How to Make an Award Winning Film in a Cupboard
By Alex Moss
Last April I was at BAFTA attending the annual Reed Short Film Competition, the biggest short film competition in the country. 12 films were in the running for the Grand Prix. As I sat there watching them I was blown away by the quality, the apparent budgets, the visuals effects not to mention some of the obvious high-end camera equipment the filmmakers had managed to buy, beg, steal or borrow.
And then the main reason I’m there comes on screen. A short film called Photo Finish by Andrew Lee Potts, someone known for his acting in such shows as Primeval and The Mill. I knew what was coming because I had written the script but next to all the others there was a distinct lack of pomp to it. For starters it was a single shot film about an expectant couple in a photo booth at a wedding. There were no special effects, no fancy camera tricks and it was all shot in Andrew’s cupboard, literally.
Photo Finish went on to take the Grand Prix. It was proof that sometimes less is more and if you have the drive and determination to be a filmmaker from home all you need is a bit of imagination. Andrew has since gone on to make popular web-series Wireless and he’s using advances in technology to help.
But it wasn’t always this way. For his first short he had a fully fledged crew and was shooting on film, “I’ve gone in reverse in that sense, I use less and less people as technology has evolved.”
For Wireless Andrew is essentially a one-man-crew. With a collection of four GoPros Andrew has made the cameras part of the story where characters acknowledge them as if they are always being monitored.
“I’ve gone in reverse in that sense, I use less and less people as technology has evolved.”
Andrew openly admits that he would love to have a bigger budget for Wireless but he’s found ways of elevating the idea to look bigger than it really is. “I buy in certain stock footage to heighten it. I integrate it with the footage I shoot to give it more impact. It makes it look bigger budget. But what I really like is the contrast between these wide shots of London and the claustrophobic confines of the camera for the rest of the show.”
That’s part of the key to making movies yourself: working within the realms of what is achievable. Andrew has used this to his advantage. He says, “The thing about Wireless is I knew what I had and I had to make it as inventive as possible. It’s taking what you have and bending it to a certain style and vision so the audience buy into the concept without ever questioning the reality of the world you’ve created.”
“I just never stopped filming, I filmed everything I could. Then I filmed stories and wrote my family and friends into them. And so it began.”
Andrew was given his first camera, a JVC, when he was just 13 years old. “I just never stopped filming, I filmed everything I could. Then I filmed stories and wrote my family and friends into them. And so it began.”
But what really draws Andrew to do his unique style of DIY filmmaking is the challenge of it all. “Each episode throws up a challenge of ‘how are we going to do this?’ That’s what keeps me going. It’s like a puzzle every single time.”
Andrew has used technology to help him better understand and therefore master the art of filmmaking. He learned Final Cut Pro by watching a lot of YouTube videos, “The irony is that YouTube is helping me to make YouTube videos.”
More than anything Andrew attributes his success to his tenacious ability to get his friends involved, something I’m all too familiar with. With his first film, Blood On Benefits, he recruited a collection of hugely talented actors with whom he’d worked with in his acting career. People such as Jemima Rooper, Nicholas Aaron, Emma Pierson and a then fledgeling Carey Mulligan.
He says, “It’s also about seeing talent in others early on. I remember casting Carey [Mulligan] in Blood on Benefits just before she hit the big time. I’d met when she did a small part in Trial and Retribution and I was blown away by her acting talent at such a young age.”
For many it will seem like Andrew is doing something that no one else can do. But he’s doing it because he loves to do it, is determined to be creative and knows that his passion is often infectious. For Andrew it’s about having a vision and then refusing to stop until it has come to fruition. If you harbour dreams of being a filmmaker there’s nothing stopping you except your own imagination. Gone are the days when you needed lots of money to make movies. Today you just need a camera, a bit of willpower and a cupboard.