Up-and-coming British filmmakers fight the economic pinch


Ioan Holland is looking to establish himself with project Coloured Snow.


By Alex Christian

Timothy Dalton declared in a press conference announcing him as the fourth man to play 007 that the British film industry was struggling, with Bond being one of its last forces remaining.

That was in 1986 – Bond is celebrating his 50th birthday with Skyfall’s release and if British film was faltering when Dalton was 007, how is it coping in the economic struggles of the 2010s?

With iconic studio and Bond producers MGM’s bankruptcy in 2010, even the big boys of the creative industries are left feeling the pinch.

So for an up-and-comer going into film it is even harder.

One of the British Film Institute’s functions is funding promising filmmakers’ projects alongside National Lottery cash.

However, grants are rare and it is usually up to budding directors to build up a hefty portfolio of work before commanding a film budget.

Ioan Holland, 23, is, like many young British filmmakers, looking to establish himself.

Based in Claygate, near Kingston-upon-Thames, he is half-way through filming a new project called Coloured Snow, a series of 14 short-films about a young widower convinced his wife is still alive.

Written and directed by Ioan, it examines various themes including memory, hallucinations, and bereavement.

“The series follows our main character, Terry, and his journey – both physically as he runs away from home to look for his wife, and emotionally as he tries to deal without the love of his life,” he tells me.

“We then begin to see evidence that she’s not really dead and he sees visions of her. She appears to him in two different forms which speak to him in slightly different ways.”

Without a budget, Ioan has had to rely on the strength of his story to entice actors to his project. It clearly worked – 120 trained actors, including some from Europe, got in touch.

After auditions, Ioan selected Drew Mason, whose credits include the hit musical Mamma Mia!, and Cydney Uffindell-Phillips, currently featuring in Cabaret on the West End, as his main leads.

So how did such a strong story come about?

“I think for me personal experiences often trigger an idea and then I use my interests in certain areas of science, certain landscapes, and environments to develop that idea from its initial starting point.

“I was in kind of a slightly depressed part of my life and I just envisaged this cold, snowy openness and this is where this idea grew from and its title.

“I loved the idea because in some respects it’s so beautiful and in others so forbidding and scary – when actually it’s all the same. Really the film’s about something beautiful in a vast nothingness, hence the name Coloured Snow.”

The last casting slot in the series goes to me.

I have had no acting training or any real experience but Ioan thinks I am right for the part – I play the friend who believes he is witnessing the widower’s mental unravelling as he searches for his wife.

Learning the lines word-for-word while hitting the right delivery and emotion is difficult. It takes me a while to get to grips with the script and feel comfortable.

“If you believe in the words you’re saying then it will come,” Drew reassures me when we go through our read-through of our lines before filming.

As an established on-stage actor, how has finding work been for him?

“Everyone knows that financially acting doesn’t make sense. But I can’t complain – I’ve met lots of different people and had great experiences in every job,” says Drew, 24.

“One of the joys of being an actor is leading different lives. We’re here tonight filming a really sort of metaphysical, sci-fi, hallucinogenic film and in a month’s time I’ll be playing Aladdin in a pantomime in Cornwall. Two months ago I was in Tel Aviv filming a commercial for Israeli television.”

Ioan calls over to us to get ready and head to the set. Our scene takes places on a wet patio in drizzly south Croydon.

It consists of me finding the widower outside sitting cold, distant and alone in the soaking wet. I urge him to speak his mind about his wife’s tragic death.

As he maintains a fixed thousand-yard stare and ignores my concerns, he recounts memories of his wife, denies her death, and vows to find her. I walk away distressed at what I have heard.

Ioan is a perfectionist with a fully-formed vision – each scene hits a dozen takes at least and we film for over five hours until 3.30am.

However, Drew’s performance, emotionally recalling his brief time with his wife, is flawless every single time.

Standing patiently in the cold and holding the microphone Boom is soundman Bogdan Bricag, 24, from Romania’s Moldova region. He came to the UK four years ago for career opportunities in the creative industries.

He is working on the sound for Coloured Snow for free in order to help towards a career in programme production.

“The first time I heard about the film I was keen to be involved. Ioan told me about it summer a year ago,” says Bogdan.

“And I’ve really enjoyed being his sound guy. It’s been a real experience.”

In between the scenes Drew and I have to do speech and sound effects into Bogdan’s microphone.

Such a lengthy and meticulous shoot into the early hours of a damp October morning will end up just one scene, in one act, of one episode of the series.

It has offered me a glimpse into how tough the creative process is for a film – from its direction to its acting, from its writing to its scheduling.

Once the series is released Ioan hopes to build online hype around it through Youtube and film blogs.

It is endemic of the recent trend of young filmmakers moving away from the traditional film festivals route for exposure.

Instead, they are heading towards the burgeoning online film industry as part of a new DIY mentality.

And as Ioan says to me after shooting has finished: “While I feel kind of powerless because I’m not being let into the film industry, I do feel like I have the power to make something myself – which is what I’m doing now.”

So, despite Dalton’s observation over 25 years ago about the British film industry’s financial decline being correct, the industry’s creative side – its true lifeblood – still thrives.

Let’s hope it will continue to do so, alongside a certain British spy, for the next 50 years.

Coloured Snow is set for a January 2013 release.

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