Sorry, producers. This isn't the real life rags to riches news headline you've been hoping to make into your next diverse, British feel good movie.
This is about Convenience - the funniest film that you probably haven't heard of... yet. But here are a few things that make it relevant and unique. It cost £80k to make, it earned itself a Bafta Cymru for its Director and I'm pretty sure it's the first British film with two Asian leads and not a wedding, burka, musical number, funny accent, curry or Koran in sight (but don't quote me on that).
As the producer of Convenience (as well as one of the leads) I was invited by Bafta to take part in their brilliantly nurturing Guru Live event, a brand new three-day festival which gave aspiring creatives the opportunity to meet and learn from leading names in the film, television and games industries. On Monday 2 May I spoke to an audience of upcoming filmmakers, alongside producer Dominic Buchanan (producer, Lilting), Lauren Dark (fellow Breakthrough Brit and War Book producer) led by Bafta-winning producer Tanya Seghatchian, about the trials and tribulations of producing a low budget feature and what transpired was a really interesting discussion, so I wanted to share some of the things that came up.
I've been in the business a long time and I've always had the attitude that if I wasn't being seen for the leading roles I knew I could play, I was going to create them. I'm under no illusion - I don't look like Robert Pattinson, my mother isn't a multi-Oscar-winning director and my father's best friends cat's auntie's cook isn't the editor of Vogue. But that doesn't matter. What my dad is; is a hard working, pioneering never give up kind of everyman that taught me to just go out there and be a doer whilst always maintaining kindness, passion, honesty, integrity and truth - essential qualities for this industry and life.
Don't get me wrong, the diversity debate is extremely necessary. In my personal opinion, quotas are a good starting point and the waves being made are incredible, but rather than joining discussion panels about it I've always believed my strongest calling to the cause is to be prolific and make change through action. My mission is not to just create Asian roles for Asian actors; my mission is to create any role for any actor of any colour because that's the way it should be.
As I explained to the audience at Guru Live, raising money independently for something so experimental isn't easy, so I agreed to make Convenience for the absolute bare minimum that was physically possible - £80k. This meant negotiating on everything, including health, sleep and what flavour Pedigree Chum we'd be serving for lunch, but it also meant getting the actual movie made.
I ended up working three years on the film for not a single penny because I was certain of the fruits it would bring. Of course, I understand we all need money to survive and this is not realistic for everyone, but I realised I needed to make some life-changing sacrifices for the bigger picture. So I sold my car, moved back in with dad, turned down other work and fully committed to the cause. This is what making a micro-budget sometimes requires. I don't think there's ever been a time in my life where a sacrifice hasn't eventually turned into a positive.
What lay ahead was lots of tears, tiredness and, for the eagle-eyed, a sty on my eye that pops up halfway through the film. We had a really lively discussion at Guru Live, and I won't expand on all the highs and lows of the actual shoot here, but let me tell you this - 18 days of night shoots in a petrol station in deep, dark Wales, with the potent smell of four-star constantly up your nostrils, makes for some funny anecdotes.
So, we finally got the film made. We had creative control, we cast who we wanted and the film was good. A film that our Director won a Bafta Cymru for, a film in which the three leads have all individually been Bafta-recognised and a film that was consistently named in lists of the best independents of the year. But guess what, we still had a problem selling it.
This is what I learnt, and what I shared at Guru Live: In this climate nothing is a given, especially if you're trying to be different. The distribution industry is still very risk averse. Producers, your role has changed - you must also now be savvy in distribution. Take time to understand it. In fact, don't even develop or acquire a low budget film without having a plan on how you would take it to market it on your own. Trends are switching quicker than a Lady Gaga costume change. You can have a great movie but if your star, style or genre isn't flavor of the month by the time you're ready to release, you too could be in a place where you have to find your own audience.
To cut a very long story short, we eventually distributed Convenience ourselves, it got the theatrical release we wanted, it released on all VOD platforms and has now been acquired by Netflix.
Despite the blood, sweat, tears and eye injuries, we made a movie for £80k, it had two Asian actors in leading roles that were not defined by race, we released it ourselves, Netflix picked it up... and (did I mention) it only went and got itself recognised by Bafta.
Bafta's Guru Live is a three-day festival that gives aspiring creatives the opportunity to meet and learn from leading names in the film, television and games industries. The inaugural event took place for the first time between 30 April and 2 May 2016. Guru Live is an extension of Bafta Guru (www.bafta.org/guru), Bafta's online resource that shares advice and inspiration from the best creative minds working in film, television and games. Visit http://guru.bafta.org/live to listen to the keynote talks from this year's event.
Ray Panthaki is a British actor, producer, writer and director. In 2014 he was named one of the Bafta Breakthrough Brits, in partnership with Burberry, an initiative which celebrates and supports emerging UK creative talent. His debut feature as a producer, Convenience, starring Bafta-winning actress Vicky McClure and Bafta-nominated actor Adeel Akhtar, was released in 2015, and earned Welsh director Keri Collins at Bafta Cymru Breakthrough Award. The views expressed in this article are the author's own.
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