37th BFI Flare 2023
In 1963, a composer and his performer boyfriend (á la Britten/Pears) carve a career together while others suffer at the hands of the law and medical authorities.
Hi Jake thank you for talking with The New Current, what does it mean to you to have Every Waking Moment, in the HEARTS Shorts section Music Is the Food of Love at the 37th BFI Flare?
First of all I would like to say a huge thank you to The New Current for reaching out with some amazing questions! As a young filmmaker I really do appreciate the breadth of your journalism! Well, firstly I was utterly shocked. BFI Flare was the dream ever since I had decided to enter Every Waking Moment into the festival circuit and I know that the whole cast and crew are beyond excited to be a part of Flare’s amazing legacy. Being a part of the subcategory, ’Music is the Food of Love’, is incredibly endearing as this speaks to the core ideas in the film. As a musician and a filmmaker I do believe that both mediums, especially combined, can evoke the most powerful vision of love!
How important are festivals like BFI Flare in providing this unique platform for LGBTQIA+ films?
The existence of BFI Flare is such a powerful thing. The validation of LGBTQIA+ artists by such a reputable and prestigious institute is wholly necessary in this modern world. The platform for aspiring and often overlooked artists is a fantastic stepping stone in the progress to bring queer stories to the masses, authenticated and respected by this historical foundation. Founded in 1986 at a time of great fear and danger for the community, the thirty seven years since has seen the great wave of queer art take storm, in part to the efforts and commitment of festivals such as Flare. It is essential that this platform continues to grow and spread its influence across the globe, shedding light on not only incredibly British films like my own, but international cinema, global and homegrown stories that so often evoke the purest sense of love and humanity, that, especially after the pandemic and in these times of great political unease, are so vital to see right now.
How vital is it for LGBTQIA+ filmmakers to continue to push the boundaries of the stories and themes they want to explore in their films?
Beyond important. Early last year I ventured to the Tate Modern, as I had just moved to London, and I experienced Igor Grubić’s East Side Story, an art installation highlighting the verbal and physical assault of the Serbian Pride March in 2001 by the far-right. I found myself shook to my core at the evil of it all. At that moment I knew I wanted to make Every Waking Moment, be true to myself and highlight stories of those oppressed by evil homophobic legislation and attitudes. Young LGBTQIA+ filmmakers must continue to tell their stories and stories of their peers because we seem to so often forget that legislation and the hearts of those in power are very fickle. So often a government changes its mind and regresses to the evil of the past just to win a few votes. Exposing history or telling modern stories will enable the rights of queer people to become entrenched. We are all human beings who experience pain and sorrow, and all too often minorities continue to be crushed by historical prejudice, modern ignorance and apathy. Representation and exposure by young filmmakers and festivals like Flare is one step in the right direction to a better understanding, but for some reason we are still walking on a tightrope where with one bad decision human lives will once again be treated like dirt. We cannot have more denial of trans rights by stuffy politicians and multimillionaire influencers or see the likes of Section 28 or the Sexual Offences Act return. The fact that conversion therapy in the UK is only now being banned by the government is a true sign of neglect. Stories like those seen at BFI Flare will hopefully act as a magnifying glass to this neglect and hold governments accountable for what they continue to do.
What was the first LGBTQIA+ film you saw that really left an impact?
To be honest the first LGBTQIA+ film that made a big impact on me was RENT. A musical I have starred in and, at one time, knew every lyric too. It was the first real exposure I had to an unapologetic portrayal of queerness in cinema and theatre. The purest emotional core of the show being the love and partnership of "Tom Collins" and "Angel", a groundbreaking portrayal of a trans woman. Larson’s work lead me to want to also incorporate queer struggles in my own work, struggles I was also experiencing. It’s historical impact cannot be understated and I am glad that my sister, a huge influence over my artistic development as a boy, made us watch it all those years ago. The Russell T. Davies revival of Doctor Who was, I think, the first time I ever saw a queer character on television in "Captain Jack Harkness", and he was so impossibly cool yet also a tragically poetic character and I am thankful for that early exposure in a show that has always championed the underdog. It allowed my own thoughts on queerness to begin to develop. A film I studied in order to prepare myself for making Every Waking Moment, was Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine. The film obviously was paying homage to David Bowie and yet crafted its own musical genius in order to tell a story geared toward the queer experience. This is what I was trying to achieve and, therefore, took great inspiration from it, especially in the troubled approach to identity that the character’s face, a similar struggle to what my main character, "Edward", was also facing.
"The additional music was also a fun challenge as I wished to capture an essence of 20th Century classical music, using harsh and abstract chordal sequences with an etherial string based orchestration."
