British Academy of Film and Television Arts is known for celebrating excellence and nurturing home grown talent. BAFTA Cymru was set up in 1987 and established in order to ensure that those values are extended and reach other communities. Recognised as being the hub of creativity within Cardiff, Chapter Arts recently teamed up with BAFTA Cymru as so to premiere members’ short films.
The evening consisted of 3 shorts: The Lift, Mayonnaise Malaise and Dad, this was then followed by an open Q&A with the directors. Buzz was lucky enough to attend this prestigious evening and have one to one interviews.
The first short ‘The Lift’ is a 7 minute short which was written by Marlek al-Habib and co directed by Marlek and Leyla Pope. As the title would suggest the film is set within a lift. A woman (Anita Dobson) is alone when an unknown man enters (Mark Letheren) and both engage in conversation. However, as a viewer, you soon begin to realise that maybe this is more than just a coincidence.
Although Marlek works professionally within the film industry (Casualty/Cinderella) and is established within the wardrobe / costume department, he is dipping his creative fingers into the world of writing and directing. His sideward step is nothing short of total necessity into the filmmaking world because despite its length, his film is one that will leave a long lasting impression. The Lift is beautifully written, produced and directed. The dialogue has purpose and is thoughtfully constructed. The acting is very natural and there is a definite on-screen chemistry, as both Anita and Mark appear to be very comfortable in each others presence. In fact, it was great seeing Anita on the screen again. She was a beacon for British Drama and she should definitely make a rapid return. Mark is known for his work on the West End and the transition to film is a very natural one.
The collaboration of directorship between Marlek and Leyla worked extremely well because being in such a confined space it would be very easy just to keep things simple. But between them they managed to keep it interesting for the viewer by carefully selecting the optimum shots and angles.
During the following interview Buzz spoke exclusively to Marlek, Leyla and Jack Westmore.
Buzz: So Marlek, tell me a little bit about yourself?
Marlek: I guess I come from an art background. I did the whole art college thing in London, I have Iraqi heritage, half Iraqi, half English Irish, which was quite bizarre because my esteemed friend here (points to Leyla) she is half Iranian, half English so that was a little connection we had since we were kids. So after Art College I ended up working in TV and film quite by chance. Then I started taking writing seriously a week after my father passed away. Not trying to lower the tone or anything that was when I started taking things seriously. This is the first short that I have made but I have made a second one, which should be ready in February hopefully. I am working on various screenplay ideas and various TV pilot things I am trying to get some interest.
Buzz: How long have you been writing for?
Marlek: I have been writing for 4 years now.
Buzz: Have you found it difficult then trying to find the time to write?
Marlek: I go through phases, sometimes I will just write loads and loads. Like every night I will just write, every week, every month and then I go through phases of maybe going through a month or two of not doing anything. But I am always thinking about stuff, always thinking about ideas and how I can improve things. But saying that if you are a serious writer you have to write every day? Personally I don’t think that’s a journey, I just think you should write when it feels right for you.
Buzz: So we found out how you found your way into the film industry, which was when you finished Art College, it was the wardrobe section wasn’t it? Is that right?
Marlek: Yeah randomly yes. I started working in wardrobe, I had no experience in wardrobe whatsoever, I helped out for a few weeks and they thought I was really good with the actors and so I got the job – and that has really helped because if you are quite personable person, people will help you out when you ask them. That is what happened with this short, everyone got involved for free, which is fantastic.
Buzz: So how did you become involved in the BAFTA Cymru?
Marlek: That was kind of through Lelya, I mean she’s a member.
Leyla: Yeah I’m a member and currently in Wales the film-making scene is fairly small. The last short that I did was for ‘It’s my Shout Scheme’ and that’s kind of a launch pad for getting slightly noticed and on the back of that Hannah, who now runs BAFTA Cymru used to run something called Skill Set when I was at Newport Film School, which was kind of getting industry experience when you are at Film School and she got me some incredible schemes, one where I went to Paris and Budapest. She was always kind of pushing and supporting us, so when I turned around and said I got this short which needs a bit of exposure, she thought maybe we could screen it before a feature, but six months it really wasn’t happening but then she had this great idea to put some shorts together and have a night of it.
