As a guy who finds television interviews one of the most cringe worthy spectacles on earth, I entered into the panel discussion at Derby QUAD‘s iD Fest featuring directors Dexter Fletcher, Dominic Burns and James Nunn with some trepidation. I am genuinely interested in the complex workings of independent film direction but I questioned whether I would be able to stomach my most loathed form of entertainment being acted out before my eyes.
Thankfully I had little to fear; the setting was relaxed and we were given a fascinating insight into the process of bringing an independent picture to reality. The panel composed three independent directors; James Nunn (Tower Block – 2012), Dexter Fletcher (BAFTA nominated director of Wild Bill – 2011) and Derby born director Dominic Burns (UFO – 2012) and was chaired by screenwriter Adam Marsh.
The most notable face was obviously Dexter Fletcher (probably best known for playing Soap in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) whose erratic charisma helped to carry the proceedings but Dom and James were not to be upstaged and each director had their own spin on life behind the camera.
We were shown a trailer reel of their three films which deftly led into the first question: why doesn’t the marketing always reflect the content of your films? The panelists bounced off each other wonderfully here and a vehement rant by Dexter on mis-marketing and distributor incompetence was picked up by James and Dom who reflected on the business of filmmaking and how the creative vision must always be balanced alongside the contractual obligations to the distributors and studios.
I felt that listening to them speak gave me a much richer understanding of the film business than I could ever hope to learn by simply watching a documentary or reading an exposé. Here were three men who had “been there, done that” but at the same time were still learning the trade and the subtle negotiations required to bring an indie film to life. As they passionately discussed their own successes and failures along the way (along with a few anecdotes) they dragged you into their world completely – and it was a place you wanted to stay.
Speaking of anecdotes, those hoping for some star stories were not disappointed. The questions moved to “dealing with actors” and Dom jumped straight in with the time he brought Jean Claude Van Damme to Derby for the filming of UFO. When asked whether Van Damme arrived with an entourage Dom replied “No, we had to provide him with one!” at which point he went on to describe the whirlwind of chaos that such a star can create. Dexter jumped in with some war stories of his own when working with British legend Peter Mullan on “a Scottish musical featuring only songs from the Proclaimers” and soon the conversation zipped to and fro as they discussed the idiosyncrasies of top talent and how the key to any film is in the performances that can be coerced from them.
In wrapping up we moved to Q&A and James was caught off guard by an audience member who asked why he chose Green Street 3 (“Another f**king British hooligan movie”) for his next project after his critical smash Tower Block. The mood grew more sombre as James reflected on the difficult decisions that face a modern filmmaker and the importance of striking while the iron is hot. The conversation frequently returned to a director’s “stock” – his perceived fame and importance inside the industry – and it was sobering to hear all three panel members confide how incredibly difficult it is to even reach the lower-echelons of indie films, let alone smaller (but still multi-million pound) art-house films which most of the general population naively consider the entry level for filmmakers. It was a fitting place to end the show but I certainly left with quiet confidence that despite all the hardships these three talented British directors had a bright future ahead.
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