What was the genesis of Elemental Films?
Elemental was formed in 1995. I named the company after a series of scripts I wrote in '94, called 'The Element Quartet', one of which is now being developed as part of our slate. The reason for forming the company was that we managed to raise funding for a short I scripted titled 'The Beauty of the Common Tool'. The company was set up as a legal entity to produce the project. The film, directed by my partner Owen Thomas, was made for the 'Prime Cuts' scheme, backed by the then Scottish Film Production Fund, (now Scottish Screen) British Screen and Scottish Television. We made the film in 1996 and it won Best Film at the 1997 Palm Springs International Short Film Festival.
Was there a belief in becoming early exponents of Digi technology back in 1995?
Not really. The 'Prime Cuts' scheme came with a narrow set of guidelines, demanding that we shot on standard 16mm (in spite of the fact we had secured a great deal on 35mm). I had previous experience of video through my work at BBC Television and had already shot material on Hi-8. In fact I had been working with video as early as 1982, on bulky old U-matic. Frankly the old analogue technology wasn't up to scratch and in 1995 I couldn't afford a VX1000. Besides, all my music video work was shot on Super16 and 35mm. However, our dismal experience of working with the public funders whilst making 'Common Tool' encouraged us to look for alternatives.
As an independent production company based in Scotland, how are you received when you source funds and how do you source funds?
It's hardly a secret that my past experience in attracting public funding in the UK was absolutely crap. But on balance, rejection is the majority experience for most emerging filmmakers. Fact is there will never be enough money in the public domain to satisfy demand. So far, we have not applied for funding in the public sector - for several reasons - first, we're filmmakers, not bureaucrats. We feel the application process is time-consuming, requiring accountability in the form of business plans. We believe the script is the business plan. Second, the terms of recoupment in the public sector are too onerous - it's expensive money, with the added minus of having a big bite taken out of your back end. Third, while we don't discount the possibility of approaching public funders in the future - the old 'don't shit on your own doorstep' rule - we happen to think that public funding actually inhibits film production in the UK - the process is too protracted and fosters a culture of dependency and entitlement. As far as the broadcast sector is concerned, we haven't made any approaches - yet - but we recognise that the UK film industry is, to an extent, fuelled by television, often working hand-in-glove with the public sector in the form of matching funding. Me, I'll spend anybody's money to make a movie.We're fortunate in that we've now had approaches from the private sector and at time of writing, we're negotiating the deal on our next feature, 'Solid Air', which will be wholly privately financed. Our preference is to work in the private sector wherever possible - it's the real world, taking real risks and, if we're smart, making real money to buy us that rare commodity - creative freedom.
Are you ever tempted to take a more conventional approach to development when you find fund raising particularly difficult?
So far we haven't faced that problem. In 1997, I was awarded a fellowship with the Nipkow Programme, Berlin to pursue a feature project, which to all intents was conventionally developed with a Berlin-based production company. This proved such a bad experience that it informed the decision to produce 'One Life Stand' in a completely unorthodox way. On our next project we have eschewed the idea of 'development' - our deal is to deliver a movie, designing the project from the bottom up, starting with a rough idea of budget, fitting a great story round that budget and identifying exactly what and who we need to tell that story. Contrary to most industry wisdom, we don't believe in languishing in development for years on end. Frankly, if you think a script needs eight drafts before it's deemed ready to shoot, then you should be looking for another script. For small indie companies, development is death - to succeed you have to be in production, otherwise you're facing the prospect of chasing your tail for funding just to meet overheads and not your core activity, which ought to be making movies. We put a lot of faith in our own talents and skills to create the movie in a relatively short time.
Would you recommend your individualist ethos to other filmmakers and what elements of the same would you definitely advise against?
Certainly I'd recommend it. I subscribe to Peter Broderick's (of Next Wave Films) view - he's famously quoted as saying, 'Whatever you have is probably enough'. A year ago we weren't on the radar. Less than twelve months later, we've made a multi-award winning feature, which has screened at 15 international film festivals, to great critical and popular acclaim. And we've secured finance for the next project. The fact that we shot 'One Life Stand' on a camcorder is irrelevant - we got the movie made, thanks to a innovative use of extant technology and just enough money and the right people to make it happen. To be honest, there's nothing that we did I would advise others not to. The least you can do is learn from the experience.
Where were you educated?
I'm a design graduate of the Glasgow School of Art. That, and the school of hard knock-backs.When did you first aspire to filmmaking?In London, in the mid '80s. I was working as a lowly assistant designer at BBC Television. I soon realised that most of the so-called drama directors, largely culled from the theatre, lacked any sense of the visual; stories were told in words, not pictures. I once worked on a film where the director, let loose for the first time on location, shot the entire movie in close-ups. I thought, probably with youthful arrogance, that I could improve on that. I had a Super8mm camera and began to shoot my own material. Eventually the BBC offered me the chance to direct for the Music and Arts department. Just like Ridley Scott.