With the pandemic wreaking havoc amongst the creative industries, we wanted to show our support by promoting some of our friends and partners in this series of interviews. Enjoy!
(All images © the person/organisation featured in the article.)
So tell us a little bit about Midlands Movies!
Midlands Movies is a platform and organisation that I set up about six or seven years ago now and what we try and do is put a spotlight on local filmmakers from across the region. The region is quite large going from North Lincolnshire down to the West country, which means there’s a lot of talent out there which is great. I have personally seen this grow a lot but sometimes things get focused a bit more on Manchester and Sheffield where there's a lot of media support and around London, the main hub. I focused on an area that I lived in for 20 years and I knew a lot of filmmakers were doing great work and I ended up thinking Midlands Movies could be a place where we could review films, local films, we could do various events, we could help promote the different local independent cinemas around here. We’ve been doing reviews, features, hosting a few videos, and doing some theme nights as well.
We also do the Midlands Movies awards which are annual awards to celebrate local filmmakers with categories similar to the Oscars awards, for example, best actor, best actress, best directors, best animations and people have responded to that really well.
Tell us your take on the filmmaking scene in the Midlands?
Well, with regards to the filmmakers in the Midlands, you've got everything from large productions coming in now. Especially in Birmingham, the largest city and we see people such as Steven Spielberg’s film Ready Player One down there and also Kingsman with Channing Tatum as well, which is great. You get these larger projects that come to the area which is fantastic. However, there's a lot of universities and young people around as well getting into it using social media, so we get it coming up from the bottom as well.
I luckily get to see the movement almost from one end to the other where I've seen first-time filmmakers create small local shorts and they get bigger and bigger. They crowdfund for more funding and money that they can put into their productions, and then they might move up to feature-length films. There's plenty of places around the region now with film festivals and local cinemas to be able to show the resulting films. So over time, I've seen filmmakers move through that kind of journey. Also, location-wise we've got a real mixture of stuff from city centres, much like Birmingham, but also a load of country houses as well, so the bigger Hollywood-level productions and the BBC can work in the Midlands, there’s a lot on offer here!
How've things changed for you guys and the filmmaking scene in general in the pandemic?
This period has been tough for filmmakers, there’s not been loads of funding out there at the moment and as a country people can be struggling with both work unemployment and having to pay bills, so being able to fund your film can be difficult. Secondly, it can be difficult to get outside and film so the lockdown period of March, April and May, there was a limited ability to both work outside and also work with a team outside and sadly we’re still limited today. What I have seen though is people getting into the editing suite, if they have a half-finished film they’re saying well I’m stuck at home in front of my computer, it’s time to work on other aspects of the production whether that be editing footage, doing special effects or the promotion of the film, etc.
The good thing from this is I haven't massively seen a slowdown of films submitted to me, especially in the short film arena, which means people have been finishing off their films. I think this will continue with the lockdown with limitations and lack of funding you’ve to have to throw some creativity into the mix.
I want to get my film into your awards show– what’re your best tips on doing that?
We usually open up submissions on Film Freeway which is a website that a load of film festivals are on, it's pretty standard and you can apply to lots of other festivals too. Up till this year we’ve made that process free, we haven’t discriminated or put a limit on what people have to pay as that may put people off. First-timers have the same chances as seasoned veterans do, as we think that gives everyone an even playing field going forward. That may change but we also crowdfund as well before submissions even open, we try and get support in different ways. We roughly get 120 submissions and we’re always trying to chase people up that have made a film in that year as well to just remind them that submissions are open and they have six weeks to submit. We also have a panel of experts, which I sit on, there's usually five or six others and decisions are made about nominees and winners.
What're the most common mistakes you see in the first time or inexperienced filmmakers?
I tend to see that people don't focus enough on the sound which sounds strange, but it's a visual medium film and that’s one thing you need to make sure you get right. You need to have a good story but on the technical level, the sound can make a huge difference. I highly recommend people if they're not good at dealing with sound, then to get someone in or someone they respect and listen to a couple of their thoughts. You usually know if they’re a first-timer because the sound usually cuts or changes, which is a relatively common mistake.
Secondly, would be to stretch the budget when the budget isn’t there, I’d rather see a five minute short done well, swiftly edited rather than a 25-minute film which you unfortunately haven't got the budget to maintain that professional quality all the way to the end. I’d also say the press and press releases, as that can have a big impact when you approach different media companies or film festivals, maintaining professionalism, having a half-decent poster, and a little bit of background about yourself and your films, if you’re a first-timer then get that first approach correct because I can tell you that if you send over nothing, I'm only going to ask those questions. I have on my website a little press release guide if you want to check that out, it would be useful for first-timers, more experienced people might find it a bit basic. To perhaps get your film out there and reviewed, featured, and everything else that a film requires, I’d recommend a professional approach.
Go on then, which city/town in the region makes the best films?!
You know I’m not going to be able to answer that, right? I’m based in Leicester so I see a lot of their films and what I find is that different regions have different focuses but I find in Leicester because I used to be in the music scene, there's a lot of musicians making films, and music videos, and they have great sound. So I always see that there and in Nottingham, I find it a bit more gritty, I get a Shane Meadows type vibe and you get a lot of horror from Nottingham, some great companies there and Lincolnshire do a lot of war films.
Birmingham has a real mixture and diversity and you get these stories from different communities. There are plenty of other places such as your Shropshire’s and it’s great that within that it makes it very much a Midlands film because you can see the locations. If you are making a film in one of those particular areas, rural or urban, you get a flavour of the Midlands, which I like, because it doesn't feel so much like a London Film. It’s good to have that community spirit which is something we're trying to develop as well through these events and online. It’s too difficult to choose which is the best I'm afraid, there are fantastic films from all of them.
Check out Midlands Movies with the links below:
Edited for clarity by Esme Johnson.