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23/01/2014

Producer Sarah Cox on making an iFeatures film

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Before ‘8 Minutes Idle’ I had been a director and sometimes producer of animated shorts and commercials. I had applied to iFeatures to gain experience of long form film making particularly dramatic narratives. My experiences on the scheme were fantastic and I loved the whole development process and working with my team, all great but it’s probably more useful and interesting here to write about the challenges and disasters of production and how I navigated (or not) my way through them.


The first shock was actually getting greenlit – it had looked like we weren’t going to then suddenly we did – it was a surprise and we had to adapt quickly. Since the initial scheme Mark the director had a baby on the way and I had another film that I was directing that overlapped. This all cranked up the pressure so that for several months I was working 7 days a week for at least 12 hours a day – I am sure that even without my other commitments I still would have been doing those hours but they would have been all on the one film. So lesson number 1 in an ideal world was to make sure that you and all your team clear the decks and have enough financial support to see you through the long process. Life of course gets in the way and the perfect conditions never exist but I think if we had realised how hard and how long we would have to work for so little money it might have helped us mentally prepare slightly better.


The next challenge was to recruit my crew… in the tight knit world of animation everyone knows everyone and I had never had to work with anyone who wasn’t highly recommended by a trusted source. The film world however is much bigger and my range of contacts in it was a lot smaller and those I knew were mostly like me newcomers to features. This fact became a problem I hadn’t expected. The executives (technically for good reason) wanted us to work with a mix of people that included experienced crew… the problem I faced was that the rates I could afford to pay meant that most very experienced crew would be taking a massive cut in their usual wage. I found a great crew eventually but it was a very fraught process as I had to turn brilliant people away that wanted to work with us because they were not experienced enough to get approved by the executives. I still feel this was a shame as a low budget feature is often the only way people can get experience to move on up into a career in the film industry and there was some great talent there.
In hindsight my best decisions were always based on a gut instinct and my failures were when I didn’t listen to my instinct and hesitated through ‘first timer’ lack of confidence.


We also had some of the standard production disasters – we lost the perfect call centre location a week before we were going to start building in there…so we decided to build the whole set from scratch – on our budget that was risky. I don’t know if it was a good decision or not but maybe if I had done this before I would have had the confidence to halt production until we found a better location. At the time you feel like you are on a boulder hurtling down a mountain but with hindsight there are points that I think it would have been good to just step to the side and let the boulder roll away and start again.


I learnt there is no right or wrong way to do this – it’s your film and you have to defend it to the end. If you don’t it stops being yours or the directors’ film and there is no way that you can keep up the level of commitment required for yourself or have the energy to inspire others if you don’t believe in the end result. Again reality intervenes and some battles can’t be won and some compromises have to be made but it’s so important to have a good relationship with your director so that you know which bits are sacrosanct and you keep the basic integrity of the film. Luckily Mark and I had a very honest and open working relationship throughout production and we made a film we are proud of and we are still very good friends.


 At the end of it all I swore I would never do it again, but wounds heal and now I look back at it as a unique and amazing opportunity and so here I am today writing a development application for another feature sure that this time I will of course avoid all those pitfalls.

Sarah Cox, September 2012

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