Young filmmakers are part of a quiet small community, and those who rise to the top always intrigue us. These selected projects command the attention of the European Short Pitch Jury. Who are behind the projects? First we speak with the London-based writer and director about his newest project: Away Break
Why was it important for you to apply to the European Short Pitch?
This film, Away Break, is very important to me. Adapting one of my favourite writer’s stories (Hanif Kureishi’s Strangers When We Meet) to the screen was, at first intimidating and then, an inspirational experience. Hopefully this scheme will be the next step in turning that story into a film.
My main objective at Nisi Masa is to refine the script and get finance/distribution etc for Away Break but I am also very keen to develop new relationships with other writers/producers etc for collaboration on my feature projects, amongst other things.
How do you define a good script and how did you see your chances when you applied?
For me, films are about pressure. If a film has no conflict, no pressure then it doesn’t work. That can be a 30 second commercial, a scene in a film, or a full feature. It is the job of the script, and therefore of course the writer, to create those pressures. Whether it is the pressure of conflict between characters, the pressure of suspense for something that we know is going to happen/happening, or simply a subtle shift in mood. The key as a director is to spot the pressure(s) in a scene and use all the elements at your disposal to underline those, reinforce them. Whether that is pushing in on someone’s face to heighten a sense of fear or to leave an empty frame to create a sense of isolation or use of colour, it is all just pressure, deeply emotional, innate, cinematic pressure. When working with a composer I often draw graphs of the pressure of whatever we are making – Music seems to relate very closely to what I am going on about…
When I read Hanif Kureishi’s short story I immediately felt a sense of pressure, of tension. At first, I had a purely emotional response and that is what I took with me when adapting it to the screen. The original story and my film come from the same place but also are quite different. The story outline is the same but one of the first things Hanif said to me when adapting it was to make it my own, to do whatever I wanted with it and for better or worse that is what I have done, and so the perspective is different, the essence has shifted. This is why I believe in the project and why I applied to Nisi Masa. I loved the story and I knew that if I could get my own interpretation of it onto the screen, we would be making something special.
Tell us about where you come from and how you got involved with films.
I started directing commercials when I was living in Spain back at the beginning of 2006. Before that I had worked as most things from Runner to Editor and it all helps today. I grew up in London and due to my family being in the business, our house was always filled with artistic types from the day I was born, so I suppose it was in my blood. To be honest though, up until when I was 17, I was more into theatre, music and most of all, books – but always story.
I have always written, since I could read but I hardly ever showed anyone. I have been working as a professional director for a while but usually with other people’s scripts or ideas. Thanks to Away Break (and Hanif Kureishi), I have learned to believe in myself as a writer as well now and so I’m writing more than ever!
Why is your film important to make, what does it tell the audience?
Secrets fascinate me. I love the hidden world, whether it’s inside someone’s head or hidden in plain sight. Away Break is a story about secrets and a person’s journey of inner realisation. It is meant to be tragically funny, which I think is common to most of what I write: – Ultimately, we are a tiny dot in the middle of no-where, so really, when it comes down to it, nothing REALLY matters apart from things we create ourselves or between each other, like relationships, art, or laughter for that matter – I digress…
Away Break is “A-falling-out-of-love-story” but it is also hopefully a story about someone discovering what real love is (or at least what it isn’t), no matter how it may seem to the outsider. I guess the main point the film is trying to question (not necessarily answer) is why people cling onto relationships that don’t work. George’s relationship with his lover, Julia is, to an extent, one-sided, probably superficial and certainly fatally floored. Julia’s relationship with her husband is definitely broken (from an outsiders perspective) but they keep on plodding on. George tries desperately to cling to the ideal of what he thinks he wants with Julia, but through his journey, and helped by the wonderful Emma, he manages to let go. BUT, inside there is something that keeps Julia and Duncan together that is deeper than sex, or fascination, or even being “In Love”. It is married Love in all it’s imperfection and uniqueness.
What inspires you to do what you do?
Every second of every day I am thinking about stories, films and ideas. If I didn’t have an outlet for all this I would go mad – I do get pretty close sometimes anyway…
When I watch a good film, a good series, read a good book or see a good piece of theatre, art exhibition or hear great music, I feel excited about creating, about stories, about the ancient art of communication. There is something inherently human, emotionally primeval but yet incredibly evolved about art in all it’s forms that is so exciting.
That being said, I also love the feeling of being on set, of shooting with a crew, of making things and problem solving, of being part of something where we are all aiming to make one thing: the film be as good as it can be. Film sets are incredibly physical, practical places full of people making things with their hands and bodies, inspired by their minds, all controlled by the story.
Up until now, with the commercials and TV drama etc, I feel I have been practicing, learning my scales if you will. Now I feel ready to begin improvisation, to play from my heart. The projects I am making at the moment, including Away Break, are the beginning of this.
What do you think about short films in general? How do people relate to it around you?
Like short stories compared to Novels, short films are a very different beast to features. Obviously, there are huge similarities in that they are shot and edited and use actors etc. – After all, It is still filmmaking, but they have different needs. The longer something is, the more you can go into story and character etc (which is also why some of the new TV dramas are so exciting). Now, I have never made a feature but I have made long form TV and I have written feature scripts. They are definitely different to Short films. With a short, you can have the entire film in your head and knock out a first draft overnight. I tried doing that with a feature – it doesn’t work (for me at least). Short shorts tend to be like jokes, with a twist in the tale or a punch line. Longer shorts tend to feel more like mini films – which is what I want Away Break to feel like.