Short Names.

Posted August 4th, 2013 by Ben

Make no mistake, the Shooting People community is full of amazing actors. Every project my brother and I make always starts with a nose around to see who might be suitable. Often a project actually benefits from casting an actor with little or no audience recognition and sometimes a lack of experience is more than made up for by a surfeit of raw talent.

However there’s no escaping the fact that established actors tend to be established because they are astonishingly good at their job. Why would you not want the most skilful person you can find? Oddly many directors, especially those making their first films, will naturally look for experienced collaborators behind the camera or in the edit suit but will naturally assume that name actors are out of their grasp. Yet there are plenty of established performers who are only too keen to be involved in the right project.

Emilia Fox. I mean her headshot alone makes you want to see the film doesn't it!

Emilia Fox. I mean her headshot alone makes you want to see the film doesn’t it!

I first met Ben Mourra at the ECU film festival in Paris, where a short film he produced was in competition. A few years later Ben’s back with a sequel to this film and this time he’s taken on the role of writer and director. It’s his first short in those roles and yet he has none other than Emilia Fox taking the lead… clearly he’s doing something right.

So I caught up with Ben, sadly this time not in Paris, to find out about his project and to find out what advice he’d have for other directors looking to secure star talent for short films…

So what’s your film about?
“Not Ever” is a 5 minute short film that explores the space in a relationship between the lover and the loved, between the wanting of more commitment and the overwhelming fear of letting someone into your world. And it’s within this gap that the story exists.
We all know the scenario: The relationship is over. There’s no going back. And yet we can’t help playing things back in our head, over and over again. The last few scenes of the relationship. We’re looking for clues. Trying to understand.
This film is about that.

What drew you to this story and these characters?
Some people say to write about what you know, but I would say that’s only half the story. I like to write about what I’d like to know more about, and that generally involves relationships and emotions: two things that regularly get the better of me in life. So writing a story that frames a situation that I’d like to know more about allows me to work through it, both in isolation and, more interestingly, with other people. If this sounds like therapy, it’s because it probably is! I find working on stories that I have both a knowledge and a curiosity of, is one of the most rewarding aspects of the collaborative filmmaking process! So to answer your question: In my life, I’ve been on both sides of the lover/loved disconnect, and I’ve also seen it up close with some of my friends, so I’m keen to explore this intriguing and mysterious aspect to how human relationships end.

It’s part of a sequence of films you’re planning, what made you adopt that structure?
Interesting question. Yes, this is the second film in a trilogy of short films. The first film was written and directed by a very talented friend of mine, Tito Sacchi. I produced it, because I really liked the script. The first film is about a man, standing on the ledge of a tall building, weighing up the consequences of his next step. He’s unable to forget, he’s tired of waiting and so he makes his choice. But not before checking his phone one more time. When I came up with my idea for this current film, I didn’t automatically think of it as a sequel to that one. But as I was shaping the story I soon realised how the situation could easily be a mirror of Tito’s story, and that interested me very much. I love films where storylines entwine, characters reappear, where events are foreshadowed and where the story has an intrinsic symmetry. Philosophically, I guess it helps bring additional meaning and purpose to otherwise random events. And so again, after writing this second film ‘Not Ever’, I started asking myself questions about the backstory and of what happens next. So the third film in the trilogy (which I’ve already written) explores the before and after of the first two films. Confused yet? Anyway, all three films have been written to work on their own (I dislike ‘to be continued’ endings to a film!) But if you do watch more than one, you’ll see threads that run through the trilogy that will hopefully provoke more thought about the subject and depth to the interpretation.

Michael Gilroy in "Not Yet"

Michael Gilroy in “Not Yet”

So this film is set to star Emilia Fox… how on earth did you get an actress of her standing to take a role in a short film?
I know! The role is challenging to say the least, especially in terms of the required vulnerability, so for an actor of her calibre to embark on this challenge with an unknown director and on a low-fee / low-budget project is truly rare.

