BFI NETWORK met up with producer Jack Casey to chat about Saleem Haddad’s short film Marco, a story about modern-day London, alienation and the search for intimacy
How did you get into producing Saleem Haddad’s debut short?
This was my first time producing a film. I've worked with film festivals for about a decade, and I've worked in talent development for BAFTA and BFI NETWORK while script editing and developing on the side. The three things started to form together, and I realised that I had the skills needed to produce.
I’d bought Saleem’s novel Guapa, and it sat unread on my bedside table for about nine months. One night I got home from work and fancied picking up a book… next thing I knew my alarm was going off at 7am because it was time to get up for work. I hadn't noticed that I'd been reading it all night! That was when I realised that Saleem was somebody I should speak to. There was something very cinematic about the writing in that book. I emailed him through his website and said, ‘I'd like to work with you, let's chat.’
We met for a drink and spoke about our tastes, the stories that excite us, the films that we like.
And how did the story of Marco come about?
We bandied a few ideas about, and Saleem wrote a treatment for one that made me think that he could write for the screen. He had an innate understanding of that kind of structure. So we decided we should probably do this the legit way and make a short.
I was rummaging around the internet and came across an article he wrote a few years ago that had this little anecdote in it about an experience a friend of his had in Beirut. It really jumped out at me as the perfect example of how a short film can function, you know? A moment in time between two people.
What was the next stage in the process?
Saleem and I went through about four or five drafts of the treatment to really cement the story before he moved to script, which in turn went through about seven drafts. I didn't want to rush Saleem as a writer, nor apply too many restrictions too soon. It was his first script, and I wanted him to find his own voice as a screenwriter and explore how his narrative voice translates to screen.
As the producer how did you go about funding the film?
We went through crowdfunding. My instinct was that I didn't want us to be answerable to anyone. We're answerable to the people who funded the film through crowdfunding, of course, but there's no commissioner, there's no exec, there's no one who has a financial stake that is tethered to creative input. It's just us.
There were so many elements of the film that were non-negotiable to us: the pace, the politics, the fact that it’s mostly in Arabic – things that made some people who read the script nervous, but are absolutely integral to both the beauty and the integrity of the film. I didn’t want us to find ourselves having to defend these choices, or have them whittled away at by a development panel, so crowdfunding offered us an opportunity to make the film on our own terms.
We asked for £10,000 on a 30-day campaign, and we raised about £13,000. We built a social media presence at the start of the campaign, which I think helped. It wasn't just another crowd funding campaign; it already had people tweeting about it, posting about it. We're also very fortunate that Saleem has an existing fan base who were excited that there would be new work coming. But I think people should be aware of the amount of work that has to go into a campaign like that. You need yours to rise to the top. You need to be having a conversation. You need to be bombarding your friends with information about this. Bombarding everyone…
And how did the shoot go?
It was a three-day shoot in a single indoor location. We shot late into the night on the first day, but from then on we were shooting day to night.
It was quite a nice process. There was a moment when everyone arrived on set that I thought: ‘What the f*ck have I done? I take it back!’
Then I had a realisation that I think is really key to the process of producing: I don't need to know what all of you do; I just need to be confident that you're excellent at it. I’m naturally a control-freak, and I’m not great at delegating, but a key part of producing is trusting your HODs and your crew. From referrals that I’d had, I knew everyone in that room was excellent and would be able to tell me when they needed something from me, or if something was wrong. It was interesting to relinquish control.
Our cinematographer, Deepa Keshvala, and our actors, Zed and Marwan, were so incredible, and watching Saleem collaborating with all of them was invigorating. I think it gave all of us the energy we needed to get through the shoot!
Finally, what’s your advice to creators who might choose to f*ck the system and go it alone?
I thought long and hard about whether or not we could pull it off. I was motivated by the story I wanted to tell and the story that Saleem wanted to tell, the script that we had and the impact that I knew the film could have. And above all, I had such confidence in Saleem and emotional investment in his writing. I knew I had no choice but to step up my game and make sure that I didn't do him a disservice. There was no going back.