Three years ago, disillusioned screenwriter Richard Hawkins risked career suicide by dropping out of the film industry to try to get a movie made his own way.
That decision paid off spectacularly last week when “Everything,” his no-budget, self-financed directorial debut, won him a surprise nomination for BAFTA’s Carl Foreman award, given to first-time Brit filmmakers.
That’s the equivalent of a self-published rookie novelist being shortlisted for a Pulitzer.
Essentially a two-hander, starring Ray Winstone as a man who keeps visiting a prostitute (Jan Graveson) but only wants to talk, “Everything” was shot back in 2003 over nine days for just $83,000.
From a grungy and unpromising opening in a dark Soho stairwell, the movie blossoms unexpectedly into something by turns comic, moving and lyrical, as the characters slowly reveal their depths.
Its theatrical release last October was confined to a week at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts. Box office was so infinitesimal that distrib Soda Pictures doesn’t even know the figure. DVD release is Jan. 23.
Hawkins, now 39, broke into movies after drifting from producing fringe theater to journalism to building his own house on the Welsh borders. At one time he shared a squat with Blur/Gorillaz musician Damon Albarn, who ended up contributing uncredited to the score for “Everything.”
In 1997, his unsolicited script “The Theory of Flight” was plucked out of the slush pile at BBC Films. But the movie, directed by Paul Greengrass, fell flat.
Hawkins labored on numerous projects, mostly at the BBC, that never saw the light of day. His determination to direct, although he had never shot so much as a short, proved a huge obstacle.
“You aren’t allowed to make a film until you’ve made a film,” he comments wryly. Having written “Theory of Flight” spontaneously, he floundered with the more structured process of treatments, bibles and endless bullet points. “The BBC were terrific, but you end up losing your own sense of direction,” he says.
Eventually he decided, against all advice, to drop out and go it alone.
“I just started typing without plan or plot,” he says. “I wrote ‘Everything’ deliberately to be done by myself, and I was realistic about the means I would have to shoot it.”
His depressing experience of touting scripts around to Soho production companies did at least provide an unlikely inspiration for the storyline.
“I spent the last 10 years going to futile meetings right next door to working prostitutes. You can’t help but wonder what goes on up those stairs,” Hawkins explains.
He enlisted a group of his oldest friends to help him produce it — “whether they had any film experience or not.”
They were film editor Oliver Potterton; Geoffrey Freeman, a New Yorker he knew from his theater days; and Ed Deedigan, who runs Kandu Arts for Sustainable Development, a charity whose causes, coincidentally, include fallout from prostitution.
They worked out the minimum budget and raised it from friends in the U.S. Kandu brought in Winstone, who jumped at the script but was free for only two weeks.
“With Ray on board, it would have been easy to get $400,000, but we had made a deliberate decision to make it outside the industry,” Hawkins says. “The entire crew got paid equity minimum, but Ray worked for nothing. He handed his expenses over to the charity. His first rehearsal was five minutes before the first take, although we did have six weeks with Jan.”
Hawkins shot in hi-def and edited at home in rural Shropshire. He couldn’t even afford a theatrical print. An ally at the British Council (not the U.K. Film Council, which never returned his calls) got the DigiBeta tape into last summer’s Sydney fest, and from there it went to Raindance and the ICA.
But until last week, “Everything” remained a secret known only to a few. The BAFTA nomination should finally change all that.
(Full disclosure: I was on the BAFTA jury that picked Hawkins as well as writer-director Annie Griffin for “Festival,” director Joe Wright for “Pride & Prejudice,” producer Peter Fudakowski for “Tsotsi” and producer David Belton for “Shooting Dogs.”)