Lights, Camera, Brighton
As well as iconic depictions in movies like Brighton Rock and Quadrophenia, Brighton and Hove has had filmmaking in its blood for over 100 years – the craft was pretty much invented here. The Hove Museum has 35mm cameras dating back to 1896, which were used to make the first film ever to be shown to the public at a ‘kinema’ (now the Melrose restaurant opposite the West Pier) and of course we’re home to the UK’s oldest and pretty much best cinema, the fabulous Duke of York’s.
Just as the DIY ethos has democratised music production via affordable technological gizmos, filmmaking has also followed suit. What used to require hours in spendy edit suites is all on a laptop these days, and with HD cameras now standard high street fodder there’s no excuse not to realise your widescreen ideas. Of course, just having good tools doesn’t preclude you from being a bad workman so you’re lucky to be in Brighton, where industry pros and likeminded amateurs are falling over themselves to bring out the Scorsese in you.
With a variety of courses on offer, the Brighton Film School is the place to get officially qualified for those with professional industry aspirations. With the British film industry suffering the squeeze like the rest of us, especially in the light of the British Film Council’s dissolution, job opportunities are thin on the ground. An accredited academic grounding could come in extremely handy, and this is a cheaper and more flexible alternative to university where Brightonians can learn locally on one-day, weekend or evening courses.
Gary Barber from BFS told us, “We’re in a revolutionary period in filmmaking, the new Canon DSLR cameras are fantastic but it doesn’t give you a discipline and understanding of working as part of a crew. On any set everyone has a clear job to do; what we do is get the students to work as a team and understand those roles. We link with the industry to start getting them work as runners and third ADs, so when they leave us they have the knowledge to be able to get work.”
We wondered what kind of shape the industry was really in these days. “Feature films have always been big business, budgets are rising. TV is in a really healthy state and there’s lots of low-budget work going on.”
Filmmaking is only part of what the school does, they also teach scriptwriting and acting for camera. All three areas feed into each other, which leads to high quality films at the end of the courses.
If you’re looking for encouragement in your cinematic endeavours but don’t necessarily want to go down an official tutor/student route, the Brighton Filmmakers Coalition could be right up your street. They’re a free networking and resource group – just the thing when you’ve hit a brick wall.
Jason Davison, “vaguely in charge”, explains: “The Brighton Film Makers Coalition is a networking and resource group for people who want to make films in Brighton and Hove. We meet at the Marwood Café, on Sundays at 6pm. We get the members to work on film challenges, either solo or in groups – the next one’s in February where we’re going to try and make a feature film in a month.”
Like everyone else, Jason says funding is an issue: “But money doesn’t make films, it’s more about having respect so people will want to work with you. Ultimately people want to be involved in good projects.”
And you don’t need much to get started anyway. “A little bit of equipment, but after that it’s just bus fares really. Locations are a bigger stumbling block; the laws are quite vague. Interiors are always a problem, too.”
He advises newcomers to just get stuck in: “Lots of people spend years planning a film but nothing is a substitute for experience. The first few I made were terrible but that really doesn’t matter – I made them quite quickly and gradually they just get better.”
The Brighton Film Makers Coalition meets every week and the next film challenge is in February but you can see the results of the current one at a December screening. Pop down to the Marwood on Sunday to find out when and where.
One area of filmmaking that’s definitely on the rise is the documentary, with aspiring Michael Moores popping up all over the place. Dunstan Bruce, alongside his wife Daisy Asquith, is part of Dandy Films based in Brighton. They’ve made documentaries on subjects ranging from clowns to Sham 69, but it’s not as simple as pointing equipment at people and capturing telly magic. “There’s no lack of ideas or enthusiasm, it all comes down to funding,” he says. “Commissioners can also be reluctant to take a risk with an idea – obviously a lot of TV is formulaic nowadays and there’s less space for documentaries, certainly on the main channels.”
