MAKING INDIE FILMS WITH PRODUCER & WRITER HELEN SIMMONS

Helen Simmons chatted to Giles Alderson and Ian Sharp, this week on the podcast, about being a producer and writer. 

She said that you have to do what makes you happy. “You’re not going to be your best self if you’re sat in an office, where you’re not happy. You’re actually going to be a horrible version of yourself. You’re just going to sit there, resentful that you’re not doing the thing that you love. Some people thrive with stability and some people thrive in instability. And I think I’m the latter. I would much rather be stressed about what I’m going to be doing next week, than knowing what I’m going to be doing for the next year.”

Making Chubby Funny

The film had been optioned by another company but nothing had happened. After Helen had read the script, she met with Harry. “We both had that same sort of mixture of naivety and confidence, which you only have when you’re doing your first thing. And you just don’t think too deeply about it. You just kind of do it. 

Andy had been an inspiration to people at that time, and I think Sarah Brocklehurst had just done Black Pond. And there were a few of those kinds of micro-budget influences around us.”

They set a deadline of a year to shoot it, with whatever budget they could get. “It was sort of whatever could be brought together.”

She relied on Andy’s advice, as well as other producers, she asked a lot of questions, used common sense… And did the odd Google search.

“Even though it was a proper film, in the end, the way that we did it wasn’t proper, but a lot of it was. That was film school for me, just putting this thing together and seeing what happened.”

Getting Funding

They had tried to get funding but nobody was interested. “We went to BFI. We went to other companies like sales agents and everyone was like no, which was fine.”

They did manage to secure some funding through Harry Michell’s family connections. 

There “was an element of nepotism, which came from the director being from a film family, which was something that I could harness on this film. His dad is a director, had a company with a producer, who’s very experienced; and they came on as execs, and put a little bit of money in.”

The rest of the money was raised from work connections, friends and some tax credits.

“It was sort of pieced together as I went, not knowing what I was doing and trying to persuade people that this was something that they wanted to be a part of. And they all did have that excitement for what it could be. And they were also investing in us.”

Making An Indie Film

“It’s creatively good, in a sense, because you have to work within really strict parameters. We picked a pub in Camden as our production office and all the locations, bar one, had to be within a mile radius. So we could always walk to places. We could easily get kit there.”

The crew were either new to filmmaking or wanted to step up, and needed the credit. It was “an opportunity to make someone’s career, and actually, it has. These people, they’ve not stopped working since, and that was their first credit on a feature.”

Moving Forward

Helen said that “Harry was always forward-thinking. He would have rushed another film out sooner than we did Say Your Prayers, if he could have, but it just wasn’t realistic. We had to wait for the response to the first to finance the second.”

Say Your Prayers, which was originally called Ilkley, co-written by Harry and Jamie Fraser was almost ready and at the point where they could start talking to people. “And the main thing that Chubby did was establish us as they know they can make something.”

“I think there’s a thing with writers and directors and actors, you can do a short and they accept that that’s what you are. But as a producer, until you’ve done a feature, I don’t think they take you seriously. It’s a very different process, but equally, it’s a different process for a director too.

I felt like people took us more seriously, and we had a sales company who having seen Chubby were like, we will come on your next film, whatever it is, whatever you want to do, we’ll sell that. So that really helped, because we went into the financing process with a sales agent, which means that film’s going to get out into the world.

Being a Producer

“I feel like the fundamental part of film is relationships, especially as a producer. And sometimes something won’t work out because that’s not the right fit or there’ll be problems, but as long as you’re constantly communicating and keeping those relationships good, I think that’s fundamental.”

Helen also said that it is vital for a producer to be naturally emotionally intelligent or able to develop your emotional intelligence. It’s “the biggest thing, aside from contracts and spreadsheets. Being able to read people and try and understand what they’re feeling and what they want and how you can make them happy.

I feel like that is at the core of what you do.”

You can listen to our podcast with Helen, here.

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