What happens when you and your filmmaking co pilots get so super passionate about a project but you have a limited amount of time and resources to create it?
You do it anyway.
When my dear friend and collaborator, director Chris McGill first told me about this project I said yes before he’d even got his first sentence out.
Now let’s rewind a little.
Chris was a fan of Lucy Rose. And he knew her sister.
Danny Dyer was a fan of Lucy Rose. And he followed her on Twitter.
Ferdinand Kingsley was a dear friend of Lucy Rose. He was also good pals with Chris.
Now it gets a little complicated… bear with me.
Chris had expressed an interest in making a film with Lucy.
Danny had expressed an interest in making a film with Lucy.
Lucy had expressed an interest in creating something inspired by her song ‘NEBRASKA’. She’d already fulfilled her obligations to her record label to create three music videos, so she wasn’t sure how to go about this. She mentioned it in conversation to her friend, Ferdinand Kingsley.
Ferdinand told Lucy that he had a friend who was a film director he could put her in touch with, Chris McGill. Lucy, to Ferdinand’s amazement, knew this name. And knew that Chris McGill, knew her sister. And, she remembered had expressed an interest in making a film with her.
Ferdinand put Lucy and Chris back in touch.
Still with me?
Lucy mentions to Chris that if it’s of any interest to him, Danny Dyer has also expressed an interest in making a film with her. Chris says, that that is very much of interest to him.
Chris starts to brainstorm ideas of the most unlikely scenario in which an audience, any audience, would expect to find Danny Dyer. If Danny’s like any of the other actors Chris knows, it would be of interest to him to play against type. And whilst Danny’s expressed an interest in working with Lucy, it’s important to give him a really juicy incentive to work with her, and us, on this particular project.
Chris creates a concept based on a character ‘Daniel’. A guy seriously down his luck. A lifetime of disappointments has taken its toll. His loneliness is etched into his face. A punching bag and screaming soundboard to an alcoholic wife. Invisible to his kids. The only time that he feels himself and seen is when he performs in drag. He’s not as confident as he’d like to be, or outlandish or accomplished as some of his peers, but when he lets go and allows himself to step into who he really is, that’s when he truly comes alive.
At this point, Chris gets in touch with me, Sian, to discuss another project of ours in the pipeline. He also happens to mention, all of the above.
You don’t need to be an astrologer to see that the stars were already aligning on this one, so I said yes to Chris before he’d even got his first sentence out. In fact, I didn’t just say yes, I ran towards that project: arms outstretched, through a meadow of corn in hazy sunlight, with my heart wide open.
“You’re asking me to make a film about doing something for the love of it?”
He had me at hello.
It’s December now. We need this wrapped, ideally, before Lucy starts her tour in February.
Chris pulls together an astonishing Treatment whilst we start thinking of people that we love to work with and that love making films as much as we do. Stephen Murphy, who we both adore and have worked with before, comes onboard as our DoP in a heartbeat.
Deep exhales. Now we’re cooking.
We meet up with Lucy. We get excited. It’s time to send the Treatment out to the man himself. Double D. Danny freakin’ Dyer.
Lucy’s prepped Danny as far as she can. She hasn’t mentioned the word ‘drag’. Just as with our audience, we’re going for maximum impact on this one.
A tentative ‘click to send’ with a nervous grimace…. 20 minutes pass.
We get a resounding YES from Danny. He loves the Treatment. It’s one of the most unlikely scenarios in which an audience, any audience, would expect to find him – whaddya know? Boom.
Chris and I gather at our favourite meeting spot, the Picturehouse Central and over some ridiculously delicious salmon and cream cheese on rye, it dawns on us that this is really happening and it might be time to get serious.
We start to build our team, sending out the Treatment to people whose work we respect and see if they too feel as passionate about creating this wee film. To our total astonishment it’s ‘yeses’ all round. In fact, we don’t get one refusal. Not one. It seems I’m not the only one in that meadow running towards their beloved!
Availability checks go into full flow as we tussle over dates – Danny is due in Sierra Leone for Sport Relief, Lucy is getting ready for her tour. The Treatment is wrangled. A two-day shoot can only be one. We shift our location from a rundown northern town to the grandeur of Piccadilly Circus.
Then quite suddenly, the timings have to change and we’re looking at a late February shoot – can we hang on to our team? Yes, they’re still with us. Can Danny still do it? Yes, he wouldn’t miss it. Can Lucy, now on tour, still make the day? Yes, she’ll fly back from Dublin.
Light pencils get pen & inked for Sunday February 21st 2016.
We hunt for a cabaret venue and fall in love with the Electric Carousel.
10 days to go.
We gather for a final Production Meet. This is the first time the entire team has been able to sit down together. We still need 60+ extras, a shoot schedule, a second and third and fourth location, drag queens, an aerialist, bottles, glasses, catering, equipment, permits, security, costume, actors, rehearsal… the list is truly endless. But we put our heads together and somehow there’s a solution right there, to every problem. Or at least optimism on some of the finer details!
There is so much love for the project you can smell it. The excitement, the anticipation, the eagerness for the day on set to come.
5 days to go.
We decide to lose the second location and Daniel’s backstory. It’s a tricky call but it will pay off. There just isn’t time for us to shoot it and our miniscule budget can’t possibly stretch to overtime on expenses.
3 days to go.
We recce the primary location one final time. The road to the rear, which we need for unloading, is unsurpassable due to electrical works. The National Grid promise they’ll be out of there by Sunday.
1 day to go.
Chris and I can hardly believe we’ve made it to this point but everything is set – except we cannot find an aerialist for love nor money. It’s not essential but it would be nice. We decide to lose it. Our purse strings are at breaching point.
