In this week’s Exit 6 Q&A we look at taking on the dual roles of actor and producer. So, we are delighted to talk to Louise Salter (Butterfly, The Habit of Beauty) who has done just that on the short film How to be Human.
Hi Louise, thanks for taking part in the Exit 6 Q&A. First off, I was fortunate enough to watch How to be Human and thought it was excellent. How did the project come about?
The project originally came about because I had a strong opinion to share and I felt that filmmaking was one of the best ways of me getting it out there and having my voice heard in a certain way. So I gathered an initial team including the co-producer, writer and director and we started developing the film from there. I have been working in the industry for about 4 years and have been spending my time building up a talented network of friends; I knew that when I had the right project I would approach them and ask for their help, How to be Human happened to be the right project.
So, I think the project really came about once I acted upon an idea. I brought together a team, then took it forward and made it tangible by creating a script, and then from the script created a look book, which became our pitch for the project in order to present the project to well-known cast and crew. I think it’s about aiming high when it comes to cast and crew, because once you bring one person with notable credits on board, it’s easier to bring another because the odds of creating a great film become stacked in your favour; then suddenly the ball gets rolling and you have people, way more experienced than you, who have worked on films like Ex Machina, Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men.
It looked great and had some excellent special effects. If I may be so bold, was this expensive to make – if so, how did you go about securing funding for it?
I guess that’s subjective as it depends on what you define as expensive. The film cost us just under £20,000 and that was a mixture of a private donation from someone I was lucky enough to meet through networking amongst film festivals, namely Sci-Fi-London, crowdfunding and raising £12,080 through Phundee (121% of our £10K target) along with my own finance. Also, during the crowdfunding campaign, the incredible street artist Pegasus donated a piece of art to our film which I somehow managed to sell for £2,500 which went towards the Visual Effects for the film.
It’s hard to get away from the fact that you’re going to have to pay something towards making a film happen if the project is yours but money is just one form of contribution. So many people have given their time and energy to this project which would equate to a budget way higher than we had. What the entire team gave to us in terms of hours spent making this film the standard it is, would increase our budget ten-fold so I would consider us to have spent a meagre amount in comparison to what it could have cost us with the going industry rates.
You started as an actor – not only with How to Be Human, but also on soon to be completed Okay, Mum - and have moved into producing. It seems to be more and more common for actors (especially on shorts) to produce – is this so you can create the type of film you want to act in? What prompted you to make the move behind the camera as well?
This is a question I’m asked a lot actually, I basically started producing as I saw it as an opportunity to generate more acting roles. For me, career-wise nothing energises me more than acting. When you’re so passionate about something I think you’ll do anything you can to make it happen. That’s what happened in this case, I saw the opportunity to develop and play the characters I want to play – I mean, how liberating is that?! I think it’s better than waiting for other people to give you work. I think it’s important to keep moving forward and continue learning through creating which could inevitably end up in people hiring you as you increase your exposure. That luckily happened to me recently. How to be Human premiered on the opening night of Sci-Fi-London and screened before the main opening feature Caught. The director, Jamie Patterson, saw me in How to be Human and it just so happened that he had been searching for the right actress to play the lead female in a sci-fi series he’s directing. He soon after cast me and I had my first role in a series!
Do you have a preference – in front or behind the camera?
Yes, 100%! The only reason really I began stepping behind the camera was to make more of the in front of the camera work happen!
Going back to How to Be Human, can you give us an idea of what your typical day would involve both acting and producing the film?
I’ve learned that I prefer the off-set, creative, developmental side of producing; I most enjoy the work which happens prior to the pre-production, in the developmental stage – the bit required to package the project for funding. I think it’s hard to wear two hats at exactly the same time but I truly admire people who are able to do both. During How to be Human’s main shoot, my supportive production crew, including our co-producer Jeffrey Michael and line-producer Alessio Bergamo, made it possible for me to just focus on the acting role. Their hard work protected me from any production problems which came about which allowed me to just focus on my character role, Kimi.
The same process will be applied for making the feature film of How to be Human. I plan on producing in the creative, developmental stages until the project is pitch-ready and an experienced producer comes on board and is able to take the practical reins. Then I can channel my energy fully into the character development and preparatory work, knowing that I’ve utilised my skills beforehand to help kick-start the project.
How to Be Human is a great sci-fi film, is this a favourite genre of yours or are you looking to produce a variety of films?
I hadn’t worked on a sci-fi prior to this, so it was interesting stepping into a new genre. I don’t think I would ever like to limit myself by saying I only want to produce or act in one particular genre; I’m open to seeing how the future unravels itself. I really want to be part of stories that change opinions and open minds – in affect change the world. I was so influenced by films growing up, (as I’m sure most filmmakers were), and so I know the power that they really have on the world and people’s views.
How to be Human fitted sci-fi brilliantly because it tackled a very present social issue but in a sensitive way by removing the immediate circumstances and placing it in the future. Ray Bradbury said that ‘sci-fi is one of the best fable teachers of morality’ and I agree with that because sci-fi has a liberating quality; you can make very direct comments about the world but through sci-fi it can be presented in an indirect, digestible way.
We usually explain to our interviewees that Exit 6 is very much about showcasing short films created by emerging talent and whether acting in shorts is a great way to start a career. However, for you, we’d like to ask the same, but with the added – is producing your own shorts a good way to start a career in both acting and producing?
I can only speak on behalf of my own experience but for me short films were my way into the industry. You don’t have to have a huge team or a lot of money to make short films and so I feel that makes short films accessible to a lot more people. I think there will always be people wanting to make short films, so there will always be opportunities to get involved. Ultimately as an actor you want to get seen, whether by agents or directors, and if you are part of a short film circuit then that’s one way of them tangibly seeing what you can do. I think there’s only so far a CV can take you but a showreel is an easy way to display your range and talent in a bite size form.
Short films are an accessible way in and all you have to do is be resourceful. Film festivals, like Exit 6, are full of emerging filmmakers with short film projects, so for me I see the festivals as an opportunity-hub of people wanting to create upcoming projects. Logistically, filmmakers just starting out probably wont have a lot of money and so they’ll be looking for actors who’d be willing to work for a low cost but will be gaining experience out of it. I really do believe shorts are a great way into the industry and if you feel like you have a story to tell and want to make your own opportunities, why not consider making your own film?
Would you also like to direct at some point?
I’m always open to new experiences, so I wouldn’t say no but I think my main focus, for now anyway, is acting and getting the feature of How to be Human up and running.
Finally, can you tell us a little about what future projects are coming up soon?
We’ve just finished filming the sci-fi series, directed by Jamie Patterson, that I mentioned earlier, and I’m very excited for that to be released later this year. I’ve also just secured some initial finance for How to be Human’s development into a feature, so myself and director Bruno Centofanti definitely have our work cut out for us!
You can follow Louise on Twitter: @LouiseKSalter