This week I was lucky enough to get to interview Lloyd Eyre-Morgan – the writer/director of LGBT drama film Dream On – and Jody Latham, perhaps best known as Lip in Channel 4’s Shameless, about their new film Celluloid, a dark, gritty drama about a family on the verge of meltdown. The film is due for release in the UK on Monday when I’ll post my own verdict in a review (spoiler alert; it’s pretty good!) and you’ll get the chance to win your very own copy of the film!
I started by talking to Lloyd about Celluloid – what it’s about, how it came to be and what it means to him – before talking to both him and Jody about the growth of independent cinema and the technical side of micro budget film-making.
First thing’s first Lloyd; tell us about Celluloid. What’s it all about?
Lloyd: Celluloid is a psychological drama that goes right to the heart of the life of a dysfunctional family. It’s about how people deal with this dysfunction and find different ways to escape. The film follows a generic, everyday family going through some serious turmoil; the mother is having a breakdown so her two children – Josh and Nicola – are forced to deal with this, as well as coming to terms with their own issues and sexualities.
Last year you released Dream On, an LGBT film that some of our readers might well have seen; how does Celluloid differ from what you’ve made previously?
Lloyd: Dream On is a lot lighter than Celluloid; it was a coming-of-age comedy drama that focused on a same-sex relationship in the 1980s.
Worlds apart from Celluloid then! How about in terms of production; what was it like making a film in the knowledge that you already had one under your belt?
Lloyd: Well, we made Celluloid on a budget of £3,000, which was double the budget we had for Dream On. This meant that we had more equipment and a bit more room to experiment, though not much! Dream On was a massive learning experience for me as a director and a writer, as well as for the crew, and I got to use many of the skills I picked up on Dream On in Celluloid. They’re very different films but I’m incredibly proud of both of them.
Anyone who has ever tried to make a film will know that £3,000 isn’t a lot of money to work with. What was it like working with such budgetary constraints and how did you overcome the challenges that this posed?
Lloyd: It’s hard; you don’t sleep much and some days you think that the film literally isn’t going to get finished. But everyone just clubs together to make it work; we had producers becoming runners, actors becoming make-up artists; it was all hands on deck to make sure that the film got made. We were really lucky to have such a great team working on this one. Everyone gave it their all to make sure that we got the film finished; we even included some reshoot days that weren’t originally scheduled, but everyone came back for them which was great.
If you’d had more money is there anything you would have done differently?
Lloyd: I think it might have made locations a bit easier. The outside estate scenes in particular were a problem because we had huge issues when it came to stopping traffic so we could film! A bigger budget might have helped with that. Although to be honest we’re really happy with how the film came out; it feels raw and real, and I think a bigger budget might have hindered this a bit.
Celluloid is a strange beast in that it combines flashes of horror with some pretty intense drama. What was it that influenced you to make such a dark, gritty film?
Lloyd: I think the biggest influence here was actually my own life. It’s loosely based on my own childhood and the people I knew. When I was growing up my mother had mental health problems so home life was sometimes tough, and I think I just wanted to capture the essence of what it was like growing up in that environment. In that respect, this is the most personal piece I’ve ever made and I doubt I’ll make anything quite so personal again in my career.
The main character, Josh, often retreats behind his camera and into film whenever he feels troubled; is that side of him also based on your childhood?
Lloyd: Absolutely; my best friend and I used to make horror films when my mum was having a serious breakdown as a way of escaping. I used to film everything; I’ve got hundreds of hours’ worth of videos from when I was growing up, along with countless horror films. Through Josh, I wanted to portray how we escaped when we were young, through film, the internet and so on.
The film’s portrayal of LGBT issues is somewhat underplayed; Josh is gay but it doesn’t define him. How important do you think it is for LGBT characters to be portrayed – for lack of a better word – as “normal”, and how much did this influence you in your writing?
Lloyd: It’s interesting for me to answer questions about Josh because, as I said, he’s based on my experience of growing up. For me my sexuality was the least important issue in my life because there was so much else going on. I think it’s important to show that sexuality isn’t important in the grand scheme of things because it doesn’t define a person. In Celluloid, the characters’ sexualities don’t drive the drama. In fact, in the final moments of the film there’s a sort of “LGBT twist” that I purposely wanted to underplay throughout the film, to show that sexuality is just a normal, everyday thing.
The film also, despite its bleak subject matter, has a satirical element that gives the audience some light relief. Tell us a bit about your thought process there.
Lloyd: Well, I think you have to have some comic relief in a film like this otherwise the audience will never want to see it again! There are a couple of characters that provide the film with some humour; Ryan, for example, is based on a lot of internet bloggers I’ve seen online – YouTubers, for example, who use their blogs to create huge alter egos where they’re usually very loud and bitchy. Like Josh though, they’re just looking for a way to escape.
And what about Chrissy?
Lloyd: Aw Chrissy; she’s the heart of the film for me. She’s just so naïve and innocent. She sees no harm in the World, which I think is needed to help counteract some of the bleakness. I love her to bits, she’s great.
Let’s get Jody in, because he was a major part of Celluloid too; what attracted you to getting him on board and what was it like working with him?
