My name is Caroline Spence and I am a screenwriter/producer and founding partner of Raya Films. My filmmaking career began in 2004 with the production of documentaries, promos and music videos, but it was when I moved into feature film and screenwriting that I found my forté.
Our debut feature film Do Something, Jake premiered in a packed 300-seat Odeon theatre, went on to win a Best Feature award and was picked up by an American distribution company … and this all for a zero-budget movie.
We continue to fight fires and herd cats in the indie film industry and after many years of zero/ultra-low budget film production, we are ready to place our feet on a higher rung of the ladder.
In the meantime, here’s my lockdown story:
A life less ordinary...
With March 2020 in its infancy and Covid-19 causing a mere ripple in the daily lives of UK residents, we boarded our easyJet flight from Gatwick on a clear dawn, skipped over the snow dusted peaks of the Pyrenees and landed in the desert landscape of Almería in Andalucía, Spain. This is a trip we do many times throughout the year in order to work on our film projects without distraction, and, of course, to enjoy a very distinct slice of Spanish culture.
This was originally intended to be a relatively short trip, affording two weeks for us to continue the ‘offline edit’ of two feature films (Cyberlante and Surveilled) and work on research and writing for our next production, The Finca, which is set in Spain.
Nearly three months and seven cancelled flights later, we are still here.
Our base in Spain is a small sailing yacht. Now, this may sound glamorous, but before you think of shiny chrome, palatial cabins with plush upholstery and bespoke furnishings, think again. The yacht is in serious need of renovation and offers basic accommodation. It is, however, a lovely vessel and living on it is much like camping on water - spacious and airy with a wide cockpit free of the unnecessary clutter the more modern (and more expensive) yachts seem to collect.
A little over a week after we arrived in Almería, Spain’s coronavirus problem quickly escalated to become the worst-hit European country after Italy, and we were promptly placed in lockdown.
Movement was heavily restricted and we could only venture out to go food shopping or undertake essential tasks such as banking, visiting the launderette or pharmacy. Strict social distancing was enforced and even couples could not be seen walking together. The Guardia Civil and Policía were omnipresent, and although polite and courteous (and damned good-looking as it happens), these guys are not to be messed with.
At first, my anxiety levels were high, with one flight after another being cancelled, followed by the closure of the shower blocks and nothing but doom, gloom and despondency being churned out by the media.
Once we had accepted that we were here to stay, however, adapting to the situation became relatively easy. It helps that I love camping (real camping in a tent), but even so, showering under the hose in the cockpit became quite an experience!
The most difficult aspect of lockdown in Spain for me has been the inability to take exercise. People in the UK don’t seem to realise how lucky they are to have been allowed to take daily exercise during their lockdown. Doing pilates and abs (the only ‘exercise’ option) in a cramped environment is not easy and resulted in me wrenching a pectoral muscle, and so that was that.
Finally, however, with Spain over the worst of the pandemic, the 4th of May became a beautiful day with the implementation of the first phase of de-escalation, and we were allowed out during certain times of day to exercise individually (running, biking, etc.) or to walk with one other member of your household. And now, at the time of writing, the shower blocks have reopened and cafe terraces are back in action.
With my personal experience of this situation and as a foreigner, I feel the Spanish lockdown has been fair and well-orchestrated. It has been strict, but strict is what you need in such extraordinary times.
But what of Raya Films?
In all honesty the lockdown has actually benefited us. We were not filming or scheduled to film, but with Cyberlante and Surveilled in post-production, we have been afforded a lot more time to dedicate to getting these projects completed. Both films were shot in 2019 and this enforced lockdown has led to faster progress, so we are on schedule for 2020 releases.
In terms of events, however, two of our UK festival screenings for Do Something, Jake have been postponed indefinitely. Furthermore, the world premiere of our second feature film Agent Kelly at the Southend-on-Sea Film Festival has now been rescheduled from its original May date to Sunday, 23rd August.
Producing something from nothing
We have produced four feature films to date, all on zero/ultra-low budgets. At this level it’s about creating something from thin air. We’ve had no other choice. We shot these films in this way to build a track record in order to attract finance for future projects. We are, after all, by Hollywood terms ‘nobodies’ who came to the industry shall we say a little later in life, and so we’ve had no helping hands, preferential treatment, subsidy or mentors, and neither were we able to ‘buy’ ourselves into the industry with business connections or family wealth. What we could present, however, was valuable life experiences, pooled in-house skills, passion, tenacity and the good will of a handful of enthusiasts and talented individuals from around the globe.
Our journey to this point has been long and somewhat convoluted, but not without some fantastic highs, and we now feel that with these four features under our belt, we are ready to go to the next level. This we are doing with The Finca, a film that has been in the works for some time, and for which we are seeking a relatively small budget to go into production.
And while we continue to be in lockdown in Spain - in the very region The Finca is set - I’m taking advantage of this opportunity to fine-tune the screenplay ready to move forward with an environmentally sustainable, ‘covid-compliant’ production!
It’s difficult to estimate when I will return to the UK at this stage, since there are so many unknowns, but when we do return, it will be a very different landscape to when we boarded the flight all those months ago.
Do Something, Jake is now available to buy/rent/stream.
Visit www.dosomethingjake.com for more information and follow the links to purchase.