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17th British Shorts, Berlin

"We have both wanted to explore something around section 28 and what it might mean for an audience today."

Sat 20.1. 20:00 / Klick Kino

January 13, 2024  
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Manny and Guy teach in a school about to hold a meeting to discuss the ongoing protests against LGBTQI+ topics in class. What can you do when you are the school principal but you live with the man you love?

Hi Scott, thank you for talking to TNC. Congratulations on Clause being at the 17th British Shorts in Berlin, how does it feel to be part of such an amazing line-up of shorts?

Thank you so much.


It feels incredibly exciting to be part of the festival and lineup. There are so many films we have screened with on the festival circuit, so it feels genuinely exciting to come together at the 17th British Shorts in Berlin. It feels like a big community which is so lovely! British Shorts showcase some amazing pieces of work that I’ve admired so much over the years so its great to have Clause feature as part of this years festival. Plus its my time having a piece of work there which is ...scary!


Since your World Premiere at Lover’s Film Festival 2023 Clause has had an amazing festival run, getting nominated for Best East Anglia film at the Norwich Film Festival 2023. What has it meant to you to get this type of reception for your film?


Showcasing the film at the Lovers Film Festival in Italy was an amazing way to start our festival run,  it‘s one of the oldest LGBTQAi+ film festivals in Europe and it just felt so perfect to share the film with audiences for the first time. It felt really significant to be apart of a queer programme like that and for our story, which is so embedded in British politics to find a universal connection, is a great feeling.


Being a part of Norwich Film Festival was a massive goal for James McDermott (writer) and I. I’m originally from Essex, and James is from Norfolk so East Anglia is in our blood, to then be nominated for Best East Anglian short film was the icing on the cake.


Making Clause and sharing it with East Anglian audiences in Norwich was incredibly moving. People often have opinions about our region, but we love where we are from and there are so many incredible stories that are yet to be told about it. James and I are working on a few projects set in Norfolk, and I’m currently working on a political drama about a real life gay Essex Politician during WWII. I just love Essex, and I’m obsessed by its place in culture and history...and I‘m still holding out to direct the GC biopic.


How important are festivals like British Shorts in creating a platform for short films?


I think it’s incredibly important to have platforms to show short films. And I think is vital to have festivals like British Shorts that are showcasing British talent to an international audience. More so than ever, since the pandemic its important for artists & audiences to come together as a community to share work, network and develop.


What more can be done on a local/National level in the UK to offer short films more visibility to audiences outside of film festivals?


I would love to see more opportunities for more DIY events, I came up through the Edinburgh Fringe Festival making work and getting the opportunity to put it in front of an audience and hope that they connected with it. I learnt so much through that process, even if it was terrifying at times. If there was a way of showcasing film work in development, the script or a rough cut I made on my phone to an audience for feedback I know I’d really find that valuable in developing my voice.


If there could also be a national tour of short films being showcased in different spaces in schools, libraries, town centres, cinemas you’d learn so much about how audiences interact with your work, I know Id really love that opportunity to learn.

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Can you tell me how Clause came about, what was it about James McDermott’s screenplay that connected with you so much?


I work in theatre as a director and I first came into contact with James’s writing during my time working for a theatre company. James has an incredible voice that speaks to a particular place and a particular moment, which I find so gripping. We have worked on plays together and I was interested in exploring what it might be like to make a film together. James and I spoke about ideas, what might work with the resources and budget we had. We have both wanted to explore something around section 28 and what it might mean for an audience today. One of the highlights of our festival run is we got an opportunity to have Clause screen before the brilliant Blue Jean by Georgia Oakley as part of the Queer Wave Film Festival, so it felt like we were already having those conversations with audiences around the impact of section 28.


Because of how little Section 28 is spoken about in contemporary LGBTQAi+ communities, was there any apprehensions about making a short film that would shine a light back on a policy that did so much damage to the community?

No I don’t think we had apprehensions about making a piece of work around section 28. But James and I spoke constantly about how we wanted to create a piece of work that felt timeless in its approach and in its content. The conversation that takes place in the film is between two men who are in a relationship in a school and are conflicted about their professional responsibilities when their school tries to bring in such legislation.  Section 28 did so much damage to the community, but I think what is more pressing for James and I, is that it was a policy that we were both educated under, and it is surprising how little our peers know about it or that it even existed.

During your pre-production was there anything about Section 28 that you discovered that impacted the way you where going to bring this film to life?


James and I were really keen to focus on individual experiences during that time. And what it must have felt like to be a member of staff in that situation, how would you react, and what if you were in a relationship with another teacher in the school. How do you divide the personal and the professional, or is it just impossible. I looked at accounts and testimonies of individuals who had that experience and shared this with the actors. It was also clear that in the UK and Internationally attitudes or informal policies like section 28 still exist.


Why do you think Section 28 has somewhat faded from the wider (perhaps more youthful) LGBTQAi+ communities?


I don’t have a clear answer for this, and don’t know if it has or hasn’t. I think for my generation who were brought up in the 90s it was a very different experience to those at the beginning of this policy, and I’m sure the younger generation have their own challenges as well. I do think it is spoken about and you see it coming up in small ways in queer work, and in larger narratives like Blue Jean. But it’s important for stories to remind us that this did happen, and not that long ago, especially because of the world we live in today.


