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Filmwire Spotlight: Alistair Clark and Anna Griffin

Thursday 4th July, 2024 Posted by David Baldwin

One of the East Midlands’ genuine success stories when it comes to indie filmmaking is Wellington Films, a production company based at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema whose titles include indie hits like London To Brighton, The Levelling and A House In Jerusalem.

Two people who helped forge that impressive CV are Alistair Clark (who co-founded Wellington Films with Rachel Robey) and producer Anna Griffin. Whilst Griffin left Wellington just before the COVID-19 pandemic to form Griffin Pictures, she still works with Clark and Robey, most recently on Karan Kandhari’s Sister Midnight, which premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. We got their thoughts on everything from short films to funding woes to the state of the East Midlands’ film industry.

Tell us how Wellington’s first feature film London To Brighton came about in the early 2000s.
Al: We met the director Paul Andrew Williams via the website Shooting People, which was then in its nascent days. He put out an advert saying he wanted some producers to make a short film, and we were pretty much the only people to reply to it. It’s probably the best short we’ve ever made, arguably. And then Paul was headhunted by Fox Searchlight for their talent development programme in Los Angeles. He hated it, and so he came back home to make a feature based on the original short we made. He wanted to make it straight away and so we thought, ‘Okay, it’s a great script and we’ll just treat it like a short film but longer. How hard can that be?’ It was an absolute nightmare. Three week shoot, filming on 16mm in London at night, multiple locations, children, stunts - and it was all privately financed, for sixty grand.

Anna: I was starting out just when Wellington were making London To Brighton. My first ever job was as a runner on a terrible film called Gold 3 that was shooting at Carlton Studios. The production manager was Rachel Robey from Wellington Films, and it was when there was loads happening in the East Midlands, thanks to the UK Film Council and the regional screen agency EM Media. So I went from that to being a floor runner on a film called Unmade Beds that Wellington were co-producers on, and then I bounced around on various productions and worked my way up to being third assistant director. Then the floor fell out of the regional film industry when the UK Film Council was disbanded and all the regional screen agencies died a death, so a lot of crew migrated down to London. But I stayed in Nottingham and went on the dole, like many do on and off in the film industry. This was about 2010, and I went in to sign on one day, and they talked to me about the Future Jobs Fund, which was a scheme brought in by the Labour government that meant I could work for Wellington two days a week as a production assistant, but I was actually being paid by the council. And then ultimately I ended up staying there.

Al: You were with us for 10 years I think, and then Anna left in 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, just before they announced furlough.

Anna: I timed my exit very badly!

Was the Netflix film Calibre your first project together?
Al: Yes, although whilst it was banded around as a Netflix film, they were no part of it until we finished the film. So when it says ‘Netflix Original’, take it with a pinch of salt! We funded it in a completely hodgepodge way, piecing the money together from everywhere. I think we had ten financial partners in the end. It would have been nice to have Netflix on early on. It might have been more restrictive, but it also might have got us lots more money.

How do you feel about the current state of film and TV production in the East Midlands?
Anna: I think there’s a lot more that needs to be done. The East Midlands is the least active region in the whole of the UK in terms of film and TV production. Least amount of crew, least investment, least output – and the reason for that is there are no funding pots and no screen agency. There’s an amazing studio in Nottingham that’s not getting used. It’s just sitting there. Sure, ‘build it and they will come’, but at the moment there’s nothing to build it with. Which sounds really pessimistic! On the bright side, the region does continue to have a really great output of talent. It’s just about how we retain that talent.

Al: It’s certainly not like the early 2010s or before that. Most of the crew has gone. We’ve hopefully got a film coming up that we’re going to shot in Nottingham, and we would struggle to crew the whole thing from the area even if everyone you could employ was sat around doing nothing - but obviously they’re not.

Anna: It’s the same with short films. I’m very stubborn, so when I get funding, I try and force it to be shot in the East Midlands, but you’re then scuppered by spending a big chunk of what is already not a lot of money on travel and accommodation to fill up your crew, because you can’t fill it here. The crew that are here need to be supported and the camera needs to point in this region, otherwise nobody sees it.

Tell us about Sister Midnight, which premiered recently at Cannes.
Anna: Karan Kandhari’s short film Flight Of The Pompadour completely blew me away. It’s a silent film about a boy going to his first disco who’s nervous about his hair and clothes. By the end of the film, he’s found his tribe and he’s having the best time ever. I finally tracked down Karan via Twitter and I really liked what he was trying to say with his stories. They were very idiosyncratic but also very relatable. We started developing a UK road movie with him through the iFeatures scheme and, to cut a long story short, Karan had to go back to India for a stint. So we said, ‘Well, you have a project set in India, so let’s capitalise on you being there right now.’ The result was Sister Midnight, and with the help of some BFI and Film4 funding, we shot it last year.

Al: It was in the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes and was one of only a very small number of British films in this year’s festival. We had a 5 minute standing ovation.

What future projects are you both working on?
Anna: One of the projects is called After You’d Gone. It’s written by Kefi Chadwick and directed by the BAFTA nominated Sandra Goldbacher. It’s actually set in Nottingham and we’re hoping very much that it will be filmed in Nottingham – but going back to the problem with there being a black hole of funding, we might end up having to shoot it in the West Midlands if we get money from Screen West Midlands or Yorkshire if we get funding from Screen Yorkshire. There’s a lot of interest in it and Gemma Arterton is attached to the lead role, so it’s shaping up. We’re also working on a couple of things with Samantha Morton, who’s East Mids born and bred. One is called Let’s Walk In The Night, which is an evolving project that started out as a music video for a song she wrote, and that evolved into a short film and it’s now evolving into a feature. Her other project is called Starlings, which is a companion piece to her debut film The Unloved. That film saw a girl called Lucy entering the care system, and Starling will see a different Lucy leaving the care system and freefalling into the world.

Al: We used to have a silly amount of projects on the go [at Wellington] but we’ve trimmed it back a bit. It was unmanageable, although you do need a certain number of projects on the boil, because not everything happens. One project died yesterday. We got final official notice that the co-production was no longer going forward. It was the final nail really, it had been dead for ages. We’re actually adapting something soon, but I can’t talk about it.

Anna: Do I even know what it is?

Al: Yeah, you do. But we can’t put it in print!

A House In Jerusalem is now in cinemas. Sister Midnight will be released later this year. For more information on Wellington Films, head to www.wellingtonfilms.co.uk.

This interview featured in the latest edition of Filmwire. Sign up for the Filmwire newsletter to stay in the loop on all the latest Midlands film happenings.

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