Billie Melissa takes us through the ups and downs and getting her short film, I Love You Guys, to the screen – with filming due to start soon.
In April 2019, I received the first draft of I Love You, Guys! It was 14 pages long and spoke to the digital age of the 21st century. The rise of social media in movies has presented filmmakers with exciting opportunities to seize storytelling in a new way. Bo Burnham had excelled with his endearing tale of Kayla in Eighth Grade, utilising the ever-changing process of which we come of age, and Aneesh Chaganty had thrilled audiences with Searching, presenting a darker side through the use of a desktop and web camera. The overwhelming weight of the idea that we can make movies with a device we carry with us day to day is both thrilling and completely unnerving. It can assist the notion that we must always be working even when we wish to switch off.
Ironically, my paranoia existed amidst the pages of that first draft. I’d never spoken with our writer (Cory Varney) before I read his words, but it felt as though he had captured the unique anxieties of what it’s like living in a world that is inherently connected. Our lead, Sky, is a singer on the cusp of stardom and equally on the edge of losing herself, exacerbated by the strenuous nature of social media. Although my team and I may not be acquainted with the complexities of fame, we are well attuned to the importance of online identity.
Jakob Barnes, our producer, and Nick Deal, our first assistant director, began their path to this project when the two started the entertainment website JumpCut Online. A few years of unexpected success led them to found JumpCut Studios, a production company built on a foundation of telling captivating stories from a diverse talent pool. I reached out after seeing their call for writers and directors through Twitter. I was in my final year at film school, and the existential dread of graduation was looming. Finding collaborators that you are in alignment with, as well as foreseeing a long-term partnership with is perhaps one of the most daunting prospects of this industry. The greatest joy of this project so far has been seeing everyone connect. A crew that initially consisted of three has doubled, and a cast that existed solely on a page now live in three wonderful actors; Becky Bush, Cecelia Crossland and Pedro Leandro.
There’s a saying that implies a piece of writing never feels finished, you just eventually let go. It took a while before we reached this point. Seven months spent exchanging ideas on the unlimited avenues Sky could take manifested in what we anticipated to be a final draft. We had been eager to cast for months, and now with 700 emails of interest in our inbox, November 2019 invited the opportunity to cross paths with our actors. Jakob, Nick, Cory and our newest producer, Lewis Coates, had hosted auditions in Sheffield a week before junior producer Daisy Edwards and I hosted the London leg.
The first actor we saw for the role of Sky was Becky Bush. I had grown up acting, and with a short stint at drama school knocking every ounce of passion I had for the craft out of me, I had made it my aim as a director to have an ‘actors first’ mentality. I have a tremendous amount of adoration for their ability to be externally fearless even if their heart tells a different story. Becky seemingly harboured an innate understanding of the script, and four months later, I have no trouble remembering her audition. Her story resonated with me when she shared it with Daisy, Jakob and I during her December recall. She generously spoke on her struggle studying musical theatre, and how she had suppressed her love of acting before boldly leaving to pursue a career on her terms. I admired her open-hearted nature and bravery to be vulnerable with people, demonstrated against Cecilia and Pedro in their second audition. The chemistry between the three of them is the thing I am most excited to capture.
Since the thrill of auditioning has settled, our focus has predominately resided with funding. Crowdfunding has been a completely new experience for me, and every donation has fuelled us with excited waves of energy to work harder. Recognising names that a year ago were strangers amidst our list of backers is something none of us take for granted. The generosity and willingness from those we’ve built a community with online will be the entire reason this film comes to life. This story resonates within each one of us, a testimony to the brilliance of Cory’s writing, but also the universal struggle of adjusting to a life that invites comparison. Our film welcomes a discussion on mental health and how we handle our dreams when they unexpectedly land in our lap. When the thing you’ve imagined in your mind for many years turns out to be the thing that breaks your heart and thrusts you into inner turmoil is a dynamic that I’m curious to explore.
Primarily, we’ve all learnt the necessity of community. We are yet to step foot onto the set, but when we do, we will remember the kindness of strangers. Our film will exist because of this, and we hope our endeavour to share the story of Sky will help people feel less alone. We can’t wait to see what’s next.
You can follow our journey @ILYGthemovie
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