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netribution > features > interview with jay dunn > page two
How many films have you made now?
I've made 5 that I'd call short films but I've also made a documentary.

What was that about?
It was about the Lumberjills during WW2.

Lumberjills with a J or a G?
With a J as in Lumberjack - Lumberjill.

Ah I see, I'm stupid.
(Laughs) It was about the women during the war that took over the entire running of the country's forests and there's very little information out there about them but there were thousands of them. It's hidden history. I managed to track down about 30 of them and picked 6 as subjects because they all still lived near the forests that they'd worked in.

You took them back into the forest didn't you?
Yes and the Forestry Commission were fantastic, they really helped and found us a clearing of recently felled trees. So we took these elderly ladies out into the forest, sat them tree stumps and they reminisced about the times working there. What I realise now is that I should have taken out enormous insurance!

For the piles if for nothing else.
I found some archive footage from the Imperial War Museum, they were also great, they gave us a really good clearance rate for a couple of years because we pleaded poverty. If I resuscitated that, it's a great little movie, I'd have big problems because I used a Benny Goodman track - it's perfect for the film but I'm absolutely sure that it would cost a fortune.

You've just finished Joan?
Yes, it's a surreal comedy around Joan of Ark. It stars Emma Kennedy as Joan, she's in a series on ITV at the moment called Soap Fever, the mum is played by a great actress called Kate Williams whom I remember very well in Love Thy Neighbour. She was the prostitute in Poor Cow, another Ken Loach film.

With Terence Stamp?
Yes, good film and she's excellent in it. The lovely Duncan Preston from Surgical Spirit plays dad.

Now what's going on with Joan?
The Short Film Bureau have picked it up, which is great. I hope they sell it everywhere.

Not fussy then.
Definitely not, I make my films for an audience and I believe in entertainment with a capital E. I'm a commercial filmmaker and I'm proud of it. Anyway, it's on at the Ritzy from the 19 of January alongside Quills and in February it's then travelling down to the David Lean cinema in Croydon alongside Shadow of a Vampire. I've also got a theatrical distributor called Short Circuit who are trying to match it up against a feature on general release.

That will feel great won't it?
Wonderful, to have people laughing is wonderful. It happened with my last film, Mary's Date too and I popped down to sit at the back of the auditorium - it was so nice to see people laughing and clapping, people who weren't my friends.

Do you think audiences participate more with a short because they are still fresh with anticipation for the feature?
Yes and I think mine work because they are very short so it doesn't feel like it's getting in the way, mine are comedies of course so that helps too. I'm trying to raise finance for an adaptation of a VS Pritchett short story.

Was he a colonial Englishman in India?
No that's someone else, he died in 1997 and he was 97, he's very prolific for his short stories but this one is just perfect for a short and I've always known it. It's a Don Juan story and it's actually called A Story of Don Juan, adapted by his granddaughter Georgia who's a scriptwriter. She's brilliant and it's a fantastic and lovingly written adaptation.

How did you meet her?
I've known her for years and I met her when she was writing for Weekending and since then she's written a huge amount of TV comedy, unusual for a girl, she wrote Joan and Mary's Date and she'll be writing this medieval action that I've got. I'm researching it at the moment at it's an absolutely fantastic story. 12th century European and I'm very motivated and excited by it, the script's not written yet. When I was still just talking about directing I did a production course at the NFTS in Beaconsfield, it was brilliant, and I met another person who changed my life and that was Dee Edwards. She believed in me, I was the oldest person on the course and I didn't want to go to film school then because I was in my 30's, I'd directed theatre and I'd been working on scripts so she took me on. Production management seemed the right thing to do because, other than director and producer, it's the only role that sees a project through from concept to post production. I did that for a year and it's been an enormous learning experience for me because I produce all my short films as well but I'm really a director. I need to find an established producer because I find it hard to find people who are experienced enough, someone to relax with because I'm quite experienced on shoots now and I'm a visual person interested more in story and actors.

What's the next step then?
I'm setting up an office with another production company called Gauntlet Pictures, with Bev Cook who I met through Women In Film and Television. She's a far more grown up producer and she's more established than I am but we are both low budget filmmakers with loads of plans - we are very good at brainstorming together. She's done a lot more TV and that's something I'd like to do, I have this agent now and he's fantastic at finding that type of work.

There's more money for you there.
Definitely. But I'm now producing this short film for a Bafta director - I do produce shorts if they motivate me and this director called Kate Cheeseman. She's just won a Bafta for a drama series called Pig Heart Boy, she's got a script and she's an absolutely brilliant director and far more experienced than I am. I know I'll learn something from her. We are making a film written by a woman called Kelly Marshall, called For One Night Only, it's a short and we are nearly there with the finance.

From your comments earlier, do you think any fears still prevail for female directors?
It's not something I really think about very much, for a long time I found it hard to express because there was no one out there. Then slowly, people like Antonia Bird started to appear but people like Gillian Armstrong and Penny Marshall were already out there. In this country high profile directors appeared a lot later, we've got the Lynn Ramsays but now that I'm doing it I don't think of it as a handicap at all.
If someone came to you with any of the fears that you had what would you tell them?
I think the difference between women and men is that men are much more confident from the beginning. I'd much rather there were better short films out there because the majority that I've seen are very bad, I get very motivated and driven by a good short. I'm driven by competition. I see bad films that have been funded by organisations that have turned down what I thought were really good scripts that I've written. Don Juan for example, I've got international film stars attached to it, I've got 4 first refusal offers from sales agents, pre sales on a film before it's been made and the script was shortlisted in a competition down to the last 2 from 120. All of these factors and it's been rejected left, right and centre. I really don't understand why because my last shorts are doing really well and this will be a lot better than those. The last 2 were films made by Spotty Dog Films because they were fun and cheap, Mary's Date was £4500 and that's not very difficult to raise but it astounds me how people raise 50 or 60 grand for a short. That's why I need a really good producer who can help me raise money for a really good script.

Is it just you at Spotty Dog?
Yeah, I started it up in 1999 to make Mary's Date which has been a very exciting success. It was made as an experiment but actually, it worked because the script was so funny, having actors of that calibre and doing a really good rehearsal to shoot on 1 or 2 takes for time and money reasons. I think the key to having good rushes is having a good script supervisor, a good DP and a thoroughly rehearsed cast.

How, specifically, do you like to be described as a filmmaker?
I wouldn't take it as an insult, and many would, in fact I'd love it if people called me a popularist director. That would be great, I'd like to be described as commercial but popularist is better.

Do you now have concrete contacts from whom you buy your stock, get your print etc?
It tends to be different each time because I start from scratch each time. I'm a real cheapskate but I will recommend Soho Images for a print. I'm tired of doing it that way now, I'd like to pay for everything properly but I try to pay my heads of department which is very hard. I always pay my actors because I like to use established and professional actors, free actors are easy to get. Trying to cast the people that you want is harder, if they appreciate that you don't have too much money then £50 or £100 for a day is very well received as a gesture payment and I always refer to it as that. Then they turn up relaxed and calm because they know that they are appreciated. Another factor is my fantastic DP, he's completely calm under all circumstances, his name is Ole Birkeland, he's Norwegian and he really knows his stuff.

How did you find him?
Oddly, again through Women in Film & TV. It's a myth that it's just a networking event for women. He was recommended to me by a fellow member, who I never actually met, but Ole has become a really good friend now. The people at De Lane Lea are also incredibly supportive and I'd recommend them to anybody.

Consider it done!
Jan Dunn of Spotty Dog Films can be contacted via email on:


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