Making Films with The Shakespeare Sisters

Since we last chatted to them, they’ve finished Much Ado – it was screened with a live Q&A at London Independent Film Festival last night. They also chatted about finance, festivals, distribution, living with your cast and crew, co-directing and more.

“The last time we spoke, we had actually just shot sound on Much Ado. And Soundtrack to 16 was just being released. We hadn’t done anything (film-related) before. We didn’t really know what we were getting into,” said Hillary, “but we produced it with Ben Jacques, who did know a bit more about what he was doing and that really helped us.”

Anna added that “some of the stuff we learned from the distribution (of Soundtrack to 16), we couldn’t really apply to Much Ado. I don’t want to say, we’ve made the same mistakes twice, but doing two low budget features, I wouldn’t do that again.”

But Hillary doesn’t “regret doing Much Ado. From a sanity perspective, we were bringing out Soundtrack to 16 and spent so long on post-production that I could almost barely remember filming it.” She thought that “if we don’t shoot something now, I don’t know if I’m going to really feel like a filmmaker because we’re just in the office emailing. I need to do something creative.”

From The Filmmakers Podcast to Distribution

Chatting to Giles and Robbie McKane, in 2019, was one of the first things that Anna and Hillary did to promote their debut feature, Soundtrack to 16.

After that, when Hillary contacted people – press, etc “she would say ‘we just did this (interview). And then it is that snowball thing where you’ve got to always sound like you’re a little bit ahead of where you actually are and building the brand of the film up and up and up.

And when we did the cinema stuff, it was easier to get reviewers to come along. And then we got on to Rotten Tomatoes and got a good rating there, and we were able to use that for distribution.”

Festivals 

“We’d done, what we thought was, our entire festival run. We’d only been to a few festivals, but we weren’t really getting into many.”

Because it started quietening down, they thought that it was time to release the film. At that point, they found distributors, Evolutionary Films, who agreed to distribute in the UK and act as their international sales agents. 

But the Shakespeare Sisters ensured that they retained theatrical rights. “During contract negotiations, (Evolutionary Films) originally wanted to have the theatrical rights and we said it’s a small film, you’re probably not going to use them. Can we just keep them? And they said sure.”

Pushing Through The Rejection

When trying to find cinemas to showcase their film, they thought that they were “fairly used to rejection – not at the level that we’re used to it now” but after the cinemas that they contacted didn’t respond to their emails, they took Dom’s advice: “call them three times and if they don’t pick up, go down there and I was like oh, that’s how you do it. That’s how other people have been doing it, you have to just keep pushing through the rejection and turn off your emotional brain.

They battled with this when applying to film festivals too, because at that point, by their own admission, they didn’t know much about filmmaking. They’d applied to “Sundance and stuff. Just trying to think of festivals we’d heard of.”

But although they weren’t chosen for the Sundance’s of the world, not many people are, they realised one thing that worked to their advantage in the US. We’d managed to do a big push on  reviews and branding (in the UK) and that really helped us get into American (film festivals).”

They attended various film festivals in person, and online, and were able to build up connections with other filmmakers, but it also allowed them to better understand how festivals work and which ones would be beneficial to them for future films.

Much Ado

For Much Ado, they had all cast and crew living together for three weeks, in order to get the film done as quickly and efficiently as possible, on a micro-budget. Hillary and Anna funded the film entirely.

While casting and finding crew is vital to the success of any film, it was even more vital for them to ensure that the cast and crew would get on really well because they would be together 24/7. “Basically everyone was on top of each other. We’d have dinner together every day and that was really nice, but there was also no place to get away.”

Recently we spoke to Richard Miller, whose cast lived in his home while shooting Repeat, and Tracy and Steve Jarvis last week, who lived and breathed their films day in and day out; about taking time out from the film world and finding time to rest and recharge.

Anna, who is an introvert, really battled with being surrounded by people all of the time and found that while the others were having fun after-hours on set, she felt like she was forced into the role of “the boring teacher-figure telling people to go to bed.”

But Giles added that “as a filmmaker, when people are having fun, you can join in a bit, but you’ve got to get on with your job, which is making the film, which means you do need to get enough sleep and prep for the next day, which you can’t do if you get pissed and are messing around.”

Co-Directing

When working on Soundtrack to 16, Anna was a writer, who gave notes, and Hillary was in charge of the direction of the film. But with Much Ado, they were both directing, which created a very different dynamic.

Anna said that “what really worked was we generally have the same vision for everything. We spend almost 24 hours a day together, so we have all the same references and the same vision.

It does mean that getting your vision into someone’s head is already done, and when we are at our best, we split up and talk to different actors and can be quite efficient, because we can get them on the same page and then go back into the scene.”

So, where to next for the Shakespeare Sisters…

They’re currently working on two new projects. Hillary says “one is a book adaptation, we’ve written the first draft; and the other is The Unreason, which Dom is working on as well. We’re producing and Chris Reading is directing, so that’s a bit different for us, because we’ve produced our films, but we haven’t just produced.”

Anna mentioned that they are also part of “the writing team, so we’ve had creative input on it. We started working on it and then we started doing script editing and then started producing it. I think both of us prefer having full creative control generally.”

To listen to more from the Shakespeare sisters, ears here.

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