13th British Shorts, Berlin | 2020
"I was working on Kingsman: The Golden Circle in London and for 14 weeks would fly back to Ireland every Saturday morning to prep and rehearse with the young actors, it meant that I had to be really strict with my time and sacrifice quite a bit."
Writer / Director / Producer Joe Madden
BOAT BOY is the coming of age story of teenager Paul Maxwell and his fateful summer as Lord Louis Mountbatten's 'boat boy'. Due to the high-profile assassination of Lord Mountbatten, Paul Maxwell's death that summer in 1979 is often forgotten.
Hi Joe, Jesse & Nigel, thanks for talking to TNC, how is your 2020 going?
No problem, thanks for having me. Yeah, it’s been a super busy start to the new decade with work, and now Boat Boy has been accepted to quite a few festivals I’m looking forward to travelling to some beautiful cities through the festival campaign.
Congratulations on having Boat Boy selected to British Shorts, what does it mean to you to be part of such a great showcase for British Films?
It means so much, not only to me, but to the entire team that put their time and effort into this production. As you know short filmmaking is all about a passion and drive to tell a story and, more times than not, it takes over all your spare time for many many months so we’re all delighted to have it recognised, especially in such a festival as prestigious as this.
When did you first hear about Paul Maxwell?
Joe Madden (Writer / Director / Producer): One of my first production jobs when I moved to London was on season 1 of Netflix’s The Crown I was hired as a general Directors assistant (Stephen Daldry, Ben Caron) and during the first few months I was asked to collate as much information as I could about Lord Louis Mountbatten. At that stage I wasn’t even aware that he’d been assassinated in Ireland. During my research I watched a documentary called “Death of a Royal” which had a section of the programme dedicated to Paul and his Family and it just struck a chord with me that this young man’s story needed to be told.
Jesse Algranti (Producer): I first learnt about Paul Maxwell from Joe when he told me about this script he was working on. I knew about the Mountbatten assassination but wasn't aware of exactly who else was on board the boat that day.
Nigel Mattison (Producer): I was working with Joe on another project and he mentioned that he had come across a true story which he believed would make an interesting short film.
What was it about Paul Maxwell's story that inspired you to want to make Boat Boy?
JM: Lord Mountbatten was royalty, a figure head, once Admiral of the British Fleet. Paul Maxwell was just a local boy, working a summer job, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and tragically lost his life. When I delved deeper into the research, I saw that very little had been reported about Paul in the newspapers and felt an urge to tell the story of Mountbatten’s death but through the eyes of Paul Maxwell.
JA: Of course, it was a tragedy for all involved that day, Mountbatten and several members of his family lost their lives and those who survived were undoubtedly scarred for life. But most surprising for me was how a young local Irish boy managed to get caught up in it all. When Joe came to me with the idea of telling this story and the events that took place through Paul's eyes, I thought it would be a really interesting angle to explore. Plus, not many people were aware of Paul, as most of the news coverage almost entirely focused on Mountbatten and the loss of such a high-profile figure.
NM: I responded to Joe’s impulse of telling this story from a young boy’s point of view and bringing to life that moment when you’re young and you realise that life is a bit more complicated and nuanced than you originally thought. That other people - people that you thought were your friends or family - had perhaps different points of view. Different motivations. How does a young person handle that?
"So, I was looking for a new project when I read the script and immediately thought this was a story that I'd like to help tell."
Did you have any apprehensions about making a short film based on this story?
JM: Oh absolutely! Films based on true events have to be dealt with a degree of humility and care, even more so when your subject loses their life and my team where very supportive of this philosophy. Before we went into production it was important for us to get in touch with the relatives of the victims. I eventually met Mary Maxwell (Paul’s mother) for an afternoon to discuss Boat Boy. We talked for hours about that summer in 1979 and she shared some beautiful stories about her son that helped influence the script. It was such an emotional experience and one I’ll never ever forget.
JA: It’s certainly something that had to be handled with care and respect which is why first and foremost we wanted Paul’s mother Mary to give her blessing. Then of course there is the looming political shadow that towers over this story, which is something we were conscious of staying away from as much as possible. Instead we felt it important to keep this film about Paul and these coming-of-age relationships that he has with his family, his friends and Mountbatten.
NM: To start with it’s a true story and that has to be handled with care and sensitivity. People’s lives have to be respected. Then it’s about how you explore that framework and apply it to a narrative story. After various discussions we settled on a direction that would steer away from anything overtly political and instead focus on a family and a boy. Finally it’s about physically realising this with a cast and crew, and hopefully audiences think we have achieved this.
Can you tell me a little bit about Boat Boy, how did this film come about?
JM: Well after I learnt about the story of Paul Maxwell I went straight to work and wrote a first draft. Even though I’m a fan of producing I knew that this was a colossal undertaking and that I’d need driven and intelligent producers to make it a reality and was lucky enough to know two rising talents in the industry: Jesse Algranti and Nigel Mattison, both who I know through working in the industry. I sent them the screenplay, and both agreed that this was an important perspective on a huge part of history and that it needed to be told. From there we set the wheels in motion. I can’t thank those guys enough!
