Hey, Tom Betts!

Showing at Chapter Arts Centre this Sunday and Monday is a local film which has been a long time in the making.


Secrecy tells two connected stories about missing persons spanning across Cardiff, London and Japan, and it is safe to say it’s a labour of love, taking over five years to complete.

I met director Tom Betts on the opening morning of this year’s Made In Roath Festival back in October. For many, Tom is a familiar face; he has hosted and curated Chapter’s MovieMaker night since 2003, and organises the yearly Roathbud film night as part of Made In Roath, as well as regularly making short films and music videos for bands such as Kutosis.

Could you tell us a bit about Secrecy?

I made a very low budget feature film, 60 percent set and shot in Cardiff, 30 per cent in Japan, and a little bit in London as well. It’s a proper, independent, scrappy production and it’s my first one as well. It’s taken five-and-a-half years, so were just getting it into the last stage now.

I understand you’ve had to get the film individually licensed?

You know with small films it’s not going to be in 300 cinemas simultaneously, so it’s more like being on tour with a band. Because we know it’ll go around independent cinemas we can try and get it certified individually rather than nationally, because there’s a big cost.

We were lucky enough to get three grants from Wales Arts International and two Japanese foundations and that kind of just covered the basic costs.

How important are funds like that? 

I think its great and I’m really glad it exists; and it can be essential and on a really low level it’s instrumental. Having said that, the most successful film industry in the world is the American film industry, which has no public funding. You obviously have the studio model, which has very large budgets but they also have an incredibly vibrant independent film community and they all seem to make their movies anyway.

It’s important to protect public funding, because it can really make a difference, but as a film maker it’s important to not expect that funding and to find other ways. Unless you’re an incredible genius, and I am not an incredible genius, you’re not entitled to that money, and they can’t give it to everyone. You have to think of other ways to get your project made. But the great thing is that cameras have got so good over the last two to three years, and there are always actors around interested in doing things so there are ways to makes films. You can’t make every film on a really tiny budget, but you can find ways to make certain films quite cheaply.

Why do you think Cardiff  is such a creative and film making hub?

I’ve never really made films in another city, but it seems to be a good sized city for getting around. It has the infra-structure of being a capital and there are the universities, teaching people how to make films, the regional film agency is based here, the training agency is here. The Welsh Screen Commission is based here, you’ve got Chapter which is a centre of exhibition of films locally and internationally. You’ve got all the ingredients for it to work out well from a film point of view.

I think if you start having a Made in Roath festival then [the area] becomes branded as an area of Cardiff that is creative, and there are a lot of venues like The Gate but then there’s small places as well. If you’re an artist then there’s the small cafes and tea houses and then there are places where you can show your art. It’s hard to know because I haven’t lived in all the different areas of Cardiff so I’m sure people in Adamstown or Splott are saying that where they live is where it’s all going on, but it does seem like there’s a lot happening.

It seems like there’s a lot of filmmaking going on in Cardiff at the moment. Is that fair to say?

It does seem that there is a lot of film being produced here – it’s hard to know if I’m just finding them, or if there is genuinely more. It’s that thing that cameras are more affordable, it’s easier to edit stuff. When I started that was just at the beginning of being more affordable to make your own films and now it’s massively cheaper than it used to be, you can get your hands on really amazing cameras so you can produce these very kind of polished pieces. Some of it is variable in quality, but I started making some really weak films and I’ve seen people really get noticeably better per film; technically they’re better, they figure out issues with sound and image, so I think it’s better to have opportunities to show slightly scrappier, earlier work to get better.

There are handful of people in Cardiff who make music videos to a really high level, so we show a reasonable amount of them at Chapter. But music videos are commissioned and have to be finished by a certain time, so that becomes quite a regular thing. There’s a reasonable amount of comedies being made as well, but we don’t get so many straight dramas. You get horror movies or more experimental things but you don’t get things that are plot-driven drama stories. And there’s a healthy amount of documentary film making and video art and more narrative-driven things as well. It’s intimidating and annoying how much and how good it all is. When I see something good I’m elated because I’m probably going show it, but then also slightly depressed because of how good it is.

Do you find it strange being a film maker but then also stepping away and interviewing film makers?

I find it really interesting; the Q&As I’ve done at Chapter in the last few years have been part of a series of films called New British Cinema Quarterly, which picks up independent British features, champions them and shows them at cinemas like Chapter. The people involved are all people who are just a bit further on than me, so they’ve made their first feature but sometimes they’ve had to really difficult circumstancing in making it, so it’s brilliant because you have a point of reference. I’m able to take inspiration from the techniques they used, who they spoke to, what they had to deal with, and it’s great to be engaged and hear about stuff. A lot of my stuff tends to be motivated by guilt and shame – the embarrassment of not having done it would be so terrible that I have to now do it.

How instrumental do you think somewhere like Chapter is to the film scene in Cardiff?

Being a Chapter employee I’m going to say it’s crucial – but it really is. Bafta Cymru is based in Chapter, they do events in Cineworld as well but a lot of local premiers are there and it’s just a central place where people are always hanging out; you bump into a lot of people there. It’s instrumental and key in setting the pace; they’re involved in everything.

Book tickets to see Secrecy here – a Q&A will follow Sunday’s screening. 

You can read more about Tom’s long journey to see his film realised over on his blog, and here.

*This interview was originally published on Plastik Magazine

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