Colin Warhurst and Phil Drinkwater are the co-directors of the North West feature film, Mancattan, a cross-Atlantic romantic comedy that pays homage to the Woody Allen classic. IndieFlicks got in touch with the filmmakers to talk about the movie’s production.
IndieFlicks: How did you get started in film making?
Phil: Psycho. Watched it, studied it, picked it apart. Realised that there was someone who was actually responsible for putting it together, making it and authoring it. I was about 14 and it was revelatory. I couldn’t believe that the movies were also art. It was a vindication of my interest. Then I just started writing and making films. Seemed like the natural thing to do.
Colin: I wish I could say it was something dramatic, but I’m afraid it was simply very much picking up a camcorder and playing with it. We used to make spoof TV series, especially accident reconstructions based on the old BBC Programme “999.” We would build dummies, throw them out of windows, then cut to one of us playing someone who had broken their leg! After being limited to a camcorder that only recorded black and white and edited straight to tape, I became fascinated with film-making and the art of editing. It kind of steam-rolled from there. I cut my teeth following bands around making music videos and worked on short student films with other people, including Phil!
IndieFlicks: Where did the idea for Mancattan come from?
Colin: Phil and I started batting around ideas after realising we hadn’t worked on a film together for years, and we were both eager to get stuck back in. So we started bouncing ideas around and developing a short idea of Phil’s based in Manchester. It was a love story on one hand, and on the other a love letter to Manchester itself.
Phil: Rom Com is a genre that I think is pretentiously dismissed by so-called ‘film people’, because of its heavy association with mainstream Hollywood, whereas I think, when done well, they can be insightful, funny and real. Woody Allen has spent his life making them, Godard made them, Wilder made them and some of the most excellent independent films that have come out in recent years have had their roots firmly in the genre; from Garden State to Secretary to anything by Kevin Smith. So, as I have a strange desire to always want to upset the pretentious side of the film world, I thought, along with Colin, what better way than to take an outrageously mainstream genre and make it with a completely DIY, independent sensibility.
Colin: We have both been admirers of Woody Allen’s work for a long time, and most likely had the knowledge of his Manhattan as a homage to New York in the back of our heads. This in turn lead to us planning a short holiday there. It wasn’t a massive leap of logic to decide on taking the camera with us to New York to film some sequences. Although originally we wanted to make a short, during the holiday we both independently had the idea of making a full length film instead. As soon as we realised that actually, we both had the same thought, we decided to massively expand the story, and that’s the film you see today.
IndieFlicks: Did the writing process take long?
Colin: The writing was more or less begun at Christmas 2006, jotting down the basic structure and certain key scenes. Phil and I would sit down for hours (usually in the pub) or fire emails back and forth if an idea hit us in the middle of the night.
Phil: It was a weird process. I see myself first and foremost as a writer, so once me and Col had mapped out the idea in massive detail together, I went away and hammered out the physical screenplay, dialogue, etc. Then I’d go back to Colin, we’d revise it and I’d carry on.
Colin: We had a script by March 2007, but of course when you get to New York, you want to shoot everything, and I mean everything! So we had to reign ourselves in a bit! All this meant that we shot extra scenes in New York, improvising the majority of them to take advantage of the city and situations we found ourselves in. Upon getting back, we had to re-watch all our footage and completely revisit the script! New York is hardly round the corner for pick up shots or re-shoots, and so the script changed in numerous ways, mostly for the better, based on what happened in Manhattan. So the film is a result of both careful planning, improvisation, and urgent frantic re-writes right up until the last minute. I don’t think I’d have it any other way actually.
IndieFlicks: How did you raise the funds needed to make the film?
Colin: What funds?! I have no idea how much we spent as it has taken us over two years to make, all out of our own pockets. Most people have basic editing on their computers these days, and quality arguments put aside for just a second, we can all access some sort of camera if we really wanted to. We had access to a number of cameras owned by myself or friends of mine who work in TV and I had a computer already. Additional camera hire sometimes ate up costs, and buying drinks for all the cast and crew who agreed to work for free for us, but obviously the trip to New York was the most expensive thing. However, it was a holiday where we happened to take a camera and make a film, so I don’t see it as purely a film expenditure, it was an experience I’ll never forget. Don’t be scared of money; if you are doing the DIY film route, it isn’t expenses, it’s personal emotional investment. Some people put their money into clothes, food, cars or what have you, we put ours into Mancattan quite happily.
IndieFlicks: What did you shoot on?
Colin: We shot on a Sony PD170 in New York, then a mixture of that and a Sony HVR-Z1E when I could pinch or afford to hire one from various folks that I know and who supported the film. Thinking back knowing what I know now, I could and perhaps should have used HDV. All that extra quality and detail, which although not “true HD” depending upon who you ask, is great for the amateur film-maker, who was most likely using MiniDV tape stock anyway. I’m a massive technology fan and gadget lover, but I refuse to allow technology limitations to hold back imagination, that’s my own personal high from this film. We made it with what we had to the best possible standards we could manage at the time. If someone, anyone watches this film and realises that “Hey, my camera may not be the greatest, and my computer won’t be able to handle too much, but I’m not going to let that stop me,” then I’ve done my job.
IndieFlicks: Was there any difference between filming in New York and filming in Manchester?
Phil: There were more Americans in New York.
Colin: New York is perhaps the most iconic city on the planet. Everything looks new, different and very photogenic. We actually had to force ourselves not to take the camera out for a few days so that we could just enjoy the holiday we were meant to be having! Seeking permission in Manchester was still fairly easy once we explained to people what we were doing, but in New York, we just plunged right in and did it!
