Chris Overton started his career as an actor working on TV and film projects with directors such as Joel Schumacher (Phone Booth, House of Cards) and Oscar winner Roman Polanski (The Pianist, Chinatown) as well as being part of the main cast of BAFTA-winning film Pride. Now he has been Oscar-nominated for short film The Silent Child which he used Mandy.com to help crew. Here Chris talks to Mandy News about his path to enjoying Oscar nomination and how Mandy came in handy.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the industry.
My name is Chris Overton and I’m and actor and a director. I’ve just directed a short film which has just been nominated for an Oscar, which is crazy. I’ve been in the industry since I was eight years old as an actor. When I was 20, I set up a company called Slick Showreels. Myself and Danny Ormerod run it. That developed into Slick Films, which did The Silent Child. I’ve always been in the industry from a very young age.
Was it something that you studied at any point? How did that come about?
In school we had to make a little film for media when I was about 13 or 14, and I was absolutely fascinated by it. I remember watching the editing process on a Pinnacle 8. It was incredible. I remember lying to my mum and saying we had to have a video camera for our project at school, so for my birthday I got a Sony video camera.
It was a way of keeping out of trouble. Instead of causing trouble, we would make films on the weekends. I would rally all my mates up and not let them go home for dinner when they were supposed to. Right from a young age we were making little films, little documentaries, all sorts of different projects.
When did you make the transition from being an actor to directing? It sounds like it was already in you from a very young age.
It was. I actually always loved acting more than anything. I really enjoyed doing that, but I’ve always enjoyed the other side of it from a very young age as well. I was very fortunate to work with directors like Roman Polanski, Joel Schumacher, Matthew Warchus.
I had seen them work from an acting point of view and I had been fascinated by how they did it. I’ve been lucky enough to take on board what they do and how they approach directing actors. It feels like my acting has been training to be a director.
The transition really started when I started Slick. We do showreels for actors, singers, dancers and performers. I was very much still an actor, directing showreel scenes and a couple of corporate videos. Me and Danny Ormerod, the co-owner of Slick, would work together on nearly everything.
The Silent Child came up and it was an amazing script. I just said, "We have to make this." We did. It’s actually my first official film, although I’ve done little directing bits here and there. The Silent Child is my first ever film.
That’s fantastic. Could you tell us a little bit more about The Silent Child and how that came about?
Rachel, the writer and actress in it, is my fiancé. She has been campaigning for deaf awareness for well over a decade. Her dad lived the last two years of his life profoundly deaf. He went deaf overnight when she was 12 and passed away when she was 14. From that moment, she learned sign language and really got involved in the deaf community. She saw the struggles that they faced, especially deaf children. That really touched her heart, from her own experience.
We got together and she said she had an idea for a film. She told me the idea and I told her she had to write it. She showed me the first draft, and I was like "Oh my god." We did a research documentary, that was called Deaf Not Stupid. We went full on and made The Silent Child.
Throughout that process, mandy.com has just been so amazing, because it’s the only place that we could turn to. We essentially had no money to work with, we did have a budget but it was all crowdfunded – we didn’t get any help from film councils or anything like that, so it was really tight.
It was especially hard because Maisie Sly, the lead, was five years old at the time and profoundly deaf. Child licensing is really difficult, to have a child on set for long hours, so it really extended the shoot. Obviously, time is money, and it came to a point where we were missing pockets of crew. In the end, we didn’t even have a costume designer or set design, because we just couldn’t afford it. People had to double up on jobs.
I remember calling a guy called Bryn Williams. I just saw his photo – I don’t really trust anyone or would hire anyone without a photo, to be honest. He had this cheeky little face and he had just done one job before. I just thought I’d give him a call because I really liked his application. I asked if he wanted to come down and do the shoot and he said yes. Bryn now works constantly for us as a shoot editor at Slick Showreels, and will do all our other projects. Our cinematographer, Ali Farahani, is just an absolute genius and we found him on here. We found him quite a few years ago, so he’s been working for us quite a long time.
The opportunities board really helped our production. It was a big part of finding crew. That’s a tool that you can post a job that is an opportunity, as opposed to a financial opportunity. It’s nice that there’s that to offer, because there are projects out there that have real heart and a strong script, but don’t have the resources to do that. That was so helpful for our project.
We found certain people through that, just by telling them the story. It almost gives us the opportunity to pitch. We got our sound recordist from there, Papercut Media are on mandy.com and they did our beautiful drone shots. In terms of finding crew, it was a saviour, to be honest. It’s an amazing platform, and if anyone’s ever in that position, I would highly recommend it.
The Silent Child had a strong message and we were trying to do something with the film. Without being too political, we’re trying to get sign language in all schools across the globe. When people got the opportunity to read the script, it was up to them if they then wanted to be a part of it. It gave us a platform to pitch, and I think that’s amazing.
Getting an amount of people to work on a project like what you were doing for free, is the script the reason that they get involved when there’s no budget?
I think so, and people bind to people. I took the time to call all these people and have a chat with them on the phone to tell them the idea and what we were doing. It’s very hard to believe in something when it’s words coming out of someone’s mouth. I always bind to people. Me and Danny have always believed that it’s not all about talent. Obviously, that’s exceptionally important, but it’s also about personality, if you can work with people and if they fit in.
We always say we try to find people like they are at the Apple store. You go into the Apple store and they’re a certain type of person, that’s what we try and look for. That suits your project, sometimes you have a different script and you might look for a certain type of person.