Sunday February 21st 2016.
Welcome to one of the most magical of all set days that I have had the privilege to experience.
You know those days where everything just flows? Where the people that are working together actually communicate? And own their role? And take initiative? And commit to the process? That’s there for the journey not just the prize?
Yes things needed ironing out occasionally. Yes we had a mountain of people to wrangle and keep entertained with just two floor runners – the two best floor runners I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with incidentally. But in essence, it was effortless. Actually, it wasn’t effortless. It was one of the hardest workdays of my life but it was utterly joyful because of the synergy between everyone involved.
So why did it work so well? Why did it feel so good? Why did it feel like there was something magic in the air? Why did everything come together as though it were meant to?
You want my honest opinion?
Are you sure?
So much so I’ll say it again: Love.
Every single person in that room was there for love.
Whether it was a love of performing, love of filmmaking, love of music, love of a friend they were supporting, love of hanging out on a set on a Sunday, love of opportunity, love of a free lunch, love of creativity, love of collaborating, love of dressing up, love of doing something for the joy of it, love of socialising, love of glitter, love of something I haven’t thought of, love of all of the above.
They were there, I was there; for Love.
I emphasise love because we pulled more favours on this job then Chris and I traditionally would have liked. But we set a very clear intention for the project’s overwhelming potential from the outset. For the love of it.
Of course we could have decided that unless we raised enough funds we weren’t going to be able to make it. And there were countless times that we looked at the scale of the thing vs. the amount of people we could realistically afford to entice and thought about tiptoeing away silently in the night, never mentioning it again!
But there was this *thing*. A drive, a pull, a need, something beyond our control that wanted our attention. That told us to keep going. To take this project all the way. To celebrate humanity, diversity and the expression of that which makes us come alive. To proclaim love as our primary investor because the overwhelming passionate need that we felt to tell this story, was bigger than ourselves.
Love is hard to stop.
And are we proud of what we’ve created? I think it’s fair to say that Chris, Stephen and myself are bursting at the seams with not just pride, but a sort of astonished wonder at the beauty of the final product. More especially because of what it stands for and how it came together.
So whether you’ve a budget of £100 or £100m, if it makes you come alive, do it anyway. It is always possible to create something from nothing if the idea is good enough and there is willing to go the extra mile.
Money is something we all need, but Love is a greater currency.
Sian Clifford, 14 March 2016
Dedicated to our incredible team who pulled their tenacity and formidable resources together to make this dream a reality.
With an abundance of Love and gratitude, Sian and Chris x
Dusthouse are delighted to announce that our film, A Summer Hamlet, has just won the Audience Choice Award at the Fort Myers Film Festival, Florida. As the film continues it’s journey on the festival circuit we catch up with director Helen Lawson for a quick chat.
A Summer Hamlet has just been awarded the Audience Choice Award for 2014. Why is this award so important to win?
It’s wonderful for ‘A Summer Hamlet’ to win the Audience Award at the Fort Myers Film Festival because it shows us that this film has support from people around the world, and that it appeals to people beyond the world of theatre and cinema. It was an honour to be selected for the festival in the first place, and incredibly touching that so many people voted.
Tell us about the Fort Myers Film Festival.
The Fort Myers Festival was a joy to attend. The programme is incredibly varied, with narrative films, animation, and documentaries from all genres all included. There were films that made me laugh, cry, think… More than anything, the organisers of the festival were hugely welcoming and fun to be around, and the other filmmakers attending all seemed to be having an equally good time!
Does the story of a very English company touring a very English play transfer over the pond?
The wonderful thing about Hamlet is that the story is so universal, and the fact we see the actors perform the story in Denmark, Austria, Norway and Malta is proof that the story can transcend the language. It is a very English group of actors though, so perhaps certain references in the film like ‘Blackadder’ and ‘tiddlywinks’ don’t translate everywhere! Above all, though, ‘A Summer Hamlet’ is a film about friendship, and an insight into what goes on behind the scenes. Curiosity about those things exists everywhere, so despite the odd cultural difference I think it’s a story that intrigues people everywhere.
What is unique about A Summer Hamlet?
A Summer Hamlet is unusual because it gives us a glimpse behind the curtain. Anyone who’s ever seen a play will have wondered what is going on backstage, and this is a chance to see! We don’t really show the play in the film, because what’s more important in this film is to watch the actors as their friendships develop backstage, to see the jokes, the mishaps, the exhaustion, and the effort to repeat the same play with the same passion night after night. The moment when an actor becomes a character is something we never usually get to see, and we get to know these actors so well that we start to understand that moment.
Where next for the film?
We’re hoping there’ll be another festival or two before the festival run comes to an end, and then we will be looking to do an indie cinema release. After that, broadcast and then DVDs!
What next for you?
I’m currently working on a lot of short-form projects, while ideas for my next feature documentary crystallise in my head!
Why work with Dusthouse on this film?
Dusthouse are so brilliant because they have pioneered the use of film to promote theatre. It’s a medium that speaks to the younger generation, and Dusthouse harness that without losing the essence of theatre. Their concept films are invariably gorgeous to look at and incredibly compelling, while their documentary work is also insightful and inspiring!
You can watch our interview with Helen Lawson here: https://vimeo.com/77625796
First time viewers and old time Dustheads, welcome to the all new Dusthouse.org. You are very welcome.
Take a look around… enjoy our latest releases and remind yourselves of some classic films from our vault. You’ll be able to keep up to date on our very own blog which we will be updating regularly with exclusive behind the scenes snaps and footage. From time to time we’ll chat about work and other times we’ll leave you with sneaky recommendation for film, theatre and music. They will always be lovingly crafted by Dusty and Co. Crumbs, we may even have the odd competition.