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Cliff Sainsbury WINS MIKE FIGGIS AWARD FOR INNOVATION. Whitehouse Road Film Newcastle upon Tyne.

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

Cliff Sainsbury picked up another award for his continued creative work here in Newcastle upon Tyne. Hollywood film director - Mike Figgis presented Cliff with the Mike Figgis Prize for Innovation. Mike went on to say : "I was looking for a film that really connected with me on many different levels" and furthermore explained

"The Whitehouse Road film really engaged me from the opening sequences"

Whitehouse Road was Cliff Sainsbury's final year film at Northumbria University, studying Media and Communications. Northumbria University senior lecturer and course leader - Robert Jefferson went on to say : " The Whitehouse Road film was a very good character study from Graduate Cliff Sainsbury"

Cliff Sainsbury graduated with a 1st Class Honours Degree in Media and Communications and has went on to work with some amazing clients. Cliff, is now Marketing Coordinator for the maritime leader - Solarglide and continues to create innovative work with peep

Mike figgis presents Cliff Sainsbury with Award for Innovation at Tyneside Cinema Newcastle. Cliff Sainsbury graduated with a 1st class honours degree in media and communications at Northumbria University Newcastle. Whitehouse Road film directed by Cliff sainsbury
Mike Figgis presents Cliff Sainsbury with Award For Innovation

Whitehouse road is a short, personal, character study of a black man's struggle on arriving in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1944. Cliff Sainsbury ( Senior) stated he was the first black person ever to set foot in the North East and went on to say he could not believe the conditions that he witnessed. Cliff Sainsbury ( Junior) developed the film around loose narratives and remembering lost footage of his Grandfathers experiences and thoughts.

Whitehouse Road film directed by Cliff Sainsbury. Based on a black mans struggle arriving in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1940. Cliff Sainsbury graduated with a 1st class honours degree from Northumbria Univerity
Whitehouse Road Scotswood. Directed by Cliff Sainsbury

Making The Film - Whitehouse Road Scotswood.

When I embarked on my journey at Northumbria University, I never intended to make such a personal piece about my childhood and upbringing. Fast forward two years, and I was absolutely adamant I was going to make the most personal short film I could possible make, under the circumstances and budget. I'm not sure if this decision was based on other student ideas or the general feelings I had going into my final year at Northumbria University. Unfortunately or fortunately for me, most students at this time were making 'funny' short movies, based on either being a student or loosely based around a horror genre of some description, which always involved a tunnel ( preferably the closest one to Northumbria University ). I had to make something different, something that students did not want to touch on or was difficult to re create. To say there was a lot going on in my life would of been a massive understatement. I was working two jobs, full time at university and in the middle of a relationship breakdown with a woman I was dating for around five years ( off and on ) . Eventually, the whole thing took it's tole on me not only mentally but psysically, however I decided to push on through with this mentally draining idea that was presenting itself to me everday. Nothing was going to stop me from making this film - Whitehouse Road.

Miguel Pinero Inspiration.

It was by chance I started watching part of a movie called Pinero directed Leon Ichaso. Pinero, was a very talented peutorican playright and poet with a history in acting and writing scripts for popular Tv shows in the 70s. Pinero was shot in black and white and colour with a Verite style, thousands of jump cuts, fast edits and sporadic dialogue. It was at this point I realised . . . wait a minute, I cannot edit, but I knew I had the ideas to make an edit. . .

Storyboards for Whitehouse Road Film.

Storyboards for Whitehouse road illustrated by Cliff sainsbury
Whitehouse Road Storyboards by Cliff sainsbury

Photography for Whitehouse Road Scotswood film research Northumbria University
A selection of photographs taken by Cliff Sainsbury for Whitehouse Road Northumbria University research

I began to make storyboards and photography images to back my idea for the film. I asked a good friend of mine to pop round the house, so I could photograph him acting like my grandad, which basically translated into walking around a living room smoking, being drunk and general rambling of a year gone by. He jumped at the chance as I promised free beer ! All you can drink ! Honest !