With regards to the actual production and the shoot, how long did you prep for the shoot and how long did you shoot for?
A big part of it was fundraising, so we took about 9 months to fundraise. It was on Indiegogo. The budget that we were aiming for was £10,000. We just got slightly over that, and then we forgot that Indiegogo take commission, Paypal take commission, and then there’s credit card payment. So we actually ended up with just under £10,000. That was really tough.
We did 10 production days, which is a long time for a short film, but because of the child licensing, it had to be. We couldn’t do those long hours. Also, when you’re not really paying crew what you should be, it’s hard to expect them to do 16 or 17 hour days, you just can’t do that. We tried to be really fair and look after people and make it a shoot that was enjoyable. It was a very gruelling shoot, but at the same time we really tried to look after people as well.
It sounds like everyone coming together on a project like that really helps see it over the line.
We had this feeling on set that we were making something special. Maisie is a little girl who is actually profoundly deaf. It’s so funny, she just ruled the set. All these adults were just waiting for her to sit in her place and do what she needed to do. It was a really funny experience.
Could you tell us a little bit about your working relationship with the producer and writer throughout the making of the film?
We're very lucky because we have a very good working relationship. I can’t really say much more than that. It’s been very full on for two years. It’s just such an exciting journey and such a team effort by everyone involved. Everybody thought we were making something special, so it was a real team effort.
How did the Oscar nomination come through? Tell us a little bit about that moment.
There was a live stream. We were told to film ourselves. I thought, I couldn't bear to film the reaction. Lots of news channels have picked that up now, so we’re really glad we did film it because it went our way. We just thought, the worse that can happen is that we delete the video. It’ll be embarrassing for us and no one else.
We had Maisie and her family over, the cinematographer, and Rachel. We are all sitting there and watching this live stream. There were a few categories announced before. Time just seemed to stop still when they said, "Here are the nominees for Live Action Short Film."
We worked so hard for two years. It’s been the most amazing journey and we’ve all reflected on it. We’ve always said, we’ve done so well anyway, we’re proud to just be shortlisted and down to the last 10. Whatever happens, you just think, in about five seconds everything we’ve tried to work for could go one way or the other.
It was a really weird moment. It just stopped and went very slow. They read out three other films before us: DeKalb Elementary, The Eleven O’Clock, My Nephew Emmett. On the video, you can see my eyes flick down. Then they said The Silent Child. It was the most mental moment. It was crazy. I couldn’t put it into words but it was relief, I think.
Obviously, fingers crossed for you. It’s fantastic to be nominated. After this project, what is next on the horizon for you and your team?
There are a few things. We have some really good guys we found on Mandy. Although the showreels are low-level film making, we’ve had so many guys come our way and join our team. We’re always on the hunt for new cinematographers. They can collaborate and work with new directors. We’ve built a really good relationship with some of the ones that we’ve found. If they have a story they want to tell, we want to make that film.
Louis Russell is a Mandy member. He’s a really good guy on our team. He’s developing a script and Slick wants to make that. We want to support all our team in making their projects. That’s for Slick Films.
For me as a director, for Rachel as a writer and for the Slick team, we feel The Silent Child has legs to be something longer. Rachel is developing the screenplay for that at the moment. We don’t want to rush it because this is so special. At the moment, there’s a lot of pressure to have a script ready in time for the Oscars. You can rush something out and make the money, but it just wouldn’t be the same, so we want to take our time with it and do it in the right way. We feel like this story could be a feature or a drama or something bigger.
That’s fantastic. What advice do you have for up-and-coming actors and directors, people who really want to get involved in the industry and follow in the footsteps of people like yourself?
It’s so cliché and so obvious, but work really, really hard. I honestly think if you work really hard and you’re consistent in what you do, and you stick to it and just go for it, it will pay itself. Just put in the hard work.
The best people we’ve worked with are there to get the best out of themselves. They’re not necessarily doing it for the money at this stage in their career. It depends what stage you’re at in your career. I like Paddy Considine’s saying: "One for the money, two for the showreel." That’s a really good saying because there are those projects out there.
For a lot of people that got involved and gave their time for nothing for The Silent Child, it now is going to pay dividends. It’s going to help them get their next job. At the time, although it might not seem like it offers a lot, a lot of people believed in that and gave their time for nothing. In the end, I think the rewards are great.
I would say, don’t be scared if you believe in a project. Don’t be scared to commit to something and give it your all. It’s not always about the money.
When and how did you hear about Mandy? How did you come to be a part of the Mandy community?
It used to be Film & TV Pro and Casting Call Pro. We needed crew for our showreels. As the company grew, we had a demand for more crew and more actors, so we used Casting Call Pro to find some actors. We’re actors ourselves so we knew a lot anyway, but we still needed certain specific types and things.
We really didn’t know that many crew members, so we put an advert out looking for crew members on Film & TV Pro (now Mandy Film and TV). We just put adverts out for editors and cinematographers, and we had interviews. To be honest, we used to put personality before talent.
I don’t know of any other resource like it. It’s just an amazing resource. The new design is so easy to navigate around when you’re shortlisting people, and you can message them back. It’s so easy to use, it’s great.
Congratulations!!!! We have been in one selection with this amazing film in Rhode Island Film Festival! My film Faith got First Prize for Best Cinematography and The Silent Child got The Best Short! I'm so proud for Chris Overton! Fingers crossed!
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