If you’re stuck waiting for public transport, what better way to spend your time than to work out new film ideas. That’s exactly what Simeon Costello did and it bagged him the Exeter Phoenix documentary bursary.
“As a filmmaker who doesn’t drive, I spend a lot of time on buses and trains,” said Simeon.
“I’d just finished a shoot up in Wells in Somerset and I was waiting for a connection for two hours to get to Taunton and I saw where all these buses were going.”
It was a train of thought that led to the idea of travelling around the UK on local buses.
“Initially I didn’t think of it as a film idea, more like the kind of thing someone would do on their gap year,” said Simeon. It might not be everyone’s idea of travelling but the concept stayed with him, and the idea of a documentary fell into place when he got wind of the Exeter Phoenix documentary bursary.
Simeon prepared a short film â€“ which involved him travelling on five different buses during a 10 hour jaunt from Exeter to Land’s End â€“ to accompany his live pitch. “it was really good fun and got me excited to make the film,” he said. His enthusiasm must have shown through because his concept was chosen.
The Exeter Phoenix documentary bursary gives the filmmaker £500 towards making the documentary, equipment hire from the Phoenix and a number of courses on shooting film and documentary-making. In return, the filmmaker produces a three-minute and 10-minute edit of their film, which gets to premiere at the much admired Two Short Nights film festival.
At the moment the film’s title could be ‘Around the UK in 30 Days’, only Simeon doesn’t know how long the journey will take, so its provisional working title is The Bus Project.
The shape of the film is fluid at the moment, too.
“I’m toying with having the story not so much about the journey but about the people I meet along the way and the stories they have to tell. Because I think if you walk on a bus with a shoulder rig with a big camera on or a Go-Pro strapped to your head people are going to stop and ask you what you’re doing and then a conversation from there happens. You may talk to 100 people a day, but maybe one story from them stands out as really interesting,” said Simeon.
“It’s the luck of the draw of who I meet and what happens. There’s going to be a big social media following, I hope, people tuning into my tweets or a video diary along the way that gets released before the film is finished and hopefully some of them will come and meet me on the way or do a leg of the journey or something.”
The as-yet-untitled Bus Project is the first time that Simeon is in the role of director, but he’s had heaps of experience in local film, and he’s working his way round all the jobs on set, and some of the roles in front of the camera, too.
From messing around with a camera in his younger years, Simeon got wind of Exeter’s Shooters in the Pub group and started going along.
“And then 3 years later I’ve got a grant from the Phoenix, and I’ve been producing five short films in the space of about a year and a half,” said Simeon.
The foray into documentary is a bit of a departure for Simeon.
“My main focus is on fiction and drama with comic elements,” he said.
“The last film I co-wrote and produced was called Nowhere Place, and that’s very much a coming of age drama, and Kids before that is a story focusing around bullying. Written in Blood is a psychological drama/thriller. Magpies again another coming-of-age drama, but then moving into horror, sci-fi with Rowena Ghoul and now directing a documentary.”
To prepare for his documentary Simeon needs to plan the shortest, quickest and cheapest route possible, and break down the route into area and work out how many different bus companies he’s going to have to get in touch with.
“In terms of preproduction, I don’t have to worry about locations, etc, just making sure I have enough SD cards, enough battery footage, how I’m going to plan where I’m going to stop and charge and upload the data so it doesn’t get lost or corrupt. It’s more planning the journey than planning the film, the film happens of its own accord -I don’t have to write a script,” said Simeon.
It’s also becoming apparent that the £500 which comes with the bursary isn’t going to be enough â€“ it’s looking like there could be a Kickstarter some time in the future, so keep your eyes peeled.
In terms of goal and final look for the film, think something like Supersize Me or Craiglist Joe… only on buses around the UK.
As well as this documentary on the go, and the work in post production, Simeon’s already planning on a new script for the new year.
“Although I’m having 16-8 hours days alongside a full-time job, I think because it’s something I love I don’t think about how long I’ve been working on it,” said Simeon.
“And I’m surrounded by people who love the same thing I do. I attend Shooters in the Pub once a month, and I’m on a pub quiz team with pretty much the majority of my crew from my last film.
“All of my friends love film or are involved in the local film community. Having good support from my friends is quite key to me.”
In terms of inspiration, Simeon cites Edgar Wright, Ben Wheatley, Quentin Tarantino and Matthew Vaughan, alongside local filmmaker James Cotter.
“I was just working as a runner and clapper loader and seeing the way he directs people and talks to people -I gathered inspiration from him, and my best friend Tommy who I co-wrote and co-produced with, and he directed Nowhere Place. He’s a great inspiration to me, even though he’s been my best mate for ages,” said Simeon.
“I think Exeter especially is becoming the creative hub of the South West, and the Phoenix is the creative hub of Exeter. It’s where local films are being shown, they’ve build a new cinema in the building and they offer so many courses for filmmakers, commissions for self-employed people and equipment hire.
“In Two Short Nights the auditorium was full, and in the bar afterwards everyone’s there talking about film, discussing their projects, talking about what they love, and I’m really lucky to be where I am and to be surrounded by so many creative people.”