A ROAD TO SOMEWHERE:
THE STORY OF BLUEJOHN PRODUCTIONS
Bluejohn Productions was created in the summer of 2013 prior to making our first production, Autumn Drift, in September of that year.
In the late 1990s I was made a co-producer of Avalanche Productions, through which we made a couple of short films, including the BFI accredited, Hat and Coat (2002). After ending my tenure with Avalanche, I soon fell in love with writing and thus began attending regular screenwriting seminars in and around London, eventually enrolling on a screenwriting course at Goldsmith’s University. I then teamed up with co-writer, Russell Elleswei, and we began crafting out both feature length and short screenplays, occasionally entering them for national and regional screenwriting competitions. In 2002 our screenplay, Small Fortune, got shortlisted for the Orange Prize, but unfortunately it did not win.
Bluejohn productions became a registered company in 2017. Actor, John Gannon, and myself had decided to make a short film, as I had earlier learned that I was able to book out free equipment from the University at which I had been working as a sessional Lecturer. I came about the idea of Autumn Drift years previously, so I created the Bluejohn mantra, ‘don’t talk, just do’ and thus ended up making the three and a half minute film on a shoestring budget. Fortunately, John and I had managed to find an excellent crew, actors, and editor and the film took two days to shoot. From then on Bluejohn short film projects became a regular occurrance. Autumn Drift was a silent film, so the next project had to be something lengthy with sufficient dialogue. I came up with Winter Will (2014) which proved to be a much more ambitious project than the previous.
Filming Winter Will in Greenwich Park (2014)
The story was adapted from a personal experience of mine, so I thought I could make it into something both entertaining and funny. Pre-production for Winter Will took around 2 months, and the filming itself lasted four days. I remember it being a very cold experience with lots of exterior scenes around Greenwich in London. Also the project taught me about the intricacies of producing a film, such as casting, crewing up, negotiating costs for locations and equipment, and also assuring permits. The film was finally completed in the autumn of 2014 and was released onto the festival circuit thereafter, but unfortunately Winter Will did not gain the acclaim it deserved. Bearing in mind I was a novice filmmaker, if I had been given the opportunity of re-making it with the knowledge I subsequently accrued, I would have approached things completely differently. But it had given me the impetus to plough on, so we decided on an even larger project, which proved to be a far more ambitious film as we could have handled at the time.
I acquired this surreal idea from the British film, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (1969), which impacted on me as a child: The names of the two protagonists ‘Iro and Casper’ derive from the mythological Greek hero ‘Icarus’. Once having finalised the screenplay of The Flight of Iro and Casper we realised that we were embarking on a project that required special effects regarding a large ornamental mirror. When I finally finished the script, which took several months, we realised this project was going to take a considerable amount of time to make. The screenplay eventually yielded a cast of twelve, as well as a total of eight interior and exterior locations. We started pre-production five months prior to shooting and boy did we need it! 72 hours before filming began we were considerably short of funds, production crew and props and were at point of pulling the plug on the project – I had even written the email notifying everyone of the production being cancelled - but miraculously everything came good due to a collective determination not to give up.
Shooting Iro & Casper, London (2014)
Miraculously shooting began on schedule in September 2014 and the production took a week. Looking back I realise we had faced countless challenges during filming and at the time I was somewhat anxious that the film wouldn’t look as impressive on camera as I had originally envisaged. However, the completed film certainly exceeded expectation, especially after having seen it for the first time on the big screen at the Glasgow Blueprint Film Festival in August 2015. The Flight of Iro & Casper gained substantial success on the festival circuit, winning two awards for best short film. Also dealing with the challenges of making The Flight of Iro and Casper had taught me so much about the art of filmmaking. I can do nothing but look back at our entire journey, from script outline to post-production, and view it as Bluejohn's own private degree course in filmmaking.
After the success of The Flight of Iro and Casper, making our next two short films seemed like plain sailing considering how much we had learned from previous projects. In early 2015 Bluejohn expanded its team to three permanent members, all of whom had contributed enormously to our previous film projects. The English Lesson (2015) came from my own experiences as an English teacher in the midst of a profession currently rife with zero-hour contracts, dwindling educational standards and steadfast profit-making. I felt that we had to make something that encapsulated my own dystopian vision to where teaching and learning were heading in the modern age. Pre-production took 2 months and most of it was shot at one location, a private language school in Euston, London, which made matters a lot easier. We wanted to create a setting that was grim and Orwellian, something through which we could reflect common sentiments expressed by those exposed to education, so fortunately we found an excellent costume designer and set designer, which helped capture the mood and tone on screen. Then came a couple of smaller projects. I had always wanted to write and produce comedy, so in 2017 I came up with Air Tax, a comedy sketch, which was shot at the beginning of 2019. Also, later that year, we teamed up with London rock group, Reptiles, and produced a music video of one of their hit songs ‘Bridges’.
The English Lesson (2015)
Then I became affected by Donald Trump, and his approach to Middle Eastern trade deals, which frankly appalled me, so rather than say how things really are, a role for the modern journalists or media correspondents, I strived to create something analogous. Vegetable Crushers came to mind so I wrote the screenplay in a matter of weeks with the intent of producing something visual with limited dialogue. The initial days of pre-production were challenging for us, as it was proving more difficult to find a suitable location, in this case an allotment, but thanks to a work colleague we were put in contact with a committee member of an allotment in West London and from there onwards producing the film was relatively straightforward. For this project we wanted to take a giant step forward regarding meeting industry standards, and as we had assembled an extremely talented team of crewmembers and actors, which were able to transfer my original vision onto the screen, something we hadn’t quite managed so effectively in past projects. Making this particular film had not only marked our growth as a production company, but it had made me realise that my experiences of making short productions had thus carved me into the more proficient filmmaker I am today.
Vegetable Crushers, London (2019)
Due to the global pandemic both our future projects and festival screenings for Vegetable Crushers were unfortunately put on hold for most of 2020, like so many other productions, but bearing in mind that restrictions will be relaxed or lifted in the coming months (fingers crossed!) 2021 promises to be a busy year for Bluejohn Productions with three more projects on the cards: The development of a feature screenplay & two new short films: Rudolph's Leap & The Tryst. Pre-production for both short film projects will hopefully begin in the spring of 2021.