Kickstarter Interview – Creditors

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Over 135 years ago August Strindberg wrote ‘Creditors’, it has seen numerous stage revivals over the years but no-one has tackled adapting this masterpiece onto the big screen – until now.

The story is about a man whose marriage in decline when he is approached by a mysterious, seemingly helpful stranger whose intentions might not be as honorable as they first appear. Actor/director Ben Cura was hooked after he saw Alan Rickman’s take on the play back in 2008, and has been working on the project since 2011.

Now he has the script, a fantastic cast and the main crew – all he needs is your help in enabling him to put the pieces together.

The Kickstarter campaign began October 12th and will run for 36 days in the hope of raising the £200,000 needed to make the feature. We spoke Ben to determine why he was so drawn to Creditors, his plans for the film and why he has chosen to go down the fundraising route.

Hi Ben, could you tell us a little bit about yourself, how you got into the film industry and what influences you’ve had?

I started acting when I was 9 – the first thing I ever did was on stage at the Opéra de Marseilles in France. I then attended the New York Film Academy in Paris years later and eventually ended up training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) in London, from which I graduated in 2011 – and I’ve been lucky to have been working steadily in film, TV and on stage since.

You start off looking at people who have an impact on you when you’re young – actors who’ve moved you or who attract you for some reason – and then you start watching interviews, and reading up on their lives and how they’ve gotten to do what they do. And then once you end up in classical training, you spend three years recalibrating your perceptions to allow yourself to have a completely personal approach to your vocation and your craft.

And once you come out the other end, you begin to have a newly-found relationship with your influences. And in my case, I like to keep an open mind and allow myself to be influenced by as many different people and different disciplines as I can – not just film, theatre – both in front and behind the camera, on stage and back stage – but also art, literature, dance, music, science…  I think the trick is to always remain as curious as you possibly can, and never settle for an ultimatum as a way of seeing things or doing them, even if they’ve worked for you in the past.

This will be your debut feature, what made you decide to both act in and direct the piece? 

“Creditors” is my baby – I’ve been working on it for years, and it was always clear I’d be playing one of the parts in it – and when the time came to decide who would direct it, it felt natural for me to do it. I can’t say I’d be doing the same for any other project – but for this one in particular, it just feels right.

Having written the screenplay, I know it inside out, but I also want to allow it to be a free collaboration between actors, and creatives.

Yes it’s doing (mainly) two things at once, but I am lucky I have found a cinematographer whom I can rely on and trust during those times I’m in front of the camera as well as directing a scene.

What attracted you to adapt August Strindberg’s play, and how do you plan to translate the story onto the screen?

I saw the revival of the play at the Donmar Warehouse in London, back in 2008. After watching it, I couldn’t get it out of my head, and I took that as a clear sign I had to do something about it.

I started working on a film adaptation in 2011, and it took me roughly two years to get to the stage where I had a script worth shooting.

What hit me later on in the adaptation process is that the play itself is a finished masterpiece: if you want to perform Strindberg’s original work, do it that way. That is, live, in the theatre.

So I had to separate myself from the play in order for it to make complete sense on film.

In the original play, the action takes place in one space, over a continuous period of time. While this might make for some – perhaps worthwhile – experimental film-making, or simply a teleplay, it quickly became apparent that “Creditors” – the film – needed visual spaces, visual story-telling – a lot of my efforts focused on telling the story visually, getting rid of dialogue – and when appropriate, exploring aspects of the story that the original play version didn’t allow – setting it in England, writing the characters to have different nationalities and ages – making some decisions on plot points that aren’t explicit in the play – it all happened organically and it eventually, and naturally, became a parallel story, inspired by Strindberg’s story, but turning it into a different entity of its own – leaving the original, finished theatre piece untouched.

It also hopefully turns it into something you’d want to watch, even if you already know the play.

 You’ve got some very talented actors in creditors, how did you go about casting the film and what is it like working with them?

I met Christian McKay (Rush, Me and Orson Welles) on a film set in Germany. When the time came to find an actor to play Grant Pierce, I saw him fitting the part perfectly. He’s an incredible actor, and a fascinating person, too. I gave him an early copy of the script (this was back in 2012) and eventually, almost 9 months later, I asked him if he’d want to play the part – and he agreed. Working with him is not only easy – in the most ideal way you’d want it to be as a director, in that Christian is a consummate professional in the strictest sense – but also refreshingly collaborative, as he often will open up the door to a whole different aspect of a scene or of the story itself by simply mentioning one or two things no one has really thought of before – and showing them to you.

