Chris Jones is the well known British filmmaker who, as well as having an Oscar short listed film, Gone Fishing, is also the co creator of the indie film bible, The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook. IndieFlicks got in touch with Chris to discuss the book, filmmaking and what it felt like to be Oscar shortlisted.
IndieFlicks: Where did your love of film come from?
Chris: Like most film makers I grew up watching movies and falling in love with the medium. We all have our favourites and most influential movies - for me, movies like Alien and John Carpenter’s The Fog were very important to me and I began emulating those films on Super-8 by burying my friends in my mum’s cabbage patch and making zombie horror movies which I then successfully marketed and presented to local schools and turned a profit.
IndieFlicks: How did you get started in film making?
Chris: After making a string of successful Zombie movies with my school friends and showing at local schools, I went to film school; which didn’t really work out for me. However, it was there that I met my friend and business partner Genevieve Jolliffe who I ended up making a series of low budget British independent feature films with. We just got on with it, we did not have anyone telling us that we should not be doing this or that it was not possible. So, we approached it as: nobody had done this before, and figured it out as we went, it seemed quite logical. We hired a camera, got some actors, got a script, some locations, some sound recording equipment and we just went out and we did it. I would love to say that there was some grand master plan or that we had some incredible mentor, but the fact is we didn’t. We dealt with it day by day.
IndieFlicks: Your first feature film was The Runner, was it a pleasurable experience?
Chris: It was a true baptism of fire, everything went wrong, this was mainly because we did not know what we were doing, we were very young and naive; ambitious and under funded. That was a really deadly concoction, nevertheless we made a competent feature film shot on film, full of stunts, action and entertainment. I don’t think that it was a pleasurable experience, but it was an extraordinary experience. I think that when one measures life’s experiences and its value to one’s self, that has much more weight to me.
IndieFlicks: How much did it cost to make?
IndieFlicks: What did you learn most from making this film?
Chris: We learnt a huge amount and all of those lessons were taken forward very quickly into our second feature White Angel. Lots of simple things like keep your story contained to one location or even one shooting location, even if it is multiple story locations, minimise your characters, get the script right before you go to set; I know it all sounds obvious in this day and age where there is an abundance of information in books or on courses, but back then really nobody knew this stuff, unless you had been doing it professionally, but then you wouldn’t be making a low budget film.
IndieFlicks: How did the Guerilla Filmmaker’s Handbook come about?
Chris: We wrote The Guerilla Filmmakers Handbook at her majesty’s pleasure. We received a dawn raid while making White Angel and it was while sitting in cells we thought that we need to write a book about this. That was the genesis of the handbook and it’s all in the book, the arrest warrants and all.
IndieFlicks: Where did the idea of Gone Fishing come from?
Chris: Gone Fishing came from a meeting with a top British producer who said “We really love your script and we would really love to make it, but you can’t direct it because your films are very low budget and you have not made anything for some time”. That catalysed me into action. So often in life one goes along day to day doing things until you have a full blown breakdown, it usually takes another party to put the mirror up to your face and say “hey, have a good look” and in this occasion it was this producer. He didn’t know that he was doing this to me; but he was and I realised that I had become an accidentally succesful author with The Guerilla Filmmaker Handbook series and I really needed to recommit to film. I committed on the spot to making an Oscar worthy short film.
IndieFlicks: According to IMDB the budget is said to be £7,000, did you have to call in a lot of favours to bring the film in at that amount?
Chris: We didn’t pull in too many, what we did was use good old producer blood, sweat and tears. We did lean on some existing relationships. On the whole the great things that came out of Gone Fishing were completely new relationships. Because I had committed to excellence, it was decided that we wanted to shoot on film so we called Kodak, and convinced them that they needed to give us the film stock. Once we got that then Vernon Layton came on board as DoP, then everything started to fall into place. It all begins with making this commitment at the beginning to being unreasonable, and aspiring to the highest possible standards.
