February 2018: About 25 minutes ago I received that little black certificate that the BBFC give you – you know, the one with the signatures and an age rating on that’s shown before films. It wasn’t until that certificate arrived in my inbox that it hit home that we’d made a 'proper' film. We’ve got a US distributor, the film’s being theatrically released by Showcase in the UK, and it wasn’t until this strange moment that it all felt 'proper'.
And I can’t work out why - I guess it’s the one thing that ties Destination: Dewsbury to multi-million pound Hollywood features that I grew up watching at the cinema. Something about it just makes everything feel real.
I think because we’ve done Destination: Dewsbury whilst I was so young, childhood seems only a blink of an eye ago. So I think I’ll start there. I had a great upbringing, a very supportive family who took me and my brother to museums, galleries, lower league football matches and essentially just exposed us to a lot of culture. Even if I didn’t enjoy being begrudgingly dragged by the ear around Yorkshire Sculpture Park as an 11-year-old, it probably had some sort of positive effect on me.
It was my dad who got me into film making as a kid. He was made redundant sometime in the early 2000s and during that time, rather than invest several months in the latest edition of Championship Manager, he made a load of little stop motion animations with me and my brother, Harry. We’d get sticks from the garden, draw little cartoon characters on paper and stick them on. Take a picture, move slightly, take a picture. He’d then stick the images in Movie Maker, I’d record some sort of tonal concoction on the keyboard and we’d have ourselves a movie.
Come to think of it, that’s pretty much what we did with Destination: Dewsbury.
A few years later the digital revolution made a cheap DSLR somewhat more accessible to a young chap with a big grin and an ambitious Christmas wish list. Once I landed a digital camera of my own I was away.
I remember being about 12 and setting up a shit ton of candles in my mum’s kitchen into a flower-like pattern, dimming the lights, taking a picture, repeating and editing them together to Kasabian’s newly released ‘Fire’. Unfortunately they didn’t use it as their official release but I’m sure they appreciated the effort.
Each project got slightly better and better, I was learning lots just by doing it, which I think has been the mentality that’s pushed me through the entire process really. I’ve always seen making films a bit like playing guitar. You start off and you’re going to be awful, but the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. I’d say once a year I go back through all of my childhood projects and enjoy essentially watching myself work out what sort of films I want to make, skipping all over the shop from 60 second feel goods to dark, bloody horrors before landing on ‘The Great Yorkshire Bank Robbery’, a 25 minute black comedy-cum-heist movie.
At 16 I started to pick up a few awards from around the world. My school teachers Mr Butcher, Mr Beavis and Mr Middlecoat were the three who stand out as the ones who gave me that big boost in confidence that every creative, self-conscious teenager needs. Their advice to push the films to festivals really opened a lot of doors - winning awards massively increased my confidence as a filmmaker and soon it was pretty clear to me that I wanted to do this for a living.
We got sent up to the Co-operative Film Festival in Bradford as we’d won a couple of things there, including the Best Drama (coincidently, Edgar Wright won the same award as a kid). We didn’t know if the north of England would serve us beer like the corner shops did in South London (big shout out to the local off-licence for turning a blind eye), so we lugged 60 cans of Carling up on the train in a suitcase, only for us to discover Wetherspoons became more liberal with their ID-ing policy the further north you went.
Anyway, I had a few years of fun jollying across Europe going to film festivals in strange little towns. Then adulthood began breathing down my neck and university was a beast I needed to make a decision on.
It seemed as though everyone outside of the film industry told me to go to university, whilst everyone inside the film industry told me not to bother. The idea of a three-year-long bender at a uni only an hour's drive from my beloved Grimsby Town sounded like too much fun to pass, so university I did.
Truth is, it wasn’t very good. But it probably was never going to be right for me, no matter who was teaching, where I was drinking, what I was studying...