I’ve known Simon Callow (Four weddings and a funeral, Amadeus) for years now, and he’s read some very early drafts of the script and offered his many, very astute observations – he’s been an invaluable source of help and support. So has Alan Rickman, who has been kind enough to give me his thoughts on the script and the project – and they have opened up certain avenues I ended up exploring that I don’t think I would have explored had he not mentioned them. The man spent years taking care of the revival of the play after all.

Simon will be in the film, I can’t say who he’ll be playing yet – but it’s an honour and a pleasure to count him as part of my cast.

With regards to Andrea Deck, she worked with Christian in a film before, and I’ve known her for years – we trained together – and she is the perfect fit for our younger version of Tekla – Chloe Fleury.

The Kickstarter campaign has been launched today – how long will it last, how much are you hoping to raise and what made you decide to crowd fund?

Our Kickstarter campaign will run for approximately 30 days. We’re hoping to raise a minimum of £200,000.

There are several reasons why I decided to go down the Kickstarter route. First, a very pragmatic one: this film is not an obvious money-maker, and so for many producers, in order to turn it into something that they will deem to be more valuable – in their eyes – they will want to change things: add marketable recipes that will increase the film’s “selling value” – according to the “rules of the market”. While this is understandable for certain projects, for this film, it would be entirely wrong. And so turning to Kickstarter ensures that we are the ones to make all of the creative decisions.

Secondly, it allows for thousands of people to take part in the making of the film. That’s great, no? How else would you be able to merge fund-raising and collaboration? Not to mention you get to share the process of making of the film with an audience of enthusiastic backers – something you don’t really get to do if you go down the traditional film-making route.

You have some great incentives for backers – can you tell us a bit about them?

Of course – I can tell you about some of them. For example, our top reward gives you an Executive Producer credit, two tickets to the cast and crew screening and party – if you own a company and you want to advertise it, we’ll include it under the “made possible by” section of our credits and across our websites.

We then have a reward tier called “Actor”, which is just that: it allows you to be in one of the scenes of the film, an elegant book-launch party, that has Simon Callow in it. The great thing about this one is that you get a guaranteed credit, in the film – and IMDB – and you get to name your own character – all of this even if you actually can’t physically make the shoot. So essentially, you’re buying a credit in a film. We think that’s great for any actor who needs to grow their CV or anyone wanting to jump-start their credit list.

We then have things like exclusive DVD copies of the film and digital copies, copies of the soundtrack (in which we’ll have original pieces played by members of the cast, and written by and for them), t-shirts, badges, online-streaming screenings of the film, the online video-streaming of the very first cast rehearsal read-through of the script, set visits, “special thanks” credits, a place in our Kickstarter Hall of Fame, public thank-yous on Twitter and Facebook and loads more.

How do you hope to use the funds raised through Kickstarter

We’ve filmed a week’s worth of the film already, which we’re presenting as part of our campaign, and which we’ve called our “Kickstarter Preview”: bit.ly/kickstarterpreview

We like to think of it as the film equivalent of a game “alpha” or “pre-beta” demo – which many game projects on Kickstarter are able to show backers so they know what they’re backing. Many film projects on Kickstarter don’t have this and we feel that it makes it more difficult for backers to trust a team or get excited by a project if they don’t get to see anything tangible beforehand.

Once we raise the funds, we’ll be filming the remaining 4 weeks, on Osea Island, in England – the money will go towards the usual production expenses (they are detailed in our Kickstarter page).

 When are you intending to shoot? and when do you hope the film will be ready for audiences?

We are hoping to film in March/April 2014, so that we can get into the edit in the early summer and hopefully submit the film to festivals at the end of that summer.

What do you think will be the most challenging aspect of this project for you and the crew?

We’re all very confident about the story – so the challenge will be to keep a hold of our collective voice and express it fully in the final film.

If we manage to do this, I think we’ll all be very happy, and we will have a truly special film.

If you could work with anyone – either in front or behind the camera, who would you chose?

I already worked with Danny Boyle, but sadly not for long enough – so I’d like to work with him again. I’d love to pick Anthony Dod Mantle’s brain, too. The chances of working with Terrence Malick are very slim, but I’d be thrilled to be in one of his films. I’d like to sit and watch Spielberg work. Or any of the guys at Pixar. On stage, I’d love to do something with Ian Rickson.

And Lastly what advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?

I don’t have advice – but I can share one very important realisation I’ve had of late: persistence, rooted in instinct, is the most important quality you need to have to get any project off the ground.

Being a fool helps, too.

For updates on the project like the Creditors facebook page and be sure to visit Ben and the team’s Kickstarter page here

Katie Hall is the assistant editor at Critics Associated.