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BAFTA Film Sessions: Outstanding British Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer

6 March 2022

Charles Gant in conversation with Aleem Khan, Rebecca Hall, James Cummings, Hester Ruoff, Philip Barantini, Jeymes Samuel, Posy Dixon and Liv Proctor.


Charles Gant: Good morning everyone. I’m Charles Gant from Screen International and welcome to the 2022 BAFTA Film Sessions. We’ll shortly be welcoming our nominees for Outstanding British Debut. One very quick piece of housekeeping before we start: You can join the conversation on social channels using hashtag #EEBAFTAs and I’d also like to welcome those of you at home watching via the BAFTA YouTube channel.

I’m thrilled that all of our nominees are going to be joining us today, either in person or virtually. I’m going to say their names first before welcoming them: Aleem Khan, writer director of After Love; we have the Boiling Point team of James Cummings, writer, Hester Ruoff, producer, and Philip Barantini who’s the writer director but he’s eligible in this category as a debut writer. We have the Keyboard Fantasies team of Posy Dixon, writer director, and Liv Proctor, producer. And then joining us virtually from New York is Rebecca Hall, writer director of Passing, an early start for Rebecca! And joining us virtually from LA—amazing early start! —for Jeymes Samuel, writer director of The Harder They Fall. Congratulations to all of those on their nominations, please welcome them to the stage.


CG: Hi, welcome everybody. Aleem, you’re in the hot seat. We’re going to start with After Love. The multi-British Independent Film Award-winning After Love, Aleem’s intimate drama about a woman uncovering the secrets of her past. Let’s begin by watching a clip.

[Clip plays]


CG: Aleem I read this is actually your first feature that you wrote. Like, I mean you don’t have like fourteen feature scripts in a drawer. Is that—

Aleem Khan: No, first one. It took long enough, though. Five and a half years to write, so maybe I could have written fourteen scripts in that time, but yeah.

CG: Wow. But in that time, I understand you spent like a decade graduating through short films and commercials and theatre. Can you talk about, I guess, how those experiences informed your ability to kind of walk on to the set and make this debut feature and particularly how you communicated with actors?

AK: Yeah I mean I think every film… It’s like doing it for the first time on every set when you walk on set it feels like a first time and there’s that anxiety of like… Do I know what I’m doing? I did have—you know I have made shorts, I’ve worked in various kind of capacities in the industry and I think for me working and directing theatre gave me a real respect for the source material and for script. I’m quite protective of the screenplay, especially in development and in production because it's had the most time, you know, I’ve had the most time with it and really it’s about getting the actors and the crew and the collaborators kind of… I don’t know, I want them to be on the same—I feel like I’m much further ahead because I’ve spent so much time with these characters and I want the actors to meet me and then move me, and move the character even further. So, uhm, yeah. Really respecting the screenplay and really—also rehearsing. I wish I had more time to rehearse with the actors.

CG: What did you get?

AK: Well I had about, I mean, Joanna and I spent weeks. We had about fifteen days I think over a number of weeks. I would have loved to have lived with her and really live in Dover for a couple of weeks and spend that time. We did go to Dover numerous times, we spent a lot of time talking about her character, she met my mum. My mum taught her how to cook the dish in the film, my mum gave her a bag of clothes to kind of go home and live in for weeks.

CG: Since you mention your mum, do you want to just explain, I guess, the relationship that this film has to your mum and you know the extent that it has.

AK: I should say the film isn’t autobiographic. My poor dad! But uhm, my mum is a white Muslim convert and she’s been with my father since they were teenagers. Although the story isn’t autobiographic, the characters are very close to home and Mary especially is very much inspired by my mum.

CG: Alright, thank you. I interrupted you, I think you were talking about your work with—

AK: Yeah so I think rehearsing… With theatre I really enjoy rehearsing with actors and spending time working out kind of the arc and the beats and just spending time. It’s a relationship you’re developing with another human being and you’re developing trust in that time. I love that. I like to have very close relationships with everyone that I work with because the film is an extension of me and I want, you know, I want them to connect with me. I think also working in commercials was really helpful in kind of how to be really economic with story and also from a kind of practical point of view just knowing how things are set up. I liked to be involved in, I like to see budgets, I like to be involved in the conversations with regards to posters and trailers. I like to be involved in every aspect of the film and I think that because, again, it’s—I’m its representative and yeah, I like to kind of be connected to people.

CG: I mean talking about you know being involved in some of the productorial aspects, you talk about your relationship with, is it Matthieu de Braconier, and how that came about. And I guess how he created, you know, space for you but also challenged you where necessary?

