Dom Lenoir, filmmmaker and indie champion, talks to us about the making of his feature film Winter Ridge, and his new ventures to help fellow filmmakers get their first step on the feature ladder with Make Your Film.
So firstly, hello and thank you for taking the time to talk to us here at Exit 6, you run an event called #Makeyourfilm tell us a little about that?
I started the event with Giles Alderson from The Filmmakers Podcast as a way to bridge the gap between making indie films and big budget movies. Not many panel discussions go deep into the mindsets, approaches, and problem solving that some of the industry’s most successful people used to get to where they are. It often seems like an impossible leap so we wanted to create an exciting event that gives people hope and insight whatever their experience level.
The first event was a sell-out and we have now joined in collaborations with some of the major film networking companies to bring you high level speakers and really build a community of filmmakers keen to make good content and looking to make ambitious projects they are often told they can’t. Anything is possible and we have the speakers and stories to prove that.
You’re a filmmaker yourself, tell us a bit about the journey you took to directing features, how long did you work on shorts for and in what capacity?
I made my first skate film, where I learnt the importance of creating a narrative from nothing when I was around ten and by the time I hit university I was making action and thriller films. I did a 30 minute film in my final year and for my masters project did my first feature for less than £5000. I wanted to prove I could do it and see it through to the end and learn about all aspects of putting together long form in as high production value way as I could, it had helicopter footage back before drones were a thing, and 1000fps slow motion fight sequences.
Your recent film, Winter Ridge, opened on 25+ screens in the UK, which is a great achievement, do you think this will change how you look at making films, is the consideration of commercial success something you will now consider going forwards?
I’ve never looked at story and commercialism separately. For me the best films marry the two together and that’s the kind of films I grew up on like Indiana Jones and Star Wars. A film in my book should be moving, thought provoking, inspiring, relatable and larger than life with a through line of being something you can believe. A lot of people say a film can’t be commercial in X genre or with Y cast but it’s down to how passionate and innovative you are as a storyteller and how you market the film. There are exceptions and things to avoid but with the right planning and effort you can make commercial films outside the box. For more information you can follow Winter Ridge on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Where can we see Winter Ridge?
You can see it on all the major platforms such as Sky Store, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, etc. It’s got some good messages in it but its somewhere between a drama and a thriller. It all helps prove that it’s possible to do a genre that doesn’t fit into the usual 'first low budget feature' tick boxes if people can support independent film and grab a copy. Hopefully you will enjoy it too and allow other filmmakers to see that they can make films at this level with genres they are excited about and that doing your own cinema run is possible too.
You also run a course called Business of Film, do you think the business side of things intimidates up and coming filmmakers and what kind of help did you get with this side of things when you were starting out?
I started Business of Film with Matt Hookings after Winter Ridge because people wanted to know how we made quite an ambitious film that felt like a mini blockbuster as independent producers. I think the business side can be intimidating but more than anything there can be an archaic way of explaining things and a lot of confusion with raising finance and what it takes to get a film made. Pair this up with a lot of negativity about making certain kinds of films and an unwillingness to support new talent, and I mean really support them and you get a lot of disillusioned people. We went through the challenges of figuring all this stuff out and, with the 2 day course we put on and the Make Your Film event, we get to the real core of what you need to do and how to do it.
I personally believe that for a lot of people going the runner or crew route can be really beneficial but a lot of people are unorthodox and just don’t fit in that system. If you are passionate, driven and able to deliver good films then let's create a community and infrastructure where people can get together and succeed and not be held back by someone else dictating the pace their career should develop.
How important do you think short films are in a filmmaker’s development?
I think shorts are pretty invaluable. I recommend everyone makes films themselves, and I mean go into every part of production to learn every crew position too, even if just once. You learn the sticking power to see a project through and how different departments work and the issues they face. I don’t believe in doing too many shorts, and personally I go for quality over quantity – my thoughts are try to make a Hollywood film and even if you get a tenth of the way there, you may get one part of your film up to that level. If you aim to make films that feel 'independent', you won’t challenge yourself and move to the level you want to work at. Try and fail big, and you’ll learn big. Don’t get too bogged down in shorts. There comes a time when you should be moving up and trying to do a feature, and I think you can make one that’s really low budget first off and no one really loses any money to get past that high risk 'first feature' issue.
Exit 6 is also a film festival, what’s your experience of film festivals been like and what’s your advice to filmmakers about how to approach them?
Talk to the festival teams, send them information about you and keep them informed on what you and your film is doing. Build relationships and be personalised in your approach to find the right festival. I never had money for festivals for my early films but I think it is a very good way to market yourself in this day and age, and fantastic place to meet people.
Now that’s out in the wild, what’s next up for you?
My next project is called We Called Him James written by Daniel Graham who did his first feature with Willem Dafoe last year. It’s a really powerful drama set in Georgia USA and Scotland that focuses on a man’s journey of revenge and redemption after his son suffers an accident on a family holiday. He meets a young outspoken woman on the way who creates a very dynamic story and relationship. It’s really exciting seeing it come together and the level of interest in it so far as well. The suspense and Coen brothers-style dialogue it has is both cinematic and quite original, so it has good prospects for attracting cast.
Finally, where can we find out more information on the #Makeyourfilm event?
You can find Make Your Film on Facebook and get tickets for our next event on March 5th at our Eventbrite page. Our event is really gaining some traction and we have some very interesting guests coming up in the future.
One thing we are really keen to push is to bring back what we call the “studio indie”. It’s that level of films anywhere from £1 million up to £40 million that has a Hollywood cast, with really good, ambitious ideas, big themes and stories. Myself and Giles were talking with Jack Binder the other day, who produced the Oscar nominated First Reformed with Ethan Hawke (among a prolific string of other successful indie and studio movies), and it’s exactly the kind of thing he has been doing recently and something we should aim to do more of in the UK. We want film makers to aim big and feel they have the ideas and channels to eventually make that leap possible!
You can catch that podcast special soon on the Filmmakers Podcast.
You can follow Dom on Twitter: @DirDomLenoir