Jack Spring started making a comedy film at 19 years-old. In this article he talks about how he got Destination: Dewsbury to the big screen, and what he learnt in the process of doing so.
About 25 minutes ago I received that little black certificate that the BBFC give you - you know, the one with the signatures and an age rating on that's shown before films. It wasn't until that certificate arrived in my inbox that it hit home that we'd made a 'proper' film. We've got a US distributor, the film's being theatrically released by Showcase in the UK, and it wasn't until this strange moment that it all felt 'proper'.
And I can't work out why - I guess it's the one thing that ties Destination: Dewsbury to multi-million pound Hollywood features that I grew up watching at the cinema. Something about it just makes everything feel real.
I think because we've done Destination: Dewsbury whilst I was so young, childhood seems only a blink of an eye ago. So I think I'll start there. I had a great upbringing, a very supportive family who took me and my brother to museums, galleries, lower league football matches and essentially just exposed us to a lot of culture. Even if I didn't enjoy being begrudgingly dragged by the ear around Yorkshire Sculpture Park as an 11 year-old, it probably had some sort of positive effect on me.
It was my dad who got me into film making as a kid. He was made redundant sometime in the early 2000s and during that time, rather than invest several months in the latest edition of Championship Manager, he made a load of little stop motion animations with me and my brother, Harry. We'd get sticks from the garden, draw little cartoon characters on paper and stick them on. Take a picture, move slightly, take a picture. He'd then stick the images in Movie Maker, I'd record some sort of tonal concoction on the keyboard and we'd have ourselves a movie.
Come to think of it, that's pretty much what we did with Destination: Dewsbury.
A few years later the digital revolution made a cheap DSLR somewhat more accessible to a young chap with a big grin and an ambitious Christmas wish list. Once I landed a digital camera of my own I was away.
I remember being about 12 and setting up a shit tonne of candles in my mum's kitchen into a flower-like pattern, dimming the lights, taking a picture, repeating and editing them together to Kasabian's newly released Fire. Unfortunately they didn't use it as their official release but I'm sure they appreciated the effort.
Each project got slightly better and better, I was learning lots just by doing it, which I think has been the mentality that's pushed me through the entire process really. I've always seen making films a bit like playing guitar. You start off and you're going to be awful, but the more you do it, the better you'll get at it. I'd say once a year I go back through all of my childhood projects and enjoy essentially watching myself work out what sort of films I want to make, skipping all over the shop from 60 second feel goods to dark, bloody horrors before landing on The Great Yorkshire Bank Robbery, a 25 minute black comedy heist movie.
At 16 I started to pick up a few awards from around the world. My school teachers Mr Butcher, Mr Beavis and Mr Middlecoat were the three who stand out as the ones who gave me that big boost in confidence that every creative self-conscious teenager needs. Their advice to push the films to festivals really opened a lot of doors - winning awards massively increased my confidence as a filmmaker and soon it was pretty clear to me that I wanted to do this for a living.
We got sent up to the Co-operative Film Festival in Bradford as we'd won a couple of things there, including the Best Drama award (coincidentally, Edgar Wright won the same award as a kid). We didn't know if the north of England would serve us beer like the corner shops did in South London (big shout out to the local off-licence for turning a blind eye), so we lugged 60 cans of Carling up on the train in a suitcase, only for us to discover Wetherspoons became more liberal with their ID policy the further north you went.
Anyway, I had a few years of fun jollying across Europe going to film festivals in strange little towns. Then adulthood began breathing down my neck and university was a beast I needed to make a decision on.
It seemed as though everyone outside of the film industry told me to go to university, whilst everyone inside the film industry told me not to bother. The idea of a three-year-long bender at a uni only an hour's drive from my beloved Grimsby Town sounded like too much fun to pass, so university I did.
Truth is, it wasn't very good. But it probably was never going to be right for me, no matter who was teaching, where I was drinking, what I was studying...
I was always uncomfortable with the fact that creative courses at universities are taught by academics. The majority of staff hadn't spent much time in the film world; the course was largely taught and marked on an essay and exam basis. The shitty film we did get to make at the end of the year was shot on a tape camera using a load of film students as actors. The staff were rude, punished intuition and didn't really appreciate working on films over writing essays on 1940s audio recording devices. It was all a bit of a waste of time and money really - I think the only thing I did learn was that cheese is actually really fucking expensive.
My housemate knew of a couple of guys, Scott and Sid, who were shooting a film in York so I soon began borderline harassing them until they let me come and be a runner on set. It was all very exciting but the Uni tried to block my involvement, instead insisting I spend my time revising lumen conversions.
Persist I did, against the wrath of suit wearing sausages at Uni, and a grand job I did too. Scott sat me down after a few days and within 30 minutes changed my life forever. He explained that I should leave uni, make a feature, live with the dream chaser headspace. He opened up this war chest of mentality that felt like an atomic bomb exploding in my head. Suddenly anything was possible.
People talk about life-changing moments pretty dramatically, but that was the extent of the effect this conversation had on me. I stayed in my room thinking about the conversation I'd had with Scott that very afternoon instead of joining my friends at Yates' very generous £1 pint Wednesdays.
The very next day, I paraded into the head of year's office and told him I was thinking of leaving to make a feature film, and to ask him if he thought it was possible to stay and make the feature over the summer. He turned around, looked out the window and very proudly said "Jack, I had a friend who made a feature really young, and he never made one again."
