Sir charles & karen wolfe

Man Enough by Karen Wolfe

Five years ago, she left that behind and combined her former training as an actor with her exceptional organisational skills and financial acumen to become a creative producer for film and TV. Karen now runs a successful independent production company, Seahorse Films, alongside director Rebekah Fortune and writer Peter Machen.

Five years ago, she left that behind and combined her former training as an actor with her exceptional organisational skills and financial acumen to become a creative producer for film and TV. Karen now runs a successful independent production company, Seahorse Films, alongside director Rebekah Fortune and writer Peter Machen.

I accidentally produced a short film. I know that sounds a bit strange, but it is exactly what happened. I was managing large events in the city, still trying to act on the side but as every actor knows having a full-time job and trying to pursue an acting career is pretty much impossible.

Some friends of mine had got together to make a short film and asked me to help out. The combination of being creative with the skillset I had acquired in events management seemed like a perfect fit.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome in the process? The other challenge was knowledge. The film industry, whilst creative, is ultimately a business and when you are just starting out it can feel quite overwhelming. Everyone appears to know what they are talking about and you can sometimes feel a little on the side lines. I had to teach myself to budget and schedule.

I am not naturally a numbers person, but I had to learn to be and fast. Excel is now my friend, so it is true, people can change! How did you partner up with Rebekah and at what point did you decide to set up Seahorse Films?

I remember talking about my thoughts of moving into producing and she was currently putting together a short film, so she asked if I wanted to get some hands-on experience. I ended up producing the short and the rest, as they say, is history. We got on so well and it was clearly going to be a strong partnership so shortly after that I joined Seahorse Films and we started developing an interesting slate of projects as a team with a few corporate films here and there to bring in the cash.

We actually had a meeting at Lionsgate about one of the projects and they advised us to go and make that one passion project, as cheaply as we had to, and that is exactly what we did, we made Just Charlie. You started off producing short films, which were privately financed. How did you get people on board with what you were doing and what did you learn from producing those films? The short films were really my film school.

Putting together a team, finding the money, working through the logistics, managing people, expectations and egos but with a shoot that would only last a few days. A short film is essentially a mini feature, you put the same amount of work into planning it, but the shoot is just shorter.

What was it like making the leap from shorts into your first feature, Just Charlie? A little like jumping out of a plane and hoping that the parachute works! Joking aside, it was exhilarating and terrifying! This is my first feature and for a low budget film it is doing exceptionally well. We have all learned a lot throughout the process, when you do something for the first time there is a beautiful ignorance that can make you very brave.

Making a low budget Independent film is always going to come with challenges, but you need to look at these challenges and turn them into opportunities. I often refer to the making of Just Charlie and the process we went through as the vertical learning curve.

Just Charlie, image by Laura Radford Just Charlie is a remarkable and very moving film about an important topical issue, but one that is also very controversial. What particular challenges did that throw up for you as a producer in terms of financing, making and distributing the film? We made the film on a micro budget but somehow made it stretch.

With an indie film there is never going to be enough money and you do have to make very creative and bold choices in order to tell your story. And that is what we did, we told a beautiful story. There was a lot of in-kind help given to us in the way of locations and props, which really helped to keep us on track budget wise, and our post team worked in their own time in between other jobs, so everything took longer but we managed it on a relatively low budget.

I am very grateful to all of our investors for taking a chance on us; we had incredible support from them all along the way.

Interestingly, most of them are not from the film industry, they all had very individual reasons for investing which made everything so much more personal. We had a real obligation to make this film the best it could be. One of the main challenges was casting the role of Charlie. We were very open to seeing boys, girls and trans actors and worked with a great casting director, Ben Cogan. We were looking for the best performance, but we also had a great responsibility to the teenager we chose.

Transitioning is so hard for a young person and we realised early on in the process that a trans actor would be reliving this journey on screen and in some cases in reverse, and that would be quite painful. Harry Gilby simply blew us away in his audition, he has great insight and is a very sensitive and talented young man. Every character in this piece has to challenge themselves, their fundamental beliefs and deal with the emotional consequences.

