Sleepless nights over getting my insomnia film made


Fifteen years ago I was a student at Leeds University. My parents got me a place in Hillel House, a religious hall of residence on the university campus. It was there that I had an experience that was to inspire me to write a film.

Many of the female students at Hillel House observed Shomer Negiah, the practice of avoiding physical contact with the opposite sex. They each had boyfriends with whom they spent many hours late at night in their rooms. This paradox bewildered me.

So late one night, when I was kept awake by certain sounds emanating from a next-door room, my mind started racing. Surely my neighbours would not be indulging in what this sounded like. I had to know what these noises were.

I wandered the corridors listening, but found no clues. I went into the garden to look back at the house – were there lights on in any rooms? But in the garden I could no longer hear the noise. About to give up, I headed back across the overgrown lawn, but I almost tripped on something. In the long grass, just poking out was a naked bottom, and a tangle of legs and arms.

A pair of drunken students had decided the garden of the Jewish halls of residence was the ideal place for loud amorous activity.

In true British fashion, I embarrassedly crept away. “Sorry, excuse me, sorry...”, as though I had walked in on their private moment. I returned to my room and they returned to their noises. All I could do to get them to stop was hide behind my curtains, still embarrassed, and throw cups of water out the window at them.

Eleven years later this scene and my own insomnia inspired me to write the script for Sound Asleep. It's the story of Dean Peels, a self-help writer who can't seem to help himself. Over one night, chronic insomniac Dean takes on all the noises that keep him awake, in an epic battle for a good night's sleep. The Hillel House scene was the only direct-from-life scene in the first draft. It was also the only scene my producers insisted I change, saying that it was too unbelievable.

Now after many drafts and much work we are ready to go into production.

In recent years institutional funding for short films has almost dropped off completely. Reorganisations of the public bodies and reduction in UK arts funding altogether has led to this vital training and development ground for writers, actors and directors almost disappearing.

What funding there is is often very low and tied to restrictions that can make ambitious films impossible. And what funding there is prefers to follow art films and challenging minority interest dramas. There is little support for the film-makers who aim to reach wider audiences, those who can go on to make the big budget films that a future British film industry would rely on.

So like many film-makers I am turning to crowd-funding. Our project is on a website called Kickstarter. Films have around 30 days to achieve their funding or fail. Our deadline is May 6.

Rather than a single large backer, film makers reach out to hundreds, or thousands of friends, fans, family and supporters to back their project with small amounts. In return they offer rewards and involvement in the creative journey.

Sound Asleep launched on Kickstarter with a massive pillow fight in Trafalgar Square, with 2,500 people (as covered in the JC). We offer rewards that range from themed souvenirs – pillow cases and night caps - to events, pillow fights, and sleep-themed parties.

At the higher levels of support, we want to get backers involved in the film – with associate producer and executive producer credits with real creative involvement; commenting on script, edits, attending the shoot (and calling “action” and “cut”).

Remember that couple that kept me awake in Hillel House? In the film they are no longer in the garden, but the flat next door, heard but not seen. We are still looking for a couple to join us for a voice session, to record the hysterical amorous sounds that keep Dean awake.

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