Colton's Big Night - Jassa on producing his first film

Colton's Big Night is an official entry in the 50 Kisses film competition. Produced by Jassa Ahluwalia & Katya Rogers. Directed by Sebastian Solberg.

Why did you want to get involved with this production?

Seb. Whatever the production! His dedication and passion for filmmaking resonated with me when we first met at the cast and crew screening of Resistance; I’d done some voice over work on the film and he’d been shooting the EPK. Despite working on different sides of the camera we recognised a shared ambition and we’ve kept in touch ever since. Our first project together was my music video for All Your Letters and that’s where I got the bug for producing. It gave me the opportunity to apply my knowledge of filmmaking beyond the realm of acting and it was a hugely rewarding experience. We worked together after that on a music video for Michael Kiwanuka’s Always Waiting and were discussing future projects when 50 Kisses popped up. He called and explained the premise of the competition. I read the script. I was on board straight away.

Two producers. Benefits of being co-producers?

Katya has expertise and skills that I’ve yet to develop. She can schedule and plan things so efficiently that you’d think she was creating time. That was the huge benefit of co-producing; we could exploit each other’s strengths. We were also both very busy with other projects so if one of us was busy on a certain day the other could take over and it wouldn’t impact the overall running of the production. We could also double check each other’s work, avoiding any costly errors. There was also the benefit of having someone to consult when Seb and I couldn’t agree on something.

Greatest pre production challenge?

Casting Colton. Through my work I’ve had the privilege of meeting some incredibly talented people and casting Anna was very simple. I knew exactly who I wanted and fortunately Hermione was free and keen to be involved. But time constraints and the laws surrounding child performers meant casting Colton would be far from effortless. We had three days! I set the ball rolling by contacting a child agency but I was all too aware that the rules we’re used to bending as filmmakers do not apply to children. So I went back to what I knew. I had been in a film when I was sixteen and had needed a licence from Leicestershire County Council; so I knew to some extent how that particular Local Authority worked. I had also recently come across a short film that Kieran Chauhan (our behind the scenes videographer) had made. It featured a lad a little younger than Colton was initially meant to be but his look and on screen energy was perfect. He was also from Leicester and so I set about getting in touch with his parents and fast tracking the necessary paperwork with the council. We avoided the need for a lengthy licence application process by scheduling the shoot outside of school time, during the day and with his dad as chaperone. In the end we only needed a licence exemption letter which was a lot easier to obtain.

Greatest production challenge?

Turning off the sun. Like I say, we were scheduled to shoot during the day…but the film is all set at night. I received an email from Seb after a recce at the location with a selection of photos attached. They were photos of various windows and other light sources that would need blacking out. I thought he was kidding. There were almost a dozen windows across three storeys (whoever designed this house had a good eye for light) including several skylights and huge glass panels. But it’s amazing what you can do with cardboard, bin liners and black gaffer tape. I was pretty please with having turned off the sun until I awoke on the second day of filming to have Seb tell me over breakfast we needed to re-shoot a shot of Anna entering the house. The only shot we had shot at night because it required total darkness outside. So I finished my cereal, downed a coffee and got my black gaff out. The solution was to create a small boxed space around the frame of the door using cardboard and then seal the edges with black gaff and bin liners before draping a blanket over the whole creation to block any spill. The result was a totally black space just outside the door, just enough for Hermione to step out of and through the door. The greatest challenge but my proudest moment.

Greatest post production challenge?

Perfecting Colton. We had deliberately cast a younger Colton to make the film more endearing but we had naively not appreciated what we had sacrificed in doing so. Focus. An eight year old boy surrounded by lights and cameras all trained on him is very excitable and quickly bored; an unhealthy combination on set. This meant that while we had shot a lot we had very limited number of usable takes. And this was before we started looking at things like dialogue, continuity, eye lines etc. Editing and perfecting the performance therefore became a precise art – I fully appreciate why Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has so many cuts now! Sitting with Seb and watching rushes, deciding how many frames of which takes we could use and then trying to weave them together into one performance - that was the biggest challenge in post. Without an emotive story arc a film is nothing.

Highlight of the shoot?

Grading in one of the theatre’s at Molinare. Seeing the film projected and fine tuning the look of the film was ridiculously exciting. Knowing that I had helped bring the words of the script to life on screen was simply magical. I remember turning to Seb and not being able to explain quite how I felt, it was like an extended moment of pure happiness and excitement. You can read Seb's blog about the grading process here.

Special Mention

I’d also like to give a special mention to Romy Ahluwalia, not because she’s my sister but because she is brilliant. She excels as both an actress and an artist and this combination proved highly potent. Her production design is such a huge part of this film and is informed entirely by character. Colton’s presence permeates every shot and she was responsible from everything you see at the picnic down to the cartoon drawings and the animation backdrops. It was wonderful to see her discovering another facet of her incredible talent. You can read Romy's production design blog here.