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BFI Future Film Festival 2023

The Breakup Album of The Year

It's being called the breakup album of the year. Running late to a studio livestream, Jamie gets a voice note from his ex - the first communication they've had in months. She's heard the album. She has some thoughts.


Hi Louis, it’s great to talk with you, how has everything been going?


Good! Busy!


Congratulations on having The Breakup Album of The Year part of the Future Film Festival 2023, how does it feel to be part of such an incredible line-up of short films?


Thanks! It’s a huge honour. I can’t wait to meet the other filmmakers. To be showing something at the BFI, too, feels huge. I’m from London, so I’ve been going to the BFI for years. I was actually working there as an usher a few months ago, during the London Film Festival, so it’s cool to be going back there to screen a film.


How important are festivals like Future Film Festival in creating a platform for short films?


Hugely! And this one is offering so many events and talks that are geared towards helping young filmmakers get more films made, which is very helpful. I’ve been to other festivals where the main focus is on features, and shorts are there are as a kind of added bonus. You have a great time but leave without much insight about how make your next steps. Future Film Festival, because it’s just for young filmmakers and just for shorts, has a very pragmatic line-up – with pitching sessions, script surgeries, and talks by UK short film funding bodies about how to put in a good application – which is so useful.


Can you tell me how The Breakup Album of The Year, came about, what was the inspiration behind your short?


It came from the general observation, drawn from a few different films, plays and songs, that art has the power to make things seem true. Watching films based on true events, you believe the account you’re given if the film’s good, and you don’t if the film’s bad – it doesn’t have much to do with historical accuracy. I remember seeing one film in particular, which was autobiographical, made as part of a hugely worthwhile charity campaign. Even though every scene was a recreation of real events, the script felt cliché and the performances were a bit one-note, and so it felt like it wasn’t true at all. I left thinking about how messed up that was, and I scribbled down the first draft of this film soon after that.


The breakup album thing was a way of turning it into a drama – where the truth in question is about what happened between two people in the final days of a relationship. I think music has more power than any other art form to make you believe things – war songs and protest songs have been so historically significant because of this. And when that gets personal, it’s pretty dangerous for those involved. If a brilliant musician writes a song about you, they have all the power, and you have none.


"Too often their contributions go unacknowledged, and a film is sold as the solo brainchild of the writer/director."

How close do you like to stick to your screenplay once you start shooting, do you allow for much flexibility?


I like to keep as flexible as possible! When you have limited time and a complicated setup, it can restrict how much you can play around with the script. But when there’s the capacity to play around with the script, I always think it’s worth it. he voice note part of this film, which makes up most of the dialogue, was semi-improvised. I workshopped it with Avigail Tlalim (who plays Maya) before filming, and fed that back into the script. On the day of filming, I encouraged her to be loose with it. The scene is just one static tripod shot, so I knew I could cut together different takes. I think we did about twelve takes in the end, and the lines were slightly different in each one. I drew material from at least five of those takes in the edit. Making films in this way makes them more difficult to edit, for sure, but pays off (I think) in the immediacy of the performances and dialogue. One thing I feel strongly about, too, is that actors should be credited when they improvise and contribute material in the development of a project. Too often their contributions go unacknowledged, and a film is sold as the solo brainchild of the writer/director. This helps perpetuate the cult of the auteur, concealing how productive collaboration can be, and then feeds back into bad working practices, because directors think everything has to come from them.

What was the biggest challenges you faced making The Breakup Album of The Year?


The lead actor had a covid scare the day before we shot, and Adam Mirsky had to step into the role last minute. I had the studio booked, and it was one of those moments post-lockdown when nobody knew if we were about to be plunged into isolation again, so we went ahead with it. Everything else went smoothly – Adam was great, and the Blue Studios (in Dalston) were very accommodating.

And finally, what message do you hope your audiences will take away from The Breakup Album of The Year?


People are free to take from it whatever they want! I obviously have my own understanding of what happens in it, and for me it’s tied in to wider stuff about art and truth and manipulating narratives. But I’ve already seen people having completely different readings of the film, which should be celebrated. I think a film works when the characters and story and images take on a life of their own, beyond whatever they were originally meant to ‘say’. If everyone was taking the same message from something I’d made, for me that would be a sign that it hadn’t worked.

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