Him Upstairs is a character-led short film that gives us a window into the colourful world of Liverpool fortune teller, Margaret Conroy, and her husband Frank. It is written, directed and produced by a mainly female team based on the Isle of Man.
The film stars Gwen Taylor, who has appeared in some of this country’s best loved TV dramas and sit coms such as Coronation Street and Duty Free, and Ricky Tomlinson, the English actor and comedian best known for his roles in Brookside and The Royle Family.
As co-producers of Him Upstairs, we realised very early on in the filmmaking process that so much of the success of the production would depend on how we managed its social networking potential. Though we both have experience in the industry, we are far more familiar with commercial work. Short film is an entirely different beast: it’s a genre that relies on favours and volunteers and working for nothing. In this world, social networking becomes more important than ever.
Despite us making nothing, you can’t make a film without money so we needed help. Crowdfunding, the practice of raising money for a project using contributions from a large group of people via the internet, is becoming commonplace in today’s digital filmmaking world. It is a viable option for so many, especially short film producers. We considered it for Him Upstairs, but then realised we hadn’t exploited our unique selling point – the story itself.
Him Upstairs is fundamentally a film about dementia, so we are raising awareness of an important cause that has been growing rapidly in significance year on year. We researched dementia organisations online and managed to engage a very receptive charity, Age Isle of Man, which recognised the benefit to modernising its marketing strategy by supporting us in a campaign that could makes waves online and get people talking about the issue.
As soon as we were able to promote our association with Age Isle of Man online, private sponsors became interested in the project. Two online gaming companies matched the charity’s contribution – PokerStars, through their corporate giving programme, Helping Hands, and the Microgaming Health & Care Trust, whose trustee, Dr Roy Clague, said: “What’s brilliant about this short film is that it will reach an extensive audience, appealing to both the older and younger generation, covering topics which aren’t necessarily easy to talk about.”
We also received support in kind from local Manx businesses, the Steam Packet Company and Shoprite. We were overwhelmed by people’s generosity. All they seemed to want in return was a positive mention on our blog, the modern day letter of commendation.
Soon our online presence was growing. Shooting in 2014, we were well positioned to jump aboard the Isle of Man’s Year of Culture that year, so the Arts Council gave us a grant to support such a rewarding creative project for the country.
As soon as we had reached our budget target, we green lit the film and launched a proper online campaign. This included designing and managing a dedicated website and starting a Facebook page, both of which attracted an initial audience and kept interested parties updated with news of how things like casting and location scouting were progressing.
We also created a Twitter profile for our fictitious main character Margaret. By this point, we had cast Keiron Richardson, who plays Ste in Hollyoaks. He has a strong following on Twitter so we encouraged him to leak the odd detail about the film and his involvement in it. Coincidentally, he’d also just been made an ambassador of a dementia charity. Everything came together beautifully.
The online campaign started a great buzz for the project and it proved we meant business, which encouraged further cast, professional crew (even a BAFTA-nominated cinematographer) and suppliers to work with us.
When it came to the shoot itself, of course we used a digital camera. Moving away from the traditional film camera has transformed the movie world. It’s made it accessible to the masses and has moved the industry from strength to strength during recent decades.
Having completed the project at the end of last year, we have now moved into the festival spotlight. Exposure around the growing worldwide circuit not only boosts interest in your product, but gives more back to your supporters who are on the ride with you.
In March, Him Upstairs won Best Narrative in its hometown of Liverpool at the Lift-Off International Film Festival Network. We have been so lucky to kick off our festival strategy with Lift-Off as its philosophy is to nurture, expose and maintain a new generation of indie filmmakers online. We look forward to releasing the film online once our festival run is complete.
Digital filmmaking is truly global these days and we girls are just getting started.
About the authors
Zoe is a producer and actor, most recently featuring in The Keith Lemon Sketch Show for ITV2. She produced the feature documentary, The Watchmaker’s Apprentice, which has just got worldwide distribution.
Jane has worked as a freelancer in the television industry for over 18 years and her diverse career has seen her look for tapirs in Costa Rica with Vic Reeves, search for Noah’s Ark in Turkey with Joanna Lumley, and most recently create and develop a documentary for ITV.