VALENCIA FILM: EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH JONATHAN HALL
1. Tell us something about your background…
I seem to have changed streams quite a few times in my life. The early years involved a bit of doing up property in London (it was the early eighties, after all!), then lots of travel, then ten years or so involved in cricket, as a semi-professional player and coach. I also started a cricket bat making company called Millichamp and Hall, which is still going to this day (though no longer anything to do with me) and which, though I say it myself, is a bit of a cult. When I sold that, I moved into writing (something I had always done). I am now in year fifteen of my infallible, get-rich-in-three-years writing plan.
2. What brought you to the Valencia region and how does it compare to living and working in London?
I’d studied Spanish at University, so I guess there was always a chance I would end up here. I actually remember spending a summer in Gandia when I was eleven, with a local family of seven daughters – I think even at that age it seemed like some kind of paradise. Then I had a wild summer here, staying with another local family, when I was in my teens.
We’ve found it pretty easy to fit in here (‘here’ being the village of Barx, Valencia) – specially speaking a bit of Spanish – and we are overwhelmed with how welcoming and accommodating the Spanish are. In fact, as Londoners, it’s taken more effort to adapt to village life than it has to living in Spain.
3. Without ruining the ending… could you tell us in detail about the film ‘SOLO!’
This is SOLO! in a nutshell:
When London busker Barney inherits a tumbledown cottage in a rundown Spanish village, all he wants to do is sell it, and go back home – before the villagers discover that he’s the son of the man who ruined the village in the first place.
But to sell the house, Barney needs money to fix it up. So with help from local musician Paloma (and despite her ex-boyfriend’s interference), he sets about reforming the village band, and winning the prize money in an upcoming competition.
However, when he stands in to play a trumpet solo at the funeral of the previous bandleader, he inadvertently reveals that he’s his father’s son – their playing styles are indistinguishable.
How will the village react? And what will Paloma do now?
This is the website, which has a little teaser on it, and which also has a blog of the entire process from conception through to Oscar win (ahem!): https://socialscreen.co.uk/films/solo
The idea came to me when I was sitting in the village bar wondering what to get my wife for her birthday, when the Barx band marched past. I thought: maybe I should ask them to do a ‘happy birthday’ flashmob, which got me thinking…
4. Has it been difficult to fund the film?
It’s always difficult to fund films, and – oddly – the lower the budget, the harder to fund. We simply couldn’t have made this film without the extraordinary generosity of everyone involved, all working for free or, in the case of the professional ‘heads of department, for minimum wages. In the end, it felt like the whole village was involved, and not least the wonderful band. Nevertheless, we did need to fly people over from the UK, accommodate them, and feed them. There are also unavoidable things like insurance, hard drives (it’s not celluloid anymore!), music licences, etc. To fund that, we found a couple of private investors, and also my wife’s scented candle company, La Montaña, that makes scented candles inspired by our new life in Barx. The ethos of her business (nostalgic, feel-good) fitted perfectly with the film, so, in a way, the film is a kind of advert for the candle business.
And all of this was umbrella-ed under a UK tax scheme called an EIS (all perfectly legit!) which encourages investment into small businesses – movies included.
5. What is the future for film, television and cinema with so much streaming on the internet?
The future is pretty bright, as it happens. Yes a lot more people are making movies, but there are now many more ways to get them in front of an audience. The key is to find the right way for your movie. Multiplexes may be fine for huge Hollywood blockbusters (franchises, superheroes, epics), but movies like SOLO! probably don’t belong there – though I’m not ruling it out! Actually, it’s probably more likely to find a home in smaller independent cinemas – the kind where you can sit in a comfy seat and sip a glass of wine – or with an on-demand service like Netflix. There are even pop-up cinemas nowadays. The whole thing is becoming much more democratic.
6. Could you and your wife Cassandra tell us about your ‘La Montaña’ product?
We didn’t move to Spain to start a business – far from it, we moved here to smell the roses. But even before the movie, Cass had already started a business – http://www.lamontana.co.uk. “On our mountain, at first light, there’s a heavenly fragrance in the air. Before anyone starts an engine, or lights a fire, the air is clear, and still, and silent. The first breath of the day carries the perfume of wild mountain herbs; fennel, rosemary, mountain pepper, and intoxicating rockrose. The alchemy of these fragrances, blended naturally on the breeze, weaves a magical spell… The inspiration for our first candle.” In fact, before it was an inspiration for a candle, it was just a beautiful part of our new life, but when Cass became obsessed by trying to ‘bottle’ the fragrance, the candle business was born. The candles sell online, and the business is now two years old, and is going from strength to strength – there are now seven fragrances, stockists, distributors, etc. Hard work, but you know what they say: if you love your job, you never work a day in your life.
7. Do you have any plans for the coming years?
For the film, it’s now a question of doing a great job in post-production (that means making the images look even lovelier and the sound even more amazing – a lot of work considering all of the music); we want to make the film as fabulous as we can, not least so that Barx can be proud. That whole process will take a few more months. We’re still hoping to have a ‘cast and crew’ screening in Barx’s outdoor amphitheatre this summer. After that, we need to find a Sales Agent to take it around the world selling it. And with that comes lots of trips to film festivals around the world to try to promote it. Sounds okay to me!
Obviously, I already have a treatment for SOLO! 2 (The Big Gig). All we need is a couple of investors…
And for the candles… we’ll be introducing new products (e.g. reed diffusers), new combinations of products (sets of mini candles) and a new (secret!) fragrance – Cass’s very favourite part of the business.
Interview by Owl