Is the future of filmmaking strictly digital? The relative costs and ease of shooting digitally means fewer and fewer young filmmakers are finding it feasible to dip their collective toes into the analogue format. However, some are still committed to keeping the film reel flame alive.
Jimmy Dean and Ellie Gocher are a director/writer team, Westminster Film School alumni, who shot their recent short film, Charity, on 16mm. The film tells the story of a young girl at odds with the world. She cares for her younger siblings in a stationary caravan whilst the looming presence of an older but not-so-much wiser brother hangs over her – she searches for answers she may never find about adolescence.
Charity has been playing at numerous film festivals, from the Underwire Film Festival to the London Short Film Festival, as well as being a nominee at the St Albans Film Festival and winning Best fiction at SWIFF ’14. Gorilla talked to the duo about their work and their experience of shooting on film.
GORILLA: You took the unusual choice for a short film of shooting Charity on 16 mm. Where did the idea to shoot on film over digital arrive from? Is it nostalgia for the analogue medium?
JIMMY: It was actually a university requirement, but we were leaning towards that way anyway. A lot of the films I’m influenced by were shot on film, and although I was a little cautious about shooting on film at first, Josh Renaut, the DOP, was completely confident and felt very passionately about it. Having now shot the film, I’d shoot everything on film if the budget allowed. I think there’s something about it that you just can’t replicate on digital. I also love the restrictions of it; you know you can’t go for take-after-take, so there’s a real energy to what you’re shooting.
GORILLA: What were some of the difficulties with shooting on film over digital? Would you recommend it to other filmmakers?
JIMMY: Oh yeah, I’d definitely recommend it to other filmmakers, and would definitely shoot on it again. It’s a bit of discipline in itself, but I love the way that the film came out. We couldn’t afford wireless monitors, so there were times, when we were doing our handheld stuff, when I couldn’t see what we were shooting, which was kind of tough. But I had full faith in Josh, and we had a really good way of communicating, so I was always confident in his ability to get what I wanted.
GORILLA: The film had an estimated £3,000 budget – did shooting on film eat a big chunk out of the budget?
ELLIE: Absolutely. From the moment we entered pre-production on the film we were very aware of the costs shooting on 16mm would present, which made us extremely conscious of the limitations this approach might cause us in other areas of production, particularly when considering that we were certain we wanted to take the film away from London and shoot everything in an authentic location on the coast. As it turned out, one of the saving graces in keeping our budget low was that we ended up shooting the film in and around Jimmy’s hometown in Ipswich. We were both pretty amazed by how supportive and enthusiastic people in the area were about the film, and we got very lucky in securing a lot of our locations in exchange for a few positive reviews on Trip Advisor… It was ultimately through this generosity that we were then able to cover the costs of buying our 16mm stock from Kodak, and also to get it all processed and scanned. It’s a great feeling though, to think that so much of this film was made possible through kindness and a belief in what we’re doing – it makes the process so much more gratifying.
GORILLA: Charity is a fascinating character profile of a young girl who is battling with her past whilst attempting to look ahead – I’m curious where you found your inspiration for this story?
ELLIE: I’ve always had an interest in the representation of small communities on screen and I’m always searching to learn more about those people and places that we may not be exposed to everyday, those who are brushed under the rug and never heard about. For a while I’d been curious about travelling communities and their distinct nature of living, but it wasn’t until I saw how slanted the representation of teenage traveller girls in the media was that I decided to put pen to paper and start writing about a character whom I believed might exist, but was being unfairly misrepresented and disregarded on screen. That character went on to become Charity, and the story really became an observation of a difficult chapter in a young girl’s life, where her travelling background became just that, a background. Although I know Charity’s experiences won’t be familiar to everyone, I hope to think that her struggles in growing up can still be relatable to anyone. It’s really a story about relationships and communication and maturity, which to me sums up being a teenager in any situation, no matter where you might come from.
GORILLA: How conscious of a choice was it to tell Charity’s story (and more importantly – her history) in an oblique way?
ELLIE: It’s interesting because this comes up a lot, and it has sometimes been an issue for some people when watching the film. I think my reasoning for writing the script in this way really just came from a desire to tell a story without feeding the audience everything they need to hear. I don’t think that’s how real life works, especially when you’re still a kid and you don’t really want to talk about your feelings and all that stuff. I didn’t want to waste any time in the film where the characters would explain things too much. Instead I wanted to give the audience some room to think and to draw their own conclusions, almost as if Charity and her family are just some people you might pass on the street and never see again, leaving you wondering, what ever happened to them?
JIMMY: Yeah, it was conscious decision. When we were developing the script, a lot of people were trying to tell us to make things more obvious, and I just thought that took away a lot the mystery and intrigue surrounding Charity. I mean, we were very clear on her history and her story, and so were the actors, because we developed that collaboratively, but I think it’s nice if the audience has to do a bit of work and that everyone will take something different from the film. For me, it’s been fantastic to hear how everyone responds to the film differently and has their own ideas about what’s going on and what’s happened.
GORILLA: Charlotte Beaumont was fantastic in the lead role as Charity and has worked on a bunch of high-level acting jobs (Broadchurch, Jupiter Ascending). How did you manage to attract her attention to the project along with Amanda Drew and Ed Birch?
JIMMY: I think we just got lucky. We had a script that we really believed in, so I definitely wanted to be ambitious and try and get some really great actors involved. I was a huge fan of all three of our actors work beforehand, and we just did it in the traditional way – contacting their agents, setting up meetings, and sending them the script through. I mean, we weren’t able to offer them a fee for their performance because of the budget, and they still came on board regardless because they saw something in the script. I loved working with all three of them, and I hope I get the opportunity to again. It’s great they’re all doing really well for themselves, too.
GORILLA: Your next writer/director collaboration is going to be the film Offside. Can you tell us a bit about the project?
JIMMY: It’s about eleven-year-old Kirsty (Sydney Wade), who struggles to come to terms with her evolving identity as a young girl after her dad tells her that she will soon lose her place on the local boy’s football team. I’m really happy with how it’s come out, and I hope people relate to what they see on screen, and appreciate the story we tried to tell. I’m a huge football fan, and feel very passionately about women in football, so it was amazing to see the Women’s England team do so well in the World Cup this year. The film’s about so much more than football though, and I think it’s important to give a young female point-of-view about growing up, because I think there’s an absence of these kind of roles in British cinema.
Find out more about the new film ‘Offside’.