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Open House Pictures: "becoming professional filmmakers"

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

Film and cinema buffs Dan Bale and Joe Palmer graduated from Sheffield Hallam University’s Acting & Performance degree in 2018. Since then, they have been busy working together to set up their very own film production company, Open House Pictures. We were excited to catch up with them to find out how this new enterprise is shaping up.

Joe Palmer (left) and Dan Bale (right) filming a promotional advertisement for Plus Tech. Photo credit: Matt Glaz.

SHU Acting & Performance: Hi Dan and Joe, we can’t believe that it’s been almost two years since you left us. What are you doing now?

Dan: We’re both climbing the very high mountain of becoming professional filmmakers. It’s a tough industry but we’re both passionate and working hard to get to where we want to be.

Joe: Yeah, as Dan says, it’s a slow burner in terms of progression but we’re both really dedicated. It’s funny how our passion for filmmaking has seeped into other elements of our lives too. We’re at the cinema most weeks and help out on a lot of short film passion projects in between.

SHU Acting & Performance: You both studied for a degree in acting and performance, how did the idea to set up Open House Pictures come about?

Joe: I’ve always been into film and theatre since I was younger, even putting on my own karaoke shows with my sister. I remember creating my own lego animation and Doctor Who short films growing up. Looking back I feel sorry for my family! I eventually started going to theatre groups around Sheffield and ended up doing it at both college and university.

Dan: I was very much the same! I remember being obsessed with TV and film as a kid, even borrowing my dad's old camcorder to make short films with my brother and sister. As I got older I realised I really enjoyed the acting side of filmmaking too, selecting it as one of the options for my GCSEs. After secondary school, I took the plunge and did it full time at college, where I met Joe, and then at Sheffield Hallam.

Joe: The filmmaking side of things came into play after our second year at University. We’d done a little bit of screen acting in College and with a fairly free summer ahead we thought we’d have a crack at making a short film. We’d crowdfunded the entire project and this pushed us to take a really serious and professional approach to the whole thing. It left us itching to do more filmmaking in the future and led to a change in our career direction.

Dan: So after we graduated we set up Open House Pictures and we’ve been working hard to make a name for ourselves ever since.

Joe: We now provide filming services to businesses, such as event, promotional, corporate, and explainer videos, to name a few. We really pushed the boat out to work with bigger clients such as Sheffield Hallam, Tramlines music festival, National VideoGame museum, and Volvo Sheffield.

Dan: We’ve done such a huge variety of different videos from micro-documentaries to crowd funders and animation. Each one has its own challenges but it just proves to us that we can be versatile and still make great content regardless of the project.

Joe and Dan reviewing notes for an interview with Jane Peach at the Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind. Photo credit: Chuck Saenborisut

SHU Acting and Performance: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced since leaving us?

Dan: There is an expectation that you’re going to jump hurdles and reach milestones a lot sooner and easier than you think. Putting yourself in the best position possible takes time, motivation, and commitment. You really have to work hard and push yourself every day. I’ve realised that you have to be patient and every step, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction.

Joe: Learning all the complexities of running a business and how to do video production with limited knowledge of either industry was a huge challenge. It took months to learn all the logistics behind the legalities of running a business, how to use cameras and equipment, and the general ins and outs. However, we’ve been really fortunate to get a lot of outside support from Hallam itself. The Enterprise team has been so helpful, providing us with business grants and startup training. Even the SHU Performance course has done a lot for us; giving us our first paid job after university and commissions as we’ve grown and developed. We’re now based in offices at Hallam’s i-Labs which is a big step up since starting two years ago.

SHU Acting & Performance: What advice would you give to students who are close to graduating?

Joe: Make sure you follow your dreams and ambitions. It's very tough and difficult out there in the real world and you might feel like giving up, but don’t!

Dan: Just go for it. Now is the best time to take risks and push yourself. Expand your circles – meet people and broaden the work you’re interested in. Take a stab at doing different projects and see what sticks! I spent a long time wanting to just do theatre and then in the second year of my degree I made a short film and now I’m starting a career in that industry. I think that performance really does give you skills that you can apply to all different types of creative industries.

