Dr. Rob Speranza is a production manager, line producer/producer, and co-founder of the South Yorkshire Filmmakers Network (SYFN), a not-for-profit organisation that promotes and enables film-based networking and filmmaking activities in South Yorkshire.
His credits include the feature films Dementamania, Inbred, Entity, and Small Creatures. Recently, he co-produced the feature film Arthur and Merlin, which involved many SYFN members and was partly shot in the South Yorkshire region. Casting Networks interviewed him to find out more about his organisation, and the opportunities it affords filmmakers.
Casting Networks: Tell us about SYFN and what was the initial aim at the outset? Over the years, has the aim of the network changed?
Rob Speranza: The SYFN is a not-for-profit organisation that helps filmmakers from all over the region. It says ‘South Yorkshire’ on the label, but really we help people from all over the country, but, yes, with mostly films that are shooting up North. People come to us with all kinds of needs. Equipment, locations, crew, cast, script help – whatever they need. We seem to now be the largest filmmakers’ network outside of London, with about 1900 people today in the network. We started with only about 7 people hanging out, talking about films, and filmmaking in a pub about 14 years ago, so this of course took some time!
Over that kind of time, obviously a lot has changed. I think, though, at the heart of what we do, it is the same as it was 11 years ago: we help filmmakers get their films made. We used to host networking events once a month and we still do that, using the ‘Shooters in the Pub’ platform and working with Shooting People (www.shootingpeople.org), acting as their Sheffield branch, if you will. We now also, however, have a monthly short film screening called ‘Showroom Shorts’ which we work with the Showroom Cinema each month to put on the big screen. This is a great event each month – and we’ve been doing it for about five and a half years.
The bigger events we do are things like the 2Weeks2MakeIt music video competition, which we have hosted and coordinated now eight times in the past ten years. This is a music video competition that places filmmakers and musicians together, and challenges them with making a music video in two weeks after a big launch event. Then we have a HUGE screening event, also at the Showroom Cinema, that shows all the films off, and awards about £5K in prizes. I love doing that comp – we just finished the 2016 edition and you can see the results and all the winners here. In fact, Casting Networks were a part of that comp this year, providing casting options for the crews working on the films being made in April.
I guess the newest thing we are doing now is hosting a series of masterclasses called ‘Directions’, which is funded by the National Lottery, the next one is on 27 May. This has been key in our development – it is something I’ve wanted to do for awhile. We’ve been running these for about two years now, giving a masterclass on some aspect of filmmaking once a month, and bringing in a high calibre guest speaker.
We also operate as a production company, making films for lots of companies. I’m working on a series of films for the University of Sheffield now, working with another partner company, and making films for clients like Taco Bell, the Sheffield City Council, and many others.
So, at the heart of it all, this Network still does what it is supposed to do, but we have seen aspects expand and expand!
CNI: Why did you choose Sheffield as the home of this network, and what does Yorkshire offer to a budding filmmaker? Have you ever considered branching out to other UK locations?
RS: I went to University here and it made sense to stay here after this company, the SYFN, came out of the establishment of another production company that I helped form (Sort of…Films Ltd). Basically, I started working on projects straight after I finished my PhD, and had a lot to do – I sort of have never stopped. I did work on some no/low budget stuff while actually working on the doctorate too, which helped me cut my teeth.
They used to say Yorkshire was an “up and coming” area for filmmaking in the UK/Europe, but it has gone beyond that now. I think Yorkshire is a fantastic varied place for locations, has some extremely talented crew, support organisations like Screen Yorkshire, a Creative England office, and ourselves. Plus Bradford – the UNESCO City of Film – is here, fantastic venues like the National Media Museum, the Showroom Cinema, and more. It’s one hell of a place for festivals too: Sheffield Doc/Fest, Aesthetica SFF, Leeds IFF, Celluloid Screams Horror Fest. There are places like the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales that are right here – amazing shooting locations.
You can access financial assistance from Screen Yorkshire, help and support from the SYFN. There’s a lot that a filmmaker based up in this area can get out of simply living and working here. Bigger and bigger films are also coming to the region too.
Yes, we have considered branching out into other places, but this is not something we are able to do right now with the current manpower that we have. The key thing that COULD happen is to partner with other folks that are also passionate about helping other filmmakers in other regions – and then talking to them about how we work and how we make this all operate as a full-time job, because that is what it is for me.
CNI: Have there been any particular success stories that have their roots in the SYFN that you can share with us?
We have many, but one I always think of that stands out is the story of thanks we had from an assistant editor that connected with the guys at Warp Films as a result of one of our networking events. As a result of our introduction, he got work with them on a regular basis and is now a staple freelancer on pretty much every one of their productions. He always thanks me for that every time I see him. Networking: it works!
CNI: How would you like to continue moving forward with the network in the foreseeable future and is there an ‘end game’ for your organisation, a pinnacle as such?
RS: I don’t know if there is a “pinnacle” as such, but I will continue to innovate new programmes, new ideas, and events for the filmmakers in the region and beyond. I suppose the biggest peak would be if we started helping on larger feature films in and out of the region. I have done that as a freelance producer and line producer, but not as a Network as such.
I don’t think any company has an “end game.” Because if they did, that’s the end of the company! You always have to innovate!
Seriously though, I think we have a lot we can do in the future. I’d like to see 2Weeks2MakeIt franchise further to other regions (there is a West Midlands version of the event that will continue later this year). I’d like to establish more screenings around the region, taking the shorts on the road. And I have plans to start a bigger new event in the next two years that will also become significant on the regional cultural calendar.
CNI: You’ve produced and line produced a significant number of films yourself. Have you found that being part of the SYFN has helped with any of these projects?
RS: Very much so. The Network inadvertently became a huge asset for me as a producer to find crew, cast, and lots more. I get reminded of something I read in Christine Vachon’s book A Killer Life, all about how she got started as a producer. She was part of a group that started a New York-based film collective in the late 1980s, and she wrote that by being in that group, and connecting with so many people, that what they didn’t realise they were doing was also launching their own careers as well as those of other people. I think, to an extent, that same kind of thing was happening with me a bit.
CNI: And lastly, for those who want to find out more and get in touch, is there a selection process? Or is it open to any filmmaker, new or old?
RS: It’s open to new entrants as well as seasoned professionals, and people can find us on www.syfn.org and reach me on firstname.lastname@example.org – very simple. No, we don’t really have a selection process – we have a membership scheme and it’s £30/year or £20 for students and it is open to anyone that wants to make films or be involved in the process. People can find and join our Groups on Facebook too – The South Yorkshire Filmmakers’ Network, or also Shooters in the Pub: Sheffield. And our Twitter is very active with over 2500 followers @syfn – so, get in touch!