Falling with Style
They say you should never fund a film with your own money. But it's also true that some of the biggest indie filmmakers working today had to pay their own way because studios and corporations often lack the vision to see how a small, richly textured curio can breakout to a wider audience.
It's refreshing to head to the website for Kanchi Wichmann's gay relationship drama Break My Fall, click through to the 'FAQs' and find a list of defiant declarations resonating with indie filmmaking spirit. A goad to all other wannabe filmmakers who haven't made their first feature yet.
Clear and to-the-point, it's worth restating here:
Q: How long did Break My Fall take to shoot?
A: Our shoot was three weeks, but we actually shot for around 16 days.
Q: What was the budget?
A: The total budget was £50,000. We went into shooting with £22,000.
Q: What did you shoot on?
A: We shot on Super 16mm Fujifilm stock. We used an Aaton camera.
Q: Where did you get the money?
A: We used our own money and got deals on everything; the cast and crew worked for expenses only.
Q: Where did you find the cast and crew?
A: They were mostly friends and friends of friends or we found them online on Shooting People or Casting Call Pro. Almost all of us had never made a feature film before.
With no bankrolling suits to appease, Wichmann had total control, and this independent streak carried through to all aspects of production. A telltale choice was the shooting medium: starting with only £22,000 and choosing film is a statement of intent, of serious filmmaking, of discipline and ambition.
"The story's about two girls in a band with no money, living in a shabby flat. So, we shot on film rather than video," Wichmann explains. "The initial budget wouldn't pay for most Hollywood films' cut offs, let alone a whole 106-minute feature."
Premiering at Film de Femmes in Paris and the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in April 2011, Wichmann's intensely personal film chronicles the final days of a turbulent relationship between two lesbians, Sally (Sophie Anderson) and Liza (Kat Redstone). "It's about a relationship break up and the effect on the people's lives and their friendships," says Wichmann, who bridles slightly at the gay tag. "It's sad when a film gets labelled as a gay film or a women's film," she frowns. "There's so much more to it than sexuality."
That "so much more" is Hackney, one the most vibrant and diverse neighborhoods in East London. "I set it in Hackney because that's my world. I also think it's quite a cinematic neighborhood," says Wichmann. "The area is changing and this shows a phase of life in Hackney before it disappears forever. The location is like a character in the story."
Wichmann doesn't shy away from showing the unseemly side of her beloved borough - Break My Fall is no glorification of Shoreditch clubbing or gentrified bohemia. Liz and Sally live a largely nocturnal existence in run-down warehouse clubs and dingy cafes, literally living outside 'normal hours'. This makes the evocative, cinema verité cinematography even more impressive, captured without the exposure leg-ups of digital video.
When Wichmann's camera does venture into daylight, it's a burnt-round-the-edges realm of comedowns and hangovers, actress Sophie Anderson likening the claustrophobic intimacy to "a camera [looking] into a window of people's lives".
That's what Wichmann wanted - real life without cinematic adornment. She takes this ethos to a logical extreme, with extended sequences happening in complete silence. "That's quite an unusual technique," she says. "It's uncomfortable for people but I wanted it to be like that." The result is the kind of deliberately ambiguous, defiantly uncompromising film that would never get mainstream funding. Nothing is tied up, nothing is tidy, because "life's just not like that". The look of the film mirrors the content - ragged, real and gripping
Wichmann's next film, Normal Love, is currently "out for funding", the smart course of action possibly - paying for two films yourself would be foolhardy. "It's a crazy mother-daughter story set in a seaside town," says Wichmann of her sophomore project, suggesting a commensurate broadening of scope. "It has this manic, silly, dark comedy energy," she says. "So I feel a bit schizophrenic at the moment!"
But what about the sophomore curse, where they say your second film is often your last? There's something about the fiercely independent Wichmann that says she will buck that trend too.