Inspiring In-depth Interview With Local Production Company – Austin Brothers Films

Can you firstly introduce yourselves to the readers who may not yet have come across your work and give an insight into Austin Brothers Films?

Well, Austin Brothers Films is an independent production company set up by three Boltonian lads – Chris (32), Dan (30), and Matt (28) Austin. We’ve been creating films, short films and music videos for roughly ten years now as a team, and have so far proved quite successful. In 2007, we won the BBC New Talent Award for our short animation, ‘Guy’s Guide To Zombies’, and last year saw the completion of our debut feature film, ‘Cricket’. Made for under £1,000, the film has been shown at the Bradford and Salford Film Festivals, to critical acclaim, and the trailer was even ‘tweeted’ by actor Stephen Fry.

(Guy’s Guide)

We’ve had films screened at over 70 festivals around the world including: the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Comic-Con in the US.

Trailers and links for our work can be found at:

www.austinbrothersfilms.com

We all grew up with backgrounds in film and writing and therefore we all often take turns directing, producing, writing and editing. Working in such a small company, you have a lot of responsibilities. Chris tends to act as producer and did a wonderful job on Cricket. Dan is a writer/director, who tends to flourish in the editing suite, and I’m somewhere between the two. On Cricket, I acted as cinematographer, assistant director, co-producer, sound engineer… Like I said, we wear many hats.

How did Austin Brothers Films first come together? What was the initial motivation in setting up and what were your goals when first starting out?

Austin Brothers Films has existed since we were about eight in one form or another. The day our granddad lent us his analogue camcorder, I don’t think even he realised how it would affect our lives. Our spare time as kids would involve filming anything, such as remakes of Indiana Jones, episodes of Columbo – and a lot of random, weird, stuff.

As we got older, our films became more refined and so too did our skills. In 2001, we formed CounterClockwise Productions – our first production company dedicated to making serious artistic, pieces of work. And in 2007, we formed Austin Brothers Films as we see it today.

For as long as I can remember, our only ‘motivation’ was to make good films. I guess we made them for ourselves really, but we wanted other people to enjoy them too. So we just looked at films we were raised on: Back To The Future, Star Wars, Ghostbusters… Classic films that were intelligent, well-written and were still entertaining, and used them as a spring-board for our writing.

The Cricket Team

What films have you have worked on to date?

Cricket and Guy’s Guide have been our most recent successes. Our ‘break-through’ film was ‘Bloodline.’ It was a zombie short-film which we made just before the likes of 28 Days Later and Shaun Of The Dead were released – so you might call it good timing. It was screened at the Bradford International Film Festival back in 2004/05 and was so popular that we were asked back about a month later for a second screening at another festival. It was thanks to this, that we became good friends with Tony Earnshaw, who was head of programming at the time and encouraged us to carry on making films.

We’ve done a number of music videos, short films for mobile phones (funded by NESTA), corporate videos and more over the years. After Cricket, we’ve been working hard on a couple of new projects including a sitcom and a documentary, both of which are new challenges to us, but ones we’d love to get made.

Cricket Still

Cricket was our first attempt at a serious dramatic feature film. We wanted to make a smart, psychological drama – which just so happened to be set in the dark and seedy world of human trafficking.

We were forced to shoot the whole film on a ‘no-budget’ – which in our case, was just under £1000. But unlike other low-budget films, we didn’t want to restrict ourselves to one room, and three characters. Cricket had a cast and crew in excess of fifty, with locations all around Bolton, Salford and Manchester. Thankfully, everyone involved felt the script was strong enough to offer their services for either free, or at a seriously reduced price.

After 3 years (2 of which was purely post-production), we completed Cricket and started sending it out. It was quite a surprise when Stephen Fry, awesome actor and bloke in general, decided to Tweet the film to his millions of Twitter followers. That alone gave us an enormous amount of exposure, and the premiere at the Salford Film Festival was sold out.

During the Bradford International Film Festival, we were asked to be a part of a panel of filmmakers to discuss the future of low-budget filmmaking and to answer any questions the audience might have. We were joined on the panel by such film luminaries as Nik Powell, Bill Lawrence, and a brief appearance from Hollywood director and former-Python, Terry Gilliam.

Who are your inspirations in the film world? What made you want to work full-time in the film industry?

Just a general love for film, art and literature inspired me. I’m impressed by anyone who can make a good film (which is harder than it looks), whether they are low-budget character pieces or epic war-films; Jim Jarmusch, Spielberg, Kathryn Bigelow, Spike Lee, Orson Welles… A lot of European and foreign cinema tends to take risks before Hollywood will, which is what keeps cinema alive in my eyes.

It was definitely picking up a camera as a child though, that was the catalyst. It gave me a good ten years of experience in editing, directing and producing, before I had to start worrying about less artistic things like budgets and film distribution.

Do you have any particular inspirations of people in the industry who you see as leading the way for cinema in the uk and the world today?

Well, I’d say, stop comparing yourself to others. I don’t think any two people have the same career in this business. So don’t try to be the next Danny Boyle or Guy Ritchie, or else you could miss a great opportunity without even realising.

It’s pretty simple if you want to get into the industry – make a film, or start as a runner. Just apply yourself and never, ever give up. A one in a million chance is better than nothing, and if you have 20 – 30 ideas out there, then those odds are automatically better. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, people will work for free, you can get amazing locations for free. Just worry about good story telling (and getting your actors to do their jobs) and your career will speak for itself.

