Bright stars of British indie film making

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They were 25-year-olds with £25k to make a movie. Nick Ahad spoke to Will Sharpe and Tom Kingsley on making it happen

There are more independent movies made in the UK each year than you imagine.

With the continual improvement of affordable equipment available, more and more people are turning their hands to film-making – and the results, it’s fair to say, are mixed.

Even if your film is good – not quite the same as buying a lottery ticket – it takes a huge amount of timing and good fortune to make it stand out in this increasingly crowded market, and rise to the top.

With Black Pond, film-makers Will Sharpe and Tom Kingsley have begun their ascent.

With just £25,000 – the same figure, in dollars, with which Kevin Smith shot his first feature movie Clerks, Sharpe and Kingsley have made a movie that is causing waves on the independent festival circuit.

Selected to screen at Raindance and at the Moet British Independent Film Awards, Black Pond looks set to announce the arrival of two talented young film-makers.

The film is seriously high quality – it helps that it happens to feature the comedian Simon Amstell and the comic actor Chris Langham, in his first role since being released from prison (Langham was sentenced for having videos of child abuse on his computer. He has always sworn he downloaded them in order to research a character. Expert witnesses testified that he was not a paedophile).

Sharpe and Kingsley first started working together five years ago when they met at Cambridge where they co-wrote a play which provided the kernel of an idea for their debut movie.

Black Pond tells the story of a dysfunctional family, the Thompsons, who are accused of murder when a stranger dies at their dinner table.

Dark and amusing, it is a triumph, not least because it was made at all.

“There were so many times where we thought this film just wouldn’t happen. What was great about having two of us working on it, was that when one of us was ready to throw in the towel, the other would be optimistic and vice versa. It was like this cycle of morale where one was down, the other would be up and that’s how we got through the tough times when it really felt like it wasn’t going to happen,” says Sharpe, who is known to audiences for his role as Yuki in BBC hospital drama Casualty.

The pair considered trying to find funding to make the film but, with the closure of the UK Film Council, money is thin on the ground for small independent film projects.

Kingsley says: “Our original budget for making the film was £20,000 and we wrote letters to people, tried to find investors. We managed to raise £25,000 – it would have been great to raise more than that, but what it came down to was making the film for the money we had. We had that amount so that was all we could spend on making it.”

With a working crew of four at any one time (sometimes crew had to drop out because of other commitments – a hazard when making a micro-budget movie) the look of the film is an achievement in itself, but the professionalism on display from two 25-year-olds making their first film for peanuts is impressive.

Sharpe says: “We’ve treated the film, from making it, to post-production, to getting it out to people, like a job. We previously made a short film with a budget of absolutely nothing, where the actors were holding the mics because we had so few crew – but that was a great learning experience when it came to actually making Black Pond.”

The film-makers are clearly a canny pair and having Chris Langham in his first role since coming out of prison – and a bizarre but hilarious turn from Simon Amstell as a charlatan therapist – meant their film was going to get exposure, but it is the quality of the film which is making critics declare that here are two new stars of British indie cinema.

Sharpe says: “With Chris and Simon we thought both were exactly right for the part. When we were trying to cast for Tom Thompson, we kept saying we wanted someone who was exactly like Hugh Abbott in The Thick Of It (the character Langham played in the political comedy).

“We couldn’t find the right person and eventually we decided to get in touch with his agent and see if we could get him. As far as we are concerned he has served time in prison and should be allowed to work again.”

It’s not a bad return for the actor to star in one of the hottest British Indie movies of the year.

Black Pond and a Q&A with Sharpe and Kingsley, Hyde Park Picture House, Nov 21, 8.30pm. 0113 275 2045.

Small budget – big success

Four Lions: Chris Morris had difficulty funding his jihadi comedy, with the BBC and Channel 4 rejecting the idea. The film went on to gross over £2m.

Monsters: Gareth Edwards created the effects for this movie, with its tale of two people travelling through an alien inhabited Mexico, on his laptop.

Colin: the world’s first zombie film from the perspective of a zombie was made for less than £50.

Shifty: Eran Creevy’s thriller, made on a budget of £100,000, made half that back in its opening weekend.

– James Carney