From the streets of Oldham to La Croisette

Alice walks us through the incredible journey of team behind Real Gods Require Blood, the iWrite short funded by NETWORK, currently playing Cannes Critics' Week.

25 May 2017
By Alice Ramsey
Alice is one of the Development and Production Executives at Creative England. She has worked across iShorts, iWrite and the Emerging Talent Fund, to help develop and fund new filmmakers based across England.
It’s just shy of two years since iWrite Programme Producer Anna Seifert-Speck and I were about to embark on nine months of intensive development with 18 new writers from the theatre, poetry and literature worlds. Skip to the present and one of the resulting short films, Real Gods Require Blood, set on a troubled Manchester estate in 1990, premiered in Cannes Critics’ Week. The short, which sees Alice roped into babysitting for her neighbour whose children claim to feed a nightly visitor from Hell, was written by Tom Benn, directed by Moin Hussain and produced by Michelle Stein.
 
a small boy in a dark room
 
iWrite was a pilot programme set up by Creative England as part of BFI NETWORK with an ambition to broaden writing opportunities for talent in the regions and inject fresh voices into the film industry. We partnered with five regional new writing organisations – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester; Birmingham Repertory Theatre; Bristol Old Vic; Live Theatre, Newcastle; and the Writers' Centre Norwich. Each organisation nominated writers for the programme who demonstrated an interest in and a flair for screenwriting. 
 
We commissioned everyone to write a short film and feature treatment which we’d develop alongside five residentials where the writers would learn the tools to write cinematically. We had some excellent contributors, including in conversation events with playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz and novelist Emma Jane Unsworth, and more practical sessions with Kate Leys, Pavel Jech and Phil Parker who covered essential areas in screenwriting like character, structure and genre. 
 
After a whirlwind development period, the idea was that we’d commission three of the short films for production with many of the other short and feature film projects feeding into BFI NETWORK’s wider film offer. Before we could do that we needed to attach a producer who could be across all three films. We needed to strike the right balance between having someone with enough experience to handle the logistics of shooting three back-to-back short films and ensuring it was an opportunity that the producer could benefit from in their career too. 
 
a young woman and a small girl in a dark room with the curtains pulled during the day
 
We were lucky enough to attach the talented and formidable Michelle Stein from Escape Films, who had already made a handful of award-winning shorts and a feature film, but was interested in producing these films because she wanted to grow her new talent relationships. Michelle was part of the final decision on the three films, along with myself, Anna Seifert-Speck, Paul Ashton and Caroline Cooper Charles. The three films selected were, Dependent written by Curtis Cole, The Big Day written by Kellie Smith and Real Gods Require Blood written by Tom Benn. 
 
We met Tom through our iWrite partner Writers’ Centre Norwich. Tom, who previously enjoyed success with his trilogy of crime novels set in Manchester, was the only novelist on the programme so brought a very different style of writing to the other participants who were mainly from theatre. His writing is very atmospheric, full of texture and symbolism, and really gets under your skin. When shortlisting we were all blown away by Real Gods Require Blood and knew we were on to something special, as did filmmaker Moin Hussain who would later come on board to direct the film.
 
all the participants in the iWrite scheme standing on stage
 
Now, if I’m being completely honest, this was a pilot programme so we didn’t really have a strategy as such for attaching directors other than to have an open call and collectively pull together our talent knowledge and contacts. Then we watched lots and lots of shorts until we found the right director. During this process we held a showcase at Soho Theatre in London where we invited industry, agents and new and emerging producers and directors. We had readings of selected scenes from the shorts we’d developed. It was a really great event that blended the film and theatre world. We scheduled plenty of networking time afterwards and this is where Tom met Moin. 
 
I remember reading an article about how Lenny Abrahamson landed the Room gig: it was his passion and deep understanding of the project that ultimately meant the writer and producers chose him over some big Hollywood directors. It was exactly the same in this case for Moin who expressed a real interest and desire to direct Real Gods Require Blood from the start. 
 
Moin had just delivered a compelling iShorts film, Holy Thursday, which was big on atmosphere and tone, but also a drama so didn’t make him an obvious choice for a period horror about satanic ritual abuse! Moin was smart enough to realise this so, unprompted, put together his pitch – going into such details as the lenses and shots he’d use for certain scenes – and a mood board. By the end of the meeting we knew he was the right director for the job. He was so clear and confident about what he wanted to achieve with the film, but also very respectful of Tom as the writer. It was that passion, complete confidence in his vision, and understanding about the ethos behind iWrite that landed him the gig. 
 
the cast and crew of the film smartly dressed ahead of a film premeire
 
The team spent the next six months or so further developing the script – Michelle was determined to get the page count down! – attaching heads of departments, crew, cast and scouting locations. My role as the executive producer was to carry out the normal tasks of an exec, like signing off on the final script and heads of departments, watching casting tapes and making sure the production got paid on time. I’d also say the role of an exec – or at least for me in this case – is to be the reminder of what we originally set out to do on iWrite: ensuring the writer, regionality and diversity were kept at the heart of the films all the way through the process.
 
During the Real Gods Require Blood edit both myself and Paul Ashton – Head of Film at Creative England and the film’s other executive producer – provided notes on the cuts. Halfway through the edit the team delivered quite a radical cut that not everyone agreed on. There was a lot of discussion around this and the ending, but I’m positive that if the team hadn’t taken these risks in the edit phase then the film wouldn’t have reached the point it did. I remember watching the final cut and feeling genuinely elated, the team had absolutely nailed it. It pays off to be bold and take risks.
 
a girl standing in a room with the curtains pulled and a lamp on
 
It goes without saying that I’m immensely proud of all three films – you can really see the writing talents and styles of Tom, Kellie and Curtis shining through. Kellie’s film, The Big Day, directed by Dawn Shadforth – about a woman who, during the course of her half-sister’s wedding day, is confronted with how her family really feel about her – moves me to tears every time I watch it. Curtis’s film, Dependent, directed by Phil Sheerin – about a teenage boy who escapes from care to protect his mum from her ex-boyfriend – has something really powerful and profound to say about the bond between a mother and son. 
 
With iWrite we set out to uncover the future voices of the British film industry and so far it’s exceeded everyone’s expectations. I hope along the way we’ve inspired more talent in different fields to consider film and open themselves up to collaborating with other writers, directors and producers. 
 
I’ve had a blast on iWrite and can’t wait to see where these films and talent go from here. Seeing talent thrive really is the best part of my job. 
 
Watch the trailer for Real Gods Require Blood.