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netribution > features > interview with alex usbourne > page two

A Larger than life still from the film Are you already planning your next project?
I’m in the process of buying, optioning a children's film next - for young girls. I'm sort of mellowing I’m afraid.

So you’ve gone from the 18+ market and worked down?
And it’ll probably get worse I’m afraid. What’s been good about working on Large is that a film always needs to know its audience and the more precise you can be about what an audience is for a film, the better. This is a teen comedy for the 14-25 age group, and specifically teenagers. I think it’s been a real benefit throughout knowing who our audience are, going for that and with kids it’s the same. The audience for the next one is 7-15 year old girls so I know exactly where I’m going. Too many British films don’t know where their audience is and you come unstuck really.

Has that made it easier to get UIP/The Film Consortium on board?
Well most of the people that go to the cinema are under 25 and how many British films are there for people under 25? Next to none. Large is that, and it’s fun, popular entertainment and it’s with no pretensions to be anything else, it should be a big laugh.

Do you think technology is changing the filmmaking process?
Well I’m a real luddite, I’m fundamentally a storyteller. All I’m interested in, basically, is how a story works and telling it as well as possible. The more that technology moves on, the more I revert to what I do and what I know, which is being able to tell a story and enthral people. So to hell with everything else, I’ll stick with what I think I do best.

You’re based in Sheffield at the Workstation with the Yorkshire Media Production Agency. Did they help out on this?
Well they put money into The Acid House and they actually made money on it. So I think they were quite keen to back the next film that I made. Also, of all the feature films that they’ve backed I’m the only producer that lives in the region. Everyone else has been visiting. So I’m the only person who’s made the money, and I’m the only person who lives there. Also the script made them laugh.

Does it not matter that you’re not shooting in Yorkshire?
No, just that my production company is based there. As with the Acid House.

Can you tell me a little more about the Workstation?
It’s a clustering of the creative industries. There’s a wide range of new media, multimedia, music, film and other companies in one place and the idea is that they have a creative synergy between them. Next door is Sheffield Independent Films which is a melting pot for young filmmakers and gives them cheap cameras or whatever. So we are all kind of clustered together, and it’s fun and it works. What the long term outlook holds for it I wouldn’t speculate.

What would you say is the most important function of a producer?
The most important function of a producer is to deliver hit movies. And make brilliant films.

The two don’t necessarily go hand in hand though.
They do for me! You just have to make the very best film that you can and make it a hit. You’re right, there is a muddy line between a commercial success and a film that works on its own terms but you just have to presume they’re one and the same otherwise you’re fucked for ever.

What's the best bit of the job?
Initially there’s the finding and the sourcing of an idea or project or script. This may come from books, talent, ideas themselves, the ether, reality, whatever. I love that bit. I love my development. That whole process of having got an idea or project and taking that through for however much time it takes. I’m a bit didactic with story and I like engineering and taking it apart, I really enjoy that. I love spin, what is it that gets out there and spins and makes people talk and gets people excited, and try and bring that into the project and give it elements that will make it work in the market, I love that work. Then I really enjoy the strategic way you take that project into the market and try to put it together, the hustling I enjoy. I love strategy - working out a strategy and seeing it through. The shoot is hard work, and I find that quite arduous, and I’ll be pleased when that’s over. But it’s critical. You know, when the machine, the great big juggernaut takes over. Then I really enjoy the editing, when the film itself begins to take shape, and just getting a sense of rhythm, and really playing with that - I enjoy enormously. I love the marketing, getting it out there with the distribution, and making that as effective as possible. I love being a producer because I like being first in and last out, and I enjoy the sense of seeing the whole thing.

And the worst part of the job?
I’d have to say the shooting.

What advice would you give to someone looking to move from shorts to features?
There’s two things. Firstly you have to make a brilliant short film. Something that really demonstrates that you can tell a story and make a film, that those talents are there. So make sure every film that you make, or the key ones, are brilliant. The other thing is the project itself: is the project good; is the writing good; is the story good; does it stand up; has it got a place in the market; is it what people want? You have to take to the market good work, fundamentally, but also what the market wants. So it’s quality control really. You just have to make sure you have brilliant stuff. Because then, if you’ve got a really good short film and you write or develop a really good script, you will get the film made. In theory getting a feature isn't hard, but in reality doing those two things are quite tricky.
There’s also the process of getting that work seen in the first instance, especially if you’re new to the industry and are not surrounded by contacts. It’s a case of trying to make the film do the work for you. If you’ve made a really good short, get it shown in festivals, send it to the producers and production companies. They'll watch it and if something is really good, then they’ll be on the phone to you right away. If what you’re doing is good, they will come to you, because good material is very very rare. Genuine talent is very very rare, everybody’s looking for it. So hustling is a necessary thing but unless what you’re hustling is good, then you’re fucked forever.


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