. I strongly believe in working as much as you can as a director, on a variety of different projects, as you learn at least one thing about directing, and about yourself on every project.

Do short film schemes lead you directly to features?

JS: They can help. At the very least they should help you develop as a filmmaker. People move into features from all sorts of avenues. I used to believe short film schemes were the only way into feature film making, as the general consensus was you should move up through the schemes gaining bigger budgets as you went to help move you into features. I now know this isn’t the case, and would say to people not to feel disheartened at not being accepted on to schemes; there are other ways, whether it’s through music videos, commercials, or simply making films out of your own pocket.

JB: Yes and no…the scheme can only act as an enabler or conduit. In essence it all comes down to the idea and story.

NEXT: Finding Funding and long-term strategies

Steve Buscemi interview

Interview by Stephen Applebaum for Moviescope 16.

Your love of film is obvious. Is it something that has always run in the family?

My mom used to bring us to the movies when we were kids and, I think, through her, I really appreciated movies. I used to talk to her about it and about different actors. Actually I worked in a movie theatre, too. I was an usher in a movie theatre. I remember Dog Day Afternoon was one of the films that was running when I was there and that film had a huge influence on me because I got to see it over and over, and so I finally got a sense of being able to look at other things, like looking at how a movie was made. And also the acting in it; Al Pacino and John Cazale: their performances were amazing. And John Cazale, particularly, it took me a while to realise that he was the same guy from The Godfather. He was so different. And, you know, these guys, their faces, to me seemed so recognisable and so identifiable, and I began to think, ‘Oh this is the kind of actor that I want to be.’

And you also dabbled in stand-up comedy?

Yeah, I was interested in comedy and acting, and so I thought that a way of breaking into acting was through stand-up, because the clubs were there and if you passed the auditions at a club, then I thought that was the path. And I think it is a path. But it’s a really long path. Unless you’re so talented that you make it fast. But a lot of comedians work years before they’re noticed. I don’t regret doing it. I really loved watching other comedians more than I loved performing. In the end I realised that I wanted more to be an actor. I liked working with other people rather than being up there alone!

Reservoir Dogs brought you to a lot of people’s attention, but you’d been working for 10 years before that…

Well yeah. But Quentin [Tarantino] knew my work from, like, five other movies before! But Quentin is the kind of guy who sees everything. But yeah, certainly Reservoir Dogs was the movie that opened a lot of doors, but it also, literally, put a name to the face, because of the way the credits were [laughs].

Were you surprised by the way that film took off? Did it feel special when you were making it?

No. I knew that I liked it but I didn´t know if it would translate. Just because I like something, there’s a lot of things I like that don´t get the time of day. And like I said, I had done films before that so I think by that time I had learned that the real experience to really treasure is in the making of the movie. Because who knows if it will even get released, you know?

So it’s easy to just let a film go and move on?

Yeah. I mean it’s great if a film gets attention. But now I’m grateful if it even just gets released.

You’ve been credited as having one of the most unique faces in the industry. Did you know early on where your face might take you in film?

I didn’t know. You know, I just went on a love for what I did. I never thought too much about the way I looked. I think I’m more aware of it now. Watching the screening of John Rabe, I had a moment of going, ‘If I didn’t know this guy, I would say: ‘How did this guy ever make it with that face?’ But I’m glad he did.

This excerpt is taken from the print edition of Moviescope 16, 2010.

A to Z of Great Film Directors: Martin Scorsese

Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.” TAXI DRIVER

Martin Scorsese

AMERICAN

BORN 1942

Martin Scorsese Films to SeeAs far back as Martin Scorsese can remember, he always wanted to be a film-maker. Growing up in New York’s Little Italy, the young Scorsese was prevented from playing sports by severe asthma, so he fell in love with movies instead. From Ingmar Bergman to Federico Fellini, his tastes were as wide-ranging as the films he would come to make himself, leaving no genre untapped or unmastered.

After film school and the Roger Corman apprenticeship common among the 1970s ‘movie brats’, he began making New York tales of battered machismo and bloody redemption such as Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Diver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980), all three starring Robert De Niro. The 1980s brought dark laughs from The King of Comedy (1983) and dense literary adaptations such as The Last Temptation of Christ (1988); the 1990s, classic crime epics from Goodfellas (1990) to Casino (1995); while the new millennium has seen him looking back at the power struggles of the last with Gangs of New York (2002) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2014), starring new muse Leonardo DiCaprio.

Martin Scorsese did you knowThe exuberance of his technique – all blaring rock ’n’ roll soundtracks, jarring jump cuts and ambitious tracking shots like the famous Copacabana club walk-through in Goodfellas – is matched by a real sense of character. Who can forget the threatening to-the-mirror monologues of Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle (‘You talkin’ to me?’) or Raging Bull’s Jake LaMotta (‘I coulda been a contender…’), the latter a quote from Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront (1954).

