When Kerry Patten took her roommate’s dog for a walk to Doune Castle in central Scotland, she never expected to land a job on one of the most popular television shows in history. Game of Thrones was on site filming their pilot episode, transforming Doune Castle — also featured in scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail — into Winterfell, the home of House Stark. Kerry just happened to ask the right person the right question at the right time. Before she knew it, Kerry began working as a locations assistant, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Sean Bean (a.k.a. Ned freakin’ Stark), Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister!), David Benioff (Creator), and George R. R. Martin (Word Wizard).
Since graduating from the Film Production program at Vancouver Film School, Kerry has split her time between writing, producing, and directing her own short films, and working on some of the biggest film sets in the world. We had a chance to ask her what her time was like at VFS, her short film Castaway Hotel, and what’s next. Read on!
Where are you from originally? What made you decide to come to VFS?
Kerry: I'm originally from Liverpool, in the UK, home of the Beatles! I saw an advertisement for the Film Production program in a film magazine and thought it looked amazing.
Being an older student, the best thing for me was that it was only a year in length and it was a practical course. The article talked about it basically being three years of film school condensed into one, so that challenge certainly piqued my interest. Once I learned I had been accepted, I saved for twelve months, worked as much overtime as I could, then I quit my job, sold my house, my car, and all my stuff and bought a plane ticket to Vancouver!
What was it like in the Film Production Program?
Kerry: Upon entering the course I had taken lots of weekend and part-time film courses, but I have to say, my year at VFS was the hardest I have ever worked, and that is exactly what I wanted and needed.
You get what you put into the course, and I signed up for every additional class that was available to me. I immersed myself in film for a whole year. The practical elements perfectly complimented the theoretical elements, and at the end of the year I had a great grounding in every aspect of filmmaking.
What was the biggest takeaway from your time at VFS? How do you apply that to your career today?
Kerry: My year at VFS is, hands down, one of the best years of my life. It was an amazing experience. I lived and breathed film and I met people who loved film as much as I did. I learned so much more than I could have ever learned from a book and I made friends from all over the world — Japan, India, Mexico, USA, the Philippines, and we all still keep in touch today.
What was your post-graduation journey like after VFS? What did you do? Where did you go?
Kerry: After leaving VFS, I returned to the UK and my hometown (Liverpool). I had developed a short film at VFS but it was not chosen to be produced there as I had already had one produced, so I decided to produce it myself. I funded the film myself and I shot it at an art gallery in Liverpool. The film was called "Satisfaction Guaranteed" and it was a finalist in the Film Directing for Women Festival and was screened in London. I soon realized that there weren’t the same opportunities in Liverpool that existed in London, so I moved there and continued to write some short films. Then I did lots of travelling for various contracts in the Isle of Man, Amsterdam, Malta, and eventually I got a new role but that was in Scotland, so I moved there.
We heard that you also worked as a location scout on World War Z, Fast and Furious 6, and Game of Thrones. How did this come about? And what did the job entail for each film/TV show?
Kerry: I was out one day taking my roommate's dog for a walk and I was going to head to Doune Castle, which is where they filmed scenes from one of my favourite comedies, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. When I arrived, I could see that there was a film crew there. I had learned from VFS that the location manager (LM) is always a good person to ask on a production if there are any roles available, and that is what I did. I spoke to the LM, an extremely talented woman called Emma Pill, and I name-dropped VFS and my film skills. She was really impressed (VFS goes a long way!), and she asked if I was interested in a locations assistant position and if I could start tomorrow. It turned out to be the pilot episode for a little known series for HBO called Game of Thrones! I had never heard of the book, even though I knew who George R.R. Martin was. It was literally a five-minute walk from where I was living.
It was an incredible experience. I met the lead cast, Sean Bean, Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, David Benioff, and the great man himself, George R. R. Martin. Mr. Martin was touring the set and he had his own leather chair, which he sat in while they were doing the scenes. He nearly forgot to take it with him, so I followed him with his chair! They were moving on to Belfast after the Scotland shoot and that is where they filmed the rest of the production after the pilot was green-lit.
