short film

How To Shoot a £1m Car Commercial On a Zero Budget

Crewed entirely by award-winning women and with everyone volunteering their time,  this is not your usual car commercial!

The Feminist Car Commercial, three interconnecting short films made to look like genuine car commercials, aims to highlight female film-making talent in the UK and to show advertisers how their marketing communications could be devised for women.

The film will get its premiere at the BFI Southbank in September 2013 before being available online. Below is an interview with the producer, Paul Atherton, taken at BFI on the 8th of August 2013.

Feminist Car Commercial Still

Dana: What sparked the idea for a feminist car commercial?

Paul: There has been a proliferation of adverts that have treated women appallingly in the past 12 month, Audi’s Proms KissBMW’s Greek Billboard AdRenault’s Dancing Girls.  But it was the Broken Heel advert by Audi that really incensed me.  Audi hadn’t used a woman in their commercials for twenty years and when they finally did they leave her lying on the street in the rain with her clothes torn and handbag broken as the car being advertised drives away and leaves her there.  This is something that wouldn’t have been acceptable a few decades ago. Mumsnet’s reaction was universal: don’t buy Audis!

Dana: Was this a commissioned project or your own initiative?

Paul:  This was completely my own initiative.  Writer/Director Amanda Baker had originally come up with an idea to pitch a commercial for women to car companies, but when we did the research we saw a much bigger problem so I thought it would make far more sense to make a campaigning film. As a campaigning film it would have been difficult to find funds, especially quickly, we went from idea to finished film in under three months, far quicker than most funders take to make a decision. And who would commission a film that challenges the very industry that fuels it?

Dana: How does one pull off a “sting” of these proportions: shooting three sophisticated car commercials on a zero-budget, something that advertising companies spend ludicrous sums of money on?

Paul: Film is always about collaboration and this was no different.  Give people a great idea, surround them with talent and give them a message they can get behind and believe in, then you’ll find anything is possible. There are some amazingly generous people in our industry: Barry Basset at VMI, who supplied us over £1/2 Million worth of camera equipment, has been supportive of me since I entered the industry; Barnaby Laws at Panalux had worked with our amazing DP Gabi Norland before and wanted to support her, as well as the campaign; Paul Merchant at make-up supplier Charles Fox has been our award winning make-up artist and Sara Menitra‘s supplier for years; and Daniel Pagan at post house Lipsync has been a fantastic support to me since our first introduction. The key, as always, is relationships. It’s the people you’ve helped and supported that come back and help and support you.

Dana: How many people got involved in this project?

Paul: We managed to persuade just under 100 people to volunteer their time and expertise. As well as a number of industry sponsors who supplied all our kit and services.The thing that made this so special is that we created an A-list of award winners and established experience to approach and we got nearly everyone on it.But as always, we were keen to support new talent too.  So my entire production crew was made up from recent graduates and in addition we offered 11 runners their first job experience.

Fem car Com duplicateDana: I understand you also had some very prominent public figures supporting the project and that with a few exceptions it was an all female cast & crew.

Paul: The project first came to life for me when Carly Simon agreed to let us have her Oscar-Winning iconic eighties feminist anthem from the film Working Girl entitled Let The River Run free of charge. This was the equivalent of giving us between £50,000 to £100,000. Then BAFTA-nominated Natalie Holt agreed to do the original score. Sara Menitra, NY IMATS Makeup Winner 2012, Sara Chatterton, Celebrity Hairdresser,  Editor Prano Bailey-Bond & Director of Photography Gabi Norland who were both previous Underwire winners came next. The rest of our crew had worked on features from Harry Potter to the Iron Lady. Steve Moore, former Chief Executive of The Big Society Network, had just launched Britain’s Personal Best and we were one of the first projects to pledge.

