Being a filmmaker inevitably means that you'll get to know lots of filmmakers. I'm sure it's the same for plumbers and even burglars - you can't help but get to know others in the same trade as you. Inevitably some filmmakers you'll never mix with, never find a common ground on which to stand, even if your medium is the same, film is just too diverse language to 'get' everybody.
Fortunately for me, I do know Greg Hall, and I do really like the guy. He's actually one of the most committed, grounded, honest and talented filmmakers I've ever met, and he's also very humble about it all as well. And maybe that's because for Greg, he's never more than a few inches from the reality of what he writes about. But more than that, I really, really like his work.
Of course, I can bleat on about Greg and his movies like this, because unlike many filmmakers I've met, I got to know Greg through his work long before we met.
You see, a few years back, I started hearing all this hype about a young filmmaker who'd shot his debut feature film for a few grand, in and around a housing estate in London, using non-professional actors. At the time, I too was a hustling a film together, roughly around the same budget mark, and although my subject matter was very different, Greg's story chimed with me.
The product of the South London lower classes myself, I was intrigued by what this guy had to say about my world, and the people in it. The film had grabbed its fair share of love and attention (as well as awards), so I rented The Plague digitally (back when that was a wildly fresh concept) and was riveted by the raw beauty of the film. There was an energy that can't be faked, punctuated by the performances of a young but talented cast, spilling out talent like their lives depended on it. Greg had delivered a small miracle - a DIY film that shook off the stigma that comes with it. He had earned his place on the scene as a filmmaker everybody should keep an eye on.
If this was a mixtape, we'd press fast-forward right now, as years on, I actually got to know Greg in person, through the background noise of the Portobello Film Festival. His latest film, SSDD was the opener, and my own movie, Vinyl, was also set to be screened. Pretty soon, we got to know each other well, and we shared war stories of an industry that promises you what you want to hear, takes twice what you can't afford to give, and leaves you broke, busted and with bootprints on your dignity. We'd both been through the pain of distribution, development projects blowing up in our faces, and been paraded around in circles like decorated elephants in a circus. In short, we got it. And that's an important point to make, we didn't just understand what happens when you 'break through' as it were, but we also got why we still made films despite the metaphorical whippings. Just getting your film listed on IMDb is a sure fire route to having your reputation and dignity scarred.
But that's just it. You make movies because you have to, and because you know that 99.9% of people who want to pursue their dreams never will. Or they'll turn back because the struggle hurts too much. And whilst that might mean that the few of us who do work hard, pouring not only our hearts but our earnings into building out a reality that works for us are going to get damaged by the process, it doesn't mean we're not loving it for all the right reasons too.
So when I saw SSDD, Greg's opus to the underclasses, about normal people being forced to survive in the undertow of the financial institutions just a mile or so along the road, I was awestruck. The kid that had made The Plague had become the man that understood real life is beyond parody. He got that the voices of the voiceless needed to be heard. His intelligent storytelling is as focussed as it is dynamic, and the characters he gives us are as vital as a beating pulse. They are eminently watchable, textured and pitiful. Not to mention, in moments, funny. Which is really quite important - because it takes a hardy soul to live in this universe.
Probably the segment of SSDD that everybody who has seen it will recall is Conan the Barbarian. And after you see it, you'll talk about this too, I'm sure.
SSDD was the rightful recipient of the Best Screenplay prize at Portobello Film Festival 2010. It was the same festival that I'd met Greg at, the same festival that Vinyl took its own award. To share in success with Greg and this film just made the whole thing sweeter.
One of the big, ongoing conversations between Greg and I, is the power of owning your own distribution. We've both arrived at a place as filmmakers where, in terms of our own careers and the market itself, we don't have to rely on anybody else. Digital distribution has started to democratise the film business, and so now filmmakers can get real support from their audience, much in the same way that musicians have been doing for a number of years. Now, you can rent a film and know that the money you spend is going to go back to the filmmaker and those involved in it's production, and not a faceless corporation that will continue pumping out generic comedies or films about transforming Volvo's from outer space. This is what the business has needed for a long time, and finally, it's happening. There are several options and services for delivering your work to those that would want to see it, the only battle now is getting the word out. And that's why I decided to write about it. Because I loved this film. And even if I didn't know Greg, I still would - which again, is vital. I'd tell you to see this regardless.
So check out SSDD now. Seriously - you won't be disappointed. Go on. The link is here: http://www.dynamoplayer.com/watch/P21d484f16b301ca18b1d484f - and pass it on. Like I said, telling people that a film exists is the toughest battle that indie filmmakers face.
Getting to know Greg through his work has been amazing. It's meant that I can be honest with people when I say, 'Check out his films, they're great. Oh, and he's also a really nice fella if you ever get a chance to say hello.' And that's the beauty of what I do. You get to say, yeah, I know that guy. He's good, eh?
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