Interview by Anna Harrison
When did you first get the idea for this film? How long did the process from development to distribution take?
It is based on writer Callum Cameron’s personal experiences as a home tutor. He sent it to me a couple of years ago and I knew I wanted to be involved in the project straight away and luckily he agreed to develop it with me. I was struck by how delicately he handled feelings of misery, guilt, shame and worry whilst still making something warm, hopeful and funny. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at times and felt connected to Michael, as well as seeing a younger version of myself in Archie.
Were there any major script changes from conception to end?
As always, the script took many twists and turns in the development process but the original through line that Callum created was so strong that the root of it always remained consistent.
How collaborative was the process, i.e., did you get much say in the script, or was it mostly finalized by the time you were brought on board?
The development process was really collaborative but so was the rest of the process. Callum was fully in the trenches with me every step of the way on this. The story is very personal to him so it made sense for him to be part of everything and I loved that collaboration.
In that same vein, I really loved the color palette and production design; how much input did you have in that?
Glad you picked up on that! Yes, Tasha Back (director of photography), Eve Shillingford (production designer), and I put a lot of thought into palette and tone in each scene. We played with cold, blue tones at the lido and in Archie’s house to show the loneliness and isolation in those two places. Archie’s house in particular had to feel like a nice family house that had been abandoned and left cold by the break up of a family. The lido was to show Michael’s general mood—those scenes feeling almost dreamlike. Then at Michael and Katie’s flat we darkened everything down, making it feel oppressive and claustrophobic showing how boxed in Michael felt by not being able to communicate with Katie.
What was the editing process like? Did anything get left on the cutting room floor?
We were pretty specific with the script and what we shot so actually very little was cut out. But I did cut it myself so maybe I was too precious? Who knows!?
In one of the scenes, Michael and Archie reenact a scene from The Avengers (which was great) where Loki monologues that “it’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation” and we will only be happy when we have no choices. What made you decide on that scene in particular? How does it resonate in a film about depression
That was all Callum and his writing. I love that moment. I think he would agree to leave it all up to interpretation!
Tom Sweet, who played Archie, gave a great performance. How do you change your directing approach when working with younger actors, if you change it at all?
Tom Sweet blew us all away—perfectly balancing the spoilt brat element of the character whilst also getting us to feel for him. Such an intelligent actor for someone so young; it was a joy to work with him. I have lots of techniques for working with child actors and making them feel more comfortable, but to be completely honest they weren’t needed with Tom as he took it all in his stride. What impressed me so much was how well he listened to the other actors. Often with child actors they have learnt their lines and rehearsed a set way of delivering them and it’s hard to break them out of that. But Tom reacted to subtle changes made by Himesh [Patel] and Sara [Stewart] from take to take and was always present in the scene. He also took on direction fantastically.
One thing I really liked about the film was the ending—there wasn’t some big moment where Michael was “cured,” which can often happen in movies about mental illness. Could you elaborate a bit on the ending and its ambiguity?
Callum and I always wanted the film to have an ambiguous ending mainly because that’s our experience of our own mental health. It’s complex and never really has an ‘I am cured’ moment. Sometimes you have days, weeks, months or even years where you feel like you have turned a corner but then suddenly it changes. I feel like that is something we should talk about more with regards to mental health and that is looking at ways we need to monitor and look after ourselves in the ups and downs rather than looking for a complete solution, which to be honest doesn’t exist. Or maybe I haven’t found it yet? Having said that, although the ending is ambiguous I hope it’s still hopeful.
Do you have a favorite film you’ve watched at Tribeca so far? (Or just this year in general!)
I haven’t seen any yet but I just got my sent all the films and I can’t wait to watch. Check back with me in a week!
Enjoy played at the Tribeca 2021 Film Festival.