I was beginning to make great progress. My lecturers at the time, which were Robert Jefferson, Noel Mclaughlin and Brian Hoey all thought the idea was tremendous and praised my researched work in photography and illustration, which was beginning to be a huge body of work, adding to my overall mark and grade,

even if the film never gets made . . .

Whitehouse Road film hand drawn storyboards by Cliff Sainsbury
Hand -drawn Storyboards for Whitehouse Road by Cliff Sainsbury

Storyboards for Whitehouse Road Scotswood illustrated by Cliff Sainsbury
A selection of Storyboards from Whitehouse Road film illustrated by Cliff Sainsbury

Cliff sainsbury illustration Storyboards for Whitsehouse Road Student film mike figgis award for innovation newcastle
A selection of Storyboards from Whitehouse Road film illustrated by Cliff Sainsbury

The Film Set

The next step in my production was to find, organise and build the set of Whitehouse Road. It was by chance that a good friend of mine explained I could use a flat that he had just purchased. The flat needed a lot of work, so I could pop in and create what I wanted. Looking back on this now, I created far too much work for myself in the way of building false doors, blocking windows off, plastering parts of the wall and re- wallpapering the whole area ! There was no need, but try explaining that to me then. Impossible. I asked the help of three good friends, one of which owned the flat.

Building the false wall.

Building the lights.

Checking out my vantage points.

Building a temporary false wall to block the room, as I didn't really want a bathroom in shot. The original idea was to cut a window into the hard board and have a strong beam of red light shining through the room, but time was getting on, as was everything else, I just never had to to execute this.

This room was absolutely perfect for me as I wanted to shoot part of the film from above and from the ceiling looking down. For some reason, this made perfect sense to me at the time. Still think I should of left the wallpaper on ! My mistake.

Another idea was to block this window out with hardboard. I can't remember how much money I was spending at the time , but I meticulously documented this in my final body of work. I believe it was close to £1,000 ( not including the actor fees) , which was money I had been saving throughout the year. Completely self financed ! Pretty impressive for a student making his first film. Fortunately, the friends pictured were paid in beer. Everyone was ecstatic.

I had the idea to place a ladder right across the ceiling beams to hold the light and to hold myself when I began to film parts of the introduction to Whitehouse Road.

It kind of looks exactly like my grandad's living room, minus the carpet and a fireplace that everyone had in the 80s. Not bad for my first attempt.

I wanted no stone uncovered when it came to my final assessment and final year grade. It had to be a First Class Honours Degree or it all seemed pointless to me.

I also spent a huge amount of time collating props for Whitehouse Road, which I can tell you, were very difficult to find.

A small selection of props for Whitehouse road. 80s sideboard or side unit. Everyone had one ! Also called G Plan.

Very rare vintage television set that still worked. White fuzz included.

Vintage curtains 'time travelled' from 1973. Perfect.

Hiring The Actor

I needed to find an actor, but not any old actor - a black actor in Newcastle . . . fat chance people said. I decided to look further afield to Scotland. It was at this point I was going to break the number one rule of Northumbria University, which was, no paying actors or media people to help on your final year film. I decided I would have to pay an actor, otherwise why would he come? I eventually hired an actor called Coyde Sampson. I thought he was brilliant , even tho he didn't bother to actually read the script until he was standing there with us all in the living room. Here is where the confusion lies. . .

Whitehouse road film actor playing Cliff Sainsbury mike figgis award for innovation
The actor pictured : Coyde Sampson

If you pay for a professional actor for one whole day , you would expect them to know the script or at least get the feel of the whole thing before they arrive. The original plan was, I would pay for one day rehearsal and then one day actual shooting the film, but unfortunately, we spent the entire day going over the script as he wasn't comfortable with swearing as he was a born again Christian.

Coyde Sampson actor in full swing Whitehouse Road short film by Cliff sainsbury

Yes , you guessed it , more delays on going over the script on the day of the shoot. It must of been pretty bizarre to Coyde back then, thinking it was going to be some laid back 'student' film, but i'm sure when he entered that house he knew he was in for a rough old night of acting. . . I needed to get every pennies worth . . .