IndieFlicks: If you could go back and make the film again would you change anything?
Phil: I would learn my lines this time!
Colin: I am more than happy with the experience, but it has been more than two years of my life. On a personal and professional level, I am always picking at it and worried that despite my passionate belief that technology shouldn’t restrict creativity, that Mancattan is far from my best work photographically. Finishing and pushing the film for two years means I have kind of been stuck not allowing my latest work or increased skills to see the light of day. I would perhaps have got more practise in and pushed for bigger crews for a better looking film. An investment in a new computer may have been a good idea, total Mancattan rendering probably totals about 3 months if you added it all up. My PC was custom made for video editing 9 years ago but I really pushed it to the limit with this film. I’ve spent many lonely hours waiting for things to render and it can do odd things to your state of mind! I would have got a Producer on board to handle all of the admin side of things. I had to act as Producer for the film and was constantly handling all of the tasks that a Producer could do for me, allowing me just to get on with the film-making! I still have these responsibilities and I think things could have been massively different if Phil and I found a third person with a flair for organisation and producing. As it is, I’m still doing it and probably going grey very soon as a result.
IndieFlicks: When can we expect to see Mancattan released?
Colin: For the time being it will be shown at festivals but perhaps one day it might be shown on the internet for free. I am passionate about independent film-making, but Mancattan is not the film to break down these barriers or change the traditional distribution system. I have something else in mind for that next year. Mancattan may end up as a free movie to download, we’ll see how it does on the festival circuit. We’ve had interest from Salford Film Festival and a festival in Sweden too and so I am doing a frantic re-edit to get it ready for both festivals. We’ll decide on the internet release idea in 2010 depending upon how well it does.
IndieFlicks: What do you think of the current state of independent film making here in the UK?
Colin: A very good question. We have no money, no investors, no budget. I can’t release this film in the traditional manner (screen it outside of festivals or sell it on DVDs) in this country without a BBFC rating. Needless to say this costs hundreds, if not thousands of pounds. If I tried to sell you, in person, a copy of my DVD as an obviously consenting adult, the BBFC and the law can have me fined and thrown in jail. I understand why the BBFC exists to advise and protect younger audiences from potentially unsuitable content, but they are inflexible and outdated. Ironically, I only want to sell the DVD to raise the money for a proper BBFC rating in the first place, but I can’t! Their own rules and regulations stop me, as a DIY digital film-maker, from following those same rules and regulations! The film industry is not geared for this new style of film-making in any way, shape or form. Films made in the traditional way, with commissioners or investors, have BBFC money put aside, it’s part of their budget from the start. But the film-maker who literally picked up a camera and made their vision doesn’t have this option.
Imagine if a painter could be clapped in irons for selling a painting unless he’d had it rated first? If musicians could not give away or play their music? If writers couldn’t put pen to paper? The country would understandably be in uproar! So why not with film? I believe it comes back to technology again; it was never an issue before, because the idea of a full feature being made by the humble amateur, from start to finish, may not have been possible as much as ten years ago. Technology has made that possible now, and so should film-makers not have the same freedoms as other artists? The BBFC is not ready, and I suspect unwilling, to adopt the idea and possibility of this new breed of film-maker breaking onto the scene. People may read that and say “Hang about, the BBFC do a good job, we can’t believe they are in it to make money, they provide a public service, right?” Of course they do, and a valuable one, but they take their slice of the pie and are inflexible to a fault. Did you know that if you put a commentary on your DVD, they charge you double? They see that as a “new version” of your film, and they charge to rate your films by the minute. However, by their own admission, musical and educational films are exempt from classification. Surely an educational audio commentary should be exempt from the exact same by-the-minute charge, especially if you have already paid for them to watch exactly the same visuals when they rated the original film and audio? That practise alone shows that someone at BBFC HQ is quite happy to extort film-makers for this “public service” they perform. Don’t get me wrong, the BBFC provide a valued service when they get it right, for the big studios and big films. But what are they doing for home grown talent in this country? They are not providing any solution or assistance, in fact the total opposite. At best they are over protective, at worst they are enforcing a film state of national cultural castration. Stories from independent British writers, creators and film-makers, who do not stump up the ransom, will never have their films legally seen outside of festivals or the internet. So your previous question was when and where can you see Mancattan? I honestly don’t know much more than you do at this point with all of this bore in mind.
Editor’s Note: Since this interview was conducted, some new information about BBFC regulations has come to public attention. See here for more details.
IndieFlicks: Do you have any projects in the pipeline?
Phil: I’m doing a lot of writing, and have some projects in development with various independent companies with an eye to getting them commissioned for television. I’ve also written and am working on a short film called Count Dave with a few other North West film makers, with an eye to getting it into national and international festivals and getting our stuff noticed.
Colin: I set myself the personal goal of making three short films all to a much higher technical standard than Mancattan. I’m one film down after Karma, two to go, but the idea for the third one is rapidly becoming a mini special effects laden epic. If I pull it off, if you thought two guys making a film in New York by themselves was a Herculean effort, this will blow your mind. So the idea of three shorter “easier” films has quickly become just as hard as making one feature! I’ll be looking again at a Manchester feature in 2010 though, definitely.
IndieFlicks: What advice do you have for any aspiring film-makers out there?
Phil: It’s all about ideas. If you have one, then you’re ready to go.
Colin: Do not listen to that voice that says “I’ll do it later.” Pick up your pen, your camera, your computer this very second. If you don’t listen to that urge the instant you hear it, you may never get around to listening to it again. Don’t worry if you don’t have the full story planned or written, just start! The rest works itself out from there. So stop reading this, and go create. Now.
For more information on Mancattan please visit the official website - Click