The idea of an all female cast & crew came from the notion that if we were going to make something for women it should have that perspective in every department.  There had always been an absence of women in a variety of departments and the filmindustry as a whole.  Organisations such as Birds Eye View, Women in Film & Television have made great inroads to redressing that.  But I saw this as a way for us to highlight the British female film-making talent available, whilst making a point about one of the reasons it’s so hard to break in, namely how the media perceive women.

The men we had on the production crew, Frank Hellebrand – Grip, Greg Macfarlane King – Gaffer, Daniel Deighton – 2nd AC and Matthew Cresswell – DIT, very generously came on board at the last minute to fill in for roles that we couldn’t find replacement women for.  A classic example was our grip, Grace Donaldson, who had to drop out for a paid job. And as she is, if I’m not wrong, the only female grip in the world, we had no other way of replacing her.  But this clearly made our point that there are far too few women in the industry.

Dana: How long did the project take from start to finish?

Paul: The idea was sparked in May of this year (2013), I had scripts by the end of June and we’ll have it all finished by the end of August for the screening in the BFI Southbank on 3rd September 2013.

Dana: What were the challenges?

Paul: The biggest challenge was persuading our production crew to work for free for four days.  If this had been a student project, or people looking for experience it would have been simple.  But we were asking established talent, who had no need to add to their showreels (the main reason most people work for free). But once they understood the values of the project and the talent attached etc. they all generously bought in. Our props-maker Jo Shears who created the most jaw-dropping special effect of fingernails blowing away in the wind proved it doesn’t matter what the challenge is, as long as you’ve picked the right talent it can be overcome.And we had the right talent in every department.

Dana: Have you experienced any of those moments when you wished you hadn’t bothered?

Paul: Lots.  It’s undoubtedly been the hardest production I’ve ever worked on. And the catalogue of let-downs got to biblical proportions. For example, the idea was originally based around comparing ourselves to the recent Jaguar RSA “Desire” Film.  I was informed that we had access to two new F-Type Jaguars and a celebrity (which sadly never materialised), three months of negotiations with Jaguar fell at the last hurdle (three days before the shoot), on the basis they didn’t want to be seen leading a campaign for “Equal Pay” for women.  Our locations manager who was eight months pregnant when she came to us left to have her baby and we were suddenly left without locations two weeks before the shoot. We had three major crew dropouts on the day before the shoot and even the location that we thought had been secured turned out not to have been with just hours to spare. But with a great team, amazing vision and people pulling in every favour they had, we got it in the can. Our “thank you” list is likely to be the longest in cinematic history! And we agreed we’d only complete the third mock commercial in the trilogy if we get our named talent, which is what I’m on a quest to do now.

Dana: To care deeply about something – does that provide all the motivation and drive you need to succeed?

Paul: No. Caring deeply about something is the starting point.  And you’ll always remind yourself that this is what it’s all about.  It’s why you do what you do. All my previous productions are around things that are important to me. Domestic violence, racism, prison reform etc.  I would hate to make something that didn’t have an underlying cause. But the drive, that comes from other people for me. People you can turn to when things get hard, the people who can see the silver-lining in the cloud when all you can see is the cloud. The people who will rally to your defence and stand by you no matter what. I’m very fortunate to have a lot of friends in and outside the industry that fill those roles and without them none of this would be possible.

Dana: If you had a budget for this project, what would you spend it on?

Paul: If we had a budget for this, it would in essence have just been a commercial.  We wouldn’t be making an important point and we wouldn’t have got the commitment required to make it.

Dana: Where is feminism at these days? Do you think we are witnessing a backlash? The fact that people don’t seem to be as sensitive about the issue as in the past (only one woman complained about the Renault ad if I’m not wrong?) can be interpreted as a good thing, in the sense that women got what they wanted, there is no need for feminism anymore, OR as a very bad thing, that women simply gave up the fight or don’t care anymore. What are your insights on this subject?

