SHORT FILM FESTIVAL 2022
Drama / Animation / Comedy / Mystery
Fri 21.1. 21:00 / Acudkino 1
An amateur improv class meet for the first time, and things turn sour when one of the group misjudges the situation.
Hi Liam it's great to talk with you again, these have been some very strange times, how have you been holding up?
Pretty good in the last couple of months. Doughnut was released online at the end of November and has had an overwhelming response, some really positive comments and feedback which would be amazing in and of itself, but then last week my other short Punch-Drunk was revealed to have made the longlist for the BAFTAs; one of only ten short films to have done so, so I'm just trying to take it all in.
Doughnut was released via Short of the Week gaining an amazing review from Céline Roustan, what has it meant to you to get this type of response to your film?
She couldn't have written a better review if I'd paid her. I was obviously overjoyed when Short of the Week said they had selected Doughnut for their site; it had been a personal milestone of mine for some time. But I then spent the interim pretty nervous about the write-up; they don't pull their punches in their reviews, highlighting perceived flaws as well as strengths, so to get a review like that felt incredible, particularly how she referred to the intelligence the film assumes the audience has, and how it has many readings: that she picked up on some of my core intentions when I wrote it really made my day.
Roustan said: "For such a layered screenplay to be effective, the audience has to remain engaged throughout the film and Ketang and White leave no stone unturned to ensure this happens." When writing a screenplay how important is it for you to keep how the audience may respond to your film in your focus?
This is the key really. I find that I have to be simultaneously selfish and selfless when writing. I always have the audience in mind - if they're gonna give up some of their finite time on this Earth watching the film then I need to reward them by not wasting it, but then equally I can't please everyone. I like to think of it like I'm writing for my doppelganger from a parallel universe, and write the type of film I would love to have seen myself. I think by making it focused in this way makes for a stronger film. I like to stuff the films with as much subtext and thematic threads to chew on as possible, and reward anyone who wants to dig deeper, the hard part is finding that balance between letting an audience join the dots themselves, which I prefer, and spoon-feeding them, which I try to avoid at all costs. I just don't want the dots to be that difficult to find that the audience thinks 'WTF was that about?'.
Congratulations on having Doughnut selected for British Shorts 2022, how does it feel to be at the festival and part of such an amazing line-up of short films?
British Shorts always select a strong programme, so it felt amazing to be included. I'm just gutted that we can't make the trip over - the festival has exactly the vibe we love and Berlin is just one of the best cities in the world.
"There was a short film competition and as we were both filmmakers we thought it would be daft not to have a go at making something."
With everything that is going on due to Covid how essential are festivals like British Shorts Berlin in continuing to provide a platform for Independent British short films?
Massive. The frustration of not being able to sit in a cinema screen at these amazing festivals is somewhat offset by the idea that with each festival the film reaches a wider audience. I like the image of someone walking into a screening in Berlin and having a great time watching our film. I guess the advantage of not being there is that I can't see them throwing tomatoes at the screen if they hate it!
What was the inspiration behind your screenplay for Doughnut?
This is a tricky question, a bit like a dream, I don't remember the exact beginning but just writing it. I had this idea of a character who goes off like a grenade amongst a group of strangers, and then several different themes began to coalesce and fit into the same short running time, and when that happens, for me, the writing process becomes like a fever dream and I struggle to think of much else until it's out of my system.
You co-directed Doughnut with Larry Ketang, who you've worked with on several projects before, how did this partnership come about?
We both worked at the same inner-city school. There was a short film competition and as we were both filmmakers we thought it would be daft not to have a go at making something. The whole process of making that first short and getting strangers on board to collaborate and then being proud at the end result was like a drug, and we quickly looked for what the next one would be.
As a writer how easy is it to give up some of the control of your screenplay to your co-director, are you flexible with ideas or new suggestions?
I have quite strong ideas and beliefs about what the story is and what it should be, and am always open to ideas and suggestions - flexibility comes with whether I think the new ideas fit within what my vision for the film is: if something detracts or contradicts from the vision then it won't get passed, but then often you'll get something that enhances what's there. Usually we know which films we want to make next because Larry will read the scripts I send and we both have a similar reaction. We'll then discuss any of the less overt points in the subtext of the script, and ideas we have about shots, cast etc. By the time we're on set we're singing from the same hymn sheet, and it's just a case of communicating that to the rest of the cast and making it happen.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?
I think filmmakers should by definition be pushing boundaries, and I don't mean they should be provocative but if you are making something that is unique to you then it will feel fresh and it will be boundary-pushing because you'll be taking me somewhere I couldn't have gotten on my own. It may even feel familiar or speak to me like it's my own thoughts, but in a way I wouldn't have thought of. I think it's when people try to imitate others boundaries are not pushed. I was quite nervous when I'd finished writing Doughnut as it felt like nothing I'd seen before, and consequently, even though it all made sense in my head, I wasn't sure it worked. But then I thought well, that's probably a good thing. It even took Larry a couple of read-throughs before he even knew how he felt about it. Then we knew we had to make it.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking/Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I've always loved film since I was a boy and my mum and dad would take me and my brother to the video shop on a Friday night. And when I look back, I have always written. It took me a long time to realise I was a writer. And even longer to realise that I could write and make films.
Has your approach to your writing and directing changed since your debut short?
This is a tricky question. It's difficult to pinpoint things that have changed gradually over time. With regards to writing, my approach is largely the same, but I feel like the scripts are a little more focused, perhaps a little purer, or slicker. With directing, a lot of it is just from extensive trial and error. The biggest lesson I've learnt is trusting my gut and sticking with that feeling. Earlier on I would be more afraid of upsetting people who would maybe be taking the film off-piste with suggestions etc, and wouldn't say 'No we're not doing that because X,' whereas now I know people are professionals and ultimately want a director to lead, and nothing is personal. I think our sets are run a lot more smoothly now. Also, pray for the best but prepare for the worst - stuff always goes wrong, often simultaneously.
Is there any tips or advice you would offer someone thinking about getting into scriptwriting?
Just do it. Write anything. If you don't know what to write, set a timer for 10 minutes and write free form, don't care how good it is. Sometimes it's rubbish, sometimes a seed of a story is there. Look at the films you like and analyse why. Do the same for films you hated, which is even more useful. You can only get better the more you write, so write more.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Doughnut?
At the very least I hope they don't feel that they wasted 14 minutes and 24 seconds of their lives. But I hope they enjoy it. Some have found it hilarious, others almost unbearably tense. There seems to be as many ways of reacting to it as there are viewers, and that's great. I hope they have a little dialogue, either with others or themselves about what was right, what was wrong, what they would have done in the situation. I would love it if this film lingers on in the mind, giving them plenty to chew on and come back to.