In July 2007 Actor and Producer of ‘Convenience’ Ray Panthaki was starring on stage in ‘Where do We Live?’ a critically acclaimed black comedy set on the day of the 7/7 bombings in London at the Trafalgar Studios in the West End. It was here, that Ray was to first meet his future co-star in Convenience Adeel Akhtar. Ray recalls “Nobody really knew Adeel at this point, Four Lions hadn’t been made yet and he had this tiny part in this dark play but backstage I spent the whole time in hysterics. He was the first person I’d ever met that could make me laugh by doing nothing. I was convinced I was in the presence of a comedy god!”
Adeel and Ray became good friends during this time but before they
parted Ray promised that one day he’d seek to create a film for them to
star in together.
Many years passed, both went onto other projects but never forgot the promise. Ray was always on the look out for the right idea but only in 2011 did he have enough of a break in his schedule to instigate something. Rather than sit and wait for the right script to land on his lap, he called his friend and frequent collaborator Simon Fantauzzo and began to brain storm, Ray remembers “We had an open book on the idea but we had a remit, it needed to be a comedy and it needed to be as far removed from a Richard Curtis one as possible, which, although brilliant, were the only comedies really representing the UK internationally.”
One night Simon came to Ray with the idea that was to be Convenience.
“What I loved about it was the simplicity of it all” Ray remembers.
Having both been inspired by what Kevin Smith had done with Clerks in
the 90’s, they decided to make an edgy film that younger fans of British
Comedy could feel they had some sort of ownership of.
It wasn’t long before the script was written by Simon and developed by Ray through his Company Urban Way.
Eventually it was ready to take out to the world of finance. “It was a considered decision to make the film quickly and cheaply, we didn’t have the time to cross all the red tape that came with seeking a bigger budget from the industry as we needed to fit it around actor schedules which were getting increasingly busy”.
Having seen many micro-budget films set in one location that have almost given the ‘micro-budget’ term a bad name, Ray wanted to prove to people that all you need is a good idea, strong actors, lots of development and the passion for storytelling to make something work in one location. “This was a chance for me to be the most creative I’ve ever been, albeit through necessity – but give me limitations and I thrive”.
Well, limitations were definitely order of the day, after much thought Ray came to the conclusion that he could make Convenience for £80,000 and could schedule it to shoot in just 18 days and still pay everyone. “I knew I was effectively issuing myself a death wish from exhaustion but I had a passion to make it happen and I just wouldn’t let go.”
Deep at the heart of this passion though was something a bit more political; to have two leads in a Film that wasn’t defined by race. “That was an important thing for me, it’s a film with two lead actors, simply for the reason that they’re the right people for the job. Their race in this movie is completely irrelevant and doesn’t define them. It’s a Film with two Asian leads and not a single wedding in sight!” Ray jokes.
The next task ahead was to recruit a director, “Simon had been pushing me to do it. In hindsight I’m glad I didn’t, it just would’ve been far too much”. So instead, Ray sought out the right man for the job – Keri Collins. “I knew, as we didn’t have the budget for a star director we’d have to create one, which we did!” (Keri won a BAFTA Cymru for his work on the Film).
Keri was a friend of Ray’s, and Urban Way had been developing a feature script of his for a while. Having been savvy to his shorts and watched him grow and grow in confidence, Ray sent him the script and asked him to pitch for it. Keri reacted to the script straight away and put together an incredible pitch. “I took a leap of faith and hired him, something we definitely wouldn’t have been able to do on a bigger budget.”
The package was steadily getting stronger. Ray was not only creating a team of people he admired, but also a group of friends that he had immediate shorthand with – essential to make the film happen within the crazy limitations.
Next was casting. Ray and Adeel were on board by default and now the challenge was to find their leading lady. “We wanted Vicky from day one, I mean who isn’t a fan of Vicky McClure?” states Ray. They thought it was a long shot on the budget but their casting director Jane Anderson had that wonderful spirit of, if you don’t ask you don’t get and sure enough, Vicky responded to the script. Ray recalls “We planned to meet her on the same morning her second BAFTA nomination got announced, we were convinced the meeting would be cancelled as a waft of money jobs flew in but sure enough Vicky showed up. We chatted for a bit, read a couple of scenes with her and the second she walked out the room we knew we’d found our Levi.”
Soon, it was time to shoot. “All I can say is 18 days of night shoots in the arse-end of Wales in a fully functioning petrol station was probably the hardest time of my life. Going without sunlight and sleep for 3 weeks is one thing, but mix that with the potent smell of petrol and you realise you’ve probably made some wrong decisions in your life somewhere along the line.” Ray laughs. “For those most vigilant you’ll notice a huge sty pop up on my eye three quarters of the way through the film due to sheer exhaustion!”
What did ensue though amongst all the testing times and tiredness, was the funniest shoot ever. “It really was a laugh a minute, a little because of the audacity of what we were trying to achieve in so little time for so little money but a lot because we were a group of friends in something together, believing in something different and having the time of our lives – all with sleep deprivation.”
The Film is now finally launching to the world in the true independent spirit in which it was made but with BAFTA recognition all over it, having not only picked up a BAFTA Cymru for Best Breakthrough Director, It’s three leads have all been recognised by BAFTA in the last year, Vicky McClure as a former BAFTA winner, Adeel as a BAFTA nominee and Ray who was recently announced as one of this years BAFTA ‘Breakthrough Brits’.
Ray sums up “I hope it finds it’s audience and people respond to it with the same feeling of passion in which it was made. As long as people laugh, we’ve done our job. Not bad for something that probably cost the same as just one shot in a Harry Potter movie!”