In the first of a new series looking at rising talent in the film industry, David Hall interviews the trio behind Not So Lovely Films – producer siblings Ailsa and Cat Scott and writer/director Jen Moss. The horror-obsessed collective have been making shorts since 2009 and their latest, most ambitious production – My Brother’s Keeper – premiered at London’s FrightFest this year and is coming to a film festival near you.
DH: Tell us about Not So Lovely Films. What are your backgrounds and how did you end up working together?
AS: Essentially it was our love of horror that brought us all together. For our day jobs we each work in different areas of the industry: Jen comes from a music industry background, Cat works in film and television production, I work in film marketing. You’d probably think that would all keep us busy enough, but making the short films is something that we all feel passionate about and we love that we get to work on this with our best friends. Cat and I actually met Jen at FrightFest in 2007, when I was working on the release of Adam Green’s Hatchet and Jen was a volunteer at the festival. We all hit it off straight away, thanks to our mutual love of all things horror, and when Jen first mentioned that she wanted to make a short, Cat and I instantly knew we wanted to be involved and so Not So Lovely Films was born.
DH: You’ve made three short films together, including your debut, Dumped. How did you get the first one off the ground?
JM: Well I don’t massively like talking about the first short Dumped as I think it’s pretty poor but I guess everyone has to start somewhere!
After years of talking about wanting to make films and always hiding behind the excuse of not having any film-making training or knowledge, a couple of years ago I decided to just take the plunge as I figured I was never going to be “ready” so why not just give it a go. I’d recently been dumped by my long-term boyfriend and I used that as inspiration for the story. I told the girls about my idea and they were massively up for being involved. That first effort was very much a case of grabbing a camera and some mates and just having a crack at it. The whole thing was essentially just a great starting point and learning experience that pushed me into realising that I really did want to pursue the idea of writing and directing.
After Dumped, I took a couple of courses, made some more contacts and for our sophomore effort, The Morning After, we assembled a more experienced crew and had the privilege of working with Kate Nash as our leading lady. The film went on to play several festivals internationally and received positive feedback which, again, gave me the confidence to keep going. In a lot of ways, I think of The Morning After as our first ‘proper’ short and Dumped as more of an experiment.
JM: So far when it comes to my writing, I’ve very much been going by the old “write what you know” adage; using a recognisable personal experience and putting a bit of a horror twist on it.
DH: What was the inspiration behind your new short, My Brother’s Keeper?
JM: For this one, the initial idea came from my relationship with my younger brother. I love him and would do anything for him but, my God, when we were teenagers he had the ability to wind me up like no other human being before or since. I liked the idea of being stuck at the end of the world with a family member that, though you love, you ultimately cannot stand spending extended periods of time with.
DH: How does NSLF actually work as a collective? Who does what?
CS: I guess I would say that NSLF works by using each individual person’s strengths for each project. Initially our roles were very much defined by the typical structure but as we’ve progressed with each short we’ve tried out different ways of doing things to see what works best, which is great as it allows us to try our hand at various things. Jen has been the writer/director on all shorts so far and will continue to direct NSLF projects, as that’s her passion and it’s ultimately her visions we’ve been bringing to the screen.
My Brother’s Keeper was actually the first short Ailsa and I have co-produced for NSLF and it worked well because we used our specific expertise to divide up the role. I focused on location, schedule and cast whilst Ailsa took care of the budget, equipment and crew, although we did cross over into the different areas as the production went on. One reason I think NSLF works so well is that no one really has final say on the bigger decisions involving the shorts; it’s something the three of us sit down and work out together. Thankfully we’re usually on the same wavelength!
DH: What are the biggest challenges involved in making and producing shot films?
AS: Raising the money and working to a very tight budget. You don’t want to compromise on the director’s vision, but you have to be practical about what you can afford.
Timing is also a huge factor as, with a limited budget, you really can’t afford to overrun; you don’t have the luxury of doing another day on location, or pick-ups later on, so we relied a lot on Cat putting together an accurate production schedule and for Jen and the cast/crew to really know what they’re doing and nail it. That’s not to say there’s no room for fun on our set though (we schedule it in – if it was up to me, we’d colour-code it too!)
