Making Pictures the Independent Way with British Filmmaker Jane Sanger
Former drama teacher and mother to five girls, Jane Sanger took a less than conventional path en route to becoming a filmmaker. Having long yearned to pursue dreams of making her passion and creativity a reality, with no formal experience she decided to take the brave leap into the independent movie business and now clutching a stack of awards she’s not looked back since. Here Jane tells us about the trials and tribulations of making a film from scratch on a tight budget and how her latest Toyah Wilcox starring horror project #SWIPERIGHT is shaping up.
The MALESTROM: Hi how are you? So you’re pretty busy at the moment then?
Jane Sanger: Hi, yeah good thanks. I’ve got quite a few projects on the go and as you can imagine I’m just juggling things, trying to get them to fruition really. Obviously there’s #SWIPERIGHT which is a psychological horror, and I have another which I’m doing with a friend of mine who had an award winning play in London, called Bloody Love which is a teen drama/thriller. Then I’ve got another big project which is called The Nightrider, which is an historical drama, and there’s been interest from Pinewood and Film Wales, the ideal scenario is to get a 9pm Sunday night BBC slot and that’s the dream really.
TM: So tell us a little bit about how it all started for you? The world of filmmaking…
JS: Well I’ve got a large family, five daughters, so I haven’t been able to work constantly – I worked as a drama teacher off and on for many years – then my youngest wanted to be an actress and she started going to a lot film auditions and stuff like that and I thought, well really if I’m going to go back to work now, rather than be a drama teacher, I think I’d like to work in film. And I’ve directed stage performances and stuff like that before and so had a bit of a head start but I didn’t go to film school and thought, ‘I’m just going to throw myself in’, very foolishly perhaps, or not so. So I just started and my first film was about the now defunct, well practically, Blackberry with my daughter in, it was called Blackberry Girl and it got 120,000 hits on YouTube within a few months and I thought, ‘yeah this is what I want to do!’
So it just kind of progressed from there. I don’t ever think anything should stand in your way, people say ‘oh you’re older, a mature woman’ and being a woman, that’s very hard in the film industry, but I don’t find that at all, I don’t take any notice of that sort of thing. I think actually it’s a little bit in my favour because, as you get older you have more stories, experience to draw upon. The people you’ve met and places you’ve been etc. And so I started writing, I’ve always written and had folders of stuff I’ve never gone forward with and then I just started writing the films and learning as I went along really. I made a load of mistakes at the beginning (laughs) as you do. I look back at Blackberry Girl with horror now, I mean it’s okay, but I see tons and tons of mistakes, but I think you’re probably always learning.
TM: So what’s your writing process?
JS: Well I’ve sort of got an idea in my head, and then I just sit down and go through it, I mean #SWIPERIGHT is on something like draft 27, so you keep refining it, giving it out to people to read, and then take any comments on board. I mean sometimes people make comments that are fantastic and you then change stuff and other times people make comments and you think ‘No’ and then you’ve got to be strong…
TM: Of course you don’t have take everyone’s thoughts on board….
TM: Just the good stuff (laughs)…
JS: (Laughs) Yes everyone wants the praise… but I think it evolves, I’ll do a table read and when actors are there doing the read through – you’ll then see what needs changing. But I think I’ve improved as well, I’ve done 11 short films now, and I won 12 awards for the last one and 3 awards for the one before that and an award for the one before that, so it’s slowly building…
TM: What was the film that won 12 awards?
JS: It’s a film called KATYA about child sex trafficking, which is still on the festival circuit, there might be one or two more awards to come…
TM: And do you manage to get to all these festivals?
JS: I do try, it’s an expensive business really, some have been in America, which I haven’t gone to, but I try to go to as many as possible. I also go to Cannes every year, which is brilliant and I’ve had a couple of films in there over the years. Cannes is somewhere every filmmaker should go to if they can, as it’s a great place to network and meet the right people.
