A community-made feature film from North Wales has just landed on Amazon Video. Steve Swindon, CEO of community arts charity TAPE, shares the inspiring story behind the movie and the impact it has had since its release.
Located behind the church in the park in Old Colwyn, TAPE is a community arts charity which, and for 11 years has run with the simple aim of supporting the creative ideas of whoever knocks on the door. Over the years, filmmaking in all its forms, has increasingly become a key activity at TAPE and when the opportunity arose to bring our years of experience into making a feature film, we grabbed it with both hands.
It is fair to say that there are not too many feature films made in Wales, fewer in North Wales and fewer still which offer rolling opportunities to be a hands-on part of the production both on-screen and behind the scenes. TAPE’s debut feature film, British Winters, is rooted in the culture of North Wales and populated by its people and, having just been released on Amazon Video for the world to see, we wanted to share a bit more about the making of the film and the opportunities it created and continues to support.
There are two aspects to the story of British Winters. The first is the one on-screen which presents a rarely-seen aspect of the recovery/addiction cycle in that it deals with someone on the cusp of falling into a chaotic lifestyle. A person enabled in their addiction yet challenged to constantly do the right thing. The film presents a complex, subtle and familiar crisis with humour, truth and drama. The second aspect is the story behind the film’s making and the ongoing impact of the film’s production through a small but ambitious charity trying to do things differently in support of others.
Following a successful application to the Coastal Communities Fund in 2014, the team at TAPE found itself in a position to purchase equipment and make use of a relatively small budget of £20,000, through which we could deliver a feature length film project. As with all TAPE’s work, this film would be a collaborative community project and be delivered in a way that supported and created opportunities for as many people as possible.
Initially, we were working towards shooting a wonderful script which had been written during an 8-month long project at TAPE by in excess of 30 people. This film, based on a true story, is something we’re still hoping to make but the person around whom the story revolved was not able to take part at that time, so we needed a plan b.
British Winters had already been written and self-released as a novel by Andrew Turner and, having enjoyed the book and worked alongside Andy, it felt like the natural choice for the material from which our feature film project could be developed.
Again, the ethos of partnership, collaboration and finding opportunities for people needed to be central to the planning and delivery. Shooting a trailer at TAPE for the book’s release was a useful exercise which gave us the confidence we needed to push on with the movie itself.
TAPE as an organisation benefits from being regularly approached by people looking to engage, develop experience or work in creative fields. Alongside this, the lack of other meaningful, vocational, creative activities nearby that are linked to the screen industry, places TAPE in a unique position from which to develop projects such as this.
For the production, the initial key roles which were filled included a cinematographer, sound recordist, storyboard artist and production support. It’s worth noting that funding was ring-fenced to employ people within these roles and as key personnel, all were ensured a contracted payment for their work. It should also be noted that people who had limited or no experience on a project such as this filled all of these roles, but they were sufficiently enthusiastic and knowledgeable in their chosen areas that they would be able to cope with both the demands of the project and in allowing others to learn alongside them. It would be the job of the TAPE team to ensure appropriate support for people to gain the most from the experience.
As the film was to be initially delivered as a weekly project, sessions were time-tabled and these pre-production workshops allowed for the team to have a regular slot in which to begin the development work. These sessions took place at TAPE, which also gave other people using the centre a chance to take part and be around this process and the early stages of an exciting piece of work. Seeing this process, and the project as a whole, as accessible is crucial to TAPE’s delivery model and it was important for that to be retained at every stage of the British Winters production.
Casting was open and no-one was turned away from being involved. In some cases, roles were adapted for those best suited to play them and bespoke support was given to prepare people for filming.
Shooting took place over 5 weeks in locations along the North Wales coast and involved over 100 people. The schedule was certainly demanding but throughout the work, the team made sure to present everything in an inclusive way and give people space and time to learn, be involved, try out their ideas and develop their roles. Likewise, with the post-production work and the development of the soundtrack.
This inclusive model has been developed over the last 11 years of activity at TAPE and British Winters stands as testimony to what this approach can support and deliver. When the credits roll at the end of the film, take a moment to consider that the vast majority of people arrived there through engagement projects and ongoing activities at TAPE.
Receiving a 15 rating and getting our black card from the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) was a momentous day and gathering with the cast and crew at the Scala in Prestatyn for the premiere during the 2nd Coastline Film Festival, was unforgettable for all involved.
The film has gone on to screen in cinemas and film clubs around the UK, festivals in France and Spain and most recently, British Winters was placed into the BFI Archive, officially making the film part of British cinema history.
As we had a small budget to buy the equipment with which to shoot British Winters, it placed the charity in a position to look at developing other projects. Our second feature film, Approaching Shadows, is now in post-production and due for release in 2020. This work has pushed our inclusive production model even further, including the development of accessible kit on set, secondary cameras so people can shoot and edit alternate versions of scenes and involved even more people throughout every stage. To open up the project further still, we have held editing workshops in locations used in the film and in libraries and community venues around North Wales.
A third feature has now been written through our Writer’s Room project and a musical about Rhyl is in the works. None of which would have happened if British Winters had not been a success, both creatively and as a community project.
Having the film on Amazon does so much more than provide a way to watch our movie. It celebrates a community coming together to create something very special, it sends funds directly into that happening again and supports the development of a culture of inclusive filmmaking in North Wales with real opportunities for the people who live there.
Steve Swindon set up TAPE Community Music and Film over 11 years ago with the sole purpose of supporting creative ideas. He is also an experienced musician, currently serving as drummer in space-rock band, Flotation Toy Warning.
British Winters is available to stream via Amazon Video