I was always uncomfortable with the fact that creative courses at universities are taught by academics. The majority of staff hadn’t spent much time in the film world, the course was largely taught and marked on an essay and exam basis, and the shitty film we did get to make at the end of the year was shot on a tape camera using a load of film students as actors. The staff were rude, punished intuition and didn’t really appreciate working on films over writing essays on 1940s audio recording devices. It was all a bit of a waste of time and money really – I think the only thing I did learn was that cheese is actually really fucking expensive.
My housemate knew of a couple of guys, Scott and Sid, who were shooting a film in York so I soon began borderline harassing them until they let me come and be a runner on set. It was all very exciting but the Uni tried to block my involvement, instead insisting I spend my time revising lumen conversions.
Persist I did, against the wrath of suit wearing sausages at Uni, and a grand job I did too. Scott sat me down after a few days and within 30 minutes changed my life forever. He explained that I should leave uni, make a feature, live with the dream chaser headspace. He opened up this war chest of mentality that felt like an atomic bomb exploding in my head. Suddenly anything was possible.
People talk about life-changing moments pretty dramatically, but that was the extent of the effect this conversation had on me. I stayed in my room thinking about the conversation I’d had with Scott that very afternoon instead of joining my friends at Yates’ very generous £1 pint Wednesdays.
The very next day, I paraded into the head of year’s office and told him I was thinking of leaving to make a feature film, and to ask him if he thought it was possible to stay and make the feature over the summer. He turned around, looked out the window and very proudly said ‘Jack, I had a friend who made a feature really young, and he never made one again’.
And that was the spark I needed. Bravo that man - in a strange twist of events I guess he did inspire me to go and make the film through his effortless combination of rudeness and punishment of intuition.
Now at this point you might expect a smooth stroll to the pearly gates of Hollywood. But, nah, this is where the story takes somewhat of a side-step.
Being from a very good but not hugely affluent family, and growing up in a South London suburb, I didn’t really know many rich people. Those we did know weren’t interested in investing in my film because well, I’d technically only been an adult a couple of months. There was nothing I could do about being 18, but I started to break down why being 18 was the issue. It was an issue because we’d never dealt with large amounts of money, we’d never made profit, budgeted, spent wisely – and well, what fool would trust a bunch of kids with £150k.
As with most of my anecdotes in this article, cheap lager is a prevalent theme. After waking up in Leeds after a night under the watchful eye of Mr Wetherspoon, I decided I needed to start a business which would make money, and thus impress rich people who would then fund the movie. In my somewhat bleary-eyed state, I stumbled upon a picture of my good friend, Kenneth, sitting pot-bellied in an inflatable hot tub he’d just brought. I decided that taking a side-step into the world of commercial aquatics would be my path to riches. So I went about setting up an inflatable hot tub hire company thanks to a timely cash gift from my grandad.
12 months later and we’d monopolised the UK’s inflatable hot tub hire scene. Nine cities, 60+ hot tubs and a customer base of almost entirely middle-aged women later, and we were in a position to go back to investors with an impressive year of business under our belt.
It was an instant difference in mentality from investors. Rather than ‘who’re these 18 year old kids trying to get money off of me?’, it became very quickly ‘they’re only 19 and they’re doing all this, let's get involved’. It was probably about the only part of the story thus far that did go to script!
It was by around March time that we had half of our money in - enough to shoot. So we had a good few months to cast, crew, find locations, put the whole thing together.
The vast majority of the credit for how well the shoot played out must go to my wonderful producer, Kate Dow, who I have absolutely no doubt is the best producer of her age in the country. We came in under budget on the shoot by £35. Well, after I totted up a £70 parking fine on the final day I guess we technically came in over budget – but we won’t mention that.
Film in the can and ‘we’re across the finishing line’ Jack thought. Nah ah hunny! Post production was relatively smooth: we’d raise another 10k, spend another 10k on post and repeat until we locked the film a year later. I reckon we could have done it in three months had we had the finance there from the off, so it was a bit frustrating. I thought that once we had some pretty footage in the can to show investors, then it’d be super easy to get the rest in, but it was still a case of bit by bit.
