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TNC Archive 2018

Film / Art / Festivals

"It's a tricky subject to tackle in a three minute short, but I was keen to attempt it, particularly because one of the main reasons there's so much stigma around mental health and suicide (sorry, plot spoiler) is because we rarely see it on film."


The Wall

January 24, 2018
Originally published for BFI Future Film Festival 2018

A man leaves an affectionate message for his daughter while driving slowly through a car wash. As he recalls their weekend together and memories from her childhood, it becomes clear that this is more than just a catch-up.

What does it mean to you to be screening The Wall at this years BFI Future Film Festival?

This is the first public screening of The Wall and I'm really pleased it's at the BFI Future Film Festival. I used to go to the Future Film Club when I was a teenager, so it's great to have the premier of my first fictional short here. The Wall has a fairly hard-hitting subject matter, but it's one that I think is important to confront and hopefully this film will help to open up conversation around mental health and its representations on screen.


The Wall was commissioned for Channel 4's Random Acts. How did this come about?

I applied to the ICA's Stop/Play/Record programme and was successful with my pitch, so partnered with Dazed to develop a 3-min short. The film ended up being completely different to my original idea, as initially I proposed a story about a young girl who has conversations with her separated parents in car journeys that depict her world split in two. It had a more conventional narrative structure and would've perhaps been a 'safer' film to make, but I was encouraged by Thomas Wightman at ICA to make the story less linear and be bold with the visuals, which was great advice. I chiselled down the idea and was left with one scene, in one location, with one character: a man in a carwash leaving an answerphone message for his daughter. 


Can you tell me about The Wall, what was the inspiration behind this film?

The main idea for this film comes from an event in my life that I wanted to explore through film. Actually, it wasn't so much that I 'wanted to', but more that each time I tried to develop another story I kept returning to this one. It's a tricky subject to tackle in a three minute short, but I was keen to attempt it, particularly because one of the main reasons there's so much stigma around mental health and suicide (sorry, plot spoiler) is because we rarely see it on film. So my aim was to present a character who's a loving father and is totally relatable and funny, but also suffers with severe depression. Making films (or any form of art) can be a useful way of processing what life throws at you, and I think the film medium lends itself particularly well to subjects that can't necessarily be explained, but can be embodied by fictional characters. 


What was the biggest challenge you faced bringing this all to life?

Working with a small budget is always a challenge, especially when you're doing a night shoot in a car wash! Fortunately, I have friends who were up for standing around Stevenage in the snow for 6 hours, in exchange for my eternal gratitude! I was also able to work with an incredible team (superstar DOP Ruben Woodin-Dechamps and Jason Thorpe who's an incredible actor) and it was definitely thanks to the involvement of these heroic people that we managed to pull it off.

As writer/director do you find it difficult to balance your roles on a project like this?

It was such a short script (just one page) and Jason really made it his own, so once we got to the day of the shoot I wasn't working so much as a writer, but more a director. I also think that writing the script myself helped me to understand the character and the emotional rollercoaster he goes on in greater depth.


What would you say has been the biggest lesson you've taken from making this film?

One of the lessons I've learnt is to give as much time as possible to working closely with actors before and during a shoot, but also to give them enough artistic licence to bring something new and unexpected to the role. I've learnt that it's possible to make a technically ambitious film on a tiny budget, but that you'll probably never want to do it again... or at least not too many more times. Another lesson is that it's often cheaper and easier to shoot outside of London (I highly recommend Mister Clean in Stevenage as a car wash location!) Finally, it's worth having a clear understanding of why you want to shoot things in a certain way and finding some logic within the visual material to help with the edit.


What was your first film festival experience like?

I remember going to a small student festival in Leeds after my first documentary 'Children's Response' was selected to be part of the programme. Keira Smalley (the editor) and I got a Megabus up from Warwick to see our film on the big screen and it ended up winning the first prize. I don't think we received an actual prize, but I can remember us standing in front of the audience having no idea what to say, and then celebrating on the Megabus home! 


How much does your work in multimedia theatre influence your filmmaking?

Other mediums really influence my film work, and through collaborating with Breach Theatre I've been able to experiment with approaching subjects in a completely different way. I think theatre tends to be better at pulling apart its medium and finding new ways of piecing it back together, in order to best serve the story. I noticed we did this on my last film 'The Mess', which was written and performed by Ellice Stevens, who's also part of Breach. We had lots of conversations about her experience of bipolar, which led on to thinking about the visual and narrative form. In the end, we created two main narrative strands: one that was predominantly theatrical and another that was documentary. We used different techniques, such as direct address and a stylised set with props falling in super slo-mo, to reinforce the theatrical strand. Then for the documentary strand, we filmed a more spontaneous conversation, that was shot on a snorricam rig in order to give a strong sense of her interior world.


What's the best advice you've been given?

Don't limit yourself to documentaries just because you think fiction seems too complicated/expensive/technical/male-dominated etc. Kim Longinotto said this to me in an interview I did with her for Another Gaze Journal, although she didn't actually frame it as 'advice'. When I asked for her advice she said "I can barely stay on track with my own life, so why would I dish out advice to others?!"


For anyone out there thinking about making their first film what advice would you offer them? 

I guess I'd say pick up a camera and film something, then try editing it and see what it turns out like! That's really the only place to start.


And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?

A sense that there are many complex reasons why people take their own lives and while it can't necessarily be fully understood, we should at least acknowledge that it's a very real problem, and that those affected by it can be loving, funny, intelligent, multi-dimensional people.

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