Director Jo Southwell managed to quickly crowdfund then pull together a full team for her short film Entrance No Exit. (You can read my diary of my time as an extra on the shoot here).
I spoke to Jo and some of her cast and crew about their experiences and how they got into the film industry. Click on the names to see their Q&As.
| Jo Southwell – Director / Producer | Dirk Nel – Director of Photography | Michelle Fahrenheim – Lead Actress | Ash Li – 1st Assistant Camera | Nadia Lamin – Actress | Philip Ridout – Actor | Daniella Dahoui – Set Dresser |
Jo Southwell (Director / Producer)
“This is my first ever crowdfunded campaign – it was really tough and lonely BUT I had some amazing support”
1 What are your and writer Sophie Dix’s plans for Entrance No Exit?
The aims are twofold:
Firstly once I am happy with the edit, we plan to submit to various international festivals. Ideally we would like to be accepted into award-winning festivals and screen the short.
Secondly, we will have a screening at BAFTA (hopefully). This short is not only a celebration of making the film and all it stands for but also an opportunity for industry to become aware of our next project, Mac and Beth, a feature film.
2 It was a short shoot for a film close to your heart – do you feel you managed to capture your vision?
Actually I do. I was really worried as we only had limited hours on set BUT having watched the first cut last week – we did it!
3 You crowdfunded and got sponsorship to pay for the film – had you taken that approach before and did it work out as you expected?
No this is my first ever crowdfunded campaign – it was really tough and lonely BUT I had some amazing support and various people who kept me going.
It is not usual to be director and producer of a film – even a short – but that’s the way this one worked out.
5 Had you worked with your DOP Dirk Nel previously? You seemed to have a great rapport on set especially on Day 2 when time was very tight
Yes Dirk and I have worked together previously and have a few projects we are discussing for the future. As a director the role of DOP is crucial. On this project the DOP really had to add production value and a specific vision with lighting to really add to the story.
6 I loved your award-winning short Deirdre. How are your plans going to turn it into a feature film?
Ah thanks ! Actually very well – slow but that can be the nature of things. It is currently being considered for funding with the Irish Film Board.
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Dirk Nel (Director Of Photography)
“It’s essential to always be elastic to change and embrace an idea that an actor might bring to the blocking of a scene”
1 I was really impressed by your extraordinarily calm demeanour even when time was running out on Day 2 during the Entrance No Exit shoot. Is this a style you’ve had to develop through on-set experience or have you always been like that?
That’s very kind of you to say! I suppose that does come with experience and knowing what is needed and necessary to make the day. I believe it is essential to create a calm environment within who the actors can be themselves and feel free to feel exposed.
It certainly isn’t easy for them and anything a crew can do in order to achieve that should be done.
2 When you start a new job do you always work with directors in advance on what they want to achieve, or is that sometimes a luxury you don’t have?
Ideally you have a prep period in which you discuss as closely as possible a “look” for the film, as you’ve guessed this is sometimes a luxury depending on the budget and the type of project. I truly feel that a film is made in prep and when you get to the shoot you are ‘tweaking’ as opposed to making pivotal decisions regarding the photography. Those pivotal decisions are made during prep.
That said, it’s essential to always be elastic to change and embrace an idea that an actor might bring to the blocking of a scene; without that organic-ness embedded into your thought processes you could end up with a very plain, one-dimensional piece.
3 How did you get into the industry and do you have any advice for cinematographers just starting out?
I started out as a set runner and slowly integrated into the camera department as a trainee, then clapper loader/ focus puller and finally operator /DOP.
There are many routes into the industry and we all have vastly different paths.
I believe it’s vital to watch other people working at their craft and this is how I came to be a DOP, by watching other DPs do their thing. if I were starting out again i would definitely attend film school where one forms strong alliances with directors; generally these relationships are carried through one’s career.
4 When you watch a film or TV show for pleasure can you still sit back and enjoy it or do you find yourself analysing shots and lighting?
I feel that if when I’m watching a show and I notice the cinematography then there is an issue with the writing in some form or another, the technical aspects of a film should never detract from the story in fact they should enhance the story but never stand out and be noticed as such.
The best cinematography IMHO serves the story but never shows off.
5 Is there any kind of film you’d like to shoot but haven’t – eg epic western, claustrophobic sci fi, zombie apocalypse…
I like to tell stories that move me, irrespective of the genre. I think I’m drawn to anything involving the human condition.
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Michelle Fahrenheim (Lead Actress)
“She sent over the script, which I loved, and so I sent her my tape and she offered me the role. It’s not usually as straightforward as that”
1 How did you find out about the role of Helen and what did you do to win the role?
I think Jo saw me in a comedy short film I did last year (Healthkick, directed by Dipak Patel), so she contacted me about the role of Helen and asked me to do a self-tape for her.
