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26 October 2010

Jackie Sheppard - Film Producer

Jackie Sheppard - Film Producer

Jackie Sheppard is a film producer who has done a variety of jobs. Her interests are football, films, documentaries and traveling.  Strangely, on the latest movie, Africa United – which has some football in it – the director, Debs Gardner-Paterson and Jackie were probably two of the most knowledgeable people about football: Jackie through playing, Debs through presenting the Singaporean version of Match of the Day.  Jackie’s producing partner, Mark, has no interest in football so don’t bother asking him to explain the offside rule.


What did you want to become when you were a child?

As a small child I wanted to be a farmer and I still have my model farm in the loft. This may account for my love for The Archers. As a teenager I wanted to get into films. It took a number of different life experiences to arrive at film producing. A couple of years ago we shot a film on a farm which was great - my two loves of filming and farming coming together!

How did you end up as producer of films?

It's a very long story, but essentially I did a degree in media production and did some TV work but then went to work for the Church. Whilst running the communications team at the Baptist Union I started producing worship events and that re-kindled my love of all things multi-media. Eventually, I knew I had to take the plunge back into the media proper and I met a producer called Mark Blaney at Footprint Films, we got talking, realised we wanted to make the same kind of films, and the rest as they say...

What is the power of story?

A few years ago I was watching a movie in the cinema and I got so engrossed that when something bad happened I found myself saying out loud 'oh no!' and then looking around to see if anybody had heard me! Fortunately the film was loud and my involuntary articulation of my thoughts had gone unnoticed. But, even though I know what goes on behind the scenes of a film, if the story is good enough it completely captivates you. Jesus knew what he was doing when he told stories!

What would you do with a million quid?

As a producer you are constantly on the look out for funds to aid development of projects and a million quid would develop us quite a lot of projects! I'd like to think that I'd also just give some of it away - specifically to two things close to my heart - education and water for Africa.

How was the idea for 'Africa United' born?

A producer in Rwanda Eric Kabera had written a script around the idea of a kid walking to the World Cup. He was out in Hollywood trying to sell it when a colleague, Ayuub Kasasa Mago, sent it to us and said 'I think this is a project for you'. Mark Blaney and I had been looking for a Rwandan project that would help people see Africa differently. We managed to divert Eric from Hollywood to the UK and we then engaged screenwriter Rhidian Brook to work with the director Debs Gardner-Paterson to develop Eric's story premise into the story that became AFRICA UNITED.

What is the best and worst thing about producing a film?

On this project, some of the best moments have been watching our five young cast members grow and develop as individuals and actors. The worst part is all the paperwork. The other worst part is stunt days when you are conscious that you are responsible for what potentially might happen.

25% cuts in the arts budget - disaster or dawn?

The arts in the UK always seem to be on a tightrope and cuts, plus, the freezing of the BBC licence fee is inevitably going to make life difficult. As film producers in the UK there are only a very few pots of money, unless you find private investors. Mind you, everybody is saying how tough it is at the moment to finance films and we have just managed to make a movie with a first time feature director, first-time feature writer, first-time feature producer and five unknown actors - so it can happen. Of course, it only happened because the financiers were willing to take an extraordinary risk.

What or who inspires your work?

My Nan, who died a number of years ago, always used to say to me 'if a job's worth doing, it's worth doing well'. It's a simple saying but so true and it's always stuck with me. It's perhaps more of a motto to live by rather than inspiration but it has had a huge impact on the way I work.

What have you learned from producing a film set in Africa?

Work with people who know the territory and how to deal with the inevitable bureaucracy, who speak the language and who can help smooth the path. The reality is this film was less of a learning curve and more of a steep vertical line! Taking five unknown actors across three countries in Africa in the height of an African summer with a small budget was always going to be a challenge. But, as with anything, it helps to have a great team around you who can help you overcome the challenges.

What do you invest in the next generation?

At Footprint Films we try never to turn away people who ask for advice; we watch a good number of short films to try and see who are the up and coming filmmakers and we've possibly just given five young people their first step up the ladder as actors. (In fact, one of them has already filmed his second role.)

Is the Christian community strategic enough in our arts engagement?

Some parts are; and, it feels as if more and more Christians are engaging with film in particular. I was really heartened at a recent seminar on faith and film to discover that most of the audience went to see a film at least once a month if not more often. Of course, they were at the seminar because they were interested in film but it feels to me that more and more people are positively encouraging of engagement with the arts rather than the previous 'run a mile' from being involved. Whether we engage strategically enough … who knows? But at least we are engaging.