Film Producer Pamela Drameh Talks to TBB About her BFI Premiered Short Film ‘Midnight of My Life’ Which Stars Martin Freeman

Producer of short film 'Midnight of My Life' starring Martin Freeman, Pamela Drameh

Producer of short film ‘Midnight of My Life’ starring Martin Freeman, Pamela Drameh

Pamela Drameh had a satisfying, technical career in film making after graduating Kingston University. With seven years behind her in Film & TV sales and distribution at major studios and independent sales agents, her last job was in dubbing and distribution for the globally successful Peppa Pig. Then, she decided to take her behind-the-scenes career in a new direction. We really wanted to talk to her, because she is young, black and female… and that new career direction is in film production, which has progressed well enough for her second short film project to have formed part of the 2015 BFI London Film Festival’s official selection! It turned out that this was her first ever interview – another TBB exclusive!

Thank you for giving us this opportunity to talk to you, as we haven’t had many encounters with black female producers. You’re also quite technical aren’t you?

I’m also working for distributors and sales agents, looking after dubbing, post-production and distribution, at the moment. I did a short course at the London Film School about 2 years ago (2012), whilst working and I’ve just got onto another course, this time at the National Film and Television School – a BAME film leadership course, which starts in October. It was posted on your Facebook page and I thought, “Oh! That looks interesting,” and I went for it and got it… It was literally the only place I heard about it!

That’s excellent – partly why we’re here! So, is this your chosen pathway then? Behind the scenes, making it happen or the dubbing side…?

I studied film at university, and I really enjoyed it. But, I didn’t really know what that meant I was gonna do… [I got involved in] distribution, on the delivery side, working with the lab and sending stuff out to broadcasters and distributors, and worked with loads and loads of producers… it was really interesting, you get to be involved and know a little bit of everything… and yet its not quite specific; and that’s good for me. I enjoy all of that. Over the last 3 years, I’ve slowly tried to get more involved in that. So, yes I’ve taken that step to do production full time and moving away from my other job.

This is not Drameh’s first project – her first was Team Judas (2013), a comedy drama about the revelations of one last lock-in before one of three friends emigrates… Have you encountered many others like yourself – young, black women – in the production arena? In London?

Not many. Maybe one or two. I think because I’ve worked in the industry for the last… nearly 10 years, I wouldn’t say that being black and female has noticeably hindered me… I’m very, very blunt and straight forward and I would love to know the impression that I’m actually making. I mean, how many people do go, “Ooh, she’s very difficult!”
… It’s only more recently that I’ve … definitely noticed a lack of my voice in what I consume. I think everyone is very liberal and well-intentioned behind the scenes, but… because they live in this tiny bubble… You know, everyone can only talk about their own experiences and if your own experiences are very white, then you’ll find it very hard to identify with any other experiences… either everything’s very American, so you get a lot of black American experiences, which, for me, is very different to a British black experience, or you get council estates – sort of gang-related drama, or a period drama, and that’s everything that we seem to make and to have.. and well, that’s not the world I live in at all…

I mean, they belong to some people maybe not the slave/period experiences, but they don’t seem to acknowledge that black people were anything but maids and servants… Of course, it depends on how it’s done. There’s Top Boy (2011-13) and many seem to follow that sort of formula, there’s Gone Too Far! (2013), which took a similar environment but presented it in a way that was more relatable to me, for example…

Well, I grew up in Maidstone, Kent, where I was the only black person in my school! I think in Britain, we’re telling very narrow stories and its affecting the industry on many, many levels. I think they don’t think it sells if it’s not a period drama. Its 2015! We shouldn’t be relying on corsets to sell a film or TV show and I think that part of it is a lack of diversity and the voices and the scripts that people are reading…

On a lighter note, I have an alternative theory that the real reason behind all of these period pieces is so that the actors can have a cheeky smoke on camera!

