It won’t just be Chiwetel Ejiofor and Judi Dench hoping to secure Oscar glory for Britain in March. Mark Gill, a film graduate from Manchester, will rub shoulders with Hollywood’s A-list after his debut film was nominated for Best Short at the movie industry’s most glamorous night.
With a little help from Kevin Spacey, Gill, who studied the moving image at the University of Central Lancashire, secured Tom Hollander and Sherlock star Martin Freeman as the leads for his film, The Voorman Problem.
Adapted from a section of a David Mitchell novel, number9dream, the 12-minute film, shot in Manchester, follows a psychiatrist (Freeman) who is sent to a prison to examine an inmate (Hollander) with a peculiar affliction – he believes he’s a god.
Entered among 120 contenders for the Short category, the film’s shortlisting prompted celebratory scenes at Gill’s production office. “The Short Film categories aren’t read out during the nominations telecast so I was constantly refreshing my laptop on the Oscars website,” Gill told The Independent. “I was the first to find out. I shouted out. We all went a bit crazy.”
The film has already won a Bafta nomination and been screened among the official selections at more than 40 film festivals. Gill, 32, said: “We’ve signed a deal with Shorts International [a leading distribution company] and the film will go on a pre-Oscar tour of the US. It will be available on iTunes a week before the ceremony and we hope to sell it to TV companies.”
Born in Stretford, Manchester, Gill, whose graduation film won a Royal Television Society award, is now preparing his first feature film, “a biopic”. He hopes his success will strike a blow for the North-west. “We’ve sidestepped the pull of London,” he said. “We’ve proved you can do it outside of the capital.”
Oscar predictions 2014: The main contenders
Oscar predictions 2014: The main contenders
1/16 American Hustle
Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper star in David O Russell's dark comedy - but will Hustle win over Best Picture favourite 12 Years a Slave?
2/16 12 Years a Slave
It won Best Drama at the Golden Globes but whether 12 Years a Slave can take the Oscar for Best Picture ahead of Hustle, Gravity and The Wolf of Wall Street remains to be seen
Space adventure Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney is another likely Oscar winner. Bullock is a favourite for Best Actress, Alfonso Cuaron may repeat his Golden Globes win for Best Director and the film as a whole could well take Best Picture
4/16 Captain Phillips
Tom Hanks' role in Captain Phillips - about a ship being hijacked by Somali pirates - is a strong contender for both Best Picture and Best Actor, despite no Golden Globe wins
5/16 Saving Mr Banks
It may have an outside chance for Best Picture at the Oscars, but Emma Thompson's role as PL Travers was nominated for Best Actress at the Golden Globes
Philomena is a British underdog for Best Picture, but it did earn a Best Drama nod at the Golden Globes
7/16 Chiwetel Ejiofor
Chiwetel Ejiofor is the bookies' favourite to win Best Actor for his role as Solomon Northup in Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave
8/16 Matthew McConaughey
McConaughey is tipped as Ejiofor's biggest rival for the Best Actor Oscar, for his role as an AIDs sufferer and campaigner in Dallas Buyers Club. He won the Golden Globe for his performance
9/16 Leonardo Di Caprio
Could DiCaprio finally win an Oscar for The Wolf of Wall Street, or will Chiwetel Ejiofor, Robert Redford or Matthew McConaughey pip him to the post?
10/16 Robert Redford
Redford's performance as a resourceful sailor in All Is Lost earned him praise, making him a possible Best Actor contender at the Oscars
11/16 Bruce Dern
Another underdog, but Bruce Dern's role in Nebraska was widely-acclaimed and may see him earn at least an Oscar nod if not a win
12/16 Cate Blanchett
Blanchett's performance as a rich but troubled Manhattan socialite in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine won her a Golden Globe for Best Actress. She is currently the outright favourite to win the Oscar too at 1/8
13/16 Lupita Nyong'o
The Kenyan actress plays gutsy cotton picker Patsey in 12 Years a Slave but can she rival likely competition from more-established stars such as Jennifer Lawrence?
14/16 Amy Adams
Her leading role in American Hustle earned her a Best Actress Golden Globe, making Adams, pictured here with co-star Bradley Cooper, a top contender for Best Actress at the Oscars
15/16 Jennifer Lawrence
She famously tripped up the stairs en route to accept her Best Actress award at last year's Oscars, but can Jennifer Lawrence take an accolade again for her supporting role as Rosalyn Rosenfeld in American Hustle?
16/16 Steve McQueen
12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen and Chiwetel Ejiofor talk on set - the British director is a strong contender for Best Director this year
He added: “We work with [the development body] Creative England. There’s not much funding support for film-makers’ nationwide. You have to get on with it. No-one was going to help us so we did it ourselves. If you work hard then you reap the rewards.”
On this occasion, “doing it for themselves” involved Gill and producer Baldwin Li approaching Spacey. “I wrote to Kevin Spacey because I thought he would be great for one of the roles,” Gill said. “I was surprised when he got back to us and said he’d like to help. Kevin suggested Tom Hollander. We did everything you’re not supposed to do. We bypassed his agent and got the script to him direct. Tom wanted to do it and he helped us get Martin Freeman.”
Gill, whose latest short Full Time stars Chris Langham and was part-financed through crowd-funding website IndieGoGo, is determined to maximise the opportunities offered by the Oscar nomination. “Awards help every film-maker move on with their career and the Oscars are the pinnacle,” he said. “We’ve already been invited to a nominees’ lunch and we’ll have meetings. We’ve got a lot of research to do before for the event, choosing outfits and preparing a speech in case the unthinkable happens.”
Gill is quietly confident the speech might not be wasted. “We’ve been told we have a good chance because ours is the only English language short. We’re told that placing adverts in The Hollywood Reporter and Variety is the way to win – but it’s too expensive. Just to be nominated is great.”