As part of our ongoing series highlighting up-and-coming filmmaking talent, INDEPENDENTS DAY talks to writer/director/producer HELEN CURRAN as she prepares to graduate from The Manchester Film School (based at The Manchester College) and debut the second of her own short films, DELICACY…
STARBURST: Plot-wise, what can you tell us about your new film?
Helen Curran: Delicacy is set during the British retreat to Dunkirk during WWII. Two very different soldiers - one a devout catholic with immense guilt, the other a young inexperienced Private - struggle to survive when they’re trapped behind enemy lines with no supplies.
What attracted you to the WWII setting?
I’ve always had a deep interest in that period of history as it had such a momentous impact on the world, which gives great scope for plot and characters. I also wanted to make a short that differed in genre to a lot of others I’ve seen. Considering the rich history surrounding Britain and WWII you don't see enough UK films on the subject in my opinion. Mixing war with zombies or the supernatural was something I wanted to steer clear of. Instead, the tension comes from the natural fear of war and the enemy.
Michael J. Tait and Gary Graham Smith in a scene from DELICACY (2014)
Given that period pieces are notoriously tough on budgets, especially independently funded shorts like this, was there ever any discussion about switching the action to a different era?
During early development the possibility of setting it in modern day was discussed, yes. Although it would’ve made it easier in many respects, the story just wouldn't have had the same impact. The main reason comes from a character perspective - a soldier during WWII wasn't necessarily trained in that field, unlike today. People from all backgrounds, capability and experience went out to fight. To me the characters in Delicacy were from that era and not modern day soldiers.
What particular challenges did you face accurately portraying the era?
That took a lot of researching and attention to detail, not just historically, but as we just talked about, being thrifty was obviously very important too! Luckily enough, the crew were very creative. In particular, the art department and art director Rhiannon Clifford made as many props as possible. Anything they made meant we didn't need to hire. Also, crew members generously donated props, and the producer Sarah Brady's nanna donated a lot of religious artifacts. My proudest find was a prayer book from a vintage charity shop. The book actually belonged to a soldier during the Boer war!
And while we’re still on budgets, is it cheeky to ask what Delicacy’s was? Ballpark?
I'd say the total budget for the shoot was around £750. That's taking into consideration we had access to free rental equipment and a studio.
And you raised much of that £700 through crowd funding, right?
We managed to raise around £650 from the generous backers via Kickstarter. We spent it very wisely and it was a case of beg and borrow as much as we could.
Given how many like-minded filmmakers seek funding through Kickstarter nowadays, what would you say was instrumental in making yourself get noticed and stand out from the crowd?
This was my first experience of crowd funding so I'm no expert, but I think a lot comes down to the concept of your project and how you pitch. Fortunately enough, Lauchlan Scott, one of the executive producers, devised an original and entertaining pitch video concept. Lauchlan and Sarah Brady promoted the video a lot which really helped in awareness. From day one we were determined to do a pitch video that stood out. For me, being in front of a camera was truly terrifying, but I think if you're expecting people to put money into your project, you should be willing to put yourself out there.
Do you think crowd funding is here to stay?
I would like to think it is. It's come along as a way to counter-balance the vast amount of commercial projects. The two negative possibilities are that people stop funding projects either because the novelty wears off, or because of projects that never reach completion. I think it's really important to deliver a high quality product at the end and it's this that will encourage people to invest. I think it's a responsibility that creatives have to fulfill. It's a great way for the public to decide what they want to see. With digital media it's given a new lease of life to shorts and web series.
And as a writer/director, is there any screenwriters you can pinpoint as an inspiration for your approach to writing?
I think there's definitely writers who inspire me and intimidate me at the same time! Two standout filmmakers that go without saying are the Coen brothers and Quentin Tarantino. A large amount of inspirational writing I find comes from television, and has been doing for a long time. Going back to The Shield and Six Feet Under, they were the turning point in television for me. Now there's so many well written TV shows - Damages, The Killing and True Detective spring to mind as recent examples. I also find podcasts on the subject of the writing process to be invaluable when it comes to inspiration - John August and Craig Mazin’s Scriptnotes in particular is great; very informative.
Michael J. Tait in a scene from DELICACY (2014)
Let’s talk about your leads, both of which were superb it must be said. How did you go about casting them?
I had watched some shorts at festivals starring Michael a while before we went into production. When it came to casting he was someone I'd remembered and straight away I could picture him as Thompson. As for Gary, I worked as part of the crew on a theatre production about four years ago; he was the lead actor and I always remembered being blown away by his performance. When it came to casting I knew he was the perfect Barnes.
We have to give props to the excellent cinematography and editing too, both of which were handled by newcomers also, is that right?
Yes. My DP, Theo Kirkpatrick, and my editor, Matt Hamer, all graduated on the same course as myself and we've collaborated a lot on many different projects over the years, including Gone, my own first short. It’s a good dynamic; we all seem to be on the same wavelength.
Once you’ve completed the festival circuit, what’s coming next for you?
I've got two shorts, one hopefully to be shot later this year and the other is in script development. The next short will be different in a lot of aspects to Delicacy, purely because I want to experiment with different genres, styles and length. I've got a couple of other scripts I want to continue working on as well. I'm also on the lookout to direct a music video, so hopefully that will come into fruition in the near future.
CUT TO: 5 YEARS FROM NOW. What are you working on?
In an ideal world, working on all my favourite TV shows. Or better yet, working on my own TV show!
And in this hypothetical but totally accurate-in-all-ways future, tell us, what awesome show has Netflix resurrected much to the delight of everyone reading?
Hmm. Firefly, The Killing and the recent Upstairs Downstairs remake.
Didn’t see that one coming. And the number 1 film at the box office is...
Batman or Spider-Man for the umpteenth time. Nothing will have changed.
That’s depressing. But true. Okay, FLASHBACK: JUNE 2014. Where can we find your previous work?
Most can be found on my site www.helenlyonscurran.co.uk and I can be followed on twitter @heletron.
And most importantly, where can we see Delicacy?
The first two screenings are both in Manchester – it’s playing at Kino festival on June 2nd, and then at the It's a Short Film Festival on June 26th. For screenings beyond that, they'll be updated at www.delicacyshortfilm.co.uk.
Check out the trailer for DELICACY by clicking the poster above.
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