In September 2020, writer, director and filmmaker Reece Lipman with a cast and crew of 15 people descended on Worthing to shoot the Principle Photography for Ice Cream & Doughnuts, a poignant short romantic drama staring Jamael Westman and Anita-Joy Uwajeh.
We spoke to Reece, his producer Max Marlow, and DOP Angela Zoe Neil to get an insight into this short film and their careers.
Producer(s) - Max Marlow, Niccolò Cioni
Director - Reece Lipman
DOP - Angela Zoe Neil
Photos – Alfred Barwick
How did you get started in this industry?
Reece: I started as a script reader for a film finance company about 10 years ago. I met Niccolò (one of our producers) here and we always stayed in touch when we both left. At the time I was making my first short film, Circles, and Niccolò gave me some great feedback on it and was always happy to offer advice. I also did lots of running work on music videos, commercials and short films where I could get it. Basically just trying to learn whatever I could meet as many people as I could and then use that to make my own films. I eventually went full time as an in-house filmmaker at a small production company and tried to improve bit by bit with everything I made.
Max: My start, aside from making shorts with friends and connecting with other filmmakers online, came after pestering Lucasfilm with my CV on a weekly basis till I finally landed my first on-set job as Asset Assistant on ‘The Rise of Skywalker’. With the name on my CV and a newfound understanding of how films worked on that large a scale, work became easier to find with each job and film-shoot along the way.
Angela: I started out in photography before working on film sets for EPKs, that got me close to the camera team and I realised where I wanted to be. After doing some work as an AC and shooting a couple of short films with friends, I applied to the NFTS. This was a great experience that really opened up my film world. I’m now 3 years out and it’s been hard work, but great fun.
What inspires you?
Reece: I know it's corny, but telling stories and creating something. Seeing an idea come together into something more. It still baffles me that I can have an off-hand thought 4 years ago, and suddenly we're bringing together 15 people (most of whom have never met) on a pier in the sunshine on the south coast to bring it to life. That's incredibly cool.
Max: For me, it’s in the anticipation of an audience’s reaction. I started out making shorts a decade ago on my friend’s Sony Ericsson to share with our 20 subscribers on YouTube at the time. Whether it was one of those subscribers commenting something nice on those videos, or sharing later projects to friends and family or current projects to thousands online – my inspiration to create always stems from the way we can make people feel through story. After all, what’s the point of making a film if no-one is going to see it?
Angela: For me, a good story is the basis, you want to love it and feel passionate for the project, next has to be a good team. A team that works well together and are all just happy to be there and finally the ability to work with a good kit rental house. There are some great rental places out there that will bend over backwards to help you get the kit you need to make the best out of your shoot, so having a great production team and a great rental company can really turn everything from a struggle to pure fun!
Can you tell us about your project, Ice Cream & Doughnuts?
Reece: The film takes place on a sunny afternoon in a small British coastal town and Robbie (29) and Emily (27) are at the apex of that magical first 6 months of a relationship where every moment is an adventure and they know they’re on the cusp of something special. But as talk turns to the future and the excitement of planning what comes next, the first cracks start to appear. For Robbie, the future means building a life and a family with Emily. But Emily dreams of leaving that town and of ‘being more’. She has struggled, fighting tragedy and society’s expectations with the goal of one day achieving everything she wants to in life, and she is determined to get there. Life is more fun when they’re together, they know that for a fact. But questions arise around the compatibility of these dreams and whether being in love enough to hold a relationship together?
I initially had the idea for Ice Cream and Doughnuts about 4 years whilst filming on Southend Pier. I started to play with the idea of telling the story of a relationship, from beginning to end, played out in real-time on the journey back along the pier. I love a coming-of-age story but most focus on the teen-to-adult journey. Instead, this film focuses on concerns that affect you at the end of your 20s, as you start to understand exactly who you are and what you want from your future life, relationships and love – something I’ve never seen on screen. It’s a modern story about growing up.
You shot this on the Arri Amira, what can you say about it? How was the workflow? What do you think its strengths and weaknesses are?
Angela: The Amira is one of the few cameras that is really built for handheld work. It’s solid, nimble, well balanced and comfortable. As the entire shoot was going to be shot handheld with several long walking one-shot scenes, it was really important that I felt comfortable with the camera on my shoulder. As for choosing Alexa over any other brand, we knew we wanted a very soft natural feel to the look of the film. I have always found that Alexa has a more gentle touch with colours and is kind on skin tones, which was an important factor as we had both lighter and darker skin tones we were working with. As the film was also set outside in one location through the course of a day, we had to work a lot with available light and I really liked the combination of natural light with the feel of the Amira.
And on the lights, did you manage to get the style you wanted? What choices did you have to make during the shoot?
Angela: We were working with a lot of natural light. We were very lucky that it was a fairly stable weekend with not too much change in the weather, which was a great help. Predominantly we were looking to just enhance the feel we were getting from nature. Using larger pieces of kit did become a bit tricky as we were battling a windy promenade and moving characters! So we had a lot of handheld reflectors and lights that we could move around a little easier.
How was it shooting in these COVID times?