Paul: I think the term feminism has many poor connotations.  Usually associated with women who seemingly hate men.  I see feminism as being pro-women and not anti-men. I don’t think there is a backlash against feminism. I just think audiences, marketeers and advertsiser have just got lazy and apathetic.  We live in a society that is all concerned about spending.  People always talk about doing jobs to pay the bills.  That thinking leads to fear and to inertia. So when BMW put a poster up in Greece, containing a sultry 14-year old looking girl attached to the tagline “You know you’re not the first” to advertise their second-hand car dealerships, you know that the hundreds of decision-makers involved in that process either didn’t care or didn’t have the courage to say “that’s nuts.. noooo!”

Dana: What are you hoping to achieve with these films?

Paul: The whole point of the project is two-fold.  First to highlight what amazing female film talent there is in the UK and that we need far more. And secondly to remind marketeers that women are customers, a large customer base in fact, and not objects.  This is our version of what car advertisements should look like: creative, funny, quirky and making important points. The films are of course just the catalyst for the debate and fortuitously we have Olivia Read at DDA PR to ensure our message gets out there far and wide. We all realise without the press there can be no change in public perception and we appreciate all the support we can get in that regard , so thank you.

Dana: You’re welcome!;)…Do you intend to develop the idea into a larger project?

Paul: We have a feature script written by Rhianna Pratchett entitled Vigilia, which looks at the rise of a female movement in the UK kickstarted by a rape. So the ideas behind this project tap directly into that.  That of course will require funding, approximately £2 million, and we have some financiers lined up who I’m sure will appreciate the production values contained in this short.

Dana: I understand you suffer from chronic fatigue,  how did you manage to keep working?

Paul: Chronic fatigue is a disabling condition that often leads sufferers to be bed- or wheelchair-ridden for years.  I was diagnosed in 1992 and I was wheelchair-bound for nearly a year in 2010.  But since then, I’ve managed to survive just through what are known as “crashes”. The worst has lasted a couple of months. You’re unable to move and sometimes even to talk. It used to be terrifying but I’m used to it now. It’s ironic because all the doctors tell you to avoid stress and lead a very dull life.  But I’d rather shine for a few months and then crash for months to produce something.  Not making something would mean I’m not alive and it would be impossible to keep struggling on without that aspect of my life.

Dana:  Is it true that you are homeless?

Paul: Yes. It’s a sad reflection of Britain’s current state, that our lives are no longer our own.  In 2009 an error on my credit file which had nothing to do with me resulted in me not being able to renew my tenancy. The resultant stress caused a CFS crash and I ended up in hospital for three months and discharged to a homeless hostel in Brixton.  I was claiming benefits but there were many screw-ups and I was evicted to the streets from there in my wheelchair.  As you can imagine, friends were incredibly supportive and offered accommodation and care but it’s not their job.  I’d paid my taxes and should have had the systems there to protect me.  I therefore decided to live in my car on the Southbank, which I did for two years until the police confiscated it by mistake at the beginning of this year 2013, another bureaucratic cock-up involving a wrongly apportioned conviction at the DVLA.  I now live in a hostel in Vauxhall but as of Monday they’re trying to kick me out – on the grounds, and you’ll love this, that I have nowhere to live!


Santa's Blotto posterIf you’re a filmmaker trying to get his first short film off the ground, this inspiring article is for you…

Patrick Myles  is an actor, writer, director and producer. He was raised in Ireland and Cyprus and trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. His stage work includes: Love’s a Luxury, A Chorus of Disapproval (written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn), Icons and Everafter, Tartuffe, Pera Palas, The Freedom of the City, The Lady’s not for Burning, The Revenger’s Tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Harold Pinter’s Victoria Station.His film and TV credits include: PlanespottingThe Bill, Secret Smile and Red Thursday. For his acting work, he was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Bursary and Best Supporting Actor Award at Thessaloniki Film Festival.

