Guest Blog: Ryan Vernava

Posted February 9th, 2017 by Matt Turner

Now in it’s 10th year, Film London’s Microwave scheme commissions two £100k budgeted features each year. Before this though, 12 participating project teams are selected, given extensive development support, mentoring and training; and then, in a way, pitted against each other as they pitch their projects along several phases of the shortlisting process, until the final two are selected. Though, on the surface, this might seems a little like an independent film version of The Apprentice, in reality it’s not quite so mercenary. The development programme, Microschool, that all those shortlisted go through together helps the filmmaking teams to hone their scripts, stories and skills, meet key individuals and forge lasting relationships.

We spoke with two SP members who have been involved in the shortlisting process about their experiences. The first is with director Ryan Vernava.

Ryan was selected for his project Hackney Marsh, a “contemporary take on the hardboiled detective genre, set against Hackney’s booming property bubble that speaks to the worst excesses of gentrification and greed.” He’s working alongside writer Joe Copplestone and producer Matthew Hopper.

The route to Microwave was both long in development, and something of a lucky break. “I’ve been making films for about ten years now. Quite a varied range of stuff really as I looked for new challenges to help me figure out what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. After a couple of stretches at film school, a few lucky breaks and some more hard earned ones, I settled with a cool little production company called Blindeye so I could make a bit of money directing music videos to help me survive that vast chasm between shorts and my first feature film. It’s there I met producer Matt and showed him the feature script I’d been working on with my writer friend, Joe. Joe and I have been collaborating together since I started, so we’d been talking about this feature in one form or another for a while. Matt and Jack, the director of the company, were excited about the idea and so together we decided to apply to Microwave. The only problem was that by then the deadline for submissions was the following day! Fortunately I’d spent a lot of time with the story and so we managed to get something together in time and now here we are.”

That project, titled Hackney Marsh, “is about a young estate agent who suddenly gets his hands on the keys to all these empty flats. He starts trying to present himself as someone who he is not and tries to make a bit of money on the side by subletting to a couple of migrant workers. Unfortunately things start to get out of control and eventually he finds himself trapped and locked into a pretty horrific chain of events.”

“We wanted to set something against the backdrop of the London housing crisis but more importantly to create a character to help us explore some of the financial pressures and feelings of inadequacy faced by a whole generation of dispossessed youths who will never have the means to afford their own place.”

So far, working on developing it with Microwave has been “absolutely amazing.” With development, “there are always so many cool ideas hiding in your script but sometimes they can be hard to see when you’ve been alone with your own material for too long. Getting it in front of people, good people, loosens everything up and suddenly the revelations start flying thick and fast.”

Microwave has “an amazing support structure of mentors and speakers that come at your project from so many different angles and really help you to nurture it on your own terms. As we’re all thrown in together, there’s just as much opportunity to learn from the other teams. It’s a really safe, creative and energetic atmosphere, which can be hard to come by out there so we tried to grab it with both hands and squeeze as much out of the experience as possible.”

He’s confident about the project’s future, regardless of the direct result of this particular scheme. “Going forward there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll have a nicely packaged and viable microbudget project in our pockets. I’m already learning so much about the landscape and practicalities of small-scale feature filmmaking. It’s less about how to make your film and more about how to get your film made.”

For him specifically, the process has been invaluable, too. “On top of this I’m also learning a lot about myself; the constraints of microbudget really force you to get to the heart of what you’re trying to do and why. Microwave is helping me understand how to sell myself and my ideas which is really invaluable for a first time feature filmmaker. Making a film is such a huge investment of your time and emotions so you have to really be sure about what you’re doing and what you want out of it. I’ve loved making shorts and I think they’re a fun medium; I ran a short-film pop-up for years and so I’ve always been involved with it as a community and have had great exposure to all shapes and sizes of short-form content but features are a different beast all together. They share the same language but have a different syntax. This would be my first feature as a director. The transition can be quite intimidating, there’s a lot to consider and it can be a long journey too and so supporting yourself during the process is always going to be challenge.”

Looking at the landscape in front of him, Ryan’s feelings are better than they’ve ever been. “Maybe I’m still high from the smell of whiteboard markers but I’ve never felt more optimistic. When you’re chipping away at something alone in your flat, the world of independent filmmaking can sometimes seem a bit bleak, especially in a marketplace drowning in big-budget studio monstrosities. Then something like Microwave comes along and you realise there are all of these unsung heroes out there chipping away just like you on some really cool projects. As technology continues to make film a more affordable means of expression, I think we’re seeing more and more interesting voices coming forward. Audiences are getting bored of the same old, same old; the blockbuster is on its way out and there is something really awesome sprouting up in its place.”

  1. Kristen

    It’s thhe bewst tikme too make some plaans forr the future aand itt is ime to bbe happy.
    I’ve read thiis posat andd if I cokuld I wishh tto suggsst you feww intferesting
    thijngs orr advice. Maybe yoou ccan wite nex artichles referring to this article.
    I want tto read more thinngs about it! I visifed mujltiple websites butt thee audio qualiuty
    ffor audiio songs existing att tthis website iss really marvelous.
    I coyld nott rewsist commenting. Veryy well written!

Comments are closed.