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Today
In conversation with Kibwe Tavares
Title of film: Robot and Scarecrow
Director: Kibwe Tavares
Production Company: Factory Fifteen, Nexus
It was a good three years ago when we first met Kibwe following a slew of awards for his wildly ambitious, insanely wonderful film Jonah. With the release of the making of his next just-as-brill, heart rendering short film Robot and Scarecrow we caught up with the Nexus director in his studio complex Factory Fifteen

Lyndy: When we last spoke about three years ago this film was just an idea, it’s been a long time in the making.. 
 
Kibwe:  We’d been commissioned by The Space and Ruth McKenzie who wanted to make bold, digital art and we’d had this idea, had done all this work and, when we spoke last, Glastonbury (as a location) had just fallen through.   It’s been a kind of slow and brutal, stop-start process.
 
Then we found the Secret Garden Party who were open to us shooting there and that festival was art directed so it gave us this amazing backdrop, and probably it was a blessing in disguise.
 
We managed to get Jack O’Connell and Holliday Grainger but the problem was trying to find matched funding – normally you’d find it during the process but we had to shoot first at the festival and then find the money afterwards. It became a kind of split process.
 
The first half was designing the characters, shooting the film, cutting the film, then there was a big break, almost 18 months until we found the funding and then it was about putting the characters into each shot, tracking their faces, doing all the making of stuff.
 
It was painful in the middle because we didn’t know exactly who was going to fund it. Then Vero came along, they’re a new social media sharing platform, and they saved the day. They want to help and support artists and filmmakers to get their work out there, so without them the film wouldn’t exist.
 
How did you cast those roles?
 
One of my best mates Aisha Walters, she’s got her own casting company, came onboard really early in the scripting process and   she floated the idea of Jack and Holliday, who’d worked together on Tulip Fever which is just coming out.
 
They were good friends and had a kind of amazing connection and chemistry and they’re both really great to work with, they’re a lot of fun. They were quite humble because it was a small set compared to what they had just been doing.
 
So you just went off to Secret Garden Party and started shooting. To what extent did you map everything out?
 
We had the full script and some of the bits were storyboarded and we worked with a writer called Ursula Rani Sarma. She helped me take it from the treatment to the script with help from Chris O’Reilly at Nexus as well.
 
The thing that was very difficult was that things had to be quite fluid, you had to hit certain marks because some things were quite fixed, like you could only do stage stuff at a certain time. So our first AD had a nightmare because it wasn’t like things were super planned. We had key things we had to hit and then other stuff which was looser. We were kind of always on our toes so it was intense, we had to be on the fly a lot.
 
And also because of the light…
 
Yeah the light was changing all the time, so sometimes we’d have to do sequences of film and the light was about to change and certain things were meant to be at certain times of day.
 
Some things were meant to be at dawn but we did them at dusk because at dawn we couldn’t get into the festival. There were logistics, the same as any film but we also had like 20,000 extras causing more mayhem.
 
One of the things that was really tricky was we had to get to the fireworks when they kissed, and everyone told us the hills were the best place and most of the time it’s quite easy getting around the festival, apart from that time.
 
At that point (of the fireworks) everyone goes to the same place and we thought we’d given ourselves enough time but the scenes where you see us running through the festival are actually because we were running to get to the fireworks. But it worked in an organic way because we  filmed as we went.
 
How did the festival-goers react? Because they never actually stare at the camera.
 
A lot of the time our cameras were very small. Luke (Jacobs) had a Red Epic, which is tiny. We didn’t have a huge Alexa or a big camera. There were other people shooting stuff there and we didn’t look bigger than them. Sometimes we’d run off, just me, Luke and the cast, and we’d just walk through the festival.  It’s not like we were shooting around it – we were slap bang in the middle of it.
 
How did you come across the DP Luke Jacobs?
 
He was at the YDA’s as well, (three years ago) with the Rudimental video, and he had worked with Josh. I noticed the ambitious cinematography. Josh mentioned him to me and he was available. We spoke about it and he was up for it. He put his back into that film, he ran around a lot. We’ve done a couple of projects since together.
  
What were the most difficult things about the production?
 
The difficult part was waiting. It was hard. And not knowing when we were going to finish it, or how we were going to finish it. That was the hardest thing. That was a gnawing anxiety burning. When you think you’ve got this great footage, this great cast, you’ve got a cool idea, you’ve got a story that you think is going to be moving, and then you don’t know how to finish it.
 
Other than that, the shoot was hard. Once we found the right post production house Chocolate Tribe based in South Africa –  we did some here in our studio Factory Fifteen, but the majority of the shots  they did in South Africa. And they were a dream to work with.
 
They were incredible, stuff that I didn’t know how they were going to do they did, I don’t know how. We were working remotely as well, I went once to meet the team and they just said it was the perfect project for them. They loved the complicated, cool characters and they were really up for it as well.
 
What was the moment when you thought ‘Ok, it’s finished.’?
 
There was a point where we had an edit and then I kind of unlocked the edit, even though it was meant to be locked, because I felt it ended in a way that she just died and that was the last shot, when he puts her down. And for me it didn’t say anything about death. It didn’t have enough meaning, it wasn’t satisfying or dramatic.
 
