The enterprising Chet Jethwa is a chum of the equally enterprising Borehamwood-based Jason Cook, about whom I’ve blogged before.
Chet has a movie he directed currently being sold at the Cannes Film Festival. So we had a chat via Skype this morning.
“I’m originally a kung fu martial artist,” he told me. “I got into the film world when I was asked to do a fight scene in a low budget film a friend was making – The Estate. I went along for the day and played a Bruce Lee type character in a fight scene and had fun.”
“So how did you end up directing your own full-length feature film?” I asked.
“Well,” he told me, “I decided to do more movies, but no-one gave me the time of day, which basically pissed me off. So I told myself: I’m going to do it myself. So I decided to make a few short films and get some producing, acting and directing experience.
“My first 10-minute film – D.O.D. – won at the Angel Film Festival in London in 2009. This gave me the confidence to continue and I met Jason Cook on that. The second short I made – 55 Hill Rise – was the incentive I needed to move onto feature films. Jason helped me to produce that. I shot it, completed the final edit, put it on the shelf and then started writing my feature Carlos Gustavo – the one that’s now at Cannes.”
“Why this particular idea?” I asked.
“Well, because it’s not your typical British film,” explained Chet. “Carlos Gustavo is a South American hit man who has been hired to come to Britain and find a biological weapon by hunting down a scientist. He is a psychopath – Carlos is – but, on this mission, he’s not allowed to kill the guy because he has to bring him in alive. In the process, you’ve got MI5 chasing him, but they are not as competent as they should be.”
“And,” I asked, “he manages to kill a few people using kung fu?”
“There isn’t a lot of martial arts in the film,” said Chet. “It’s more to do with the characters.”
“How did you get finance for a film about a South American hit man running around Britain not killing people with kung fu?” I asked.
“It was very difficult,” said Chet, “and I pulled-in a lot of favours from everyone. But we shot it in just under thirty days in HD. We had to change a couple of cast members halfway through filming, so we had to re-shoot all those scenes, which added another couple of days, then we went straight to post production.”
“Why did you have to change the actors?” I asked.
“They didn’t get the concept, basically.”
“Which bit of the concept didn’t they get?”
“Well, Apocalypse Now!,” I said, “was re-cast after a week’s shooting. Martin Sheen replaced Harvey Keitel. And that worked well.”
“It happens,” said Chet. “Whatever the budget.”
“When did you finish Carlos Gustavo?” I asked.
“About a month before Cannes started,” said Chet, “so there was a lot of rush going on to get it out there in time. We got an international sales agent involved – Eddie Leahy.”
“What interested him?” I asked.
“That Carlos Gustavo is a different type of action thriller,” said Chet. “It has a lot of interesting twists. What you see at the beginning and what you think all the way through the film… In the end, you find out something completely different. It’s a really big story twist. What attracted everyone to get involved was the storyline.
“We’re hoping to get the international territories first and then bring it over to the UK and USA. I did a lot of research before shooting and people want strong characters rather than it all being action. This film, hopefully, will create an emotional response, rather than just having lots of action thrown in. It focuses more on emotional response.”
“I did see research once,” I said, “which found that, when audiences watch violence, they don’t look at the punch or the bullet hitting the victim; they look at the face of the victim. So their eyes don’t watch the action, they watch the reaction.
“In martial arts,” I prompted, “you’re in total control of what’s going on, but making a film is anarchy and everything changing…”
“Yes,” said Chet, “ it’s very difficult. You just work hard and keep hopeful, really. It’s certainly very difficult to get finance up-front.”
“And the cliché,” I said, “is that you never make money out of movies because the distributors nick it all.”
“It happens,” said Chet. “Creative accounting. But I’ve done my maths and we’ll have to be hopeful, really. Just get the film out there.”
“What about piracy?” I asked. “If you have a film that makes $200 million, you can afford to lose $20 million but, with small-budget films, online piracy can wipe them out and the distributors don’t/can’t stop it.”
“You can never be sure what will happen,” said Chet. “It’s really difficult to get the support you need from the industry people, so you’ve got to do it yourself. It’s very hard to get an opportunity, so you’ve gotta make the opportunities yourself.”