Buzz: So can you tell me the synopsis around The Lift?
Marlek: Chance meeting in a lift between two people whom we assume are strangers and the lift breaks down. They start talking and then throughout the dialogue we give hints that there maybe a bit more happening, perhaps there is a connection. I like to think at the end of the film people think ‘oh my goodness’ then penny drops as to what is happening.
Buzz: So you chose the WMC (Wales Millennium Centre) as the location, what was the reason for that?
Marlek: Well, we needed a lift and Leyla had a friend who worked there, which was really quite fantastic. To have it filmed in Cardiff in quite a well-known landmark it was also quite attractive. Basically they said yes we will do it and we all had a big song and dance.
Lelya: They had all the structure, they had all the dressing rooms we needed, all that kind of set up backstage. It was either going to be Causality but Causality didn’t work out.
Marlek: There was lots of red tape so we just thought we would go with an actual real lift as apposed to a fake lift. It looks better in a real lift because everything works, so that I think it helps. Buttons light up; they make noises and its all great.
Buzz: So what was it like filming in such a confined space?
Marlek: Well it was really hot and stuffy, especially with all the lights there were put in place. I think there were a few issues with the boom because you could catch the reflection in the back, so that proved quite tricky.
Leyla: Anita was in a wool suit
Marlek: She was in a 1950’s woolen suit.
Leyla: It is a timeless film by the way. You noticed no mobiles, no digital display.
Marlek: Yeah we wanted to keep the timeless thing, I think it works better if you don’t think it’s from any specific time.
Buzz: Moving onto Anita Dobson, she is a household name, I know her from Eastenders like many other people. Why specifically did you choose Anita to play the woman?
Marlek: Well I worked with Anita before so I knew that she’s a really great actress and a great person. She’ll talk to anyone and she’s got a heart of gold. So I happened to be working with her and around that time I just finished this script, so I thought you know what, I’m going to give it to her and see what she thinks. I gave it to her and it was her who actually said if you get this made, I would love to play the part of Belle. I was like Ok! I’m going to get this made. So that’s what gave me a bit of kick up the backside to get it made.
Buzz: And the other actor in the film is Mark Letheren
Marlek: Mark Letheren, yeah he is here.
Buzz: Those two seemed to work really great on screen, there looked like they had a natural chemistry. Had they work together previously?
Marlek: No they have never worked together but they have been on various shows but not at the same time. They have both been on Eastenders at some point; they have both been on Causality at some point and other various shows they have done but not ever at the same time. They met the day before and the chemistry was just spot on straight away, they just totally jelled; it was lovely how it all happened. It was a natural organic process I felt. It was good. But Mark is such a great actor, he really is. I think at some point he will get a role in something really big.
Leyla: He’s big in the West End
Marlek: Yeah he’s done some things but I’m talking about taking that next level. He’s a great actor, he’s a great person, and he’s quite easy on the eye as well, which helps. Yeah hopefully this short might give him some more exposure as well.
Buzz: So what were the challenges you faced making this short?
Marlek: Making this short we had a few a few challenges, basically money and time. Like time of people, trying to get people to help us and do it for free because there wasn’t the budget at all. We literally stretched the budget to pay for the food and then postproduction stuff afterwards. So that was the biggest thing, time and people and giving up their time. Time is very previous and hopefully it’s a testament to the fact that people really like the script and they were willing to give time to do it.
Buzz: Do you think it would have worked if it was a longer short? Like 10 or 15 minutes?
Marlek: I think no. I think it’s the right amount of time, it’s quite succinct, it’s quite to the point. You’re almost not given enough time to rethink about things. But that is ok; it’s all there.
Leyla: It is a chance encounter in the lift. You want it to be brief but then it’s got a much bigger impact. It wouldn’t work as a feature.
Marlek: I think films that have one location can work obviously. There have been other films that have been set in a lift, there’s like a horror film (Devil) There’s a lot more characters in that lift, there’s a more to explore and obviously being a horror film you can use all the little devices horror directors’ use. So I think things set in one place can work but not always. But luckily for us it is a quick encounter.
Buzz: I think the dialogue worked really well, there wasn’t any incredibly long pauses, you weren’t trying to fill the time to drag it out and everything flowed really nicely.
