The global pandemic has presented enormous challenges for the international Theatre, Film & TV industries, but potentially also created a new set of opportunities for independent projects and innovative thinkers.
I was fortunate enough not to be mid-shoot when the lockdown began. So many pieces have to come together to make a film and the planning involved takes many months – not just the cast, crew and location availabilities, but details down to the time of year, which informs whether leaves are on the trees and how many hours of daylight you get for your working day. The indefinite hiatus put on projects has of course been frustrating, but there’s a chance for innovative small projects to complete swiftly as restrictions ease, and the demand for content continues while not much fresh film-product comes to a market with an increased demand for content.
My latest film The Man in The Hat released in UK cinemas in September during a break in the lockdown. As a small film with only a modest marketing budget we had a greater degree of flexibility around the release timing – studio films run marketing campaigns for months in the run-up to their releases – when you’ve spent $100m on a film you need to ensure that a lot of people are going to see it to give you a chance of making that money back. Lower budgets can be a blessing, enabling independent films to be more nimble! The Man In The Hat played across 40 cinemas, but the breadth of the release was down to tactics, not just the film’s quality – the big studios have pulled their releases, mindful of audience reservations and volatile government restrictions. This presented an opportunity for versatile independent films to fill the vacant screens for those audience members willing to brave the mask-wearing theatrical experience.
Fortunately, the film is also rather good! Ciarán Hinds stars as the eponymous Man In The Hat on a road trip across France in a tiny Fiat 500, in a musically-rooted comedy directed by Oscar-winning composer Stephen Warbeck (Shakespeare In Love) and celebrated documentarian John-Paul Davidson. The entertaining, optimistic and visually sumptuous adventure proved a welcome escapist tonic to the challenges of 2020.
The Man In The Hat’s narrative is whimsical but still engaging, energised and fun. The film was a joy to shoot and brought together a collection of filmmakers from across the world in celebration of the spirit of international collaboration – we combined Spanish AD, French Camera, Italian Sound, Belgian Costume and UK Production teams. The story too is an exploration of how camaraderie and adventure can transcend the boundaries of language – our protagonist doesn’t speak the local language (French) but finds other ways to communicate with the characters he encounters on his journey – through music, food, culture and comedy.
I think broadly there is an increased demand for positive content and perhaps this will prompt a shift in the types of stories that independent filmmakers are drawn to. Indie film has long been a bastion of heart-wrenching emotive dark drama but has often shied away from promising entertainment or fun. We must be mindful of our audiences from the outset when assembling projects – personally I see this as my primary duty as a producer. Thinking about an audience doesn’t have to mean “selling-out” or compromising on the story you want to tell, but does require you to consider how it is contextualised. Making a successful film means you’re likely to get a chance to make another film. Making an awesome film that doesn’t find an audience is less likely to guarantee you that next shot.
Mobile and innovative thinkers will be finding fresh opportunities across industries in the post-Covid era. The risks are far lower for smaller operations and the potential upside potentially far greater. As the frustrations of 2020 fade there are fresh openings for filmmakers and increasingly accessible audiences looking to be engaged and inspired by their new stories. Let’s get back to action!
Daniel has worked internationally on studio films, with credits from Dunkirk to Stardust, Total Recall and Captain America. He now primarily produces Independent Features through his company Rather Good Films – these include Another Mother’s Son, Burn Burn Burn, Copenhagen and hitman comedy Dead In A Week (or your money back) – which have gone to Netflix. He recently completed The Man In The Hat directed by Oscar-winning composer Stephen Warbeck and The Reckoning by acclaimed horror director Neil Marshall.