AK: Yes, Matthieu is a producer at The Bureau and I was developing—basically they run this scheme called Save Our Scripts which is a really great development programme and I applied with the early, early seeds of what After Love was. And at the time I had a short film that I was desperate to make and really found it hard, didn’t really know anyone in the industry, the film industry, to make the film with. And he was my—he was assigned as my producer to develop the idea of the feature and I kind of slipped him the script for Three Brothers, my last short, which he really fell in love with and was like let’s just do this! We made the film and it was a really great way of kind of building our relationship and making that work and then he obviously came on board to do After Love. And Matthieu is also a writer and so that was incredibly helpful for me in development because I knew that he understood what I was going through and he was brilliant with giving me a lot of space and also a lot of confidence to really kind of trust my instincts and my own gut and that’s because he’s a writer himself. So I was really comforted by that, that was a really great, collaborative part of the process.

CG: And finally before we move on to the next film, there’s a lot of silence that you let play out in the film and I’d love—can you talk about I guess your approach to the power of understatement that seems to be present in the film?

AK: I think there’s a kind of—I wanted to reach or find a duality in the sound design. I think we rarely get to see characters on screen just being mundane. And I think it’s in those moments of mundanity when someone’s ironing a shirt or making a cup of tea, putting the washing out… That’s, there’s kind of like a duality in that the body is doing something physically but the mind is often somewhere else, like when we’re driving a car. That—there’s something about that that really spoke to the essence of what the film’s exploring in some ways. I think that’s when we can see characters most deeply and most sincerely and clearly when they are in that space. I mean the film is dealing with being about identity and the masks and the layers that we wear and who gets to see us. I wanted Mary to have space to, also as a Muslim character, to just be mundane and for us to kind of see her really inhabiting her world as a normal person, you know, the way we often see these sort of characters… Well we rarely get to see these characters but when we do… It’s a bit cliché, I don’t know I wanted to see that beauty that she kind of inhabited naturally in her home.

CG: Thank you Aleem. We will be going at the end to questions from the audience, so do please have those ready for us, but now I’d like to switch over to New York to welcome Rebecca Hall, writer director of Passing, her adaptation of Nella Larson’s 1929 novel about two women’s friendship in Harlem in the 1920s. So Rebecca, I know that you—you always get asked this question about your creative choice to make the film in black and white but I’d like you to just talk about that and I guess why you felt that for this material it was the appropriate creative solution.

Oh sorry, excuse me, I’m really sorry. Can we start by having a clip of Passing, thank you.

Rebecca Hall: Hi!

[Clip plays]


CG: Hi Rebecca, did you hear my question?

RH: Creative choice in black and white—was that the question? Yeah, uh, I can talk to that. I think it was conveniently sort of both practical and metaphorical. You know at first—first the metaphorical I could speak to first because it’s not really what you expect. I think it’s to do with, you know, at first blush it looks like I’m being really literal. This is a black and white world, therefore this is a black and white film. And actually what it’s really like is you thinking about that perception of literalness because nothing is black and white; people can’t be reduced to one single category and trying to do that it doesn’t really work. We invariably spill out of it and you know, no one is literally black and white and nor is black and white film—it’s a thousand shades of grey, which is actually what the film is really about. There’s a sort of nice poetry there, but it’s also practical because it allowed me to cast two black women and two women that are culturally perceived as being, as identifying as black because then I think you’ve got a place from which to destabilise that understanding and that perception and mess with it, basically. And I can only do that in black and white because it creates its own world. So in essence the world becomes mutable, like the scene at the beginning where John is very whitewashed because it’s sort of a white world, it’s oppressively white because he’s the one with the power so he gets to dictate the context from which he sees these women. And that constantly keep you in a perspective that is you know, the metaphor—the best metaphor that I can think of, not metaphor but analogy: If you’re a family member in a black family and someone crosses the colour line and lives their life as white, you don’t look at them and go ‘oh yes, they look convincingly white, I’m not worried about them.’ You only ever think of them as black and that’s the perspective that I wanted the audience to sit in, and I could only really achieve that in black and white.

CG: Can you talk about your journey to get the film made? I understand you’d been working on this for quite a long time and it wasn’t the easiest thing to finance. Who were your allies along the way?

RH: OK, uhm, I had a lot of allies but it took fifteen years really. I mean there was seven years of that which was my own obstacles. It was the first screenplay I’d written. I wrote other ones in the interim and I assumed this would not be my first film because the scope was very ambitious and I, you know, frankly I thought the ideas were good and I didn’t want to mess it up! I was a little scared, so it sat in the drawer for seven years and then when it came out of the drawer and I started showing it to people, there were just very interesting roadblocks because every time people would say to me ‘what an extraordinary script, I’ve never seen anything like this before. I didn’t know about this’ and ‘isn’t it interesting it’s not really about racial passing it’s about all these other things and other layers and how we bla bla bla… But you’ll never get it made.’ And I’d say what do you mean, and they’d say ‘well there’s no resolution, it’s too ambiguous, it's too subtle, it’s too arthouse and the black and white and the period… There’s no precedent.’ I’m like all those things are good things that you’re saying. This is why we make movies, right? ‘Yes, but it’ll be very difficult to fund.’ So I got asked to do a lot of silly stuff with stunt casting for the white males who were in it for all of ten minutes and all that kind of nonsense.

