Helier Bissell-Thomas, director of award-winning thriller Kaufman’s Game, was just 19 when he wrote the Kafka-inspired film noir and 20 when he began directing it.
Now 25, has shot to success, with film distribution giants Gravitas Ventures buying the film and agreeing to fund his next project – this time in LA rather than his current south west London home in Kew.
But how did he get from script to the slick, final offering, currently showing at Richmond Odeon?
We caught up with Helier in his busy schedule to find out how a young director gets noticed in the increasingly competitive industry.
Unusually, Helier chose Staffordshire University to study film and has never looked back.
He said: “Staffordshire was the only university in the country that supported my wanting to make my debut feature length movie.
“Even the most prestigious film schools don’t support feature film projects, which is mad as there’s no commercial viability to in short filmmaking.
“All the tens of thousands spent on tuition fees goes on short films that graduates can’t really launch their careers with.
“I was lucky to be able to make my debut movie and be marked on the various stages of making it as I completed my education. Thank you, Staffordshire Uni.”
Helier was also astute in his choice of genre.
He said: “Everyone tells you to make a low budget horror for your first movie, but I wasn’t too interested in being branded as a horror director. I opted to dress the story I was telling in a Thriller Genre coat.
“I looked at many studies and statistics that strongly indicated that the Thriller Genre is far more commercially viable than the Horror Genre anyway, and the that the Crime Sub-Genre is the most commercially viable Sub-Gerne within the Thriller aesthetic landscape.”
Because of the lack of financial support for new directors by the British film industry, many – like Helier – ask people to work for them by free. He says it’s a necessary evil in these hard times.
He said: “In order for people to develop their skills and esteem as professionals, they are often forced to prove that they’re worth paying and earn their stripes when they’re starting out.
“The arts cuts that have happened under the Conservative Government are horrendous, it makes me very angry. Nowhere near enough is being invested in the future of the British film industry at this time.
“When you’re making a no budget independent movie like Kaufman’s Game, you have no choice but to ask people to work for free.”
He added: “Just feed people as best you can, and give the cast and crew who put in the most hours net profit shares!”
Of course, most directors won’t make much money from their debut – especially if they are making short films – which Helier sees as the downfall of most young directors.
He said: “I know people who’ve spent tens and even hundreds of thousands on short films that have disappeared after their festival runs, and they could have made multiple feature films and launched their careers with all the money spent on the shorts.
“People should listen to Dov Simens more about the whole short film thing I think – he’s right.”
So how on earth did Helier get funded to make a feature-length film? The short answer is… he didn’t.
He said: “I applied for credit cards at my bank, and paid for things on the production with them when necessary; meaning when we weren’t able to pull in a favour.
“We had many great distribution offers on the movie, particularly stateside as that’s where the distribution power houses are based.
“I’m very, very happy that we have partnered with Gravitas Ventures on the release; they are a beacon in the field of movie distribution, and they make small movies big.”
Kaufman’s Game has sold out every showing so far at Richmond Odeon, who have honoured the film with their largest screen in Richmond for an “epic” showing on Tuesday December 12 at 8.30pm.
Helier said: “I invite all who have yet to see the movie to come and join us for this event – it should be special.
“The cast and I are throwing a party for all attendees at Pitcher & Piano on Richmond Bridge, that will begin at about 7pm before the showing. All who love movies are welcome.”
*Data from The British Film Institute October 2017 investment in British film report
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