Reece: Obviously, we were incredibly anxious beforehand but, as we shot outside the whole time and we all wore masks, stayed as distant as possible and were alert it all went ok. The crew knew the rules and were happy to follow them, so grateful were we all to be working again. You do miss the closeness of being on set a bit and it was sad to not be able to have wrap drinks on the beach after such a mammoth effort by everyone. Plus we had to sacrifice some elements of the script (no kisses here) but it does make you think in new ways. As with every other filmmaking challenge, you just adapt. There were also some bizarre things, like the fact that Max and I – who had started prep via Zoom - had never met in person until we arrived on set. I can't say I've had that experience with any other producer I've worked with before!
Angela: Our production team were great, everyone had masks, sanitiser, single-use drinks and meals. In general, it ran very smoothly. I think working outside gave us an extra bit of ease to the whole thing. The only problem I have found is when using the eyepiece with a mask on. It has a tendency to fog up, which can be a bit frustrating! But otherwise, it was very smooth for me and my team.
How would you describe your style?
Reece: I'm a strange mix between a massive planner and someone who likes to freeform. I always spend a very long time getting the script right, making sure each beat works and ensuring that I know what I want. Angela and I had a long recce on the pier, planning out each angle, knowing what we needed if the wind changed direction, and what time we needed to be where with the sun etc. (my 1st AD experience kicks in there hard!). I worked with the actors in the limited time we had, really making sure that they took ownership of the characters so that by the time the camera was rolling they really understood each beat, the reasoning for each line and what we wanted to convey. This also meant I was happy to adapt if something wasn’t working and needed to be fixed. If we can't shoot that crazy long take idea I had, then fine. Line of dialogue not working on the day? Cool, scrap it, say what feels natural. If we make a better film by doing something else then great! I find this then allows us to play around a bit more and experiment as we can get 1 version quickly and then easily pivot to try out something new. Plus, I am more than happy for someone to chime in with a better idea and mix it up. Filmmaking should be as collaborative as possible.
It is also really important to me that everyone takes ownership of the project and feels involved and important. I've been on film sets where the production assistants are ignored or bossed around which I hate. On our set, everyone was valued, everyone had input and it meant that throughout the shoot, everyone was excited and positive. This is a stressful job, but it's also incredibly fun. And I always want to remember that when directing.
What was the most memorable part of the shoot?
Reece: There is one shot in the film that is effectively a 4-minute single take, tracking around the characters. We shot this at sunset on the first day and the weather was more spectacular than we could have possibly hoped for. I think we got it on take 8, with about 5mins to spare before we lost the sun entirely. That was the moment that I knew everything was coming together better than I could have ever imagined.
Angela: It was such a fun shoot through-out, so many great moments, like our opening shot with a beautiful original song played live by Jamael. Our final shot of the shoot, it was sunset, we had a final, quite emotional scene and this gorgeous golden fading light behind, I think that made everyone’s heart melt a little. And then a few funny times, like having to run down the promenade to get a shot before the ice cream melted haha!
What made you choose Direct Digital and how did we help you with this project?
Max: As a producer who’d worked with Direct Digital on my last short film, ‘VINCENT’, they were already the first choice supplier of gear when looking for ‘Ice Cream & Doughnuts’. Everything on our kit-list was available in one place, and we had great communication with Camille in Sales that made for last-minute logistics to be dealt with as efficiently as possible. With regards to the scale of our project and the climate in which we were filming, Direct Digital also helped work our kit-list to fit a budget that worked for both parties better than any competitor could offer, so without that help, the production pipeline may have suffered once reaching post-production.
What's the strangest / funniest thing that’s happened on set?
Reece: Not sure if this is "funny haha”, or “funny argghhh", but at dinner the night before the shoot our only Production Assistant pulled out as her brother had been coughing and we couldn't risk it being COVID. Obviously, this was really unfortunate and scary. Well, about 10 minutes later, with me anxious already, but now more so, Max excuses himself, posts an Instagram story, and comes back suddenly with 3 new production assistants, none he’s ever met before, all from social media, and all 3 were amazing. Filmmaking in 2020. It's mad.
Max: Half-way through day one, as we’d blocked off a section of the pier and curious passersby watched us from a distance, a rumour went around that Brad Pitt was filming something in Worthing. Whilst this wasn’t true at all, I felt a sense of pride in knowing that we looked professional enough as a production to even have Brad Pitt in the team at all.
Angela: The local people seemed to be great. As soon as we needed some extras, they were popping up all over the place! I remember one family who purposely came back the following day to sit and watch us at work! And as for funny, oh there were many, running across the pebbly beach trying to film seagulls (not very successfully haha) Our poor lovely actors having to gulp down at least 3 bags of doughnuts to make the scene! Although I don’t think there were any complaints there!
Do you have any tips for budding photographers/videographers?
Angela: My main advice would be to get on set. Find a way, in whatever capacity possible, to get on set, be a runner, an assistant, whatever way you can. There are so many ways films are made now, you can be a solo photographer, a videographer, part of a small production team, but if you have your eyes set on fiction, then the first step is to get a taste for it. It’s a very different world and just being on set for one time can help you to understand how it all works, what everyone’s job role is and if that’s definitely where you want to be. And if it is, then be super friendly, helpful, work hard and you will get there.
For more information about this short film, please see the video below or visit the project website.