Budgets are not a problem for Falkirk film makers

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Big budgets may dominate the film world in Hollywood, but producing a movie for the big screen with no money is a different tale altogether.

Big name directors like Martin Scorcese or Stephen Spielberg have millions at their disposal to make their visions Oscar worthy as well as the world’s top box office talent to star in them.

Simon Gillespie directs one of the key scenes from the upcoming movie on location in Falkirk's La Banca restaurant. Picture: Michael Gillen

Simon Gillespie directs one of the key scenes from the upcoming movie on location in Falkirk's La Banca restaurant. Picture: Michael Gillen

Local film makers Simon Jake Gillespie of Haggis Westerns and Phil Todd of Fellowship Films are at the other end of the spectrum, but are just as committed, if not more, to making movies through sheer guts, determination and ambition.

They rely on the support of an unpaid casts and the kindness of land owners and businesses to get their features filmed in the Falkirk area – and with some success – Haggis Westerns’ latest release, The Last Love Letter, is premiering at Falkirk Cineworld next Thursday.

Haggis Westerns’ credits include Wild Side Of Life (2009); The Cowboy Court (2011); and short film Setting Rainbow (2013).

The Last Love Letter is 115 minutes long and the first of a trilogy starring writer and director Simon as Steve Brody, a man whose life is falling apart following an affair.

Dalriata's King director Phil Todd (right)

Dalriata's King director Phil Todd (right)

He loses his job, his family and is beginning to lose his friends until sinister stranger John Abbott (Craig Seath) walks into town and offers him and his brother Michael (Barry Frame – also the sound director) a lifeline with a job.

Simon (41), from Brightons, got into how movies were made at a young age before purchasing a cheap camcorder and then an Apple EMac to edit his efforts after putting together his first film script and then enlisting the help of family and friends, who did the acting roles, to put it all together.

“Making a film with low to no budget has its positives and negatives,” said Simon. “One positive being that there’s no time limit on the shoot, if an actor calls in sick, a location becomes unavailable or if you need to re-shoot scenes that you’re not happy with then you just get everyone back together again and film, you have that little bit more control on the film.

“I do try nowadays to work to a time limit though as it gives you something to work towards as well as the experience working this way. We were only two weeks over production on The Last Love Letter.

“The negatives are of course, not being able to pay for actors, crew or for locations but I can’t thank everyone who helped us enough in this regard. Support from the cast and local businesses has been amazing. You have to depend on people’s kindness and we have been really lucky.”

During the production of The Last Love Letter, restaurant La Banca in Vicar Street gave permission to film a key scene on location. Other scenes were shot at Slamannan Fire Station, complete with a cast of firefighters, City nightclub in Princes Street and The Songbird bar in Denny.

Falkirk Cineworld manager Graeme Murray has also supported the local film scene by providing screens for the first showing on November 12, while the title track, written by Simon, is performed by popular Falkirk singer Dionne Hickey.

Simon added: “Falkirk has always played a key part in the films, most of the locations are based here.

Songstress Dionne Hickey performs The Last Love Letter's title track. Picture: Michael Gillen

Songstress Dionne Hickey performs The Last Love Letter's title track. Picture: Michael Gillen

“I decided early on that I wasn’t just going to show the films in a hall somewhere so I met up with Graeme from Cineworld who organised a screen hire for us and since then we have shown every one of our films there. He has seen us go from strength to strength and takes a keen interest in our projects.”

Phil Todd (25), from Airth, and brother Matthew (27), are currently producing their first feature, fantasy movie Dalriata’s King, in and around their home village on a low budget, building a mini ancient settlement with traditional thatched buildings.

The brothers, who are the sons of Airth Parish Church minister Rev. James Todd, have been working on the movie for two years and hope to finish filming in the new year, and have Dalriata’s King in cinemas in October 2016.

The film is set in Scotland, before the Kingdom of Dalriata united with the Picts to become Scots and focuses on Alpin, a young man who must united the kingdoms to save his younger brother from a supernatural evil.

Although a fantasy film, the script is as close to 
historically accurate as 
possible, with an expert on early Scottish history 
helping to ensure authenticity in clothing and buildings of the time.

Matthew (27), a musician, said the local community has played a pivotal part in getting the film off the ground.

He said: “The Airth community has been incredible, they have been helping to build sets, dishing out cups of tea and play the parts of extras. We have a tiny budget for a feature film so every volunteer makes a great difference. The film has been drawing comparisons to Braveheart, but it is nothing like that. We are not trying to depict history, but rather tell a fictional story with as much historical accuracy as possible.”

Sound engineer Barry Frame of Haggis Westerns is a former Forth Valley College Sound production graduate who used his work on The Last Love Letter to complete his Masters degree at the Glasgow School of Art.
As well as having Dionne Hickey doing the title track, nineties dance legends TTF have given permission for their hit New Emotion to be used in the film.

Barry said: “We have certainly gone up a level with The Last Love Letter. Simon and I have been blown away by some of the performances in the film and it has been a pleasure to work with so many people who have been so focused and committed to helping us.”

For more information and tickets for the showing, visit Haggis Westerns on Facebook.