The people who DO inspire me are the countless people who haven’t had their ‘big-break’ in the industry.  These are people who persevere every day for thirty/forty years just to get noticed. You meet a lot of people making films, and you learn quickly that there’s no fast-track to success. What there is, though, is plenty of blood, sweat and late-nights.

Relocating Cast and Crew

What route through education did you take to gain the role you are in today?

After school, I decided that I couldn’t do a mundane desk-job, so all the courses I took at college reflected that. Art, English language, communication studies – I just wanted to do something creative. What I didn’t realise though was just how much those subjects would open my eyes. I learned about body language, writing for different age groups, how to develop photo negatives, build props… There was so much. It was in college, that I realised film was pretty much what I wanted to do – but back then, I had no idea how to ‘start’ or what I was good at.

So at University I studied film and American studies as a minor – this allowed me to read modules on American literature, and my favourite one: American theatre. I was fascinated with Kushner, Mamet, Miller, Tennessee Williams – plays about AIDS, domestic violence, the great depression… I didn’t even know any of this existed, but it would all help me later in script writing and plotting because good theatre is about the characters – not set-pieces.

It was in my first year of uni that we decided to form our first production company; with a little experience and not much more money, we invested in our first camera and got to work.

Staging an Arrest in Great Lever, Bolton

What do you think about the creative scene in Bolton today? Do you find enough work and community in the local area?

It’s far bigger than you realise because it’s easy to lock yourself away and not see that there are other writers, directors, artists doing the same thing. Having contacts is invaluable in this industry, as you never know when you might need to call in a favour.

In recent months, we’ve been busy, but I think that’s partly because we’ve built a strong base of clients and an impressive portfolio. Those are the two most important things if you want to make a steady living out of filmmaking – or any form of art.

What creative individuals and businesses in the local area have you found the most pleasure in working with?

Bolton University, particularly the staff in the film department, have been extremely helpful. Chris and Dan were former students of the university, so they allowed us to record for two weeks in their audio booths, during post-production. They were also very cheap when it came to finding accommodation for our lead actor who came up from Surrey, and even acted as a nice back-up location when deadlines loomed.

My father, Jeff Austin, has also been a key figure in our careers. Not direction-wise, but in a support role. He himself is an artist and produces some amazing art-work: sculptures, canvasses, laytex masks (for zombies) – he’s always the first to get excited about a project. His own collection of work is impressive. (http://www.jeffaustinfineart.com/)

Web Lighting are a great company to hire gear from. Very friendly, helpful, cheap and they even threw in free filters. Apple Video, Salford Van Hire… the list is longer, I’m sure, you just need to get out there and start talking to people.

What were the last 3 films you saw and would you recommend any of them?

Haha. Well, one of them was the re-release of Jurassic Park, which to be frank still has the best CGI of any film to date, in my opinion – just brilliant, especially on the big screen.

Super Eight I was pleasantly surprised by, but after a strong first and second act, the third kind of lets it down. I’d still highly recommend it though.

Oh yeah, and Cowboys versus Aliens – looks nice, with a nice cast and performances, but I found it to be boring and predictable, which is pretty much the standard output of Western Cinema these days.

Which are your top favourite 5 films of all time?

Hmm. I think top five has to be – Carlito’s Way by Brian de Palma, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind by Spielberg, La Haine by Mathieu Kassovitz, Blade Runner and Groundhog Day… That’s a tough question though. Double Indemnity should be in everyone’s ‘must see’ list too.

Which is the worst film you have seen to date? & why?

Great question – I’d say Avatar is pretty shocking, actually. If only because it is a near exact rip-off of Dances With Wolves. The CGI is shocking, the acting is bad, filled with two-dimensional characters (humans = greedy and bad, avatars = kind and good at basketball)… It’s a hyped up piece of pap in my opinion. But the worst? Hmmm. There’s a lot worse to choose from.

Austin Brothers Matt, Dan & Chris

Do you partake in social networking and social media today both personally and to help promote your work? Who would you recommend to our readers to follow on twitter?

Definitely, whilst many of us are naturally uncomfortable with doing it, social networking has quickly become a part of every-day life. Smart Phones are something people carry everywhere, so they could hear about your film on the train, in bed or on the loo and with advanced video capabilities, you can even stream the trailer for Cricket on your phone.

A key advantage is that Facebook, Google+ and Twitter enable you to talk directly to your key audience; you can build a fan-base for your film 6 months to a year before your films have even been finished shooting. Blair Witch was amongst the first to try it to great success, but Paranormal Activity has picked up on viral marketing and has managed to spawn two sequels in a short space of time.

If you were to follow anyone, apart from us (@MatthewSAustin and @AustinBrothers), I’d suggest @bbcwritersroom – as a writer, they have competitions and helpful information, @VisionandMedia – if you’re based in the north, they will help find locations, funding, and jobs. @Raindance is also a fantastic source of information for people starting out in the industry – as is @PinewoodFilms, which has re-opened its doors to indie filmmakers.

 Thanks very much guys. Congratulations on all your success and we wish you all the best for the future!

Matt Austin

Comments
3 Responses to “Inspiring In-depth Interview With Local Production Company – Austin Brothers Films”
  1. Andy Hulme says:

    Nice Article, I know the Austin crew work hard and will no doubt progress to where they deserve to be. Keep on troopin’

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