Monday, 4 April 2011

Tom Worsley and 'Forever'

Things have been pretty busy recently. ‘The Man Who Stopped’ was screened last night and went down really well, the sound mix is almost completed on ‘One Other Thing’ and I’m working with a new producer for my feature ‘Cut Loose’. But this hasn’t stopped me from seeing some fantastic short films and one of them was Tom Worsley’s ‘Forever’. It’s a very simple but very effecting film that is refreshingly poetic and has the confidence to challenge the normal narrative conventions we have become so used to. It’s a moving, intimate story with an almost unsettling atmosphere, an effect enhanced by minimal dialogue and a rich sound design. You can watch the film here and I recently has a chat with director Tom Worsley about his work.

How did you get started in filmmaking?
Acting was always my primary passion throughout childhood, but I developed an interest in filmmaking during my time at Bristol University, where I studied English and Drama: Theatre, Film and Television. I have always been a fanatical film-lover, but it was through dissecting and examining films as part of my course, and through involvement in various extra-curricular projects, that I developed a passion for filmmaking. Also, because I have always loved performing and writing, I realised that filmmaking would be a useful string to add to my bow, as rather than waiting for auditions and castings for other productions, I could create my own projects.

So what is 'Forever' about?
The plot is very simple. A young couple explore some beautiful churches, and discover how love can feel both momentary and eternal…

What themes does it explore?
The main question this film asks is, “What, if anything, is forever?”. Every scene in the film takes place in or around a rural church. Churches are so much more than just religious edifices (in fact, religion plays no part at all in this film). They are enduring symbols of togetherness and timelessness. Places of immense joy, true love, “the happiest day of your life”. Contemplation, hope and new life. Conversely, they are also places of immense grief, commemoration, eternal rest. Moments, memorials, and memories.

How did the idea come about?
I’m the youngest in my family by quite a long way, and I’ve noticed recently that I’m going to church more and more – weddings of friends, christenings of nephews and nieces, memorial services of grandparents. I realised what a wide spectrum of life is witnessed at these enduring, timeless buildings, and I wanted to explore that spectrum. Also, I’m from Worcestershire in the West Midlands, a beautiful part of the world. There are some beautiful churches near my home, and I always thought they’d make a wonderful setting for a film – nice and quiet too, which is helpful!

Describe your writing process?
It depends on the project, but generally I sway between two extremes. I love writers like Wes Anderson and Simon Pegg, writers who load their dialogue with detail, recurring jokes or motifs, not always entirely natural, but always with a real display of constructive flair and craft. So sometimes, especially with my shortest stories, I really get stuck in, choosing my words and syntax very carefully, and tying everything up together. However, my attention span is pretty bad. I frequently come up with ideas, but rarely get around to actually writing them down on paper. So often I just grab a notebook and write down the story as soon as I come up with it – I explore and develop it as I’m writing it down. And that becomes the source, from which we will just work with the actors and use improvisation to find the dialogue. In “Forever”, there are only three lines of scripted dialogue – they’re pretty important(!), but everything else just came organically during the shoot. That’s because the words aren’t what’s important in this film – it’s the performances, the characters, their relationship, and the themes that are explored.

How do you prepare to direct a film?
This was my biggest lesson on this project... I was pretty loose and carefree in preparation. There was no script, the plot was very simple, I had two great actors, and it was just them, our director of photography and myself, going around these beautiful churches around where I live, finding moments of truth, love and life, and shooting them. My main preparation was simply ringing church wardens and asking for permission to film at the churches! We did have an extensive shot list of moments we wanted to capture, things we wanted to film, but really it was more just a guideline so we didn’t miss anything on the day. I figured I could then just take everything into the edit and piece it all together. I think this approach ultimately worked in that in the end we produced a film that we couldn’t have made had we prepped and planned every moment and image. However, it took us a hell of a long time to get there! And that’s because we were so loose in the prep.

What format was the film shot on and was this a creative or financial choice?
We shot it on miniDV – the camera was our DP’s Canon XL2. This was mainly a financial decision, but despite only being a DV camera, the picture quality is absolutely fantastic. Also, we wanted the film to have an earthy, rural, raw visual style, and miniDV creates that.

What was its budget and how did you raise the finance?
It cost nothing, apart from the petrol is cost us to drive between the locations!

Describe the casting process?
I am very fortunate to know some very talented and inspirational people from my time at Bristol University, where there is a thriving drama scene. The cast was made up of two of my friends from there, Sarah Barratt, a fantastic actress, and Nick Blakeley, who has just graduated from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

Are you a director who likes to rehearse a lot before shooting?
Again, depends on the project. The film I am currently in pre-production for, we are rehearsing a lot, because it is just going to be one long continuous shot, so the performance needs to be absolutely honed. With this however, I wanted to watch and capture the scenes as they developed organically.

What approaches do you employ when working with actors?
Generally my approach is one of encouragement. If I have cast them, it means that I believe they’re right for the role and the project. I know how I want the character to be, but I want the actor to bring their own attitude, ideas and experience to that character too – through this collaboration, more rounded, true, interesting characterisations are made. Then it’s a case of giving them the confidence, trust and freedom to give everything and explore the character and the situation.

Did you storyboard/shot list every shot in pre-production?
As I said earlier, we had a shot list, but having spent two years in post-production on this project (there were other reasons for this too, such as my time-consuming job etc), I will certainly be storyboarding future productions! Just so I can go into the edit with a bit more of a plan…

How and why did you decide on the visual style you employed for your film?
We wanted the visual style to reflect the themes and settings explored in the film. The scenes are all small, organic, real moments, so we filmed off the shoulder, to give it a more natural, authentic feel, rather than using a tripod and making it feel more set up and contrived. We shot a lot of extreme close ups, of the characters and of the architecture of their world, so we could really be in there with them, so that we could feel with them, the texture of the church walls, the grass, the skin on their hands.

How long was the shoot?
Just two days – over an Easter weekend. It was nice – unlike previous projects where we’ve had to film different scenes in different places at different types of day, we were in no rush on this one. Each scene is independent of the other, so light, weather and other continuity elements didn’t have to match.
Which part of the production did you find most enjoyable?
Shooting – I always do. I love the collaboration – everyone together, pulling in the same direction, to achieve a shared goal. Writing and editing can be a little lonely in comparison.

What lessons, if any, did you learn?
As I said, I believe our approach did work in the end for this project, but I’d certainly be wary of going in with that “let’s just film everything and sort it out in the edit” approach again!

Where has the film been screened so far?
Just at the brilliant Sunday Screenings event at The Antelope in Tooting – everyone should go, it’s great – first Sunday of every month.

Future plans for the film?
Currently in the process of submitting it to a few film festivals. I’m thinking I might send it to a few international places – there’s not much dialogue so nothing should get lost in translation, and I think the setting of the English countryside will be more even unknown and impressive in foreign countries!

What’s next for you?
Got a few acting jobs coming up, and in pre-production on a number of very short shorts that I’m hoping to get in the can before I go to America for three months this summer (part travelling, part filmmaking).

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