Director, Writer, Producer
All the prison systems around the western world are being pushed to the brink. One by one they are failing. Now in the US, one man says he has solved the ever growing issue that the underfunding, the lack of staff, the drug fuelled violence and the gang culture has made of ever jail, lock-up, penitentiary and correctional institution around the world.
But what price must be paid for his solution? Must we all look the other way as some sin to save the sinners? Does the end justify the means? Or have we simply reached the point where this is what must be done?
A fictional film based on an ever-present element of truth. THE PROGRAMME takes a blunt look at what we have now, where we're going, and a possible future that may be yet to come.
Antony Spina Biography
Hi, I'm Antony from London, England. I'd like to think I'm one of the most creative and imaginative people I know. I've been writing stories since I was a wee nipper. And just love coming up with ideas that I try to turn into interesting scripts, full of suspense, thrills and laugher. 2 of which I managed to turn into films that both got fantastic reviews and 1 of them, I was brave enough to enter into the festival circuit. And was utterly blown away that it won a bunch of awards, I'm very pleased to say :). All in all, I just love telling stories. And I think I've managed to prove to myself I don't complete suck at it, which of course is great. But I'm looking forward to learning more as I go and becoming the best writer/director I can possibly be.
Antony Spina Statement I don't really know what to write here and have had to take a bit of a guess. So I'll settle for how I like to approach making my films. What I always try and do is, at any stage, whether writing or shooting, no matter how much I'm loving what idea I've come up with at that point, I try and remember to not have too much ego in it. And stop and ask myself, how real does this part of this scene feel? If I couldn't imagine it happening like that in real life, then it needs to be changed. Every bit of fiction comes from an element of truth, I simply try and remember that.
An Interview with Antony Spina
1. Please tell us a bit about how you became interested in filmmaking? How and where did you learn to make films? And which one of your works is “The Programme”?
I’ve always loved films, books and comics since I was a child, and I’m not too sure exactly when it happened but let’s say between 10 and 15 years old, I developed a real passion for storytelling. At the time mind you, there wasn’t exactly a connection to film making as such. I just got into writing stories, some big, some small. Although the big ones rarely got past a few chapters I’m ashamed to say. Sometime later as a young adult, despite not knowing how anything in film industry worked or anyone in that industry at all, I decided that’s the route I wanted to go down. And starting off as all do, as a runner working on shoots and in offices here, there and everywhere around central London. all in all, there were some good times but some hard times too. Many long hours, all of which were severely under paid, dangerously underappreciated and I won’t lie, left me a little emotionally bruised and a tad bitter for a spell here and there. It was very much a tough route to go down to get to where I wanted to be, and I’ve not even got there yet in all truth. But being as close as I am it certainly feels worth it. The entire time I was telling myself I’d be a writer/director one day, but I never had any real plan for how to get there. Until one day, after a slightly drunken conversation with a friend I decided I’d stop saying “I will be a director”, and put into motion actually being one. Off the back of that I wrote a script for a short film called “Sad Little boy”. I suppose in some way all the jobs I’d worked on beforehand gave me a rough idea of how to put a film together, but in all truth I didn’t have much of an idea of what exactly I should be doing. So just went for it and hoped for the best. Was a lot of hard work but that one worked out ok in the end, with the film getting a great review. After that I came up with a new idea called “The Programme” which I put into motion about 6 months later.
2. How did the main idea of this project strike you? And how long did it take you to achieve the final script?
As much as I love a good film, I also love good documentaries as well. I was on holiday in sunny Italy in fact, and strangely enough while lying on the sand beside the sea, I was thinking about a documentary I'd seen back home just before I'd left. God knows how or why, but I was thinking of a particular scene and basically started thinking beyond it. I started to imagine other scenarios for it: "Well, the scene ended with that guy going there, but what if he'd come here? And what if he couldn't do that thing because of this thing?" And other weird notions like that which sent my creative brain into overdrive. Before I knew it, instead of being on the beach working on a tan that I so desperately needed, I was sat at the table back in the apartment writing the script for the film. The first draft took me about 2 days roughly. Another month and I’d finished the final draft. Then about another 5 months after that and I'd saved enough, pleaded enough and pulled enough favours to start making it. This film was a much bigger undertaking than my first and it was hell of a challenge. But worked out very well in the end I’m pleased to say. It’s certainly not your average film at all. In fact, it’s not like anything I’ve ever really seen before. It’s a film set in the near future and based off certain elements of truth, it plays out as if it were a documentary. Where I let my imagination come up with a severe but plausible response to what seems to be a bit of a prison crisis around the modern world. All I did was come up with a ‘what if’ scenario essentially, and then let my creative side go nuts.
3. Tell us about the casting and working with the actors. How did the presence of the actors affect the formation of the characters?
The casting process for me started out well. I’d meet up with all the potential actors beforehand and essentially go through a bit of an interview process. Look at their showreels and quiz them on this film and how the character they were supposed to play made them feel. It was all going smoothly. Then just through general things going wrong as they do, I ended up starting to run out of time and the process became a little too streamlined for my liking, but I just had to get on with it. The Programme doesn’t have a lead actor or actress as such, but instead a lot of people with many smaller but important roles, so there was well over 20 people to get to know beforehand. And considering I was doing all the jobs basically (couldn’t really afford a casting director) in the end I had to take a bit of a gamble of some people. And actually, some worked out ok, but some not so much. But my script was mainly character driven and great thing was how all of the actors who made it into the film in the end could really sync up with their characters. One actress point blank refused to be in the film when I first contacted her on account that the budget was essentially too ‘small time’. But after she read the script, she decided she wanted to do it. That’s nothing but a sign that you’re doing something right, I like to think.