I knew there was a bridge called ‘sales and distribution’ that I’d have to cross at some point, although that was the part of filmmaking (as well as financing) that I’d never done before and didn’t have a clue about. Shorts don’t really get distributed because they’re not meant to (and rarely do) make money. They’re more of a calling card and a training ground.
As with a large amount of my now industry contacts, I sent a spam email out to almost the entire industry both UK-based and stateside, and hoped for at least one response. One kind gentleman(now a good friend), Sebastian Twardosz, replied to me and after a two-hour Skype call, we decided that we’d like to work together in selling the film. By this point I’d acquired the services of a wonderful manager named ‘Uncle’ Larry Robinson, who’d guided me away from a few dodgy deals and who spoke very highly of Sebastian.
Sebastian formulated a list of festivals we should target and I went away and raised a couple of grand to cover festival fees. We submitted to seven or eight mid-range festivals, mainly in America. A few weeks later we were welcomed with the news that we’d been accepted into the Beverly Hills Film Festival in Hollywood, and the Newport Beach festival just down the road in California. A good 20 of us who’d worked on the film flew out to the festival, hired a nice place with a pool for a week, did the festival and then buggered off to Vegas the night following the screening. See kids, it’s only taken 2,000 words for the film industry to get glamorous.
After our festival success in California, Sebastian sent the film around to distributors, with the film receiving six or seven offers from companies across the world. We went with Random Media, who we felt were best suited to distribute the film.
A few months later and I email Showcase Cinemas about hosting a premiere event in Dewsbury as they have a big ass cineplex in the town next door. I soon got put through to the big dogs there who offered to become the film’s UK theatrical distributor. It was a real surprise and a theatrical release wasn’t something we anticipated when formulating potential returns to investors. It sort of raises the film, particularly for a film of our budget - it’s very good. Showcase Cinemas have been wonderful to work with. Their team are all very pro young film makers and I can’t speak highly enough of both Random Media and Showcase - they have been top to deal with.
When making the film I had three big interests in terms of how it would affect my future. First, it had to make the investors profit. Secondly, it had to be seen by as many people as possible and thirdly, it had to open the door to the next film.
It’s being released in a few weeks so we’ll wait and see on point one, but with theatrical release it’s going to be seen by its audience. Its audience is essentially people from Dewsbury and people that like Inbetweeners-y, rude, crude comedy. We couldn’t do much better than getting it shown for six weeks in the big cinema there so I’m happy with that one.
It’s also opened the door for project number two…. ‘Three Day Millionaire’ is due to shoot in June and although I can’t reveal the cast just yet, we’ve got some ridiculous names attached – the sort of names I dreamed of directing back when I was messing around in my bedroom, honing my skills.
If you’re bright and you work hard enough you’ll do just fine in the film industry. You’ll have to hustle and sometimes it feels like you’re drilling your head into the ground for a living – but it’s worth it.
Be nice to people, enjoy the journey, keep chasing the dream.
January 2016: On September 30th 2015 I stepped out of the education system forever, after 1 year of study at the University of York.
Since probably around the age of 11 we’re all told University is the only way to succeed, the only way we can access those jobs we all want, the 40k salary, the wife and two kids who live in the 3 bedroom new build in a London suburb. Teachers, Heads, the Man who has the fancy door sign declaring himself ‘head of post 16 studies’, they all drill it into you that University is the promised land and without it you’ll be working a shitty job doing everything you never thought you’d become.
