To begin with, please could you tell us a little about yourself for our readers?
I’m from South London, I just turned thirty-one and I’m unhealthily interested in movies, to a degree where I thought I’d better shut up and start making them.
Your first feature film Deadpan Valentine is creating quite a stir – please tell us more about the film.
It’s an Anti-Rom-Com, something for anyone who has ever been broken hearted on that cruelest of days, Valentine’s. An antidote to those Hollywood films that would have you believe that all you have to do is hook up with Jennifer Love Hewitt or Freddie Prinze Jnr and all your dreams will come true. It’s a dark film but a ray of light shines through it.
As well as directing, you also wrote Valentine. What was your inspiration? What motivated you to write this film?
The inspiration was a lifetime of misery and romantic rejection! I stuck to the old adage of “write what you know.” The motivation was to make a feature so I could finally have a shot at a proper career and thus escape the endless cycle of unemployment, dead end jobs and narrowing horizons that is the fate of many an Arts degree graduate.
With this being your first feature film as director, did you find you were under a lot of pressure? If so, how did you respond to this?
Naturally, there was a lot of pressure, with the standard complaints of there not being enough time or money. But I was working with a brilliant crew who all rose to the challenges and gave me the room I needed to think and direct. To be honest, the pressure was as nothing compared to the thought of never getting the chance to do this.
Having taken two years to write and having been something of a labour of love for you, how does it feel to finally see your work upon screen?
It’s fantastic, really. I never imagined I would get to work with such talented people on this low a budget, but I was really impressed with the cast’s professionalism and I think their talent is self evident. I just love watching their performances.
It’s been a long and arduous journey, but it’s a completely unique and wonderful feeling to see your vision up on screen. There’s also that strange realisation that the film no longer “belongs” to you; that people are having their own responses to it, good and bad, which you have no control over.
The initial budget of £10,000 was raised from savings, loans etc. Who was responsible for raising the funds? Did this impact any of the decisions made during the film?
The money was raised by myself and the co-producer George Vossos. Our production manager, Brendon O’Loughlin and his assistant, Jasmin Moradian, were not intimidated by the lack of finance and managed to devise a budget that would allow us to shoot the film as written. We had no money left over for the costly post production, but a wealthy friend of George’s made a very generous contribution that allowed us to complete the film.
The script was written specifically to be made as cheaply as possible because of budget constraints. With a larger budget, would you have done things differently? Would the film be much different?
A larger budget just wasn’t an option for us, but it would have been preferable to be in a position to pay everyone instead of having deferred contracts.
Really, I think it’s a case of you need to be able to walk before you can run, otherwise a lot of money can get wasted. It would have been cool to have more money and time for extra coverage and fancy equipment, but the lack of it just forces you to be more creative. So no, I think that this is the type of film that should only be made on a micro budget.
While this is your first feature-length piece, you also made a shorter work called Sick Bastards – what was this about, and how does it compare to Valentine?
Sick Bastards was a twisted satire on hidden camera shows and celebrity stalkers that starred Eli Silverman (Bruce in Deadpan Valentine) and the comic actor Enn Reitel. It was something of a folly as it was 31 minutes long and so ineligible for every short film festival. It went massively over budget, preventing the time needed in post-production to really hone the edit and present it in its best possible light. One day I would like to re-edit it to a shorter length and polish it up on the technical side, as there are some hilarious scenes.
It doesn’t really bear much relation to Deadpan Valentine artistically, as it was much broader and cartoon like in tone. However, it provided me with some indispensable lessons in film-making and gave me the inspiration to move on to a feature.
Unlike many writer/directors, you have spent a year on the open mic comedy circuit. Did this have any impact on the script, especially considering the main character is a suicidal comedian?
Strangely enough, Jamie wasn’t a stand up comedian when I began writing the script, but it soon became clear that this was the perfect role for him. Everyone’s heard of the depressed comedian; the sad clown. Also, the whole concept of “dying” in front of an audience was so pertinent to the subject matter.
Open mic comedy nights can be pretty torturous affairs for both the performer and the audience: a smoky backroom of a pub, ten bored people sitting uncomfortably and an air of sad desperation as the novice comics struggle to raise some laughs.
One of the ideas behind the script was the excruciating difficulty of creating humour and that comedy is really “tragedy plus time.” I wanted the ending to be true to that notion.
You trained as an actor, but turned down roles in favour of screenwriting- what influenced this decision?
I think it was just a natural evolution. When I was a teenager, I was undecided about being in front of the camera or behind it, and at the time it was much easier to go down the acting route. I don’t think I was ever entirely comfortable being an actor or a stand-up, as I was too self conscious and thin skinned.
I also found it difficult being directed as I was always opinionated and in conflict with the director (see Scott in the film!) Writing was something that I had loved in my childhood, and something that I had been good at.
You are also accredited with two un-produced feature-length scripts – what are these about? Will we be seeing anything of them in the future?
The first screenplay was called The Big Sneeze. It was about a young guy going to visit his mate in his old university town and becoming embroiled in his friend’s madcap drug dealer lifestyle, with soccer hooligans, annoying flatmates, an overly flirtatious girlfriend and the police all conspiring to spoil his weekend away.
It was a comic caper movie with a lot of energy, but it went through many drafts as I learnt my craft. It’s probably a bit dated to be worth resurrecting now.
The second one was my attempt at a commercial film noir thriller entitled The Callback. It had a complex plot with twists and turns, use of flashbacks, and had a strong psychological theme of punishment and redemption. It was a real challenge to produce a genre piece and I think it still has potential as a movie, but I don’t think it’s something that I would like to make myself now. It’s important to move on, and I feel more suited to making comedy dramas.
What are you planning on doing next? What can we expect to see from you in future?
I have another screenplay in development that has themes of gambling and family. It will be on a bigger canvas than Deadpan Valentine.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I just hope to see more investment in, and encouragement of the British independent filmmaking scene. It would be great to see more festivals popping up over here and more initiatives to screen digital movies, which does seem to be happening now. Websites like these are a fantastic resource and you guys are doing a brilliant job, giving a voice to the underdogs and encouraging newcomers!
Since this interview took place, Deadpan Valentine has successfully been entered into two major festivals – the FAIF in Los Angeles in October (to be hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger, whoever he is) and the Reelheart festival in Toronto, where the film will receive its world premiere.
For more information on Deadpan Valentine, the cast, crew and all the other essentials, be sure to check out http://www.deadpanvalentine.com.