DH: If someone wants to get into filmmaking, what‘s the best piece of advice you could give them based on your own experiences?
CS: I know it sounds clichéd but really the best piece of advice we can give people is to just go out there and do it. Yes, there are some really great books you could read or short courses that you can take, but ultimately the best way to learn is to go out there and make mistakes. There’s no substitute for experience. I think Jen may have already mentioned this but we learnt so much from making Dumped, mainly how you can have a great idea and script but if you don’t really know what you’re doing in terms of crew or equipment or the whole process behind it then you may not end up with the best showcase for your vision. Our understanding behind the whole production process has changed a lot since then and our prep is much more thorough.
Also surround yourself with crew who are great at what they do. We owe so much to our awesome crew on both The Morning After and My Brother’s Keeper, so never underestimate the value they can bring to your production.
DH: What are your tips for getting your film noticed and seen at festivals?
AS: Honestly, the best tip I can give is to submit to as many upcoming film festivals as possible. Be sure, however, to check whether the festival is the right place for your film and make sure you read the submission guidelines; often deadlines have passed or your film may not be eligible. Submitting to festivals can be expensive, so the last thing you want to do is waste your money and their time. Also make the most of your film’s selling points –if you have a cast that people are interested in, make sure you get in touch with fan sites, Facebook groups etc and offer them some exclusive info or set photos. We were lucky on both The Morning After and My Brother’s Keeper in that we had a cast that had appeal (singer/songwriter Kate Nash was making her acting debut in TMA and in MBK Alex Esmail was known for ‘Attack the Block’ and April Pearson was in the TV series ‘Skins’) It’s always worth drafting a quick press release, if you can, and sending it to horror journos and bloggers. A lot of them will have contact details on their sites. Finally, if you have budget (or can call in a favour from a talented friend), having an on-set stills photographer can prove invaluable. If your short film is listed on a festival line-up and you are the only film that can supply images for the page, you’re pretty much guaranteed the prime spot, which will highlight it to both the festival-goers and other festival programmers.
DH:What’s your opinion of crowdsourcing?
JM: I think it’s a terrific idea. We used crowdfunding to help us with our post production budget.
I think for short films, and genre films especially where there is little-to-no funding available, it’s a great way of getting access to money that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to. Lots of our filmmaker friends have been using this method to raise money for their projects and I think as long as you’re able to offer decent rewards in exchange for people’s contributions then I’m all for it. The key, of course, is getting to a point where you can reach a wider audience that extends beyond your friends and family and that’s very much dependent, I think, on how large your social networks are, as well as the scale of the project and who’s involved. Now that more and more filmmakers are using this method, I think there might be a slight risk of oversaturation/fatigue but for now I think it works just great.
DH: Who inspires you?
ALL: God we hate these types of question because we never know how to answer them! We know some incredibly talented and hard-working people in this industry who amaze us by what they manage to accomplish. At the risk of sounding vomit-inducing, anyone who puts themselves out there and works blood, sweat and tears for their passion project is a huge inspiration to us. We prefer not to name names, mainly because we risk the wrath of anyone we might forget to mention (this way everyone can just assume we mean them) although, at Frightfest this year, we were lucky enough to watch an amazing film called American Mary, which was written and directed by twins (funnily enough) called the Soska Sisters. We were all truly blown away by the film and even more amazed to hear it’s only their second feature. We saw some great films at the festival this year, but this is the one that has really stayed with all of us and we can’t wait to see what they do next.
DH: What’s next for Not So Lovely Films?
CS: Another short, what else?! Obviously we’re busy at the moment promoting My Brother’s Keeper in the festival circuit but ideas are already flowing for the next NSLF venture, which is rather exciting. It will possibly be a writing collaboration between Jen and Ailsa this time, and will definitely still involve that NSLF blend of comedy and horror.
And after that, who knows. We’d obviously love to do a feature at some point but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet! We’re thrilled just to be making our shorts and getting the positive responses we’ve had so far.
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