Marlek: Yeah, I tried to keep the dialogue as natural as possible and hopefully I achieved that. But again, Anita and Mark, just great acting. They literally hit every note spot on. So, I tried to imagine how the film would be with different actors and I think no, it just wouldn’t have been the same. They just brought a lot to the project.
Buzz: So Jack, you’re the composer, you did all the music, when you compose the music for the film do you see the finished short first or do you collaborate as the film is being made?
Jack: It is always preferable to be involved as early as possible really. So sometimes writing the script is brilliant. In this project I was pulled in quite late near the end but it is a film when I saw the rough cut for the first time I knew it didn’t need very much music at all. When you are a composer you need to put being a composer to one side when you are working on film and just decide on the film. What you got to make is a film rather than a nice piece of music. You can easily get carried away making a nice piece of music and write something that doesn’t work with the film at all – and then have your ego wounded by the director saying that doesn’t work. You learn very quickly that you are not a collaborator.
Leyla: And what was great in this situation was that Marlek thought that because they reference Jazz in the script that the ending should have some kind of Jazz tone, but actually Jack was far more perceptive and I said I am not sure about the Jazz, it might be something to look at in terms of the supernatural element. He just went off and wrote this lovely example, it is very sparse, very minimal score worked far better. Jack kept saying less is more, less is more.
Buzz: Thank you so much for talking to me.
The next short ‘Mayonnaise Malaise’ was written and directed by Richard L Pask. With a slightly longer running time of 22 minutes Pask takes us on a journey into the heart of the Welsh Valleys. A nine-year-old boy discovers that Santa Claus true nature and he begins to question all that is around him. Whilst he is on the voyage of his own discovery, Boyd Collier encourages his father to do the same. Interestingly, Richard attempted to fund his short through crowd funding. This is a popular technique used by a lot of independent film-makers and other artists because basically, making films is expensive. Indie films are extremely underrated in some circles but there is a whole lot of love out there and admiration. Mayonnaise Malaise is a good indie film. It is very raw and depicts aspects of Valley life. I feel that if there had been more funding then Richard would have taken it to another level. It was a decent script with interesting character development. I am very much interested in what else Richard has to offer because I believe that his next short will be better again.
During the following interview Buzz spoke to enigmatic Richard L Pask.
Buzz: Mayonnaise Malaise premiered at the BAFTA Cymru Event at Chapter Arts, how does that make you feel?
Richard: Proud. Such a prestigious organisation as BAFTA selected my film to be screened, and slightly nerve racking that it was the first time members of the public have been able to see the film.
Buzz: So what is the process of having your film screened at this kind of event?
Richard: I am not sure if it different for everyone but I got in touch with BAFTA quite a while ago. I was going to screen it in front of a feature but I had reservations about that due to the length and they came back with an idea of a short film evening.
Buzz: So could you tell us a little bit about your short, like a brief synopsis?
Richard: It is about Boyd Collier who is on the precipice of growing up and he finds out Santa Claus isn’t real, which leads him to certain other truths about his life as well, while trying to go through this crisis he helps his father go through the same thing.
Buzz: What was your inspiration for writing that story?
Richard: I think a transition of one stage of life to another is not that I can relate too, but something that is universal. I put this against the backdrop of an area of the world I knew well and I think the history of that area informed the characters to the process of change.
Buzz: So Mayonnaise Malaise is an unusual title, how did get that title?
Richard: I think like the film hopefully it intrigues the audience and isn’t immediately obvious to what it might be about. Hopefully like the film the audience can think about it afterwards and debate as to what happened and what it is actually about.
Buzz: You tried to raise funds for your short through Indiegogo, how did you find that? Was it successful for you?
Richard: Not as successful as I hoped, we raised I think around £500, which was mostly from people we knew. It didn’t get the exposure of people outside of our circles. Which you need to do if you are going to run a successful company. But £500 did feed everyone and cover expenses for certain people.
Buzz: Did you use a lot of social media then?
Richard: Yes I think that is the key to try and get exposure.
Buzz: The film location was in the Welsh Valleys, what area was it?
Richard: It was Penrhiwceiber in the Rhondda
Buzz: Is that where you grew up?