CG: What, they wanted like A-List stars to kind of you know, zhuzh up your kind of marketing communication?

RH: Yeah. And even with that then the financing fell through and then you know, then Forrest Whitaker and Nina Yang stepped in and they’re real, you know, they’re real champions of things that have a hard time getting made. They really fought for it and there was a real moment where, you know, Tessa and Ruth were on board and everything looked like it was going to happen and the financier came to me and said ‘we’re all good to go but just one change, can you make it in colour?’. And I said absolutely not, I can’t, it won’t work. It just won’t work. It’ll be a completely different movie and it won’t work. So I had to call up Tessa and Ruth in that moment and say look I’m risking not getting the thing made at all, but I can’t make it in colour. To, you know, to their credit and resilience and faith in me, they both said it’s alright, we’ll stick with it until it gets made how you want to get it made. And if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.

CG: You alluded to it there, but we also saw it in the clip, that everybody’s passing. Can you elaborate on that and I guess how you relate to that personally, as well?

RH: Yeah, that was my very sort of on the nose line to sort of point out that what the book does probably much more elegantly than me saying that. It’s—you know, it’s a real little onion of a book. It’s only ninety-three pages and yet in its simplicity it contains worlds. And the sort of big red herring about it and I think the sort of turn is that it says that it's about this woman who’s hiding her racial identity, but then as you get further into it you realise it’s actually about the other one who’s not hiding her racial identity but is arguably hiding everything else about herself and it touches on you know, a possible repressed homosexuality, a dissatisfaction with being a mother, a dissatisfaction with being a wife, a dissatisfaction with being the ‘right’ kind of member of a black community in a kind of bourgeoise, middle class setting and the performance of that, the performance of societal appropriateness. And I think those are all things that haven’t really been touched on before in a period drama about people of colour in some way. And this was written in 1929, you know, and that’s very sort of astonishing because now we have terms like intersectionality that describe all the things I’m talking about and she didn’t. But you know, I think I’m waffling and I’m aware that I’ve got to keep it short… It’s, it’s really ultimately about freedom to be who you want to be and I think that’s the sort of crux of it is that everyone is operating under different systems of oppression, so there are different degrees of that freedom that we all struggle with, this sense of who do I want to be and is who I want to be a free choice? And then how do I project this? You know, and where’s the sort of crunch point between the story you tell about yourself and the one society tells about you.

CG: Rebecca thank you, we’ll obviously be coming back to you with audience questions but we need to move on to welcome the Boiling Point team. And so this film, written and directed by Philip Barantini, co-written by James Cummings and we’re joined by Hester Ruoff who is one of the producers, this is her debut feature as a producer. Boiling Point is Philip’s audacious one-shot continuous take drama set in a very busy night in a London restaurant. Let’s begin by looking at a clip.

[Clip plays]


CG: So I’ll start with you Philip. I’m sure everyone in the audience knows that this began its life as a short of the same name, also starring Stephen Graham, which is twenty-two minutes?

Philip Barantini: Twenty-two minutes, yep.

CG: And which is also shot in one continuous take. I’m sure every interview you do you talk about that but I think it’s such a key creative choice in terms of the film it’s appropriate to ask about that and what inspired you and why you felt that this story it was the right choice?

PB: I was an actor for twenty-five years, I still do act, but at that time I wasn’t as successful as I’d like to have been so I was really passionate about food; my grandfather was a chef, my cousin is a chef as well, so I sort of started working in kitchens in London and worked my way from the bottom all the way to the top, became a head chef after ten years, did that for a couple of years and worked at a couple of different places through an agency when I moved to Manchester. But during that time I was always, you know, I’d seen it all basically. And I was struggling with sort of addiction myself and I’ve been sober for seven years now but it was a really dark time for me. It wasn’t all dark, there was, you know, there was moments where it was like a real family environment and you sort of get on with everybody and you have some really good times but I always thought, you know, if I ever direct anything… I wanted to direct for years and I thought if I do make that decision and I you know go for it, this is a story that I want to tell because I feel like it’s never been told before, properly, I guess is the right word. There’s been some great movies like Chef and things like that which was fantastic, but the experience I had I didn’t think it had ever been seen before. I wanted to sort of show and tell that story really. So everything in the film is based on people I worked with or elements of myself.

CG: In terms of yes, sort of deciding to do it as one shot, you felt like it was necessary? That that would communicate I guess the feeling, the experience you had?