TM: So tell us about your process, once the script is done?
JS: Well, next I’ll cast it because investors always want to see the cast. It’s all about getting the investors, and I’m so proactive about it, I’ve learnt so much in the last few years. I’ve always been able to fund the short films – I’ve been doing some tip sheets, which are selling like hotcakes ‘A hundred ways you can fund your short film’ – so I’ve been successful doing that and I’d like to think I can do the same with feature films, but it’s a lot more complicated and people want a good return for their money and they want certain things. I’m quite arty and I’ve got to do the investment memorandums, a 24 page document showing everything, but I make it look beautiful, so yeah learning, learning all the time, but it’s good.
TM: What are the most challenging aspects of doing everything from scratch?
JS: For feature films it’s finding investors when you’re starting out, when it’s your first or second film, I think that’s probably the hardest.
TM: And what are the investors most interested in, when you sit down and try and sell a film?
JS: They never ask to see the script, they’ll ask to see the synopsis, and then with the investment memorandums they’ll see some images and I’ll do a teaser trailer, and then it’s the talent they’re interested in. I went to a Closing the Gap thing in Berlin and they saw the images of Ricki (Hall) for #SWIPERIGHT and they were all ‘who’s he?’ And ‘he looks great’ and so yeah that’s the main poster image for the film.
TM: Hasn’t he changed his look?
JS: He has…
TM: Is that going to be a problem, with filming?
JS: Well no (laughs) what I’m going to do is incorporate it, because I’m always refining stuff, so for the beginning I’ll probably have him wearing a hat and a wig because obviously in the poster as you can see he’s got long hair, then when he attends a party in one scene and he meets the girl he’ll have his new look, we just have to work around it and incorporate it basically.
TM: As an independent filmmaker, have you found it easier now, with technology moving so fast, for example you can make a nice looking film on your iPhone?
JS: Yes, I mean there’s been a few competitions and things for people to do just that. What I’ve found is that at the beginning I tried to do everything myself – director, camera, editor, but gradually as you get more funds and experience obviously a team is very important. Nobody can be good at everything and I’m incredibly fortunate I have this fantastic DoP Sean Cronin and he shoots on RED ONE, which is a great camera, and it just makes so much difference. When I look back at the footage, it just looks so much better than say when I was starting out.
I’m also very lucky because I have a Bafta award winning editor Angela Bailey and she has made such a difference. It’s so subtle, and I have learnt a lot from her, whereby she can point things out, that could’ve been shot differently etc. The best part is that this lovely lady did that film for me for free. Obviously they’re expensive editors, and I never asked her to do it for free by the way, she came to the house and I thought I had about a days worth of work left (chuckles) because I’d done a lot of it myself and she said ‘well actually this will need about 11 days work’ and I said ‘really!’ I couldn’t afford that, and she offered to do it for free, and I was so, so grateful. And in #SWIPERIGHT the things Sean Cronin did I haven’t really seen a DoP do before, he’s just so experienced and so good and the Producer was great at keeping everything and everyone under control, and you realise as you keep stepping up, how you can improve things really.
TM: So give us the lowdown on #SWIPERIGHT then?
JS: So #SWIPERIGHT is a story about the dangers of internet dating and I think probably it works both ways really. You know men could inadvertently end up with shall we say a bunny boiler and women could end up with some psychopath and obviously 99% of the time that doesn’t happen, but we’re just playing on that theme. I can’t say too much but Ricki Hall plays quite a menacing character and there’s several twists and turns to the story – there’s some cryptic clues, dead crows, and it’s basically a group of five gorgeous dancers who come to a house to practice a routine for a TV audition. It’s all the usual horror concepts, beautiful girls, lots of scares…
TM: So it’s a full on horror movie then?
JS: It is but I wouldn’t say… well you know there’s all different sub-genres, this is psychological and personally I like that, you know it’s the sort of thing that scares me! The idea that a person you meet in an everyday situation could actually be a maniac, you know, how much do you know about someone? So it plays on that idea.
