How I Made my Debut Short Film ‘Black Fish’ for the BBC – by Simi Abe

A still from Black Fish, written and directed by Brunel Creative Writing graduate, Simi Abe.

On September 16th 2019, I was fortunate enough to have my short film ‘Black Fish’ added to BBC iPlayer and shared across the BBC Arts social media pages. It all came about because I applied to the BBC New Creatives development scheme. And I only came across the scheme by chance while scrolling through Facebook. 

The Application 

When I saw the post on Facebook about BBC New Creatives, I was most interested in the fact it was open to both emerging filmmakers and those without prior experience.  I fell into the latter category; I’d only decided I wanted to direct films the year before, just after completing a degree in Creative Writing. So coming across this opportunity to have a short film funded by the BBC and Arts Council England, that could be shared on one of the BBC platforms, seemed like a great learning experience. And fortunately, I had a script for a short film that fit the brief: under 5 minutes. 

Although it looked like the perfect opportunity for me at the time, I almost didn’t apply. I was worried that my script was too ambitious (it was) and that I wasn’t up for the task of directing it. Thankfully, I went out on a limb and sent in my application. 

To apply, I had to send my application to one of the five media organisations assigned to different parts of the country. They functioned as support to the New Creatives, our production partners and they bridged the gap between us and the BBC. These media organisations cover: London, South East, South West, Midlands and the North. Living in the East, I sent my application to Screen South.

The Interview 

I knew the process of making the film would have to be completed within three months, yet I was still surprised to get a response to my application so quickly and was asked to come in for an interview in five days. Naturally, I was nervous; I had little interview experience and this one was conducted by three people. Fortunately, it went well and three days later I heard that I had been a successful applicant. 

The Training 

Three training days were held over two consecutive weekends led by the team from Screen South. The training was held in London and we had talks and exercises about the script: how to approach the story, how to edit it, storyboarding, distribution, working with a crew and the logistics of the scheme. It was a useful three days in which I also got to meet the other New Creatives and heard them talk about the stories they were hoping to tell. We all had varying backgrounds and levels of experience and although I was one of two people that had never made a film, most of us hadn’t been a part of a development scheme. Knowing I wasn’t alone in that sense was encouraging.

Pre-Production to Post

I applied for the scheme in March, the training days took place in April and the films needed to be completed by June. It was a tight deadline and quick turnover but it was necessary to keep momentum. So the Monday after the last training day, I shouldn’t have been surprised (and yet I was) that work would begin at full steam. 

Screen South had set me up with two producers and they had planned for a two-week pre-production period and the filming would be done in one day. Naturally, there was a lot to work out in such a short space of time – the script had to be edited to accommodate the budget and time we had (edited six times, to be exact), the storyboard, the shot list, wardrobe, actors, props, location, etc… all had to be sorted and signed off by Screen South in time for the shoot. 

Filming was a little hectic because we had a number of tight deadlines and time restrictions. The script, although short, had a fair amount of action and would have been more conveniently shot across two days. Yes, it was a stressful day and I went into it a little nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. I was on my feet all day except for the brief minutes I spent having lunch, but in spite of this, I enjoyed the experience of being on location and seeing something I had written slowly come together. It was a long but valuable day for my development as a filmmaker. I learnt a lot from my shortcomings and mistakes, all of which will be informative going forward. Not only that, but it also served as a lesson in trusting my ideas and being sure about how to communicate them.

Post-production began at the start of May and ended at the end of June. It was surprisingly the longest part of the process. It took twelve versions of the edit and many revisions of the score. It was enjoyable working with the editor and composer to rework the film and share ideas. I felt confident in my choices even when they had to be revised after receiving notes from the executive producers at Screen South. It took a lot of back and forth to get the film ready for the colour grade and sound mix at the Post House. At times it didn’t seem like it would come together but eventually, it did and it was a huge relief seeing the film completed.

Post Post-Production

When the film was sent to the BBC at the end of June, I didn’t anticipate that I’d hear from Screen South in September congratulating me that my film had been selected as one of the first to be on BBC iPlayer. And better than that, it was the first to be shared on social media. It has had 46,000 views across Facebook and Twitter to date, which I didn’t anticipate. It’s been humbling and encouraging having seen the response of friends, family and strangers online. It’s motivated me to keep pushing towards my goal of being a filmmaker which feels all the more possible now.

My short film, Black Fish is available to watch online now and you can find out more about the BBC New Creatives here.

Simi Abe

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