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netribution > features > interview with andrew swan
What does London filmmaker Andrew Swan have in common with Steven Spielberg, Kevin Reynolds and Wolfgang Petersen? All four have made films set at sea, albeit on vastly different scales.
Spielberg, of course, cleaned up at the box office with Jaws. Kevin Reynolds belly-flopped with Waterworld. And Wolfgang Petersen capsized with The Perfect Storm. Now Dalston-based Swan is hoping to emulate Spielberg with his debut short, Bob, a black comedy about a dysfunctional family who embark on a fishing trip only to encounter not a great white shark, but a supertanker.Like Spielberg, who struggled with budget blow-outs on the shoot of Jaws and a mechanical shark that sank on the third day of shooting — Swan faced his fair share of challenges during the 18 months it took to produce Bob.It’s a given among performers that you should never work with animals or children because they are likely upstage you or poop on your parade. According to Swan, who also wrote the screenplay for Bob, the sea should go straight to the top of that blacklist.Self-financed and filmed just outside Whitstable harbour on board a borrowed boat that had already sunk four times and boasted navigation lights made from upside-down jam jars, the main shoot took place at the end of 1998. All began well enough on the 30-foot Trio. The weather was good and John Kelly, Swan’s DOP, had built platforms around the boat that provided good angles for filming. Then the cast and crew noticed a boat from the Whitstable Yacht Club laying down a circle of marker buoys around them.


| by lisa sabbage|
| photos from the film|
| in london |
"We couldn’t quite figure out what they were doing," says Swan, "then it dawned on us that they were actually dinghy-racing and using our boat as one of the markers — which made a mockery of the film’s premise that we were out at sea in a shipping lane. Also the klaxon kept going off every time someone passed the finishing line back in the harbour. So we had a sort of farting noise on the soundtrack as well."

They soldiered on, filming between passing dinghies and unwanted sound effects. Then, about three in the afternoon, another spanner hit the works when the day that had dawned so bright suddenly began to turn and the calm sea grew choppy.

"John went very quiet and didn’t respond when I said shoot," recalls the director. "I looked around and he was actually leaning over the back of the boat puking up the baguettes we’d had for lunch."Somehow the cast and crew persevered and by the end of the weekend, Swan had enough footage to get in the editing room and start work on a special effects sequence in which the youngest passenger on this fishing trip from hell imagines two fish gleefully rocking an already fractious boat.The only real work that remained was to get footage of the tanker that threatens to smash apart the family for good."But when I went out into the shipping lanes to film a tanker, the fog came down and we just sat there in a little 12-foot boat for about half an hour. No tankers at all. Mind you, we couldn’t hear or see anything."Swan lived to tell the tale of being fogbound and made it back to harbour, but was still left searching for that elusive tanker."In the end my assistant producer Jenny Gill and I drove along the coast, stopping at ports. Of course, none had any tankers. Eventually we came to Sheerness and talked to the port authority who, after a bit of wangling, gave us a special pass to sit on the harbour wall and film ships coming in and out. Finally, we got the footage we needed there."

Now in the can and set to premiere on 28 January at the 291 Gallery in Hackney, Swan says the film was inspired by his own experiences of nightmarish childhood fishing trips in Cornwall."My dad saw it as giving me an opportunity that other children didn’t have, which would have been fine if I’d enjoyed it, but I didn’t. Every weekend was a boating weekend, whereas I would have been quite happy going to play with my mates in the village. But no, we’d either have to go out in the boat fishing or, during the winter, paint the boat every weekend. Because if we didn’t paint the boat we wouldn’t be able to go out in it in the summer — which I didn’t want to do anyway."Swan, who no longer does anything he doesn’t want to, is now working on another short about the second coming of Jesus, who arrives in Islington only to be confronted by a case of road rage. As yet, he has no plans to move on to features."I’d be quite happy making short films for the rest of my life," he says. "Maybe I could put them all together and make one long film at the end."

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