Can you tell me how Every Waking Moment came about, what was it about Benjamin Britten & Peter Pears short that interested you so much as a filmmaker?
Well the film itself is an homage to the two gentlemen, the characters in the film are aesthetically similar to Britten and Pears but they also exist on their own. I wanted to create a film that paid tribute to their beautiful story. My sister was a huge fan of Britten’s opera, Peter Grimes, and I had watched the dusty old VHS of ‘The Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra’ that was played every other week in music classes at school. I had become aware of Benjamin Britten’s personal life after hearing his folk song arrangements and, after further study, I came across the sonorous voice of Peter Pears. I was taken aback by the outright dedication of the two men, holding a 37 year companionship kept secret during the time of great fear for homosexuals in Britain. I was drawn into how Britten had poured his heart into his music in which he would have his partner perform, almost exclusively, clearly signposting his love without being able to truly declare it. This was the cornerstone of the idea behind Every Waking Moment. This bittersweet sentiment echoes through each musical note and each poetic phrase uttered by the characters. The original idea of the film came about when I was listening to Early One Morning, one of Britten’s folk songs, and I imagined the two sat at the piano discussing their fears, their life together and music. Then, after more historical research about the oppression of homosexuals by the UK government, police force and health service I knew I wanted to fill out the story and address an often overlooked dark period in British history.
During the writing of Every Waking Moment what was the most surprising thing you discovered about Britten / Pears?
Britten was a very cautious man, wrecked with fear of the oppression that befell numerous artists at the time, he had been questioned by the police about his , yet I was truly astonished by how much material was written for his beloved. Billy Budd and Peter Grimes were operas created with the sole intention of having Pears as the lead. Britten’s canticle number one, My Beloved is Mine, was written for Pears as were the seven sonnets of Michelangelo, and the War Requiem, in my opinion the greatest of Britten’s works, premiered with Pears as the principle tenor. I am shocked of how the apparently open secret was so enduring until Britten’s death in 1976, nine years after the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK. The British stiff upper lip attitude and lingering fears prevented Britten/Pears to live their honest truth within the composer’s lifetime. Pears is often overlooked in his impact on music, as Britten is seen as the true genius, however I do believe that one could not have truly reached their potential without the other. Pears was often criticised for the quality and unique sound of his voice, and as a singer who also had similar criticisms during my own musical study, I could throughly relate to the man.
Was there any one scene that was especially tricky to film?
The most challenging was the long take that begins at the end of the film as the two perform the titular song. This was an elaborate setup, with track and dolly, containing musical queues, and acting as the culmination of the character’s emotional arcs. Matt Tam our fantastic director of photography was also working with an excellent but reduced camera crew and therefore it was quite difficult to perfect. The final take of that shot is what is seen in the film, possibly the tenth we captured. There are a few tracking shots throughout the film that were given priority as the use of movement for scenes containing music provided a much needed feeling of flow and freedom that is less present in the dialogue based scenes and relates to core themes within the film. Even though they were wonderfully complicated and required numerous tries and adjustments, I believe, wholeheartedly, that they were worth it.
Had you always intended to compose the additional music that you used in the film?
One of the big drives for making the film was that it really did allow me to pour all my efforts into it. I knew I wanted to move away from the true story of Britten and Pears in order to not restrict my writing, but therefore that meant I would have to craft the in universe compositions. The positives of this were that the titular song that plays at the end of the film could be tailored to act as an emotional summary to the film, it would allow me to write in the style of the nineteenth century British composers, taking strong inspiration from Vaughan Williams, Elgar and Britten himself, and also would allow us to avoid copyright issues! The additional music was also a fun challenge as I wished to capture an essence of 20th Century classical music, using harsh and abstract chordal sequences with an etherial string based orchestration. I wanted to evoke both the bleakness and sorrow of works such as Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time but also the majestic quality seen in Britten’s Cello Sonata in C Major or even Phillip Glass’s Mishima.
When working on a short film like this how essential is the collaborative nature between you and your cast Harry Doolan and William Bennet?
Harry Doolan, William Bennet and Michael Ainger, who played the third lead of the film, were essential in any success that the film has garnered. I grew up always wanting to be an actor but the call to create sort of overpowered that, but I think it gave me an appreciation of the craft and respect that I think is wholly invaluable. Harry was the first role cast in the film and offered a foundation of outright professionalism as from the beginning he engaged with the script, he sought out his own research as well as listening to my own interpretation. William was brought on much later in the game as Edward was the hardest part to cast. I found it incredibly important to cast someone who had knowledge of music and was a skilled pianist, as the lead had to be believable as a musical genius, Tom Hulce in Amadeus is a fabulous example of it done wonderfully. I think William gives him a run for his money. William not only saved my skin by coming on board so late with such enthusiasm, but delivered a performance far better than anything I could imagine. Harry and William's natural talent and dynamite on screen chemistry allowed my job to become much easier. Their work did not seem laboured at all and enabled my direction to remain focused on the intricacies of the performances, trying to build three dimensional characters within a short runtime of twenty minutes.