PB: Yes absolutely, I think it was Matthew Lewis my cinematographer with the short film, I’d talked to him about the idea and James and I had written this basic outline for what we wanted for the short and I was like I want it to be, to feel real and like you’re there with the kitchen staff and everybody and so you know, I want it to be erratic, overlapping dialogue and all this kind of stuff. And he just said ‘why don’t we do it in one take?’ and I was like… ‘oh-kay!’ and then the seed was planted and I was like wow, yeah. I’d seen movies like Victoria and so I knew it could be done. It was quite an easy decision after that, so we sort of went into it with that and we wrote the script with a location in mind and with that in mind as well, the script was written very much in the perspective of the camera, right? But I didn’t want it to be, I didn’t want it to come across as a you know, look how clever we are. I wanted it to create and extra layer of tension and to give the audience that feeling of what it’s like to be in that environment and to be almost like a second thought. When you’re in that—anyone who’s ever worked in hospitality, whether it be in the kitchen or out front or whatever, as soon as the doors open to the moment they close you don’t get a chance to stop. You’ve got to be on this, you know, everyone is on the same path leading to the sort of end when you can chill and sort of have a drink or whatever. It’s one take, you don’t have the chance to go oh let’s stop for a minute and do this or let’s cut forward ten minutes or whatever, so that was what we wanted to create from it really, yeah.

CG: And despite the kind of, you know, I’m imagining what that imposes on the production in terms of the incredibly tight choreography that you need to tell the story, you guys were also able to kind of create freedom for the actors. Maybe James you could speak to this, your approach to script and storytelling and how you work with actors, where the improvisation comes in, does it happen in rehearsal, does it happen on screen? Both? Can you speak to that?

James Cummings: It was sort of like a circular process of Phil and I would write the script and it was kind of a hybrid between dialogue and improvisation where we kind of wrote these paragraphs that kind of included all the information our cast needed, whether it was the content of what they were saying, the emotions, how we move through the plot and things like this. So we would kind of act things out on a call together and work out how things were going to feel without necessarily locking the dialogue down. Then when we got to set we did two weeks’ rehearsal, or about ten days—

PB: Not enough time.

JC: Where we took that—not enough time, yeah, we could’ve done more! Where we talked through those scenes with the actors, or Phil would as the director and I would kind of sit in the corner as a little spy there, but we re-worked the script based on what people were improvising. So people would bring all sorts of new perspectives to their characters; the way they would joke, the way they would deliver lines, and the way we would finesse that into the script, rework the script, because in the end it needed to be like a very… It needed to be quite choreographed and quite to the note that people knew what their cues were. It was sort of a balancing process between what we’d written, what we were improvising and what we needed to settle on for the film to work and for it to feel like a tight cinematic experience.

CG: My understanding is from talking to Stephen Graham that the actors still had within that freedom within specific moments to kind of actually be improvising on camera and the film was shot four times, twice over two days. More were planned, we’ll come to that in a second, but he says that he changed his dialogue from take to take.

PB: I mean I said from the off, when we cast all the actors it was very important we could get people who could do that. You’d be surprised that some actors you’d say you want them to improvise a little bit and they just go off on a tangent and do like a monologue, you know. I had to make sure we could get actors who were able to just be sort of very nuanced and small and ultimately to listen to each other because that’s the most important thing is to be able to listen to each other. You’ve got someone like Stephen on set and it does change things, you know, very often. And the actors have to be ready for that, you’ve got to be prepared for it, and for me as a director and as a writer—like I said I was an actor myself—so that’s kind of how I like to work as well. So giving the actors the freedom but not too much freedom. And then yeah just letting them go. I had to—I was a spectator when we called Action because I couldn’t jump in and give them notes.

Hester Ruoff: Also I just thought, it’s incredibly important to make sure that people who were working to get—cause obviously it’s lots of little groups around that you see on the film; to make sure that everyone working together knew each other or had a kind of camaraderie with each other. So you had the paramedics, for example, we hooked them up in advance of the shoot so that they could talk to you know, actually speak to a proper paramedic, get to know their language so that when they were on set they already knew each other, they were already, they had that sort of very natural with each other rather than just two actors coming on set one day and not knowing too much about each other. Same with all the different kind of groups, the family in the back room… So it was really incredible so it created an atmosphere as it would in any restaurant where you’ve got people together who know each other very, very well.

CG: So Hester I was going to come to you next and I mean this is your debut—my understanding is you’re an actor, you’ve been producing shorts for quite a long time and this is your debut feature as a producer. Quite a productorial challenge I would say. So I mean I guess, what were the biggest challenges? And also could you talk about the four separate takes and how that flowed and I should explain because of the COVID pandemic you called time on four…

HR: Yeah, so we were going to do eight takes over four nights and COVID was like it was coming at us and we didn’t quite know what this thing was. We got to a point where we were losing cast members, we were losing—SAs were kind of just walking off set, we lost key camera team. We were replacing as fast as we could possibly replace.

Jeymes Samuel: Crazy.