My job involved basic crowd control, as the castle was still open while filming was going on. Over the month I was working there word got out about the series and people were showing up who were fans. We had to ensure that no photos were taken, as it was all very hush-hush. I worked with the costume department and props, helping out where necessary and doing tons of additional things. An example would be covering the courtyard with soil to hide the grass, helping out the German band Corvus Corax find their way around while they played in the castle. Hearing that music in that location was an experience I'll never forget!
After working on Game of Thrones for a month, I kept in touch with the LM and she put me in touch with another production that was being filmed nearby in Glasgow. It turned out to be World War Z. My title was the same on that film, but this role was very different as it involved a lot of logistical problem solving. An example was that we were having issues with a location. In this case, it was the supermarket from the zombie fight scene. It was an abandoned building and they had power issues, so there were a lot of calls to the power company. It wasn’t very glamorous, but essential nonetheless. And we had really big issues with crowd control as it was a huge production being filmed right in the super busy Glasgow city centre with hundreds of background artists and people all hoping for a glimpse of Brad Pitt! There were multiple locations filming simultaneously, so I was involved in working closely with the location manager, Michael Harm, ensuring that everybody knew what was going on.
Once that production was completed, I got a call from a colleague of Michael’s saying that they were filming Fast and Furious 6 in Glasgow. This was a pre-production position and my job was to scout out some locations that would double as London, as Glasgow was far cheaper to film in. I had to take night shots of various streets to show the practical lighting (existing lighting) that was on the street. Then, I collated all these images and sent them back to the LM for his approval. The location was chosen, so it was cool to see it in the final film.
You recently made the short film Castaway Motel. What is it about? What inspired the idea?
Kerry: My latest short film The Castaway Motel is a short neo-noir about a femme fatale, Brooke, and a meeting she has with a man that changes them both forever. I am a huge fan of the American photographer, Gregory Crewdson, and I saw a photo he took of a woman and a baby in a motel, and I thought that was just such a powerful image. At the same time, I read an article in a film magazine that theorized that all you need to make a good story are two characters in a room who disagree about something, so I thought about that while I was driving home one night. There is a totally cool 1950s neon sign on a motel (also called The Castaway Motel) where I live, and suddenly all the pieces came together. I entered the screenplay into the BlueCat Screenplay competition run by Gordy Hoffman (Philip Seymour Hoffman's brother) based in L.A, and I reached the quarterfinals, but it didn't win. So I decided, once again, to produce it myself.
What is your filmmaking process like?
Kerry: I love to write my own screenplays. I love writing as much as producing, directing, and editing. Once I'm happy with the screenplay, I start breaking down the script (seeing what I need to get it made) and I start the casting process. I normally contact my local film groups and theatre groups and send out a casting call asking the actors to request sides (parts of the screenplay), if they are interested. If they like it, then I'll meet them for an informal chat and hopefully they are right for the part. I try and get the actors to meet each other as I think that chemistry between them is essential. Then, once they are cast, I'll get the locations sorted and set a date. I do my own cinematography as well as directing and editing, but I always get an additional person to do the sound recording/editing. This is not something I can do easily, and I think it is best to pay an expert to do that. On this production, I allowed a lot more improvisation and wasn't quite so rigid with the actual script. This freed the actors up a lot.
Now that Castaway Motel is in post-production, what are your plans for the film?
Kerry: After I get the film back from the postproduction sound company, I will be sending the film out to festivals in Canada and international festivals. I'm hoping to fit in a trip to the Short Film Corner at Cannes in May next year when I have a quick visit back to see the folks in Liverpool.
What’s next for you?
Kerry: I have just completed a first draft of my feature-length screenplay that I want to direct. I am hoping to get a place on the director's lab at the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto. My dream is to be able to write and direct on a full-time basis.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Kerry: One of the biggest lessons I have learned is: don't burn any bridges. It's a very incestuous industry. Everybody seems to know everybody else! So if you do a good job on a production and are reliable and professional, you'll probably get a recommendation for another production. Try and keep in touch with the people you have worked with. It's easier now with things like LinkedIn.
I'd like to end by saying that without VFS I would never have had the confidence to produce and direct my own films. It has been ten years since I said goodbye to the safety and security of the studios of VFS, but I use the things that I learned there to this day. I'm sure that will continue for the rest of my career.