MAKING A MICRO-BUDGET FEATURE FILM WITH WILL THORNE, DIRECTOR, PRODUCER & WRITER OF SILENT NIGHT

Will Thorne talked to Giles and Lucinda about how he started off working in a supermarket, then as a runner (he apparently makes a mean cup of tea) and worked his way up the production ladder. How he made his first short and then his first feature.

What Films Inspired Will

“It’s probably a bit of a cliche, but maybe it is my age, it was Goodfellas. You can sort of see having made Silent Night – there’s a couple of nods in there.”

He remembered watching it and loving the use of Eric Clapton’s Layla. It really stood out for him and made him look up who would have chosen the music for the film. It was a lightbulb moment for him, and fuelled his curiosity to work in the film industry.

His Pathway to the Film Industry

“There was no pathway at all. Didn’t go to college. Didn’t go to Uni. Basically just went full time at Tesco. So at that point, I’m definitely not thinking I’m going to be the next Martin Scorsese.” 

He did do a five day video production course at Wimbledon’s College of Art though. He had a conversation with his mum, between jobs, about what he wanted to do.

He said: “I’d love to make films, and she said ‘well let’s see if there’s a night school’ and there was a summer school at Wimbledon Art College.” The best part for Will was editing and choosing whatever music he wanted to heighten their final project.

“The only good thing about working at that age was that I was earning money. So I then went and bought a DV camera and I made a little short film, which I called Break Em, which is what I named my company, Break Em Films after.”

Creating a Career in the Industry

“I knew I wanted to do that and I kind of knew that I could do it. I just would have to get my foot in the door. But I knew that I’d have to be very dedicated.”

He decided that he didn’t want to be working at Tesco anymore, so if he could pay his rent, get more opportunities, meet people and get access to better equipment, then he would have to work hard to get into (and stay in) the industry. “I hoped that through the industry, perhaps I’d get to do what I wanted through that path.”

He started as a runner on commercials and in music videos. And although he loved being in “the film world”, the work was maybe one or two days a week, so not really sustainable.

“But then I knew someone who was working at Tiger Aspect and he was running and said they needed a runner next week in the comedy and entertainment department. And apart from film, comedy is my other massive passion.” The money wasn’t as good, and the days were long, but he enjoyed working in the comedy department. While he was working for them, he tried to find other work.

“I did actually walk around Soho and just knocked on doors and handed in this crappy CV and just tried to get face time. And that actually did work.” And his plan hadn’t changed. He was able to get access to kit, meet people and started to make his own work – filming shorts – in his spare time. However, there was one issue. “It was always the script. Writing was always the problem. That was what always held everything up to be honest.”

Getting Burned

After writing For Rent and Break Em, he decided that he didn’t want to write anymore. He found the experience a “laborious killer process”. So when he was attached to direct a feature, he decided to find writers. The script was in development and after an 18 month turnaround, because he hadn’t been the writer and “had no ownership over that project in any way, shape or form other than conversations. I was just back to square one. I’d lost another 18 months to two years of my life.”

Sadly, getting burned is something that happens to most first time filmmakers. Giles said that the best way to avoid that is to “write it, get your stamp on it, have contracts in place.”

Lucinda also mentioned that it is worth having several projects lined up, especially when you’re starting off, so “it’s not so painful when you lose one.”

Making Silent Night

To make his films, he took three months off work and turned down jobs, in order to focus on the process and getting the script done. “The development of the script was a long, long time and I think that I was very particular about it because it had to be great.”

“Long story short, after three months, I did grind out a draft and I sent it to a bunch of people and some people were like ‘I don’t know what’s going on here, Will, but I think you need to figure out some stuff.’ And then I had to basically go back to work, figuring out some stuff.”

He didn’t need to raise finance, because Silent Night was a ‘no budget film’ It was “self-funded, so basically a micro budget.”

Finding Producers, Funding and Distribution

After finishing the script and meeting with film people, one of the execs suggested that he visited Berlin. “But it’s more of a market. I had a script and a taster, and I went to Berlin. I went to EFM. Walked around and just spoke to anyone. I would always recommend going to markets, having been there and done it.”

And although he didn’t have success at EFM, considering he didn’t have a completed project, he met his producer Judd Tilyard. 

After meeting Judd, Will arranged to met him again at Cannes to give him a copy of his drafted script. After persistent pestering to read the script, Judd responded:

“I read it. It’s not great. Have you got any other ideas?” Will was really upset after that meeting and really wanted to make his idea work, but was also desperate to direct anything.

They ended up developing and writing something else, but then his friend Bradley (Taylor) reached out about Silent Night, asking him what was happening with the film. He met up with Judd again at Cannes, a year later, with an almost complete script and said:

“It’s getting there. But I take ages to write, this is going to take ages to finish. I’m going to stick a camera on my shoulder and shoot Silent Night to get Bradley off my back. It’s just got to happen now. And he was like ‘if you’re that passionate and can actually drag this thing in for as little money and as little risk for me as possible, I’ll go in 50/50 with you.’ And so that’s what we did.”

The way that they got Lightbulb Film Distribution involved? They needed artwork done. After speaking to a couple of people who made film posters, one suggested Lightbulb and they connected. “They (Lightbulb) said this is a solid film. We think we can do this. We think we can even get it on DVD. We can get it out this Christmas.”

For more info from Will Thorne and his experience, have a listen to the full episode.

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