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Shoestring Stingers head for Bafta screenings

THE awards season is upon us with the world’s movie aristocrats vying for a coveted ornament and the chance to make a tearful speech.

Felicity Montagu in the film Happy Clapper
Felicity Montagu in the film Happy Clapper
Tony Marshall, left, on location filming Happy Clapper

THE awards season is upon us with the world’s movie aristocrats vying for a coveted ornament and the chance to make a tearful speech.

Culminating in the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony on February 27, this is the period when the film world’s pampered image gets its annual polish.

But the truth is that much modern film-making is worlds away from all that well-heeled pouting and posturing.

This becomes clear when you talk to Tom Marshall who had a 30-quid film shown on national TV and whose latest is to be screened in London on Thursday at Bafta (the British Academy of Film and Television Arts).

His new film, Happy Clapper, was commissioned for Stingers, the £80,000 scheme run by Northern Film & Media (NFM) and the UK Film Council to launch new North East talent.

Tom, from Middlesbrough, graduated from Teesside University in 2008 with a degree in TV and film production and recently turned 24.

But he has been making films since he was 17 and a student at St Mary’s 6th Form College in the town.

“I’d always loved films but never had a clue about the process,” he says.

“One of the first projects they made us do was to shoot a chase scene and me and my friends shot a little cop film.

“It was at that stage when digital technology was taking off and the stuff you could do as a complete beginner was amazing.

“I started to do some more serious projects and from there it became clear what I had to do at university.”

In a short time Tom has enjoyed a good deal of success without much money.

A big year was 2007 when his black comedy bigboy_74 won a BBC New Talent award, meaning it got shown at festivals.

The film, hinging on a case of mistaken identity, involves a suicidal man and an amorous lady called Kinkyglitch12.

Tom says: “That was made for 200 quid. It was nothing – dirt cheap. But the success of it really took me by surprise. I made it specifically for the BBC competition because it was my third crack at it.

“The first year I had made a film and got nowhere, the year before that I got to the final 10 and then the next year I won it. There was a big cash prize, which was great, and it was aired on BBC Three right before Dr Who.”

Tom was later picked out by the magazine Screen International as one of its Stars of Tomorrow.

“But what was really great about the BBC success was that it led to commissions from NFM,” he says.

Tom was selected to join NFM’s digital shorts programme for a film called God and Lucy, in which a girl meets the Almighty on the internet and tries to persuade him out of retirement so he can cure her mum of cancer.

God turns out to be a smelly and miserable old man who lives at the top of a tower block.

With Happy Clapper for the Stingers programme, Tom moved up a gear with a £20,000 budget, a professional team and the support of an experienced script editor.

The story was developed from something he’d heard from a taxi driver who told him of a guy who was living in a caravan in the middle of nowhere because he was being paid by a criminal to guard a stash of drugs.

What fired Tom’s imagination was that one day the guy woke up in a different place. It seems his criminal boss had had the caravan towed away and he had slept through the whole process.

“As soon as I heard that, I started writing it down,” says Tom. “It started as 10 minutes and I got asked to develop it into a more ambitious piece.”

As the title suggests, there is also an encounter with a born again Christian.

To get an authentic look for his film, Tom bought an old caravan in an online auction and plonked it on marshland near Amble.

“I said to the art department, ‘I want it to look as if it was nice 20 years ago’. But they didn’t have to do much. It was covered in mould and it stank.”

The film stars Joe Dempsie from TV series Skins and Felicity Montagu from I’m Alan Partridge.

Tom says that when he suggested “someone like Felicity Montagu”, they said: “Well, how about Felicity Mantagu?” That’s one small indication of the distance he has travelled in a short time.

His aim now is to develop Happy Clapper into a full-length feature film.

Also to be shown at Bafta on Thursday is Between You and Me by 27-year-old Laura Degnan from Stockton.

Laura was also part of the Stingers promotion last year for her five-minute film Blind Eye which was selected to be shown last year at the prestigious Palm Springs Film Festival, seen as a pointer to the Oscars.

“It meant that I flew to Los Angeles for three nights last June and went to the festival,” says Laura.

“That was great because I got to speak to lots of writers, directors and sales people, and also to people who can get your film shown at other festivals. It has been chosen for a festival in New York next month.”

But her new Stingers offering is Between You and Me, a 13-minute teenage pregnancy drama for which she had a £12,500 budget. Shot in London, it stars Georgia Henshaw, the Welsh actress who also starred in Blind Eye.

Laura studied English at Oxford University and then worked for Kudos, an independent film and TV company.

“I knew I wanted to write but it wasn’t until I was commissioned for my first Stingers film that I’d thought about directing. They asked me to have a go at directing it and I thought that with a five-minute film it would be good to try.”

Back in the role of writer now, she is working on a feature film.

She is in talks with agents but will be at Bafta on Thursday having already experienced the value of networking.

Also to be shown at the Stingers presentation are the thriller Final Call, by Newcastle business partners Daymon Britton and Jamie Hutchinson, and Walls by writer/director Alex Lambert and producer James Baxter.

Although the UK Film Council has been abolished, NFM’s Dan Brain says alternative funding sources were being explored.

Agnes Wilkie, creative industry director of NFM, adds: “Initiatives like Stingers provide an important vehicle for the North East’s most talented film-makers to shine in what is a particularly tough industry to crack.”

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