What inspired this film – was it drawn from your own childhood?
The music itself was the greatest source of inspiration. Adrian’s track has this beautiful, atmospheric, almost nostalgic touch which hypnotizes the mind through repetition. The music opens up memories. It’s sort of like the ice cream truck melody which turns kid’s minds into popsicles. But here the music rather opened up the past.
I bounced a few ideas around with James Studholme at Blink and we decided to go for the one with the boys. Once I’d started writing a more thorough outline I did dig into my childhood and tried to remember how it was like, and think of ways to portray those fragments. I wanted it to be both a memory and something that happened somewhere last week, make it timeless and focus on the overall mood.
How did the production evolve?
When I wrote the outline I created a document which I called a ‘roadmap’. I wanted to keep the shoot organic and open. Despite all the bits being scripted it was important for me to keep the sense of life and spontaneity, as if this day just floated on, and the boys were floating with it doing everything and nothing. I had written in quite a few more scenes and as we were shooting, scenes were killed or tweaked. So there was no traditional treatment but a loose document which I could share with the team and get everyone on the same page.
Our DP, Brian Fawcett, totally got the whole approach and chipped in suggestions during shooting and made sure the cinematography elevated the film further. Before the shoot we went to Arri together and compared tons of lenses. We decided to go with an old Russian set which would give the footage a softer look and slightly shallower depth of field.
What were the main challenges of the production?
The main challenge was figuring out a way to work with children, animals, dead animals, children smoking cigarettes, as well as shoot tons of other stuff on a limited budget. Corin Taylor, the producer, did a mind-blowing job in stitching it all together. He found three horses who had ‘acting experience’ (lead roles in Warhorse), a trained dog who didn’t mind wearing a weird body-sock, even a dead fox (which was roadkill that we skinned – in the wide shot you can see that his leg is broken).
It took some time to find that fox, we looked at skinned sheep, pigs and other creatures – I don’t know what it was but they didn’t resemble a dog. Just a few days before the shoot Anna, our art director, sent me a photo of Frank the skinned fox and I’d never thought I’d be so happy to see something that gross! We also found some USB cigarettes which would be harmless for the boys to try out.
Another initial issue was the schedule. We had a budget that would give us one shoot day, and the list of stuff to shoot and locations kept growing each day. Two days were essential so I chipped in some extra money and Corin managed to pull some strings and puzzle some pieces together, and two days were sorted.
The film was shot in Leyton and Epping Forest in East London. It was shot in September over a weekend and we had patches of rain coming in so there was some waiting around for the sun (there are some shots where it’s actually raining if one looks closely). A one-day shoot would have stressed us out and made us shoot in bad weather, but the two days gave us the confidence to keep cool and meanwhile shoot some macro close ups and stuff.
Where did you cast the two boys, there’s an intimacy between them that feels like they are close friends or did you rehearse lots?
Another reason for wanting that additional day was because we wanted to shoot long takes and play around a bit. The performance would be crucial so we didn’t want to rush things here. Casting was key and the brilliant Sophie North did a great job as always.
The first boy to come in on the first casting-day was Logan, the dark haired one. Tick. That was an excellent start. Then after a few more sessions when Connor came in, he felt like born for the part. He’s such a pro, great listener who understands directions well and goes into character instantly. He’s like an adult man trapped in a tiny body.
I wanted the boys to meet before the shoot, sort out some go-carting or bowling or something, just to get the chemistry going between them. But because of schedule issues and lack of time, that didn’t happen. But to everyone’s big surprise, and my delight, when the boys met on day one it turned out they DID know each other a little bit, since they’d starred in the same play a while ago. The shoot couldn’t have had a better start!
The dog, oh god, tell us please about the dog and its symbolism?
The dog was a bit of a tough one. We knew we wanted some darkness in the film (hey, being a kid is not only sunshine and joy) and quite early on I found this photo of a skinned dog. Although we found some dead animals when I was a kid, they were never skinned. But since we can’t feel smells in a film, I needed to get the sense across in a pure visual way, hence the skinning.
I did mention this was a two-day shoot right? On the second day this piece of flesh had turned into a dark zombie-looking thing. It smelled horrible and no one wanted to go near it. I had such a bad conscience when asking the boys to do this and that with or near the fox. I thought it would give them nightmares forever.
I had a list of things the boys were going to do with the fox, but the first moment we saw it for real I crossed everything out. On day one, a crew-member had to open its belly and take out the intestines since the flies had left eggs in less than 30 minutes of shooting. The boys witnessed that. Poor guys…
And then it was Glassworks who had to take over. They did a fantastic job on bringing the skinned dog to life, first they photographed the dead thing and used the shots as texture for their 3D. Duncan Horn made that magic happen, as a real dog with a hand-air brushed body sock was shot twice and united with 3D skinned heads.