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Crew camaraderie is key: What it's like to be a film-maker

By Rebecca Stanley | Weekend | Published:

Lights, camera, action! Three words that we often associate with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.

And. . . action – Director Carl Timms on the set of Still 3

But one Bewdley resident finds himself bellowing these iconic words on a daily basis as part of his everyday work.

Guernsey-born director Carl Timms moved to Birmingham in 2007 before he and his wife settled down in Bewdley last year – utilising the West Midlands’ beauty to create stunning sets for his acclaimed short films.

Carl released his first short offering, zombie flick Still, in 2016 before moving on to write post-apocalyptic hair-raiser Off Grid this year after a successful IndieGoGo campaign.

Director Carl Timms

He first discovered his passion for film at an early age, championing himself as a ‘VHS addict’ in his childhood.

“I loved the box art, watching the films and all the worlds I was being taken to,” Carl says.

“I wouldn’t say I’m the most cultured film fan, I’ll watch absolutely everything. My heroes growing up were Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, and people doing really big and ambitious films that created beautiful and exciting worlds.

“The more I looked into film-making, the more I got into it. I started helping on local productions when I was 16, did some placements with local television stations, and went on to study a film degree at Sheffield Hallam University.

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“In my 20s I began to do a bunch of different projects, none of which captured me. I did a Second World War documentary, sport films, and I ran a small corporate film production company.”

Lightbulb

Carl had a ‘lightbulb moment’ after a seven year break from filming and decided to make a short film – a decision that set the wheels of his successful creative film career in motion

“There was no pressure on me at the time; I had a comfortable career as a digital consultant and I felt that I could just do it for fun,” Carl tells us.

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“I went to networking events run by the Producers Forum in Birmingham and meeting other film-makers. I came up with this idea for a zombie film while walking along Southbank in London, which became a much more ambitious project.

“My quick film turned into a crowdfunding campaign and 100 extras in the Jewellery Quarter. This went on to become Still that was released in 2017.

“It was screened at 25 festivals and won nine awards – we even got a small TV distribution deal in New York.”

Develop

This encouraged Carl to create Dark Matter Films, an independent production company ran by himself and his writing partner Mark Brendan, that specialises is science-fiction, fantasy and horror.

“I met Mark during a Producer’s Forum event and we just happened to share very similar tastes,” Carl says.

“I wrote Still, but I don’t really see myself as a traditional writer. I was looking to meet someone who had good ideas that I could help develop.

“Finding a writer like Mark was a real boon for me and Off Grid was entirely a product of that meeting.”

Filming for Off Grid took place on May 16 to 19 in Bewdley, which follows the story of John Tanner and his sickly wife in a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by horrific demons.

Game of Thrones, Highlander and Braveheart star James Cosmo is set to take on the leading role; joined by Gavin and Stacey actress Alison Steadman OBE and Coronation Street heartthrob Marc Bayliss.

“On the surface Off Grid is a post-apocalyptic supernatural thriller about an ageing man surviving and trying to defend his sick wife from demonic creatures that have destroyed humanity,” Carl tells us.

“But it is also a study of madness, mental breakdown and societal pressures. Its very much about John Tanner; he has to stay strong to protect the one he loves, but at the same time his own world is starting to crumble as well as the one around him.

“You’re never entirely sure what is real and that plays a very important role in the overall outcome of the story. At its heart it’s a love story about a man trying to protect the one he loves.”

Casting

When Carl first read the script, he immediately envisioned seeing James in the leading role and set about trying to secure him for the part.

“I shot an email to his agent and heard nothing at first. In the middle of last year I met with a friend who gave me an important piece of advice – hire a casting director,” Carl said.

“It was something I’d never done, but for the sake of a few hundred pounds it immediately gave us access to a whole new world.

“The following week I coincidently saw an article on the Producers Forum page that was an interview with a casting director from Birmingham, so we met.

“She had worked with James the previous year and it just felt like serendipity.

“We had a frightening wait to find out his agents’ reaction but they liked it straight away, and then we heard that James wanted to meet up and talk it through.

“He gets big money offers and yet he’s taken this little film seriously, which is a real testament to the strength of the idea of the film.”

Work

As filming begins for Off Grid, Carl’s working days will begin to get longer, and his organisational skills will be put to the test as he has to order a gigantic crew and cast around him at all times.

“You’re generally looking at around 12 hour days when you’re working on a film shoot, but there’s always an excitement in the air,” Carl says.

“As a director my main jobs include working with the cameras, cast, lighting and sound to produce the best possible shots.

“It’s all about getting those shots, and there’s a whole team of people behind me making sure we stick to schedule. You have to cover a lot, but you have to be ambitious and plan shots that will be complicated and worth putting the time into for the end results.

“There’s a lot of set up, standing around, tweaking lights, making sure people are in the right place, wearing the same clothes and their hair is the same as in the previous shots.

“Despite all of this there’s a great camaraderie in a crew; nothing can kill a film quicker than a bad crew who don’t get on.

“Getting a team that you can trust, who will listen to your ideas and also contribute, is vital.”

As well as finding the perfect team and hiring a casting director, Carl’s top tip for becoming a successful film director is to think big and plan your project meticulously.

“Don’t feel like you have to rush content and just take your time planning it.

“There’s a lot of film-makers that just want to get an idea made, but don’t really do the preparation to make the film good.

“If you take the time planning it and finding the right people, making it as big as possible, I think that time is worth it.

“The time on set will happen very quickly, but it can take months to be there and if you don’t do that then your film will suffer.”

Rebecca Stanley

By Rebecca Stanley
@becci_star

Entertainment journalist for Express & Star and Shropshire Star. Contact me: rebecca.stanley@expressandstar.co.uk

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