Joe filming at the launch of Volvo Sheffield's new showroom. Photo credit: Daniel Bale.

SHU Acting & Performance: What are your favourite memories from your time with us?

Dan: My favourite memory was our final performance. We worked with our lecturer Dr. Henry Bell to reimagine Shakespeare’s Othello in a modern era. We utilised ‘In the round’ staging to give us a real connection with our audience – the stage being in the centre with the audience at all four sides watching. It was definitely one of the most ambitious plays I have ever worked on.

Joe: I played Iago and it was hands down the most challenging role I have ever tackled, but equally my fondest. We went all-in with the performance, rehearsing for hours on end and even borrowed costumes and props from an actual army base.

Dan: We pulled out all the stops to make it as authentic and visually exciting as possible. As well as using real military costumes we also used a blank pistol and set up some really dynamic lighting and sound states.

Joe: I loved performing ‘in the round’. It gave me the opportunity to get up close and personal with the audience when I was delivering Iago’s wicked soliloquies.

Dan: We worked really hard in every rehearsal and had such a fun and productive time devising the show. We ended the degree with a real bang!

Dan and Joe in Othello, final year Undergraduate Showcase. Photo credit: Elizabeth Pennington.

SHU Acting & Performance: You created a really powerful and memorable performance. What’s the number one thing that you learned while studying with us?

Joe: The wide variety of performances that we explored really enhanced my ability to create innovative and authentic videos. I learned how to work with actors and how to get the best performances out of them. Even though I haven’t gone into acting myself, I am using the skills I gained from the course every day in the videos we make.

Dan: The people around you have a defining effect on the work you do. Over the three years, I’ve worked on such a variety of projects with a huge diversity of people. Every production has taught me something new and pushed me forward as a performer and a creative. The parts that went well were important, but so were the parts that didn’t work out or ended up going wrong - all of those experiences shaped me and the course has been such an important part of me growing as a person.

SHU Acting & Performance: If you could study Acting & Performance again what would you do differently?

Joe: I would ask my lecturers more questions about directing to gain a more detailed insight. I have always been quite shy when auditioning and didn’t often go for the main roles, so I’d try to have more faith in myself and push myself out of my comfort zone.

Dan: I’d get more involved in performances outside the main degree. At the time I didn’t realise how useful it is to have these on your CV and how beneficial they are in developing your skills. SHU Acting & Performance do a lot of extracurricular shows that you can audition for or take part in. I’d spend more time getting involved in those.

Dan and Joe on stage at the Hallam Enterprise Awards. Photo credit: Fox Moon Photography.

SHU Acting & Performance: What do you hope to achieve in the years ahead?

Joe: To grow Open House Pictures as a company, expanding to other cities like Manchester, Leeds, and London. My personal ambition is to develop my skills as a film/theatre director as well as producing more fictional shorts under the Open House brand.

Dan: Right now, Open House is mostly me and Joe with a few freelancers chucked in where we need them. I’d like to see our team grow and have regular employees. For myself, I want to increase the number of passion projects I work on. Since leaving Uni I’ve mostly worked on other peoples’. I want to get a good few short films under my belt that really help develop my skills and experience.

SHU Acting & Performance: Well, it’s been great hearing from you both. We’re excited to see how your work develops and wish you the best of luck with the next steps.

Joe and Dan are currently writing short film scripts that will go into production later in the year. They’re looking to grow their list of actors and are keen to hear from anyone who would be interested in auditioning.

In October 2019, we asked Joe and Dan to document two Sheffield Hallam Acting & Performance productions that were commissioned especially for the Off the Shelf Festival of Words. You can watch the videos they created here:

Choke Me by Doppelgangster (2019)

September in the Rain by John Godber (2019)

Twitter: @OpenHousePicts

Instagram: /OpenHousePictures

Do you want to study Acting & Performance?

Find out about our degree at Sheffield Hallam University.



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