HR: And I was speaking to Bart, my fellow producer, and we’d say alright it’s just not… We’re not going to be able to do it for too much longer. Every day he would come up and be like this has been shut down, they’ve shut down stadiums, they’ve shut down all of these other film sets all around. I think we were the only film set going and we were like heck! So we had to make a call and say OK well after Tuesday that’s it. So we actually only had two days and after… So they had a weekend in between, about four and a half days’ rehearsal with Stephen and the whole cast, then we had the weekend and then after the weekend everyone was a little bit rusty. The first two takes really were also rehearsal and then I think there was a slight issue with the camera on one of them…

CG: Were you panicking?

PB: I didn’t know this at the time so I had six more goes in my head. After the first day I was like great we’ve got six more, they were rubbish. Let’s just… yeah. Then that night Hester and Bart called me and were like ‘um so tomorrow, it’s going to be the last day.’ I was like Oh my God.

HR: But we didn’t tell people.

PB: We didn’t tell everybody, no.

CG: Because you thought that would put too much pressure on the actors and wouldn’t be helpful to the actors.

PB: Yeah.

HR: We didn’t tell everyone, we told some people.

PB: Stephen knew. But Stephen had had a bet already saying it was going to be the third take.

HR: He actually came up to us and said this is the one, this is it!

CG: I should move on, we’ve got two more to cover and so next we’re going to be talking to Jeymes Samuel for The Harder They Fall, Jeymes’ ambitious, epic revenge tale that centres black characters in a tale of the West. Let’s begin with a clip of The Harder They Fall, thank you.

[Clip plays]


CG: Welcome Jeymes. So you made the extended short film They Die By Dawn in 2013, I believe? Or certainly it was released then. Which is also a Western and I wondered what the learnings were from making that film that enabled you to step up into what is, after all, a pretty extraordinarily ambitious debut feature?

JS: Thank you bro. Hey everyone! I wrote my short film They Die By Dawn in 2010, I shot it in—I actually shot it in April 2012, right, and we released in 2013. And it was almost like proof of concept, right? But not necessarily to—it was more like a proof of concept to everyone I’d speak to that black people existed in the old West, right? Black people existed, like one in four cowboys was black. And I love Westerns, right, I love them, but women have just been erased from that entire genre. I’ll get to your question in a second. They’ve been erased from that entire genre and you think how much, how dope—I love Unforgiven, the Clint Eastwood movie, but every single female character in it is a prostitute. Whether you were white or black, Johnny Guitar, Johnny Crawford, it’s still like some male plot. For me, They Die By Dawn was like a shotgun blast, like look we existed, right? And it was the short for this big one and I think what I learned most from it is more really strange things, like a lot of actors are allergic to horses.


Isn’t that a crazy thing. I’m allergic to studs, I get around a horse and like Idris, super allergic to horses. I also learned that like, sometimes when actors say they can ride horses… They lie.


I’ve never seen… Michael K. Williams, right, one of my best friends on the planet, God rest his soul man. He told me, yo Jeymes, I had a stunt double, I was ready, I shot They Die By Dawn in four days, it’s a fifty minute movie, four days, right? And Michael was like ‘You Jeymes man, you can’t let the stunt man ride my horse. I want to ride.’ ‘Can you ride?’ ‘I can ride!’ ‘I’m not insured, I’ll get in trouble, I’m just some dude from the hood in London.’ ‘I won’t tell if you won’t tell.’ And then he got on the horse and I’ve never seen a horse do this in my life entire, he got on the horse as I said Action. He’s meant to come forward, I say action and the horse does this [moves to the side].


Off camera. Like Michael, what the hell, get off the horse! Let the stunt men do it. ‘No I got to do it!’ and I lost half the day. Four day shoot, half a day, sunlight. So it was more that kind of stuff and things like… And this helped me a lot going into The Harder They Fall, things like… You know people when you say you’re making a Western, right, people just everyone has a habit, even if you ask your friends to give you a line from a Western, everyone slows down. Like seventy-five percent talk. They’d be like ‘hey boy, get off that horse,’ but the person doing it because It’s a Western goes [slowly] ‘Hey boy, get off that horse.’ What’s all that slow talking for?


They’re like everyone talks slow. And I’m like no, come The Harder They Fall, pace. And the reason being is because the two most famous cowboys, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, they talk slow. But if you look at the other characters, if you look at other characters in those same movies, they’re speaking fast. The only reason John Wayne and Clint Eastwood spoke so slow is because that’s how they speak in real life. That’s how he talks in moves and John Wayne you can see, God bless John Wayne he speaks like a person that hasn’t got many black friends.


And that’s just where they are, but it’s almost like he’s hypnotised the entire world. People think oh we’re making a Western, it’s slow talk time. So I made sure, even though I had some powerhouse actors in They Die By Dawn and they taught me so much but going into The Harder They Fall I made sure I wanted pace. Because the further you go back in time, the more you listen to recordings, the further you go back in time, the faster people spoke. Not only in cinema but in real life. Even if you look at those old English movies like Look Back in Anger, like ‘I love you I think,’ ‘I love you I think...’ Everything was faster back then. I wanted it, I wanted it like ‘I am sweet,’ ‘you ain’t sweet,’ ‘I am sweet!’. I wanted it to feel like we feel today so a learning: Allergies to horses and slow talking.

