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A Festive Aperitif

Date posted: 08.12.2010

Much like the decadent dinner enjoyed over the Christmas break, the main course is very often complimented and enhanced by a light starter. Until 31 December a Film London supported short, Gin & Dry, will become the 'starter' at City Screen cinemas across the capital - playing ahead of numerous features, including seasonal classic It's a Wonderful Life.

Gin & Dry is a funny and poignant film set in a retirement home over the Christmas season - where alcohol is in short supply and the residents are less than happy. Produced on a limited budget, the 15 minute film stars an array of veteran acting talent, including Jonathan Slinger (Hustle, Little Dorrit), David de Keyser (Rome, Silent Witness), June Watson (Wallander, Prime Suspect) and Badi Uzzaman (Eastern Promises, Torchwood).

The team behind Gin & Dry - director Oscar Plewes, and producers Matthew Jones and Michael J McMahon - applied to the Southern Exposure Film Fund, part of the London Borough Film Fund Challenge, and struck gold when their film was selected. Collectively they brought a wealth of experience to the project. Plewes started out at Working Title Films and Goldcrest as a runner, before a stint as production assistant on Paul Greengrass's Green Zone. He also worked as a professional screenwriter, but Gin & Dry offered Plewes the opportunity to get back on set and direct his first short.

Jones and McMahon, through their production company, Capture, have worked in many media - producing promos, webcasts and film title sequences, amongst other projects. The busy producers took the time out to speak to Film London about Gin & Dry and its theatrical run.

City Screen has agreed to screen 
Gin & Dry before a selection of features in the lead up to Christmas, such as George Clooney's The American and It's a Wonderful Life. Firstly, how did this opportunity come about?
A lot of time has passed since we shot the film - our production manager Charlie Hines invited Clare Binns, the senior programmer from CityScreen/Picturehouse, to our cast and crew screening and it all went from there really. I think often people don't invite that kind of person to a short film and they presume the worst and aim low. We were confident in the power of the film and are so happy that Picturehouse loved it too. Having it on the big screen as it was intended is the best thing we could have asked for. It will play around 100 times... And best of all, real audiences will see it every week.

The project was a late submission to the Southern Exposure scheme - do you feel particularly lucky to have been selected?

Very lucky. We had been trying to get another strong short film funded for nearly 18 months but couldn't. This was supposed to be Oscar Plewes's first film as writer/director, which meant that he had no reel. This came along very quickly and the pace from script to funding to shooting was crazy. Three weeks after being greenlit we screened a rough cut to the Southern Exposure team and the other film-makers at the BFI. We then took 16 months to refine the film in post-production, which has made a massive difference.

Gin & Dry was shot in Wimbledon - what was the reason for filming the action outside of the host boroughs (Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark)? Was this because of particular requirements from the location?
Exactly - we needed a residents' home, and they are not easy to find and film in. We scouted numerous Old Aged Pensioner resident care homes across all three boroughs. The problem we continually faced was that, to film in a working care home, you require the permission of all the residents and often that permission comes from the residents' families, which takes a lot of time involving letter sending. Our film was very time sensitive - we actually got the green light three weeks before production so we could not wait around. Our location was a former nunnery - it looked perfect and was vacant so we could start as soon as we liked, without the headaches of permission slips, and the owners were extremely flexible allowing us to paint walls and rearrange the place to our art department tastes. Got to thank for hooking us up!

The cast includes some very experienced actors - how did you secure this level of talent and did working with experienced professionals help with the learning curve of short film-making?
We secured the cast off the quality of the script and the strength of our casting director, Cara Beckinsale, who suggested some wonderfully talented people. Given the time constraints, it meant that Oscar had no time for a proper casting session and had to cast from DVD reels. Luckily all his first choices responded to the script and they all said yes. Our extras all came from Age Concern - now AGE UK, the Merton branch mobilized about 25 elderly people to come along for three days. We could not have done it without their support, generosity, and time.  

Gin & Dry is themed around the Christmas holidays - is this a season that you feel a lot of people have the ability to connect with, especially in regards to emotions running high?
I think it's about a lot more than Christmas. I'm excited about going to festivals after Christmas has passed to see what the reaction is then because I think the themes of loneliness, age barriers and love are much stronger than Christmas. Having said that, we've dropped very lucky on our timings because I think it suits everyone that it's in cinemas now and beyond doubt it helped to secure the Christmas run we have with Picturehouse.

Bedlam ensues after an alcohol shortage - there is a lot of comedy hinged around these scenes, but were you trying to put across a greater social message about the nature of enjoyment and happiness?
Alcohol is the façade if you like, but respect is the issue. The rebellion of the OAP's is more about the idea of 'don't treat us like children when we're in our heyday'. The film's message is about treating the elderly with the respect they deserve and asks us to look a little deeper than just someone's age.

As Gin & Dry is set in an old people's home, there is a focus on age. Death or impending death is generally deemed as a taboo subject - do you hope that through watching the film it might open people up more to this as a discussion point?
I hope it makes people value the time we have. The best reaction I've had since showing the film is from a friend who cried and came out of the screening saying: 'it makes me want to call my grandad right now'. If we can touch a small proportion of our audience in the same way, then we've done our job. 

'I'll be Seeing You', a classic Billie Holiday track, is used throughout Gin & Dry - how did you get the clearances to use this? 
All the writers and performers have passed on. Getting a license was pretty easy - we got details of the recording and publishing rights owners via PRS and then contacted them direct with information on the film and agreed a deal for the release we planned. They understood it was a short film with limited budget.

The credits for the film are very well produced, as is the accompanying website and other promotional material for Gin & Dry - how did you achieve this with a limited budget?
The credits, website and promotional material were all done in-house by Capture. It's our project so we thought it was worth the time and effort. Now it's made to a big screen cinema release those hours of work seem even more worthwhile.

Do you think local initiatives like the London Borough Film Fund Challenge are useful in identifying and encouraging homegrown talent, as well as acting as a launch pad for the career of film-makers such as yourselves?
I think in a world where Cinema Extreme and Lifesize Pictures have both gone and none of the major broadcasters or film studios have short film schemes, funds like this are absolutely critical to the future state of the industry.

It is reported that Oscar Plewes is developing several screenplays with a view to making his directorial feature film debut - is this a project that you'll also be connected to?
Yes. We've already written a feature film with him which he's finished. He's also currently writing another script he plans to direct as his first feature film and we're thinking about doing another short film next year too.

Gin & Dry
is currently playing at Clapham Picturehouse, Greenwich Picturehouse and Ritzy Brixton - find out more on the Picturehouse Cinemas website. Watch the official trailer and find out more about the film on the Gin & Dry website.

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