You studied in New York didn't you?
Yes, I was at film school in New York, I was originally going to film here, but lots of movies get shot here and logistically we would just have been another movie with not very much money to spend. By going to Buffalo they were genuinely excited to have us and so our dollar went a lot further.
Have you shot in London before?
No, never. Well, I have as a student, but nothing very elaborate. I do feel that New York is very geared up to shooting. It seems a lot easier, the idea of closing of a street in London for filming seems quite a rare and bureaucratic event. I mean there are people to deal with, whereas the mayor's office has a film department.
And they issue permits quire readily I understand.
Yes, you can even apply for student films. There are areas you are allowed to shoot anyway, Central Park for instance. Sidewalks you are allowed to shoot on, you have to get a permit, but you don't actually have to pay for it. Sometimes they'll allocate you a police officer. For instance, if you wanted to do a scene that involved a gun you would have to have a police officer there. It definitely feels more geared up towards filmmaking I think, things like if you want a bar or something, that's where you need money and generally people have had dud experiences where filmmakers have said they will be out by so and so.
That links on to my next question, but I'll ask it later.
Could I just babble on a bit. Just going back to why we shot in Buffalo, it obviously had some logistical reasons but also I sort of wanted a Gotham, I wanted a city that wasn't recognisable. Buffalo has all the trappings of a city; a subway, art galleries, etc, but you don't immediately say, ah thats you know where, it suited the idea of the film being a storybook.
I'll definitely ask you about that later. Can you tell me about the short Jorge?
Sure, it was my graduation film at film school, it's half an hour long, black and white, 16mm.
That's a long short.
It is. Programming it is very difficult for festivals and it obviously couldn't play in front of a feature. But for me, on a personal note, I'd made a couple of ten or twelve minute films and I wanted to do a piece of fictional work that had a three act structure and took a character on a journey. I'm glad I made that, I think it was a very good step in filmmaking for the future.
Did you have a feature in mind when you made it, as a follow on?
No, maybe subconsciously, I definitely wasn't saying, 'this is the first half an hour of a feature' or 'this is my calling card.' I was conscious that I didn't want to leave film school with three slice-of-life movies. I definitely wanted to have a piece of work that told a story competently, I slightly felt with my previous films that I would perhaps describe them as slices of life rather than character arcs. So, along those lines, yes I was conscious that I need a calling card, but in terms of the story and the character, George, I wasn't initially thinking, of developing him in the short and then someone will say, "hey make a feature with the same character". That definitely came out, the short film played at Sundance and played on the BBC - it won the drama award at the British short film festival.
It won a lot of money didn't it? Was it the Wasserman award?
The Wasserman award is an NYU thing, it won a thing called the Richard Vague grant, which is $100, 000 towards making a feature. That was actually combined, I presented the short film and then at that stage I had written the feature script, so it was awarded to both really.
You showed it in London, was that first?
I held off showing it in London because I was aware I would have some contacts there. In a way what happened was, in America the short film did quite well, it played at Sundance in 1999 and it got a bit of attention a little too soon because I had nothing to talk about. I did some meetings and they said, "really liked the short, what have you got next?" and I said "well, nothing." Momentum is important, so we were quite conscious of not screening it in London until we'd got something to talk about, a script. We held off before doing a screening off our own backs and tried to invite as many people as we could, someone from FilmFour came along for that.
Was it FilmFour Lab or FilmFour?
Well, we ended up with FilmFour Lab. For a while we were kind of stuck in the middle because the film has populist aspirations. I think initially I wasn't quite sure why I continued to work on the script, they weren't quite sure of the budget and that's what really defines the Lab - there's a cut off point.
Was it something to do with the new talent element, something to do with your age perhaps?
Perhaps yes, I got on very well with Robin Gatch who heads up the Lab and who I think is terrific. Throughout we kept the author Eleanor Day, who was one of the people in the main bit, she stayed as a point person. I ended up meeting Robin and Eleanor, but budget wise, our money came from Robin's purse so we became a FilmFour Lab project.
How did you meet Tunde?
Well Tunde was at school with me doing animation, he's a very talented clay maker - he used to work on Celebrity Death Match. That was his gig, he's not an actor by profession. I was looking to cast my thesis film and I actually met him quite early on. I had an idea to do a film about a shy man who has to come out of his shell and woo the girl. So I had the germ of an idea and then I saw Tunde standing outside school, and I had copy, I asked him for a coffee and videod him. I asked him about his ventures from his high schooldays
of love and stuff. I just spent some time with him and realised that he was my man.
Was he nervous in any way?
I think so, I showed him my previous films and he liked those, so he got a good sense of what I was up to. But then I think, from a student level, you're like, why not? That's what I like about him, there is an element of nonchalance on screen. Sometimes with professional actors I feel they want you to watch them in some way and it slightly demands our attention and I think one of Tunde's qualities is that he doesn't demand our attention. I always say that it's as though he accidentally walked onto set.