Fast forward to huge arguments ( not from me ) with Coyde's agent that was threatening to have my student film stopped due to gross miss management of our contract and human rights to her actors agency . . . Oh dear, what was a student to do . . . I stupidly paid Coyde 'Cash In Hand' as he explained he was a bit skint.. I even paid him an extra £100 for going over the agreed time. It was over dramatic from the agency, and everyone knew it. Very silly.

The actors agency was furious and contacted Northumbria University. It wasn't long before I was walked into the office of course leader - Brian Hoey ( check out my interview with Brian Hoey here ) I thought there is no way this film is going to be stopped ! Absolutely no way. Brian Hoey explained it was for exactly this reason we don't allow students to 'pay' for actors.

Ok, I bent the rules slightly, I could see the argument from all sides, but the agency did get there money, I just gave it to Coyde first. Simply. To be honest, the agency wanted their cut for us going over the agreed time, but in my opinion, we went over the allocated time because Coyde never read the script, which was sent to him weeks earlier. I did agreed to sign contracts, but they never sent them in time. I could't wait around. I had a film to produce, direct and edit !

The Final Edit - Whitehouse Road

Unfortunately, due to all these set backs the film was taking to long to complete and running over the allocated time and duration of the final year film guidelines. I decided to 'up my game' and pop into university every possible spare minute I had. This meant after work, before work, and staying inside Northumbria University as long as I possible could before being asked to leave by caretakers. I then had an hour long bus journey home, for it all so start again the next morning. Brilliant ! The film was more than 60% complete and the actors agency were still trying to stop the film from being shown. I asked the help of fellow student Graham Temple Sowerby and previous year graduate - Ian Black ( Blacky ) for all editing guidance. To be honest, they both spent a huge amount of hours editing this short film and both had way more editing experience than me at this time.

Ian Black editing whitehouse road at Northumbria University with Graham Temple Sowerby with Cliff Sainsbury
Ian Black editing Whitehouse Road film inside Northumbria University animation suite.

Ian Black ediing whitehouse road film at Northumbria University with Cliff Sainsbury
Ian Black editing Whitehouse Road film Scotswood. Northumbria University Editing Suite

Graham Temple Sowerby looking through audio edits on Whitehouse road short film Northumbria University
Graham Temple Sowerby looking through my audio edits.... it was a nightmare for him. Sorry Graham !

In my final year of university, I learnt so much from listening to lecturers explaining to ask for help in different areas such as sound and editing. The film was moving in the right direction, which was supposed to be no longer than six minutes... I think by this point it was already over ten minutes long ( way over the allocated time for grading ). I think this photograph kind of shows the frustration that was beginning to set in. Not sure if that was my sub conscience there tho.

The allotted timeframe for 'ALL ' final year films was almost at a close and it was at this point ( one morning ) I discovered my entire edit had 'disappeared' without a trace . . . to my absolute blind panic and utter confusion, I kindly asked senior lecturer - Robert Jefferson " What the actual *uck has happened to my final year film" The edit was there yesterday and now it has gone ! The edit had been deleted from the hard drive ( Reality 3 ) or suspiciously vanished into thin air . . .

At the time, I honestly thought there had been some glitch with the editing suite and now contemplated presenting my work as a body of evidence as to how the film would have actually looked, but Bo**ocks to that idea !

I was absolutely not prepared to be thwarted aside at the final hurdle . . . Again, F*ck that !

It wasn't until a few years later, I considered someone was playing "funny buggers" with my footage and bliddy deleted the lot. The media game is definitely a rough old business in regards to people doing 'anything' to get ahead. Every student in that year ( and the previous years ) wanted the best grade possible, and by any means necessary, they also needed that Mike Figgis award to present to their middle class families that had purchased the best possible camera equipment to do so . . I can only picture Jack Nicholson's face in the Stanley Kibrick classic - The Shining - saying : " I gotta big suprise comin to you"

I guess it's one of those situations where I will never get to the bottom of, even my lecturer Robert Jefferson was scratching his head as to where the footage actually went? He knew it had been deleted, but he could't say it. It was one 'mystery' I did not have time to ponder on or accuse anyone of.