Michael Ainger who played The Beautiful Man was also a fabulous addition. Having worked with Michael previously I knew that his level of dedication and outright commitment would enable the more intense scenes of the film to have a much needed truth to them. Their hard work and good spirit was an absolute highlight of the entire process. I also would love to thank James Freeman, Rafy Hay and Andrey Sviridov, who had small parts in the film, but each provided such riveting performances that filled out the world of Every Waking Moment. I am forever thankful to all my cast.
Did you allow Harry and William much flexibility with your screenplay once you started shooting or did you prefer to stick to what you wrote?
I had crafted the dialogue to echo the poetic language that was common in the Britten/Pears published love letters. The humorous back and forth and the deep camaraderie of the two men was a necessity to capture. In many of the recorded performances there is a flamboyance to their language that, in my opinion, would need to be accurately portrayed. Therefore I was very wedded to the script I wrote, which had seen up to eleven drafts before reaching the shooting script phase. I know the boys understood my desires to stick closely to what was written because with this type of language it is hard to ad-lib or paraphrase. What the boys brought was the perfect intonation and presentation of this quite elaborate dialogue. I hoped it would work on screen and have its intended effect but this was not a reality until William and Harry’s beautiful performances and the way each of them elevated the dialogue.
What has been the most valuable lesson you have taken from making Every Waking Moment?
To trust in others and relax. To be confident in the vision and even when, in your own head, the world may be ending, you must breathe and take control of the situation to the best of your ability because no matter what happens, as long as you had pure intentions, you will be proud. We faced every possible strike imaginable, we faced delays and pre-production issues. Time pressure. Damaged hard drives. Personal woe and strife! But in the end you always look back fondly and marvel in the beautiful madness of it all. I would go forward knowing this and try and enjoy the process more, revel in each creative solution and decision.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking and composing?
I remember trying to compose my first musical around the age of eleven on the free version of GarageBand on my iPad... I am glad that nothing remains of whatever I called ‘my music’ back then. I pursued music and composition at the degree level and use film as an excuse to craft as much music as I can. Music is the love of my life and I cannot go a day without experiencing or writing it. Similarly with filmmaking, I had starred in a homemade Doctor Who film, directed by my dad, for my ninth birthday, a Star Trek one for my tenth, and by the age of thirteen I had taken over directing responsibilities! My wild ideas were forced on my school mates who often begrudgingly would take part in them. Filmmaking was something I have always been a part of for as long as I can remember. Dressing up in silly costumes and trying to craft overly complicated stories on non-existent budgets was how I spent some of the happiest times as a teenager and young man. Through university and the pandemic I found myself yearning to make more and more films and didn’t have the opportunity to work on big sets with lots of cast and crew, but continued nonetheless. I had filmed myself dancing ridiculously in Talybont Laundry Room C in Cardiff at 2am because I needed the artistic release of filmmaking to deal with a recent personal life crisis. It allowed me to focus for a moment when I needed it most. That film was instrumental in getting me on the Masters Directing Course at MetFilm School where Every Waking Moment was created as my final project. My passion has only continued to grow for my duel loves and I never wish to stop.
Do you have any advice or tips you would offer emerging filmmakers or composers?
I often say, as most people will, that in spite of everything just make something. If you have a camera and an idea, or a couple of friends like I did who just want to be movie stars or the next David Lynch, why not? Why can’t it be you? You will only learn by doing and no matter how stressful it may be, no matter how many arguments about character arcs or colour grading you might have, no matter how truly exhausted you may feel... It’ll be worth it and you’ll know it. Try things, come up with crazy solutions to crazy problems. Filmmaking is such a bizarre thing to do when you really think about it but we do it because we want to tell a story. Our story, any story!
And finally, what message do you hope you audiences will take away from Every Waking Moment?
That real love always finds a way to survive, no matter the obstacle. Love and music so often go hand in hand and I believe quite rightly. I want the audience to see how sometimes music is the only thing people had to express their true feelings and that music is one of, if not, the best way of true and honest expression. I’d hope that maybe an audience would seek out the music and story of Britten/Pears, as it is truly beautiful and a story that reaches beyond the stories of celebrity love and instead is an example of an almost lifelong partnership, a all but married couple who had fears and doubts but survived together through their unwavering love. I’d also really like people to get the final song stuck in their heads!