17th British Shorts, Berlin
"I suppose there is also the aspect that being on set wasn't brand new to me which made the experience less daunting -- but there was a lot of technical language on the other side of the camera that I was picking up by the seat of my pants."
FOR PEOPLE IN
Jenny and Paul meet at a pub. Quickly, they fall in love. The beginnings of their relationship blossom against a world that's falling fall apart. Jenny becomes radicalised; Europe moves further to the Right; martial law is in place.
Hi Alex, thank you for talking to TNC. Congratulations on For People in Trouble being selected for the 17th British Shorts in Berlin, how does it feel to be part of such an amazing line-up of short films?
Thank you Niger. It feels really exciting, and especially to be showing our film in Berlin, a city I love.
For People in Trouble had its World Premiere at Tribeca 2023 and is nominated for the 2024 ALFS Award at the London Critics Circle Film Awards. What has it meant to you to get this type of response for your film?
Tribeca was my first time going to a festival as a filmmaker, not an actor; meeting other first time filmmakers there with short and feature length films was really moving, to meet a part of that community. And in terms of the London Critics Circle Film Awards -- it was a really lovely thing to find out at the end of 2023, to round off the year from For people in trouble, and for it to be in such good company!
How important are festivals like British Shorts in creating a platform for short films? What more can be done on a local/national level in the UK to offer short films more visibility to audiences outside of the festivals circuit?
Festivals are essential for short films. There are some local cinemas -- I think of my local, Peckhamplex in Peckham, in London -- that do interact with short films, and welcome them being screened. But it's true, I'm not sure of an obvious place to find short films in a public space, away from your laptop. And that intermingling between short film teams and the public is the best thing! It's something to do with the smallness of most short film budgets and teams, and the fact that they are often made with an immense amount of passion (without which they would never see the light of day) that creates a sense of humility sometimes lost on bigger film projects -- and makes it really special when they are shared with an audience in the same room.
How much did you background as an actor help prepare you for writing and directing For People in Trouble?
Ah, loads. It was the reason I made a piece that was actor driven, I suppose. I wanted to put two beautiful actors in the middle of a long dialogue-heavy story and spend three days shooting them. It was absolutely joyful to get to work with Archie Madekwe (swoon) and Emma D'Arcy (swoon), obviously. I suppose there is also the aspect that being on set wasn't brand new to me which made the experience less daunting -- but there was a lot of technical language on the other side of the camera that I was picking up by the seat of my pants.
"As Paul and Jenny they reminded me of couples in my own life, that I've been to the pub with, and that's the quality I wanted."
Can you tell me how For People in Trouble came about, what inspired your screenplay?
Susanne Sundfør's album Music For People In Trouble. The film was called "Paul & Jenny" but fortunately someone told me that wasn't a good title and Susanne agreed to me naming it in homage to her beautiful album. I was listening to it on repeat, I think whilst shooting The Last Duel, when I first started writing the first bits of scenes. So it bled into the writing somehow...maybe it led to the sort of sideways quality of talking about something really important. Because being too front-on would be too hard to listen to. Susanne does that so masterfully, in her songs.
What was the most challenging scene for you to shoot?
Each scene has its own corners to turn. But I think, as it was essentially four scenes of four pages of dialogue each, I could have broken those scenes up further with the actors in rehearsal. Created mini-scenes inside the scenes from which we could pick up from nimbly. We spent a lot of time resetting and shooting the entire scene again, which seems silly now, as I wasn't sure of the right places to drop in and pick up from; and though I wanted to preserve the actor's being able to build up the scene organically, it wasn't a great use of time, and we could have shot more in more detail had I been cleverer!
How did you go about casting Emma D’Arcy and Archie Madekwe, had you already had an idea of who you wanted to play Jenny and Paul?
I wrote to Emma, whom I've known for a while. And they said yes, and I was over the moon. And then I asked Archie, whom I've known even longer to read with Emma, and there was something lovely about their shared softness together. As Paul and Jenny they reminded me of couples in my own life, that I've been to the pub with, and that's the quality I wanted.
Once you started shooting did you give your cast much flexibility with your screenplay or did you prefer to stick to what you had written?
I think we stuck pretty much to the script. There was something slightly rhythmic in the dialogue that I wanted to preserve. Although there's an odd line or two that brilliant Emma and Archie came up with and we kept. But what happens in the silences between lines, the interesting stuff, that is all them.
Now you can be reflective, what would you say has been the most valuable lesson you’ve taken away from making For People in Trouble?
Without wanting to sound too much like a Fridge Magnet Quote, what looks like a problem is sometimes a really interesting creative possibility (...sometimes).
Where did this desire come from to direct a short, has it always been there?
I suppose it comes from loving stories and being part of telling them, in any way I can. For the most part that has been as an actor, and I feel that's the most natural thing for me, but it's joyful to know there are other ways too.
And finally, what do you hope you audiences will take away from For People in Trouble?
Ah! That is what I want them to tell me!