I decided to re - edit ! yes that's right..... re - edit the entire film with the great help of Graham Temple Sowerby, who quickly realised my 'plight' and the final year Gala Screening date getting ever closer ( about four days )

As the days rolled on, everyone was frantically trying to export their films, animations and other project material. All final year films ( except mine ) had now been sent to movie director - Mike Figgis to browse over and decide who would win the Mike Figgis Award for Innovation at Northumbria University. I guess I was way out of the running, but Whitehouse Road still may be able to make the actual screening at The Tyneside Cinema here in Newcastle upon Tyne city centre. . .

My final year film - Whitehouse Road eventually made it to the screening. It was one of those moments where a lecturer was running through the streets with his tie bellowing behind him with a video cassette in his had shouting "wait a minute I've got the tape" ! Wow, you couldn't of wrote it. The stage was set, and I was informed by Robert Jefferson that my film would be shown last. . . now this was a great start. Mike Figgis was in the audience and completely unaware of my film until the very end . . . Perfect.

Cliff Sainsbury receiving the Mike Figgis Award for Innovation
Cliff Sainsbury receiving the Mike Figgis Award for Innovation

At last ! I was nominated for the award and asked to come to the front to have a few words with Director Mike Figgis. I was totally blown away with all this and to be honest, I was still painfully shy about my work and speaking in public. I was getting better at it , but still realised I had a long way to go.

Let the after party begin ! The Gala Screening after party was a bit of a funny one. All local media companies were invited to attend, and most did, but the only thing that puzzled me, was not one of them took the time to speak to me ! I worked around the room like all other students trying to gain some work or at least work experience, but confusingly nobody had the time . . . it was obvious they would rather speak to other students in the room. It was at this point I knew this media 'game' was going to be harder than once thought. So, I thought F*ck It, I will hang with the real people for the rest of the night.

Cliff Sainsbury with Dr Noel Mclaughlin at Mike Figgis Awards Northumbria University Gala Screening Newcastle
Cliff Sainsbury with Dr Noel Mclaughlin at Mike Figgis Awards Northumbria University Gala Screening Newcastle

Cliff Sainsbury and ANdrew Marriot at Northumbria University Gala Screening at Tyneside Cinema Newcastle
Cliff Sainsbury and Andrew Marriott at Northumbria University Mike Figgis Awards Tyneside Cinema

After Party at Alvinos' Newcastle. Mike Figgis Awards Gala Screening Northumbria University
After Party at Alvinos' Newcastle. Mike Figgis Awards Gala Screening Northumbria University. Brian Hoey on far right.

Cliff Sainsbury with Robert Jefferson Senior lecturer and course leader Northumbria University
Cliff Sainsbury with Robert Jefferson Senior lecturer and course leader Northumbria University

Cliff Sainsbury with Luca and Gabrielle Stifani brothers at Northumbria University Gala Screening Newcastle
Cliff Sainsbury with fellow students - Luca and Gabrielle Stifani brothers at Northumbria University Gala Screening Newcastle

Cliff Sainsbury with Mike Figgis and Bethany Wharburton Tyneside Cinema Newcastle.

Cliff Sainsbury with Mike Figgis outside of Tyneside Cinema Newcastle upon Tyne
Cliff Sainsbury and Bethany Wharburton with Mike Figgis outside of Tyneside Cinema Newcastle upon Tyne

Cliff Sainsbury with Mike Figgis outside of Tyneside Cinema Newcastle upon Tyne
Cliff Sainsbury with Mike Figgis outside of Tyneside Cinema Newcastle upon Tyne

wow, what a night. I couldn't of asked for better. It seemed such a long journey to get here and I realised my journey had only really just began. I had graduated with a 1st Class Honours degree and was already planning my future. Thanks for taking the time to read about my final year at Northumbria University - Media Production ( now called media and communication studies)

If you would like to check out all the photography used in my production please check out my flickr account here

Cliff Sainsbury research for Whitehouse Road Scotswood film.

I have also created a link to watch the entire film below.

Watch Cliff Sainsbury award winning short film Whitehouse Road Film

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