For most, the Cannes Film Festival conjures images of red carpet receptions, lavish parties and the best and brightest in new cinema swanking around the Med shores. Yet one London filmmaker has managed to infiltrate the crust of moneyed exclusivity by bringing to the festival a short film that he shot for less than £100.
Charles Duke, the head of London-based production company Babarouge, has entered his film Caution: Wet Paint for the Cannes Short Film Corner, a showcase event that aims to help new filmmakers develop their projects further. It combines screenings, networking, workshops and pitches, with the goal being to connect undiscovered talent with the money men who can transform a gem of an idea into a finished feature.
We caught up with Charles to discuss his work and the challenges and opportunities for low-budget filmmakers in London.
Tell us a bit about your film, Caution: Wet Paint
'Caution Wet Paint' is the name for the series of comedy shorts set in and around Poplar that portray the lives of two characters, Jay (a wannabe comic book artist) and Kay (a mad postman) and their continuing adventures. 'Caution Wet Paint: What Really Happened at The Bus Stop' is the first adventure of the pair which introduces the characters to the world and how they actually meet up - randomly chatting to each other at a bus stop in East London. It was made specifically for film festivals. A shortened version of this short is available on the internet and has been shown on cable TV in Europe and North America.
How do you see the film developing?
Since that initial short we have spun off a series of webisodes and will release our first hybrid live action/cartoon episode in June. Taking advantage of Jay's comic book 'imagination', many of the episodes are surreal homages to various film styles that I myself admire. Old Hong Kong Kung Fu pictures, Indian Cinema, Musicals and Euro Comedies. I would also like to think that we provide a social commentary on contemporary London.
What festivals has the film been shown at?
We were premiered at the 2007 Canary Wharf Film Festival and have since been shown at Deptford Film Festival and the London Film Makers' Convention. We are also to be screened at this summer's Portobello Film Festival.
And what did people make of it
The reaction from audiences have been positive and the organisers have enjoyed the short, which is really great feedback. After all, there is nothing like seeing a live audience giggle at the right moments of the film.
So, the Cannes Short Film Corner. How did you get involved in this?
I was checking out the Cannes site and saw this opportunity exclusively open to short film makers which was to get your film screened plus have the opportunity to meet industry professionals from around the world. I filled out the forms and was fortunate enough to be invited to this event.
What kind of preparation has it required, and what do you hope to get out of going to Cannes?
A good question. I am not sure of what I have 'to do' before I get to Cannes. So I have taken the initiative and have tried to make 'Caution Wet Paint' as presentable as possible. Press packs, posters, DVD's, synopses. Plus, trying to drum up as much publicity as possible. Essentially, I am trying to sell myself and 'Caution Wet Paint' to buyers, producers and distributors and so I really want to make it as easy as possible to present the concept to them. Ultimately, I hope to make 'Caution Wet Paint' into a feature and subsequently spin off the idea into as many genres as possible. Time will tell...
Your work is rooted in London, particularly in areas less traditionally popular with filmmakers. What is it that you find inspiring about working in places like Poplar?
People and Places. Poplar is one of London's friendliest neighbourhoods, especially once you scratch the surface. Having lived in East London for over five years, it has been the source of many a tale. Poplar, and East London as a whole is also an area of enormous physical change. It is like an East Asian city, with the skyline changing everyday. With a blend of the old and new, it is an exciting place in which to film. Also, I am a Londoner, and this is the environment that I know most. Luckily, this is probably the most eclectic city on the planet, a true gift to the film maker.
What are the principle challenges facing a low budget filmmaker in London?
Exposure. It is very hard to get the public and professionals within the industry to notice your work. You have to develop a tough skin . It is also a matter of contacts. This is an enterprise built on personalities and it is an advantage that graduates of film school have over myself who has no background in film training. However, the challenges themselves can be an advantage. Being low budget allows me to take more risks in making films and to be more innovative on set. After all, the lack of cash means that I have to be more creative in order to tell a story.
You work mainly on the streets with a very small crew. What kind of reaction do you get from locals and passers-by?
The locals are great and they are often on my films in some way or another. In fact, it is important to have the support of local people and often, they are your first audience. If they like what they see being filmed, then you know you are on the right track.
How about the police? After all, there has been a recent campaign encouraging people to shop anyone acting "suspiciously", which apparently includes anybody with a camera or video equipment.
The law, well, you have to be confident with the police, but not cocky. After all, however much you may or may not agree with them, they are doing a job just like anyone else. Yes, the police have been called out on me, but we always seem to get along.
And finally.. have you ever been sick on the Tube?
No, but I once stepped in a pile of vomit on a Hammersmith and Shitty Line train.
The Cannes Short Film Corner runs from May 14th - 24th.
Visit Babarouge's YouTube channel for clips from the film. Image from "Caution: Wet Paint" courtesy of Babarouge.