His first short film as writer/director was Anthropopopometry, with Peter McDonald and Lloyd Hutchinson. He also co-wrote Will: The Lost Years, which won the Channel Four/Stellar Network Pitch Up 2009.Santa’s Blotto is his second film and he is currently developing an action/horror feature and several sitcom ideas.

Santa’s Blotto is Patrick’s second short starring Brian Blessed, a film that won international distribution and can also be found on iTunes.

In an interview taken on 18 October 2012  at Filmmakers Afternoon Teas, Mayfair Hotel, London as part of LFF 2012, Patrick vehemently declares: “I hate seeing bad acting in short films.” Could this be his motivation for turning to directing himself? Join the debate and find the answer below.

Dana: “What is your relationship with the short form?”

Patrick Myles photoPatrick: “My relationship with the short form is a relatively new relationship. My background is in acting, I’m an actor and I started writing/directing in the last two to three years. And I wrote a couple of shorts that weren’t bad but they weren’t very filmable, as in you needed a big budget, a big cast, that kind of thing. So I wanted to write something that I knew I could make. So my first short was quite a surreal piece inspired by Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, about two inanimate objects that have a life and can chat, that kind of thing, so it was very easy to shoot. Whereas my second one is all self-contained, which is Santa’s Blotto and I managed to get Film London funding for it, which made the whole process a lot easier. I guess my relationship with the short form is getting experience as a filmmaker and obviously a stepping stone to features, a calling card. And I think both my films give a sense of my sense of humour, the way I look at the world which is quite dark and left-field, therefore they are a good advertisement for my voice as a filmmaker.

Dana: “You said you got funding…”

Patrick: “Yes, from Film London…”

Dana: “Was it difficult, how does one go about getting funding?”

Patrick: “That was a long process, a process that lasted two or three months, whereby you send in your script, you send in your vision for it, how you want to shoot it, your ideas for casting, location, mood boards. This was the first round. Then you undergo a period of development where you’re appointed a BFI development executive to help develop the script into a shooting script, into a new draft, and you have to go in to explain how you are going to shoot it…”

Dana: “So even for a short film the process is very convoluted”

Patrick: “Oh yes, because there is so little funding available, even for features, let alone for shorts. And they have to be utterly confident that everyone that they are giving money to is going to use it properly and will produce something of a certain quality. So the whole process was very rigorous and it culminated in a final interview whereby I had to go in front of a panel and they fire questions at you, and you say I’m going to do this, I’m going to shoot this, all that kind of thing. So I was delighted to get the funding for it because it means so much, it’s a stamp of approval from a recognised body, it means you’re in a cycle of young filmmakers, it means getting funding for the next one will be easier if someone has already trusted you with funding, and you delivered something. And Santa’s Blotto has gone down quite well, Film London were delighted with it, I secured a distribution deal with Shorts International, so it’s going to be on iTunes, it’s going to be sold around the world through the Short Film Channel…”

Dana: “So you can make money with a short…”

Patrick (laughing): “Well yeah, apparently so, I didn’t expect it either but apparently yes because the distribution deal with Shorts International is that we the filmmakers have a slice of anything that they sell the film for. Which is great, so we essentially got someone selling it and they are going to give us some money back. And also crucially, very crucially, it’s going to go on iTunes…so iTunes as you know, you download the film for £1.50 and out of that I believe, Apple takes one third, the distributor takes one third and we take one third. So depending on how many downloads, I mean, you know, no one is going to get rich out of it but at least…”

Dana: “That’s encouraging for those making short films…”

Brian Blessed

Patrick: “Exactly, very encouraging to know that’s going to come out. And because we have Brian Blessed in it playing Santa Clause, he has quite a large following of people who love him, I think he’s a living legend and hopefully that will help drive sales and crucially get people to watch the film. That’s what we want as filmmakers, there’s no point in making a film for yourself, you have to make a film for people to watch and be affected by, whether that’s laughing or crying, whatever it is, you want to create an effect in the audience, and I hope Santa’s Blotto will do that. ‘Cause we all have Christmas memories from when we were kids, and also in the run-up to Christmas I think it will do well…”

Dana: “Indeed, commercially the strategy is very well thought out. Are you going to make other shorts?”

