Friday, October 18, 2013

Systir Productions and 616

Today I have an interview with Systir Productions, a production team based in London. Amy and Victoria Howell are sisters and multi-award winning creators of 'The Syndicate' and '616', the latter of which is currently crowdfunding.

What led you to the film industry?

Vicky has worked in film and theatre for the past 15 years. In fact she trained originally as an actor, then got sidetracked into writing and later to directing, but we've both grown up on films of all types - watching horror from probably a much too early age(!) and had often gone over various ideas for stories, but there was a eureka moment whilst back at our mum's house for xmas 2008 when we just said 'we should do this!' Vicky had the industry knowledge and writing experience, Amy had the business experience and the ideas so it was an obvious next step.

What made you choose to work on a webseries?

We started with the intention of making films, to be honest, and the first project we wrote together was actually a feature version of the '616' concept. However, during the course of that script's development we became sidetracked into the story behind what became our first webseries, 'The Syndicate', which again we initially developed as a feature idea. When we wrote 'The Syndicate' back in 2009, there were very few webseries about, especially in the UK, but we did stumble across one which was made by the production team behind 'Torchwood' called 'Girl Number Nine' and this is what introduced us to the concept of webseries. The aspect that appealed to us initially was the ease of distribution and this is what gave us the idea of turning 'The Syndicate' into a webseries. Rather than being at the mercy of a distribution company to get your work seen, you just post it online and control the distribution yourself. And we're really glad we did that, as, if we had tried to release 'The Syndicate' as a traditional feature film we could still be sitting around now waiting for a distributor, while, by releasing as a webseries, it has now been seen by almost a million people, travelled to festivals around the world, won awards and put us in touch with Frostbite Pictures who we are now working with on producing '616'. So webseries have definitely been lucky for us!

What would you say is your favorite project you worked on, and why?

Your first baby is always special, so 'The Syndicate' does hold a unique place in our hearts. It has also brought us a lot of opportunities so we're also really grateful to it and to everyone who worked on it. We learnt a lot through making 'The Syndicate' as well - a baptism of fire in a lot of ways! - and '616' is definitely benefitting from that.

What is '616' about? What makes it worth backing?

'616' is a character driven, fantasy/horror webseries in the tradition of Buffy/Angel/Supernatural etc, albeit less glossy as we're British...! Although it follows in some very established traditions, with ancient evils, magic and end of the world stakes, the concept behind the story, the way this evil manifests, is, so far as we can tell, entirely unique. We've watched many a horror film in our time and we've certainly never come across it before, so that alone makes it worth backing! Like all the best ideas it's incredibly simple and you'll kick yourself when you find out what it is...!

How has your experience been as women in the industry? Do you find any impact on your success?

So far, we've been very lucky and haven't really experienced any overt prejudice or discrimination as a result of being female filmmakers beyond the odd "boys' club" mentality of the occasional crew member. For the most part our gender has been completely irrelevant and that's as it should be! We have been known to surprise festival programmers though as, with the nature of our writing, they assume we're male...

What do you think is the biggest contributor to your success?

We don't give in. Making low and no budget projects can be like fighting bears uphill through treacle - it's hard work, it can be slow and frustrating and there is always something trying to stop you, from the weather to needing to pay the rent, but the trick is to just put your head down and keep going.

Thank you so much to Amy and Victoria! Good luck to them on the crowdfunding for '616'!

About Systir Productions

Systir Productions is an award winning production team, based in London, and consisting of sisters Amy and Victoria Howell. Amy is a writer/producer with a ten year background in project management and Victoria is a writer/director of over fifteen years experience. They began Systir in 2008 and their first project was a multi-award winning webseries, 'The Syndicate', which, due to interest from producers they have now developed into a feature script. The script placed in the finals of the Cascade Pictures Writers' Couch Initiative in December 2012; semi-finals of the Bluecat Screenplay Competition 2013 and was a finalist for the Bluecat Cordelia Prize for best British script. Systir have also produced three short films, two of which, '616' and 'Drawn Together' are live action/animation mix and still in post production - these are due to be finished by early 2014 to be submitted to festivals. The third, '6 Shooter', was made as a competition entry for the Frightfest/Shortcuts to Hell competition 2013.

As a result of taking 'The Syndicate' to webseries festivals in 2012, Amy and Vicky met up with Canadian webseries creator Ivan Hayden, who, with co-creators Jason Fischer and Kirk Jacques, was aiming to establish a webseries studio, Frostbite Pictures, to produce high end webseries content. Systir agreed to become the UK arm of Frostbite and are now working on their second webseries, '616', developed from their feature concept/short film of the same name. However, where the original concept was a B movie, effects laden gorefest, the webseries has been developed as a more mainstream, character driven fantasy/horror series in the tradition of Buffy/Supernatural/Grimm etc. '616' is a completely original horror concept, which has never been done - so far as we can tell! - and Systir are very excited to bring the concept to the webseries world. They are shooting just the first three episodes at present as pilot episodes with which they hope to generate production funding for a full series.

As well as writing, directing and producing their own original content, Systir also collaborate with other webseries creators and filmmakers. Most recently, they directed and helped production manage short film 'Leads and Follows', a love story set in the world of swing dancing, and award winning comedy horror webseries 'The Bloody Mary Show', as well as assistant producing short horror film 'Anna'.

Systir are currently crowdfunding for '616' and would love it if you could help them out! There are some great perks to be had, so please do follow the link and check it out.

For more information on Systir and their past projects please see their website where you can also watch their first webseries, 'The Syndicate'. You can also check out the trailers for their short films on the website or on their YouTube channel. If you're into social media - and who isn't these days! - follow them on Twitter -systiria and 616series - or Facebook - SystirProductions, TheSyndicateWebseries and 616series, or link up with them on LinkedIn.



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