CG: A great answer, thank you! I’m going to move on to Keyboard Fantasies in a second but I mean you mentioned your cast. Working with you know, frankly a really A-List cast for your debut feature, how did you prepare for that? Did you have to very quickly work out exactly how to communicate with each person, what they needed, how much space, how much attention?

JS: Well here’s the thing, I wouldn’t have thought, right, but the day before we were scheduled to shoot… Remember I’d been making this movie for over ten years, right, I’ve been gearing up for The Harder They Fall, and the day before we were scheduled to shoot, the day before, we got shut down by this worldwide pandemic called COVID-19. And I always told people the only person in the world who had COVID at that time was Tom Hanks and then black people, we were talking to each other, there was this mad rumour going round the black community—I’m giving you guys all the black secrets—this mad rumour going round the black community that black people can’t catch COVID and God said I heard that nonsense and I’m going to get the blackest, most handsomest, tallest, strongest black man I can get and I’m going to give him COVID. Idris Elba caught COVID on my set. Idris is so black he caught COVID-20, it wasn’t even COVID-19.


Extra strong! And then so we shut down for five months and when we came back up, we, like a lot of people thought the film wasn’t coming back. When we came back up I was given goggles—we were one of the first productions and Netflix was really stringent in how they were approaching making this movie. I was given like goggles, face mask, face shield and I was told I couldn’t stand closer than six feet to any actor. It was madness but literally I directed that whole movie like this [hides face].


And we were in the desert, right? We were in the desert and we had six feet sticks. It was literal madness. But I think that environment made us all closer. I come from like Harrow Road, right, an estate in Kilburn, and growing up in that environment was so harsh to me I was like look, come rain, sleet or snow, I’m making The Harder They Fall. There can be a whole world war, I’m making my movie. Just tell me what the parameters are, it’s my debut film. It’s like learning to drive in a Bugatti vs a Mini Cooper. If you can’t drive, you can’t drive. Put me in the car, tell me where we’re going and I’ll take us to the glory land. Six feet? Alright. And that’s pretty much how I made the movie. COVID, it shouldn’t be called Murphy’s Law anymore, it should be called COVID because Murphy died of Coronavirus. I just had to, you know, make sure I was making the movie that I was making no matter what the template was so to speak.

CG: Thank you so much, we are pushed for time so I’m going to please welcome Posy and Liv for Keyboard Fantasies, their tender documentary portrait of Beverly Glenn-Copeland. But let’s start looking at a clip of Keyboard Fantasies.

[Clip plays]


CG: So Posy if I can start with you. What was it about, shall I call him—

Posy Dixon: Glenn

CG: What was it that captivated you. Can you talk about the friendship that that sparked, road tripping across Canada and at what point you realised this was a film?

PD: Yeah, I mean the music was what got me. I think that anyone who hears that record Keyboard Fantasies, I don’t know what it is but you hear it and you’re like oof this is something that’s like… It’s like coming home to music. So yeah I heard that record, a friend played it to me and then I was digging around on the internet trying to find more music and couldn’t find any, and eventually found my way to Glenn. So Glenn was born Beverly Glenn-Copeland but transitioned in the early nineties and he’d been making music all along but no one, not many people kind of knew where he was. And I reached out initially because I was making another—I was researching another film project about music.

CG: Ah, a feature?

PD: It was like a feature that never got made that a friend of mine and I were making together. But yeah I reached out about that, he was like I found him on Facebook and he said he’d love to speak and we got on Skype and we spoke for two and a half hours and it was the most beautiful conversation. He started telling me all this stuff about his theories about why his music had come into its own now and then yeah I wanted to make some work with him, we kept talking on Skype for like a year. What I wanted to do in the beginning was make a music video with him, because he’d never played that record live before. He wrote it completely on his own with two synths and recorded it himself. So it had never been played live and I think because his voice is so stunning I was like I just want to connect the music to the voice to the person. So that was all I wanted and I wrote like a little short called Elders and went to a bunch of people asking if they could give me £2,000 to go do it and no one would. People were just like oh old person, no one’s going to be interested. Literally. Which I was kind of shocked by.

CG: But it was just about Glenn, the short?

PD: It was just about Glenn at the time. It was funny because at that time the record wasn’t taking off quite as much as it is now obviously. Glenn was obviously wanting to record new music and we were having all these conversations, it was super open, and then about a year in I was going to make a really bad online commercial for a gaming company and it cancelled last minute and they gave me a cancellation fee and so I had a week off and I was like I’m just going, so I just got on a plane to nowhere. On my own.

CG: You went together?

PD: I went on my own.

Liv Proctor: We couldn’t afford to go together. Literally one flight only.