How important is the creative collaboration between a writer and director when working on a short film?


It is the most exciting, best, brilliant, rewarding part of the process for me. My background in theatre has all been in new writing, I thrive on being able to develop an idea with a writer, support them in the development of the script and then direct the production. So for me it’s almost the most important part of the process. It’s great when working with someone like James who I trust enormously because we can be honest with each other, and encourage each other to make the best work.


How much flexibility do you allow yourself and your actors with the screenplay once you start filming?


I think prep as much as you can and then be prepared to throw it out the window. I’m really used to having rehearsal time, and having space with the actors to developing ideas together, try things, get it wrong, and try again. On Clause we had limited time and resources, so we stuck exactly to the script. Our brilliant DOP Tom Martin and I were able to respond in the moment to the actors and be flexible with shots that we wanted. We were both responding to what we were seeing and suggesting additional shots to each other as we went along. This gave us a bit of freedom to explore ideas we had about the characters.

What was the most challenging scene for you to shoot?


I think the biggest challenge was probably for the actors, we were filming long takes. The short exists as an snapshot with two teachers discussing what they are about to do with this new policy when break-time finishes. I think the actors Benji Teare and George Taylor did an amazing job at being able to hold the tension of the characters conflict in those long scenes. I think they gave brilliant performances. The other main challenge being the daylight disappearing outside, as our classroom had huge windows all down one side.


Do you think filmmakers should continue pushing the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?


I think pushing the boundaries can mean so many different things for different people. It‘s important to step outside of your comfort zone to create work whether that is in the form, the collaborators, or the story that you want to tell. I can‘t speak for others but I know I find that really useful in my work. I think me pushing the boundaries sits more with the audience, which I think comes from my relationship to a live audience in theatre. I‘m interested in presenting audiences the stories they didn‘t know they cared about, and to challenge the‘ liveness‘ of performance in film. I‘m obsessed with what Dominic Savage and Philip Barantini are doing with their relationships with audience, script and actor.

"From being with actors in rehearsals for 4 weeks or more, Im really used to discussion around psychology and character motivation and thats definitely helped my approach to making film."

Where did you passion for film and theatre making coming from?


I think from school. I had amazing teachers, who really cared about theatre and visual arts. They really challenged me to develop and push myself in what I wanted to create. I don’t come from an arts background at all. But my dad loves music, and film, so I think that interest and storytelling came from somewhere within that. I think my passion for film and theatre making develops and changes over time when I was first starting out I was really interested in performance art and experimental theatre. As I got older and understood more and started writing I’ve become interested in creating work about how big politics affects small people. I’m really interested in the stories that have a direct conversation with a particular community and that could be in any genre or art form.


Has your background in theatre helped you in the way you approach your film projects?

Massively. Of course the two mediums are completely different and there are some crossovers. It can be difficult sometimes to navigate between the two, I’m so used to having four weeks of rehearsal time with just the actors. Working in theatre has really helped me work with writers and understand how to develop material together. I’ve had collaborators tell me on set, that I prioritise a strong connection and collaboration with actors, which is probably the theatre director in me coming out, as well as my imposter syndrome of being on a film set. From being with actors in rehearsals for 4 weeks or more, I’m really used to discussion around psychology and character motivation and that’s definitely helped my approach to making film. I just long for a couple of weeks rehearsal before making a film, I know people do it. I just hope one day I can do it.  


As was as directing T.C Murray’s masterpiece Birthright (2023) at the Finborough Theatre which gained great reviews, and directing the UK premiere of Paper Cut (2023) which you took to Park Theatre. Have you ever thought about turning any of the theatre shows you’ve made into shorts or features?


Yes! I was having a conversation with an actor recently who was in a play that I directed last year. She asked me this very question. More and more it crosses my mind and I think there are some plays that could so clearly be made into films and some that should absolutely just exist in a theatre. I think there has been some really amazing adaptions of work over the years and its something I’m definitely interested in. I think what’s great about having these two mediums to work with is that they both inform each other. For example my research into the play I did last year Paper Cut led me to a story about a gay British politician from Essex that I’m currently writing a short about and will direct later this year.


Any advice or tips for any fellow writers / directors / theatre-makers?


Go to bed early! The advice that I hold dear for myself is from the one and only Cher. I’m paraphrasing now but she said: you have to remember that the answer you are looking for is yes, if people are saying no and rejecting your idea then that’s not the answer you’re looking for and you should continue looking for the answer yes. I think this is so important to remember, I was saying it a couple of weeks ago to some collaborators on a short I’m working on, it can be a really lonely job and the industry is full of rejection, so I just try to remember that I’m looking for a yes and not looking for the no.


…And to keep making and keep doing. And whatever that is for you is really valid and important, whether that’s about getting up early and writing each day or if it’s about reading three pages of a book that you are researching. Just keep going. (I should listen to this advice!)


And finally, what do you hope you audiences will take away from Clause?


It‘s a film that looks at how outside forces can have a huge impact on relationships, who we are and how we love, and we should never give in to those outside forces. I hope people will feel pride and I hope people feel powerful afterwards. 

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