Lloyd: I originally had Jody in mind for the role of Barnsey when I wrote the film. I met him at a birthday party and we got talking about the project a bit. A week later I emailed him the script and the week after that he was on board. It all happened so quickly! His role then expanded to that of executive producer, and he helped us to get the right kit and crew which was a huge help. He’s just a great guy to have on set; he even cooked a massive stew for us all one day, which was amazing!
A man of many talents! And Jody, likewise, what attracted you to Celluloid?
Jody: Well as Lloyd said, he sent me the script and told me that it was loosely based on his experiences growing up, which I found exciting. His ambition and passion for the project was also a major attraction. I’d seen Dream On so I knew he had the drive and skill to pull off a micro budget film successfully, and I felt that I could add something on a production level because of my previous work in film and television.
What was it like juggling those two roles?
Jody: Well, you pretty much have to have two different heads on set; you have to be able to switch from one to the other, so you can focus on your performance when you’re in front of the camera without worrying about what’s happening behind it. You’ve always got to be prepared though; on the days when we needed more kit or something needed fixing, the producer mode just sort of kicked in. It was a really hands-on experience, but an enjoyable one. And yeah, I did cook a stew for everyone because you’ve got to keep everyone on the set happy!
I can imagine! Now, you mentioned your previous work in film and television; for me, one of the most notable things about your career is that you often play very “real” people, and your role in Celluloid is no exception. What is it that attracts you to such gritty characters?
Jody: I love playing “real” people so to speak because it’s much more interesting as an actor. You get to play each role with different depths of emotion and anger, but you have to portray it with a slice of reality. For example, in the film Ruby Blue, which I starred in with Bob Hoskins, I had to play a “real” character that was particularly challenging. It’s always interesting to play roles like that.
Ok guys, I want to ask you both a bit about independent cinema in general now; low-budget, independent cinema has arguably never been better or more popular. Why do you think audiences are becoming more receptive to films like Celluloid?
Lloyd: I think advances in technology are opening doors, certainly. People can make films on smaller budgets now and tell their own stories. LGBT cinema in particular has a slight advantage because there aren’t a lot of mainstream LGBT films being made – maybe one a year at best – which says a lot about the state of mainstream cinema today… though that’s a whole other topic!
Jody: Yeah, it’s also giving people the opportunity to tell real stories; stories that are more relatable to audiences than Hollywood blockbusters. Celluloid, for example, gives audiences an insight behind the closed door of a real-life family situation.
Lloyd: Definitely. There are loads of indie films being made which tell real stories and, again, LGBT cinema has an advantage because there’s a demand for LGBT cinema that isn’t being met by the mainstream. The independent sector is thriving thanks to companies like TLA Releasing, which help to distribute low budget films.
Jody: There’s also a growth in independent outlets, which helps. Picturehouse cinemas and places like the Cornerhouse in Manchester help make independent cinema more accessible to the public.
That’s very true, though I imagine distribution is still a problem; how difficult was it to get Celluloid seen once you’d finished filming?
Lloyd: Oh it wasn’t easy. We went down the festival route and were lucky enough to get into the Palm Springs Cinema Diverse Festival, which was a fantastic experience. Then you have to play the whole “send the film to distributors” game, which is probably the most stressful part of the process. Thankfully TLA Releasing took the film; I have a previous relationship with them from Dream On so we knew we could work well together. Luckily they have a great platform for release, with companies such as BlinkBox, Amazon and HMV, and have a great promotional team. It’s a great platform for new filmmakers to launch a film from.
Jody: We also had to do test screenings beforehand to make sure we got the film absolutely right; we needed to see how audiences reacted and take on board any feedback. The reception to it was great, so we then sent it to the distributors!
What about marketing and advertising?
Jody: Oh well social media is a massive tool for promoting independent cinema. We managed to get a decent following on our Twitter page (@celluloidmovie) and we got a great buzz going about the film through YouTube viral clips, music videos and social media competitions. I think social media is actually now a filmmaker’s best friend when promoting a new film.
What practical advice, then, would you give to someone who wants to begin a career in filmmaking?
Lloyd: Make sure you have a good story.
Jody: Yeah, you have to have a story you believe in.
Lloyd: If you’re writing the script yourself, put it on as a read-through or a play first; it’s a great platform to help you develop stories and helped me so much with both Dream On and Celluloid. Be prepared for backlash, lots of “no’s” and lots of criticism – some good, some bad! I’ve experienced a lot of negativity and backlash towards my projects from people in the industry who were friends beforehand… it’s a funny old industry like that. But you can’t let it get to you. It just pushed me to keep going and make more films. Just keep at it and make your own work. If you love and believe in a project enough there’s nothing stopping you from making it, even with no budget.
Jody: Oh definitely, with the right amount of drive and determination you can do anything. Get a crew together who shares your vision and just get out there and tell your story. As Lloyd said, we were really lucky to have such a great team working on Celluloid. If everyone has the same passion for a project and the determination to see it through then you’ve got the key to a successful film.
Finally, are you going to be working together on any projects in the near future?
Lloyd: Oh yes, we have a new project coming out in the summer called 3 in a Bed, which is a romantic comedy co-written with Neil Ely, which Jody has again agreed to executive produce and star in.
Jody: Yep, we’re currently in the final stages of editing that one, so we’re pretty excited!
Excellent! Well, from all of our readers let me wish you both the best of luck with Celluloid, and with 3 in a Bed, and thank you for agreeing to talk about your experiences today.