This year’s Cannes Film Festival takes place from 16 – 27 May, and for the team at MilesTone Films, the festival will mark the start of an exciting 12 months of preparation and production.
With the final touches currently being put on one feature film – the micro-budget comedy drama Amber – and the cogs in motion for their next two features, Whoops! and a feature version of their cult web series Zomblogalypse, I spoke to Director Miles Watts about Cannes, York, bigger budgets and the future.
JA: You’re sending a representative to Cannes this year. What’s the aim?
MW: Our producer, Steve Piper from Coffee Films who’s recently joined forces with us, is taking both forthcoming film projects [Whoops! and Zomblogalypse] to Cannes in May to see if we can raise further investment and interest. They’re dream projects really because they’re films we want to be making with fun stories and characters, but we’re heading towards having respectable budgets to make them, instead of scraping together a few pennies or relying solely on crowd funding.
JA: It has been a long time coming getting to this stage, how have you found the filmmaking journey so far?
MW: It takes a while to get an indie film career started but the key points are to keep going, make lots of opportunities for yourself and meet a lot of talented, like-minded people. At first we just grabbed what cameras we had, rounded up some mates and started shooting for fun. As the films have become more ambitious we’ve been lucky enough to find some terrific Executive Producers. Gradually we’ve learned that we need a knowledgeable Producer who can get out there, find the money and forge the alliances to make the films happen properly. Filmmaking always involves bags of compromise but there’s no point in us making films exactly as we have done in the past; for little or no budget. If we did that forever we’d keep coming up against the same limitations of a small scale of production and not being able to pay cast and crew. We’ve been lucky to get this far with the talented folk who’ve worked with us for virtually nothing but we have all learned our craft as we went. We’re a family who have grown and learned how to make films together. Now it’s very gratifying to be getting to the stage where we’re not just scrabbling around for a few grand but actually engaging with investors who see the market potential of our films.
JA: To avoid the limitations of previous films, aside from Cannes how are you approaching future projects with regard to investment?
MW: It’s brilliant working with Sam Robinson on Whoops! as he’s able to fund it partly himself, with some help from previous investors [Whoops! is being produced by 1331 bar owner Robinson and is partly inspired by certain events in his life]. We’ve always relied on the support of fans and sponsors to make the web series and features, so as well as a trip to Cannes, we’ll soon be launching an IndieGoGo campaign and several fundraising events such as a Whoops! party at 1331 on 24 May.
JA: The past few months have seen real progress with the York Filmmakers Coalition for students, freelancers and professionals. What’s your view on the growing filmmaking scene in York?
MW: I love the enthusiasm of York filmmakers and the variety of their work, from shorts to web series to features; in a few years it’s gone from a few disparate enthusiasts to an active community of talent-sharing filmmakers. There’s a dedicated screenwriting group as well, who meet regularly to develop their writing; anyone at any level is welcome. The most satisfying thing is that some of us are building our own independent film careers from York while working with the students, who are in turn learning the hands-on practicalities of filmmaking. Personally I prefer running parallel to the film and TV industry rather than abandoning York to work in London. London’s a great city and we have ties to many filmmakers down there but we like it here in York at the moment. We won’t make films here forever [MilesTone Films have various plans for films across the UK and Europe], but York is an amazing base to strike from and forge filmmaking alliances for future films.
JA: Speaking of alliances, does anyone in particular spring to mind?
MW: Aside from our stalwart camera crew, one of the best professional friendships we’ve made is with Emmerdale’s Dominic Brunt, who’s just finished his first feature Before Dawn; a really wonderful character drama that happens to take place in a creepy zombie apocalypse. Dom shares our ambition to develop our own film industry here in Yorkshire; to do things our way and prove that our films can be critical and commercial successes as well as fun and challenging to make. Some of our collaborators make a living from TV and film jobs but are looking for more creative projects to work on, outside the restraints of the industry. It’s the best of both worlds because they enjoy the freedom and creativity of independent filmmaking, and we benefit from their expertise and contacts.
It’s been quite a journey. You don’t realise you’re on it until you can look back at how far you’ve come. Apart from making Whoops! which we’re really excited about, we can’t wait to get to a point next year where we’re sitting on the set of the Zomblogalypse movie and allowing ourselves to take a moment and think, ‘Well, we made it this far.’
In preparation for their trip to Cannes, MilesTone Films have organised a ‘Pre-Cannes Zombie Photo Shoot’ (here) to garner interest in the Zomblogalypse feature, and to involve fans in York. With further investment, Miles hopes to “amp things up” and “get the kind of budget where we can have some amazing set pieces.” Meeting at 1331 at 10am on Friday 4 May, attendees will be made up as zombies, before heading for the photo shoot outside the Minster at noon. Those involved will also be informed, via a mailing list, of progress on the film before anyone else.
Keep up to date with MilesTone Films through their website here.