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Steve Bookbinder talks about his award-winning film company

Steve is a UK film maker, writer and director. We spoke to Steve about his biggest inspirations in the film industry, and heard about how he started out with no qualifications or training to eventually become an award-winning film maker with his own company.

Why did you start your business?

I started because I wanted to make films. From an early age I picked up a camera and realised it was a great tool for storytelling, and essentially that’s what I’m about; I like to use film to tell stories.

What area of film is Red Rag Pictures currently working in?

It’s quite a mixed bag really. We do dramas and documentaries that are used in training for business; films that challenge the status quo, that need to be quite hard hitting, and that provoke thought. That’s really where the name Red Rag Pictures comes from, because it’s provocative and demands a response. So films across a wide sector, for training and motivation and films that require something to be memorable.

What do you enjoy particularly about working in the film industry?

I love creating something out of nothing. A film, however long or whatever it’s about, it starts with a blank sheet of paper, and on that paper I’ve got to write a script, but even then there’s nothing really there, it’s just words on a page as there is no film to see. The really enjoyable part is turning that script into an engaging film, and that involves a creative journey that is just fascinating. Whether its working with actors or ordinary people, its a fantastically collaborative process that brings the words on a page to life. When you benefit from the expertise of a film crew or an editor, that’s really magical because you can see my ‘nothing’ that I started with turning into something really believable and something that can hugely engage an audience.

Was your passion for filmmaking the driving force behind starting Red Rag Pictures?

Absolutely! It started as an interest and a hobby which then grew, and I was lucky enough to be able to start doing it professionally as a business.

How do you differentiate yourself from other filmmaking businesses?

[Red Rag Pictures] comes with the whole package in that I like to write the films that I make, though sometimes I just go in as a director, but I really like to be a writer and director and so conceive the film from the beginning, work it out and script it. That way, it really gets under your skin, you really get to know the subject whatever it is and at Red Rag Pictures I like to get involved right from the beginning and tell the story in writing first, and then turn it into a film. That makes us slightly different as other companies will simply bring in a director and write it themselves [whereas] I like to be able to handle that whole process creatively from beginning to end.

When you first started your business, what was your biggest challenge?

Marketing was probably the biggest challenge because filmmakers are creators essentially. We’re good at telling stories, but we’re not so good at selling because that is a different skillset. As a business owner, you become the subject, and we’re used to telling stories about other people, so it’s quite difficult when the focus is on yourself. It’s also quite a saturated market. There’s a lot of people doing this sort of thing, and although the quality varies, getting yourself known and having a unique selling point is a big challenge I think.

Who was your biggest inspiration when setting up your business?

There’s a British director called Paul Greengrass, and he’s made films like two of the ‘Bourne’ trilogy films, ‘United 93’ and more recently ‘Captain Phillips’. He’s somebody that started in Grenada television, making documentaries, real people and real subjects, and used some of that technique to start making feature films and drama. I love the way he brings realism into his films, and that was always an inspiration. Drama works best when you start blurring the lines, and you think ‘that’s so real, it doesn’t feel like you’re watching actors.’ He particularly did that in United 93, where you get the extraordinary experience of feeling as if you were in there, on that plane with those courageous and terrified victims of that ill-fated flight.

Do you see yourself moving into feature films or are you content with the work you are currently making?

Not at all, like a lot of directors, I have an ambition to make a film, or indeed television now, because television drama is catching up with some of the quality of film, particularly HBO and the Danish output as well as homegrown British drama. I am currently devising a television serial that I want to make and I’m always looking out for film projects. So yeah, ultimately a feature film is an ambition of mine.

What currently does a normal working day look like for you at Red Rag Pictures?

The short answer is that there isn’t one. That’s part of the fun of it - no two days are the same. For example I could be writing a script one day, shooting actors playing track workers hit by trains on the railway, or in a mock up of war-torn Afghanistan - there’s so much variety. I remember a BBC documentary that I made about the police in Birkenhead which was chosen because it was the busiest police station in the UK at the time, and I sat in the backseat of a police car and jumped out with the police who were arresting someone wielding a knife after he stabbed someone; It’s pretty varied stuff. On the other hand, you can be sitting in edit suites looking at the rushes - raw material that’s been shot - and shaping it into a story, so it’s absolutely different day to day.

What advice would you give to other people starting their own business?

Well in my industry, my first answer would be ‘don’t’. I’m joking of course, but what I’m getting at is that unless it’s something you really really want to do and you’re going to be 100% committed to, leave it alone. It’s tough; film, television and the whole media industry is insecure, unpredictable, chaotic and you’ve got to be sure that you want to go into it. If you’re looking for a regular 9-5, predictable job where you know when you’ve got work and when you’ve got holidays, then this industry wouldn’t be for you. On the other hand, if you’re really committed to it, if you know in your heart it’s what you love and what you want to do, then it’s the best thing in the world. If not, I would say go and get a real job.

How has Clear Books changed the way you run your business.

Well in one word, its been a saviour. I want to make films, that’s what I do. I don’t want to spend a long time bookkeeping or ringing an accountant and getting lost in the maze of tax returns. Clear Books just takes all the heartache and headache out of it because it simplifies everything by being so intuitive. I even used to find keeping tabs on my quarterly VAT returns a pain, but Clear Books makes it so easy to use. Maths and accountancy have never been a strong point of mine, but Clear Books makes it really simple and takes all the headache out of it.

To find out more about Steve Bookbinder, take a look at the Red Rag Pictures website.

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