Interview: Sam Barnett
In conversation with one of the producers behind Caterpillar

The crew working on the short film standing for a group photo in a back gardenThe crew working on the short film standing for a group photo in a back garden

Producer Sam Barnett takes us behind-the-scenes of his latest short film project, Caterpillar.

Caterpillar unravels how a young choreographer's life of motion is turned into one of stillness after a colossal diagnosis hits her family. Written and directed by Dorny Sunday and co-produced by Sam Barnett and Jim Wraith, the film was inspired by Dorny’s experience working as a carer and explores the challenges people face trying to progress their own lives whilst having to care for someone else.

As Caterpillar is one of the latest projects ​​supported by Film Hub North this year through the BFI NETWORK Short Film Fund, we sat down with Sam to find out how production went just in time for Film & TV Charity’s Behind the Scenes Week (28 Nov - 2 Dec). Behind the Scenes Week is the UK’s first week dedicated to celebrating everybody working behind the scenes in Film, TV, and cinema. They are inviting everyone to #TurnTheCameraAround, and take a moment to celebrate one another.

So, let’s get to know the team and story behind Caterpillar…

What attracted you to coming on board as a producer for ‘Caterpillar’?

We were initially approached by commercial and music video writer/director Dorny Sunday as he wanted to transition into his first funded fictional short film and that was immediately exciting for us both. Caterpillar focuses on Dorny’s lived experience as a carer, the film being a direct reflection of some of these experiences with an added signature style that makes it stand out from the more formal drama format. We have a large amount of experience working with filmmakers to facilitate the sharing of their real-world experiences and after meeting with Dorny we knew we wanted to be a part of the project.

How did you assemble your production team?

We initially looked at our Head’s of Department and bringing people together that would be able to facilitate Dorny’s vision. Dorny knew though that he wanted to work with DOP Harry Wheeler from Lux Artists. After looking at his fiction and commercial work we knew he was perfect for this project and we were extremely grateful for the contributions and attitude he brought to it. From there we reached out to our contacts and many new crew members we hadn’t worked with before. It was a brilliant opportunity to work with a diverse range of people from across the UK and through the process have connected with a brilliant network of crew that we will continue to work with in the future. Overall, we had 28 crew members that week with an additional number of students from Sheffield Hallam University working with us as trainees.

Manchester and Leeds are the traditional production cities in the North but this was shot in Sheffield. Why did you shoot there?

Our initial discussions around shooting locations sat between Sheffield and Manchester, me and Jim are based in Sheffield, and we know it well – having filmed most of our films here we love the balance between countryside and city life. We also have access to resources here including locations, equipment, and crew. Dorny coming from Manchester had a similar pool of resources to work from, so we went back and forth between our options for a while. The main thing that made Dorny select Sheffield creatively was our signature brutalist architecture, and how we could include this within the cityscapes and setting of the film.

Can you tell us about any particular challenges relating to crewing up?

We faced some significant budgetary challenges relating to crewing up and spent most of our budget on crew, travel, accommodation costs, food and kit hire. It was a real challenge for us here as we really can’t compete with High End TV or commercial rates but we are deeply fortunate that we managed to crew up with such an incredibly talented set of people from across the UK and in such a short space of time.

Was there a Hidden Hero or particular crew member that was essential in delivering Caterpillar that you’d like to highlight?

It is almost impossible to select a single crew member, everyone was brilliant across the four-day shoot. Our Production Coordinator Oliver Haigh was entirely essential to Caterpillar though. He was involved from the very beginning and worked with us across all areas including travel and logistics, stepping up and assisting the departments where needed and he also worked with me and Jim in the kitchen cooking warm meals for cast and crew throughout the week. Oliver has worked with us on all projects including Horvath, Snapshot and now Caterpillar and we wouldn’t be making films today without him.

You had a Wellbeing Facilitator on the production - what prompted you to bring on that role and what were the benefits to the team?

We always try to build in a support structure within our films. We see this as being necessary when toeing a fine line between documentary and fiction – alongside this we will always make any reasonable adjustments for crew where needed to ensure our production is accessible as possible. The Wellbeing Facilitator was a much-needed addition to the project and was there to assist our cast and crew throughout the week, offering guidance, emotional support and signposting to external services and resources where needed. Our Wellbeing Facilitator was overseeing and supporting the delivery of some of the more challenging scenes which involved universal yet emotionally straining settings and performances.

You had several trainees on Caterpillar. Why was it important to bring them on to the production?

I’m extremely passionate about creating access points within the film industry, I feel that there are significant barriers for those living in the north in terms of gaining on set experience and connecting with regional filmmaking networks. One of the best ways for new entrants to experience being on a professional film set is through the BFI Network shorts that take place across the regions. As part of this we brought on several trainee roles which included a number of students from Sheffield Hallam University. It was important to us that they had a meaningful experience of what it is like to work on a film set within a supported setting – particularly where they are volunteering their time towards the experience. They were all fantastic across the week and I hope that they have connected with filmmakers in the north and continue to work within the networks opened up to them. We were all incredibly impressed with their work ethic, professionalism, and contributions to the project.

Sam Barnett started his filmmaking journey in the exhibition sector as a manager at the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield, before progressing to Creative England and Film Hub North over the span of four years. Sam now works as a freelancer across film exhibition, production and education.


Header image credit: The crew working on the production of the BFI NETWORK funded short film Caterpillar