SHOWDOWN | INTERVIEW
Lewis Carter and Kristian Kane of Bridgend film production company Fine Rolling Media discuss their latest, award-winning short: Showdown, a Valleys Western with a young cowboy hero.
The second short film from the Fine Rolling Media stable is formally released almost two years after its launch event in Swansea, and while screenings have been problematic for most of the last year at least, Showdown has steadily picked up awards and other acclaim on the indie film circuit.
It’s a remarkable achievement on many levels: set in Bedlinog, a village near Merthyr, but filmed across south Wales, the 16-minute drama was produced for less than £2,000, but displays a moody slickness that makes this seem implausible. It was also cast with autistic child actors, notably Charlie Lock – 11 at the time of filming, he plays Sam, a boy obsessed with vintage Western movies to his parents’ puzzled chagrin. This is reflected stylistically in Showdown, which revels in its Valleys landscapes and slow-paced ruralness and adds a twangy soundtrack. When the showdown of the title arrives, it packs equal parts pathos and bathos – this is a film which offers humour while taking an often belittled topic seriously. I found out more from its creators before its release on Sun 7 Feb (it’ll be fully available to stream online thereafter), in advance of the annual Autism Sunday the following week.
So what’s the background to Showdown being, in your words, “devised to cast autistic actors in order to raise the level of autism awareness in the arts in Wales”?
Kristian Kane (Fine Rolling Media executive director): Back in 2015, working with our charity partners, The VC Gallery, we were introduced to a boy called Dan. Dan was autistic and found it hard to communicate most of the time. But as soon as he put on a persona or became a character in a film, he would spring to life. We created a film, cast him as the leading role and even gave the film its own premiere. Seeing Dan get on the stage to wave and bow to the audience really showed me what community film could do. And when Lewis shared the script [for Showdown] with me, it had to be made.
Lewis Carter (producer): Yeah, it’s one of those beautiful coincidences. Here’s me thinking I’ve written a film that would be too weird for anyone to comprehend, reimagining the classic cowboy hero of the Western genre as an 11-year-old autistic boy, and Kris already had this connection to the material through his work with Dan. He saw the vision straight away after reading the script.
Was Charlie Lock, as Sam, a case of finding the right actor for the role, or the right role for the actor?
Kris: After thinking we would have an uphill struggle to find an authentic leading autistic star, we stumbled across a video of him on ITV talking about his passion for autism and the arts, and we knew we had our man.
Lewis: When we told people we wanted to make a short film with an autistic protagonist, and cast genuine autistic actors, we were told by many that we simply couldn’t do that – it’s not possible. We had a gut feeling it was, and we wouldn’t have done it without Charlie.
Kris: I like to think the biggest take away for Charlie was his confidence in knowing he could do it, and be whatever he wanted to be. There were scenes in the film that were a big struggle, but he trooped on and overcame every challenge he met.
What led you to choose Westerns as stylistic inspiration here?
Lewis: When I was growing up I spent a lot of time with my grandparents in Bedlinog, a small village just south of Merthyr Tydfil. It was and still is one of my favourite places in the world. I remember walking over the mountain with my grandfather holding sticks, pretending they were rifles, looking out for the cowboys and Indians he told me lived in the mountains. I don’t think I’d be a storyteller if it wasn’t for experiences like that. Years later my father showed me a newspaper headline that described Bedlinog as a “Wild West village”. It was meant as an insult – I thought it was a badge of honour!
The dialogue balances moments of fairly bleak despair, with Sam and his parents, and more lighthearted comedy…
Lewis: There’s a stoic minimalism the Western genre imposes on you that I tried to respect with the dialogue – but, due to its current day setting, I was still able to pepper in a few motormouth characters that bring a bit of levity to the story. There’s also a Welsh humour I wanted to be true to as well – the two ladies with nothing better to do than delight in the misfortunes of others over constant cups of coffee in the local café…
How exactly did you work with Showdown’s sub-£2,000 budget?
Kris: We had to beg, borrow and steal! It showed us how tight-knit the communities in Wales are. After explaining the project to all the people that owned the locations, they were more than happy to give us the locations for free. Some even made us food!
Getting the locals of the towns we visited involved was a great part of making the film. We had people coming out of their houses asking us about the project. They were thrilled that we were showcasing their local area.
Lewis: There’s an underdog, small-town, dustbowl community mentality in Western films that we intentionally draw comparison to with our Valleys setting. There’s no version of this film that isn’t set in south Wales, even if we had all the money in the world. This was always a Welsh film about Welsh communities.
Having debuted in plot-based films with Campfire Story, which uses the horror genre for its inspiration, do you feel the short format works especially well for works like that and Showdown, which kind of pay tribute to particular styles?
Lewis: The truth is it’s hard to do anything in the short film format. You have to be so precise with your structure and economical with how you tell the story – it’s brutal. But perhaps a unique insight on a specific genre does hold the key to unlocking that format for filmmakers.
Showdown won a number of awards, in Wales and internationally, but last year I guess the ceremonies were online-only…
Kris: We were only able to attend one event, the Cardiff International Film Festival, and what an event that was! Unfortunately, the rest of the festivals did end up online. On the topic of film festivals, myself and Lewis have, after many years of talking about it, decided to create a new film festival of our own. At the moment we are doing our research before branding the festival, but I think our vision for it will be like no other in the UK.
Lewis: When Showdown premiered we were holding screenings in independent Welsh cinemas and everyone wanted a piece of the action. Since we’ve had festival success we’ve been unable to celebrate with our cast and crew as lockdown hit, but they know how much we love them and are celebrating with us in spirit.
Has Showdown’s reception to date fulfilled your ambitions for it?
Lewis: The reception has been incredible from the autistic community, which was a worry going in. We did our research, listened to our autistic actors, and that really seems to have paid off.
Any other films in the works at Fine Rolling Media?
Kris: Our latest short documentary Riptide follows a local Welsh surfer and his community as we relive some of his incredible stories from the past.
Lewis: He battles against the current of modern life in order to fight cancer and rediscover what is truly important.
I’ve also released two films during lockdown. One was selected to screen at the 2020 Iris Prize festival: Lifeline, about two self-isolating office workers, both lonely in their own way, who connect via a series of progress reports. Each becoming the other’s lifeline to a world beyond quarantine.
The other is a documentary, Best Foot Forward, which follows two Welsh families overcoming personal obstacles to run the first ever ‘virtual’ Nos Galan Road Race. It aired live on New Year’s Eve to keep the legend of the race alive, as it was unable to take place for the first time in generations due to COVID restrictions.
Showdown will be streamed via the Fine Rolling Media Facebook page from 4pm on Sun 7 Feb, and via YouTube and Vimeo from Mon 8 Feb.
words NOEL GARDNER