County Lines Showreel Piece for 2 Young Actors

Not many teenage actors get to be in a film, long or short, that gives them more than a couple of minutes' screen time with dialogue. Whenever I've been on the hunt for a talented teenage actor, it's taken a long time to find anyone with a film that shows they can carry a scene of more than two minutes. Even when I've found showreels with teenage actors, the acting or scenes I'm looking at are very limited and it's really difficult to get a handle on what a young actor is capable of because he or she is seldom tasked with having to give more than a couple of simple reactions to the situation in hand.

The Business Proposition came about entirely as a vehicle for my actor son, Jay Penrake. It had been a while since he was in a short and it was time he had some fresh material to show producers, directors and casting directors. Added to which a short now could prove useful for when he applied for acting college in the new term.

I thought I'd put Jay to the test by giving him a long scene that demanded he shift gear several times throughout. I then found a very good actor, Dami Adeyeye, to play opposite him and really test his stamina at holding a long and complex scene.

As I'd just spent a chunk of change on our short Look Inside, I decided this one would have to be ultra low budget. 

Unlike previous shorts, I was much less concerned with telling a story as such – this was to be one scene, and although it had a beginning, middle and end with very strong turning points, it was more a scene than a story.

The objective was end up with a video that would show producers, directors and casting agents that Jay could sustain a strong and dynamic performance for at least 5 minutes. For that, I also needed a very good actor for him to work with...

The idea

The idea for The Business Proposition arose out of an abiding interest I had in ‘county lines’, a somwhwat cryptic term for a new trend in dealing drugs out in the countryside, often using very young recruits. 

Pre-production

I wrote a first draft and Jay and I workshopped the script exhaustively together.  I cast Jay as Ben, a boy who was being bullied into doing a deal at a house on the seaside by Josh, an older boy. When we felt the script was in good shape, we put out an ad for the other boy, Josh, on mandy.com. I also sent the script to the head of Jay's Sixth Form and he endorsed the project and agreed to let us film at the school.

Dami was by far the best actor among those who applied for the role. Although he was 25, he had this youthfulness about him that made him a believable 19-year-old. He liked the script and said he wanted to give it a go.

During rehearsals we made a further few tweaks to the script. I then set about hunting for a director of photography through mandy.com and found Sasha Bajac, who had his own Sony SF7, which was pretty handy.

We were due to shoot in June but then Sasha got a booking to go to Russia for the World Cup and we had to put our plans on hold. As soon as he got back we caught up over phone and email. I booked our location with Jay’s school. Found a sound recordist (Joe Conneely) who also had his own kit. Took out some employers' and public liability insurance through Essex Insurance. And we were good to go.

The shoot

We arrived at Jay’s school at around 8 AM Saturday July 7th. The caretaker let us in to the building with toilet Jay had recced for me.  Straight away, I was aware of a problem: in the bathroom there was a very David Lynch like hum that sounded like a vent – but where was the OFF switch?!

We converged on a cupboard by the basins. The hum was coming from somewhere behind there, but the door was locked. The caretaker had a hundred keys – but not one of them fit the lock to that door. It turned out the sound wasn’t in fact coming from a fan or air con, but rather a boiler – and we weren’t permitted to have that turned off.  


Jay said there was another toilet upstairs. We went to take a look. It was smaller and darker, but it had a moodier atmosphere than our now useless toilet downstairs, and - a big plus - it was quiet. In fact the lack of any air ventillation at all in a confined space perfumed with male piss was soon going to prove a bit much even after 30 minutes in there - this being a day that reached 30 degrees around lunchtime. 


On account of the main wall being covered in mirrors we couldn't risk putting up lights, so we had to make do with available lighting. The overhead lamps had a warm glow to them that gave the scene a sticky, latent violence that we wouldn't have had if we'd stayed downstairs - but all our light was from the ceiling and I knew that would prove problematic in post....  



The boys were a little static at first but once I encouraged them to move around (while remembering to avoid blocking each other on 2-shots), they were soon working up a delicious power play between one another.


Post-Production

Shiona Penrake was our editor.  Going through her rough cut I sensed she’d been circumspect about crossing the line. But I felt once we'd established the geography and character positions in our wide shot, and provided we never screwed up the eyeline, we could explore the effect of flipping from one side to the other, and it soon became apparent that the more committed we were to cutting from one side to the other the more tension we added to the scene. In fact by crossing the line from a couple minutes in, our editing technique mimicked the seesaw of power from one boy to the other.


By the end there was just one shot we were missing: we needed an MCU of Dami in the closing seconds of the scene; the only shot of him we had for that section wouldn't cut with the MCU we had of Jay. We could use the wide, but cutting back to the wide would sucked tension from the scene.

For a minute or two Shiona and I sat there cursing the oversight. Until it suddenly occurred to me: we could flip the MCU of Dami. Shiona thought we'd run into a continuity problem with the background, but because the environment was so graphic and simple flipping the wrong-angle MCU worked a treat.

Shiona made a start on the grade in Da Vinci basing it on a LUT chosen by our DP, Sasha. Because we’d had to work with available light, time and again Shiona had to mask faces to temper burn-out or lift darkness off faces. For one difficult section, where Jay’s face was badly burned by an overhead light, we had to reduce the effect of the LUT, bringing it back closer to the untreated original, in order to preserve detail on the face.

Shiona also cleaned up the sound and added titles and credits. We dropped in a library sound for the text message, but I didn't feel it belonged in the room, so I got Shiona to record a sound in our own bathroom and the home recording worked much better.

Sound Design

For sound design I got in touch with composer Paul Arnold who’d reached out to me on Linkedin a few weeks earlier. Paul liked the cut and agreed to work on the film. When we’d locked off the sound design, Shiona and I did the final sound mix, also mixing the 10 stems Paul sent over to us.

Finally we were done. And sure, we paid a price, you could say, having to make do with available lighting in cramped conditions, but for me at any rate, the film was always about the acting and I think this film delivers on that score – both guys delivered strong performances and were a pleasure to watch.  They now have a short film that shows they can handle a long and intense scene with over 4 pages of dialogue. We hope casting directors will take note!