Lewis Coates, Class of 2014 | Ch4 Random Acts: When Voices Unite

Random_Acts_logo_RGBHi all – hope you had a great summer! I regularly enjoy reading what fellow Lincoln grads are up to in the media world, so thought I’d discuss my most recent project. In February I was commissioned to write and direct a short film about social media for Channel 4’s ‘Random Acts’. When Voices Unite (2017) has been broadcast by them on their online platforms it has recently been shortlisted for an award at Danny Boyle’s Shuffle Film Festival in London and Cinemagic in Belfast!

Since graduating, I’ve been working for a creative video production agency in Lincoln, filming and editing adverts and web videos for clients such as Mercedes-Benz, smart and Volkswagen. After 2 and a bit years, I’m now Lead Video Production– driving to shoots across the UK and developing my production skills in a variety of new areas as well as honing my cinematography and editing skills. In my spare time, I’ve continued to work on freelance video projects, as well as writing short film scripts ready for the rare opportunity I have some free time to make them!

LewisCoates-2014Grad.jpg.Being part of a small production company has a lot of challenges – not only competing with big production houses for the work in the first place, but coming up with creative and innovative ideas for clients, that fit within their (sometimes quite strict) brand identity. We have to be multi-talented and always on our toes; ready to edit one day, film the next, and picking up the slack wherever it may be!

I’ve been a big fan of Channel 4’s Random Acts for a while, as it’s a great platform (and one of the few) that showcases short films and much more experimental work that would usually get unseen in the wide internet spectrum. As well as their online channel and late night showcase show on Channel 4, Random Acts also tours UK film festivals with interactive displays where the public can put on headsets and watch short films on-the-go. I heard it was coming back for a 2017 season and knew Channel 4 have always favoured risky, innovative and modern themes in their productions, so I pulled together some ideas I had been working on and wrote a script that I thought would tick their boxes! I was then called in for a production meeting to discuss the funding and my role in directing the project. I was also told they’d like to broadcast it as part of their April season – and it was late February… so the whole project had to go from script to screen in just over a month!

As well as the speedy production, the main challenge I had when making this short was the length. Random Acts shorts have to be under 3mins including credits, which is much shorter than I’ve had experience making in the past. I had to create a concept that was modern and edgy, thematically in-line with what Channel 4 would be looking to commission, but also a narrative that could build character, action and resolve in under 3mins.

A lot of Channel 4’s recent drama has showcased a love for visually dark futuristic thrillers (Black Mirror, Utopia, Electric Dreams), so I wanted to create something in a similar vein to catch the attention of commissioners and ensure my short was in-line with their brand identity. ‘When Voices Unite’ plays from start to finish it’s as a live social media video.

A young social activist starts a live video and the comments appear at the bottom, interacting with her. She tells her followers that she’s tracked down a GPS location to a possible government research facility that has been tracking public data; although her followers are watching her investigate further, she soon realises that if things don’t go to plan – in reality, she’s on her own.

As well as writing the story, I directed it over a hectic evening in Birmingham with the Random Acts production team and co-edited it with them the following day. This isn’t usually how I’d prefer to work – the more pre-production and production time, the better – but this was obviously an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, so it was bound to have its difficulties! After being broadcast on their online platforms, I was given a small budget to send the piece to film festivals and this month I was told it had been shortlisted for an award at Danny Boyle’s Shuffle Film Festival in London. The short film played before the 2017 horror-satire feature ‘Get Out’ at the festival in an eerie, but serene, outdoor cemetery. The award ceremony is later this month, so fingers crossed I get to meet Danny Boyle – whatever the outcome!

Tips about short filmmaking? Never stop writing! Jotting down ideas that will slowly develop and merge and transform. Keep an eye out for short film competitions and funding opportunities, there are loads out there for Under 25s, so I’m only a year off not being able to enter them myself! Think about the audience for your short film, whether it be festival judges, young people online; sometimes the festivals have themes for submission needs and if you have a selection of half-written ideas and scripts, it’s a lot easier to find the right one, develop and merge them, rather than starting from scratch.