Producer James Watson made quite the budgetary leap with their second feature, UK queer drama Sebastian, reteaming with Finland-born writer/director Mikko Makela following 2017’s A Moment In The Reeds.

The pair shot their first film mostly in a single location — in a rustic dwelling by a lake in Finland — on a micro-budget of $38,000 (£30,000). For Sebastian, which had backers including BFI, Watson and Makela were working with $3.2m (£2.5m).

Sebastian stars Ruaridh Mollica (2022 Bifa-winning short Too Rough) as aspiring writer Max, who channels his own queer sex-worker experiences — working under the name Sebastian — into his debut novel. The film launched at Sundance in January and will be released in the US by Kino Lorber in August; a UK deal is lined up but unannounced at press time.

Despite the support of an impressive roster of executive producers (including Good Chaos’s Mike Goodridge) and co-producers (including Finland’s Helsinki-filmi, Scotland’s Barry Crerar, and The Netherlands’ Lemming Film) on Sebastian, Watson — as sole producer and a self-starter — felt the pressure to step up, taking National Film and Television School courses for line producer and production manager. “I didn’t want to be the person who didn’t know something on set,” they explain.

Watson and Makela connected through a film society at the University of Nottingham. The pair’s joint company Bêtes Sauvages aims to continue making “outsider narratives” involving “people who are at odds with society in some way, who tend to be underrepresented or marginalised groups”, says Watson. From a dual-heritage background — with a white father and Punjabi mother — the producer is interested in both “diaspora stories” and “queer stories”.

Upcoming is Amrit from writer/director Rory D Bentley, in late development with the BFI and out to casting. Makela is directing Spiral, “about a Finnish dancer who comes to London and becomes embroiled in the city’s nightlife underground”, and TV project Bolla, based on the award-winning book by Pajtim Statovci. Watson is also in talks to become the UK minority co-producer on a film lead-produced by Sebastian co-producer Dries Phlypo, set in Flanders.

Watson — recipient of a BFI Vision Award in 2020 — intends to continue making films with Makela, “not least because we’ve got the production company together”, and cites Killer Films’ Christine Vachon — known for her sustained working relationships with filmmakers such as Todd Haynes — as an inspiration.

“She’s probably the most prolific queer filmmaker ever, outside of Fassbinder, but she’s not usually spoken of in those terms because she’s a producer.”

Contact: James Watson