A VIKING IN MY DUSTBIN. (53) In Business.

Back in our rented house, I was getting towards the end of the local telephone directory and Sue was beginning to grow out of her uniform. Having got almost to the end without any openings whatsoever, I eventually reached the ‘W’s.
The ‘Wakefield Express’, the local newspaper, was near the top of the ‘W’ list. So holding out little hope, I gave them a call.

I got through to the manager of the Promotions and Marketing Department, a Mr. Pyrah and introduced myself. To my jaw-dropping surprise he told me my calling was timely, they were indeed considering having a new promotional film made! Then I couldn’t further believe my ears as he invited me to come in the day after and show them my reel. Great, when Sue came home that evening I had at last something positive to report

I turned up the next day at the newspaper offices and showed them my college films on an old film projector they dusted off. My show reel featured a BBC cartoon or two and of all things, my documentary on Mental Health Provision, which hardly seemed appropriate in the circumstances.
And I wondered as I watched, what on earth are they going to make of this?
But no matter how incongruous it seemed to me, they saw something in it, because right after watching it they hired me to make their film! I could have jumped over the river.

I was in auspicious company, for later I discovered that the famous Director of film and stage, Lindsay Anderson had also made his debut film for the same purpose years before at the outset of his career, and had turned out a black and white classic! So the people at the paper were obviously good at spotting a good thing when they saw it. They also recognized I’d probably make them the film for about five quid if they asked me, so keen was I to do my first project.
As it was the production budget they offered was paltry, two and a half thousand pounds, not a lot even then, just enough to buy the crew a few beers and packets of crisps.
Undeterred though, realizing this may be a loss-leader but could be my passport into industrial film making, I gathered a small professional crew together and asked a mate from school who I’d always regarded as a great talent as a performer (we’d been in a drama club together) and writer, Phil Swerdlow, to join me to write and produce the film. I think I definitely paid Phil in Cheese and Onion crisps and scrounged cigarettes.
He was by far the smartest and the wittiest guy I had ever known to that point, and like me he’d left college with an urge to start his own ‘media’ company. (Later he followed his own path and achieved great things as a Producer), but back in the early autumn of 1974 our only objective was to make our first film without screwing up big time.

We needed to get smart and street-wise straight off, this was a real commission for a real company, not some student thing. Contracts would have to be drawn up and signed, real money was being invested, not much but a lot more than I’d seen before; I even had to get a bank account just like a real movie mogul!

We did have one pretty big advantage though which made up for our greenness and lack of experience, for while I’d been at college, Trevor, my surrogate dad had landed a job at the new Yorkshire Television studios in Leeds.
His position in the sound department put him in the production heart of the company and most importantly to me, meant he was able to help us. The first thing he did to help us was fix up a meeting with a young editor at the studios, Chris Page. He was about our age and we struck it off straight away. He had a great sense of humour, liked pubs, rolled his own cigarettes and most importantly, unlike us besides working at YTV, knew what he was doing. Trevor then went another step and put us in contact with a cameraman who did regular freelance work for the station. Once we’d worked out a deal with him, we had the production team.
Graham the cameraman was a young hardened professional and businessman, but unlike Chris, he patronized us from the start. He and his crew knew we were inexperienced and treat us with a sneering disdain, even though it was our production. But with Chris’s help, we learned how to handle ourselves and them, and keep our first film on track. At least the film crew did their job.

We were a young and enthusiastic bunch, I estimate the average age was 26, what we lacked in seniority we made up for in energy. n truth as we took our first steps, I was scared and excited at the prospect of actually making a professional commercial film,but this was it; I’d started on the freelance path. I felt ten feet tall.

Phil and I got on with the script, then sold the ideas to the Newspaper, drew up the shooting schedule and dove into the production.
Four months later we delivered the first print. The finished film was just short of thirty minutes in length and we’d made it and delivered it within the budget of two and a half grand, with no major cock-ups.

Our clients were delighted with the finished product and of course the fact that they’d got it for a fraction of what they’d have had to pay if they’d gone to an established company. As for Phil and I we’d survived and were now officially in the business with a completed project under our belts.

A VIKING IN MY DUSTBIN. (53) In Business.

John Sunderland

New York, United States

  • Artist

Artist's Description

Landing the first professional film commission.

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