Filmmaking Beyond The Edge
A quick reflection about who we are and how the White Deer International Film Festival came to be.
Hello, I'm Mark Wisdom, one of the co-directors for the White Deer International Film Festival...
A Film Festival
It's a catchy slogan but what does it actually mean? And, why is it something we promote about ourselves? Well, in this brief introductory blog I will explain how our festival began and why we operate the way we do. Hopefully you will relate to our origin story, after all, it's filled with a glimmer of hope despite a heavy mix of failure, heartache, and stress - a filmmaker's perfect cocktail, no?
This festival was originally created by three indie-filmmaker colleagues: Cinematographer Adam Sandy, Writer/Director Alastair Railton, and Actor/Writer/Producer Mark Wisdom (me!). Check us all out in the image below!
White Deer IFF's 2020 Annual Event (Left to Right: Adam Sandy, Alastair Railton, Mark Wisdom).
In 2018, we were simply filmmakers with individual disciplines that united to create stories. One of these stories was a film called 'The Edge', which was supposed to be shot in the summer of 2019.
Logline: Identical clones, Janus & Cable, explore the idea of escaping their confined society.
Identical clones, you say? That's right, this film was a Sci-Fi; a genre we had yet to tackle. Without giving too much away, the narrative focuses on pushing our two protagonist characters beyond their familiar surroundings. However, they clash dramatically when one of them can't handle the pressure of rebelling against their mysterious overlords whilst the other is desperate to see the wider world. The conflict comes to a tumultuous climax at the "Edge" of their secluded forest dwelling.
Will they go beyond the Edge to explore the world beyond, or is the risk too great?
I had written the film's script toward the end of 2018, during an exhausting Christmas Children's Theatre tour. I was producing the film and due to play the identical clone lead roles, Alastair assisted with script edits and would direct, whilst Adam was the DoP.
We were eager to experiment with this story, due to the character-driven narrativ, and set ourselves the lofty challenge of lugging our equipment up countryside hills to reach Belton Park, a stunning forest that would serve as the primary shooting location.
Pretty nice, right?
We spent nearly two hours carting everything up to our shooting location, completely aware that we had an arduous shooting schedule ahead.
Nevertheless, eventually we had everything in position, and soon we were ready call "Action!"
Then the heavens opened...
Despite all my careful planning, I made the criminal error of not factoring in the fractious British weather. You see, a key concept of this film relied on us having a delicious summer's day backdrop to counter the tensions faced by the characters (it makes sense in the script). Unfortunately, we had chosen to shoot the same day as a horrific storm.
My Instagram post from that fateful summer's day.
I remember making the gut-wrenching decision to postpone the shoot. No kidding, we were mere seconds from shooting the first scene on a film that meant the world to me. My first script, my first official producer credit, my baby. Gone, in a matter of heartbeats...
But, it was the right call. It rained so darn hard it was threatening to destroy our equipment.
At that point, the dream had to end.
The hill up to Belton Park had represented the (literal) uphill struggle before the shoot. Descending it, with not a lick of footage, represented the nadir of my fledgling career.
A smile, minutes before the rain
We were soaked through, concerned for our tech, and deflated when we finally arrived back to Alastair's family home (our base-of-operations). I instructed everyone to tuck into the sandwiches made for what would have been our on-set lunch, as my brain whirred for other alternative shoot dates.
One issue was time, getting everyone together again would be a nightmare to plan, especially with our low morale - the adrenaline that initially powered us up to Belton Park had entirely vanished. Worse still, a chunk of my own money had gone into preparing for the shoot, and I would need to save up to have another go.
We said a dreary cheerio to the MUA and Sound Recordist and sat together, as a three, to ponder when our next opportunity to film would come. It was horrible that we all knew the answer; we simply didn't know.
Not knowing when we would next get to do the thing we loved was awful and demoralising. And, to be brutally honest, I didn't know if I could ever summon the energy to try again. What if more disaster struck?
I just didn't have the time, money, or willingness to try again.
But, the wonderful thing about working in a team is having the extra brain power to adapt.
"Why don't we start a film festival?" Alastair said.
That simple question changed everything and dragged me immediately from my depressive mindset. We all sat a little straighter, ready to discuss.
"A film festival?" I asked in shock. It was an intriguing notion, but I soon dismissed it as being a wild change of focus. Nevertheless, Alastair explained the idea further...
To paraphrase the Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained (this wouldn't be a film blog without the occasional Tarantino reference) - at first the idea had our curiosity, but then it had our attention.
Not only would we get to see the talented works of other filmmakers, we would also get to meet them and help them achieve their goals. And, in the world of film, goals achieved equal stories told.
In short, we would actively get to use our own experiences, like 'The Edge', to appreciate other films on their ability to overcome challenges. That fact alone meant that this wasn't only a conversation to distract us, this was a conversation with real opportunity to support our peers.
A short few months later, the White Deer International Film Festival was born!
I never expected this to be the outcome of 'The Edge', but it feels like we are (ironically) carrying on it's legacy by going beyond our own storytelling into the magical worlds created by other storytellers.
I refer to the common Alexander Graham Bell phrase, "When one door closes, another opens." when I think of this episode in our lives - the heartbreak of 'The Edge' led to the joys of launching White Deer IFF.
So far it's been a whirlwind ride! We've had glorious highs meeting amazing, talented individuals but shared the terrible lows that all filmmakers - all people - faced during COVID Pandemic. Further still, our formidable trio splintered when Adam sadly decided pursue other paths. We wish him very well on his future endeavours and look forward to the stories he goes on to tell.
But to refer you back to the opening few lines, we are...
A Film Festival
We, like you, know the struggles faced within this industry. We are here to help you because we are you and we know how difficult it can be to succeed. Heck, we have first-hand experience of being so close to shooting a film, only to have it snatched away from us by an untimely act of God.
Yet, we also know the joys. The joys of seeing stories told by people we have never met and likely never will. Stories from across the world, opening our horizons to lives we could never imagine living. We've met characters that have stayed with us and carried us into fits of laughter and tears of sadness. We've even been lucky enough to make some friends a long the way.
So, myself and Alastair will be continuing the White Deer IFF story in earnest and are already preparing for a strong transition from 2021 into 2022. Our goal for next year is to bring you our first live, in-person event but until then, it is our pleasure to watch your films and have you with us on this journey. So, watch this space!
But, what about you? What difficulties are you facing, and how can you overcome them to create something positive.