- Course studied:
- Film studies MA
- Year of graduation:
Ground-Breaking film achievements
25-year old filmmaker and Staffordshire University graduate Helier Bissell-Thomas has seen the movie he made as part of his MA Film studies become the first ever student film to be given a theatrical release in Savoy and Odeon cinemas.
Helier’s first feature film production, Kaufman’s Game, was shot in London on a tiny budget while he studied an MA in Film by Negotiated Learning, thanks to Staffordshire University’s partnership with Raindance..
From film festival awards to cinemas, to home video, to view on demand
Kaufman’s Game has gone on to win the Gold Award at the LA Neo Noir Film Festival as well as being selected for Sundance, MCM London Comic Con 2017, Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival 2017, Long Island Film Festival 2017, Buffalo Niagara Film Festival 2017, and Snowdance 2018.
The independent production has also been released by Odeon and Savoy cinemas, as well as home video, Amazon Prime and iTunes. It will also be available on other view on demand platforms later in the year.
Filmmaking from a young age
These achievements are exemplary for any filmmaker, but what makes it all the more extraordinary is that Helier was accepted onto the Masters in Film at the age of 20, on the strength of his filmmaking and screenwriting portfolio and without having first completed an honours degree. He explains:
“I didn’t really enjoy school, I have dyslexia and Attention Deficit Disorder and that was challenging to deal with when I was going through the school system.
I had always wanted to write and direct movies. I had been working as a freelance filmmaker and photographer since my mid-teens – creating corporate training videos, short films, and pop promos. Before I started my MA course, I’d never found a way to study that allowed room to manoeuvre both academically and creatively as a student, or a filmmaker.”
Staffordshire University was the only higher education institution that I could find in the UK, who would support me to do a feature film production as a Masters Degree thesis project. Usually most students do short form productions. To hear what Staffordshire were offering was music to my ears and I jumped at the chance.
Flexibility through distance learning
Studying through distance learning was also just what I needed. I had to max out credit cards to finance the film, carry out casting, screenwriting and direct the production. Being able to study by distance learning rather than being on campus, was the only way I was able to juggle time between working on my feature film debut and my studies.
The next filmmaking project
I graduated in 2014 and it’s taken three years of hard work, knocking on doors, and persistence to get the movie on general release. I also have my own film company, Ellipsis Films Ltd.
2017 was a whirlwind year with all the film festivals, the Neo Noir award win in LA, and working on my next movie which is an LA set Mafia heist story with many dark twists and turns.”
I’m not going to deny that it’s been a big challenge to write, produce and direct a ‘no budget’ feature film with my university studies back-to-back. But it’s given me a massive head start in my career and the film industry.
I’m proud of myself, my cast and production team, and also really proud to be Staffordshire University Alumni. They have so much to offer film students; I’m always shouting that to young filmmakers from the rooftops!
Kaufman’s Game – Available at Odeon Cinemas now
View the trailer and find your nearest showing at http://www.kaufmansgame-movie.com/ or www.ellipsisfilmsltd.com
Kaufman’s Game follows Stanley, a driven young man with a passion for boxing, who is keen to improve his strength and stamina.
When a shady stranger approaches him outside the gym with the offer of a specially produced steroid, Stanley is drawn into the ever more violent operations of a powerful organisation, unwittingly entering into a series of tests designed to prove his mettle. This is a film about power, determination and being your own worst enemy.