That’s probably true! It’s probably not a conspiracy theory at all!

midnight_of_my_lifeMidnight of My Life is a unique project. This is a musical drama set on the afternoon of 1985’s Live Aid concert. Ex-Small Faces front man Steve Marriott arrives early at The Half Moon pub in Putney to play a gig. He hasn’t arrived early to catch the concert or to rehearse and perform sound checks. No, he has arrived early to do the thing, other than creating music, that he truly loves – to drink. This short film follows the events and interchanges in the pub as Live Aid unfolds in the background and the time counts down to Marriot’s own gig. Generally considered to be one of the British music scene’s greatest vocalists, his heroes and influences included Ray Charles, Otis Reading, Muddy Waters and Booker T and The MGs, amongst others. So, meeting a slightly shabby Marriott with his slightly tattered guitar in a slightly run-down pub on the day when anyone who was anyone was either in Live Aid, at Live Aid or trying to be, the question for the audience is, is this a bitter ageing musician who lost his talent and everything it brought him imparting some hard-gained insight? Or is he an ageing musician who cherishes his gift and chooses art and creative freedom over money and fame? His musings are cleverly reflected in the attitudes of young Mod revivalist (Elliot Brown) and a cynical punter impressed with the televised spectacle (Theo Barklem-Biggs). Written by dedicated Marriott fan and London Film School screenwriting graduate Nina Gerstenberger, this film attracted renowned British actor Phil Davies (Quadraphenia, 1979) as director and none other than award-winning actor Martin Freeman as Steve Marriott himself! It was shot on a budget generated entirely from a crowd-funding source in, what may be, record time!

… When you take on these non-typical projects, the cynics out there may suspect that you’re doing it just to separate yourself from the others. When, actually, you could be following your heart and what interests you, what you feel you’ll be passionate about…

I love the film that we just made. I loved the script, we got to work with a great team, but I also very deliberately chose it, because it was an opportunity to crowd-fund , it was an opportunity to work with a Hollywood A-lister and an opportunity to work with a very good director… I need to make a name for myself … in this industry, you basically just need to prove that you can do it and that people will give you money. It is wonderfully creative and it’s great, but it is an industry and if someone’s going to give you money, they need to feel confident that you are going to do the right thing, that they’ll get a return on their investment… This film has enabled me to start looking at projects that are a bit more personal to me.

So how did you become attached to Midnight of My Life?

Hatty, my co-producer, and I did the same production course at the London Film School. There were 13 of us and we all became quite good friends. It’s quite nice to have other producers to bounce things off of without any element of competition. She and the writer had met and Hatty approached me and said, “Look, it’s quite a big project and I don’t think that I can do it alone. Would you like to come on board?” It came from that. I think we have quite good opposing skills, so we worked really well together and just did what we had to do to get it done.
Doing crowd-funding was really interesting – I’d never done that before… It’s quite hard to get funding for a short film. There are traditional avenues you can go through… But… what we found out was that Nina, the writer, is a huge Steve Marriot fan. There are Small Faces conventions that happen every year! He’s [Marriott] got this army of people who adore him, even though, it’s forty-odd years on since he was in that band. There’s an existing fan-base, so we made sure that we tried to get all of our crowd-funding drive and our marketing drive towards those people. It just made sense! If people had never heard of him, they weren’t gonna give you money to make the film! But people love him, and he’s never been portrayed on-screen before so, they were really keen. We hit our target a week before the deadline, AND we crazily did it over Christmas! We launched our campaign in December, and I remember, I was like, “Let’s wait until the New Year… No-one’s going to donate!” But, it made no difference. They were just really ecstatic.
[Martin] did come to a screening for some of the funders, and was incredibly generous with his time, took some pictures with funders, signed some DVDs, which was one of the rewards for the crowd-funding… All the feedback was really great and it went really well… He’s a huge Steve Marriot fan, by the way. He said to us that his whole life, people have said to him he should play Steve Marriott. He self-identifies as a Mod, an incredibly generous man. I like him and I hope we did him justice.

Well, I’m a Martin Freeman fan anyway, and I thought I recognised the Mod in Bilbo’s hair cut! He is a complex kind of man. He’s got this interesting technique, where he sort of absorbs each new character onto a unique aspect of his own personality. Though each character is very much a discrete entity, there’s still quite a lot of Martin Freeman in them. It’s a difficult balance to get right, but he does. I was quite impressed when I saw it – especially as Marriot playing the gig in the closing sequence. He looked like he was really singing! But, I thought, I can’t believe that Martin Freeman could have been sitting on a voice like that until now!

Yes. Well, he is definitely an excellent lip-syncher!

