I had wanted to make a short film for a long time. I’d directed a lot of trailers and promotional videos beforehand, which I always hoped would be practice for something more my own. I’d also written a couple of plays, which helped me hugely in constructing the story. But The Wishing Horse is my first short film.
Find your story
It’s a real challenge having to tell a story in ten minutes, but the best shorts are ones with a strong narrative.
The Wishing Horse is only ten minutes long, but I’ve tried to tell a story that plunges you deep down into the main character’s head, into her melancholy and dreamy world. It was also important to me to have some resolution: a lot of short films are mood pieces, or first acts of stories yet to be told, like business cards. I wanted to create something small, but complete, and hopefully that comes across in the finished film.
It’s based on a myth that if you touch the chalk white horses of England, they will grant you a wish. A girl, Lily, who is in mourning for her father, starts to see a strange white horse when she’s by herself. Whether real or imaginary, it helps her deal with her grief.
Assemble a dedicated team
The project started when I asked Aidan Grounds, who produced Playhouse shows like The Hothouse and The Seagull before graduating last year, if he wanted to turn a script I was working on into a short film. Aidan said yes, which was quite a leap of faith because I hadn’t done that much on the scale we wanted The Wishing Horse to be. We then recruited Emily Precious, who had also produced tons of theatre while at Oxford. Em and I got on almost instantly. She has about fifty folders for her emails and colour codes them all.
Next, the three of us started putting together a team. It was comprised mostly of Oxford graduates – I think it’s natural really to want to continue strong working relationships – but we added some very good current students as well, and now that we’ve got to the post-production stage we have been lucky enough to enlist some industry professionals.
Scout out acting talent
We auditioned widely in Oxford and in London and eventually cast Imogen West-Knights as Lily. Imo is a finalist at Exeter College, and she played the part beautifully. We were concerned about finding a natural screen actor, as we were used to working with theatre, but Imogen convinced us immediately: despite her background in comedy she brings a very graceful subtlety to the part. She took the finesse you need for comic timing and very elegantly used it for a more serious role.
Prepare for shooting
With everything in place, I was still very nervous before our week long shoot. There were a lot of things that could have gone wrong, but we had perfect weather every single day and the crew were phenomenal. People were often working on three or four hours sleep a night, and no-one complained. In the end, the whole thing turned out much better than we had imagined it could.
Don’t be shy asking for favours
Post-production is going well, mainly thanks to peoples’ goodwill in giving us discounts on filming permits and a camera. Many of our friends also backed us on Kickstarter, which we were very grateful for. Now Molinare, responsible for films such as The King’s Speech, and Air-Edel, who recently did the music for Anna Karenina, are generously helping to finish the film.
Get it out into the world
The last stage is still to come though, and that’s distribution. We’re knocking up a list of film festivals to submit to at the moment and will push the film as hard as we can over the coming months. I really hope it does well – at the first meeting I had with Aidan we decided that we would aim to screen it at at least one good film festival.
I’d like the film to be seen in Oxford too. I really feel that the film scene is changing in the university at the moment. I’d like The Wishing Horse to be part of that. So many more people are making short films and trailers than a year ago and the quality keeps improving.
Get support from the Oxford Film Fund
Last year, I set up the Oxford Film Fund with Jess Campbell because we were impressed by the high standards of Oxford theatre, but felt that the same wasn’t true for filmmaking. We wanted to make filmmaking in Oxford more collaborative and communal, so that people getting started can draw on the experience of those who have already done it.
I think that is happening now. TAFF and OUDS have already been a huge part of this, and the idea is that The Wishing Horse will keep the momentum going. Everyone on the team (apart from the professionals!) has a learnt a huge amount from the project, and that knowledge should be passed on to current students through the Oxford Film Fund.
No more excuses
I think the only way to learn filmmaking is to just do it. I hope that’s what The Wishing Horse will encourage other students to do. To find out more about the project, visit our website at www.thewishinghorse.com.