Our filmmaker of the week is multi-award winning film director, editor and VFX designer Lee Bolton! Lee owns Elerby Studios, a Manchester-based film production company which creates all types of film, including promos for companies, music videos, adverts and showreels. We asked him about his career so far, his clients and his recent success at film festivals with his independent short film ‘Charlie and Me’.
Lee hasn’t always been a professional filmmaker. Up until five years ago, he’d worked as a bank manager but had pursued film as a hobby from the age of 17. He’d spend time filming on weekends: “I’d always buy the latest filming equipment when I had the money.” So when redundancies eventually came up at his bank, he decided to take a big risk and leave to start his own film production business. This was a huge, pretty scary move. Lee explains: “When you first take a risk, especially in the creative sort of thing, you don’t think you’re going to make any money. And why would someone employ you for a service when you think there’s much better people than you around? It’s the hardest thing at first. You’re losing money left, right and centre trying to make a name for yourself.”
As with most things, Lee thinks perseverance is the key: “The more you do it and the more you work at it, the better it gets.” This means a lot of hard work. “It didn’t become a 9-5 job. In the creative industry, it’s basically a 24 hour thing for me. I’m constantly working. It’s outside office hours and I’m editing and filming all the time. Even when we don’t have a project on, I’m getting that knowledge in. I worked with other companies and the best filmmakers in the UK to learn their trade and found out how they did things – like how they used that camera, what software they used for editing and why.”
The hard work is well worth it though, because he loves what he does. The work is really varied and every job is completely different. Plus, unlike many freelancers, he hasn’t had any clients from hell: “all the jobs are enjoyable, I’ve never had a terrible client. In fact, the people are the best thing about the job – they’re brilliant and really approachable. I work closely with my clients and they become friends.” He believes a strong client/creative relationship is essential to a project’s success, telling us “We can get more creative by working closely together to get the result we both want.” He’s had some pretty exciting clients, including Porsche and Pepsi and he’s even been hired by international clients and flown over to the location. In one month alone, he travelled to Italy, Switzerland and Germany to do shoots.
The creative process is anything but linear. The end result always ends up different to the original concept. He shoots lots of test footage for clients so they have an idea what to expect – but the best results can often come from mistakes. His music video for ‘Not Over Yet’ by The Blackheart Orchestra was initially a shot of a head singing with lights and fireworks behind. But in one edit, “I accidentally put the lights on top and sent them that one saying ‘don’t you think this is interesting?’ And they loved it!
The Blackheart Orchestra have nothing but praise for Lee:
“We have loved working with Lee and the team. He is always full of energy and enthusiasm, even though some of the videos have been incredibly time consuming (Not Over Yet) as it was mostly shot in time-lapse. He was totally dedicated into making it the best it could be, luckily he also has a good sense of humour and a lot of patience!”
The end result was an artistic backdrop of time lapses over Manchester:
He also worked with MAVMAC on their music video for ‘Shake Your Ass’, to great success. With 70 extras and a street closure, the end production was perfect. In MAVMAC’s own words:
“Lee Bolton from start to finish was professional and thorough in the approach to our music video. He was open to ideas and worked alongside us preparing for it for months previous to the shoot. The guy is a badass that gets the job done and everything came together perfectly. If you’ve seen our music video you’ll know it was a if shoot, we had over 70 extras and closed that Bolton street down for the day. It was a big production that was all thanks to Lee.”
He’s also worked on a promo video for Arcade Club, Europe’s largest pinball and video game arcade. Yet again, their comments speak for themselves:
“Elerby Studios did a great promo video for us – so good in fact we’ve sponsored a movie by them that comes out this year!”
Lee thinks creative work can be undervalued and people want great work for next to nothing – “Clients think you just have a camera and you shoot it and it magically appears. A famous musician asked me to do a music video for free because ‘it’s me’.” In reality, a music video can take around 4 months to produce, depending on release date and availability: “I once turned one around in two weeks but it nearly killed me!”
He thinks the main problem is clients don’t understand the edit process: “A ‘little change’ can often mean you have to go back through five or six previous edits. It’s not just a press of a button. It will all have been graded and coloured. Rendering takes longer than clients think too; they don’t realise they can’t have it straight away.” He’s found a few ways to solve this. He normally has clients sit in on the edit. They can make suggestions as he goes, and he’ll give his opinion if their ideas mean the film doesn’t look right or the edit doesn’t flow. He also makes sure clients get a proposal upfront which breaks down all the costs – filming, edit days, crew costs – so they know exactly what they’re spending money on. He lets them know that if the client adds something that wasn’t in the original budget, they’ll be charged for extra edit days. “The clients are happy, they just want to know what they’re getting for their money.” Plus, Youtube is a blessing for clients communicating their ideas: “it’s easy to get examples so I can figure out what they like and what they want.”
He’s now looking into moving into making independent films, and he’s off to a great start. His short sci-fi film ‘Charlie and Me’ recently beat 2600 other films at Liverpool International Film Festival to snatch the accolades of ‘Best Director’ and ‘Best Actress’ (for leading actress Lindsay Bennett) , with an additional nomination for ‘Best Screenplay.’ The festival’s director, Alan Veste, had high praise for the film, telling us that:
“‘Charlie & Me’” was received very well at our Film Festival. We thought it was directed brilliantly. On top of that, it had a great story and a great look. The pace of the film worked really well and Lindsay Bennett who went on to win Best Actress conveyed such great emotion throughout. Among the hundreds of short films entered, Lee’s stood out as an overall brilliant piece of work.”
On top of his success at Liverpool, Lee was nominated for ‘Best Cinematographer’ at Birmingham Film Festival.
Next year, he’ll be making his first feature film, ‘The Button Bashers’. He successfully funded the project on Kickstarter and it’ll be a docudrama showing the UK gaming scene that emerged in the 1980s. He’s got some pretty big names onboard and it’ll be a mix of interviews and drama with the legends. Of course, it’ll be a LOT of hard work too: “I’m probably going to end up screaming in the corner.”