Isolation and problems paying bills leading to ghastly consequences. No, this isn’t a documentary about Covid Britain, but a new indie thriller I’ve been producer on. Funded by Ffilm Cymru, it’s called Concrete Plans, which has become an increasingly ironic title in the weeks, months and years it took to make.
I am trying to forget how long I’ve been working on this film. British independent filmmaking is, like all cinema, a slow process. A short half-page synopsis was emailed over to me in March of 2014 by writer-director Will Jewell; exactly five years later we were up a mountain in the wilds of mid-Wales shooting.
Here’s an outline of the story. A manor house is in disrepair and a landowner with a fierce temper meets his match when confronted with a bill he can’t pay. The builders living on his land want their pound of flesh as events spiral out of control and a simple dispute turns into a shockingly horrific display of violence.
A film about class, migrant workers and the social tensions between the haves and have-nots felt like a strong premise for a British thriller, then Brexit took over the news cycle… suddenly we found we were shooting around the final weeks of the initial timescale for Britain’s exit from the EU, wrapping on the original departure date.
Goran Bogdan, playing our Ukrainian brickie Viktor, was unsure what to make of it all. As we geared up for filming it genuinely felt like we were taking a snapshot of the state of the nation (albeit with additional power tools and terror).
For just under a month, the cast and crew clung to the side of a rocky outcrop and shot scenes driven by the fear of outsiders, greed and casual prejudice.
We had no idea how much the story would come to reflect our British situation
Our set – a crumbling manor house for the landed gentry and a grim cabin for the workers – was fast becoming a loose metaphor for the country.
Of course, it’s really exciting feeling that you are telling a story that is truly of the moment, that might strike a real chord of resonance and be part of an ongoing conversation – but then the conversation that never seemed to stop did stop.
Something else came along to take over the news cycle.
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We all had plans for 2020. The film Will and I had been making in one form or another for six years was going to find its audience, but the audience was having to stay home. Festivals were forced to rethink, go online; cinemas were closing their doors.
We’ve actually been one of the lucky ones, our film Concrete Plans did get a premiere, with strong reviews and audience reaction, but Will and I never got to be part of that theatrical experience.
Just like other viewers, we clicked a button at a certain time and watched at home on screens of varying sizes. Never knowing if a joke landed, a twist was spotted or a broken bone felt. It did however create a different vibe. More family and friends watching, people connecting and discussing characters and scenes on social media as the plot was unfolding. It made it a more communal, if less emotional, experience.
Now the film is coming out on those on-demand platforms that have kept us sane over the last nine months, and due to the Welsh dancing to the beat of their own lockdown drum, we’ve even got some screens there showing the film.
Indie filmmaking is so very often about trying to get something done and maybe that spirit has helped shape our attitude
You just have to get on with it – James Bond needs to get up off the floor, quite frankly.
Perhaps when we go back to a more normal way of living we’ll be able to see what the film business did rightly or wrongly during this time. Some things, no doubt, will be lessons you wish you’d already known with the advantage of hindsight. However, some of the approaches we have taken will stay with us and it’s those that will hopefully make independent filmmaking stronger as a result.
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