Creative Industries

Red & Black Films

From shoestring budgets to blockbuster films
Red & Black Films

More than a decade ago, lead producer John Giwa-Amu and writer and director Caradog James turned their shared passion and creative sensibilities to an ultra-low budget idea.

Little White Lies – an adaptation of a work by Swanseabased playwright Helen Griffin, described by The Independent as “The Royal Family meets Nil by Mouth” – wound up in Variety’s top ten independent British movies of the year, as well as winning dozens of awards. Perhaps more importantly, it established the exceptional talents of Giwa-Amu and James, who are now one of the most respected pairings in the industry.

Supernatural horror Don’t Knock Twice and sci-fi thriller The Machine have since been critical and box office hits at festivals and in cinemas worldwide, partly set in motion by government funding.

“One of the things that enabled us to successfully close the finance on The Machine was Welsh Government’s funding award,” says Giwa-Amu.

“That gave us a lot of leverage. We’d only done one film and although it won a lot of awards we were quite green at the time. The seed of that backing for a production company like ours helped propel us into an area where we got our largest budget to date, of 100 times that first investment.”

Little White Lies originally made its name on ITV Wales, boosting Giwa Amu’s and James’s cause when they made funding bids. “What Welsh government do is really important for small companies,” says James, who remembers his early trips to Los Angeles to meet representatives from the likes of Universal, Paramount and Warner Bros.

“It doesn’t always work out, but when it does it’s amazing. Sometimes these small amounts of money can be massively beneficial. It’s enabled us, as a production company, to be seen in a very different way internationally and throughout the world.”

The global stage is where these charismatic storytellers star, supported by Ffilm Cymru Wales and private investors.

They’ve shot scenes at Tythegston Court, the glorious Bridgend estate known as the Downton Abbey of Wales, but they’re just as comfortable giving cinematic transformations to industrial settings around Cardiff.

“A great part of film-making is what you can make people believe. The Machine was very beautiful and stylish, but a lot of it was filmed in a warehouse,” points out Giwa- Amu. “It’s the same with Don’t Knock Twice, in a sense.

“We built the witch’s house in the film right next to a vast, dilapidated steel works. It was such a unique-looking location that even if we had more money, I don’t think we could have done better for what was seen on screen.”

Giwa-Amu’s latest production, The Party, starring Timothy Spall, Kristin Scott Thomas and Cillian Murphy won two Evening Standard Awards in February for best actress and screenplay.

Later in the year they’ll be releasing Count Me In, a documentary about the world’s best rock drummers featuring the likes of Pink Floyd, Queen, The Foo Fighters and Massive Attack.

“Our focus is very much international – that’s where we’ve had the biggest success,” says Giwa-Amu. “We’re always looking for material that doesn’t just play in the UK or Wales. We see our competition as the world.”

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