Was she easy to approach?
Not really, as she’s a relatively private person who doesn’t use Twitter/Facebook. My thought was to initially try to ‘bump’ into her and pitch my idea in person but a friend of mine who works in theatre said that that was a risky approach. She recommended that I definitely go through Emilia’s agent. So after a bit of research on the interwebs I eventually found out who that was. I called and spoke to her agent and was told to send through my script and details of the project. Every actor / agent relationship is different, but generally an agent will have a strong influence over whether the actor will even get to see your script. So I would recommend having a budget in mind for the actor’s fee. Obviously Emilia can command a much higher fee than what we could afford, but we did offer an amount that I feel showed that we respected her importance to the project (and also respected her agent’s role.) Emilia, like many actors that are still doing it for the right reasons, isn’t money driven so thankfully our suggested fee wasn’t a showstopper.

What are the key elements about the project that you feel made it attractive to an established performer like Emilia?
Firstly, it’s character-driven. I’ve seen a lot of amazing films especially short films that are visually beautiful, use quirky camera / editing styles and push the boundaries of what is possible on film. Sometimes though, they can be lacking in story and character and it can feel a bit like eating the icing without the cake. For me, story and character come first, and then I think about how these elements can influence any stylistic devices used. Generally this approach means that the script ends up being more attractive to actors.

Secondly, most actors are looking for a challenging role, something that captures their imagination and will push them into new territory. Not only because they personally enjoy this challenge, but also in order to showcase the diversity of their abilities and avoid being typecast. If you are seeking an actor’s involvement in your project, you really need to understand what motivates them as an actor, what roles their body of work to date cover and what roles might push them and challenge them into new territory.

Finally, some actors are generous towards wanting to support new directors and giving something back to the filmmaking community. Thankfully for me, Emilia is such a person.

Did you write the part specifically for her?
No, the idea for the film came first. But as I went through the process of development and shaping the story and characters, I found it useful to visualise certain actors playing the roles. But I didn’t imagine at the time that Emilia might be interested in actually playing the role! But can you look for inspiration for a film, based on your research of what role a specific actor might find challenging? Probably. And when it comes to pitching the project to them, that approach would certainly show your respect for the actor’s abilities.

What’s your budget and how are you finding the money?
When Emilia confirmed, we decided to raise the production values of the film, which effectively doubled the budget to around £16K. Obviously I’m throwing my own savings into the project, because I really believe in it and I understand how important it is in helping me make the films I want to make in the next five years. But that left us £10K short, so we decided to go down the crowdfunding route. Our Kickstarter campaign is an all or nothing approach, so there’s a lot riding on us reaching our target. Thankfully we got to the halfway milestone after only four days, but the campaign is only running for a fortnight and we still have a long way to go. I truly hope we do get the opportunity to put Emilia up on the big screen, delivering an intensely dark performance, within an intensely dark story. These types of stories, and short films generally, are hard to finance via traditional means.

The plan is to shoot early September for a late October release to the festival circuit, so it’s become very exciting and very busy all at once!

Ben Mourra.

Ben Mourra.

Just because Ben has a star like Emilia attached to his project it doesn’t make it any more certain that he’ll get his budget together, it just means that if he does we can all be assured that the end results will be fascinating. Ben has been a Shooter for some years so I’d urge you all to put a couple of quid into his campaign which ends in 8 days and can be found at the end of this link…

  1. Daniel Cormack

    Best place to find an actor’s agent is on Spotlight.com

    I find it odd that people are so down on agents. Yes, they are the gatekeepers, but if you approach them in a professional manner they can actually help a lot by putting in a good word for you with their client.

    Not only that they are professionally bound to pass on your script – I suspect that the only occasions when they wouldn’t is if they knew an actor was booked up for a long time in advance and you were coming to them with a specific time window or if the actor had given specific instructions like “no short films”. (One of my actor friends actually fired his agent because they didn’t pass on a script).

    Even in the latter case, getting on the right side of an agent can work wonders. When I cast Sally Bretton I think she had something like a “no shorts” policy, but her agent put in a good word because I’d worked with another of their actors (Anthony Head) and seemed to have received favourable report. Luckily it coincided with a period when some of her friends were making shorts so she took a look at it and liked the script and the character.

    Just to reiterate, stalking an actress at their place of work is not a good approach. Even if you do happen to bump into someone, it is still high risk.

    I used to work in a cinema and private members club and did this once and despite being scrupulously polite I realised as I was introducing myself it was a bad idea. Really it’s an imposition and also comes across as opportunistic and haphazard.

    At least if an actor is sitting down reading their scripts they are in a ‘work’ frame of mind, whereas you could catch them in a really bad moment if you make an off-the-cuff approach.

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