The London indie film scene has never been stronger. With digital cameras and Kickstarter funding, sharing resources via Facebook or networking in pubs, film-makers are doing it for themselves. I’m old enough to remember one other DIY period as exciting as this. It was in music, and it was called Punk.
Like all underground movements, the Britpic scene has no official leader. But if you were to choose the Svengali, the Malcolm McLaren of film, it would be Chris Jones. The charismatic founder of the Guerilla Filmmakers’ Masterclass and the London Screenwriters’ Festival has, through his courses, blogs and breakfast seminars, motivated and connected more film-makers than anyone in Britain.
And now he has Frankensteined together a patchwork feature film that unites all this untapped talent. I was the sole journalist to sit through a special preview with Chris last week, and I was blown away. The film is called 50 Kisses, it premieres at the Genesis Cinema in Mile End on Feb 13 only, and it’s being billed as the world’s first crowd-generated film.
In the beginning was the word: Chris Jones let it be known he was looking for two-page scripts.
It also started with a kiss: the scripts could be in any genre, period or location, but they must be set on Valentine’s Day, and they must include a kiss.
Chris got 1,870 scripts back. He and his script editors selected the 50 best, and threw them open to directors and producers.
Some scripts were filmed several times over by different teams in different ways; you can see some of the alternatives on http://www.50kissesfilm.com. Says Chris Jones, “One script about a gay hitman got 11 films made, one about a robot got nine. A few, to be honest, didn’t attract any producers. I think if we do a follow-up project, I’d say to writers: take more risks. Go to the crazy, go absolutely bat-shit bonkers and see what comes out.”
In the end, 127 completed short films were submitted, from which 25 made the final cut, and were stitched together into the feature-length 50 Kisses.
There are two films about zombie romance; two about a robot. There is a suicide, a deadly disease transmitted through saliva, and a girl held in chains by an overprotective mother. Then there are all the everyday day tales of loss and longing: young love, first love, unrequited love, geriatric love, love in sickness as well as health. I teared up at several points; laughed more than once.
Perhaps the simplest way of describing 50 Kisses is that it’s like Love Actually, only much more real and affecting. If just some of this DIY talent can break into features, the future of British film-making is in good hands.
After the screening, Chris had one last surprise in store: on Valentine’s Day, directly after the film is shown not just at the Genesis but in 17 countries where film-makers have organised their own premieres, 50 Kisses is going to be put online. In its entirety. For free.
“We only decided to do this four days ago,” says Chris. “We were toying with Blu-Ray, or DVD, and then we thought, the whole point of this exercise was to launch careers, not to make a couple of thousand quid. And the best way to get it in front of powerful people is just to put it out there.”
It’s a lovely thought: the collective hopes and dreams of 1,870 screenwriters and 127 directors, distilled into 25 three-minute love letters to British film, whispering sweet nothings into the world’s computers on Valentine’s Day. That should give Spike Jonze’s Her, which opens the same day, a run for its money.