PD: I went on my own, found a DP over there and went and drove many hours to find Glenn and knocked on his door and the shed he has his studio in and I’d been speaking to him on Skype for like a year but still I was like driving through Nova Scotia on my own in this rental car. You know when you have that moment and you’re like what the hell am I doing. I went up to his shed and knocked on the door and he opened it and it was like yeah, it was like coming home.

CG: So Liv, you had your company with Posy at this time, Luca – is that right?

LP: Yeah, it was set up in 2014 by Posy and another mate and then I joined in 2016.

CG: So what, I mean what was the journey for you as a producer, financing this? At what point—how much did you have to already show before A, you could get any money? I think you had Kickstarter involved…

LP: So yeah it was super unconventional this film in that we didn’t really set out to make a feature at all. All we wanted to do like Posy was doing was commit Glenn’s music to camera because it had gone unrecorded for so long, no one had really seen him perform this music live ever. So Posy flew out to Nova Scotia, shot the stuff, came back. Basically filled me in on Glenn’s life story that he’d shared with her and I just said we have to do this. This is it, you know, we’d been waiting for a project like this to land. And the more you hear about Glenn’s story, the more you just want to know more and more and more. We then set off on this journey to find the money, which basically involved a Kickstarter campaign initially which we wrote up a huge Kickstarter page which was essentially our treatment and our proof of concept. Managed to make that money which basically funded us to go on tour with Glenn and the band. We took Posy’s mum’s car, a DP, a soundie and got the ferry to France and then basically followed them through like France and Belgium for four days, five days. Didn’t sleep for five days, was literally shoot every waking days, come back, dump the rushes, two hours sleep, wake up at the crack of dawn, wake up and go to the next one. That was the bulk of our filming for the project was that week on the road with them in Europe. It was completely wild. Then we came back and we’d run out of money so we applied, we managed to get this incredible arts grant with Lush the bath bomb people who have this like £250,000 a year film fund that they divvied up, so we got totally hands off cash, no commissioners, no editorial anything. It’s why this film looks the way it does because we just had total freedom to make it how we wanted to. I don’t think we’ll ever have that again. That was unbelievable.

PD: We might.

LP: We live in hope! That money basically paid for the rest of production, post-production. We had to go and shoot a tonne of archive because Glenn didn’t really have any archive for the first third of the film so we went and shot a load of stuff on film around the States for like two days here and there. And then yeah, that was kind of how we put it together. It was this totally incremental snowballing thing that everything that Glenn touches tends to become very serendipitous. I feel like yeah—there’s always this weird thing with the universe and Glenn and you kind of get nudged along to be doing what you’re meant to be doing. So yeah, that was the journey.

CG: Well I’m—they’re allowing us to go… I think we started a little bit late so they’re allowing us to go a little bit over. I’m really sorry, fitting everything in, but one or two questions from the audience if we have any. Red top there. I think there’s a mic coming, actually.

Q: Hello I’m Katherine. Thanks for talking to us. I thought all the films you’re asking something quite different of your cast and crew, and I just wondered how did you prepare the cast and crew for working in a different way?

CG: So let’s focus on the fiction features. Do you want to speak to that?

PB: Yeah, so first of all you’ve got to get people that want to go on that journey with us. Certainly crew because it’s, it’s a very different way of working and so I just wanted to make sure that everybody was on board with it first of all. We sort of hand-picked everyone didn’t we because this industry is the best job in the world and you know, anybody who sort of like is negative or you know, doesn’t want to be there, I just don’t really feel like it would help. So it was really important that we had cast and crew that were all—there was no trailers, no any of that. Even Stephen we offered him a dressing room and things like that but he declined it and didn’t want any numbers on the call sheet and things like that. It sort of it was a real family environment and it was so important that we did it that way.

HR: It was obviously a challenge, so even our sound guys who won the BIFA actually, we used to live action stuff so we had to get the right people to suit something that was one take, one shot, sorry. Nearly one take.

PB: We didn’t know how to do the sound on it, we were like—we need someone who can go this is how we’re going to do that. How would you do that? And they came up with this idea, everyone was radio miked, thirty-eight channels and three booms and they were just following the camera, hidden. I spoke to Matt; I’m working with Matt again at the minute—

CG: The DoP?

PB: The DoP, yeah, and he was like I don’t remember seeing any of the sound team. But they never came and said are we OK to be over there, it just happened organically. They were so good, they were ninjas, they were just hidden.

HR: Just hidden behind walls and things.

PB: Stealth, it was amazing.

CG: I want to hear from everyone here. Aleem we’ll do you last because you were first. So Rebecca can you speak to this. The question was about I think preparing with your cast.

