SHORT FILM FESTIVAL 2022
Comedy / Drama / Animation
Fri 21.1. 20:00 / Sputnik Kino 1
Massachusetts, 1987. Fran is a college-educated bag of nerves with a head full of philosophy and an unhealthy obsession with Franz Kafka. Fantasy begins to merge with reality and Fran’s fragile mental state threatens to collapse like a house of cards.
KAFKAS is a tragicomic tale of paranoid agoraphobia with a twist of Kafkaesque noir based on the short story by Marianne Wiggins.
Hi Nick thank you for talking to The New Current, these have been some very strange times, how have you been holding up?
They have indeed. But I’m holding up pretty well all things considered. I’ve always worked from home and have an edit suite there, so I can’t say I’ve been as upended by Covid as others.
Has this time offered you any opportunities to take up some long-dormant hobbies?
At the start of the pandemic there were the obligatory 1000-piece jigsaws, home-baked bread and the occasional run round the park, but my wife and I have also somehow had two kids in that time, so that’s pretty much taken over every spare moment.
Congratulations on Kafkas being selected for British Shorts 2022, what does it mean to be part of such an amazing line-up of short films?
I’m thrilled to be included in what is a really diverse programme. I’ve seen a few of the selections to date and can confidently say we are in great company.
How did Kafkas come about, what was it about Marianne Wiggins story that connected with you as a filmmaker?
Marianne writes complex, unique characters, who are often quite bizarre. In this story, Fran has a strange goal, which on the surface seems ridiculous. But reading it, I believed in her completely. The character is so well drawn in such a few pages, that you see beyond the absurdity of what she’s doing and realise you’re with a very lonely, troubled soul. The story also balances humour and sadness really well. The construct is darkly funny, yet the character is ultimately very tragic.
I also couldn’t help but see the parallels between this story and the world of post-Covid anxiety. By mid-2020, we were suddenly completely frightened of each other and the idea of leaving the house to go to the shop became a daunting prospect. We shot the film at the height of all that, so I’m sure it was reflected in our choices both consciously and unconsciously.
"Filmmaking is a wonderful, collaborative, creative thing, and working with other artists is amazingly inspiring, however, as the director you are at the helm and have to steer that ship."
You co-wrote Kafkas with Robin Blake, how important was/is this type of collaboration when working on a short like this?
Well, Robin is my dad and he’s a writer so this collaboration came about quite organically through conversations about the story. We both connected to it and had lots of ideas so we just thought we’d give it a go together. And we worked pretty well. We never sat in the same room, it was very much drafts passing each way. But I enjoyed bouncing ideas around together and he was great in adapting and building on Marianne’s intensive dialogue. The good thing about it was we had no problem telling each other when we thought the other’s ideas were rubbish!
What were the biggest challenges you faced adapting this story for the screen?
Where do I begin?! I wanted to be relatively faithful to the original work, but there were big challenges in that alone, particularly given the meagre budget we had to work with. The story takes place in 1980s America and finding that interior/exterior location was a huge challenge here in the UK and I searched far and wide. We settled on a bungalow in Bromley, just outside London, and my brilliant art department transformed the space, including wallpapering the entire downstairs.
I spent a lot of time thinking about the challenge of working with a single character in a single space. How do you keep that visually interesting for the length of the film? It turned out to be a case where those limitations inspired us to be utterly meticulous with the visuals. My approach was to develop a feeling of increasing oppressiveness in the space to mirror Fran’s psychological unravelling and that informed every decision that we made on set and in post.
I also had this issue of Fran’s perspective out the window. I wanted an unsettling scene where she has a face off with the neighbourhood cats - it needed to be weird but almost plausible and compound the sense of her fears of the world outside. Fortunately, my friends at Territory Studios stepped in on that front and worked their magic, introducing a posse of cats into the scene.
You have an amazingly gifted cast with Patsy Ferran and Stefanie Martini, how did you go about casting Kafkas and how long during the writing process did you start thinking about who you wanted to play “Fran"?
From the very beginning. I didn’t mention this in answer to the previous question, but this was absolutely my main concern from the start and I knew the success of this film relied on a brilliant central performance. It needed someone unique, who could handle the subtleties of the character and make the audience connect and empathise with her despite her idiosyncrasies. Once I had the idea of casting Patsy, I didn’t look beyond her - I thought she was so perfect for it, I had no back up names on my list! Thankfully she accepted and was utterly brilliant. She brought so much to the role and I couldn’t have wished for a better performance.
I was a fan of Stef’s since seeing her in the film Make Up and I was delighted to be able to work with her. I wanted Dina to be an antithesis to Fran and with her fiery energy Stef does that perfectly.
What would you say has been the most valuable lessons you have taken from this whole experience?
It’s a bit of a filmmaking cliche, but I think it’s important that you remain unwaveringly true to the vision you have of the story. Filmmaking is a wonderful, collaborative, creative thing, and working with other artists is amazingly inspiring, however, as the director you are at the helm and have to steer that ship. By all means listen to your collaborators - often their ideas are better than yours and if they work, take them - but don’t be swayed from what made you want to make the film in the first place.
Should filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?
Yes. Filmmakers should be determined to tell the stories they are compelled to tell - for whatever reason, not that they’re expected to tell.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
Watching Indiana Jones as a ten year old and realising it was something you could make a living doing.
How much has coming from a commercial background helped you write, plan and director Kafkas?
From a technical stand point, a massive amount. I’ve got a lot of experience shooting and working with crew of various sizes. Having that foundation and understanding of the craft is invaluable when budget and time are limited. It means you know realistically what you are capable of achieving in day and getting the absolute best out of it. We had a packed schedule and a very long shot list on 'Kafkas', but we didn’t drop a shot and that comes down to the the efficiency of a great crew. Credit to Nick Laurence, my First who ran the set brilliantly. So I was comfortable with that side of things and it allowed me to be more focussed on working with the actors.
For any emerging filmmaker or commercial director out there do you have any tips or advice you would offer them?
Nurture your relationships. My crew on 'Kafkas' comprised of individuals I’ve known and worked with for up to ten years - some I met in the commercial world and other relationships I built through networking, at film schools for example (not that I went to one). Our careers have developed in parallel with each other and it means I have a trustworthy team to go into the next project with.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Kafkas?
First and foremost I hope they just enjoy it as a film and become immersed in the world we’ve created and the character’s story. If it’s thought-provoking, bonus.