Richard: No, it is near to where I went to school and near to where a lot of friends and people I know are from. I grew up in Machen, which is still in the Valleys but not that in particular valley.
Buzz: And you chose the valleys specifically didn’t you to tell the tale?
Richard: Yeah, I think the current climate and the historical context, which I touch upon fell into the characters and their story hopefully echoed the story of the area they inhabit.
Buzz: For casting the film how did you go about sorting that out?
Richard: Jordan the boy, who plays Boyd was auditioned and we auditioned quite a lot of boys. He had the most naturalism with some of the tricks we were playing and certain sequences, I wanted a performance that was grounded in realism. He by far was the most natural performer. His Dad was played by Huw Morgan – who is someone who I have worked with previous on all but one of my shorts. Going back to university the teacher Dewi is a very experienced actor from film and stage, who I am lucky enough to call a friend. The mum was auditioned as well and she was absolutely brilliant.
Buzz: Are you going to be submitting Mayonnaise Malaise onto the festival circuit and which festival would you look at?
Richard: At the moment I am not quite sure. It will hopefully be a calling card for other projects, hopefully to raise money to do something with a bigger budget, I submit to some bigger festivals as well.
Buzz: The film world is really competitive and I know it is really difficult for new directors. How ambitious are you to make it into the film industry?
Richard: Like I mentioned earlier, I want to express myself and tell stories that I think I have inside me. That’s my ambition – it is to tell stories.
Buzz: So do you have a day job then?
Richard: I work as a script supervisor on different productions including Causality and Doctor Who.
Buzz: What are your future projects?
Richard: At the moment I am concentrating on writing but hopefully next year I would like to make another short film.
Buzz: What sort of theme or genre would that be?
Richard: I am not sure…..
Buzz: Thank you for talking to me.
The finale to a grand evening was a 15 minute short called ‘Dad’. It was written by Catrin Clarke and directed by BAFTA Cymru Director Fiction Winner 2015 Ashley Way. The father of Cai is suffering from the affects of the war, which is proving difficult for him and his mother. Whilst on the beach, Cai makes a friend in another boy called Amir. He is a refugee who has been washed up alone and is scavenging to survive. Dad is shot entirely in the Welsh language with English subtitles. Created for the European Broadcast Union Children’s Drama Series called ‘Message in a Bottle’, Dad is one of political relevance and one that reignites childhood memories of play with no boundaries. As it is predominately filmed on the beach, as a viewer you immediately feel the isolation and loneliness of Amir. It is very sad but heart warming to see a bond between two complete strangers, albeit without being able to communicate, they develop a friendship. It is a universal story and one that will probably connect with all children. It is also one that will get the grown ups thinking, all too often we become sheltered and cut ourselves off unnecessarily from the world.
During the following interview Buzz spoke with producer Sophie Francis Jones.
Buzz: How did the making of your film come about?
Sophie: I basically noticed on the S4C website that they were inviting tenders or ideas for a short film for a strand that they were doing with the European Broadcast Union. So I filled out the form and talked to my friend, colleague Catrin Clarke who I worked with a lot and Angharad Devonald, who is a Welsh language writer. I came up with an idea to pitch for that story.
Buzz: How did you come to get this story about a refugee boy?
Sophie: Well it was called Message in a Bottle and that was the theme you were given. Catrin had written a short previous to that which was set on a beach but there was no refugee in that or anything. It might have been a PTSD story but she is interested in that area and yeah, so we just sort of talked about it and thought how could we make it work and could we weave the Message in a Bottle story in – because it was meant for children. One of the sort of things we thought was about those classic children’s adventure stories, Peter Pan is the one I am thinking of where there is an unknown other child, a child from another worldly environment who comes into the hero child’s world and changes it for the better. That was the theoretical basis of it but then we wanted to make it about the real world not a fairy story. Then I also read, because I used to work for Causality and we done this episode about Stateless Children, children who are here who have been brought in under the radar or trafficked then abandoned and are just out there. Apparently it is quite an issue in London. We just thought that is what our ‘the other world boy’ will be. We wanted to do this link about the war and how it can affect people on either side of the conflict.
Buzz: Was it quite a conscious decision not to let this other boy speak any English or communicate in Welsh?
