Sunday, February 22, 2015

DIGITISATION Hinterland £8k budget 15 year-old camera...

Harry Macqueen (centre) and Ben Hecking on stage after their Ilkley Film Festival screening

HINTERLAND (Harry Macqueen, 2015)
DISTRIBUTION: Indie/arthouse/world cinema specialist Soda Pictures (digital); self-distribution deal with Curzon Pictures, linked to director/cinematographer Q+A appearances
PRODUCTION CO: Inheritance Films [Macqueen inherited £10k and decided to make a film with this!]

Thanks to Martin Pilkington, organiser of the Ilkley Film Festival, I got to see Hinterland gratis, and to speak to the debut director (and co-star/writer/producer) Harry Macqueen plus cinematographer (Director of Photography) Ben Hecking afterwards.

The film is archetypal arthouse; an essay on male diffidence with French New Wave part of the aesthetic: montage sequences, dialogue over fairly abstract shots, some non-linear strands. That's simplifying rather - both said their influences were just too numerous to really pin down; "unconscious osmosis" would amount for much of this. Richard Linklater was held up as a particular influence and, indeed, inspiration to all Indie filmmakers (and Macqueen noted how Linklater had similarly gone out and produced his debut feature for a very low budget). Both professed a love for and strong influence from this unheralded 1979 British Indie road movie, re-released on DVD by the BFI (Radio On, Christopher Petit):

(Read more on this film: IMDB; Wiki; ScreenOnline)

Both describe Hinterland as a road movie. It centres on the friendship, with clear undertones of desire for more, of a late-20-something man and woman, childhood friends, the woman a free spirit, the man seemingly a more sedate character.

It doesn't help when your film title is more likely to return a TV series through online searches!
Director Macqueen plays Harvey; he explained that as the Lola actress wasn't actually an actress but a musician, and they'd workshopped their characters for weeks, it made sense. Hacking stressed that the simple fact the cast/crew of FOUR (yes, just 4!) could fit in ONE car was key, Macqueen adding that it helped to stay on this very tight budget too! A second car, and additional expenses, never mind salary, would have made that difficult.

Macqueen has a 5-sentence Wiki profile; there is no Hinterland page yet, not a good sign!

Macqueen had a 15 year-old HD camera, a relative monster as Hecking describes it ... another saving (as cameras are typically hired, not purchased, for shoots). It's intriguing to thinking to think that the classroom DSLRs we have might be more powerful (certainly boasting more features) than that used to produce this arthouse feature film.

The film website is VERY basic!

The Q+A was interesting - any student would benefit from attending such a session. For example, Hecking noted that while film might be perceived as a visual medium, the key thing he (a cinematographer remember) learned from film school was that "film is 75% sound ... if the sound's bad at any stage you've completely lost the audience". They shot scenes at sea which proved challenging but also on hillsides (not unlike the Ilkley moor settings we've seen used repeatedly...) with a ferocious wind. Their sound engineer, much to their astonishment, did such a great job in cutting out the wind that they had to overdub a recording of wind!
Rather like the UK Indie Monsters, the entire production cast and crew (4!) fitted into ONE car

I asked a question about distribution... I'd looked at the distributor's website on the way in to the screening: six films featured, but not Hinterland (one of the six was another film being screened later this same day at the Ilkley Film Festival). The website for the film was very basic: text only bar the embedded trailer, with just two top links (Home/News), and no multimedia excepting contact hyperlinks (with a short statement asking users to wait for more to be added...). Soda Pictures release 20+ films a year, and have built up a library of over 200 films since launching in 2002. An Indie/arthouse/world cinema specialist, they also deal with digital re-releases of library movies, and this deal centred on DVD.
Soda Pictures' site featured six of their films on the day I attended the screening (22.2.15), but not Hinterland. One of these six was also screened at the Ilkley Film Festival later that evening!

Macqueen noted he "loved their back catalogue" and "made a bee-line for Soda". The deal, and the deal with Curzon, only came about because he took the further post-production risk of funding a cinema screening for invited guests from these companies, plus film journalists (funded by a £400 tax rebate ... and by staying in Hecking's garden during the editing process!).
Soda Pictures have a busy release slate. As Peter Biskind's (simply superb read!) Down and Dirty Pictures, which tracks the rise, fall and rise of Miramax as the dominant US Indie distributor (eventually, not unlike Working Title, bought up by a big six company - Disney), shows, some films will inevitably get lost as energy and resources are focussed on a few.

It turns out that Macqueen has essentially self-distributed this, in concert with Curzon Pictures, a week's screenings tied to director/cinematographer Q+A sessions at five of their cinemas, with the film simultaneously viewable on demand (VoD). Both were enthusiastic about the potential of digital distribution, noting the bravery of Film4's strategy for Ben Wheatley's A Field in England - released simultaneously in cinema, DVD, online and on Film4.
Available to view NOW through Curzon Home Cinema.

Hacking had previous experience with distribution, having been involved with setting up a distributor to ensure that eco-film Age of Stupid (thus Stupid Pictures!) got a wider audience that it might through being an unfancied entry on a distributor's slate. He recounts the experience of approaching the UKFC for help ... only to be told, "we produce ten films a year that never get seen as it is!" (The UKFC did fund some wretched films, but are also key in the existence and success of Warp Films, not to mention Warp X...)

Both agree that monetising film is difficult and that the picture is uncertain: "nobody really knows at the minute what is happening with distribution. You've got the likes of Vimeo, sure, but its the next generation that will really have worked out how to make this work online" (Hecking).

Lots of great insights then from this event, a triumph for organiser Martin Pilkington, a busy teacher himself who has done a phenomenal job establishing this event (I overheard one audience member marvelling at his announcement on the opening night that 4,200 tickets had already been sold; "not bad for a town of 13,000" he exclaimed!).

The key message from this? Distribution remains problematic but at least achievable in the digital age, with self-distribution an increasingly viable option, and striking innovative event-based deals with cinemas directly is another option. But, to quote Macqueen, "there's no excuse now not to get it done and make a film". He refused to "wait for permission" to make a film, and made it work within the extraordinary limitations of the money available, not seeking any outside funding or even Kickstarter funding. Within ten days of meeting Hecking and agreeing to work together the shoot had commenced, all 13 days of it, using that horrid-sounding 15 year-old antique camera! For two-shots within the car, both Hecking and the sound engineer had to lay down in the back with a tripod set up in the boot!

Even more so than Le Donk..., which, after all, still had some star names attached, and the considerable help of an established production company behind it, take inspiration from this film. It's not really a teen-targeted movie, but is worth catching (perhaps through VoD?) to see just what can be achieved with £8k and a lot of determination. I'll also note that Macqueen and Hecking mutually enthused about working with specialists (sound, camera etc) that you trust to get on with the job. Macqueen had to trust Hecking, tied up as he was with both acting and producing (worrying about wrapping each shoot in time for the next location for example), who became an AD (assistant director) as much as lensman.

Soda Pictures have published a guide to Indie distribution:


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