Short Talk with April Kelley and Sara Huxley of Mini Productions

“Yellow Bread” has had the opportunity to interview April Kelley and Sara Huxley of the UK-based production company Mini Productions. Here, we chat about Mini Productions, acting, the short film “Edith”, short films and feminism, among many other juicy topics.

Can you talk about your background?

April Kelley: I’m a Hertford girl and was on film sets from a young age. I fell in love with film during this time and knew it was what I wanted to go into, one way or another.

Sara Huxley: I grew up in Shropshire, in the middle of nowhere! I attended a local dance and drama school and was taught by the most amazing and inspiring teacher called Mrs. Griffiths. She was so inspiring, she changed my life and made me fall in love with acting.

A.K.: I studied Acting at ALRA, and whilst there I started Mini Productions after a module of the course asked me to think what job I wanted to do to support my acting career. A week later, I proposed running my own production company to the class but was told to maybe think of something a little more realistic. Two weeks later I registered the company!

S.H.: I also started producing theatre whilst at drama school and by the time I graduated I had set up my own theatre company called End of the Line. It was in my third year at drama school that I met April who told me about Mini Productions. I just remember meeting her and thinking: “Wow! This woman is a powerhouse! How is she doing all of this?!” We sat down over a cuppa, mapped out our world domination plan and the rest is history.

You founded Mini Productions in 2012 with the mission to nurture creative talent. But, was there another reason?

A.K.: Yes! I was adamant that I wasn’t going to be forced to do a job so far away from my chosen career to support my acting. I (and Sara) always wanted control over our careers and there’s very little control over an acting career – at the start anyway – as it’s so subjective. I was also very fortunate to discover what I wanted to do at a very early age and find that there’s nothing more fulfilling and exciting than pursuing a passion.

How has the company grown since?

A.K. & S.H.: Well, we’ve definitely developed since the early days! We started doing short films and have now evolved to produce features, TV, viral and branded content.

At Mini Productions, you “believe in the power of storytelling and the magic that lies behind escaping the reality and diving into the world of another.” Can you elaborate on that?

A.K. & S.H.: Great movies and books with wholesome characters. We also love powerful women. Films like “Thelma and Louise” are ones that we dream to create one day. Most recently we saw “Suffragette”, which was stunning. We heard Sarah Gavron speak afterwards and her passion, intelligence and focus on strong narrative and rich characters was awesome. She stated that “film doesn’t just reflect society, but influences it.” We think Sarah’s words speak true and that we have a duty as filmmakers to honor that by creating films that inspire and educate.

You are both actresses… How is it different from producing? Which one do you prefer?

A.K. & S.H.: Hmm tough one, we love both! They both definitely have their ups and downs. Producing means we are still a part of the industry we love, but have control over our acting careers a little more. It’s so hard for actors these days, there are so many of them and not enough roles! We like to think we manage a good balance between both. We’re always busy! If one thing goes quiet, it’s normally because the other thing is stealing our attention.

Have you considered producing a film or a TV series in which you would star as well?

A.K. & S.H.: Yes! In fact, we already have! We have two TV teasers both with us in. One is a sitcom called “Annie Waits” and stars April as Annie. The second is a crime thriller about online predators called “Brunette Baby” and stars both of us.

Can you talk about the short film “Edith”, Christian Cooke’s directorial debut?

A.K. & S.H.: Ahhh well… What can we say?! It was the dream situation in terms of cast and team. We came onto the project very early when it was just at script stage and Christian [Cooke] was down to direct. Christian had worked with Peter [Mullan] on a programme called “Stonemouth” for the BBC and so wrote to him asking if he’d be in the film. When Peter said yes it was all systems go to cast remaining roles and raise the finance. Producing is like a massive jigsaw puzzle with a thousand pieces and it took about a year for everything to come together, particularly for the stars to align with everyone’s schedules.

We had to move the date once because Peter wasn’t available and the only time he was free was a week after we had booked flights to Florida to run the Disney World marathon. So, we kid you not, we ran a marathon and did a 18,000 skydive both for charity, a week before the shoot. Our locations manager Aaron was Whatsapping us pictures of every location, covered in snow and completely unreachable. It was hit and miss for a while whether we would actually be able to shoot.

Luckily, the weather took a turn for the better and the shoot went ahead. It was a real test for all involved because it was so cold. Our cast and crew really pulled out all the stops and Christian was very good at knowing what shot he wanted. Despite the long days and freezing conditions, it was a lot of fun. It was great to go on that journey with Christian to make his first film. The start of a beautiful working relationship!

Why is it your final short film? And, by final, what do you exactly mean?

A.K. & S.H.: Well… We did say it was our final, but there’s always a cracking short not too far away! What we mean is final in terms of our business model. We built our portfolio of work through our short films and now we’re on to features and TV.

You once said “you could do short films till the end of time, but you’re not gonna make money out of them”. Can you comment on this rather bleak perspective? Why do you have this point of view?

A.K. & S.H.: Ah! We do hate to sound pessimistic. We really do love short films, they’re just so hard to raise finance for because you can’t promise an investor their money back. Distribution deals are much more rare for shorts, they’re achievable, but there’s much less opportunity for this. We really hope things change. If you’re a short film distributor and you’re reading this, then get in touch! We’ve got a bunch of shorts you can have!

 Do you think, like most people, that short films are just a springboard for feature films for both directors and producers? Do you think there is any way of making shorts bankable and create a money-making distribution system for them?

