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netribution > features > interview with owen carey jones > page two
Lets go back now to the original concept. You had written the original drafts of Baby Blues during your MA course. How was that script received?
First you have to understand what it’s like being a screenwriting student at a film school, especially at Masters level. For the best part of two years I wrote and rewrote screenplays as part of my course work. Each time another draft was ready, we had feedback sessions. These came in a variety of forms from individual sessions with extrenal tutors (usually experienced screenwriters) to round table discussions with the course staff and students. And for the best part of two years I listened to an incessant stream of negative comment about my work. I was never told what was right with my work (maybe nothing was right with it!) just what was wrong with it.

Against that backdrop, I submitted the first outline of Baby Blues and went to a feedback session with my external tutor at that time who was David Nobbs (of "The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin" fame). He said: "This story has the potential to be a powerful and moving drama." Much encouraged I went away and wrote the first draft and submitted that. By now I had two external tutors, one of whom was Rod Graham (40 years in the film and TV industry and amongst other things a former director of Z-Cars and Head of Drama at BBC Scotland). You can imagine how I felt when I walked into the room and sat in front of him; David’s encouraging comments had faded into the past and I was expecting the usual savaging. He said: "I’ve got nothing to say about this script." My heart sank! "If I was still at the BBC this would now be with the production department waiting for them to work out a budget." Nuff said.

Was the script complete, or would you have been able to tolerate someone wanting to develop it further?
At the time it was my MA project, the script was a 3 x 50 minutes TV drama. When no one I sent it to, and I sent it to pretty much everyone, wanted to produce it, I decided to shorten it, get rid of a couple of unnecessary sub-plots and make it into a feature film script.

The script we shot was in fact the ninth draft so it was pretty much complete. In a normal commercial environment, I would have handed the script over to a director and it would have changed, for better or worse, probably for the better. I hope I’m old enough and wise enough, should I ever actually get paid for a script, to just shut up and bank the cheque.

The call for good scripts is universal and here you were with one, but no takers. Why was that do you think?
All the people who saw the script wrote back favourably about it but none wanted to put a foot on the ice and make it. Why was that? There’s no way I can know for sure. Maybe it wasn’t that good. Or maybe spending a million pounds to make a drama by an unknown and untested writer was too big a risk to take. Most producers must have dozens of scripts available from established soap writers and others which probably look a lot less risky than one from a 50 year old unknown with heart problems who’s just out of film school.

You formed your own company, with Baby Blues as a first project. How did you go about raising the investment for the film?
It was easy. I paid for it myself. But all the cast and crew were working for shares of the proceeds so the amount of money involved was not astronomical.What size of a working budget are we talking about here? Are we talking Rodriguez credit card, low budget or I-should-be-so-lucky?If you include the hire cost of equipment I already had, the total budget would have been around 30,000 pounds. In pure cash terms, around 20,000 pounds most of which went on travel, food and accommodation for the cast and crew.

How far does that spending take you? Is that to final cut, exhibition print, distribution?
That takes us to final cut including the full sound edit and music. If we get a distribution opportunity which demands a 16mm or 35mm print we will have the cost of that to find, probably in the region of 10,000 pounds for 16mm or 40,000 pounds for 35mm. But if that happens, finding the money for the transfer to film will be relatively easy.

What about format? What are you shooting in, finishing on? What has governed your choices?
The film was shot on DVCAM, a good quality digital video format using a Sony DSR 300 camera with a professional lens giving 800 lines of horizontal resolution which is well above MiniDV but not as good as Digibeta. According to Swiss Effects and other video to film transfer companies I have discussed this with, the quality of the format we used is easily good enough for a good quality 35mm print and a lot better than most of the source material they transfer. Having seen this film projected onto a large screen using the latest technology, I have no worries about the quality of what we have in those terms.

As far as finishing is concerned, this has been done on an Apple Mac G4 using Premiere and After Effects. I did consider upgrading my editing suite to Media 100 but was unable to find anyone at Media 100 who could convince me that I would see any benefit from doing so. When you’re working with native digital video, compression ratios don’t come into the equation so there is little if any difference, in pure video quality terms, between the different systems.

Where you can sometimes see differences is when you have to do something to the footage, such as move it up or down to fit the widescreen frame better. In my case I found the best solution was to do those sorts of things in After Effects and then put the adjusted footage back into Premiere. There was no degradation of the image at all doing it that way. But the choices I made were largely governed by the equipment I already had. Using my existing equipment was the only way I could afford to make the film.

The characters in Baby Blues are well-drawn, quite specific characters. Did you have particular actors in mind when you wrote the movie or did you cast them into the characters you had created? What was your approach to casting?
All the cast were chosen after the script was written and I was extremely lucky when it came to finding actors. I put a posting on Shooting People which generated about 60 or 70 CVs and photos from actors but it was then picked up by PCR and featured in that publication with the result that in the next few days over 500 CVs and photos arrived in the post!

I went through all of these, basically separating them into two piles based on whether or not, from the photograph, I could see them as possibly fitting one of the roles or not. I did have a brief look at CVs as well at this stage but only to see if there were any outstanding ones. By and large, the CVs received were remarkably similar. The better ones had quite a lot of stage experience, some small parts in TV shows and perhaps a bigger part in the occasional short film.

This exercise reduced the possibles to around 100 actors and actresses. The next stage was to go through these and divide them, still based more on photos than CVs, into those who I thought were the best matches and those who would be my reserve list. That left me with 30 actors to audition for 10 parts, I had already decided not to audition more than three actors for each role.