Scorsese’s characters love movies as much as he does. Pivotal scenes in Taxi Driver and double-crossing cop thriller The Departed (2006) take place at the pictures, while 3D children’s adventure Hugo (2011) is an ode to a forgotten hero of silent cinema. In 1990 Scorsese founded The Film Foundation, which is ‘dedicated to protecting and preserving motion-picture history’. Few would dispute that he is now an essential part of it himself.

Excerpt taken from A-Z of Great Film Directors by Andy Tuohy with Matt Glasby. Buy it on Amazon

AZ of Great Film Directors

A to Z Great Film Directors: Kathryn Bigelow

“War’s dirty little secret is that some men love it.” KATHRYN BIGELOW

Kathryn Bigelow

AMERICAN

BORN 1951

kathryn bigelow films to seeIn the gender-restrictive world of action cinema, Kathryn Bigelow has taken on the Hollywood patriarchy and succeeded, her films not only delivering macho spectacle, but deconstructing it, too. Born in San Carlos, California, she studied fine art, then film under cultural theorist Susan Sontag, before delivering her first salvo, The Set-Up (1978), a short showing two men fighting while intellectuals pick apart what we are seeing in voiceover. Her best work continues this line of enquiry, centring on fringe groups engaged in conflicts without end.

In her feature debut, The Loveless (1982), co-directed with Monty Montgomery, it is Willem Dafoe’s bikers; in Near Dark (1987) it is Lance Henriksen’s nomadic vampires. Blue Steel (1989) showed rookie cop Jamie Lee Curtis fighting to survive in a man’s world, and tempts an autobiographical reading, but it was the one-two punch of Point Break (1991) and Strange Days (1995) that crystallized Bigelow’s themes. In the former, a gloriously over-pumped testosterone fest, undercover cop Keanu Reeves becomes enamoured with Patrick Swayze’s bank-robbing surfers. In the latter, an ambitious sci-fi , Ralph Fiennes sells second-hand memory recordings that users can experience vicariously, like action junkies seeking the next high. The opening Steadicam sequence, which shows a botched robbery entirely from the robber’s point of view, is a master class in immersive film-making.

Kathryn Bigelow did you knowIn The Hurt Locker (2008) it is war itself that is the addictive drug, dragging bomb-disposal expert Jeremy Renner back to the Iraqi frontline for another fi x no matter what the cost. The Hurt Locker’s companion piece, Zero Dark Thirty (2012), is about the CIA’s relentless hunt for Osama Bin Laden, torture and all, and was equally wired into but also wary of the evil that men do in such situations. At the 82nd Academy Awards, Bigelow beat ex-husband and Tinseltown alpha male James Cameron to the Best Director Oscar with The Hurt Locker, becoming the first woman ­­ever to win.

 

 

Excerpt taken from A-Z of Great Film Directors by Andy Tuohy with Matt Glasby. Buy it on Amazon

AZ of Great Film Directors

A to Z of Great Film Directors: Spike Lee

“You’re a New Yorker, that won’t ever change. You got New York in your bones.” 25th HOUR

Spike Lee

AMERICAN

BORN 1957

Spike Lee Films to seeSpike Lee’s work overflows with anger. Think of the simmering racial tensions in Do the Right Thing (1989). Or the opening of biopic Malcolm X (1992), which replays the beating of Rodney King by LAPD officers over the American Stars and Stripes flag. Or the sweary monologue spat out by affluent, soon-to-be-jailed drug dealer Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) in 25th Hour (2002), which sees him curse every resident of New York, including himself. But it’s righteous rage, channelled into

something constructive. Do the Right Thing, set in Lee’s beloved Brooklyn, speaks for poor African-Americans everywhere. Documentary When the Levees Broke (2006) accuses the US government of failing the New Orleans communities devastated by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

Born Shelton Jackson Lee in Atlanta, Georgia, ‘Spike’ grew up in Brooklyn, NewYork, inspiring his first student film, Last Hustle in Brooklyn (1977), and providing the setting for debut feature She’s Gotta Have It (1986), about the love life of an independent woman. Shot for $175,000 over two weeks, it made a big impression in a market starved of sophisticated black cinema.

spike lee did you knowLee’s third film was Do the Right Thing, a vibrant portrait of neighbourhood life, in which everyone has something to say, if not always the means to say it – sometimes, like Monty Brogan, they just pour out their woes straight to camera. The eponymous orator in Malcolm

X, played by Denzel Washington (with Lee co-starring, as usual), had no such trouble, and the film confirmed its writer-director as one of America’s most incendiary talents. Since then he has tended to juggle personal projects such as 1970s memoir Summer of Sam (1999) and conventional thrillers like Inside Man (2006) with documentaries on controversial fi gures such as Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth (2013).

Lee may have joined the mainstream, but he hasn’t given up the battle. In 2014 he recut Do the Right Thing’s climactic police showdown with real footage of the NYPD violently subduing Eric Garner, who later died in custody. It is proof, if proof were needed, that there is still much to be angry about.

Excerpt taken from A-Z of Great Film Directors by Andy Tuohy with Matt Glasby. Buy it on Amazon

AZ of Great Film Directors