BAFTA Award Winner NIGHT PEOPLE Out in UK Cinemas
The BAFTA Scotland audience award winning debut feature Night People is out on limited release in UK cinemas from early November.
This is a first feature for Shooting People members Adrian Mead directing and Clare Kerr, producing. It was created under the pressured hothouse film development programme devised by Scottish Screen known as New Found Films, it shows just what can be achieved on a feature budget of just £300,000 using HD and the city of Edinburgh as a film set.
Night People - it's an evocative title - what's the story of the film?
The film is five stories set over one night in Edinburgh. Each of the characters has a decision to make that may change their life and by dawn all are standing on the threshold of a new beginning. It's set on Halloween, which pagans believe is the start of the new year, and is also a time of disguises when things are not as they seem. Each of the characters is, by the end of the film, not quite what the seemed to be at the start.
Your early career was quite varied; hairdresser, night club bouncer and so on, was that fruitful ground for developing a film career?
I did both jobs for 15 years, a weird mix I know, but also the combination provided a bizarre yin and yang thing and an ideal grounding for becoming a writer and director. Both worlds provided endless stories for the writing side of things. Also you are used to standing up for long, long days and nights. As a hairdresser working on photo shoots, shows and in very busy salons I had to be able to multi task, communicate and remain focused but pleasant at all times. All this helped immensely when I started making shorts and then the feature.
It never really occurred to me until recently but I now see that being a bouncer was fantastic training for becoming a director. There's a sort of bouncer's code that goes - "Don't hope things will turn out right, make sure they do." The buck stops with you. You have to be better prepared than anyone you deal with. You have to have the confidence that you can handle whatever comes at you, be able to read a person or a situation in a matter of seconds, make a decision and take control. Some aspects of bouncing are remarkably similar to the director's role.
You co-wrote the screenplay for Night People with Jack Dickson - what were the nuts and bolts of that collaboration - how did that work?
The development schedule was incredibly tight but I already had a lot of the material that became the script. I'd stood on the door of an Edinburgh night-club watching the ebb and flow of the people who filled the streets, five nights a week for three years. Finally after the drinkers and the dancers had all departed and the streets had become quiet I would walk home.
Despite the fact that it was three thirty in the morning there was always some drama being played out against the beautiful backdrop that is Edinburgh. It was these frequently hilarious, often bizarre and sometimes tragic moments I encountered that later inspired the characters and stories that became Night People.
Jack and I batted the various ideas back and to until we agreed on the five stories that would form the script - one city, five stories, one night. I was adamant that I didn't want them all to be interwoven but instead they would be thematically linked, bound by the city and the night. By the time the morning came they would all have to have made a major decision.
What were your very first ideas for the screenplay and how did they change over time?
Once we had the five stories it was a case of working very hard at the structure of the piece. Cutting between five stories is an incredibly challenging way of making a film. You have to ensure that there is a clear over arching narrative for the film as a whole, for the five stories contained within and then for the multiple characters contained within each of the five stories. Tonally you have to achieve a continuity and balance between segments. Finally you have work at ensuring that the characters and the story constantly take you forwards into the next segment. Otherwise you end up with a fractured narrative and a film that doesn't hang together.
I presume you could not start prep until you were green lit, so how tight did that make your prep time?
We were green lit on a second draft script in November and had to have the film ready for a potential screening at the Edinburgh film fest in August. We had to be ready to shoot right at the end of February through March and of course the whole industry shuts down for Christmas and New Year. It was a busy time for us; I think we had Christmas day off. We started full prep about 4 weeks before shooting, everyone had to hit the ground running and we were casting main characters right up to a week before shooting. It was just hard to get hold of anyone until the second week of January. I made the most of the time before that by storyboarding and working with the Editor and DoP who were some of the first crew on board.
I was very impressed with the results of your casting - how did you go about it?
I always do all my own casting rather than using a casting agent and try and avoid those "cattle call" sessions were you get 5 mins with 30 people. Instead I went through all the agent's headshots, got to see as much of the actors' work as possible and talked to other directors they'd worked with. As many of the cast are young the producer and I went along to all the local youth drama groups and just sat back and observed them doing their workshop sessions and took notes. I always get it down to a small number and then when I do the auditions I schedule at least 45 mins with them each. In almost every case, by the time I'd invited them to audition I had a really strong idea of what they were capable of and it was a very close run thing between all the actors attending. The longer audition time gives me a chance to try out a number of approaches to the work and also gives them a chance to relax and experiment.
What was your approach to the filming itself - as director were you able to leave off your writer hat, as it were - or does the hat never change for you?
It's weird because I have only ever directed stuff (4 shorts) that I have written. I'm really looking forward to working on someone else's script. A major advantage of also being the writer is that when things need to suddenly change I can rewrite on the spot if I have to.
I really enjoy the process of working with actors, I just think that new filmmakers can sometimes forget that the most powerful piece of kit that they have on set is the actor. Night People is essentially a character piece. Ensuring that the performances worked was key to keeping an audience engaged. It was pretty scary as one of the actors, Lily, was only seven years old and had a sizeable chunk of the film, with lots of dialogue.
What was your schedule like and how did you handle the problems of night shooting?
Night shoots are a killer. We shot for five weeks using eleven day fortnights, this translated into 24 actual shooting days once you give the crew sleep days to get over a night shoots, 12 of the days were night shoots. In addition working with children has its own set of limits and of course we had a small child in lots of night scenes. We had to limit her time on set to 3 hours - and they had to be before 10pm or she just fell asleep. We also had a stand-in child for certain shots, to give us more time.
We had a great plan to limit night shoots by doing blackouts but in the end, certain locations, like the church, were just too expensive to black out and we couldn't find another church we liked as much. We chose to shoot on HD and worked using a very limited lighting kit and available light. I think our DP Scott Ward did a fantastic job under huge pressure, as did all the crew. We've had lots of compliments about the look of the film.
This was a first feature; you must have some advice for anyone else approaching that task...
Prep to death. Directors are often the least experienced people on set. The one thing you must be, is better prepped than anyone else. Straight away, you can answer why your actor can't try this improv line - "this scene cuts to the one you shot three weeks ago and the differing emotion level won't cut together." The one thing you can fall back on is a greater knowledge and understanding of the script than anyone else. That alone will help to give you the authority you need.
Where has the film screened up to now and are there any further screening plans?
As well as Edinburgh the film has screened at Leeds, Cherbourg, Minnesota, Britspotting in Berlin, Emden and Raindance and it was on a mini tour of Scotland in October 2005 when it was competing f or the BAFTA Scotland Audience Award. It's about to go on limited release in Scotland from Friday 3rd Nov and before that it will screen on Hallowe'en at Edinburgh Filmhouse as part of the Reels Irish Scottish Film Festival.
How has it been received by its audiences so far - what kind of feedback have you had?
Well we won the BAFTA Scotland Audience award last November and have received great feedback from audiences and critics so far. Doing the festival circuit was fun this summer and it's been a real joy doing the Q&A sessions after the screenings. Audience from other countries seem to respond really well, as the themes in "Night People" are pretty universal. Also, I think people respond to the fact that though some of the subjects are pretty tough, they are all stories of hope.
The full text of James MacGregor's interview with writer and director Adrian Mead can be found on Shooting People
You can also find out more about Night People on the MeadKerr website