Reach for the Sun(dance)

Feb 27, 2023

Jemima Chen (OD 2016), a second-year undergraduate studying English and Italian at Balliol, is the producer behind Oxford University’s second feature film, following in the footsteps of Paterson and Hoffman’s Privileged. From PEG project to production company, Jemima shares what led her to Breakwater, the project’s progress to date and her hopes for the future.

During my time at the Dragon, I had a keen interest in film. It all began with the short music videos that I can remember shooting as part of a PEG project. While I can’t remember what exactly we were shooting and although we only had a small digital camera that we didn’t really know how to use, I do remember how much fun it was creating something with my friends. Now, just a few years later, I’ve found myself doing the same thing on a (slightly) larger scale at Oxford University!

Since joining Oxford in 2021 I’ve become heavily involved with OUFF, which is the Oxford University Filmmaking Foundation. As Secretary, it’s my role to look after the films that students produce at Oxford, as well as to keep people up to date on what the foundation is doing. Last May, I met with Andy Paterson and Mike Hoffman, to speak about all things filmmaking in Oxford. Andy and Mike are behind Privileged, the 1982 film by Oxford undergraduates which starred Hugh Grant, Mark Williams and Imogen Stubbs amongst others. After the huge success of Privileged, Andy has gone on to produce films such as The Girl with the Pearl Earring and Mike has gone on to direct films such as Hilary and Jackie and The Last Station. So, when I asked them about making short films, they surprised me by recommending that we should make Oxford’s second feature film, the first since Privileged.

After the meeting, I spoke to Max Morgan, who is an English student at Christ. Max and I run a student production company together called Nocturne Productions, and we’ve previously staged shows such as Mojo by Jez Butterworth and Max’s own play called Fetid. Drama was also something I really enjoyed at the Dragon, and a passion that continues at Oxford: I can very clearly remember our brilliant production of Hamlet set in an ASDA, yet another wonderful PEG project!

“In short, Breakwater is a project I’m extremely proud to be producing, and I credit the Dragon with kickstarting my interest in filmmaking.”

When I told Max about wanting to do a feature film in June, we both recognised that we were taking on a pretty big project, but we had no idea just how big. We talked about only needing £5,000 and just shooting a lot of footage. Fast forward to February 2023 and we have a crew of over 40 people, a film that is being shot both in Suffolk and Oxford, so much equipment we need a van to drive it, and some pretty incredible professional actors tied to the project, including one who has just come off a very exciting HBO show. Our budget has also definitely exceeded the originally discussed £5,000 …

The film itself, titled Breakwater, is a beautiful story that follows the relationship between Otto, a university student, and John, a retired angler who lives on the coast. Their lives collide and fuse irreversibly over the shared trauma of losing a loved one. However, their tentative romance develops into something more sinister after the past exhumes itself in the form of guilt, grief and ghosts to devastating effect.

As we reach the final weeks before production starts on the 12th of March, Breakwater held a silent auction to raise the final funds for production. Featured in our auction were some incredible works such as a very generous donation from Maggi Hambling CBE, who gifted us a painting of the Suffolk coast where the film will be shot in just under a month’s time. While this, along with many of our lots on offer, were successfully sold, we still have numerous other pieces on offer, including artwork by Jonathan Hooper and a stay at an Airbnb in Suffolk. You can view these lots via the links below:

Catalogue Link:

Bidding Link:

When we wrap on filming in April, we have big plans for the distribution of Breakwater. We will submit entries to festivals such as Sundance, Tribeca, and the BFI. Andy and Mike have been invaluable in this process, as they’ve been giving the script the edits that we think it needs to take it to the next level. We’ve also received the support of Lord Neil Mendoza, the Provost of Oriel and the Cultural Commissioner for England, who’s been overseeing the project throughout its development. With the help of all these amazing people we’ve been able to raise £15,000 for the project, and only need £5,000 more to shoot the film itself.

“During my time at the Dragon, I had a keen interest in film. It all began with the short music videos that I can remember shooting as part of a PEG project.”

In short, Breakwater is a project I’m extremely proud to be producing, and I credit the Dragon with kickstarting my interest in filmmaking. It’s been extremely rewarding coming back to Oxford and appreciating the city both as a thirteen-year-old behind a small digital camera and a twenty-year-old behind an exciting £20k filmmaking production!

To keep in the know about all things Breakwater, follow us on Facebook and Instagram (@breakwaterfilmox), or email us: [email protected]. We’d love to keep in touch, and we can’t wait to finally get the camera rolling!

Jemima Chen (OD 2016)

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