And that was the spark I needed. Bravo that man - in a strange twist of events I guess he did inspire me to go and make the film through his effortless combination of rudeness and punishment of intuition.
Now at this point you might expect a smooth stroll to the pearly gates of Hollywood. But, nah, this is where the story takes somewhat of a side-step.
Being from a very good but not hugely affluent family, and growing up in a South London suburb, I didn't really know many rich people. Those we did know weren't interested in investing in my film because, well, I'd technically only been an adult a couple of months. There was nothing I could do about being 18, but I started to break down why being 18 was the issue. It was an issue because we'd never dealt with large amounts of money, we'd never made profit, budgeted, spent wisely - and, well, what fool would trust a bunch of kids with £150k?
As with most of my anecdotes in this article, cheap lager is a prevalent theme. After waking up in Leeds after a night under the watchful eye of Mr Wetherspoon, I decided I needed to start a business which would make money, and thus impress rich people who would then fund the movie. In my somewhat bleary-eyed state, I stumbled upon a picture of my good friend, Kenneth, sitting pot-bellied in an inflatable hot tub he'd just brought. I decided that taking a side-step into the world of commercial aquatics would be my path to riches. So I went about setting up an inflatable hot tub hire company thanks to a timely cash gift from my grandad.
12 months later and we'd monopolised the UK's inflatable hot tub hire scene. Nine cities, 60+ hot tubs and a customer base of almost entirely middle-aged women later, and we were in a position to go back to investors with an impressive year of business under our belt.
It was an instant difference in mentality from investors. Rather than 'who're these 18 year-old kids trying to get money off of me?', it became very quickly 'they're only 19 and they're doing all this, let's get involved'. It was probably about the only part of the story thus far that did go to script!
It was by around March time that we had half of our money in - enough to shoot. So we had a good few months to cast, crew, find locations, put the whole thing together.
The vast majority of the credit for how well the shoot played out must go to my wonderful producer, Kate Dow, who I have absolutely no doubt is the best producer of her age in the country. We came in under budget on the shoot by £35. Well, after I totted up a £70 parking fine on the final day I guess we technically came in over budget - but we won't mention that.
Film in the can and 'we're across the finishing line' Jack thought. Nah ah hunny! Post production was relatively smooth: we'd raise another 10k, spend another 10k on post, and repeat until we locked the film a year later. I reckon we could have done it in three months had we had the finance there from the off, so it was a bit frustrating. I thought that once we had some pretty footage in the can to show investors, then it'd be super easy to get the rest in, but it was still a case of bit by bit.
I knew there was a bridge called 'sales and distribution' that I'd have to cross at some point, although that was the part of filmmaking (as well as financing) that I'd never done before and didn't have a clue about. Shorts don't really get distributed because they're not meant to (and rarely do) make money. They're more of a calling card and a training ground.
I sent a spam email out to almost the entire industry both UK-based and stateside, and hoped for at least one response. One kind gentleman (now a good friend), Sebastian Twardosz, replied to me and, after a two-hour Skype call, we decided that we'd like to work together in selling the film. By this point I'd acquired the services of a wonderful manager named 'Uncle' Larry Robinson, who'd guided me away from a few dodgy deals and who spoke very highly of Sebastian.
Sebastian formulated a list of festivals we should target and I went away and raised a couple of grand to cover festival fees. We submitted to seven or eight mid-range festivals, mainly in America. A few weeks later we were welcomed with the news that we'd been accepted into the Beverly Hills Film Festival in Hollywood, and the Newport Beach festival just down the road in California. A good 20 of us who'd worked on the film flew out to the festival, hired a nice place with a pool for a week, did the festival and then buggered off to Vegas the night following the screening. See kids, it's only taken 2,000 words for the film industry to get glamorous.
After our festival success in California, Sebastian sent the film around to distributors, with the film receiving six or seven offers from companies across the world. We went with Random Media, who we felt were best suited to distribute the film.
A few months later and I email Showcase Cinemas about hosting a premiere event in Dewsbury as they have a big ass cineplex in the town next door. I soon got put through to the big dogs there who offered to become the film's UK theatrical distributor. It was a real surprise and a theatrical release wasn't something we anticipated when formulating potential returns to investors. It sort of raises the film, particularly for a film of our budget - it's very good. Showcase Cinemas have been wonderful to work with. Their team are all very pro young film makers and I can't speak highly enough of both Random Media and Showcase - they have been top to deal with.
When making the film I had three big interests in terms of how it would affect my future. First, it had to make the investors profit. Secondly, it had to be seen by as many people as possible and thirdly, it had to open the door to the next film.
Destination: Dewsbury is being released now so we'll wait and see on point 1, but with theatrical release it's going to be seen by its audience. Its audience is essentially people from Dewsbury and people that like Inbetweeners-y, rude, crude comedy. We couldn't do much better than getting it shown for six weeks in the big cinema there so I'm happy with that one.
It's also opened the door for project number two.... Three Day Millionaire is due to shoot in June and although I can't reveal the cast just yet, we've got some ridiculous names attached - the sort of names I dreamed of directing back when I was messing around in my bedroom, honing my skills.
If you're bright and you work hard enough you'll do just fine in the film industry. You'll have to hustle and sometimes it feels like you're drilling your head into the ground for a living - but it's worth it.
Images by Steve R Lawson and Terry Scott
Published: Wednesday 27th February 2019