I went back and looked at some of the old footage and reminded myself that I do know the slightly psychedelic East London rock band Small Faces and their classic stuff like Itchycoo Park 1967 [1]), Lazy Sunday [2] and Tin Soldier [3]. It’s quite remarkable, actually, that from the accounts of his life, the writer has managed to pull in so much of his past into less than 8 minutes…

I think she did an amazing job, and what I really liked about it, was that even if you watch it and you’ve no idea who Steve Marriot is, it still works! It’s kind of a classic story, but told in a loving way… It’s just handled with such love by Nina, and then everyone else was just so wonderfully competent, it’s just actually so nice to watch.

Yes, I liked that when he starts talking about Live Aid, you think one thing, but, by the end, you maybe believe something else. Did he turn his back on it? Could he have gone on to do bigger, greater things? Did he choose the more modest pub circuit life just to be able to play the music? Nina manages a lot in 8 minutes that isn’t over-burdened with dialogue!

We had many discussions on this and Martin and Phil both felt he was a very flawed human being. Some of the things that happened to him were out of his control, and some of it was within his control, and, like everyone else, how much… does he really believe “No, I’m doing my own thing!” or is that what he’s had to tell himself because of the choices that he’s made? We’ve all been there…

Pamela Drameh,. Martin Freeman, Nina Gerstenberger, Phil Davies

Pamela Drameh,. Martin Freeman, Nina Gerstenberger, Phil Davies

We have! So, from a production point of view, this was a very positive experience for you?

100%! I enjoyed every minute of it. I learned a lot, and because my experience is more post-production distribution and sales, just things like learning about hiring your crew, getting your equipment in, dealing with that kind of terminology. I remember getting Panalux (lighting company) and Panavision (camera company) mixed up quite a lot in the first week! Just little things like that… I had to lose a little bit of my ego, because I don’t know anything about lighting or cameras, and so you have to ask your gaffer or your DOP, and be quite honest and say, “I don’t really know what they’re saying… can you help me out?” I think we got the best out of everyone, because we were quite honest…

That’s really interesting, because at last years’ Triforce Short Film Festival, there was a panel of women from the industry, chaired by Destiny Ekharagha. Some of the advice was that because of the circumstances of so few women behind the camera, they often fall into the trap of thinking they have to do everything brilliantly! According to them, what you and Hatty did was exactly what women have to do better – delegate! It shows a certain confidence on your part as a leader to forego your egos, recognise when you need a little help or when to hand over to a specialist and put yourself out there. 

So, how much of your year, or years, has this project taken?

We started the crowd-funding… in September last year… and then we were in production by March, shot over two days… and so all in all… from pre-production to the end of post-, which was around mid-June – about 9 months…

And so now you’re going to do the film festival circuit…?

Yes, we’re in the London Film Festival, and we’re applying for more. But, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation… Applying can get quite expensive very quickly. But programmers and people like that come to the London Film Festival, so hopefully, we should get fixed up for a few more.

Are there any specific music-related film festivals that you have your eye on?

… From my point of view, it’s more about film It is a music film, and… it will definitely appeal to a few music festivals… I think once we’ve had our screening at the LFF, people will have seen it and hopefully we can get reviews by people who like music. It’s interesting where we’ve been getting our press from. Music press or film press – which do you go for? So, we’ve been trying to get across both. I think music press are probably going to run with it more… but we’d also like it to be reviewed as a film.

Well, it’s a British biopic, isn’t it? … Is there any possibility of it becoming a feature?

We are in development on a feature and that’s the great thing about the London Film Festival and being in it – we can start having those discussions, looking for development funding.

Midnight of My Life really doesn’t feel like a short film. It feels like something bigger – a period drama which could play out any which way outward or toward this 8 minute snippet. The ever-excellent Martin Freeman delights in the freedom that this character brings him to really flex some acting muscle and show us what else he can do. With the buzz already stirring around it, and the dedicated fan-base, I don’t think this project will have any difficulty returning to the big screen as a feature. I couldn’t find a reference for the title except that from French group Trisomie 21’s cold wave pop song, and it implied some kind of end. On the contrary, I think this is just the beginning for this crew!

The film launched at East London’s Genesis Cinema on September 21st 2015 and, for it’s October premiere, screened on October 10th at BFI Southbank’s NFT2 as part of the London Film Festival and then on the 12th in the Brixton Ritzy as part of the Sound Mirrors program.

Release on download in the UK will be on November 1st 2015.

Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/a-EUiH_sHLY

For more information visit: 

interview with Pamela Drameh for the british blacklist by  @DescantDeb

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