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netribution > features > peter kershaw > page two

In the course of the film, where do we follow the poet?
Basically, Wilfred died when he was 25 on the Ors canal in France, on the fourth of November, exactly a week before Armistice. I love the fact that, it may sound horrible to say it, but I love the fact that he didn't come back and that he died there.

What was his last poem?
It was called 'Spring Offensive' and he wrote it about a month before he died. What's odd is that they all probably knew that the war was about to end, that they'd be going home and what a futile exercise it was to continue fighting.

What also fascinates me is that he wrote over 100 poems, only five were published and when he died he never realised how much of a legacy he'd leave behind.

You asked me about his time scale. The canal sequence cuts right along the whole film, right up to the point in which he dies. Into that I used elements of the two previous years, a little bit about the incident that caused the shell shock and a little of his hospitalisation.

Where has the film been now?
It started at Cannes last year with two screenings that the Danes organised but it's been a year since we wrapped it and it's screened somewhere in the country every week since the start of the year.

What was the budget and have you made much back?
Difficult to make anything back on shorts but the budget was around 90,000.

That's a lot.
It is but see the film. I paid my crew and actors industry and Equity rates and I even paid my extras because the process of making the film was just as important as the film. The extras were from drama school who wanted experience of working on 35mm. Lots of locations on a six day shoot and we broke all the riles on what shouldn't be done with a short: period so we had to hire costumes, mixing animation and live action, digital intermediate process for the first time in the UK, pyrotechnics.

The crew, 25 to 30 of them, was made up of the people that I'd already worked with and it was to try them out as a team for making features.

Where did you raise that kind of money?
The Northern Production Fund raised the seed money, they are very innovative with emerging film and then I went to the Film Lottery, as it was called, and got about 46,000 from them.

Most funders said it was too ambitious. I got that for a long time but that's a red rag to a bull. I pitched it with a good idea of a profile cast and I tend to use concept art work to storyboard and pitch with that. That's useful but I use people more skilled than I am.

What did you say to those who thought it too ambitious?
I invited them all to the premier. The Film Council were actually interested in the fact that it was so ambitious and enjoyed the fact that they were using animators outside their usual circles. Also that they saw me using my vision through other artists.

A mural painter called Yvonne Elvin did a whole series of painting for me in the style of the WWI artist Paul Nash, you'd recognise him.

You do understand then why many thought it so ambitious, it's a very artistic approach and there's always a risk that it will come across as art house. How did you deal with that?
Well we didn't really have to. The Apollo cinema chain ran it nationally with Being John Malkovich, that was an odd mix but it has also run with Erin Brockovich and Tyneside cinema in Newcastle ran it with Regeneration. What was also nice was that many of the cinemas screened it for schools afterwards.

Who plays Owen?
Michael Higgs who most would know as PC Eddie Santini in The Bill. He's a theatre actor who's done quite a range of films, he actually looks like Wilfred Owen and he carries a real authority to him. Poets usually come across as weak and limp but when you read his work you have to remember he was under the age of 25 - he had to have some strength to him.

I also had a strong supporting cast with people like Robert Duncan, Derek Jacobi, Tony Harrison for the voices for the poetry and which come in through out the film.

Why more than one voice over?
Because the experience belongs to more than one person. Millions of people went through it and it was international: Dix and Nash's art etc. It's about the living and the dead.

Tell us how you used the digital intermediate process?
Well it combines the best of two worlds: film and digital. It basically enabled us to use many formats, take it into a digital realm and manipulate the images, and then get a 35mm release print at the end of it.

We did all the grading there. We played with the colour, the contrast and we actually re framed certain scenes but you can remove booms and really do anything you want.

What we also needed the process for was the Gas, Gas, Gas sequence which we had to shoot with white smoke, you can't used coloured smoke because of the danger to the actors. So, in grading we were able to colour the smoke to the correct hue of mustard gas, a greeny yellow.

You can mix your effects so much more accurately than normal and, for some of the drawn animation sequences we were actually able to slow down a tracking shot and superimpose the animation over a live action image as a second layer. It basically enabled myself and my DoP to realise everything we intended when first talking about the project.

Has the film been to festivals?
It screened at Cannes, at the British Short Film Festival, at Raindance, Bradford, Leeds and at Montreal where we got a lot of interest from American distributors and from web sites. We've had a lot of dubious word of mouth exposure. A production company in Milan called last week and offered to send a courier over for a copy, they'd heard about it through another production in Milan, probably via Digital Film Lab, Philips or Discreet, all of whom have been using it as part of a showreel.

Oddly, it picked up the RTS award for best independent film by an independent producer and the cinematography award, and a Sony award for the same thing. Over a million people have seen it through Tyne Tees and Yorkshire TV but, to be honest, I haven't pursued the national broadcasters for distribution.

What are you working on now?
I'm writing a feature called Coiners. It's another period about a family of eighteenth century counterfeiters, based on a true story, and it's a bit like The Godfather in that it is the first recorded instance of organised crime in the UK. If you were caught in the act it was contrary to the Highways Act, that's high treason, was hung. Lots of blackmail, robbery and it focuses on two people who set out to break the racket.

I'm still only in the writing stage but I've already talked to the Digital Film Lab, even at this stage you can incorporate those techniques into the script.

For those of you in west London on Sunday June 3, take note. Wilfred is one of the films screening at Attention Span, at the beautifully restored Electric Cinema, 191 Portobello Road. For info call 07956 682 173 or to book tickets call 020 7229 8688.

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