Being Sold is a comedy drama shot in just two days on location in Manchester. The film stars a host of famous faces, and won Best Film and Best Actor (for Christopher Dane) at the London Independent Film Festival 2011. We asked director Phil Hawkins some questions, and he was kind enough to reply.
How did the idea for the project come about?
Being Sold is based on a story I originally wrote as a short about 6 years ago and put it in a drawer thinking that I must do something bigger with it. It was basically a reaction to a lot of news stories at the time about people selling odd things on eBay. One girl even sold her virginity to pay for university! I knew the idea was worthy of being feature length but it needed a lot of development in order to deserve it. It’s not just about making it longer. It needed extra layers and depth. The original short was basically a three hander inside the house with the crowd outside. Suddenly it just clicked, and I decided to not only question the ‘what if’ of someone selling themselves today but also make more of the news crews to try and question what is news and what is entertainment in today’s reporting.
Why did you shoot it in just two days, was that something you wanted to do from the start?
The idea of shooting it in two days came about for a few reasons. Firstly budget, secondly cast – as we weren’t able to pay anyone but I knew we needed as many names as possible – and thirdly because we needed an angle, a story to help sell the film. There are so many independent films made these days but hardly any of them reach an audience except the one that was shot on a phone or the one that was made in someone’s bedroom. Yes, it’s a gimmick but it’s a powerful sales tool. Would you be hearing about this film now if we hadn’t done it in this way? I wouldn’t, however, have shot it in two days if it was going to affect the story. The script was written in such a way that we could shoot it like this. All events occur in real time (without the 24 splitscreens!). Our crazy approach to shooting added to the energy of the camera and the performance. I wanted to make it feel real. Shooting a film in two days allows only one or two takes. You’re getting ‘real’ every time.
How did you fund the film, was it a difficult process to raise the money?
The film was funded by me, the other producers and one other investor. The total budget of the film was 20k. We originally set out to make it on 15k but it was near impossible due to the amount of costs you just couldn’t avoid; catering, location (we were taking over a house for an entire week!), travel expenses, certain props etc. Luckily another investor came in at the last minute and wanted to be a part of the film and gave us the much-needed extra cash in order to feed everyone!
I take it the actors worked for free, how did you go about convincing them this was a worthwhile project?
Yeah, everyone worked for free on the film. We had specifically written roles for certain actors and I brought them on board really early on in order to help develop the characters. These are a group of actors I’ve worked with on my previous films and commercials. Someone at a festival recently described them as my ‘repertoire of actors’ which I thought was quite nice. So I guess those guys had no choice!
In terms of the ‘known’ cast, we came up with a list of actors we liked for the roles and started cold calling agents. We didn’t really have a budget for a casting director (which is always recommended!) so Ben, one of the producers, spent days on the phone. Some agents basically put the phone down on us, others were really kind and helpful especially Lee Boardman’s agent. Lee was the first cast member that came onboard from ‘the outside’. I remember having a conversation with him about the film before he agreed to do it. He thought we were absolutely crazy but once I explained how (I thought!) we were going to be able to pull it off he was really excited by the process and couldn’t say no. After that everyone wanted to come onboard.
Casting the lead was the constant stress. We went through a lot of famous faces and comedians for this role. Because we weren’t offering a fee we had to try and be patient and wait for certain actors to read the script and decide whether they wanted to do it or not before we could move on. Sometimes it took weeks to get an answer back but you can’t just offer it to everyone at the same time. It’s just not how it works. We managed to get a well-known comedian for the role but he had to drop out at the last minute due to family commitments. This was two days before rehearsal! Suddenly Chris Dane, an actor I’d worked with on my previous feature The Butterfly Tattoo, sprung to mind. I called him, he got on a train straight away and was rehearsing the next day. He was absolutely perfect for the role and far better than the ‘names’ I was blinded by. I still can’t believe he pulled it off but he’s fantastic in the film and won a Best Actor award for it too!
Tell us about Distrify.
Distrify is a revolutionary way to release independent film through social networks like Facebook, Twitter etc. It’s basically as simple as sharing a link with your friends, like you would with a YouTube clip, for example, but the video window that appears contains your film, behind the scenes content, trailers etc and allows people to purchase and stream your film straight away from that window. You can even buy a DVD for the more traditional movie watching experience. The great thing about Distrify is that whoever shares the film automatically becomes an affiliate and starts earning a percentage of the sales they make by referring people to it. It’s all very clever!
We heard about the company and decided to take a look into it. Because we already had a growing fan base and our stars of the film had thousands of followers we figured we had an automatic audience that our film could appeal to just through the Internet. Distrify was the perfect way to potentially allow these followers to become customers. Being Sold is the first feature film to be released exclusively via Distrify. We’re basically being a guinea pig for the technology, to see whether it works for other independent filmmakers. At the moment it’s working well. Ask me again in a month!
You seem to be getting a lot of attention, is this the new way to make an independent film?
The attention and coverage has been great but I wouldn’t say I’m trying to invent a new way of making independent film. I just had a moment of insanity that we were able to pull off (with meticulous planning of course!). I still think the more time you have shooting a film, the better, but we just decided to do something different. As I mentioned it’s a bit of a marketing gimmick- the film shot in two days- but I would never havedone it if we didn’t have the right story. You couldn’t shoot a period drama in two days, could you? It’d hurt the film. Our approach I think actually helped the film. Yes, if this film was shot over six weeks it’d look totally different but would it be better? Technically, most definitely, but in terms of pace, feeling and energy? I actually don’t think it would.
Will you be making more films in this way? What’s next?
We’ll be shooting the sequel in one day. No, I’m kidding! I’ve got a few projects in the pipeline. An action thriller, another comedy drama, a psychological thriller (which I’m actually trying to write myself!) and I’m also adapting a best selling novel with Aidan Magrath, the writer of Being Sold. Being an independent film director is all about having ‘fingers in pies’ as they say. I’m developing a slate of projects that I’d like to do but I have no idea which will happen first. That’s one of the things I love about my job, it’s so unpredictable. There’s one thing for sure, though. After shooting a feature in two days, any film schedule in the future will feel luxurious!
Find out more about Phil Hawkin’s work at http://www.philm.co.uk/