So I re-opened that, and eventually we found an ending that felt more substantial and satisfying and took you to a place.
 
 It was written as a longer film, so we had to lose a lot. There was his little journey at the start, which we got rid of because we couldn’t do everything. That’s a hard thing because it’s a negotiation.
 
With live action, once you’ve shot it you’ve got raw footage but this time I had to think how do I do that in less shots, which is good because it’s good practice, but sometimes you can border on montage a bit too much. You’re constantly battling because you want to show something but that means you lose something.
 
How do you think you’ve changed since shooting Jonah four years ago?
 
It’s interesting because I think as you evolve there are certain things you get stronger at, and certain things that are different. I think I’m a more mature storyteller, and in some ways I thought we were able to make Scarecrow a bit more delicate than some other things. I’ve definitely advanced in terms of craft and my storytelling has gotten clearer.
 
There’s a lot of things I’ve done that I can’t show, like workshops. I went to Sundance last year and did a lot of dialogue and performance stuff that I’ve been working on. I think I’ve gotten used to working with a bigger crew and communicating ideas to more people. Working out when to push and when not to push.
 
I think I’ve developed but then you go into the next thing and you lose the raw energy sometimes, not energy but you lose a naivety. Like if someone asked me to do Jonah now, I never could do it now. At the time you think of course I can do it for that much money, and then you start doing things for more money and then you think ‘how did we do that?’ I’m going to try and keep a bit of that naivety for the feature film coming up, keep thinking we will get there, we’ll do it.
 
Can you say anything about the feature film?
 
I’ve been working for a few years with Daniel Kaluuya, he used to write a lot for Skins and he’s been writing his own shorts for a while. So we’ve got a feature that we’ve been working on for about three years together, it’s called ‘The Kitchen’. We took it to Sundance labs last summer.
 
It’s set in near future London, so all the things we talk about today in London like the housing crisis, equality divides have gone to the extremes. And this unlikely pair, a guy who’s a bit of a lone wolf ends up having to look after his neighbour’s little brother because he’s gone missing. It’s about them trying to survive without anything or any resources in a quite brutal London. They get pushed into a bit of crime and then it’s about working out how they move through life and build and move forward after losing their house.
 
Will there be a lot of special effects?
 
Yeah so the world we are building is London in the future, and this kind of hyper capitalism and hyper amounts of advertising and automated workforces. That’s the other thing, there’s not that many jobs because everything’s been automated. So if you’re in the 95% your life’s pretty tough.
 
It’s trying to talk about today in a kind of bombastic way, and the idea that if you push people away or if you break up communities, all you’re doing is isolating people and causing more problems. It’s important for everyone to care for everyone if they can. It’s not important to have more stuff than other people, or have more money. I guess I’m a lefty socialist at heart, so it’s a warning type thing.
 
And that’s going ahead?
 
We’re hopefully going into production at some point next year. We’ve got our core financier Film4 and then we’re going to get some more finance from other partners, we’ve got one more draft before we do that. But we’ve got a lot of interest because Daniel Kaluuya is starring in it and he was also in Get Out, which was a big smash hit this summer, and we’ve always had a lot of interest anyway from Sundance, they’ve been willing us and pushing us to make it.
 
Have you any more commercials coming up?
 
Not at the moment, not that I’ve worked on just yet.
 
Was UEFA quite a straightforward production?

Not really. This campaign is Europe-wide so it’s a big old thing with a lot of different moving parts. There was a complex multi-location shoot coordinated by Nexus and it helped that I was both directing with all of the animation and the print campaigns created at Factory Fifteen.
 

LINKS

Factory Fifteen

Nexus Studios

Credits

UEFA #weplaystrong

FCB Inferno Team:
Managing director: Sharon Jiggins
Chief strategy officer: Vicki Holgate
Group creative director: Elspeth Lynn
Copywriter: Sarah Lefkowith
Senior strategist: Laura Coleman
Social media director: Laura Visick
Business director: Hollie Loxley
Account director: Kate McNaughton
Director of content: Alvaro Ramirez
Senior film producer: Kate Grenfell
Production manager: Brad Willis
Interactive producer: Josh Buchanan
Director: Kibwe Tavares
Production company: Nexus Studios
Animation company: Factory Fifteen
Editors: Stitch
Post production house: Time Based Arts
Sound design studio: John Clarke at Factory
Music search: Toby Williams/ Abi Leland at Leland Music
Animation Director: Paul Nicholls
Illustrator: Chris Martin
Animation Design & VFX: Factory Fifteen
Factory Fifteen Team:
VFX Supervisor: Paul Nicholls
On Set Tracking Supervision: Peanut
3D Animator: Ricardo David
2D Animator: Tom Malins
Lighting & Rendering: Carl Kenyon
3D Generalist: Carl Kenyon, Ares Simone Monzio Compagnoni, Matthew Moult
Composite: Paul Nicholls, Matthew Moult
Internal Production: Laura Chan
Camera / Body Tracking: Peanut
Additional Camera Tracking: Bot FX, Trace
With Support From: Michael McCarthy