The inspiration behind the short film 10% Service Charge, the winner of the Student College Higher Education Award at this year’s Learning on Screen Awards, is that very issue of waiter’s tips – a subject that its originator and producer, Miguel Ramos, knows only too well. Originally from the region of Asturias in North-West Spain, he juggles his studies at Manchester Film School with working as a part-time waiter.
“10% Service Charge” is a 10-minute romantic comedy set in a Japanese restaurant,” explains Miguel.
“The idea was to tell the story of Anna and Frank, a couple that go out for a celebration. Things take an awkward turn when they realise they’re actually celebrating different things. It’s up to their experienced waiter, Zac, to sort things out. And he doesn’t want to lose his tip – that 10% service charge!”
Miguel originally wanted to get across to his audience that customers are paying a service charge believing it shows their appreciation to the waiting staff, when a proportion of it may find its way into the pockets of management instead.
“When I first came to the UK, I got a job as a waiter as I wanted to finance my life here and also my studies,” Miguel explains. “I had done courses in Spain in a range of production skill area such as camera operator and video editor, but I wanted to come here because the economy was vibrant and the film industry is thriving.”
Miguel chose to study at Manchester Film School because he was impressed by its industry links and practical approach. He continued to work as a waiter and found this to be a rich source of inspiration for his creative work. He co-wrote the script with fellow student Alison Wenner and bringing his vision of the film to fruition was a real labour of love.
Learning by Doing
“I swore I’d never be a producer,” he confides. “I thought that producers were all control freaks. But the hardest challenge of all is to be a producer of a film – you choose the team, decide on the cast, control what is going on generally and you have to be really resilient and resourceful.
“When the film-making process throws up problems, it’s the producer that has to sort them out. It’s a lesson for life as well as for film-making.”
This was only too evident when filming began on 10% Service Charge. Professional actors were being used for the two main roles, but the female actor didn’t turn up. When this happened again on the second day, Miguel realised that drastic action was needed.
“Suddenly I realised that we had to film and we couldn’t afford to delay for another day. So I said – right, we’re changing the female lead, and this is now a gay couple. And I am playing the other character!”
Filming went ahead and the final short film is, Miguel believes, all the better for the change – “Though I’m not a terrible actor!” – as the concept of diversity is something he is passionate about. He believes that it enriches the creative process, and the multinational student team working on the film has helped to bring a range of ideas and insights. Miguel also found that the very modus operandi that attracted him to Manchester Film School was also what left him nonplussed at times.
“I would go to our tutor and say: ‘Something’s gone wrong and I don’t know what to do about it’,” he recalled, “And he would say: ‘You’re the producer – you sort it out!’ And that made me realise that the buck stopped with me.” He laughs as he recalls his horror at realising that if a solution was to be found, it had to come from him.
“The course is all about learning by doing. The creative process is really thrilling and absorbing but it can also be very stressful. But the whole ethos of our tutors is to make sure it’s as much like the real world of industry as possible. That’s great preparation for working as an industry professional.”
Miguel watches a lot of film and TV as part of learning his craft, but rather than dramas, he prefers reality shows and programmes like ‘The Apprentice’. “I’m interested in how the viewer can see the protagonists’ mental and emotional processes at work on film,” he explains. “The camera can reveal so much – this is what engages the audience and draws them in.”
Miguel knows that, as someone who plans to make his living from the creative and media industries, he needs to be aware of how to protect material in which he owns the rights.
“I never thought before about how people would use my work. Now I’m realising that if I want to make a living I’ve got to! If a piece of work is commissioned, there’s a fee but I’ve already found out that clients can be demanding. Budget don’t stretch very far, especially if they make changes that weren’t planned for. And if I create or help to create a piece of film and it’s out there being watched, it’s important that the people who made it – including me – get rewarded. If we don’t, we can’t make a living.”
Miguel feels that the whole issue of intellectual property and copyright needs to be at the forefront of budding creatives’ minds. “I didn’t know about ERA but now I realise that copyright organisations are really important because they are helping us to make a living out of our work. It’s really hard to work in film and media now and a lot of work is freelance, so you can’t afford to simply let people have your work for nothing.”
He is in a good position to maximise the reach of his creative output as he can speak English and Italian as well as Spanish, and has produced a version of 10% Service Charge with Spanish subtitles, conscious of the fact that Spanish is a major world language. He is hoping that this will increase the potential audience for his work.