14th BFI FUTURE FILM FESTIVAL, 2021
"THERE IS SO MUCH GOING ON AROUND US CONSTANTLY, SOMETIMES IT IS THE SUBTLE PART OF LIFE THAT CAN BEST INFORM OUR CREATIVITY."
Section: THE REAL ME
Alik, a first-time male sex worker waits in a hotel room for his client, a reserved middle-aged man. Upon arrival, Alik's attempts to alleviate his anxieties about meeting this stranger are met with hostility, where even the simplest of questions are too difficult to answer. The two navigate through their own inhibitions as Alik questions whether this is really something that he wants to go through with.
Hi Oscar thank you for talking to TNC, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
Hi, I think I’ve been holding up pretty well given the circumstances. Lucky I was living with a sound designer for the first lockdown, so we spent much of that time working on Almost Blue.
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?
An upside to the national lockdowns is the time it has freed up for writing and developing ideas, however I have not been able to start planning my next short film project until the possibilities of shooting become more transparent. I think writing and working on already shot projects has helped to keep me stimulated and distracted over the past few months.
Congratulations on having Almost Blue selected for the BFI Future Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of The Real Me section?
Thank you. Being selected for the BFI Future Film Festival is extremely motivating and exciting. I am very happy to see Almost Blue being part of The Real Me section. Issues of identity and the way in which we present ourselves are key to the film and was something that we worked very hard to present. I am very much looking forward to seeing the other films in this category and the different way these issues are explored.
Can you tell me a little bit about Almost Blue, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
The scene in Almost Blue actually comes from a feature film that I wrote during my first year at university. I thought the scene would work nicely on its own and so adapted it to be made into a short. The idea for the scene itself came from a night of insomnia I experienced whilst staying in a hotel room. After giving up on sleeping and feeling confined to my room I decided to take some self portraits. I found the photos interesting and decided to try to write a scene to capture the sleepless haze and feeling of insecurity and isolation.
What where the biggest challenges you faced brining this film to life?
One of the biggest challenges we faced when making the film was finding the natural space between dialogue. We worked closely with the actors to find an appropriate tempo to the conversation to best highlight the importance of the things not being said, as well as what is said. Getting the actors into a space where they felt comfortable harbouring their own personal identity struggles to identify with their characters was something I was very cautious to achieve within limited shoot dates.
"Both my parents are very creative and have supported my passion for filmmaking from a very young age."
Looking back is there anything you would have done differently on this project?
Looking back I would have liked to develop the script more whilst working with the actors in rehearsals, although due to time constraints we were quite limited. I think given the nature and the themes in the project, it would have benefited from a more open script in terms of dialogue and expression. I would have liked to spend more time working on the characters with the actors themselves, to understand how they can better identify and inform each other on set.
What was the biggest lesson you’ve taken away from making Almost Blue?
The biggest lesson I have learnt from making Almost Blue is the importance of having a good crew. Having people you trust and work well with in key roles makes the whole experience not only smoother but more enjoyable. Creating a relaxed environment on set leaves a lot more room for creativity and expression to flow and having a good team around you makes this possible.
Describe your film in three words?
The three words I would use to describe Almost Blue are intimate, vulnerable and empathetic.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I have wanted to write and make films for as long as I can remember, I would spend hours as a kid getting lost in stories. I spent my sixth birthday party getting my friends together to make a film using my mum’s VHS. Both my parents are very creative and have supported my passion for filmmaking from a very young age. My mum and dad would show me interesting films and star in my early projects.
How has your approach to you filmmaking changed since your debut short?
I consider Almost Blue to be my debut short, as unlike anything I had made previously, it was fully crewed with proper pre-production. With that in mind, I think my artistic approach is similar to how it has been since my teenage years in that I like building plots around characters, rather than vice versa. But I think my approach has developed as I have got older. I now understand that filmmaking is very much a team effort, and whilst as a writer/director I may be leading the charge, learning to step back and let the creativity of your cast/crew shine only adds to the effectiveness of a collaboration process. I see now how filmmaking is not only about the final outcome, but the process of getting there.
"I think the best advice that I could give is to always be ready to find inspiration."
What has been some of the best advice you’ve been give?
During my first year at university one of my lecturers drilled into me the importance of not wasting screen time; how every shot and camera movement should be purposeful to the narrative or mood we are trying to create. This is an extremely difficult thing to accomplish, but is important to consider when trying to be effective in filmmaking. When I was a kid I was lucky enough to meet Christiane Kubrick. Whilst I can’t remember much of the meeting, I can remember her paraphrasing one of her husband’s remarks about how film is more of a progression of mood and feeling and that the narrative and themes come later. This idea is something I’ve always kept with me.
Should filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
I think that pushing the boundaries of filmmaking and storytelling is at the heart of the industry. Both through technical innovation and finding new ways to better tell stories is the heart of not only keeping film alive, but keeping it relevant. A lot of people consider film to be the culmination of the arts, as so many different components go into creating the final product. I think with this in mind there is a constant evolution, and still a lot of room left for experimentation in how emotions can be explored and portrayed on film. One of my favourite scenes is in Billy Elliot, when Stephen Daldry uses a dance sequence to express the frustration in his lead character. This scene fits the emotional tone of the film but is still unique as it breaks the style of the film briefly to bring body movements to the centre of creative expression. I similarly love Ruben Ostlund's style of long drawn-out takes focusing on performance which fit the themes of his films perfectly. These techniques are certainly not new, but the way in which they are applied can help to push the boundaries of how certain stories are told.
Do you have any tips or advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
I think the best advice that I could give is to always be ready to find inspiration. There is so much going on around us constantly, sometimes it is the subtle parts of life that can best inform our creativity. Making notes on things we find interesting or experiences we’ve had and how they have affected us can be a great creative resource during the writing process.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Almost Blue?
I hope it makes me people think about the complexities of identity, both how we are seen by others and how we see ourselves, how we act when alone and how we interact as a consequence. We are all complex beings and in the present day there seems to be a greater desire to understand identity.