She sent over the script, which I loved, and so I sent her my tape and she offered me the role. It’s not usually as straightforward as that. I’m lucky that she happened to see me in Healthkick and she had a clear idea of who and what she wanted.
2 There’s always lots of waiting around on film sets – how do you deal with that especially if you’re trying to maintain an emotional state for a scene?
Well, when on set, between takes, I try to find myself a little corner to tuck myself out of the way of all the crew but also so I can stay focussed. I was lucky on the plane because there was a whole empty area (the galley, I think it’s called) away from everyone when I was trying to prep for the emotional stuff.
Jo was really amazing at giving me space for this and asking the crew be mindful too so they would reset as quickly and quietly as they could.
When filming the less emotional scenes I tend to just chat to whoever’s nearby. There’s usually someone I can find to muck around with.
To be honest, for Entrance No Exit I didn’t have that much waiting around. On some projects you could be waiting away from set for a whole day and not be needed until the last hour. It’s difficult to know what to expect sometimes.
There can be lots of time for reading, line learning, writing, admin, calling distant relatives you haven’t checked in with for a while, card games, board games… mind games? Depends who you have for company, and what you like to do to kill time!
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Ash Li (1st Assistant Camera / Focus Puller)
“It 100% makes a difference when there are more women on set, the entire working environment changes”
1 Do you feel nervous before meeting a new DOP on a shoot? And I suppose linked to that, how do you find it easy to build a working relationship really fast?
Not usually! But Dirk has so much experience, and such an impressive body of work, so I was definitely a little nervous as a young filmmaker when I met him!
When I first started out, it was a bit more difficult building a strong working relationship quickly, but over time and with more experience, it’s become easier to anticipate what the cinematographer might need, and be more intuitive about assisting them.
I’ve found that it never hurts to be extra-communicative and ask them what they might need, and I’ve been taught that it’s all about anticipating what the DoP might want or need before they even ask for it!
2 What made you want to get into cinematography?
I was working on my thesis film back in university, and I was really struggling with the writing and directing aspect of it! I realised that I was a lot more interested in the lighting, mood and visual design of the film, so I decided to focus on that after I graduated.
I’ve also discovered that cinematography is a great balance between creative ideas and technical skills, which really suits my strengths and the way I work.
3 How do you cope with stress on set when time is running out and everyone’s waiting for the set up? Are you good at blocking that out?
Yes, I guess it helps when you and your department recognises and vocalises that certain set ups will just have to take time, and making sure this is communicated to the rest of the team (especially the 1st AD)!
Most of the time when we’re being waited on, I think there’s an understanding that these things take time, and sometimes things happen that are out of our control – we’re doing the best that we can in the fastest possible time.
4 There were lots of women on Jo’s shoot. Does that make a difference to you when you’re working? Or with the constant heads-down setting up you have to do, is one set pretty much like another for you?
It 100% makes a difference when there are more women on set, the entire working environment changes, in my opinion. For me, sets like these always have a better, smoother sense of communication, and the work environment feels more collaborative with more space for ideas.
I think there’s less of a hierarchical sense of working, and I find that there’s a greater sense of understanding and willingness to listen to each other. So I definitely notice and very much appreciate this when I find myself in a female-heavy crew!
You can follow Ash on Instagram at @ashlwli
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Nadia Lamin (Actress / AD Assistant)
“It’s exciting to see women taking control”
1 I know you’re involved with Trench Films, a filmmaking collective – how important is it to have more control over filmmaking, or do you ever wish you could just focus on your acting?
Trench films is very important to me, I love the art of collaboration and being involved with creative decisions, especially when the project itself is part of your vision.
I have learnt a great deal through film making which has certainly contributed towards my acting skills. I think it all ties in together really. I am grateful to have met people whom I enjoy working with and trust. It has indeed helped my acting career.
2 The world of indie filmmaking sometimes feels very small – how is it working with a director (Jo) who is also your friend? Does it ever create tensions?
Jo had been a great support. The friendship has grown through the professional relationship we both started on. It’s been a pleasure to work with her on a few projects now, and I believe we will continue. As long as there is honesty, there is no problem.
3 Does working on a film set with women make a difference to you, or is it more that we need more women across the board in the industry generally (to influence the stories that get told, how films are made, etc)?
Yes, it does make a difference, of course the dynamics are entirely different, especially on all-female cast and crew projects (which I have worked on before). It’s exciting to see women taking control. At the end of the day, there are a lot of talented people out there, both women and men, and I believe we need to be sure to push equality first and foremost.
