Birmingham £5k film hits the screen

A movie filmed in Birmingham for just £5,000 is now hitting the cinema screens and receiving rave reviews from audiences.

Still from Turbulence


Turbulence, by the BAFTA-award winning producer/director team of Natasha Carlish and Michael Clifford, tells the story of a failing music venue launching a battle of the bands competition as a last ditch attempt to avoid closure, accidentally unleashing undiscovered musical talents.

The film will be shown at London’s Roxy Bar and Screen on July 10th.

Made on a shoestring budget, with the cast and crew working for free in return for equity stakes in the film, Turbulence is an example of a growing number of micro-budget British films. Once filmed, the team received completion funds from the now-closed Screen West Midlands to enable the film to be finished to a technical standard high enough for cinema screening.

“The film was born out of our frustration with the ‘development hell’ you find yourself stuck in trying to make a movie conventionally,” says Birmingham-based director Michael Clifford. “With established careers in dramas, documentaries and shorts, Natasha and I won two BAFTAs for short films in 2004 and, perhaps understandably, assumed that we would be able to make a feature film. But three years went by without success, so in 2009 we decided to just ‘go and make a movie’.”

The cast all came from the Birmingham School of Acting, where Michael makes showreels for graduating students. The movie was filmed around Birmingham, including at Michael’s local pub, the Hare & Hounds in King’s Heath.

Once the actors were cast, they – with Natasha and Michael – workshopped the project to develop the characters and various scenarios in a studio lent by The MAC in Birmingham.

“I recorded the sessions and many of them are still on you tube,” says Michael. “Watching the tapes back was the perfect way to develop the ideas and a great way to give the actors notes on their performances. As we went along, we also discovered unknown musical talents in the cast and that all fed into the story.”

Writer Stavros Pamballis then joined the team to pull the script together from the rehearsal tapes, showreels, notes and music. A Heavy Metal-mad Cypriot for whom the West Midlands is the ‘promised land’, Stavros wrote the script non-stop in a matter of days.

Filming in Birmingham had major advantages. “First, it cut down dramatically on transport costs,” says Michael. “But it also doesn’t suffer from ‘location fatigue’ – film making is still a relative novelty, so people are curious and willing to help. And there was also still a sense of local pride in the BAFTA wins, which was crucial when it came to recruiting a crew with no money.”

The production had help from the local film and TV community, including Nat and Julia Higginbottom from production company Rebel Uncut who came on board as co-producers during the run up to the shoot to help facilitate it and to invest their post production services.

Technological changes also made shooting on a budget easier. For example, Director of Photography Ed Moore convinced Michael to shoot on a Canon 5D stills camera, similar to consumer DSLR cameras, which is capable of capturing amazing movie images at a fraction of the cost.

“Between us all we clubbed together our man power, equipment and spare cash to shoot the movie,” says Michael. “The initial shoot cost around £5,000 – and most of that went on catering! An army marches on its stomach and we felt that the least we could do for those giving their time was to give them a decent meal.

“We shot the film in fifteen days in July 2010, roughly half the time that’s spent on most movies and we didn’t work a single weekend. Then I took a month off before editing a rough cut in my spare time. We then showed it to Dan Lawson at Screen West Midlands – which sadly no longer exists. He was very supportive and gave us around £31,000 to hire an editor, get a nice title sequence designed, add music and mix the sound.”

The film was honed through test screenings. “It was a revelation,” says Michael. “We learned so much about our audience – what kind of people liked the film, which bits were universally popular or unpopular, what worked and what didn’t.”

Social media has also been integral to the process of making and promoting the film. “Twitter enabled us to get much needed props, musicians and an audience for a gig in the film,” says Michael. “Once the film was finished, Nat Higginbottom built a website and we continue to grow our followers on Facebook and Twitter.”

Michael and Natasha’s next challenge is to find an audience for the finished film. “We are entering the film for international festivals and holding preview screenings in the UK, where we also sell the DVD,” says Michael. “New technology has completely changed how you can reach people and engage them with a film.

“And so our audience grows gradually, not through a multi-million dollar marketing campaign and an opening weekend on thousands of screens but through individual screenings and word of mouth.”

Turbulence will be screened at the Roxy Bar and Screen on July 10th at 5.00pm. DVDs of the film are also available for preview. Natasha Carlish, Michael Clifford and members of the cast are available for interview.

For more details about the film, go to