Sophie: It was important that he was not of this Country and actually one of the EBU Rules was that there had to be a minimum amount of dialogue because these films go out subtitled in European Countries. So that it was actually helpful that one of our characters couldn’t speak the language and that they had to communicate via play, like the way kids do. They can actually get along without understanding what they are saying to each other.
Buzz: That is what I picked up on, you take your kids to different countries and they will play other children, they don’t speak the any of the language and yet they play nicely.
Sophie: Yes, there is a bond and because it was for children it had to have a positive, it couldn’t be too downbeat. That’s what it is about, it was about these two lads from different backgrounds, different worlds, coming together and finding a solution between them.
Buzz: I suppose it is breaking down barriers as well?
Sophie: Yes, the message is that the little lad thinks he is extremely hard done by. He is upset with his dad for not being physically fit, having this trauma, not being the man he was when he went off to war. He meets a lad who hasn’t got a dad any more, he is a completely orphan and alone in the world. It makes the Welsh boy grateful for what he has got.
Buzz: Where was it filmed?
Sophie: North Gower. It was a place called Broughton Bay which I have a caravan on that site, Catrin who wrote it, goes there, she stays in my caravan quite a bit. She had written another script previously set on that bit, so we always knew. Once we decided it was beach we knew where we were going to put it.
Buzz: Was it your caravan?
Sophie: No we hired one, which was old and getting axed. We hired that one and one for make up and wardrobe. So mine was unsullied. Originally I did think that we could film in my caravan but that caravan was chock-a-block with stuff and people and mess. So I was quite glad it wasn’t mine.
Buzz: So how did you find the two boys to play the part?
Sophie: Sam, the little lad who plays Cai goes to a Welsh School in Cardiff, I rang up the school and they were the most forthcoming school. I cast children before, I prefer to go to little schools in the area where the children are supposed to come from rather than go to agents, because you can get quite stage kids. We went for Sam because he was so natural and like the real character He was just a regular lad. The other lad actually did come through an agent and I could not quite believe it to start off, because the first was a lady called Bev Thomas in Swansea who has an acting school and is an agent for children. She is fantastic. I sort of rang Bev in the first instance for both parts and I said he cant be mixed race, he’s got to be full non white because that was really important that he was a proper refugee immigrant. She said that I have got someone; he is 17 but looks younger. I said that was too old but anyway, cut a long story short I met John and I thought, no he does look younger than 17. He was the first boy I met for that part; I did subsequently keep looking because I didn’t actually believe that the first person I met was the right person for it. He has got a beautiful face. Then it turned out because that part was originally written for not speaking at all, but as we rehearsed it a bit, we realised that even if you know the person can’t understand you, its counter intuitive not to speak. Ashley the director said I think we need to give him some lines and have him be able to stay stuff. We were discussing having an Arabic tutor in. It turned out that he could actually speak a bit of Swahili. He was adopted by a Welsh family, who were living at the time in South Africa. So he was in South Africa until he was 7 and when they moved back here, he still remembered bits of Swahili from his playground. English is his first language. We thought great, suddenly we can give him those bits of words which he made up himself. He was brilliant, he is really brilliant.
Buzz: Do you think it could be seen as a political film given the current climate?
Sophie: Yes because we did this a year ago in 2014 and obviously there were refuges, but now a year later the refugees are so much greater. When I was watching this a week ago for the original tech run, when the bombers came over, that was the day they were discussing in parliament about bombing Syria. Then seeing those plans go over I just thought gosh yeah, I knew it was topical and this film has got more topical a year later when we made it.
Buzz: The film is going to be shown in other children’s’ festivals and is that all over the world?
Sophie: I don’t know, I am yet to get the list; it is all in the hands of the EBU. It has been shown in a lot of countries in Europe already. I have entered it into festivals; it is not entirely in my hands.
Buzz: Will you writing more shorts?
Sophie: Yeah maybe. To be honest, I am no ingénue so I personally would like to do a film next. A proper feature film, I mentioned earlier me and Catrin have got this script which I have a lot of faith in. So I certainly would do another short and I have learnt a lot from this one. I have learnt a lot about it since.
Buzz: Thank you for chatting Sophie
words AMANDA HUNT
photos RUSLAND www.ruslanfilm.com