Producing cutting edge documentary and why we should be campaigning!

Julia Higginbottom is the co owner of Rebel Uncut and has made her fair share of films from feature length drama to documentary and commercials. She now uses all her time campaigning and has a few things to say about why the forum should be more vocal. Julia is on the board of directors for the Producers Forum

PF: The last film you were involved in was the much talked about “Benefit Street”, what’s involved in pulling that kind of TV series off and what were you doing?It was like running a marathon, with loads of preparation, logistics, many false starts and not necessarily the outcome you were planning for. It’s hard to go into a community and to gain their trust. When you lose contributors or issues such as a police raid, damage that trust, you are left with only half the contributors and half formed stories. Unntangling what’s left and making cohesive stories that are engaging, non judgmental and true to what you’ve been allowed to observe, is always a challenge.”White Dee” for instance always seems up and relatively happy. This is because she would only allow the team access when she felt up to it. It’s frustrating but understandable and the filmmakers have to toe a fine line between getting the full picture and respecting the contributors’ feelings. The team were on the street for a period of 18 months with the longest period being 9 months where they lived nearby and were on the street daily observing the contributors. That access was only as far as the contributors would allow on any given day and this is a challenge for the documentary teams. Critics say that the programme made the contributors look like they were scroungers etc, but a 5 hour tv series will only ever give you a tiny slice of those contributors’ lives.

Making this kind of documentary with a large crew is hard and the logistics are a challenge I enjoy. Less enjoyable was the fallout and the subsequent trolling of the contributors and the calls for censorship from the left. This issue is a critical one for the country and I’m proud to have been part of one of what may turn out to be one of the most talked about important series of this decade.

PF: Do you think the media blew it all up? Or did the film cross a line?

Benefit Street held up a mirror to our society and polarised opinion. The fallout in the media was a reflection of that polarised and often extreme view that many have about what benefits are and where we should be as a nation. Channel 4 missed only one opportunity as far as I can see, which is that they could have been leading the conversation online in a platform like 4Homes, but for benefits. Every single person in the country is affected and we should be having this debate, not led by a polarised media, scoring points, but by a grassroots discussion on what we want from our social security system in all its forms. The series naturally provokes but I feel that unlike a few others, never judges what it sees. The truth is that not all the country’s citizens are middle class intelligensia, wringing their hands on twitter etc. More people than we’d like are struggling with all sorts of issues and the benefits system sometimes serves to trap them or undervalue them, making it hard to bounce back.

PF: You are now involved in some serious campaigning, whats that all about and why the move on from the film world?

I haven’t moved on from the film world, but have a more focused idea of how to combine the goals we have and how to increase the potential for work in feature films in the region. Campaigning for visibility and widening awareness of the issues faced in our sector in the region, anchored to a plan of strengthening our slate of in development features with short film projects is our focus now.

PF: How can the forum be more vocal and why should it be campaigning for the place of film in the city and further afield?

The forum should have the ear of decision makers and should be shouting loudly on behalf of its members and the region. There is, contrary to the media, stuff going on here and whilst it’s not as much as we’d like, it is worth shouting about. The city and surrounding region deserves to be reflected in the media it produces both as a city and its creative output. The forum should be courting the decision makers and assisting with plans for future developments in our sector.

Remembering Chris Pinches

I first met Chris in 2002, when I was freshly back in the UK after living abroad. I was looking for some people locally to make films with, and I ran into Chris at Coventry’s Call the Shots. It turned into one of the most important and defining creative partnerships, and indeed friendships, of my whole life.

Chris Pinches

When I met him, Chris was a tall man with an infectious smile and a keen mind. I thought he was just a few years older than me, and was very much surprised to discover that he was nearly twenty years my elder! We quickly became fast friends, and worked together on feature films, short films, music videos, documentaries, all kinds of projects. I was always impressed by his insight and talent, not to mention his quick wit and sunny demeanour. But then I came to notice his essential kindness. He was always ready to help out a friend, in any way he could, from lending out his expensive filmmaking equipment to fixing my exhaust pipe with zip ties.

Chris came to filmmaking relatively late in life, after a distinguished career in IT. His late start never affected his talents – after all, he already had decades of experience in problem-solving, project management, and creative thinking. Right from the beginning, with his earliest short films, he was winning awards and continued to do so right until last Autumn, when we won a prize for a film we made for Warwick Rocks. In between, he received accolades for his work as a cinematographer, director, and producer, at festivals ranging from Swansea Bay in Wales to Phoenix, Arizona.

He had a deep love of film, coupled with a deep understanding of it. I will always treasure the evenings we spent drinking bourbon and dissecting the genius of French car chases. He introduced me to many films that are now in my all time favourites list, such as Diva and Ronin.

He was a man of singular determination and resolve, which is a polite way of saying that he was stubborn as a mule. In addition to that, nearly every time, when he put his foot down, on further examination he turned out to be absolutely right, which was highly infuriating.

He was also a much braver man than I, as I discovered the one and only time I rode on the back of his bike.

He was a man deeply concerned about the state of the world, and the practical things that he could do to improve it. He was a strong supporter of Amnesty International, and a strong believer in freedom. On a local level, he served as a school governor at Trinity School in Leamington Spa for many years. He was a thoroughly decent, compassionate, hard-working man.

Chris was, like all of us, a man of many facets. He was a great filmmaker, an excellent programmer, a crazy man behind the wheel or on the back of a bike, a devoted husband, a dedicated father. None of us who were privileged to be his friend will ever forget him. We are all diminished by his absence, but our lives have all been enriched by knowing him. I will always miss my friend; but I will always be proud and happy to have known his friendship.

Huw Bowen
Writer • Director • Editor • VFX

Lessons from our 2013 Mentoring Scheme – how upcoming producers got support from leading professionals

Stoke Your Fires Marketplace event, jointly hosted by the Producers' Forum

Stoke Your Fires Marketplace event, jointly hosted by the Producers’ Forum

In 2013, the Producers’ Forum ran a special Mentoring Scheme (supported by Creative England) which led to a host of insights and support from top industry professionals for new producers on the rise. We thought we’d feature the outcomes of the scheme, and insights from its beneficiaries, here for our members…

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