By Andy Barnes (Jesus College, 1998)
Protesters infiltrated our lecture theatre throwing eggs and flour! I’ve just matriculated, I’m attending my first engineering lecture on complex algebra, and it’s been interrupted by protesters armed with angry cake ingredients. Mercifully. Oh, egg me, please! Let me get out of here!
I come out of my daydream. The algebra hasn’t become any less complex. Why did I pick engineering science?
During my Oxford course, boxing became a welcome distraction, though it also contributed to my 2:2. Luckily this was good enough for the Ministry of Defence — which truly did interest me — and I passed the MoD’s own assessments. Initially I became an engineer, took on some challenging project-management roles, and got chartered. Then my Top Secret clearances came through and gave me access to more interesting jobs. And after a stint in WMD (weapons of mass destruction) counter-proliferation I went into counter-terrorism.
So now terrorists were mortaring and shooting at me. I might well have wished it were a daydream, but actually this was more like it — more the contribution I wanted to make, more exciting. It was a privilege to mix with the most inspiring and courageous set of people I could meet, who continue to face this threat daily. I did it and came home safe. Not everyone did. I counted myself lucky and after a few more years thought it time to move on.
Far from the dust of Iraq, sand is still in the air but I’m by the crystal sea on the French Riviera. It’s the Cannes Film Festival. I’m in the most exclusive bar on the beach, a privilege afforded to producers for their meetings. Then I head to my next meeting on a yacht. Was this the boat I was dancing on last night? It’s a crazy circus of pizzazz, partying and vehement pitching that’s a far cry from any life I’ve been used to. Who’s that nice lady with the huge gang of friends? Oh, it’s Cate Blanchett.
I’ve been to the film festival once before, when I had the time to stop and chat to Kanye West, no entourage holding people back (he still lived on this planet back then). This year though, it was more about business. It crushed me last time to see people competing with the next group to spray the most magnums of champagne. I watched as their bill came in at a few tens of thousands — that was the development fund I needed for my movie! They only drank one bottle in five. What is going on? How did I get here?
After the MoD I’d fancied an acting course — something I’d never done before. I loved it. People could get paid for clowning around — a big feature in my university and work life. Maybe I was finding something out about myself. Since then I’ve had a few good film and TV roles.
I also have a back catalogue of daydreams from my engineering science lectures which I realised were all vivid cinematic scenes — a huge library of ideas, of films! It hadn’t been wasted time. I am in the right industry now, even if Cannes, with its charm and excess, still seduces and sickens in equal measure.
I have since been commissioned and written some feature film scripts and TV pilots, and I have four film scripts of my own, including my latest, Love+1, a comedy. It’s this script that I’m now producing myself and which has brought me to Cannes. As a professional project manager, this is something I can do: maybe that time wasn’t wasted either. I’ve now learnt about the administrative side of it, regarding investment and the lovely tax breaks the UK government gives.
So I’ve just had four days at the film festival and it’s been immense. The usual response from sales agents and distributors is ‘Come back when the film’s made or you have some major stars attached.’ But after hearing my pitch and seeing how well Love+1 has done in competitions, they’re taking an early interest. I am talking to agents of top directors and A-list stars. This is happening. Soft money funds are there and others interested in matching initial equity, but I’m now looking for private finance for the film. I see it as a win-win for investors, who can earn 30 to 50 per cent back against their tax bill.
It’s well known in the industry that it all starts with a good script. And after a fruitful four days in Cannes the package is coming together.
All images © Andy Barnes.