Interview: Five Lamps Films

As the Five/24 challenge – in which independent filmmakers must make a three-minute short in just 24 hours – opens from Five Lamps Films we talk to the bi-monthly nights organisers Carl Bryan and Sam Jordan about the group, the challenge and making films.

Matt Bamford interviews. 

Carl Bryan and Sam Jordan of Five Lamps Films by Matt BamfordHow did 5 Lamps Films begin?

Carl: Back in 2006 a group of Derby Uni students wanted a relaxed setting to show their work. So they set up a monthly night in Five Lamps Pub with a DVD player and a projector. That was when we first heard about it and I started putting films in I’d shoot with the video mode on my digital camera.

Sam: Then it moved out of there to The Old Bell Hotel. That’s when we started showing films we’d made together. Then it went from there to The Box at Quad. After a while Graham & Paul (then organisers) were no longer able to run it due to other commitments so they asked us to take over.

Carl: We took over in February 2011. Two weeks to our first screening and we only had one film. We had to phone around some people, I think we ended up showing two of Sam’s films and it went on from there.

Sam: We decided to make it every other month, as every month we felt was just too much. We would not get the 12-15 films a screening that we get now if it was monthly.

What are your plans for the future of Five Lamps Films?

Sam: We have always kept it fairly similar.

Carl: We’re at a point now where we have almost a self running system,

You have essentially developed an ecosystem for local film makers to exist within…?

Sam: Kind of, yes. People will come down and chat, new creators will come and meet the more established creators, then a lot of times that leads them being involved in each others films. There is a lot of cross pollination…

Carl: Which is brilliant. The thing that some people get wrong is they think we are a festival. We’re not. We have started to state that a bit more clearly on anything with our name on it. We class ourselves as an open mic night for short films. Regardless of experience, if you have just picked up a camera for the first time, send it in and your peers can see it and you can get feedback.

Sam: It is what I always come back to, the open mic thing. It sounds simple and it almost sounds lazy to say that we don’t curate it. What it is, which when you look around is quite niche really, is the fact that you can have your film played on a big cinema screen and not have it be quote unquote “good” it can just “be”. Even if it is the first thing that you have made. I don’t think there are a lot of other places that do that. I always try to hold on to that little nugget: that it is very, very open to people.

Carl: You can be a rookie film maker, and we will be accepting of that. That’s what happened with us when we started entering and I think we became more confident and better at what we do because of it.

Sam: It keeps it simple, and we try to keep it simple. Because in a lot of ways it doesn’t need to be much more than what it already is.

Carl: We have had people who enter once and then we have never heard from them again, because they just wanted to try doing it. We have had people who really picked it up and just ran with it from there. You almost assume it is a young person’s thing, but we have had older people, amateur groups, children’s groups. The youngest one we’ve got at the moment is 16… (Note: later in that evening’s screening one filmmaker was 15-years-old)

Sam: (lamenting) They’re all so young and talented…

Carl: Annoying isn’t it?

Sam: Really annoying when I look at what we were making when we were 16!

Carl: But that is the good thing now. Digital cameras are ubiquitous. You can pick one up from CEX now or even if you’ve just got a phone. With the new iPhone you can shoot 1080p, people are shooting feature films on it now. We had somebody enter our Five/24 Film Challenge who’d recently purchased a new iPhone who just wanted to try it out. So he literally just went out and did it. I think it was the first film he had ever made and he nearly won a prize (he breached the rules of the competition) but we gave him a special mention for encapsulating the spirit of the competition.

Sam: With it being its own ecosystem it means that it comes in waves. You ‘ll have the wave of university starters and a lot of new faces. Then there’s the established people who come back every show. It is always evolving.

Carl: It’s the cinematic equivalent of Byker Grove. They come in, they get older and move on and newer ones come in (laughs)

Sam: Because we don’t necessarily try and perpetuate it ourselves, in that we don’t speak to people and say “hey, give us a film” we find that it is very natural…

Carl: We very rarely directly contact people. With things like the 24hr Film Challenge we might send out an email just to make people aware that it’s happening. But apart from that we never really send out a round robin email to everybody

Sam: I think talking to Adam Marsh (Quad Programmer) about where Five Lamps could go in the future and very tentatively there is funding that we could get in order to push things. Not necessarily to pinpoint people to say to give us a film but more to just put it out there that this is something that exists.

Carl: Sometimes we will get people who have been making films for a long time and they have no idea we’re here.

Sam: If there’s anywhere we’ve previously failed it’s advertising. If there are people making films who do not realise this is happening. Fine if the just don’t want to submit. But if they don’t realise it’s happening and it’s something they could do…

Lastly the 24 hour Film Challenge, what is the smallest budget entry you’ve ever had submitted, you already touched on this earlier.

Both: Zero

Sam: Some people aren’t paying anything. We have made some where we make a point of not spending any money.

Carl: Tonight you’ll see the intro video we made. We just shot it in Sam’s house in the snow and I think it looks fantastic. The fact that it looks really good is down to Sam, but again it didn’t cost us anything. Just the fact that that all we needed to do was have an idea…

Sam: …And two grands worth of camera… (laughs)

It helps, but you could do it for less.

Sam: Absolutely. I think it is roughly 50/50 with the Five/24 Challenge – half of them who have literally spent nothing.

Carl: Some of them have just got some very enthusiastic teams. One of the winners a few years ago did a Sci-Fi with aliens and a spaceship in it. I’m pretty sure was made out of cardboard and all done with lights and paint but it looked great. I think it has gotten into a few film festivals since. That was all just through enthusiasm, calling in favours and things like that

Sam: To be honest I would feel a bit bad if people were spending a LOT of money on their film.

From little things, big things grow…

Carl: We link it with Derby Film Festival. For the challenge we used get every one here to QUAD for the start of the 24hrs. The more popular it has become that has become less practical. We would have people who would drive all the way from Leicester to just pick up a prop and then they would drive back to Leicester, which obviously in a contest against the clock is a waste of two hours.

Sam: Now, we give them a line of dialogue and an action so we can just sent that out by email. We top and tail the festival bill. So that on the first day of the festival they will all go out and make a film, then we’ve got a week where all of the other stuff happens, then we are the closing event of the whole festival. Which is quite nice.

Carl: In the cinema twice as big as the one we are usually in…no pressure on us to fill it!

Sam: It’s good for Quad to have that kind of engagement with filmmakers and young people. It’s free entry for the screening. One year we were completely full, 200 plus people in there. Very proud of that. There are about three or four teams at the moment, with a lot of others declaring their intent. It’s pretty much all we’ll be talking about for the next few weeks…

How about prizes?

Sam: We’re finalising that now. To be honest the thing we’ve found is a lot of people enter do it because they enjoy making something and that’s great. That’s what we’re all about. The fun of creating.


Entries for the Five/24 challenge are now open. Established in 2009, the challenge itself seems simple – produce a three minute film (no more, no less) which you can write/cast/plan the film beforehand but all production must be within 24 hours.

Since that time 108 films have been created in the name of the competition. From long standing Five Lamps contributors to some who picked up a camera and just wanted to have a go. Everyone is welcome to take part in this challenge of creativity against the clock.All entered films get screened as the closing event of Derby Film Festival on Sunday 13 May  at QUAD – Derby

Find the rules of competition here and the entry form here.

Find Five Lamps Films:

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