My Sweet Prince
Originally published during Iris Prize 2019
Alcopops, VHS tapes, cigarettes, boys, MSN Messenger, Placebo - this is 2003. Set on the Isle of Wight, fragments of the director’s own teenage video diaries collide with the fictional story of 15-year-old Tommy in this short film about a boy’s search for connection in the advent of the internet age.
Hi Jason, great to talk with you, how are things going?
Hey, things are good thank you! Busy prepping my next short film Isaac And The Ram which we’re shooting soon as part of The Uncertain Kingdom project, so things are heating up. Excited to talk to you about My Sweet Prince!
What was the first thing that went through your head when you found out My Sweet Prince is on the Iris Prize Best British Shortlisted 2019?
I’ve been a big fan of the Iris Prize Festival since the beginning really and in fact have seen the festival grow over the past 10 years. I used to attend the festival to run events and look after filmmakers when I worked at Peccadillo Pictures – it was always a highlight in the festival calendar. My Sweet Prince is the first film of mine to play Iris, and I’m super stoked about it! I can’t wait to go back as a film maker and share the film with the audiences there.
Did you imagine when you started making this film did you would get this type of recognition for your film?
The whole process of making My Sweet Prince has been super special. From being blessed to work with an amazing cast and crew to getting to use three Placebo tracks in the film (teen dream!) it’s been a really great experience.
The film was made on an emerging talent scheme ran by BBC and BFI Network, so we already had a guaranteed audience with it being broadcast on BBC4 and a screening at BFI Southbank. That’s unusual when making a short; usually you’re not sure when or how people will see it. In some ways this made it harder for us to promote the film in traditional film festival circuits; but it has made the few successes we have had even more special. The Iris Prize Best of British shortlist has featured some of the most exciting LGBTQ+ filmmakers working in the UK today (including the amazing films in this year’s selection), so it’s an honour to be featured alongside such talent.
My Sweet Prince was one of 11 short films commissioned by the BFI & BBC through the Born Digital scheme, how did you get involved in this?
The Born Digital Scheme was a programme ran by BBC and BFI Network. Emerging filmmakers were invited to submit ideas to an open brief in celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Internet. We were challenged to reflect on, respond to and capture the experience of living in a digital environment, as well as show how they have been shaped by it or even resisted it. There were hundreds of submissions and eventually 11 were commissioned – and we were lucky enough to be one of them.
What made you want to keep video diaries?
It wasn’t a conscious decision at all – I had always been obsessed with storytelling and filmmaking seemed like a logical evolution of that; I eventually found that I was happiest with a video camera in my hand. I think I liked hiding behind it – without my camera I was shy, but with it I developed a sense of confidence.
I‘m only just realising how unusual it is to have so much of my youth from that time documented. Today every moment of our lives is captured, documented and shared, especially that of teenagers – but back then I was capturing it not knowing where it would eventually end up. This was before YouTube so I think the tapes have an honestly and candidness to them, things were less self-conscious back then. It was just something I did with my friends, for me and my friends.
Did you have any apprehension about making a film that drew from your personal history?
I remember this specific moment actually, when I presented the first treatment to Grace Carroll (who was the awesome producer) and she looked up at me and said, “This is really brave, are you sure about this” I think until that point I hadn’t even really considered it. It felt like something I needed to do. During the making of the film, at times it was weird, but I was able to approach with a certain amount of distance, even the footage of myself became an abstract character in Tommy’s story.
Ultimately I think it was a really important thing for me to do. As filmmakers we are constantly told that we need to find our voice and tell our story, but I think as LGBTQ+ people, that’s a loaded notion. We often live our early years deliberately hiding our true selves, often out of very real fears – so it takes a lot to be able to open up, learn to be vulnerable and put your story out there.
When you started writing your screenplay did you discover anything about your past, your youth, that made you think of this period differently?
Absolutely. Making My Sweet Prince has made me re-evaluate my whole perception of that time. It’s been a little overwhelming, but finally getting the courage to work through those experiences is really empowering. Most importantly, realising that the actions of an ignorant society or a few insecure bullies shouldn’t define your youth. There was a lot of love and acceptance for me growing up amongst my friends and family, I do think it’s sad that for so long I felt the opposite of that. I realise this isn’t the same for everyone, but I think so often we let the negative define our perception of the past.
Through making the film, I’ve reconnected with a lot of my old friends, some who I hadn’t spoken to in over 15 years. One of my best friends from back then has a daughter now. She’s almost as old as we were in the video diaries, which is mad! I met her for the first time earlier this year and seeing how she is creating this beautiful and accepting environment for her daughter to grow up in was a wonderful experience.
"We also need to ensure filmmakers from our community are given the space and agency to tell our own stories."
What was the biggest challenge you faced bringing My Sweet Prince to life?
Probably the logistics – we had a pretty crazy turnaround time for the film, a little over 3 months from concept to delivery. Anyone who has made a film will know how mad that is! Grace (the producer) really went above and beyond to make the film happen on the budget we had. Everyone who worked on it gave so much and I’ll be forever grateful for the lengths people went to in order for me to tell this story. It’s what makes successes like our selection in the Iris Prize all the more rewarding.
Do you think there is anything you would do differently on this film?
You always get to the end of making a film and wish you had done things differently. This feeling was compounded by the sheer speed at which My Sweet Prince was made in order deliver in time. This meant that decisions had to be made insanely quickly. I often didn’t have the time for reflection and experimentation that is usually so crucial when making a film. However, I think this gives the film an energy, urgency and rawness that feels totally right for a film essentially about teenage angst.
Would you consider turning My Sweet Prince into a feature?
I am developing a feature length project that’s loosely inspired by My Sweet Prince – it’s super early in the process though, and not really a strict feature version of the film. I think it will end up being an exploration of the feelings I had making the film, as someone just entering their 30’s having to return home and start to work through the things that made them who they are. I am also interested in the generational differences within the LGBTQ+ community. We live in this super connected world where teenagers have never known a world without the internet being an extension of yourself, and things are only set to become more and more integrated – but have we really become more connected? I want to make a film that’s about surrendering all preconceived ideas about who we should be and discovering who we really are.
Has your approach to your films changed much since you started out?
You are forever growing as a filmmaker, in a lot of ways filmmaking is about life experience; it’s about distilling an idea and breathing life into characters and worlds and the more you have experienced the more detailed these creations can be. It’s also about being open and honest. The biggest change to take place for me over the past few years is becoming more comfortable with who I am. This has enabled me to really interrogate what it is I want to say. For me now, it’s about finding light in the dark, that seed of hope that might grow into a better future.
How important is LGBTQ+ representation in front and behind the camera?
I would argue that representation is super important for any minority. It’s how we know we are not alone. Arguably now there is so much out there for LGBTQ+ people to connect with, but it’s still a very narrow window of representation – there is a need for more lesbian cinema for example, and narratives that centre LGBTQ+ people of colour are still shamefully few and far between. We also need to ensure filmmakers from our community are given the space and agency to tell our own stories. I’m not saying that you can only write or create from your own lived experiences, but too often our stories are mined and ultimately those who benefit from them are people from outside our community. I think that’s something we should be consciously resisting.
Finally, what do you want people to take away from My Sweet Prince?
Ultimately I hope that anyone watching it can relate to that moment they first felt truly visible in the eyes of someone that they loved.