In just a few hours, Owain Astles faces a night of filming in the woods but he doesn’t seem fazed. He’s bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and sharing his enthusiasm for filmmaking.
“It’s all about enjoying what you’re doing,” he says, undaunted about what lies ahead.
We’re sitting in the cafe of the Exeter Phoenix, a place close to Owain’s creative heart. It’s where he’s auditioned cast and crew, created new ideas and received invaluable support.
“There’s a really good community for filmmakers based around the Phoenix and in Exeter,” says Owain, who cut his filmmaking teeth making movies with friends as well as being encouraged through the Exeter Phoenix’s Two Short Nights film festival with its 48-Hour Film Challenge.
Some of those friends who joined Owain in the 48-Hour Film Challenge – Christian Delve and Josh Sibley – became early collaborators on Kids. Christian also worked on Nowhere Place – the film that will be completed by the all-nighter in Coombe Woods.
The night time shoot in Coombe Woods is the filming wrap to the second short created by Owain’s relatively newly-formed Pastels Productions.
Pastels’ first film Kids is in Post Production, and their third Christmas Cafe (working title) is in the planning stage, and Watching the Stars is slated for early 2016.
Pastels Productions was set up with the idea to create challenging stories.
“I want to shine a light on ordinary stories, ordinary people and ordinary issues,” says Owain.
“Especially nowadays there are so many massive stories out there that get projected on you by the news, by TV and by social media. And stories can so easily get distorted and bigged up – it feels like everything’s so big, and that real people, who are often struggling, can get drowned out,” says Owain.
“The challenge I set is to never make a film that doesn’t raise awareness in some way.”
Kids is a perfect example. It is based on the true story of Canadian Amanda Todd. In 2013 her story went viral.
“It’s an interesting story,” says Owain, who talks about the effect it had, both good and bad, and ‘the awareness it raised about a certain type of situation and a certain type of person.”
Kids was shot, in part, at Exeter University in August. The fairly low budget short was hot on the heels of ITV hit drama Broadchurch.
Nowhere Place – directed by Pastels’ other director Tommy Gillard – is about two teenage boys/young men and their relationship. As well as being shot in the woods, it has also been filmed on Dartmoor.
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“The core human relationship contrasts with the backdrop of Dartmoor, the tors and the hills,” says Owain. “The footage looks fantastic and it’s emotional to have a tiny bubble of human relationship against the great scope of Dartmoor. Which is what the film’s about, essentially.”
Owain’s focus on story and character may have sprung from his background in theatre and acting. As an actor and working as an assistant director at the Northcott, he strayed into film for some extra experience, but enjoyed the collaboration so much he stayed.
“Whereas a lot of people I work with have come up through the technical side of film. I came in from a less conventional route. That’s why I like connecting with characters, with people. I like working with a director who takes times out between takes just to talk to you.
“I enjoy working with actors. And I really like rehearsals just to play around. It helps to get into the core of the characters,” says Owain.
Pastels Productions grew out of the contacts Owain made while acting.
Producer Simeon Costello worked with Owain at the Northcott, and he was the producer on one of the early films Owain acted in: Written in Blood. He put Owain in touch with Tommy Gillard, who was DOP on Written in Blood.
“Tommy is incredibly talented with a camera,” says Owain. “He really does think about character as well, I’m often quite jealous. I relied on him so much with Kids with evoking an emotion or creating an image.
“I started writing Kids three years ago, while still in Sixth Form. But it didn’t start off as a film.
“Back then my aim was to work it out as a play because that’s what I did. As it developed, it felt like it would be served better as a film, especially because of the distribution – with online release to get it out there to the masses in the same way Amanda Todd did,” says Owain.
“I’ve got a story I want to tell, as opposed to this is a film I want to make.”
But Pastels Productions isn’t just about the stories Owain wants to tell.
“We want to look at proposals from outside script writers and directors, who may have ideas they’d like to get done, but may not have the opportunity to do that. That’s something that I’m quite passionate about,” he says.
The team wants to offer people the chance to get a step up into the industry, and provide people with opportunities. “The educational system doesn’t prepare you,” says Owain. “It doesn’t give you the vocational skills, the contacts and connections.”
In the process of their filmmaking, he’s found an amazing amount of talent that might not have the experience, and that’s something he wants to address.
“In Kids, Rosie, our lead actress is so talented, and she came from KEVICCs Sixth Form in Totnes with relatively little experience,” says Owain. “Sound designer Stan came from Exeter College, he’s now worked on a feature film. Our production assistant on Kids, Katherine Anderson, is now working for the BBC.”
As we’re at the Exeter Phoenix, Owain cites all the work they do to promote and support filmmakers: bursaries; classes; experiences; with a potential for work experience placements for sixth formers.
“It’s such a great place to be and is so helpful. They offer advice, and you can have a chat with someone from the Digital Team. They offer resources as well, and you can hire an editing suit. It’s really good that Exeter has it – they are really helpful and friendly.”
Once post production and score plus other finishing touches have been applied, the future of the films will be film festivals, online releases and a few special screenings in and around the Exeter and Devon areas. It brings with it a lot of web marketing and social media activity, but Owain isn’t daunted.
“It’s been interesting to me because it’s not something I’ve done before,” he says.
“A long time ago, I started making films with mates, on the phone, on the camcorder at school for school projects – a crappy mock horror film that I’d take home and edit on Windows MovieMaker, and add music to from my iTunes,” says Owain. Now he’s got production company with four films on the go and a long night in the woods ahead.