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Q&A with James Webber, Dir. Soror at the British Urban Film Fest

Thursday 20 August 2015, by Abla Kandalaft

Soror is the latest short film from Driftwood writer/director James Webber and producer Roxanne Holman. The film stars Rosie Day, Sian Breckin, James Alexandrou, and Kate Dickie.
"Soror explores the lives and relationships of two half-sisters; Grace, insular and shy but a talented dancer; and Lisa, who dreams of escaping the confines of their upbringing. The close relationship shared by the sisters is the most important part of their lives; the only thing that truly means anything."
It will be screened at the upcoming British Urban Film Festival. James has most recently directed short horror film The Prey.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what drove you get into filmmaking?

Ever since I was a kid living in Bournemouth I have been obsessed with storytelling and filmmaking. I used to watch films non-stop and that has never really changed. The films from my childhood fuelled my passion and, as I grew up, I was introduced to films from all over the world. Once I’d left school, I went on to study film at the Arts Institute in Bournemouth and through that, and constantly making shorts, promos and music videos, I was able to relocate to London and eventually work full-time in the industry.

How did The Springhead Film Company come about?

I co-founded The Springhead Film Company with a view to make interesting, challenging and highly visual films. The company is a collective of creatives who all bring their own skills to the table. Having all worked together for a few years, it makes the filmmaking process so much easier. At the moment we are developing our first feature film, a drama called Solitude Country.

Tell us a little bit about your first directing experience on a short?

My first big experience in regards to the size of the production and having a large budget was my short film Driftwood, a sporting drama. It was a hugely enjoyable experience for me as I got to work not only with a fantastic crew but with exciting acting talent such as Neil Maskell (Kill List) and Sam Gittins (Ripper Street). Driftwood was easily the most ambitious project I had attempted up until that point and, for once, I didn’t have to cut corners to tell the story I set out to make. When the film was complete it was screened extensively around the world on the festival circuit and was ultimately picked up for distribution and screened on Channel 4. When you make a film, the biggest goal is to be able to share it with the largest audience possible and I certainly feel Driftwood achieved this aim! You can see the making of the film here.

What have been the biggest hurdles in setting up a production company? In getting a short film made and screened?

The biggest hurdle regardless of the level you are working to is finding the budgets to make your project happen. I’ve been lucky to have been successful raising finance through crowdfunding and this has enabled me to make films in a way I couldn’t before. It also means that I had the budget to expand my festival reach.

How do you select your team (producers, technicians, actors)?

When it comes to crew I’ve been able to build a great team across the last few films. As a director, it is so important to collaborate with like-minded individuals who share your vision and enthusiasm for the project. And of course you always want the best possible cast you can find. I’ve always been very ambitious with the various actors we’ve cast. I have never really worked with a casting director so we’ve always made direct contact with actors/agents ourselves. Luckily, even actors with higher profiles are willing to work on smaller projects if the role interests them.

What do you feel was key to getting your shorts screened at events and festivals?

I guess it comes down to the films themselves - If you do a good job on building a positive buzz behind a film then it will sell itself to a degree. We identified the festivals we wanted to hit before we even shot the film and worked to a very strict schedule in post to make sure that we could hit any deadlines. The team will also create a festival pack that will accompany a film during the submission process.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the idea behind your latest short The Prey?

I wanted to make a film about female stereotypes in horror, to subvert well worn genre conventions and turn them on their head! I had written the script years ago and put it in a drawer. Then last year I came across it and thought I’d take the leap and make my first horror short.

Why the sudden switch to horror?

Having worked almost entirely in drama for the last few years, creatively I fancied a change and do something utterly different. I love most kinds of film especially horror so it was great to finally get to try the genre. It was especially enjoyable working with visual effects and CG for the first time too.

What has been your best festival experience?

Receiving a Coup de Coeur at Cannes for Driftwood which was a complete surprise. It led to a distribution deal for the film and, ultimately, to our Channel 4 screening.

Any films you’d like to recommend currently doing the rounds on the festival circuit?

Three films I’ve seen recently that I thoroughly enjoyed were Stefan Georgiou’s drama / comedy ’Sex Life’, Cyrus Trafford’s highly visual drama ’The Voice in the Head’ and Rob Savage’s horror ’Absence.’ Definitely keep an eye out for them all!

Finally, what advice would you give filmmakers starting out in the sector?

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The most important thing is to learn from those mistakes and take that knowledge into future projects. Short films are great for experimenting and finding your feet as a filmmaker before you make that big leap into larger projects.

More information and the full programme of screenings are available on the Urban Film Fest website.

Soror trailer:https://vimeo.com/100701866
The Prey BTS: https://vimeo.com/135847630
James’s showreel:https://vimeo.com/87131209

Any message or comments?

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