Franny first thought of the idea for Crude (as it was known then) back in 2002. The plan was to borrow the structure from Stephen Soderbergh’s film ‘Traffic’: six interweaving stories circling the drugs trade and refusing to supply easy answers. But where Traffic was about drugs, Crude would be about oil and climate change.
In 2004 Franny signed up the UK’s top documentary producer, John Battsek, with the aim of channeling his contacts and experience into a mainstream hit. John won the Best Documentary Oscar in 2001, with his very first feature documenatary, One Day in September. Since then, he’s produced a brace of commercially successful docs on subjects ranging from American moon landings and British pop music to Bolivian tin mining and Korean gymnastics. He loves to fully capitalise on a great film, by releasing soundtrack albums, merchandise and books. He has sold his films for international theatrical release to Miramax, Pathe, Sony Classics and Paramount, to name a few. John responded to Franny’s 30 second pitch for Crude with “Love it. Let’s do it.”
Franny and John were determined to produce Crude/The Age of Stupid independently, in order to give them both full editorial freedom and complete control of the distribution. They came up with the “crowd-funding” film financing model. Essentially, ‘shares’ were sold to raise the budget, and all crew work at massively reduced rates to keep costs low - but they also received a percentage. This way the production could not only remain editorially and distributionarily independent, but any profits accrued would be shared amongst the people who made the film (the crew), the people who funded it (the investors), the organisations that supported it (the production companies) and the people in it (the stars). The first Funding Event was held in Dec 2004, offering 100 ‘shares’ of £500 each. In one of the most terrifying experiences of the film - scarier even than being held in a kidnap village in Nigeria - Franny stood up and explained the idea for the film to 30 punters in a screening room in Soho. They sold the first thirteen ‘shares’ that night, which put £17,500 in the kitty, more than enough for low-budget filmmakers to get started. One of the key advantages of crowd-funding, we later realised, is that you do not have to wait to secure a complete budget before you start.
Franny was side-tracked for the first half of 2005 with re-editing her documentary “McLibel” to feature length for broadcast on BBC2, followed by UK and US theatrical releases.
Lizzie Gillett had been working for Franny on other projects since 2002 but in March 2005 she joined the Stupid team. Starting as an admin assistant, she quickly made herself invaluable and eventually took over the day-to-day producing role, with John becoming the Executive Producer. In June, Franny and Lizzie bought a Sony Z1 HDV camera and set off to find their first character at the Paris Air Show. They were on a mission to find one of the new breed of Indian entrepreneurs busily starting up low-cost airlines. After several weeks of research, Jeh Wadia - a 33 year old Indian from a wealthy family launching a new airline called Go Air - became the firm favourite and was soon signed up.
Over the next 15 months the pair travelled to 6 countries and found the stars of the film; Layefa in Nigeria, Fernand in the Alps, Piers in Cornwall, Jamila & Adnan in Jordan, Al in New Orleans and Jeh in India. They spent many weeks filming in each location, visiting each character between two and seven times over the next two years.
The relentless filming schedule soon drained the bank balance, so Funding Round 2 was launched in Feb 2006, with 40 ‘shares’ of £5,000 each. More and more investors appeared from nowhere as word spread. Over the next two years, the 40 shares were gradually sold and the complee £450k raised. There are now 223 investors from the UK, Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Holland, Denmark and France. The investors each own a percentage of the film - as do the crew, who are working for massively reduced rates - and will be paid once a year for ten years.
In March 2007, Franny and editor David Hill (who had cut McLibel) emerged with a 90 minute rough cut which interwove the documentary stories, as planned. However, it was felt that the film wasn’t greater than the sum of its parts and that most of the themes were too subtle for the average viewer to fully appreciate. The production entered a dark few months of brain-wracking until the idea eventually emerged to set the film in the future, with fictional character(s) observing the documentary characters from a distance, and reflecting on the barriers that stand in the way of us halting climate change. This also allowed the film to explicitly show what the future will be if we continue as we are.
Over an intensive 4 month script-writing process this idea developed into a scenario in the year 2055, during apocalyptic runaway climate change, with two teenagers living in ‘The Global Archive’, a storage facility in the Arctic protecting all of humanities achievements from the ravages of climate change, in the hope that intelligent life might evolve - or arrive - and be able to make use of what we have learned.
The rough cut was tested to a select group of friends, investors and crew at the Curzon Soho Cinema in September 2007. Franny and Assistant Editor Andy (aged 35 and 42 respectively) played the teenagers in the future, as a stand-in test before proper actors were cast. In one of the low- points of the production, there was a largely negative reaction.
So the teenagers got dumped. But the future idea was felt to be very strong, so, two days of brainstorming later, a variation was invented and subsequently tested. This time, Franny’s dad played an old man in the future. He represented the 30something generation now, aged
70 something in 2055, looking back with sorrow and regret at everything they didn’t do to stop climate change. Rather than the next generation berating us for destroying the planet, this version was dramatically much more successful. Though Franny’s dad is no actor, the emotion of the scenario was plain for all to see.
Franny’s all-time favourite actor, and the only person she would consider for the role of “The Archivist” is “In The Name of the Father’s” Pete Postlethwaite. Stephen Speilberg called him the “best actor in the world” and John had worked with him on a previous production and had got on famously. Franny googled “Pete Postelthwaite + climate change”, just in case, and was thrilled to find out that not only was Pete in the middle of a comprehensive eco-renovation of his house, including installing a home turbine, but that it is every single person’s responsibility to do what they can to stop climate change. On Dec 17 2007 at 3.27pm, Pete said ‘Yes’.
The drama scenes with Pete were shot on Jan 24th 2008, in a carpet warehouse in Willesden, hastily converted into a futuristic storage facility by production designer David Bryan and his team.
Once it was decided that Pete would be looking through all of the media ever produced by humanity, the archive possibilities span out of control. We first approached ITN Source with a proposed deal whereby we had complete access to all their archive (which includes Reuters, Pathe and CBS), in exchange for a token upfront fee and a percentage of profits. Unbelievably, they said yes. We then headed to the BBC Motion Gallery, but were turned away, as the BBC would never agree to such a deal. Two days later, they got in touch to say that a big boss somewhere up the system had overruled their decision and we received our magic BBC login.
Franny wanted to stay as far away from traditional documentary styling as possible. In particular, this meant no talking heads and no commentary (both rules were of course later broken, to a small extent). She decided to use animated pieces to explain key concepts and background material. As Pete would be pulling these animations from the archive, they needed to be a wide range of styles and tones, as though they’d come from a variety of sources. The production advertised for animators and soon had a team of 18 boys, all a little blue for lack of sunlight, beavering away mostly in their bedrooms, producing what became one of the film’s most impressive elements.
For the music, the intention was always to write a Star Wars-esque orchestral score, which the composer, Chris Brierley, slightly balked out. So he came back with something better and then pulled together all his orchestral friends for a recording session in a donated studio that one of our investors happened to own. We also attempted to clear about 15 famous pop songs, but only succeeded with “Just Cant Get Enough”, “Boots Are Made For Walking” and Radiohead’s “Reckoner”.
The first public sneak preview of the film was held in Second Life, on One Climate Island in Feb 2008. Following that in June 2008, the production started testing the finished film to unanimously ecstaic reactions.