Me and Adam graduated University in November 2017 with three unfinished films. We had created The Fence and Radio London for University deadlines so they had been rushed together and needed further editing to get them properly ready to go to festivals or uploaded online. There was also The Manor which was also in need of an original score. So we had finished film school, but there was still work to be done before we could truly move onto the next project.
So one day Adam randomly says to me “Do you want to come to Moscow?” Confused, I’m like “Russia?” Apparently his actor Lev (Radio London) who’s Russian, decided to enter the film into a Russian film festival and it got accepted! Hosted at a large film school in Moscow called VGIK. Madness… what to think? Why not! And thus began a very random, very funny and very memorable trip, to a very uncertain place.
I’ve never had to get a visa before, but let me tell you (if you haven’t) it’s no fun. There are only two places you can get one for Russia, Manchester and London. I live in Bristol and you have to go in-person to do it… What a pain. Adam lives up in Cumbria so we decided to rendezvous in London and stay at Lev’s house so he could chaperone us through the process. Me and Adam arrived late and hungry so decided to grab a bite at a local Nando’s. I only mention this part of the story because whilst discussing the unknown journey ahead over some grilled chicken, a man in the neighbouring booth, unexpectedly and suddenly, started projectile vomiting everywhere. It was one of the funniest and most alarming things I have ever seen. It was like when racing car drivers spray Champaign after a victory. From what I could gather he was just bringing up a bottle of sprite so it wasn’t as disgusting as you might imagine. What a start…
Did you know the flight to Moscow is only three hours long? I thought it would be much longer for some reason. We landed in the greyest looking place imaginable. It was like being in a black and white film. I was sweating going through customs as the visa officer lady took a noticeably long time starring back and forth between me and my passport, even calling over another officer for what appeared a second opinion. Sweaty sweaty times. Especially after hearing Lev describe a previous trip where airport security had kept his wife in a room for five hours before shipping her back to the UK with no explanation. Thankfully I was finally allowed on through and the trip properly began.
The Festival was actually pretty massive. The school was huge! I mean like the size of a major studio huge, it had room after room after room, sound-stages and I can’t remember how many floors. To help us navigate this labyrinth and the city of Moscow itself we were each assigned a rep from the film school, who basically had to look after us everyday. Isn’t that great! Our reps were two lovely ladies named Valeriia and Alex.
The festival events are in Russian, so you need a translator earpiece. To get one you have to offer something up as collateral, like your ID. So, me and Adam gave over our passports temporarily in exchange for some earpieces. No issue. However, when we came out of the theatre the man and his little stall were gone! Immediately me and Adam were panicking and we soon discover there is a coach outside waiting to take us all to a nightclub.
Making this whole dilemma even more funny is how Alex and Valeriia reacted to our situation. I think their exact words were “Don’t worry about it, let’s just go to the club.” Hilariously chill! Me and Adam just exploded. To which they said they would go and find out what had happened to the man and our passports. With that, me and Adam watched them go outside and chat to themselves through the glass plated walls of the reception entrance… how funny is that.
They came back in and said “Everything is fine, you’ll get your passports back tomorrow, let’s go to the club now yeah?” To which I replied in the most polite way I could manage “Even if I didn’t just see you go outside and talk to no-one, how are we supposed to get into the club without ID?” “We’ll worry about that when we get there.” Was more or less the response… Great, first night out and we’re going to be killed by a squad of Russian nightclub bouncers. On the coach it was decided (not by us) that we could show the club security the JPEG Scans of our passports from an email we had sent the festival organisers… You must be kidding me?
And with that, I can say that me and Adam were allowed into a Russian night club based on two compressed JPEGS. And that we did receive our passports back the next day without any fuss. The Russians knew best.
Felt like a win
We had dabbled in the various screenings during the week-long festival. But for the most part we had used our time to look around Moscow, see the sights and hang out with our new Russian pals. If I remember correctly it was the last or second to last day when our film would be screened with all the other International films.
Me and Adam were part of the ‘Internationals’ which was a group of about 40 young filmmakers from all over the world. It was an amazing experience to be mixed in with so many different individuals who shared a common interest in filmmaking, and it was with this group that we mostly went around with.
During our screening it became very clear that the calibre of films were both mixed and very high. Most of the films were quite exceptional and cost a pretty penny or two. I remember three films in particular from Israel, Mexico and the US having credits that went on for ages! For a short! This made me and Adam quite nervous for our little movie, my stomach was turning. The contrast quite frankly was going to be almost ridiculous. And when it did finally screen towards the end, it was met with an odd hushed chit chat, difficult to tell if it was good or bad.
