Sometimes, you just have to make a film.
There are so many factors that have to be taken into account whenever you plan to make a movie, factors that can often get in the way of making it: Do I have enough money? Are the cast and crew I want available? Is the script good enough? Will it sell? Every so often, you just want to start rolling and see what happens, and to some degree that’s what we did with Amber.
A couple of years earlier, we’d shot the ambitious comedy noir CrimeFighters and been enthused by its reception in film festivals and cinemas. The day I heard we’d been accepted into the Edinburgh Film Festival, I started plotting our next film, which was to be an unscripted, loose, colourful tale about six friends who don’t seem to be able to get it together in time to leave their house for a party. Emma Keaveney, who had played a great lead for me in CrimeFighters, told me how much she loved the TV show Friends and how this sounded like the episode called ‘The One Where No-One’s Ready’, the idea of which made me laugh, so we stuck on the plot of people who just completely fail to go out one night. Adding to this the theme of fearing growing up and facing life in the big wide world after graduation, we had our story.
Coupled with my love of John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club, dogme-esque films like Lukas Moodysson’s Show Me Love, and improvised comedy films and shows such as Curb Your Enthusiasm and This Is Spinal Tap, we picked the tone and aesthetic of Amber: this was to be a no frills but stylish film, with no script but carefully planned scenes, where the actors knew where to start and finish but didn’t quite know what was in the middle. As someone who writes several drafts of a script before I even turn on a camera, this was scary and liberating all at once.
I’d promised the cast and crew, most of whom suffered through painful night shoots on CrimeFighters, that our next film would be a) shot indoors, b) shot in a week. True to my word, that’s how it went down, with only one day of extra shooting a few months later. In fact, we shot the film in my house, a trick Joss Whedon repeated a couple of years later with his Much Ado About Nothing. I enjoyed the synchronicity of thinking there.
Lighting Designer Jenni Suitiala and I had fun coming up with the lighting scheme for the film, going from a fresh green at the start, through shades of orange and into darker, dangerous reds toward the end: the ‘traffic light colours’ of the film serving to highlight - along with the title - the emotional state of the characters and the ‘getting ready’ (for a party and for the next phase of their lives) elements of the story. It was also fun surrounding my house with movie lights, prompting a passing neighbour to ask if we were cultivating marijuana in there. Pause for a moment to consider the lunacy of this statement, given that all the movie lights were OUTSIDE the house…
All the cast were amazing, freed up from having to read words I’d written down for them to say, and the experience we’d had making our improvised web series Zomblogalypse certainly gave us the confidence not just to wing it, but to recognise the comedy potential of actors to be a lot funnier when they could just say anything: the shoot acted as a kind of ‘live’ writers’ room.
Among many favourite performances in the film, I love Harry Humberstone’s twattish rock star Gary and Adam Blake’s nerdy writer Pete, who’s published his first novel but completely hates it. Little details like this, which the actors inhabited beautifully, makes this a film I’m very proud of. It may have cost MUCH less money than our other films but it was made with just as much love and care.
And so, to the release.
With the flurry of activity that accompanied the two-year journey of our next film Whoops! which went from festivals to cinemas to VOD between 2013 and 2015, Amber kind of got sidelined but we always wanted to release it, and now seems the perfect time.
Released through One&Other Creative, teaming up with BAFTA-nominated Mad As Birds Films (Set Fire To The Stars), Amber represents that freedom of expression that filmmaking can be. Sometimes filmmakers can get obsessed by the latest camera and the ideal budget, and projects get swamped in style over substance to the point where you don’t care about the point of the film: to create emotion in an audience. With indie releasing now not only possible but often preferable, we chose to release the film ourselves on VOD as it’s worked so well for Whoops! as a way of getting a film from us to an audience without lots of other people making an undeserved mint in the process: all proceeds go to the filmmakers and will get added to future film productions.
Amber is as much a compelling comedy-drama as it is a mission statement: that sometimes, you just have to make a film.