Chris: We shot on 35mm. We did not even entertain shooting on the digital format because this was the classic Hollywood style family film, it is not a Harry Potter film but if you like Harry Potter I am pretty sure that you would like Gone Fishing. We have a hundred years of cinematic heritage that says that movies look like film. Digital still looks terrific and it is totally appropriate for some stories but it was not appropriate for this story.
IndieFlicks: How long did principal photography last?
Chris: We shot for six days and we had a further pick up day a month later where we went back to pick up extra shots that we discovered we needed during the edit process.
IndieFlicks: Which part of the production did you find most enjoyable?
Chris: Personally, I find the editing, the sound mixing and the grading most enjoyable because at that point you have done all your hard work, the ideas have become a reality and you are in the final stages of polishing. Also, it is a stage where, in my experience, you are working with extremely experienced people in an extremely professional environment and they usually have big leather sofas and coffee machines and you get relaxed into this wonderfully creative final mastering stage. When all the sound comes together in a fantastic sound environment, it’s like nothing else.
IndieFlicks: What lessons did you learn?
Chris: Everything we learned has now been committed to an exhaustive fourteen hour online workshop, which is available at www.gonefishingseminar.com. We built this resource partly out of the commitment to the people who were the associate producers on the film. As you know, the film was entirely funded by me asking every person I ever met for £50 and part of that commitment was to document the whole process, then put together this work shop which we did partly through the blog and partly through the workshop that we ran at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts on the day of the premiere. In terms of lessons I am not so sure that I personally learned a lot, however, what I did get was a lot of confirmation and affirmation of things that I already felt to be true. Such as; aspiring for greatness and really trying to get terrific actors, really planning and preparing in great detail and almost making the film via storyboard before we even got to set.
Chris: It was an extraordinary feeling. When the email from the academy comes and says that basically don’t book a holiday for February you might be going to the Oscars, all bets are off. You shift into an entirely different universe at that moment so it was quite an extraordinary feeling. It was also wonderful because it was an affirmation of what we were trying to achieve as we were the only British film in 2009 to be Academy award short listed for the short narrative award. That felt really great, especially in light of the BAFTAs - who chose five other films over Gone Fishing - and I think that it really serves to illustrate the distinction between European cinema and the American Hollywood style cinema. We are very much in the Hollywood camp, so it was a wonderful affirmation that we were speaking their language.
IndieFlicks: What can we expect to see from you in the future?
Chris: I always knew that Gone Fishing would open up many more doors than I could really imagine or see in front of me. I am currently working on a bunch of things, but I learnt a long time ago that it’s all hyperbole until the cheque is in the bank account or you find yourself on the first day of principal photography. All things being equal I should be shooting a feature film within the next six months.
IndieFlicks: Can we expect to see another edition of The Guerilla Filmmaker’s Handbook?
Chris: We are working on The Digital Guerilla Filmmaker’s pocket book right now. It is very small and refined but still a very dense edition that is designed to go in your back pocket as a resource for when you are on set and you come across some problems. We also have online Seminars, the Gone Fishing one is effectively a two day workshop that we have tried to keep as cost effective as possible. The feedback has been extraordinary, we still have 100% five out of five feedback from everybody who has taken the workshop!
IndieFlicks: What advice would you give aspiring filmmakers?
Chris: Seek advice and knowledge from as many cost effective sources as you can, whether they are books, seminars, workshops or taking successful people out for a cheap sandwich. Do as much as you can but don’t become a junkie who is addicted to learning from others, because fundamentally filmmaking can’t be taught, it can only be learned through experience. You can only get some tips and pointers from these resources, and as valuable as they are the best way is to just pick up a camera and go out there and make a film, learn from the experience then do some structured learning, but not too much, then go make another film and learn from those mistakes. I am a great believer of make a film, do a course, read a book, make another film, do a course, read a book, make another film, always forwarding your career. Don’t get entrenched in just researching or reading or doing courses or making films and ignoring all the great information that is out there. Most importantly though, get out there and make a film!
For more information on Chris Jones’ work please visit his website and blog - click