This is a story about identity, who we think we are and who we really are. Can you remember being a teenager and hitting puberty?

A lot of us will look back and cringe, whilst we may wish ourselves younger, none of us wish to return to that age of uncertainty. Now imagine you hit puberty and realise you are in the wrong body, with the wrong hormones, nothing feels safe and you are all alone.

Just Charlie is a thought provoking, heart-warming, coming of age drama that seeks to tackle a difficult subject whilst being accessible to all.

No one should feel alone and persecuted in this world just because they are viewed as different. What has the response to the film been like? The film is really flying. It is very unusual for us to screen the film and not have people in floods of tears afterwards, I think it really touches a chord with a lot of people.

We have had a fantastic festival run as well and picked up a fair number of awards including the prestigious Audience Award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival last year, which was definitely a highlight. I remember stepping out to do my customary welcome and thank you speech to introduce the film, looking out at the completely packed cinema and completely filling up with emotion.

It was an incredibly poignant festival, being on home turf, it suddenly hit home what we had achieved. Our lead actor, Harry Gilby was shortlisted for a BIFA and is going onto some great things, we are all very proud of him and what he has achieved.

Making a film that carries such an important message came with a lot of responsibility and we have been told countless times that it could save lives. I think as a filmmaker you want to change the world but if we change the world of one person we will have achieved something incredible.

Did you work with a sales agent or distributor to do that and what was the process like? That was quite some trip, my very first film market, alone, it felt very sink or swim. It took a while to figure out how everything worked but I just loitered around sales agent stands until they had some gaps and then jumped in hoping they would talk to me. I had done some research prior to going so I had an idea of who I should be targeting, and I had managed to pre-arrange some meetings, but it still felt quite over whelming.

I ended up with two agents competing for the film which was great, and we went with the company who totally understood the story and the message we were trying to get across. Just Charlie, image by Laura Radford I also wanted to like the people who were now going to represent the film because you are married to them for quite a while. They have also done an incredible job in getting the film out there. What lies ahead for you and Seahorse Films? We have a beautiful film in development called The Plough, working with a brand-new screenwriter, Isabel Dixon.

She has a good track record in theatre and this will be her first feature film, which is very exciting. We also have some projects that Peter Machen is writing including a political action movie, Herne, that is a cross between Robin Hood and Rambo, and some TV ideas, which we are developing.

I am also independently coproducing a feature film, Thirst, with Australia and we are just at the packaging stage. This is my first co-production, so I am expecting another steep learning curve, but all experiences are valuable. Just Charlie has given us all a great platform as a company but also as individuals which is a fabulous position to be in. As a producer you have to have the entire project in your sights at all times and you need to learn to put your ego aside.

There are many egos on set already and you cannot under any circumstances add to that. I learned very early on that whilst something may not be my fault it was always going to be my responsibility and once you establish that you allow people to relax and get on with it. Filmmaking is collaboration and teamwork, people need to feel safe and appreciated and you cannot micro manage everyone.

All of the responsibility is yours but sadly not much of the accolade. So, you need to learn to love the business for what it is and not for the glory. That said, I still get a flutter when I see my name on the screen on my film because I am proud of what everyone did to get us there and because I used to be an actor, so forgive me! What key advice would you give to someone who has been working in another role within the industry — or in an entirely different industry — and wants to become a producer?

I have never been to film school. I trained as an actor, so I came from a completely different side of the business. This film became my film school, the things I learnt producing Just Charlie you would never acquire from a class room or a book and I do strongly believe that the best way of learning is by doing. That would be my main advice, go out and do it.

There is also strength and courage behind ignorance, you will never know everything, so you can make mistakes and you learn. Huge thanks to Karen for taking part in this In The Spotlight interview.. Find out more about Seahorse Films and Just Charlie here.

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