Change comes from within.
We set up Early Day Films to focus on the projects and talent we believe in. The purpose of having our own company was in part to develop how we wanted to work especially when we were collaborating entrepreneurially with writers.
As we raised development money we began to find the purpose in incorporating family life into our plans. All this was influenced by where we cut our teeth as producers. In short film there is no/little money. We repeatedly found ourselves working with highly creative people who would always go the extra mile. This urge can easily be exploited in the desire to succeed. We became increasingly aware that we wanted to feel comfortable that a balance could be struck.
In the autumn of 2017 we shot our first feature film Bait. To be in physical production after two hard years raising our finance was both amazing and an opportunity for us to lead our team in a way that reflected our values and the values of our director.
On a micro-budget we shot on location in Cornwall, at Charlestown and Penzance with a crew of 13 and a cast of 12. We were shooting 16mm B&W Kodak film stock on a 1970’s wind-up Bolex camera, with no sound capture. We had a four week / six-day schedule. In order to stay on time and in budget we rehearsed actors at length before takes and restricted shooting to a single take and a safety shot.
Within our schedule we needed a resilience and flexibility as we were on location with tides, shooting with boats, shooting on water, at night, on harbour walls and on beaches.
Given that from the outset we knew we would be unable to pay decently for the hard work and dedication of a talented group of people we used a favoured nations approach. That is, all heads of department/key crew and core speaking cast on the same pay deal – a set weekly fee for a maximum of four weeks. With an added opportunity for more when investor capital is paid off. It seemed the fairest way.
We also knew we wanted our deal to include that we could accommodate family life for cast and crew. We wanted to break with the idea that a film set has a dominant hierarchy and a precedent on everyone’s time. This felt coercive, antiquated and at odds with the spirit of working with our local crew and teams that had made shorts together.
We knew we had some cast and crew with pre-existing child access arrangements so we were able to flex our scheduling to accommodate this where we could which all helps people to be on set fully focused. With quite a bit of night shooting involved we were able to make sure that our shooting day did not go beyond 11 pm to bring least disruption to sleep patterns which can impact on how we function off set.
It was a passion of our director to have a non-hierarchical work space and to exist lightly in our environment. We were low key and transparent in all areas of impact, starting this ethos right from our Heads of Department pre-production meetings. We were proud to be the first crew in a popular village location with no complaints from residents! Shooting in public spaces we kept non-essential crew away from set, keeping ourselves low key and making sure we kept residents’ movements free and easy…it’s not just our home lives that matter.
Where we could we ‘greened’, avoiding a small mountain of plastic and cardboard with reuseable water bottles and coffee mugs. By favouring local small businesses and suppliers we were able to work flexibly responding to inevitable changes in requirements. By tailoring our partnerships with catering suppliers close to each location we ended up with a variety of food keeping meal times fun and coupled this with sit down meal breaks for the whole team each day.
Key for us was to access women to core areas of production; we had a female lighting trainee, female head of production design and our trainees and runners predominantly female. With a small crew our key set runner was able to experience a variety of roles from 1st AD to camera assist and was in on discussions and decisions with the director.
Our training ethos was assisted by Falmouth University who helped us access graduates to join the crew and gain vital on the job experience and we provided their film students with the opportunity to come and observe and be extras.
One of our biggest joys was the having a nursing baby on set. With his Mum heading up our art department, at 5 months old, by the end of the shoot he had spent 20% of his life with us! He was a constant on set, passed around us for cuddles between feeds and photo bombing where possible.
When as producers we were discussing this achievement with one of our ‘old hands’ they reckoned we could only ‘get away with it’ because of our small budget. They reasoned that on a bigger budget our insurance would prohibit a baby on set. Not true! Our insurance was not increased by the presence of the baby… as long as we managed the risks appropriately they were happy. This logic would apply to bigger budgets than ours.
The only impediment to working in the way described here is mind-set. A mind-set that defined ‘professional’ behaviour as hierarchical and prescriptive was anachronistic to us.
A mind-set that says ‘we can make this happen’ allowed us to engage with an amazing team, who felt valued. It was a full-on schedule yet people’s home lives were able to stay on an even keel. When individuals are freed to deal with their basic pressing needs they can then give their all to the creative process.
It was within our gift as producers and executive producers to set the precedent of how we wanted to behave and define professional. In trusting each other’s decision-making capabilities, accountability and confidence thrived and in turn this made us flexible and efficient.
It worked. We were on time, on budget with a happy cast and crew…we are now in post-production on a beautiful feature film. Oh and the baby has his first teeth.