Described as esoteric by its seasoned producer Samm Haillay, The Light Years is an intricate story of a family, told over the course of one long hot day. Written and directed by BAFTA-Winner Esther May Campbell, the project took four years to produce, not including the time it took to develop the initial script. “It’s a very particular and personal film for Esther.”
Focusing mostly on the children (who were cast locally rather than nationally), we watch the youngest sibling Rose head out in search of her missing mother. Her two elder siblings follow her, taking them out of their comfort zones. On a path through situations that could potentially distract them from finding Rose, eventually they reunite with their parents to uncover their buried secrets and extraordinary legacy.
Speaking to Haillay, we asked how this project came about? “I’d known Esther for about ten years before we agreed to start working together on Light Years.” Having completed her short film September (and winning the BAFTA for it), she approached Haillay to work on a feature script with him. “I wasn’t quite convinced, it was extremely esoteric, even though lots of my work is quite esoteric.”
Campbell set off to continue developing the project with another producer, although it didn’t come to fruition. “She rather delightfully rang me up and said, “Hi Sam, a script, I’d like you to have a read. I’m really interested in your input.” Of course, unsuspecting it was one that I’d already read, given that it had a different title and all the rest of it. I said, “Yeah, of course I’ll read it.”...As soon as I opened the pdf and started reading it, I’m like Little Number, she’s sent me her redraft!”
Fortunately, the redraft was much stronger, Haillay agreed to take on his seventh feature film and the project took off from there. Succeeding in securing their production funding from the British Film Institute (BFI) and Creative England, they shot the film in the summer of 2014 and the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September 2015.
As if this wasn’t indication enough of such a strong project, Campbell cast Beth Orton, the well-known singer and musician, to play the mother of the family. She’d previously played a musician in another film, in a way playing herself, so this was her real acting debut. “I have to say that when we were shooting, she was brilliant.” Muhammet Uzuner plays the father and is a huge star in Turkey. “Both of their performances were absolutely out the park. Certainly, some of the reviewers really picked up on Beth, of how fearless she was in portraying Moira.”
The role of producer is a never-ending one and Haillay has driven this project as much as he can. The Light Years has gone on to screen at another sixteen festivals around the world including the Singapore International Film Festival and the São Paulo International Film Festival in Brazil.
Wanting to screen the film at as many venues across the country as possible, an intern from Teeside University assisted Haillay on the nine-week crowdfunding project over the summer to raise the money. “We made our £6 grand target and that covered getting the film out there. We probably did about 50 or 60 shows.” The university paid the intern, which really helped, as no-one was working unpaid and it was a welcome additional financial contribution to the project. “[Crowdfunding] is a full-time job...It’s kind-of fun and exciting and you get to know your audience.”
Haillay fits in producing around freelance work including mentoring and part-time teaching in Film Production at Teeside University. We asked him how he fits it all in. “I probably do about 60 hours a week, more when we’re shooting. I don’t really differentiate between the three jobs that I have.”
With every project, the goal is to get as many people to watch the film as possible. Since they were funded by the BFI, it would make sense that their film would be on the BFI Player. “They are curatorial so we had to do a separate deal with them in order to get onto that platform.” There’s certainly no scrimping on quality there then. “We actually decided to target everything around the BFI Player because the people that use that...this film is much more within their scope.” If you would like to watch the film, you can access it here on the BFI player or buy the DVD from the Light Years website.
Now the Light Years project is available to watch, we ask Samm Haillay what’s next? “Esther and I are now in development on a new film, which...it’s set hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years in the future.” Something about as far away from Light Years as you can get then? “A futuristic love story, I think.” Sounds exciting, let’s see how that develops.