Vanilla --

After a year on this film – polishing the script, shooting in 100-plus locations and rehearsing new post production techniques – I’ve broken every rule of industry wisdom. Nothing has been accomplished in the prescribed order. “Voyageuse” has no fixed schedule, no allocated budget and, as I write this, no route to conventional distribution. These are not negatives. In fact, it’s been liberating. So far I haven’t had to attend a single meeting or put my work up for scrutiny to secure funding. Nor have I had to take part in pitch sessions, labs or workshops.

Not that I’m making any claim for myself but here’s the thing. “Voyageuse” is my fourth feature. In UK film terms this puts me in an exclusive club according to stats from Stephen Follows and the BFI.

As one of the 3% of UK directors who’ve made a second and third feature, I count myself privileged. When I set out to make this film, I called it a passion project. But what does this mean? Pragmatically it means I’m funding it myself. To meet the hard costs – upgrading kit, petrol, buying a sandwich, a few nights in cheap hotels – I’ve had to sell off gear and raid my savings. The big ticket items, the things worth paying for are my cast, my lawyer and certain rights and usages to allow the film to be shown in a public arena, hopefully at the right festivals and selective screenings.

Every day on social media I read about the many magic bullet solutions to getting a film made, most of which apply only to US indie models. Technically it’s not complicated. These days it’s entirely possible to shoot a movie on a mobile, GoPro or camcorder. The hard part is finding a story worth telling. With “Voyageuse” it’s been a revelation to find that rather than hold out for a conventional theatrical drama, I’m making the best version of this story based on the archive available and, importantly, as a way of revealing Erica’s character and state of mind in the deepest, most truthful sense. It’s a moot point, but had I opted for the standard route all those years ago, I wonder whether I’d still be in development, trying to piece together the finance.

Only with rare conviction can anyone make a film outside the industry system and, once made, get it noticed. Recently a new filmmaking role has gained traction – PMD – Producer of Marketing and Distribution. Only it’s not new – it’s a role I defined back in 2001 when my partner and I produced a blueprint called Vanilla, a plan that showed how it was possible to make feature films in volume entirely within the digital realm on budgets comparable to that of TV drama.

Our proposal, backed by NESTA and Scottish Enterprise and written four years before YouTube was launched, called for a Head of Marketing as a crucial strategic element. Perhaps Vanilla was too visionary or perhaps we were naive in thinking that by spreading the risk i.e. by lowering production costs and leveraging theatrical distribution we could succeed or at least make some movies and offer work to people. In the end our plan was overlooked, leaving us to conclude that film is anomalous to any notion of efficiency and best practice. From my own perspective, the lesson Vanilla taught was that making movies is more creative than any amount of strategising.

Cut to my shed. It’s November 2015 and I’m preparing for the next phase of this film. In a couple of weeks’ time I’ll be in London, rehearsing and recording the script with my chosen actress. This is the most exciting part of the project, the moment when the words finally come alive. It’s also gratifying to know that the script, written on spec, attracted such high calibre talent on its own merit and not because it was hyped by an agent or producer.

It’s just as well the Scottish winter is long because soon I’ll be editing full time – a perfect excuse to stay indoors and get to grips with realising the impossible, such as how to recreate the sensation of autoscopy (out of body experience) or illustrate the effects of drugs or travel through the solar system. On a micro budget, of course, though anyone who knows me knows I’ll never let that get in the way of making a movie.

The above image shows Eddi and Erica on a day trip, probably in Derbyshire in the 1940s. It was taken by their mother, Vera.

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Hey, there’s my dad! 🙂