The auditions were held in Leeds, I made a contribution towards travel expenses, just about sufficient to cover the bare cost of travel at the lowest possible fare, for each actor and I was just amazed at the quality of the actors we saw. Of the 30 we auditioned, there were only three or four to whom I would not have been happy to give the part for which they auditioned.

I had the luxury -unusual for filmmaking on this kind of budget- of being able to choose the best from a very good bunch. I think it shows in the end result. By the way, I made a point of writing to all the 600 odd unsuccessful actors, individually. If someone has gone to the trouble of applying and sending you their details, the least you can do is reply to them. Just to underline how lucky we were; since we wrapped, two of the cast have now landed major parts in two different TV series.
Where did you crew from? Where did you find your Heads of Department for example?
Finding people prepared to work as crew on a film where they would only get expenses and a share of any proceeds down the line was a lot tougher than finding the cast. The two main sources were, again, a posting on shooting people and the Yorkshire Screen Commission. In the end most of the crew were found through YSC including our Director of Photography and our Sound Recordist who is also doing the sound edit in his newly acquired all-singing-all-dancing sound studios in Sheffield. We were also very lucky with our Production Designer. An experienced freelance designer, with several years of working on BBC drama projects behind him, contacted me to say his project for August had been cancelled and did I need Art Department!

Locations, where did you set Baby Blues?
There were several locations, all in and around Leeds. The main one, Brian & Julie’s home was actually my house - it was available and cheap…and the owners were prepared to put up with their house being trashed by a film crew!

Then there was the psychiatric hospital. The first choice for that agreed to let us film there, until they read the synopsis and saw that it involved ECT. At that point they withdrew their support and put up a wall of silence.

Fortunately, the general hospital where Emmerdale and other Yorkshire based television productions are filmed was less fussy and gave us enormous help in getting the hospital scenes, internal and external, shot. These were the two main locations. The others were a church, a pub, a wine bar, a sports centre and a building site not to mention various scenes shot in the streets and on Ilkley Moor, finishing at 5.00am.

There are highs and lows in every shoot, what were your best moments in Baby Blues?
For me, the most enjoyable part was working with the actors during the week of rehearsals. We spent a week going over the characters’ back stories and relationships between the characters, as well as rehearsing most of the scenes. That was the best time, the calm before the storm.

And your own Baby Blues? What were the lows of the shoot for you?
After 20 days of shooting during which we all got on well with each other and had an enjoyable but tough and exhausting time, I had just about reached the end of my resources of strength and willpower.

I think this was largely due to the fact that I was both the producer and the director, a situation I don’t ever want to be in again. The conflicts between the artistic imperatives of the director and the financial and practical considerations of the producer are bad enough when they are fought between different people but when that battle is raging constantly in your own head, it’s enough to drive you stark raving mad.

Anyway, by the 21st day I was very tired and my tolerance was just about exhausted. We were shooting some scenes in the church, our second visit to that location. It seemed to me that everyone, but everyone, wanted to tell me how to direct the scene. I was at the point of eruption and walked off the set.

I hid at the top of two flights of stairs where no one could find me and quietly waited whilst I calmed down, it took an hour or so during which I could occasionally hear people, two flights below, asking where I was and had anybody seen me. And it wasn’t much better on the last day when we were shooting the so called "happy scenes" in the Lake District. By then I just had no reserves to draw upon to get me through it.

How is post coming along?
The picture edit is now finished and the film is with the sound studios for the sound edit, addition of music, surround sound and so on. It is now expected to be finished by the end of April.

What about taking the film to market. Have you got festival targets, a distributor?
This whole exercise has been one huge and very very steep learning curve for me and marketing and distribution are no different. I’m only just starting to implement the plan for marketing but so far it is going as well as can be expected. I’m fortunate in having a few contacts with vast experience in the film industry who not only can but are willing to give me advice and help.

The marketing campaign is starting to unwind with articles starting to appear in local papers. This will be rolled out to national papers and magazines, especially women’s magazines, given the storyline, over the next few weeks. We will also be starting the process of submitting the film to festivals beginning with the best ones and working down the list.

Once the film is complete, we will organise a screening at a cinema in London to which we will invite press, distributors, sales agents and acquisition execs. Beyond that? Well, we’ll wait and see what develops from all that activity before deciding what to do next.

You have set up a Baby Blues website at . Is that part of your marketing campaign for the film?
Very much so. It is an immediate point of reference accessible to anyone. It’s still being developed but is live and available with new material being added week by week. And we will soon be establishing links to the site from other related sites including some sites dealing with Puerperal Psychosis.

What will people find there as you develop the site?
Ultimately there will be loads of information on the site about the film and its making including, when it’s ready, a trailer and some behind the scenes footage. We have over two hours of behind the scenes footage shot by one of the camera assistants. Also, there is information about the cast and crew and more production stills will be added and rotated over the coming weeks.

Owen good luck with Baby Blues. We wish you every success. Now that Carey Films is up and running, you must have a project in mind to follow through with. What can we expect for the next Carey production?
The next project is already in development with a tentative planned start of principal photography in the summer of 2002. It’s a romantic thriller based on the book I mentioned at the beginning of this interview, the one I wrote before I went to film school.

When I told my family I was going to make a film they all wanted me to make one based on the book but it needed a bigger budget than I could afford - it’s set one third in Yorkshire and two thirds in the South of France and involves stunts and 30 metre yachts! - so I made Baby Blues instead.

I’m hoping that I’ve done a good enough job on Baby Blues to convince the financiers to give me the money needed (between half a million and five million depending on which actors we can attract) to make Rough Cut - I told you the reader liked the title!


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