It’s wrong that these people, the guardians of our future dreams are allowed to drill this message into kids. Just because they’ve spent their whole career in education doesn’t mean everyone else does too. They want statistics, they want 94% of their kids going into further education, if one or two stumble into Oxbridge that’s great too for their 18 foot banner attached to the front gates detailing their ‘success rate’. If your dream is to become a Lawyer, Doctor - something that you need a degree in to reach your dream then they’re true - but for the rest of us, particularly those looking towards a creative career - the fact that they’re pushing us with this message is intrinsically wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, kids have a choice - they’re by no means forced, but I think it’s right that they have someone else writing an article like this - letting them know there’s another way.
I had a choice too, I decided to come to University - it’s the best thing I’ve done, the people I’ve met are fantastic (apart from the nasty ones), but it was also the best thing I’ve done leaving when I did.
I remember sitting in a lecture theatre, being taught how to write an essay on how Eastenders has changed since it first began to air. The lecturer, Hannah, was by far the rudest person I’ve ever met (she lost her job shortly after said lecture) had never made a film, nor a TV programme, in fact she’d never come out of the educational system. I remember realising that I didn’t want to spend the next 2 days writing an essay about Eastenders, nor did I want to spend the next 2 years being taught by Rude Hannah, and I didn’t really want to spend a further £18,000 on the privilege.
Weeks earlier I’d met two people who have changed my life forever, Scott and Sid. They’d seen something in me and Scott had offered to be my Executive Producer if I wanted to make a feature film. Excitedly I’d asked my year leader, Ed, for a meeting to discuss said proposal - and whether the University would A) be of any help, B) if it was possible to study whilst making the feature.
With a grin on his face, Ed declared that “one of his friends had directed a feature film at a young age, and never made one again”. Thanks for that Ed, that line is still what gets me out of bed every morning.
Earlier that week I’d won a cash prize at a film festival, Ed found out and because I’d used one of the University's tripods when making said film, he demanded the University be sent the cash prize (which I’d already spunked on lager and a new Grimsby Town shirt) and all future cash prizes the film would win. Surely the University would want, come graduation, their kids to make enough money from their films to live off of, surely thats the aim of the game.
As you can probably tell, I don’t really like people punishing intuition, particularly rude people punishing intuition.
I’d began to think about leaving, but that was a very scary option. I didn’t know anyone who’d left University early who hadn’t gone straight into a job stacking porn mags at Tesco. I didn’t really know how I’d deal with being different to everyone I’d met at Uni, whether I'd have to move back to London with Mum & Dad, or what I’d do to earn enough money for those Wetherspoons sharing platters I like.
I’d gone out for a night in Leeds and for some reason decided starting an Inflatable Hot Tub Hire company was a good idea - quickly it got big so the financial pressure was taken away, which was probably the trigger to be mustering up the bollocks to leave.
I do still wonder what the hell I am doing with a Hot Tub Hire company, how ridiculous.
The first two months after leaving were horrible. My last film was shit, my housemates were doing my nut in with their drug addictions, I was missing my ex, my Grandad was diagnosed with cancer and making myself different from everyone else suddenly felt like a very isolating decision.
I spent a whole night in the kitchen listening to Jamie T’s song ‘Believing in things that can’t be done’ on repeat. I woke up the next morning, had an excellent day and was back to Jack.
Within a month we’d raised £70,000 for the feature film, opened 9 cities with the hot tubs and we were suddenly winning. I’d met my business partner for life George MacGill and we’ve both realised that in this world you can do anything you like - the only person stopping you from reaching your dreams is yourself, your mindset.
Kids need someone from the other side of the fence to tell them that just because their path isn’t within education, that that’s okay. It’s scary for a little while, council tax is a thing too - but it’s a lot more exciting than an essay on the difference between Ian Beale and Scrappy Doo. Be nice to people, have a dream, work hard and you’ll be just fine.
If a 19 year old kid can find £70,000 in a month then what’s your excuse for not doing what you want to do in life? Just because it’s not what everyone else is doing doesn’t mean its not possible.
Stop making excuses and go smash this world.
For those still at University, as long as you’re chasing your dream, I salute you.
Believe in things that can’t be done.