It was part of the proceedings to go up at the end and answer questions from the crowd. It was at this point that we realised we had actually done alright. The crowd were very surprised to learn that half the crew (Give or take) was stood in-front of them. When they realised we had written, produced, shot and edited the whole thing ourselves, they were stunned. “How? Why?” We must have been the only crew under ten and that seemed to earn their respect. We may not have had a big budget or a small army for a crew, but we entertained the Russians nonetheless and for that they recognised us. And that felt like a win. Of course physically speaking we won nothing, the massive production from Israel did.
The point is
I could babble on about that Moscow trip all day, and 100% we’re going back some time. But the point I really want to make is that as a team, as friends, we took our work overseas and had a great time. When you’re that far away from home you have to be careful (even if your reps are amazing) and I always felt that me and Adam had each others backs. It was a hilarious trip, where we met new comrades who I’m delighted to say we’re still in contact with. It was also a furthering of our friendship, and knowing we could rely on each other (subconsciously perhaps) would prove extremely important in the not too distant future.
Two shorts, that’s cute
I started 2018 with pretty high hopes but was unsure of exactly what the ‘real world’ of filmmaking required of me. So I began calling agents in the hopes of gaining representation and some traction as a ‘professional’. Much to my disappointment, it seemed nobody was lining up to hire film school graduate directors. I must have sent out fifty to a hundred applications with almost nothing coming back. I’d call in but receive the same response “I’m not taking on any new clients.” A polite way of telling me to go bother someone else.
A few people kindly entertained me and floated my portfolio around the office, but it was to no avail. One agent even read a feature script I was working on but apparently couldn’t determine the genre and said “It’s not for me”. Just as my head was starting to tilt down an agent’s assistant agreed to have a meeting with me. For this I would need to travel to London but of course I didn’t tell them that! I just said “yes absolutely, I can get there no problem.” I remember her asking me “what is it you want to do?” And I said “I want to make films” to which she almost laughed and said “Well, I can tell you now, there’s no money in films these days.” Which I have to stay stunned me. “Only people at the very very top are making a living out of it.” I learned that I could probably get some low-end TV work but I could expect to be there for a long time and also risk being ‘pigeon-holed’. She looked at me and said “If you want to make films, I would suggest you just go and make one. You don’t need an agent for that.”
So with that sentence branded into my mind, I set about making a first feature film. But before any of that I had to finish mine and Adam’s fourth film, which we had just spent four months in the Lake District working on.
Super Army Soldier
Coming out of Film school, me and Adam knew we wouldn’t even think about making a feature film in 2018. We had watched some close friends of ours attempt this and despite finishing the film they were rather battered by the experience. So battered that me and Adam took one look at that and said “We’ll give that a miss… for now.”
We knew it was important to carry on making films together or else we’d risk disappearing off in different directions. This is important and not to be taking lightly. Your film school peers will move on and begin working; before you know it you’ll be on your own and bringing people back together for a project will take a lot of energy and possibly even fees. So the message for 2018 was “make more films no matter what.”
At the beginning of the year a friend of ours said he really needed some help on his final year film. Shane had left our film school and gone to another one, a mistake I don’t think he minds admitting. He was a year behind us now and had no idea what to do for his final project. Oh it was also due in about ten days or something like that! So in a mad dash, we convened in the Lake District (where Adam lived) to shoot… something.
Adam and Shane had shot a funny action war film a while back and felt that recreating something similar was the best bet. This time however we would go totally wild with ideas, creating an indestructible Super SAS soldier who can basically do anything. With no script, A DSLR, three toy guns and a trunk full of WWII costumes we drove off into the countryside.
We shot Super Army Soldier over two days in the Little Langdale Valley. It was a lot of fun! Making everything up on the spot. What happened next in the story was anyones guess. At one point Adam dropped his M1 Grand replica and it broke in half. So of course we filmed the gun being shot in half. There were only three of us but in total we played sixteen characters, recycling and mixing up the costumes in anyway we could. Shane and Adam smashed out the VFX in a week and the funniest part is that it came out shockingly good. One real positive was the beautiful landscape which is of-course… free. This sparked an idea to make our next film in the Lake District and to use it’s stunning landscapes as a free backdrop.
Thank you as always for reading. Please consider donating to our crowdfund which is live right now! We need your help to get The Fence finished. Click HERE to visit our Crowdfund.
Part III on the way.