TM: What have you been doing location wise then?
JS: We’ve had some great locations actually, we’ve shot at Dover Town Hall, which is an incredible undiscovered filming location, it’s almost like a castle, it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s got a whole courtroom, which is just incredible, it’s staying on my list for future projects. And in keeping with that, we filmed at Dulwich College, which is also just a beautiful building and great location to film at. We’ve also used a house in Kent and then we’ve got an abandoned Asylum in Liverpool, if you look around the country all of the old Asylum’s have been pulled down or redeveloped, except for this one, so that was a great find.
TM: So you’ve got Ricki on board, he’s known for his look but how’s his acting?
JS: Yeah he’s good, when we did the teaser trailer he was great and I think he’ll be good, sometimes raw talent is just as good as someone who’s had formal training.
TM: And then Toyah Wilcox!
JS: Yeah Toyah is in it, she’s brilliant and also very helpful, a really nice person. She plays a mad psychiatrist.
TM: Right well you need one of those (laughs)
JS: (Laughs) We’ve also got Alison Carroll who’s done a lot of modelling and acting, she was once the face of Lara Croft! And then we have an array of nice girls who’ve all got experience and we’ve got a young man Jack Brett Anderson, you may know him from the BBC’s Wolfblood.
TM: How did you go about casting these guys then?
JS: Again a lot of it is people I knew, the Toyah role I put out there saying we were looking for a high profile personality and Toyah’s agent said yeah I think this part is perfect for her, and she loves this kind of thing. Toyah has been so helpful in all sorts of ways, she’s a very nice person.
TM: So what’s the next stage then?
JS: We are finishing shooting in March/April, and then we’ve got the edit, and then my sales agent will be selling it to distributors. He’s already got a lot of interest. Sometimes I think things have just fallen into place, which is great. I’m looking to do a small crowdfund, but that can be hard, we’ve got the option of doing a spectacular finish, but it is quite costly, so we do need to raise a bit of money for that.
TM: And the other projects you have going on, are they feature length films as well?
JS: Yeah, they’re all feature films and I’ve got two TV series, The Nightrider is the one which is an historical drama about the white slave trade, which a lot of people don’t know about, that went on for over a hundred years. White people, particularly redheads were taken off the Cornish, South Wales, South Irish coast and the French and Spanish coasts and they were used by the Sultan of Morocco to build his palaces and to be his harem! So I’ve a built a story around this, it’s quite sensational because people never thought there was a white slave trade, so anyway that’s a TV series. I’ve got another one called Murder at the Mint in India, my Grandfather designed the coins at the Indian Mint and it’s based on some of his letters to my Grandmother. Aside from that I’ve got five feature films, you need to have a big slate because sometimes an investor will say ‘well I like that’, but they might not fancy the one you’re pushing.
TM: So when #SWIPRIGHT does really well all the others will fall into place – that’s how it works?
JS: Well thanks, yeah that would be good, I hope so!
TM: What would be the ideal scenario twelve months from now with #SWIPERIGHT?
JS: I’d like it to get a few prestigious festival wins and to have sold it worldwide and made some money! What any filmmaker hopes for and then onto the next one.
TM: If you could put a call out to any potential investors, what would you say?
JS: I’d say I’ve got a great horror film which is well cast, there’s a sales agent attached, sales estimates are very good. I’ve got a full investment memorandum, and I’d very much like you to come on board.
M: And finally for any aspiring young filmmaker out there who might be facing similar challenges, what words of wisdom have you got?
JS: Persistence. Keep going, never give up and network, network, network. Get to as many events and festivals as you can.
For more info on #SWIPERIGHT and Jane’s other projects go to www.luminofilms.co.uk
If you’re interested in investment opportunities you can contact Jane at firstname.lastname@example.org