We talk to Merlin Merton and Alexander Mansfield Martinez about their latest film ‘Gift From God’
The most exciting films for us at The Mancunion to write about are student filmmaking projects that go on to to achieve great things. Producer and ex-Manchester student Merlin Merton tells us about his film Gift From God and making it as a professional filmmaker in such a competitive industry.
Last year we met you fresh out of graduating, promoting your student film Crashcourse. How has the year panned out?
Like everybody else we were stuck on how to proceed straight after graduating, especially in such a competitive industry as film. However, Crashcourse received a Silver Screen award from the Nevada Film Festival and was a finalist in the Back In The Box feature competition.
Tell us what Gift From God is about. Does it involve the same team that brought us Crashcourse?
Alex and I worked together on Crashcourse and have known each other since second year at Manchester University. Alex’s friend writer/director William Kee was also on board. Will had this image of an old bearded and angry man, recounting the murder of his grandson. He wanted to go for a stylized, though minimalistic feel in the same vein as Paul Thomas Anderson and Stanley Kubrick.
This is your first professional film. What were the major differences for you between the student and professional filmmaking process?
With Gift From God the biggest lesson learnt was putting together a budget – and making sure it was enough to make a film suitable to screen in a cinema. As a student it’s a lot of on the spot fun – the whole point of producing student films is to learn from the mistakes and experiment…much like being at uni! But when producing or directing a professional product, each project is a mini business entity. What audience are we targeting? What genre are we exploiting? A professional film is more about a film’s relationship with the filmmakers and film-watchers, whereas student films are about you the filmmaker!
Was it easier filming without university work and commitments?
Student life wasn’t challenging enough – uni is the perfect environment to make a film because you have everyone available within a five mile radius…as long as nobody’s hungover! Filming outside of uni is a much bigger organizational hazard. The new challenge was working with a crew of twenty-five instead of four. And actually post-production was a nightmare – it was no longer one editor in one place!
Did you find having made Crashcourse helped with publicity for this next film?
Every project is publicity of some sort – but what it really helped to do was provide a better understanding of marketing films. And it was a great way to meet like-minded people at festivals!
How did you fund the project?
We crowdfunded the entire budget through Kickstarter and made a very respectable £5,000! Most of it came through friends and family, but we had a couple of very generous outside ‘donations’ in exchange for associate producer roles.
What are the next steps for the film and yourselves?
Gift From God has recently completed post-production, and we’ve just sent it off to festivals all over. We’re aiming big, so we’ve entered it for Sundance, Cleveland, Ann Arbour, Slamdance and a couple of middling ones like the London Short Film Festival and Bath. Will has a couple of projects lined up. Alex has got a position on Ridley Scott’s new film Moses. I am producing two shorts, one with the director who did Naughty Boy’s La La La music video.
What advice can you give to aspiring filmmakers?
Make as many short films as possible, even if they’re not great, and move up the quality ladder. Work out exactly what type of film you want to be making by watching as many different films as possible. It’s always a little strange when a filmmaker has a limited knowledge of the classics. Admittedly they don’t all make great watching- but it’s important to recognise why they are important.
Where can we find out more?