California Dreaming!

From Stockport to Hollywood, the filmmaking world is James Oliver’s oyster. The 27-year-old degree student has been winning awards and getting advice and Austin Powers impressions from She’s the Man director, Andy Fickman.

James directed ten-minute film, Loved App, as part of his degree course at The Manchester College. Loved App, says James, is ‘a satirical comment on dating in the modern world.’

James was overjoyed when he heard the film was up for an award for Loved App at the Screen Stockport Film Festival. But having just heard he had been nominated for Stockport, James discovered that he would have to miss the screening as his film had also been accepted by the Laguna Film Festival in California. Amazed, he organised sponsorship, arranged to stay with friends he had met while travelling, and headed for the Laguna Hills.  

James explains that he’d entered the film for Laguna and a number of other national and international festivals. ‘I really had no idea how it would be received. When you spend so long doing something you lose all objectivity towards it. It was a pleasant surprise to win the Screen Stockport award and get screened in the States.’

Loved App was screened in the student category at the California festival alongside films from top US film schools like UCLA. ‘UCLA is one of the leading film schools in America, where many of the top directors come from. Most of the films in the student category were from the US schools.'

It was amazing to be in that category and see our film from The Manchester College up on that big screen along with all those films from Hollywood.

A highlight for James was meeting Hollywood director, Andy Fickman. ‘I was chatting to some of his assistants. They were really friendly and my British accent was an easy conversation starter! And then Andy came over doing his best Simon Cowell/Austin Powers impression. I thought he was hilarious and we just got chatting. He was the sweetest guy and he wanted to know all about me and the work we do at the College. He sat me down for 15 minutes and gave me a strategy for the rest of my course and afterwards. He said I should definitely send him the next thing I do and he wants to see more from me.’

As if this wasn’t enough, James was then invited to an inclusive Hollywood screening by Andy Fickman’s assistants. ‘They said they had a ticket for a preview screening of Charlie Kaufman’s new film [Anomalisa]. He’s one of my favourite writers so I was thrilled. So I got to see his new film which was amazing and go to a Q&A with him afterwards. I even asked a question! There were lots of like-minded filmmakers at the screening and we met up with some of them the next day so I made some friends. Some couches to crash on next time I go!’

James is keen to point out that Loved App is the combined work of a number of people. ‘The film was a collaborative effort. The director’s often the one that gets to attend the festivals but really I was just one part of a 30-person crew.’

We met two of that talented 30-person crew at the Screen Stockport Film Festival, where Loved App won the University Student Short Film Category. Hannah Saul, 21, said: ‘I’m really excited to see the film screened and get this recognition.’ Fellow team member Olly Philpott-Smith said: ‘I’m absolutely chuffed to be here. It’s something I’ve always aspired to.’

Course leader, Jim Grainger, said:

‘Festivals like this are a tremendous motivator for students and benchmark their work against national competition. This is the third year running that we’ve won University Student Short Film.

James Oliver

Film and Television Production (FdA)