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The making of Designer Babies

The film was winner of

The Fellini Prize Citation
"The jury awarded the prize to this film as they consider that it carries an important message for the present and the future.  The theme developed in the film gives rise to ethical considerations in relation to the many possibilities that rapidly developing research in genetics is opening up for mankind.  The argument is enhanced by the way this issue is translated in film language."

I had only a short time to chat to Iain Gaffney during the Movie 2002 Festival at Chesterfield,  before he had to collect his UNCA awards from Chairman, Kenneth Seeger, but the fast-talking young movie maker packed in a lot of information ...

Iain Gaffney receives his UNICA awards from Kenneth Seeger. Amazingly Designer Babies was his very first film. He had done a media course, worked as a photographer on a feature film and tried various other movie-related jobs but this was the first of his own ideas to be realised, his first real attempt at making a movie.

The film deals in a blackly comic way with a future where people can choose the nature of their babies and what happens to the rejects. Shot in a mixture of black-and-white and colour with a powerful impressionistic jazz soundtrack by Lee Sykes it raises all sorts of moral issues without preaching.

I was startled to hear that when it was being made Iain was becoming a father for the first time.

On the use of black-and-white:

Still from 'Designer Babies'. "I think it says much more and I wanted to use both monochrome and colour, to experiment. Black and white means more, is more provocative and also makes people look better. I think it grabs the attention."
On production design:

"We called in favours and like all low-budget/no-budget productions sought out the cheapest ways. For example the "real" baby at the end was created by a Swedish firm at a fraction of the Hollywood cost."


"The Knights of Saint Columba, a Registered Charity, put up most of the money because of the subject matter. Yorkshire Arts Board turned us down saying the script "lacked character." Now it seems that if an Art Board turns down a script we are 100% guaranteed to go out and make it! Of the five awards they did hand out three folded ... didn't even make it to the final cut. They were handing out £10,000 a time. We raised £3,000 and have now won several international awards and are hoping for a distribution deal with a cinema chain."


"We've made a three minute comedy on digital video talking about the meaning of life. We've got a budget now for a nice comedy called Eric Saves The Day about a boy that breaks his dad's window. And I am going for a low-budget feature film - a black comedy - about two grannies.

"If you want a revolution in film making, I'm all for it. As far as I'm concerned we don't have an industry in Britain. But, for example, I didn't hear of the IAC until we started going to festivals. There is a wealth of talent - I hate using the words "amateur" or "professional", we're all just film makers of every calibre. It's our choice what we make. We have great talent but you don't get in unless you know the right people. It happens everywhere, it's the way of the world. You just have to have determination.

"We're trying to shoot more and more on super-8mm. Though digital is great I still think that for saturation, depth and colour you can't touch film. Now with Pro-8mm from America offering stock, cameras, telecine deals and so on in this country we can do that. You can transfer it onto DV and download it into your computer for editing. "

A regular team:

"There's too much money wasted in making films. It would be lovely to be paid, to have it as a full-time job, but at the same time if you want to make something you need a group of people round you which is very important. Film makers like Robert Rodriguez and Ken Russell are great influences.

Book cover. We haven't got the big bucks - but we explore how we can combine the new with the old, digital technology with film technology, and be as creative as we want to be.

"There's a couple of us in York who have got together and the press coverage for Designer Babies as it wins awards has created a lot of interest. Mike Harman, director of Brassed Off is based in York and he is the first established film maker who has written back to me and wished me luck. He is trying to set up a film funding body up there - but funding bodies are all changing once again. There a worry that money will revert to the "London cronies" again. You could get bitter ... but there's no point. You find ways round it. Look at the book 'Rebel Without A Crew' by Robert Rodriguez - it's the movie making bible for me."

Iain's role:
Ian Gaffney "I tried various jobs in film making. I thought I wanted to be Harrison Ford but the first day in front of the cameras I realised I didn't like that. I've moved to camera work and directing which seem to be my strengths. Those are what I want to do. It doesn't matter if you have 30 million dollars or 3,000 dollars - the same rubbish can emerge. You have the same problems, face the same challenges, money can't always solve those challenges - it's down to the director."
At that point we have to head back to the gala show and Iain asks how he can join IAC, so we stop off at the desk for application forms.

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Page updated on 08 October 2011
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