RH: Coming from a theatre background myself, it was similar to what was being discussed earlier. I didn’t get as much as I would have liked but I did essentially kidnap Tessa and Ruth under the guise of taking them for a weekend in the countryside and managed to get some rehearsal that way. We—Netflix bought us afterwards, we were a twenty-three day independent, so there was a lot of kind of chaos in the early days. But I suppose the bigger thing with our film was that there was a formality to it, you know, we were talking earlier about you know the line everyone’s passing for something. This was something that I talked to every head of department about, you know, including in front of the camera obviously but behind the camera, too. The film itself is passing, it’s in dialogue with this performance of cinema so there is a necessary formality. Similar to what you, Jeymes, were talking about with the quick talking, there was some of that going on inside of sometimes incredibly choreographed shots that would be in a oner, where there’s a long scene of the two women going up various rooms in the house and ending at the top of a staircase. And they had to cram about two pages of very fast clip dialogue in a sort of formal style and also they’re operating in 4:3 so there’s that much more space of them to accidentally duck out the frame. And it required a sort of limitation to put on them. I did say to them form the get go this is going to be choreographed, going to feel quite formal. It’s not loosie-goosy find where you want to be, improvise everything. The dialogue is tight. Within those parameters I want you to have total emotional freedom, find the truth of what feels real and if it doesn’t if you feel inhibited by any of that formality we’ll shift it. But I was asking them for something different and thankfully they got it. I feel like I was very transparent with them about the intention I suppose, rather than trying to pull the wool over them and pretend I was doing everything else.

CG: Jeymes, do you want to speak to that?

JS: This Jeymes?

CG: Yeah.

JS: Uh, it’s weird because when Rebecca talked about Passing, I started going into all those ‘so that’s how…’. It was crazy. Mine was different, I knew that I’m asking something different from everyone because we’re going to be on horses, shooting guns and you know, all manner of things. We’re in desert in New Mexico, but I think because everyone that came on board, you know, Regina King won her Academy Award and the following movie she did after that was with a first-time feature filmmaker, so I think the motive of everyone coming on board, all of these black men and women, know that we’ve been starved of seeing this kind of presentation in that genre. Every time they show you black people in a period piece and especially Westerns, they’re ex-slaves, they call us the N word 110 times, everyone felt such—it was so viscerally reacting to all of that stuff. They kind of threw themselves into it, they were being—I was being demanded things of like… Jonathan Majors, the lead, he changed all the cutlery in my house but he lived in the character Nat Love for over a year, even throughout lockdown when the movie wasn’t going back. We thought we weren’t going back and Jonathan stayed in his clothes, stayed in New Mexico he didn’t leave and he stayed in character, and it’s weird because it’s such a brilliant thing and it kept me in the space of the film like we’re making this movie. The reason we’re making this movie is because I feel like George Lucas having wrote Star Wars and Chewbacca’s turning up at my house every day. Jonathan’s literally in the character. He was Nat Love. That’s like writing Star Wars and Anthony Daniels turns up ‘Hello, I am—’ it kept me in the headspace, so it was more like what they were demanding of me. I knew that everyone gave me such trust I just had to come with all guns blazing. But they were all up for the task. Me and Idris know each other from the streets in London so we’ve been speaking about The Harder They Fall for literally fifteen years, I think 2022 makes it sixteen years. They were all like, they all came to not work—it’s almost like everyone came to fight, fight against those 134 years of cinema that just mistreated our image and kind of whitewashed that as it were, historically.

CG: Jeymes, thank you, I’m going to have to stop there and move on. Aleem, do you have anything brief to say? We’re shockingly over time, but…

AK: I mean, I spent very long writing the screenplay so I had a lot of material in terms of references and photographs and when I’m developing I kind of like edit these soundscapes together to help me with the writing really. What is—the question I ask myself is what is the sound of this film? What is the sonic essence of this film? And so I kind of create all these video and these kind of soundscapes and it’s that weird kind of thing when you get greenlit you spend so long writing things and jumping through all the hoops and they say they’re going to give you the money and it’s like oh ok, it’s actually happening. That kind of clock is ticking down; you’ve got a few months to get everything together. I was really keen to kind of get all of my HoDs, my team as soon as possible. There was an anxiety that I wanted them to kind of, kind of ingest all of the kind of the home family videos that I had on this massive Dropbox file of like photos and soundscapes and a home movie and so I gave all of that to the actors and to the crew and I develop quite extensive backstories for all of the characters when I’m writing and that’s great to kind of share that with the actors and the crew. I kind of want everyone to know what is the vision and what is the point of this film and I want them to make it personal to them and so really working with the actors and with the crew, it’s kind of just bringing everybody on board that will speak in the same language and we’re making the same film.

CG: Look thank you and I’m sorry to the rest of you in the audience that we don’t have time for more questions but that was a fantastic question that elicited brilliant answers from everybody. So I’d just like to thank you, thank you so much to all our speakers and congratulations again on your nominations. Coming up next at 1pm is a panel with the Outstanding British Film nominees, so do join us for that and please check out and BAFTA’s social channels for more information and activity. Thank you very much.