JA: I was working on series 1 of The Crown with Joe when I learnt about a script he was working on. I had recently made a couple of low budget shorts with my brother under our production company Walnut Pictures and had really enjoyed the process. So, I was looking for a new project when I read the script and immediately thought this was a story that I'd like to help tell. From a production point of view, it also felt like an appropriate scale up and a good challenge to take on. Luckily, we were able to raise £15K via a crowdfunding campaign. Then after Nigel came on board, we were full steam ahead...
NM: I was working with Joe on Kingsman II, so we already had a dialogue about what projects we were attracted to, and the conversation sort of snowballed from there and developed into him and Jesse inviting me on board to collaborate.
"The depth of knowledge that we all learnt is immeasurable and that’s the only way to improve as an artist, by challenging yourself."
What was the most challenging aspect of making Boat Boy?
JM: Where do you want me to start? Ha-ha-ha-ha! Me and my team are all London based and we ended up shooting a period piece… In Northern Ireland...on 16mm film...with child actors...on a boat...in the Irish Sea. We didn’t make it half difficult for ourselves. If I was to boil it down though to one specific aspect, then I’d say time management was super challenging. I was working on Kingsman: The Golden Circle in London and for 14 weeks would fly back to Ireland every Saturday morning to prep and rehearse with the young actors, it meant that I had to be really strict with my time and sacrifice quite a bit. In saying that I wouldn’t change a thing. The depth of knowledge that we all learnt is immeasurable and that’s the only way to improve as an artist, by challenging yourself.
JA: Filming on water!
NM: From a production standpoint it was the organisation of filming in Ireland, when the vast majority of planning was done in London! In order to get cast and crew committed to a project, more often than not you have to set a date to convince people that the project is ‘going’. At that stage however you won’t have secured any locations etc, so you have to work hard and efficiently to make sure you make your schedule in pre and during shoot.
From a creative perspective, the decision was made to shoot on film, as it would convey the 1970’s texture and mood Joe wanted to explore and transport the audience too. Obviously, this means a different workflow to shooting on digital, and (looking back) I really appreciate the learning curve this film has allowed me to experience.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
JM: Yes! I was taken to the cinema a lot when I was a kid (it was the only way to shut me up for 90 mins) and I was a big into my drama at school but I distinctly remember going to the cinema and watching Jurassic Park and, during that film, realising that there was a world out there where people made these crazy idea become a reality and I knew from then that I wanted to be a part of that somehow.
JA: I’m not sure about always having a passion for filmmaking but I’ve certainly always had a passion for films! NM: Yes – I’ve certainly always loved reading the making of books, interviews and ‘behind scenes’ footage that you get on DVD’s/online etc. However, these never quite prepare you for the actual ‘filmmaking’! The actual doing of it can be very taxing. But this is what I love, and I feel extremely lucky to have opportunities to work in this industry.
What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?
JM: As I left the offices in London to go to Ireland to shoot Boat Boy, Mathew Vaughn (I was working for him at the time) wished me luck and said “No matter what happens or what goes wrong, be creative, think on your toes and just keep shooting because you can’t go back and do it again”. I’m paraphrasing but it was exactly what I needed to hear because inevitably things will go wrong, as they did on our shoot. You can lose your head and crumble, or you roll with the punches and your film evolves into this new thing on the day, and that’s when you sometimes capture magic.
JA: Keep your crew happy!
Do you have any advice you would offer someone thinking about getting into filmmaking?
JM: Know that film making is an art form and so not like any other industry in the world. There are no corporate ladders to climb, very few stepping-stones, if you get in with the right people, they’re not just going to hand you a gig based on no previous work. You’re either a filmmaker or you’re not, so be a filmmaker. Try and get a job doing anything in the industry to meet people, but in your spare time you need to be creating a portfolio of shorts and scripts.
JA: I think there are a lot of people who start out or who want to start out in the filmmaking process and don't exactly know where they want to end up or even where to start. And that's so normal. So many people start in one area/department and then end up migrating to others. But in order to get a fully formed picture I think it's really important to be aware of what every individual and every department does throughout the process. So, for those who aren't sure my advice would be to get in wherever you can, whether it's in production, costume, props, accounts, wherever. Learn as much as you can about that department and all the others and then decide which area suits you best.
NM: At the start just be open to every experience that comes your way. One can find it hard to ‘break in’ so every experience will give you a new perspective on filmmaking. The importance of this is that you will develop how you want to work – what you like and don’t like, both professionally and creatively. The hope is you can eventually use all of your experiences to build a way/method of how you enjoy working, and the kind of environment you wish to cultivate.
What are you currently working on?
JM: So, at the moment I’m working on a production for ‘Legendary Pictures’ but I’ve also just completed a fun little comedy short called Back Alley, and about to go into production of my new short Switcheroo. I’m also developing a feature length screenplay called A Change in Graffiti so I’m keeping myself busy!
JA: I have a number of projects in varying stages of development, and I'm hoping to produce my first feature in the next 18 months.
NM: I’m currently doing as much reading as I can and seeing what jumps out at me. By the middle of 2020 I would like to have a few projects at a good stage of development where I can look to push something forward.
And finally, what message do you want your audiences to take away from Boat Boy?
JM: Boat Boy’s message is all about listening to your inner instinct and having the courage to do what you think is right for you even if that means letting down people around you. I especially hope young people looking to get into filmmaking take that away with them.