March 8, 2017

Be the Production Company You Want to See in the World

Buttercup Bill
British company Blonde to Black Pictures breaks the paradigm with their new feature 'Buttercup Bill'.

[Editor's Note: No Film School asked Seed&Spark to interview the creators of a recent S&S release about steps they took on their path to distribution.]

When some people don't like what's happening in their world (or in their profession), they tweet about it. Others take action.

Emma Comley and Sadie Frost saw a sore lack of female producers in the industry, so they stepped up to fill the gap. With Blonde to Black Pictures, they're not just talking the talk; they're walking onto set, side by side, with strength. With their latest film, Buttercup Bill, they also put power in the hands of a female writing and directing duo, Remy Bennett and Émilie Richard-Froozan. Turns out it was a recipe for success.

Buttercup Bill examines the reunion of childhood friends (one of which is played by Bennett) brought together by tragedy. Part pseudo-sexual romance, part exploration of grief in the deep South, Buttercup Bill is sure to push buttons and your definition of the term 'soul mate.'

Comley and Frost shared with us several lessons they have learned about producing films with women in charge on screen and behind the scenes.

"Every day is, and has been, a hustle."

Crew up with the best around

The Louisiana crew on Buttercup Bill ended up being mostly female, but that wasn't on purpose. At the time the production was crewing up, local technicians were in high demand, and the competition was fierce. "We just hired the best people we could for the job," said Frost. "It worked out great for us having more women than men for a change—definitely a very different vibe on set!"

Work with collaborators who respond to your project

Emma Comley has other thoughts on why the crew that came together they way it did. "I do think that females responded to this project more," said Comley. "It's very interesting having the female in the archetypal, male antagonist role. The film is very much written for women, with the usual male gaze and view of sexuality subverted."

Find the best setting

Buttercup Bill is set in New Orleans, a long way away from Blonde to Black Pictures' home base in London, but Comley and Frost said it only made sense to shoot the film in Louisiana. For starters, that's where the script was set. But more importantly, they wanted to honor the spirit of what the writers/directors had started. "The story is inhabited by such great characters who couldn’t be from anywhere else except New Orleans," said Frost. "The story is so specific to the place." Comley adds, "Emilie and Remy had spent a lot of time down there and enrolled a feast of interesting friends to get involved…plus there was a very good tax credit!" See? Always wearing that producer hat.

Look to the best for inspiration

Comley and Frost may be a rare breed, but they aren't totally alone in the world of female producers. "I spent some time with the US producer Suzanne Todd who has been so helpful with all her years of experience," said Frost. "In terms of inspiration, we look a lot at the current crop of younger filmmakers such as Angela Arnold, Rachel Tunnard, and Elaine Constantine—they are all creating distinctive, strong, and original work."

Persevere until you find success

When asked what advice they have for up and coming female producers, Frost said, "Never give up! We’ve fought really hard to get where we are now, and every day is, and has been, a hustle. Finally, after 4 years, we feel like we are really getting somewhere, with loads of exciting projects in the pipeline, plus the added luxury of working with some amazing talent." Their next project, Two for Joy, includes female leads Samantha Morton (Sweet and Low Down, In America) and Billie Piper (Doctor Who, Secret Life of a Call Girl).

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