Would you like to meet Matt Damon? – Colin Kennedy’s version of events

I bear little more than a passing resemblance to Colin Farrell, not something that is much of an issue in day-to-day life, but when you’re in a small town stuffed to the gunwales with A-list it can be enough to turn the odd head.

After finishing work on Hallam Foe I travelled with the Sigma Films team to the Cannes film festival in the capacity of chief ligger.  The year was 2006 and we were quite a gang, we’d just finished shooting a film and were in competition with another, Red Road. It was some introduction to the festival, red carpet, parties aplenty and more of the cote d’azures’ famous pink wine than you could shake a proverbial stick at.

After six days of intense hedonism I was not feeling at my best.  I was struggling to keep up with such elite company and found myself a literally withering wallflower at the Film Four party.  It was at this point someone asked me if I’d like to meet Matt Damon.

The machinations of film festivals was unknown to me in any great detail.  Among the famous faces and sea of booze, you have some of the most important conversations of your career.  Life altering introductions are cloaked in the guise of informal chats beneath the shade of palms and have to be navigated with a decorum and mental dexterity that is beyond the reaches of your average drunken reprobate.  The intense atmosphere belies the scene of sunshine and sea air, as the great and good and the hawks and hoods gather to propel themselves and their projects.  As a newbie it is a very strange experience indeed, quite surreal.  You can imagine my sense of relief when Matt Damon turned out to be another person sporting vague resemblance to the real McCoy.

However, as is the way at festivals, it turned out that Matt Damon worked for Screen WM and introduced me to James Lees, producer/director at The Hobo Film Company and rising star of the music video and documentary worlds.

I think it would be fair to say that James was the most eminent of our group having recently won plaudits for his short films at Sundance and Hot Docs.  But at this party we were all at the bottom of the luminary ladder, and so set to wiling away the evening with chat of ambition before disappearing off on our separate ways into the night.

Cut to two years later: I had written a script (I Love Luci) and was in Clermont-Ferrand on a research mission to watch some of the world’s finest short films.  Our days work was done and my producer, Brian Coffey, and myself were coming to the tail end of another drink fuelled round of encounters when heading home I spotted James’ not so familiar face.  I reintroduced myself and we agreed that maybe meeting at the beginning of the evening might be a better plan.

Discussion revealed James was in a unique position to be able to make a connection with both Screen WM and EM Media.  Between the three of us, James, Brian and myself, we started to hatch a plan.  Within the next couple of days we had had dinner with Scottish Screen and EM Media and plans were afoot to engage Matt Damon and his gang.  The finance plan was set to produce my first short film.

Brian and James worked tirelessly to achieve an unprecedented deal that pulled together Sigma Films, Zentropa, Screen WM, EM Media and Scottish Screen contributing the lions’ share.  This is a finance structure very similar to the way feature films are put together and made the world of difference to our approach to making I Love Luci and the way we engaged people to work on it.

Six months later we were in production and James was co-producer on the film.  James’ ability to tie Screen WM and EM Media into the project had significant effect on our budget and allowed us to make a film that competes at the very top level of the international festival circuit.

Come 2009 James and I were back in Cannes exploiting the looky-likey credentials (we genuinely talked our way into one of the most exclusive clubs in disguise), continuing to seek out those all-important chance encounters that lead to opportunities.  It’s safe to say that first drunken evening has served to be a constant reminder to me of the importance of getting to festivals and meeting people.  You never know when serendipity might strike, or when you’ll bump into people again.  If you’re thinking about trying to get to a festival, my advice is to go for it; get out there and get in front of people and you will find a way to move forward with your projects.

James, Brian and myself will be continuing our work together when James’ directs his second dramatic short later in the year and it’ll be my turn to watch and learn while Brian and I produce.

Would you like to meet Matt Damon?  James Lees’ version of events

…that was the opening gambit with which I met Mr Colin Farrell, sorry, Mr Colin Kennedy. Sat on the veranda at the Film Four party in Cannes with my screen agency Screen WM we had noticed an A-List look-a-like contender to go alongside our rather speculative Matt Damon look-a-like. This is the kind of activity you end up doing at Cannes until you’re successful enough to book back to back meetings with major movie players from the moment you land to the moment you take off. I was a short film maker checking out the festival for the first time. Being brutally honest this often means just sitting around getting pissed in the sun amongst lots of other people who’re sitting around getting pissed in the sun. The difference is they’ve been doing it for twenty years and are probably committing millions of pounds to each other’s projects. I still can’t quite get my head round what a million pounds is let alone commit it to anyone.

After we had stood mock Matt Damon and mock Colin Farrell next to each other, laughed and took some pictures… we did what you do at Cannes and got pissed together. I can’t really remember much about it but we had a great evening and sure enough no one committed any millions of pounds to us. Or in fact pounds full stop.
Fast forward and I am at Clermont-Ferrand. I have been very fortunate and my current short is having a golden run at the festivals. Winning at Cork, Hot Docs, AFI and being nominated for a European Academy Award (and in a couple of days a special jury mention at Clermont!). Outside after a screening, in the beautiful surrounds of the old town, I hear someone call my name. It’s Colin Farrell! Oh no, it’s that other Colin. The Scottish one. Nevertheless still pleased to be reacquainted, Colin introduces me to his producer Brian Coffey and we set off to the local bar (theme developing here? Never).

Over the next few days we get chatting about Colin and Brian’s short ‘I Love Luci’ and we start to see potential for something quite exciting. Could we create a co-production and pull together several screen agencies. On a short film?
What followed after the festival was a busy process of working out that yes, in fact we could. I set up my own company The Hobo Film Company, a year or two earlier to facilitate production of my own films and here was an opportunity to take it to the next level, a co-production with one of the UK’s leading independent film companies. After a meeting in Clermont we continued to converse with EM Media and soon they came onboard seeing it as an excellent opportunity to develop my East Midlands based film company. I then tentatively approached Screen WM, funders of my first short film and my own local screen agency as a West Midlands based filmmaker. Thankfully they too thought it was a fantastic opportunity and threw their weight behind it. And that (in rather simplified terms) was that. The Hobo Film Company would come onboard as a co-production partner and bring the additional funding required to green light the film.

We have all heard a million stories about making a film – the writing, the casting, the shoot, the post production etc. So I won’t spoil this by going into any of those details here (Colin can fill you in on that if you ask him nicely – preferably over a beer in front of Le Grand in Cannes). Suffice to say the film that came out of all this, in my own humble opinion, fully lived up to the hype. The experience of working at Film City with Sigma and helping make ‘I Love Luci’ a reality was nothing short of amazing. It is not often I step away from the directors’ role into a producing role but working with a director like Colin was a joy. Whenever I could I would sit back and watch him at work and spot our similarities and our differences in approach. And then pinch the idea for myself next time I directed!
Now we find ourselves back on the festival circuit. Back at Clermont where the seeds of a co-production were first planted and had now blossomed into an award winning Clermont film.
I currently consider myself very lucky to have Brian and Colin as my producers on my fourth short ‘Ending’. Little do they know how much more difficult I suddenly become to work with when I’m the director!

I Love Luci was written and directed by Colin Kennedy, produced by Brian Coffey and co-produced by James Lees.  It won the Prix des Mediatheques at Clermont-Ferrand 2010 and is currently touring the festival circuit in Europe and the US.