April Kelley and Sara Huxley are filmmakers whose shorts have screened at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival over the last two years. Alongside producing and acting, there are also entrepreneurs who have set up their own company Mini Productions. Having diversified their output, they are now channeling their creativity into TV, viral and branded content. We catch up with Kelley and Huxley as they begin to circulate their new short films across the film festival circuit.
ASFF: What inspired you to pursue a career in producing and starting your own company?
K&H: We both trained as actors. Mini Productions started as a result of a module where we had to present what we would be doing, when we weren’t acting, that wasn’t soul destroying. We were determined to find a way of making sustainable money that was still within our chosen industry. We still remain actors and in fact producing has probably enhanced our acting careers.
Our parents own their own companies, so we felt that it was in our blood to do so (at least that’s what we tell ourselves). No doubt going to business school would have had some useful elements but we just jumped straight in! Whether it’s acting or not, what we discovered from an early age is that we have a passion for creating. With that creativity comes an opportunity to escape reality, if only for a short while.
ASFF: What are the main challenges that you have faced?
K&H: Money, but that’s no breaking news. Raising money will always be our biggest test, but we do love a challenge! We find that being prepared and creating projects that are exciting are the best ways to put yourself in a position where money is handed over. It’s all about trust in this industry from investors, agents, talent and directors for you to deliver good work.
Likewise we put a lot of trust in the cast and crew we work with and take pride in maintaining excellent relationships with those people. Being young females in the industry can be harder as you’re fighting for respect and people to take you seriously. However, we feel that dwelling on it isn’t going to solve it. We’ve learnt to plough on regardless and just jump the hurdles as they come.
Also, routine. It may sound silly but we’re creatures of habit and it’s near on impossible to set a routine as a producer. Instead you find yourself setting a day-by-day structure. You can’t hold on to a rigid schedule and you’ve got to relax otherwise you may scuppa potential opportunities.
ASFF: Which filmmakers and artists have inspired you?
K&H: It’s difficult to pinpoint one or two. Over the years we’ve been fortunate enough to draw inspiration from so many people, which has resulted in Mini Productions, (Minidipty) and Acting On A Dream coming to fruition. We will continue to be shaped by those who inspired us initially but are motivated by filmmakers and artists who are always questioning and challenging the industry.
Geena Davis and her work for female equity on screen is crucial and exciting. Sarah Gavron and her film Suffragette was a wonderful portrayal of female characters on screen. One of our favourite all time films is Thelma and Louise, we are keen to make a modern version! Their journey is one of strength and unity against all odds, we like to reference it when things get tough. We can’t get enough of The Guilty Feminist podcast and love Deborah Francis-White, she’s hilarious and empowering all at the same time. Brittany Snow and her Love is Louder initiative is also something we are constantly inspired by.
Lastly, we are always excited by young talent who are prepared to push the boundaries and take risks. Technology, social media and the viral world have changed the game and allowed a new demographic of artists to create work and get it seen. It’s an exciting time for filmmakers.
ASFF: What opportunities have you discovered and how have you responded to these?
K&H: We don’t believe in waiting for opportunities. Yes, there is an element of luck in life but as cliche as it sounds, we’ve learnt that you really do make your own success. Opportunities for us, are disguised as free coffee. We discovered that simply asking if you can buy someone a cup of coffee, listening to their story, then learning from their experiences, can inspire and open more doors than you could ever have first imagined.
We also find that opportunities can come to you in many ways and are often disguised. Sometimes you may find that one good deed, bit of free work or kind referral can lead to many other things coming back to you. Work hard in silence and let success be your noise.
ASFF: If you were to give one piece of advice to emerging filmmakers, what would it be?
K&H: Let “no” fuel you. You’ve chosen a creative industry that is one of the hardest in the world, so rejection is inevitable sooner or later. When you realise that “no” doesn’t actually stop you, you’ll soon accept it like water off a duck’s back. Every time someone says no to us we tend to make a point of doing it regardless (so long as it’s legal and ethically correct).
Sometimes when people say no to you, you’ll doubt what you’re trying to achieve because it’s so much easier for you to doubt yourself then question why they’ve said it. Have you ever considered they may be saying no because they couldn’t do it themselves?!
Also, our favourite saying is: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Sometimes you have to wait for the good stuff to happen to be in a position to deserve it. Perseverance and hard work should never be underestimated. It’s up to you to carve out your career and success, and that doesn’t happen overnight, it takes a lot of hard work!
ASFF: Where do you hope to take your films next?
K&H: We have three films doing the festival circuit at the moment: Edith, which stars Peter Mullan and Michelle Fairley, screened at ASFF in 2016 was long-listed for a BAFTA earlier this year; Not The Devil, which has just had its world premiere at BFI Flare and Annie Waits which is about to embark on its festival journey and stars Andrew Simpson, Sam Gittins, Sam Swainsbury, Moses Gomes-Santos, Matt Ovens and our very own April Kelley.
We hope that all three films continue to reach audiences around the world on the festival circuit. Annie Waits is actually a teaser to a TV series we’ve been developing so we are using it to pitch for the series. We do have another short called Brunette Baby which is our second teaser for another TV series and is directed by Abner Pastoll. We’ve found that we can’t just restrict our work to purely film and have already expanded into TV, virals and branded content. As long as each piece of work tells a story and we can plough our creativity into it, we don’t mind what we are making. We love what we do and as long as the passion is there we’ll continue to work eight day weeks to make it happen.
For more information, visit www.miniproductions.co.uk
ASFF 2017 is now open for entries. To submit, visit www.asff.co.uk/submit
1. April Kelley and Sara Huxley, Edith.