(Nina Forever, 2015)
Directing duo, the Blaine brothers, have just released their first feature film. How did they afford that?
By Edwin Miles
Ben and Chris are British independent filmmakers. They are brothers, but it is hard to tell. Ben is tall, Chris is not. Ben has longish brown wavy hair; Chris has short close-cut ginger hair. Ben wears his trademark suit jacket and shirt, Chris is in t-shirt and jeans. What is not different is their sense of humour and their light-heartedness.
Nina Forever (2015), their debut feature film, is both gory and funny. It is an independent horror made on a micro-budget, about a young couple haunted by Nina, a deceased ex-girlfriend, every time they try to have sex. The humour thrives upon the awkward situations the characters find themselves in, crossing sexual tension with a comedic tone. This interview had its moments, they both laughed at my giant boom mic.
They live apart; Ben with his wife, and Chris in his flat next-door to their office space that they rent off a sculptor who gives cheap rates to “arty folk”. Ben told me that they are lucky that they are “paying crazy low rent” for where he lives in London too. “We definitely have not gone on as many holidays, had as many shiny cars, and owned things as other people do”. These are tricks of the trade for independent filmmaking. You need to save as much money as possible in order to succeed, even if that means no shiny car; it definitely is no Kardashian lifestyle. “You need to think of yourself as living as an artist, living cheaply, so you can have more creative freedom to think about what you want to do”, Chris says. “Kind of like the end of Trainspotting, not this, not that, not heroin”.
Ben and Chris put £25,000 of their own money into making Nina Forever. When they told me they threw themselves back on the sofa, sighed, raised their eyebrows, placing themselves in the time capsule of nostalgia, reminding themselves of how mad they were. Most interestingly, £25,000 was not actually enough. Ben said, “£25,000 is a lot of money, but it isn’t actually a lot of money”. Ben and Chris are pioneers of Kickstarter, a site for fundraising. The public can see your pitch online, they give you money, you offer the people rewards. The brothers raised an extra £18,000 for the Nina project via this platform. Ben said, “Kickstarter is really good, but you have to be clear with what it is for, and what you want it to achieve. It’s for crowdfunding. The crowd comes first and the funding comes after”. To date, 20,368 film and video projects have been successfully funded through Kickstarter, with around 5,000 of these raising over $10,000. The pledgers for Nina Forever “was 80-90% that personally knew one or more of the members of the cast and crew”. Ben admits “it is just easier than taking each one for a pint and asking for the cash”. His smile outlined his modesty. Despite them being professional film directors, proud of releasing a feature length film, they remain grounded and realistic. It is refreshing to see two brothers willing to listen to each other, as they both sat on their settee, one would speak and the other would sit with a lean and a gaze listening to their filmmaking counterpart.
“Because of the pressures of time and money,” Ben said, “either everything gets done and the movie is bad, or one thing gets pushed and you don’t end up with a movie because you only have one scene that is perfect and no other shots. There were times between these two tensions where things got difficult”. Despite the money pressures, Ben and Chris believe that more budget or time wouldn’t change the film, but only make the process easier. Ben admits that imperfections are what make scenes interesting. “If you want a perfect A, then you can generate that on a computer,” he says thoughtfully, “if you play an A on a piano, then you are hearing an A and the resonance of the strings and the body. You are still trying to hit the perfect A but you are now welcoming all the weird shit that comes alongside it because that is what makes it interesting”. For the Blaines, the same applies to filmmaking.
They don’t want to change their films, but what the brothers want is autonomy. Like most artists they want freedom, but in a business dominated by money, this is hard to come by. “It’s not about recognition or fame, it’s the fact the Coens have an audience that will see anything with their name on it”. It is funny they referred to Joel and Ethan Coen, as if there is a separate strand of filmmaking distinctly for siblings – especially as their style is closer to Ben Wheatley or David Cronenberg, where their films are gory with an underlying dark humour. “What directing is really about,” says Ben, “is making something enjoyable for everyone in the journey”, this is quite a humbled approach to filmmaking. They are trying to make everything enjoyable for everyone involved, and not solely making a work of art, a commercial success, or wanting fame, although these are nice perks of the industry. Making films have a deeper significance than the final product, and Chris and Ben seem like people who also prioritise the cast and crew before the film.
Chris said, “we’ve now made a film, and you can watch the film, so people now know us”, so hopefully finding budget wont be as painstaking. “If you look at our short, Hallo Panda, in terms of its look, it doesn’t particularly look that great,” Chris says, “Nina Forever has a sort of cinematic flair”. The Blaines don’t want to go back into short film making, and with their first feature done, they are already thinking about another.