The tribulations of an apprentice producer

As for most things in life, in filmmaking it’s really the making part that is the most fun. Whatever it is that you do, you may spend days, weeks, months or even years grafting to get your work to your standard of perfection until you are satisfied. And then, if you depend on this work to put food on the table or even if it’s a simple step in the direction you’d like your life to take, well you’ve got sell it and that’s when fun, for the most part, goes out of the window.

You will have no doubt followed our adventures in Ukraine last year, the fruit of which amounted to upwards of 13 hours of footage, interviews, music, pictures as well as unforgettable memories and the hefty bar bills to go with. Though we had no clue as to what our film was going to be about when we landed, we were dead set on making one and luckily, an incredible story slowly started to emerge during our time there. This in turn gave birth to a narrative and in early spring, it blossomed into a film, albeit only in the director’s mind, for now.

Thus Phil found himself with the daunting task of transforming this wealth of material into a coherent film, the physical embodiment of his vision; a task made all the more difficult by my incessant interference usually accompanied by a plastic bag full of canned lager and other delicacies. We would spend entire weekends in his smoke-filled front room, perusing hours upon hours of interviews, finding the ideal shot to illustrate what was being said, fixing sound and colour levels until little by little, our film started taking shape. I should add that my own involvement was rather minimal as it mostly amounted to maintaining the blue cloud hanging over our heads and keeping the talent lubricated but that we were very fortunate to see BAFTA and Emmy Award winners joining our ranks in post-production.

Those weekends became weeks that disappeared into months but we kept ploughing on driven by a faint light at the end of the tunnel until, lo and behold, KIEV UNBROKEN: Ukraine Reborn rose from the primordial soup of our labour. I remember watching it for the very first time and at the risk of sounding conceited, I must say that I was overwhelmed by a sense of accomplishment, not only to having made a film but the feeling of having being part of something that truly mattered. Big things were happening in Ukraine and this was our testimony, a tale of what we’d found there. But as falling trees make no sound in empty forests, our film didn’t matter if no one saw it. Armed with a trailer and related literature, Phil and I started seeking out the people who could help our film being seen: distributors.

As I mentioned before, for my part, this is when the real fun comes to an end. We’d made a film about art and culture and though I would never consider myself an artist, being part of the creative process from beginning to end, certainly made me feel like one at times. But again, all this would be for naught if no one ever saw our film and so it was with sweaty palms and rehearsed pitches that I made my way to a long succession of meetings. We’d obviously prepared for these, targeting houses with a catalogue of films not too dissimilar to our own, hoping that this would increase our chances of success. To my surprise it went rather well. The subject of our film was clearly of the times and had a unique angle: art on the frontline. I walked out of each of these meetings grinning from ear to ear, thinking “this is it, we’ve made it” but in truth, I’ve now lost count of how many thanks-but-no-thanks emails I’ve received and how many unreturned phone calls I’ve made. It’s a sobering experience, one I imagine shared by most independent producers out there.

You invest all your time and energy in something you believe in heart and soul, only to be told that it’s “not quite what we’re looking for”. That’s almost enough to make you give up, isn’t it? But you can’t, so you don’t. Our film had to be seen and that was that. If the TV people weren’t biting, we’d find another way to your eyeballs, whatever it took.

One of the many advantages of living in a big city is that you’re not exactly wanting for places to screen your film. Phil, after years in the industry, had made invaluable contacts amongst London’s art gallery and small cinema proprietors, so KIEV UNBROKEN was shown at the Horse Hospital on Thursday the 21st of September. It was a private sort of affair but we’d made sure to invite anyone who could, if not buy the film outright, make a little noise about it.

The Ukrainian cultural attaché cried. I saw it from my vantage point at the back of the room. That’s all the critic you ever need really. The applause at the end felt a lot more than customary and the bar stopped serving long before the conversations ended. All in all, a great night and one where we realised that this was where our film belonged: in a screening room with an audience. And this is where we plan on taking it, at festivals up and down the country at first and then, who know?





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