Ones to watch in 2018: film producers Ciara Barry and Rosie Crerar (aka barry crerar)

Ciara Barry and Rosie Crerar of barry crerar. PIC: John Devlin for The Scotsman
Ciara Barry and Rosie Crerar of barry crerar. PIC: John Devlin for The Scotsman
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Determined to challenge the status quo, Glasgow-based producers Ciara Barry and Rosie Crerar have their sights set on a Scottish New Wave. Judging by the projects on their books, they are on the way, writes Alistair Harkness

For a new film production company looking for a launchpad, the Venice Biennale is not a bad place to announce your arrival. That’s where barry crerar – two words, lower case – found itself last May. Set up in 2016 by Glasgow-based producers Rosie Crerar and Ciara Barry, the company – which is based in Film City Glasgow – hit the ground running when it signed on to produce Scottish artist Rachel Maclean’s Venice entry Spite Your Face. Coming on board in October 2016 (the same month the company officially got going), they went into prep that December and were shooting the visual-effects-heavy film by January for its May debut in Venice. The turnaround was, confirms Barry, “super-quick.”

“But it was great to be moving straight into production,” adds Crerar when we meet in their offices, “especially with somebody who is early on in her career but who is really establishing herself internationally. She very much captures in her work what we want to do. She’s trying to shake things up and challenge the status quo.”

If there’s a mission at barry crerar it’s that. Frustrated by the talent drain to London, it’s a company intent on making films in Scotland that are international in scope; a company that’s on the ground with the filmmakers who want to stay and work here.

“We’re not going to set up an office in London,” says Barry, wryly.

Friends since meeting at a short film showcase Crerar helped set in the mid-2000s, they come with a wealth of experience, having spent ten years working across the industry, both racking up production experience on numerous short films and features, both producing their own shorts independently of each other, and both coming to the realisation that neither wanted to just subsist within the larger industry.

For Barry, who’s originally from Belfast, that realisation came when she temporarily relocated back to her home city to work on the Tom Hanks-produced fantasy film City of Ember (at the studio where Games of Thrones is now based). “You feel like a tiny cog and I don’t think either of us wanted to be a tiny cog.”

For Crerar, who grew up in Glasgow, a similar epiphany occurred after working in high-level positions programming major film festivals like Sydney and London. “It’s so transitory working on a film festival. You put in this gargantuan effort and then the festival’s over and you have nothing. I wanted to create the reaction I have to cinema in an audience.”

Coming back to Glasgow and setting up a company was, for both of them, a way of making that feasible. The game-changer was the BFI Vision award they won just as they were getting serious. One of 22 production companies across the UK to receive the award (and the only production company in Scotland), it has provided them with the financial support and project support to establish themselves properly, operate on a day-to-day basis and develop projects at an early stage.

Which is unusual for producers their age, mainly because there aren’t many producers from their generation. Both in their 30s, they’ve always thought of themselves as the upstarts.

“We learned from the generation above us, but also wanted to do things our way,” says Crerar. “We’ve grown increasingly frustrated with this representation of Scottish cinema as is either tartan shortbread, Americanised, kaleyard, golf-and-whisky stuff, or this kind of gritty realist kitchen-sink scenario. Our experience of Scotland is we can work here but be outward-looking and make international, non-parochial work. If you look at the art scene, theatre, the literature and music scene, it’s really innovative and exciting. Things have shifted politically as well and, in our mind, that hasn’t translated yet to film.

“So we’re being very ambitious,” she adds with a laugh.

Ambition is good, though.

“If you look at the Greek New Wave,” says Barry – referring to the recent rise of internationally renowned Greek cinema in the wake of Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth – “they were crippled economically, yet they’re throwing out all this interesting stuff.”

“That’s been a big inspiration for us,” says Crerar.

Taste-wise, both lean towards European cinema anyway and both are graduates of the European Audio Visual Entrepreneurs scheme. As a company, then, barry crerar is well placed not only to initiate an equivalent Scottish New Wave, but ensure it has international appeal.

Their production and development slate is certainly loaded with projects from some of the most cutting-edge filmmakers in Scotland. Which is hardly surprising. One of the first things they did was have meetings with all the young filmmakers they’d worked with over the last decade. Consequently, they now have two projects in development with For Those in Peril director Paul Wright and are in the process of financing and casting Shell and Iona director Scott Graham’s as-yet-untitled new film, which they plan to shoot in the first half of the year and get onto the festival circuit by the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019. They’re also producing a new short by Ruth Paxton called Be Still My Beating Heart and are developing her first feature, Fifteen Wolves.

And that’s just for starters. Their fundamental commitment to working with under-represented voices means they have a lot more projects by female filmmakers on their slate, among them Glasgow and London-based artist Alia Syed, Bafta-winning director Esther May Campbell and Glasgow-based playwright Adura Onashile, whose 2016 Fringe First-winning play Expensive S**t both Barry and Crerar had loved.

They know they’ve arrived at the right time for doing all this too. A recent influx of money from the Scottish Government for film production and a renewed interest in British independent cinema means that when they meet sales agents now they’re being enthusiastically asked what they’ve got on their slate.

If only people would stop laughing at their name.

“Everybody laughs at our name,” says Crerar. “We were looking for a feminist title for our company. We thought we could do something that was a play on the whole Madison Avenue corporate patriarchal name structure and so we re-appropriated our fathers’ names. So ‘barry crerar’ is lower case, two separate words.”

“Our company is just about us, and our films are going to speak for us, so we don’t need a fancy name,” adds Barry.

“It’s quite tongue in cheek,” continues Crerar. “People think of it as a big guy: Barry.” She mocks the name with a thick Glaswegian accent.

“Everybody’s like, who’s Barry Crerar?” says Barry.

“We quite like making fun of ourselves,” says Crerar.

Rachel Maclean’s Spite Your Face, has it’s UK premiere at the Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, 24 February-5 May, www.ed.ac.uk/talbot-rice; www.barrycrerar.com