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netribution > features > interview with sarah wren > page one
Sarah Wren has the type of rare passion that gives a young man like myself hope for film in the UK. She has pioneered location management in the East End, specifically Tower Hamlet's. It's her borough, her manor. From this she has cultivated a beautiful relationship with the council to initiate a film fund to hoist short filmmakers up the greasy ladder of artistic success. I spoke to this fast talking dynamo (she could have run for mayor - of New York!) over beer, the ES crossword and a pack of smokes (just me though) in a great little café off Brick lane. The place has the arousing complacency of an opium den, people flop about intimately on throws and cushions on a seething jungle floor of obscure, foreign furnishings and curious ornaments that elbow one another for a chink of natural light or a warm bum of self importance.
I apologise to Sarah and to you all for the lack of photographic evidence to prove her very existence but my camera and I are going through a rocky spell at the moment. A trial separation is out of the question of course but luckily Sarah, a very beautiful woman in both feature and character, is the most camera shy woman of the year.


| by tom fogg |
| |
| in london |

How did you start the film fund?
It arose out of my desire to see some of the benefits of filmmaking go back into Tower Hamlets and also from gaining an understanding that short films are the apprenticeship of the industry. There's no other access into the industry, other than through TV, than by making short films.

How did the council take to the idea when you first approached them?
Yes very well, I had a very positive response from them and they've always been really supportive of me. I mean I'm paid by the council so its up to me to develop the agenda in the way I feel is right - and it's only me so I suppose I'm the film knowledge base within the council. They've been extremely supportive and they are keen to push the film agenda forward in new ways.

What was the situation for filmmakers before you began the initiative?
Before I started the location stuff it was very difficult to secure a location within the borough. We wanted to set up a one-stop shop, hate the phrase so please don't use it - for filmmakers. If you wanted to shoot here we could arrange parking for you and we even had a locations database to sort out that side. It basically worked in two ways, people would either come to us asking to get a road closure to shoot in a certain street or they'd come to us for something specific like a wood panelled room. It was very important to quickly build up a database of available properties and also to have the power to do the things that we'd claimed we could do. It's an industry in which one has to deliver.

Did you use the London Film Commission to help with that database?
Yeah and they were brilliant and Harvey who works there, originally from Greenwich council, he was my mentor when I first started the films office. I had no knowledge of film or how to acquire and make a location work.

What was your background?
Public housing and then I moved through education into the arts team, I've a very good knowledge of the borough - I've worked for it for 14 years. Saddo!

What do you think the situation is for filmmakers in London, not just within your borough?
It depends what sort of filmmakers, it's still as difficult as it ever was for short filmmakers. There's so little funding around and it tends to be quite structured. Having said that I hope the film council will be very supportive of emerging talent as well as the higher end.

Now is this a competition or a fund?
It's a fund and we are trying to support that same new talent within the borough. The film industry has traditionally be based in the West End and, I think I can say this, it's pretty much based on who you know, doors open through your contacts. If you are going to make short films you have to beg and borrow from everyone you know and people in the East End just haven't got that access to hand because people in the industry never worked out here. It's still a big problem so we are trying to make it easier for them to take their first step into the industry. At the same time we are networking with providers in the East like Three Mill Studios and BFG who provide camera equipment.

How much funding is there for the filmmaker?
£3000 hard cash and another two grand in facilities in one of our local production houses, Teen Pictures - all your on and off line Avid needs.

How's that work?
They are actually going to provide an editor and they've also got some camera equipment that you can 'hire' for free. In terms of equipment we've got three Canon XL1's and we've got Beta SX's.

What do you need to qualify? Do you just have to film it in the borough?
No, you have to live, work or study here. It's a local fund and we are really focusing on the local community.

What sort of a response have you had from filmmakers so far?
Well we only launched it last week and we've already had 40 or 50 enquiries but we are only taking 5 films, simply from scripts or treatments.

Sounds like a pretty lengthy screening process.
We are trying to be quite professional about it for their sake. We'll draw up a shortlist, scale that down and then ask people to come in and pitch, give people an experience of what it's like to go through that process. They've got to write a decent script and a decent treatment, sure we'll give them a script editor but we aren't going to do all the work for them. They've got to pitch it and show that they are really committed to what they are doing, we want to see quality. Once they are selected we'll sit down with them and do production schedules bring in a script editor if the script needs development.


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