4. What are the freedoms and problems of independent low-budget filmmaking? How do you think the problems of this kind of filmmaking can be overcome?
The freedoms of independent film making are that you’ve not got anyone leaning on you for a certain response born out of a desire to make money off you, rather than to make something beautiful. So, you’re not changing a character’s character because the studio feels they’d like to be represented differently. Or working to a timetable that someone else has given you, because they feel 1 day to shoot this shot is substantial enough, so that’s all you're going to get. When you make a film, especially one you’ve written, you’re pouring your heart and soul into it, and if it’s worth doing it’s worth doing right. Independent films allow you to do that, I think. The last thing you want or need is someone telling you to basically cut corners to meet a deadline they’ve laid down for you. But in the same breath a lot of independent, low budget films makers will be on the other end of that scale. So a director might imagine a certain scene in his/her head. But because they don’t have the budget to bring that particular idea to life in the exact way they want it to be, it could end up looking a bit on the tacky side as it’s not going to be done properly. Which, big picture just brings the quality of the whole film down. So avoid that problem by knowing this in advance. If the film requires a big car crash scene, but you haven’t got the money, nor the time to hire stunt drivers and pay for CG animators to magic-up this and that. Use sound instead. Don’t cut the scene completely, but think of a way around the problem. Showing the main character stepping out into the road. Then cutting to a black screen but we hear tyres screeching, crashes crashing and bodies thumping to the floor. This is just a quick-fire silly example of course, but it could work just as well, if it’s done right. Sometimes less is more.
5. Do you reckon that film festivals around the world are a good way to showcase and present your film?
Yes, I do. I’ll be completely honest and say I didn’t have that much confidence in myself as a director and as a result of that, in my films either. I wasn’t brave enough to put the first film “Sad Little Boy” into the festival circuit I’m sorry to say. But with “The Programme” I decided to be a smidge braver. So I went for a handful of festivals at first, but from all over the world. Then as it was selected here and there and I thought I’ll go for a few more. Then when it won one, I really started to believe in myself from then I guess. It was putting it into festivals and getting eyes on my film that made that change in my opinion happen. And then with it starting to do so well I entered it in to a few more. Then a few more after that. And through all the comments, the selections and the awards, it’s this process that’s made me believe that I can actually do this and do it well. So even if it’s a negative response that comes from entering your film in festivals, it’s a response that you can learn from which will in turn make you a better film maker.
6. What were the viewers’ reactions when they saw the film? Has it been a success among the audience?
I’m very happy to say it’s been a huge success and the reactions have all for the most part been very positive. Something I was genuinely surprised at if I’m honest. In fact, with the first award the film won, I was so nervous that there’d been some mistake that I made myself email the festival just to confirm it was 100% my film that had won. So far to date, the film has been entered in over 60 festivals now, and there’s still some of the results of those to go. But hopefully there’s more good news to come.
7. Your film is an experimental work. Tell us about your achievements in making this film.
Yes, it was an experimental project. For one thing I had no idea in my ability to pull it off, so that was chance enough in itself. But also, the film is very different to mainstream films. If when you watch it, you are left with a bit of a head twister while thinking on a moral conundrum - and it hasn’t bored the complete ass off you in the process of course. Then I’ve done my job well. Obviously it’s supposed to entertain but the idea is that you’ll be so captivated by both the dialogue, the emotion and the situation of the characters that you’ll be glued to the screen the whole time. I don’t think for one second I’ve managed to do this with every member of the audience that’s seen the film so far of course. But I’m certainly glad that it seems to be the case for the majority though. And for me that’s the achievement really. To know that people enjoy watching my films is great in itself. But it also makes me feel more certain that I’m pretty good at this, and to make sure I’m going to keep on at it.
8. A short film has the most impact in the shortest time. Do you think you will remain a short film director or you find it merely a tool that constitutes a preliminary stage for feature filmmaking?
I have loved making short films so far. But part of the process is taking on new challenges and trying to make yourself better in every way. So I see it as a natural progression to move on to feature films at some point very soon, and take on that next challenge. Really at the end of the day, I see myself as a story teller (hopefully a good one). And if I’ve got a good story I want to tell, that suits being a short film better than a feature then that’s what I’ll do. But most of the ideas I come up with and want to write, usually are more on the larger, longer end of the scale.
9. How do you see the place of ethics and the media in our time? And is the media directly related to the issue of violence in today's society?
Tackling ethics in film is in my opinion a bit of a difficult one. It’s absolutely something that you should always try to be aware of in the film making process, and absolutely you should do what you can. But at the same time, I don’t think you should take something away from what could otherwise be a great story, just because of the ethics that encircle it. In the same breath I don’t think you should crowbar something into a film either just because it’s politically correct to do so. If it’s going to make a story’s quality less than what it could be then it seems like a bad idea to me. A film (for the most part) is fictional and as much as people should be entertained by the film in every sense of the word, the audience should also be mature enough not to let it affect them in a negative way once they leave. Unfortunately, I think of films made around sensitive subjects are a little bit like being a referee at a football game. No matter how good a job you do, you’re always going to upset someone.
10. Please tell us about your next project. And currently, what are you working on?
Well it’s almost done and dusted now, but both “The Programme” and my first film, “Sad Little Boy” are going onto a few VOD channels very shortly, I’m very pleased to announce. Including: Google Play, Apple TV and Amazon Prime as well as a fantastic channel called MyProduction.co.uk. So that whole process has kept me very busy lately but thankfully almost complete. Other than that, I’ve been working on my next script for a film called “Promises of Betrayal”. At least that’s the working title for the mo. I won’t go into too much detail about it now, but I will say this one is a thriller about a man who’s tricked into murder. A bit different from the first two films but the script is almost done now, and I’m really pleased with it so far. And hopefully everyone else will be too.