Words and interview by Simon Bland
With bags of filmmaking experience under his belt gleaned from years spent working alongside Michael Winterbottom, David Michôd and the late Jean-Marc Vallée, Michael Groom is finally ready to step into the spotlight. Together with his brother and creative partner David, the pair launched Laal Blue Dot back in 2019, a production house specialising in whimsical independent films with big profit potential and low budgets. Cut to 2022 and after writing and directing a handful of shorts, this sibling duo are already half-way through their first feature film – a festive tale of love, loss and the supernatural space that exists between the two.
After joining our Creative Enterprise Evolve scheme to help fine-tune their company and make their offering as appealing as can be to new investors, the Grooms are setting their sights high. Although according to Michael, their years of combined industry experience and practical know-how means that there couldn’t be a better time for the Laal boys to dream big. “We set up Laal Blue Dot after my brother and I had worked in the film industry for about 16 years in various crew capacities on all sorts of films – from low budget £2m features to projects with £60m budgets,” explains Michael. “We set it up as a means of making two or three features that we had lined up and also as a way of bypassing the gatekeepers in the industry as well.”
Navigating gatekeepers is a topic both Michael and his brother know well. After graduating from university, it didn’t take long for them to find work on projects headed-up by major filmmakers – and while they wasted no time soaking up any insight these experts had to offer, they also kept a keen-eye on the common roadblocks that impact many filmmakers working today.
With Laal Blue Dot, the duo hope to circumnavigate these issues, primarily by keeping standards high and costs low: “We’re going to be focusing on features with micro budgets. Our approach is to make something that’s saleable and high-value in terms of production scale. The same as something that costs around £2m – but we’ll do it for about a tenth of that,” says Michael. “In terms of story, we’d never do the bog-standard kitchen sink drama. We’ll always lace it with a bit of magical realism and the unexplained.”
Working fast, smart and efficiently is a key way that the Grooms aim to stay on track – and they’ve learned from the best. “My brother and I both cut our teeth working on Michael Winterbottom films and he works in a very quick and no-frills way with a skeleton crew,” he says, citing his work on projects helmed by the same filmmaker behind Steve Coogan-fronted projects like The Trip and 24 Hour Party People. “I also worked with Jean-Marc Vallée on The Young Victoria. He very deliberately went from that big $30m film to Dallas Buyers Club, which was made with a skeleton crew and shot entirely with natural light,” adds Michael. “We’ve very much taken that approach onboard.”
When we speak, Michael is in the Lake District scouting locations for his studio’s next feature film, Between The Lights, which is due to re-enter production soon. With its rural backdrop, the Grooms’ aim to keep their no-frills aesthetic as well as the company’s fantastical ethos – so expect a healthy amount of escapism. “It’s a tragic love story set over three Christmasses and an exploration of love, loss and the supernatural realm,” he says, teasing the bittersweet project. “He’s a reluctant medium and she’s a sceptic. They get on but by the third Christmas he has died and she starts to witness signs from the other side that make her question her beliefs. We’ve already shot about a third of it,” he reveals. “It’s set in York and the Lake District. The plan is to finish it around midsummer and hopefully sell it in time for next Christmas.”
For both Michael and his brother, getting to learn a brand new set of business-oriented skills has made joining Evolve an invaluable experience for themselves and their company. “I’m more of a creative person than a business person and it’s been really eye-opening in terms of getting to grips with the business side of things, what investors are looking for and how we can appeal to them,” he admits. “It really asks you to drill down into what our secret sauce is and what we can provide that’s different. It forces you to ask lots of hard questions about your business and look at it from an investors point of view too,” reasons Michael. “My brother and I are both creative people but we also want to make money for our investors, as well as ourselves.”
With broadcasting expert Travis Baxter as their mentor, the Grooms are also able to streamline their company and ensure it’s as efficient as can be – much like their filmmaking style. “Travis asks us questions that we probably wouldn’t have got to ourselves – or if we ever did, it would be a fair way down the line. He makes you see things from a real business point-of-view; like how to sell your business within 30 seconds, establish your core values and core means of how it can make money. Without having been mentored by Travis, I don’t think we’d have reached those conclusions for a long time,” says Michael. “It’s been really beneficial and we’re both really pleased to be part of the programme.”
With industry insiders guiding them, Michael and David aim to cultivate a stable of low-budget features with big audience appeal. Plus, as Northerners, they’re keen to help rebalance the industry with regards to the amount of regional voices and stories that are featured on the big screen. “After university, as soon as I got to London, I noticed that there weren’t many Northerners and there weren’t that many Northern accents in the film industry,” recalls Michael. “I’ve got loads of friends in London and occasionally they’ll recount shocking moments where they’ve kind of realised there’s a whole country beyond the southeast,” he laughs.
“I think it’s important to reflect voices from all over the UK because it has been such a centralised industry and country for so long,” continues Michael. “We’ve certainly got a lot of tales to tell from the North and I champion it. There’s a recent renaissance of regionalised filming and production, especially compared to when I started out. Back then, you had to be in London but these days you don’t have to be – which is really great.”