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netribution > features > interview with leslie lowes > page one
Leslie Lowes contacted us with an email titled 'Plaudit'. He praised the site in such a way that it demanded a special thank you reply. Sadly, as an ignorant southerner I look Leslie to be female and even called him 'Madam' in my first reply so Leslie, let me apologise officially in front of all our readers for that hideous faux pas! In my defence, I'm relatively new to email tact, not good enough? Nevermind. He mailed me back, graciously omitting any reference to my gender blunder, with a fascinating summary of the family production company, Penultimate Productions. The Lowes family consist of father Leslie, an ex BBC producer, sons Robert and Andrew and daughter Emma. They live and work in The Shetlands, the cluster of lush islands that lie 100 miles north of Orkney, 200 miles (or a 14 hour boat ride) north of Aberdeen. They are actually closer to Norway than mainland Scotland! Once I'd called him, Leslie confirmed that a production company can be based anywhere in this day and age, they do all their work over the internet, communicating via email with a crew based all over the country. Bloody fascinating! The call lasted a good half an hour, the receiver becoming my straw of knowledge as Leslie verbally downloaded everything from the utter lack of pollution, the political history of the islands, the Scottish lowland/Norse dialect, to the (excuse my dribbling) part seaweed diet of Shetland lamb! I need to move to this raw, wind ravaged haven before I buy the farm in the sky.
With Penultimate's forthcoming project, 'King's Ransom' which Leslie describes as Clint meets Coronation St, the company are looking for funding from a broad range of sources that will be of interest to many indie filmmakers, it is a project that we promise to keep you up to date on. Regarding the family's remote location, Leslie lambasted me with, 'Remote from where? Everything you need is just a couple of clicks away from your keyboard.' So Leslie, let us hope this piece goes some way to spreading that message.

| by tom fogg |
| photos by tom |
| in london |
  Did you ever imagine you'd be in the position to be making films as a family?

Not until the last couple of years. We've always been there for each other, helped each other, so it should not have come as surprise, but there was no master plan or anything like that. I suppose when Andrew graduated in media production and was looking for a start in film, it began to gel. It's not easy to find film work, as we know, so we decided to set up a company as a kind of personal job creation scheme. The flexibility of having your own production company is also useful in our personal situations. I am disabled by spinal arthritis, so I have some mobility and sitting problems. Andrew has M.E., the fatiguing condition that exhausts the body, so he has to manage his physical and mental effort carefully. Who would want to take on a couple of crocks like that? Making our own work, working when we are able, stopping when we have to, is a good solution, for two of us, at least. And of course, we can all step outside the umbrella of the family firm to freelance for other people.People can go and do their own thing, but they come back home whenever they want or need to, or if we ask. This is long-term sustainable development, not get-rich-quick.

How does it work on a professional family level?
Andrew is our professional lead. He's the one who knows film and filming best and sets the parameters in which we work. His graduation short, the black comedy Alternative Therapy, gained a Royal Television Society Award for direction and one from Tyne Tees Television for script, so his talent got early recognition by his professional peers. We are all proud of him and he's so good to work with; a really thoughtful director, who wants to tell a good story well, on screen.Robert is in the middle of his media production degree having switched from multimedia computing. He's a good team player and has enthusiasm for film as well as skills and he's picking up some excellent contacts. He's brought us a very talented young graphics artist, for example, who's looking to widen his portfolio into film. They are both assured of plenty of vacation work! Once Rob graduates I am sure he'll welcome more involvement. He may well choose Penultimate to pursue some projects of his own devising.Emma is in her final year as a business student and she helped us formulate our business plan and keeps our attention on things like "product placement" and "the film market" - all very important in maintaining the business focus of the company. As we grow, her knowledge on the business side is going to be invaluable to us. She will also be looking out for useful partners and allies for us in the business world.As company secretary I look after Penultimate's paperwork, but my old BBC production skills have come out of retirement to help manage each project and give some creative input as well. Producing a project is just as creative as writing or directing it, but the producer needs to take a very broad view, as well as being able to see the important detail.The crucial thing is the producer/director relationship. Like a marriage, each partner brings their own strengths and skills to the relationship. Andrew and I already have a strong personal connection, of course, but on the professional level I strive to work as his producer, not his dad. He's my director, I admire his talent, believe in it. I support him professionally, and, I heed his advice. He's a likeable person and tough when he needs to be, particularly with me! He also happens to be my son, so I'm allowed the indulgence of being a proud father.

How does it feel to be based so far from the conventional centre of the industry? Does it come with its own problems?
The concept of "centre" is a bit metropolitan and is becoming more and more outdated with infomatic developments. People who have to work in London may be too busy stuck in traffic jams, wilting with urban stress, to notice, but the rest of the world is moving on, quite rapidly. At Penultimate we work from home, really, and that could be anywhere. It's just that our family home is about as far from London as Milan and happens to be on an island halfway between Scotland and Norway. When we are shooting, we go on location, same as anybody else. We just start off with a 14-hour ferry voyage to get to Aberdeen. But we do that several times a year anyway, so we are immune to mal-de-mer. The telephone and the internet are our best assets. You can achieve almost everything you need with them. Face-to-face meetings are a help in getting the measure of people, but the voice alone can tell you a great deal, ask anyone in radio. When you do meet up with your important contacts it's the perfect excuse for a really good Soho lunch.

How do potential crew members/financers react to your location?
"Where!!?" - with a gasp of astonishment is often the first response. We understand, so we always allow a little time for it to sink in. Once people talk to us they realise we know our business. After that, where, is not an issue. The focus moves to when and how. When we finally meet, it is all too common for people to envy us for where we live and work. Of course they don't experience the downside, the winter hurricanes, the lack of amenities - no cinema, few shops, the off-the-scale price of petrol. The real plus for business purposes is that living on the periphery makes you very, very resourceful.

You have members of your current project based all over the country, would this have been possible in the past?
I could not see Penultimate having happened five years ago. We talk on the telephone of course, but we also pass briefing notes by email and exchange documents as email attachments. I have been working on our budget with an Exec Producer in Brighton, all done through the internet. Our composer wanted to hear again the music used in Sergio Leone's spaghetti western trilogy and of course, there's a website that has it all. Not just the music, but notes on the context in which it was used on screen. We found our scriptwriter through Mandy's, the internet film jobs service. We source facilities and everything through the internet. It is our most important production tool. I came to computers rather late in life, since I only used a computer regularly for the first time five years ago and went on-line just two years ago. Other members of the Penultimate board grew up using computers, so I have plenty of help and advice when I screw up.The reason why production centres like Soho and the Glasgow-Edinburgh central belt of Scotland grew as they did, was because people could network and support and inspire each other. With the internet you network through a keyboard and mouse. And who needs West End rents and business rates?

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