Patrick: “I have an idea for one more short and then the rest of my ideas are features. I’m already developing one, because I know how long it takes to get a feature off the ground. But in terms of my features, I’ve got three ideas, one is quite a sprawling fantasy/adventure set in Ireland, because I’m originally Irish, another is a horror film which always go down very well and the other is a comedy, again, quite a bizarre comedy about a pair of New York mobsters who lie low in a small English village and get involved in a local amateur dramatic society. But I have another short film that I’m writing at the moment, that I intend to shoot in summer of next year. Again it’s very shootable. It’s quite an out-there idea again, but it’s not one that will be very expensive. I need, it’s true because I come from an acting background, I know how effective good actors are in your short films and I hate seeing bad acting in short films. And I think, like with all films but especially shorts, it’s all about the script and get some good actors, if you’ve got a cracking script and you’ve got good actors, they make your film look better…”

Dana: “So you’re not one for sophisticated camera movements…”

Patrick: “No, I’m not that kind of director, I’m not a technical wizard, I like telling stories and I like having good actors telling that story. That’s my belief. But perhaps I think that way because my journey to directing didn’t come through film school, I don’t have a technical background, it’s very…because I’ve been an actor and I produce as well so I know it’s all about, as I said, telling a story in the simplest, most effective way, rather than going “look what a great director I am”!You know what I mean? I think that’s really important, it should be all about the story, that is after all what we’re doing…”

Dana: “Do you intend to act in your own films?”

Patrick: “No.”

Dana: “Why not?”

Patrick: “Because I want to keep them separate. I mean, perhaps, some people do it very well, Kenneth Branagh does it very well…”

Dana: “Woody Allen…”

Patrick: “Woody Allen yes, and in fact I’ve just come from a screening of Argo, it’s very good, and Ben Affleck directed it and he starred in it, and he did it brilliantly, but I think at this stage in my career, I don’t want it to be about me, it’s about the story, and it also depends on the script that I write…For example the script that I wrote for Santa’s Blotto was about a child and Santa Clause, so even if I wanted to be in it, there was no part for me. So it can’t be an exercise in vanity, it’s got to be a story being told, that’s the priority. So I have no intention to…But who knows…”

Dana: “What are your thoughts about directing? Have you developed a method yet?”

Patrick: “Well, do you mean in terms of directing the actors or the kind of visual style?”

Dana: “Both. For instance David Mamet says that directing is all about where to put the camera and what to tell the actors”

the boy in Santa's BlottoPatrick: “Yeah, I’ve read David Mamet’s A Whore’s Profession and many other books on acting and filming and I do like that philosophy of work. But he again is very much of a school of “it’s about the script and about the acting”. And I would agree with him on most things. His essays On Directing Film are brilliant. Also Alexander Mackendrick’s book On Filmmaking and Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies are two other fantastic books. And these are all very practical filmmakers who get the right actors with the right script. And because I am an actor I can talk to them, I think my greatest strength is being able to direct them knowing how they tick. I mean I know first hand, and it’s a common actors’ complaint that a lot of filmmakers, because of their technical background or whatever, they don’t know how to talk to actors, they don’t know how to get what they want, and I think that’s extremely important, because it makes the actor feel comfortable, and it’s only when they’re in their comfort zone that they can really perform to their best ability, especially when you’re working with kids. My actor was 10 years old, so I had to make sure that everything I was telling him was appropriate for a child but also guiding him. He was very smart, whip-smart so ironically I didn’t have to talk to him like he was a child…So I would say that yes I enjoy what Mamet has written about filmmaking and I think that is my approach also: practical, get a good script, good actors and just shoot it!”

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