Lesley van Dijk and Teele Dunkley are two Norfolk friends who decided to pursue their film industry dreams in 2020. And the result? Their first short film together has been submitted to this year’s Cannes Film Festival!
Teele Dunkley and Lesley van Dijk have been friends for nearly five years and have worked on various photo shoots together – all the while supporting each other with their businesses. If being ambitious and driven in their work is a natural way of operating for them, all that came to a resolute halt during lockdown in spring 2020. Yet a year on, things could not be more different.
Creative people take inspiration from everything around them and the stories of families who could not meet during the first lockdown inspired Teele to write the Metres Apart script – her first credit as a script writer. She says: ‘I wanted to turn the negative side of 2020 to a positive time in my life by writing and directing a film, but I knew there would be a lot of restrictions for film sets. So, I wrote the script with that in mind and with the main characters being a father and a daughter who had grown emotionally apart and had to social distance when meeting again.’
Although the setting of the film is during the pandemic, the essence and the core of ‘Metres Apart’ is timeless; broken family connections and finding ways to mend them.
Teele adds: ‘I talked to Lesley about the film idea and she was very supportive of this project from the start. Having someone believe in what you are doing is a huge thing.’
Thinking back to 2020, Lesley says: ‘I was determined to further develop my photography business once we were out of the thick fog that came down on us during spring. But it would take time for the world to adjust and regain confidence. However, at the same time, Teele had gone full steam ahead with her film idea and in August she had written the script while setting up an education charity in Malawi. She has endless energy and courage!
‘On one of our walks in the summer she asked me to be her producer. She said, ‘you have all the right skills and be great at it’. I took a big leap of faith and grabbed the opportunity to do something positive and new for me – and became the producer of Metres Apart. While my skills suit this role, the industry is new to me, so it was a steep learning curve!’
After the first script draft was written, Teele started building the filming team. ‘I knew I wanted Paul Andrew Goldsmith, who is a well-respected Norfolk actor, to play the father role and he also came on board with helping to refine the subsequent drafts of the script.
I got in touch with my friend and cinematographer Paul Cook who agreed to film it, and I put out a casting call for the role of 13-year-old Lilly and found the wonderful young actress Olivia Boyne from AKP Management. This was the first time in my career where I got to work with a producer from the very start of the project to the finish line. I was able to bounce ideas back and forth and hand over some of organising tasks to Lesley. Previously, the projects that I directed were also produced by me and that can get exhausting as there are so many things to consider and to organise. Having a great producer on a project is worth a ton of gold and I just knew Lesley would be brilliant at this role,’ says Teele.
Having delayed the filming by a week due to the weather, they went ahead. Lesley says: ‘We planned to film outside for a full day keeping to Covid guidance and making it easier for everyone. It sure was cold and we had some unexpected spells of rain that day, but the team handled the changeable weather very well. And never mind the continuous tree cutting next to us that made the sound recording challenging at times! We were all buzzing and excited about being with positive people creating something that would last. And seeing the idea come alive on the screen is a magical experience.’
Executive Producer and actor Anton Kamillus joined the team and together they prepared the film to go to Cannes. It is looking promising as the script has already won many awards from film festivals’ script competitions.
Not long after the filming day for Metres Apart, Teele and Lesley started working on a new film project, Losing Us, which is a refugee story about family love and survival. Lesley comments: ‘It took my film producing skills to the next level being fully immersed in funding, project management and marketing. It’s like running a new business!’
Teele is hoping to advance her career to bigger scale projects in the future and is developing many feature-film scripts, after directing 27 smaller projects such as music videos and short films. ‘In the filming world, developing your career takes time but one of the most important things you need is a good network of people around you. Good films are always a team effort, and you take these core people with you from one project to another as well as encourage everyone to pursue their own creative dreams. Our next short film Losing Us is a step up from Metres Apart with a much bigger crew, cast and budget. After that, my sights are set on directing a feature film,’ says Teele.
Lesley again. ‘While Teele is very driven, she’s also one of the kindest and supportive people I know and has a big heart for her community – here in Norfolk, in Estonia and in Malawi, where her family and friends live. For example, she knows I have a film idea about climate change aimed at young people and she hopes that I will take the next step making it a reality.’
Teele responds: ‘I believe in Lesley and her brilliant idea, same as she has always believed in me.’
Who knows what this year will bring them but they feel that friends are everything and ‘being brave should always be your motto’.
Lesley van Dijk and Teele Dunkley have started auditioning for one of the key roles for their next short film Losing Us. They intend to shoot a pilot scene soon and then start crowdfunding in July. Follow Lesley on Instagram and Teele on Facebook
Picture credits: Lesley van Dijk