How an English Village Bankrolled 'A Tortoise in Love' (Cannes)

A Tortoise In Love

The 2,000 residents of Kingston Bagpuize and Southmoor donated time, money and hair styling to bring the romantic comedy to the Cannes market.

Crowd-sourcing – getting audiences to pony up to finance films – is the latest buzzword in Hollywood financing circles. But the new English romantic comedy A Tortoise in Love has taken the idea one step further with an entire village stepping up to bankroll a feature.

In a scene right out of, well, English romantic comedies, the residents of Kingston Bagpuize and Southmoor (pop. 2,000) banded together to write, direct, finance and star in Tortoise.

The story follows lovelorn local gardener Tom. When his very English attempts to woo Polish au pair Anya fall flat, the whole village chips in to help.

Kingston resident Guy Browning got his whole village to help in the making of his debut as a writer/director. He had the idea of making a comedy with characters inspired by the local eccentrics. He brought it up at a village meeting and his neighbors loved it. Everyone wanted in.

What followed could be called communal cinema. The village became a live-in movie set, with a county estate and the local pub playing backlot and the villagers as crew. The ladies of the local Woman’s Institute did the catering.

The village salon handled hair and make up. The church choir provided the score.

The cast was a mix of locals and professionals, with many of the villagers playing themselves.

“It was a real eye-opener making a film this way,” says producer Steffan Aquarone, “because in the film business we can get fairly arrogant. But for almost every job on the set, with the exception of a few like the DP and some of the actors, we found someone in the village who could do it, who was an expert.”

And locals opened their wallets, putting their own money into the film. In total, the village contributed more than $800,000 (£500,000) toward the budget, half in cash, half in services rendered. In exchange, they got shares in the film. The village itself has an equity stake. Any future profits will go to village improvement projects.

Just how large those profits will be depends a lot on how Tortoise in Love is received in Cannes. 7&7 Producers’ Sales Service, which is handling international sales, is pitching the feature as Calendar Girls meets The Full Monty.

That might be setting the bar a bit high. But producer Aquarone says he’s determined to make good on director Browing’s “dream” for the film. That this summer in the Kingston village square there will be “a line of 10 orange busses” waiting to take the entire village to Leicester Square in London for the film’s premiere.

Tortoise in Love screens Saturday at 9:30 a.m. in the Palais B.