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Philip Ridout (Actor)
“Some interviews are very, very short. I had one where I had to stand on the spot, say my name and agent to camera and then put on a cap. That was it.”
1 Acting is your second career; was it something you got into later in life or had you been into amateur dramatics for a long time?
I’ve been involved in amateur dramatics almost all my life. I have had a lifelong desire to be an actor. I worked in Teddington for a year before going to University where I was a member of the Youth Action Theatre (Martin Freeman is also a past member of this society) appearing in a couple of productions.
Then on to the student union theatre group at Birmingham University and then the Pinner Players and Kodak Theatre groups for a few years after University.
I then had a long rest while climbing the corporate ladder and raising two children.
It was my daughter who brought me back to acting. She wanted to audition for The Crucible at Progress Theatre in Reading in 2004 so I said I’d go to the audition with her and much to my surprise I was offered the part of John Proctor! That was a great experience.
Now, finally, I am indulging myself attempting to build a second career as a professional actor.
2 Do you get to draw on the skills you developed in your earlier business career in your roles, or when you’re dealing with people in the film industry?
People are people. There are as many different types of people in not-show business as there are in show business. Sometimes you have to work individually, sometimes as part of a team. So yes, I guess the softer skills I’ve built over my career are just useful now as then. And working to deadlines and tight timescales and tight budgets.
The main difference really is the product. What you deliver. In the entertainment industry it’s somewhat more ephemeral.
I think the biggest difference is that as an actor you have to go to a lot more job interviews! And some of those job interviews are very, very short. I had one where I had to stand on the spot, say my name and agent to camera and then put on a cap. That was it.
3 You’ve worked on several indie films including The 12 and Dogged. Indie moviemaking always sounds like one big family – is it?
Pretty much, yes. It depends on the role you have. If you only have a very minor role you may not get the opportunity to develop that sort of relationship with the cast and crew. You might only be on set for a few hours or a day here or there. But if you are working multiple days with a tight knit team of people, yes you do develop quite close relationships. And there can be some friction sometimes. Like any family.
But again, it is somewhat ephemeral because once the project is over, generally speaking you all go your separate ways and rarely if ever meet again.
Of course Facebook is a great way of keeping in contact with the people you have worked with and you do sometimes find yourself working the same people on multiple projects.
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Daniella Dahoui (Set Dresser)
“I’m establishing myself as a writer-director, and… considering what’s in front of the camera and having a visual eye is something a director needs to do”
1 You were the set dresser on Entrance No Exit. What does the job entail?
Mostly decorating the set and continuity. I needed to keep in mind how the set looked: it had to look aesthetically pleasing on camera and of course from a narrative standpoint it had to look like we were in an airplane. I also had to keep in mind the blocking of the scene and where and how the camera moved.
I especially needed to keep an eye on continuity, making sure it was consistent with the order we shot the scenes and remembering where I had positioned all the props.
It also had to be consistent with the tone of the film. The state of the aeroplane bathroom isn’t realistic, as it wouldn’t be this dirty in real life, however that’s the whole point: the character is a germophobe, so we relate to her disgust by exaggerating the state of the bathroom.
2 Is that where you want to work in the industry, or are you trying to get experience of all areas of film making?
I had been asked to take on the role, so it was my first time being a set decorator. Since I had tons of on-set experience and I was starting out as a film director, I felt it made sense for me to help out in that area.
I am aiming to establish myself as a writer-director, and organising the set was a little exercise for me because considering what’s in front of the camera and having a visual eye is something a director needs to do.
3 The film and TV sectors are famously competitive. How are you managing to break into the business and how do you stay positive?
The only way is just to do it and surround yourself with hardworking and positive people. It will be tricky to get yourself on a film set, but it helps going to small production companies or even student films and just learning from people who’ve had the experience.
The other difficulty is you won’t know how well others work until you actually get to work with them, but you learn from everyone and eventually encounter people who will want to collaborate with you. You can always keep those contacts for future projects.
It’s a matter of practising, being on set as much as possible and learning as much as you can. When you surround yourself with positive and hardworking people, you have more chances of making more projects and learning more about the industry.
In my case, I did a few productions during university and then joined Camelot Films where I learned and eventually moved onto making my own projects. It was a combination of learning from people and making contacts. It’s also important to believe in what you do and be passionate. It won’t come right away, but that’s why sometimes a little patience helps too.
You can follow Daniella on Twitter: @Dani_the_muggle and Instagram: @danielladahoui
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*** Check out my article about the making of Entrance No Exit and my experience as an extra ***