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13th May 2014
Breaking hard
Title of film: Dealer
Director: Ben Dawkins
Production Company: The Sweetshop
Sweetshop director Ben Dawkins talks about his short film Dealer shot on the streets of London

Flawless acting, where did you find the cast and what was the process of directing them – were there a lot of rehearsals before the shoot?

The lovely Kharmel Cochrane helped me out with casting. Osi, the actor who plays ‘Curtis’ and Nick who plays ‘Daniel’ (last customer) were the only characters I cast in person. Everyone else was selected from head sheets. Once everyone was in place I wrote guide dialogue for each scenario and talked to each actor individually on the phone. From here we also talked about character and how I wanted them to present themselves. I made it very clear how stretched we were gonna be for time, ‘so make sure you do your homework’.

Burial’s track Rival Dealer plays as the background soundtrack throughout the film. Did the music drive the film and did you collaborate with the band on the narrative?

The actual idea was entirely mine, but the music drives the film 100%… It’s so diverse, full of ups and downs it was exciting to lay out the framework of the narrative to hit key points in the track. I did this during the treatment phase. I even put ‘timings’ on the treatment so Will (Burial) could listen to the track while reading the words.

Please tell us about the shoot and about the main challenges of the production. You’ve captured London at night with great framing – was everything worked out in detail with storyboards in pre-prod?

It was very hard getting the whole project off the ground as there were so many elements to consider. Multiple locations, lots of actors, stunts, driving shots… I dug myself a hole from the word go! It came down to patience (something I not very good at) and trusting people to get on with their jobs, while working with a limited budget.

Like any project like this, you need a solid producer behind you. Jess Wylie and the good people at The Sweet Shop London basically made this project happen. From then on I just called friends I’ve been working with for years to get involved and many did.

Production side, we shot from 12pm-12am for two days plus an extra evening of pick ups (probably 4 hours) to do more car stuff. No legs, cranes, dollies or steadicam were involved, there was simply no time to mess around. My old mate Olivier Cariou DOP (and his team) did a wonderful job with the visuals, and Mustafa Bal captured all the sound.

What did you shoot the film on to get that quality of light?

Digital is so much better than it used to be, and I love shooting on ‘RED’. For this we were lucky enough to shoot on a ‘RED Dragon’. The sensor is designed for low lighting so worked perfectly in this instance. Footage shot from the car bonnet was shot on a Black Magic Pocket Camera.

Did the narrative evolve in the edit or was the final film how you envisaged it in the beginning?

The narrative constantly evolved during the edit and working with Paul Hardcastle (at Trim) is always a pleasure. The overall story worked how I envisioned it, but Paul’s input obviously took it to another level. From here I then went to Grand Central were Munzie added an amazing layer of sound design which blew the edit through the roof, followed by Glassworks who completed the amazing grade, ‘Flame’ work and conform.

Dealer Written & directed: Ben Dawkins Producer: Jess Wylie Production: The Sweetshop // Exec producer: Spencer Dodd Production manager: Lisa Mesgian 1st assistant director: Andrew Vanneck 2nd assistant director: Virginia Lipinski Dop: Olivier Cariou Focus puller: Guy Hazel Camera assist: Harry Young Sound recordist: Mustafa Bal Production designer: Russell de Rozario Art department assist: Rosie Paynton Art department assist: Miles Lacey Stunt coordinator: Lee Sheward Costume designer: Michelle May / Tottie Oclee Make-up artist: Ezana Ove Casting: Kharmel Cochrane Editor: Paul Hardcastle Sound design: Munzie Thind @ Grand Central Music & inspiration: 'Rival Dealer' by Burial Post: Glassworks Post supervisor: Misha Stanford-Harris Telecine: Duncan Russell