A.K. & S.H.: For the moment, yes – we’d agree that they’re primarily used as a springboard. That said, we would like to think they could become bankable. The digital industry is ever changing and evolving. You see platforms like Netflix soaring, with short viral content doing the same on social media platforms. We can only imagine it’s a matter of time before the two collide… Once they have, we may come back to them.

 What is your opinion of short films?

A.K. & S.H.: They’re your opportunity to learn, so do just that – learn everything you can from them. Make a million mistakes if you have to, but learn how to not make them next time.

And, the situation of women in the film industry?

S.H.: There’s definitely not enough females or diversity in the film industry at the moment, it’s getting better but we’ve still got a way to go. High-five to all the female filmmakers out there!

A.K.: It’s mind-boggling that this is still an issue, especially as I was brought up believing females were equal to males, not seeing skin color, respecting religion and thinking the LGBT community were the coolest. Yes, the situation is getting better and we shall continue to chip away at it.

 Are you feminists?

S.H.: Well, with the current state of the world, I think there’s a new wave of feminism forming… So I might just be!

A.K.: Yes, I agree with Sara – in short, the answer would be yes. But, I do find it infuriating that a term is required to describe a support network for women… It should just be the norm. That said, I’m always game for burning my bra.

What is your motto?

A.K.: “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” – Carrie Fisher

S.H.: “Never regret. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience.” – Victoria Holt

A.K. & S.H.: “Rome wasn’t built in a day!”

 And, your favorite film of all time?

A.K.: The film I watch over and over again? “Miss Congeniality.” A more serious film I admire for all its levels of craftsmanship? “The Hours” – stunning film.

S.H.: Ahhh! Too many… “E.T.”, “Grease”, “Mrs Doubtfire”, “Thelma & Louise.” Oh! And “Love Actually” at Christmas time!

 Can you talk about Acting on a Dream?

A.K.: Acting On a Dream began as an online social experiment back in 2013. I was quite a poorly child and at the time was told that I might not be able to achieve my own dream of attending drama school. Fortunately, with the right medication my dream did come true. Then, in my final year, I wanted to give back so I put together a ball and auction for Dreams Come True charity. During this, I came up with the idea of the Dream Cloud and thought it would be exciting to ask attendees to write their dream in a cloud and take a photo.

After putting these up on social media for all the world to see, not only did people love the Dream Cloud but we started receiving dreams from all over the world as our first community members reached out to us and proved that “anything is possible”.

The movement gained popularity very quickly and in the past 3 years AOAD has had Dream Clouds submitted from people from all walks of life. Different ages, occupations, religions, communities, charities and even celebrities. Internationally, dreams have been received from Europe, United States, North Africa and the Far East. Rather poignantly, a cloud from Afghanistan, where hope for so many seems to be in short supply. Through this, we believe we have living proof that AOAD is not getting lost in translation and can be understood and used by anyone, no matter their age, race, background or religion.

S.H.: It’s evolved to become a positive media company and is launching in March 2017! The site will showcase a whole variety of inspirational content in the form of videos and articles. Plus, an exclusive interview series with well-known faces including Jeremy Paxman and Kate Moss, talking about what motivates them. Curious? Then head to:

Also if you’re a filmmaker and are looking for a home for your content, Acting On A Dream showcases positive and inspirational content from all over the world so get in touch!

 Which dream would you act on if you haven’t already? If you have, which is it?

S.H.: Make Acting On a Dream known throughout the world and be well-known enough to have the power to make change.

A.K.: Sara’s pretty much nailed it.

What are Mindipity and the Reel Film Challenge?

A.K. & S.H.: Minidipity is our corporate arm. It covers all branded, viral, event coverage and music video work. That said, we like to fuel all our creativity into that strand of work and truly believe you can find a story for everything. The Reel Film Challenge is a wonderful festival for aspiring filmmakers where you get to travel to Budapest and make a film. We were judges on the panel last year and it was so much fun. It’s a great platform for filmmakers who want to travel.

In that sense, can we talk about promotion and the importance of videos and social media today? How are they shaping the content (and its demand) today?

A.K. & S.H.: It’s ridiculously important nowadays and you can avoid and object to it all you like, but the industry is now driven by it. Find your own voice, maximize the opportunity to reach your audiences and be grateful that we live in a country where we have the right to express our views and speak out.

How has Mini Productions helped you grow professionally, creatively and, ultimately, personally?

S.H.: Wow, in so many ways. I learn something new every day. Producing is all about people and I genuinely love my job. Even when we’re having tough days, I always think how lucky I am to do a job like this. Running your own business is also so much more then you can ever imagine. They just don’t teach you that stuff at school. I think I’ve matured early with the pressure and demand of running a production company but it’s also so liberating and allows me to create anything I want. You never switch off, but you do fall in love with work. Maybe I sound crazy saying that. I think it’s the best way to be though, because I’m not working just to live.

A.H.: Yes, I completely agree with Sara. I wouldn’t last a week if I was just working to live… I’m very lucky that my work doubles up as my hobby. Professionally, creatively and personally Mini Productions has taught me to listen in all those areas and actually listen, not nod and pretend to hear people. I’ve built my career on buying people a coffee and listening to them… I feel very fortunate that I now get to do that sitting next to my best pal.

What does Mini Productions have in the pipeline?

A.K. & S.H.: We have a slate of features and TV in development. We’re aiming to shoot our first feature within the next year. It’s a new indie horror called “Love, Sex & Killing,” written by the fantastic Raymond Friel who wrote “The Calcium Kid.” He was nominated for a Scottish BAFTA last year and his more recent film, “Moon Dogs,” premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival. We think he’s fab! We have the wonderful Henry Scriven on board to direct too. We worked with him on some other projects and can’t wait to see him in action!

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