Testimonial: Dieudonnée and Keir Burrows

Thanks for having us on! So we’re a wife-and-husband (and kids!) filmmaking team. Our debut feature film, sci-fi noir Anti Matter, was developed on Film London Microwave and is out now in the UK on DVD and VOD, via Kaleidoscope. It opens with a limited theatrical run in the US in September. We’ve had very kind reviews so far; people seems to be getting what we set out to do with the film, so yes, we’re very proud parents.

A brief bit about us – Keir writes and directs, I produce. We met at film school over ten years ago, we made six short films together that we did well with, Tribeca twice, BFI London, along with many other festivals. Anti Matter we began filming in late 2014, wrapped late 2015. So the film itself – the making of it, anyway – was a real micro-budget labour-of-love. After Microwave, we decided to just push ahead and make the film ourselves. We had a lot of faith in the concept, the script, and Microwave encouraged our ambition and Keir’s talent, so we took the plunge and drove a freight train through our lives for the following three years.

We broke the shoot up into 5 short film-sized chunks, and I produced it like that, 20 pages at a time, on and off over nine months. Making it like this made it feasible, financially and logistically – we could be ambitious as we only had to prepare a short-film sized shoot at a time. It was a lot easier to call in favours, get support, when it was staggered like that. Also, of course, being parents, it made it possible.

Our first child, Cassidy, was born in August 2013. We were gearing up to shoot our short film The Showreel at the time (which opened at BFI London Film Festival in 2014). Much of 2014 was spent in slow pre-production for Anti Matter – between little Cassidy, and our day jobs, it was all a slightly fraught affair. Cassidy was with me a lot whilst I was producing; she came to set with me, sometimes she would go to a child-minder, but then to go spend a fortune on childcare is luxury you can’t really afford if you’re doing this as a “love” thing. Little did we know how much crazier it would get! We were about to begin shooting Anti Matter in November 2014 when we fell pregnant again. So much was set up, we decided to go on. The hope was we would be done with the shoot by July 2015, which was when I was due. So we got started, but of course, best laid plans and all.

Anti Matter. Directed by Keir Burrows. Produced by Dieudonnée Burrows.

We were about a third done by April 2015, and were prepping for the biggest single block of the whole shoot, two weeks in early May in one location (the ‘laboratory’ where the wormhole generator is built, which is a whole other story, trying to make sci-fi on a shoestring!). It was enormously stressful, we had a full crew, it was a mammoth undertaking. We were halfway through that shoot when I went into labour, 5 weeks early. I got myself in a taxi to the North London hospital, got a message to our associate producer (the incredible Jen Miller) to tell Keir – who, of course, was right in the middle of a pivotal, dramatically intense scene. So, off he races leaving Gerry Vasbenter (DoP) to finish directing the scene and get going with the next. Meanwhile in the labour ward I was still emailing suppliers, sorting things out. My brain had this surprising capacity to just ignore what was really going on. Keir gets to the maternity ward with an hour to spare, he’s trying to Skype Gerry to explain the requirements of the scene, I’m giving him the side-eye, for him to put his damn phone away – anyway long story short we have our son, Ridley, he’s wonderful and perfect despite being premature.

We all spend the night together at the hospital, Keir goes off at 6am to bring Cassidy to a truly wonderful child-minder, then races back to set, as he only had 2 more days left at the that location, and many pages left to shoot. With no budget there was no flexibility in resources, so sending everyone home for a few days wasn’t an option. Cast and crew gave us a lot of love and support to pull through.

Anti Matter. Directed by Keir Burrows. Produced by Dieudonnée Burrows.

And so that was the craziest single moment, probably ever, of our filmmaking careers. It would have been wonderful if the film had been finished after that but no, we still a third to do. This was lowest bit for me. The next four months, trying to manage and set up all the bitty last elements we’d left for the end, with a newborn and Cassidy only 20 months old, no sleep, both of us strung out and… well, you know how it goes.

There are very few things I think we’d have done differently, even with hindsight. Fewer locations. Keir wishes he’d shored his script up better, I think he had a bigger learning curve as a writer than as a director. I wish we’d put more effort in to attracting name talent for a supporting role, it would have given distributors more options. But who knows. Lastly, but very importantly, next time we do this, it’ll be on a wage that will allow us to make solid childcare arrangements.

We have a film, one that we’re so very proud of. It was worth it! Breaking the shoot up was the smartest decision we made. Getting pregnant before the shoot was less so, but that’s life for you. It can only get easier, right? Here’s hoping.

 

Stills courtesy of Worm Feature Film Ltd.

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