If you have the means to self-fund a film, the commissioning process can be sidestepped, but caution is advised. Dunstan’s film about vintage punks Sham 69 touring China was made in this way, but problems with the band splitting up and ex-members blocking music usage left him in a financial hole with the project. “Daisy goes through commissioning editors, usually for the BBC or Channel 4, so she always gets funding in advance. But there are other ways, through crowd-funding set-ups like Indie GoGo or Kickstarter. You can fund an entire production like that.”
Dunstan believes documentaries can change the world in a way that music no longer seems able to. As a member of Chumbawamba that was part of his agenda for a long time, but the flourishing of campaigning films and issue-based productions from the likes of Moore and Fran Armstrong, who made the infamous McLibel film and Age Of Stupid, has shifted his creative emphasis. It also seems a medium perfectly suited to the DIY mentality. “You can make a film on a laptop and a digital camera, anyone can make a film.”
One rising star of Brighton’s film community is writer and director Jamie Patterson of Jump Start Productions, with four features under his belt as well as the forthcoming City Of Dreamers, which has just wrapped and premieres at the Duke of York’s on December 17th. We spoke to him about the making of his latest work.
“With this film, the budget was about 10 grand. All the others so far have been around three, but this one was a bit more mainstream and marketable. Funding came from lots of sources – we sold executive producer credits, did fundraising events like film quizzes, sold tickets to the premiere upfront, and had some business investment as well.”
The film sounds right up SOURCE’s street. It’s about a girl who moves to Brighton and gets caught up in the music scene, and there are about 10 local bands featured in it. But filming here isn’t always easy.
“Locations with hardly any money are difficult. The Council don’t care about art, they have their processes and it’s £250 a day to shoot on the beach or Pavilion Gardens. We were there doing a quick scene and we got approached within about a minute by these security guards who came out of nowhere. But generally everyone was really good to us. We didn’t pay for a single location, it was just invites to the premiere. Norman Cook did a cameo in the film and helped us out a bit; that helped get people to take it all a bit more seriously.”
This is obviously the biggest production Jamie’s been in charge of. But how did he begin?
“The first feature I ever made was for about £100 – I had a camera and some mates, I wrote a one-location, two-actor script and got on with it. I’ve never been a believer in shorts; it’s so hard to set up a character in 10 minutes and the competition out there is insane. I learnt more making a feature. My company pushes the idea that you can make features for next to no money and we can help you do that with equipment and editors – we’re doing three of them next year like that.”
Jump Start are open to script submissions – they have a script supervisor who reads all of them, and they always get back to people. “We always work with new talent, people on their first films.” They’re also moving with the times with their own online distribution company where you can download films for a few quid, actually putting some money back in producers’ pockets.
“It’s too hard to make money in traditional film distribution, especially with low-budget movies. People are used to Hollywood at the cinema, they won’t bother with something that cost £3,000 to make. On my films we have a crew of seven and everyone chips in and works very tightly together. There’s no ‘Best Boy’. It’s painful when we’re struggling to get 10 grand to make movies and then you see the crap that gets funded for £100,000 or £200,000.”
His advice for someone starting out? “Go off and write a feature, with limited characters and locations that you can shoot on one camera in a weekend or two. Spend as little as you can, call in favours from friends and family – make them all producers for a £25 investment. Edit it, show it around, enter it into festivals and you’ll get yourself a name straight away – you made a feature film.”
There’s been lots of talk about the decline of the UK film industry, but getting out there and doing it for yourself has clearly never been simpler. Indeed, we review locally made films in our Critic section, and we’ve seen some excellent work over the years, so get your ideas on screen and add to our definitive cine city.
Brighton Film School: brightonfilmschool.co.uk
Dandy Films: tinyurl.com/dandyfilms
Jump Start Productions:
Brighton Film Coalition: facebook.com/brightonfilmmakerscoalition
WORDS BY NICK COQUET