In the first stage of the competition potential film-makers were asked to present, film and upload online their idea based on a verse, character or story from the Bible.
McLellan, a video lecturer at Sheffield College, came across The Pitch and encouraged his students to enter. He told them: “You could do this, I could do this” and decided to enter himself.
He started researching Biblical stories and then made his promo for just £80. He also persuaded his students to vote for him in the public voting rounds.
“I immediately thought of Indiana Jones and the Ark of the Covenant and the idea of using a Biblical story in the context of a modern drama,” he explained.
“I was trying to remember what I knew about it. It was more of an Internet search rather than knowing where that was in the Bible. When I came on the siege of Jericho I thought it sounded as if it would transfer to the kind of screen story I had in mind.”
A story emerged of Rahab, a prostitute from the city of Jericho, who saves the lives of two Jewish spies and is, in turn, saved by them.
“At first we were just going to pitch the idea but I needed to visualise it and before we knew it we were out in the Peak District with a camera and three actors in full costume,” said McLellan.
The core team behind the film are producer Liz Riding and co-writer Sven Hornsey, who was also roped in as an actor and encouraged to grow a beard to play Joshua opposite Viki Bailey, Leeds-based model and actress, as Rahab, and Sak Khan playing Sam.
“I thought I would do a script and throw some cheap effects over it and then we would have our 10-minute pitch but it ended up being a lot more than that,” continued the director.
“We shot for two days and then I was locked away for a month behind a computer screen or at least every moment of my spare time.”
Next Jericho made it to the shortlist of 10 film-makers invited to the judging weekend, which included a tour of Pinewood Studios, and at the end of Saturday McLennan was told he was among the final three.
He was required to take on board critique from the judges and come back on Sunday with his final pitch.
“It’s got three main characters, it’s a triangular love story, a character-driven story, and I think the judges liked its potential epic quality,” said McLellan. Although not particularly religious himself, he was mindful that the competition was administered by the Bible Society.
“The film is also about faith, although the judges seemed very aware of the potential audience responses to the Biblical aspects and encouraged me to make it more general. I felt that would make it a much better film and that got me very excited about the weekend.
“Even if I hadn’t won I would have felt the feedback from industry professionals made it worthwhile.
“When we were told on the Saturday we had made the final three and had to repitch on the Sunday, incorporating the suggestions we had been given, I didn’t sleep at all on Saturday night.”
Luke Walton, the executive producer of The Pitch, declared: “Rob showed a rare mix of creativity, storytelling and terrific skill with visual special effects.
“I am very excited about working with this talented young director and helping produce the film. It will, I believe, have a clarity and passion that short films require and tell the story of Jericho in an exciting new world.”
Bart Gavigan, award-winning director and writer, said that what The Pitch was doing for the British film industry was fantastic and David Oyelowo added: ‘I have been saying for ages that we should be doing something like this, but until now no-one has managed to do this, and to this standard’.
Rob McLellan will now get to make his 20-minute film Jericho with £20,000 of production support and show it to the Hollywood film producer Ralph Winter (X-Men, Fantastic Four) and a host of other industry professionals, who will give advice and support.
“I am very excited and can’t wait to get started on what will be a brilliant film,” he said.
“It is an amazing competition which offers an unprecedented opportunity for film-makers to break into the industry. Play it right and it is a ticket in.’
The intention is that it will be a collaboration with the college, who will facilitate some of the technical skills in exchange for the access students will have to a professional environment.
“We need to be filming by the spring or summer so pre-production starts next week,” he announced.