David Kitchen is swapping in front of the camera for the director’s chair as he makes his feature film directorial debut with drama Family Reunion.
We caught up with him to chat about the film, making the move to behind the camera and what lies ahead for him.
- Family Reunion is the new film, so can you tell me a bit about it?
It is a dialogue driven drama. It takes place in London, and is about a family that have recently lost their mum: they are also coming back from the funeral of a family friend. It is rather a sombre start.
The movie follows the father and his two grown up children, and they have these upcoming birthdays: the dad has the big 60th and one of the grandkids is going to be ten. There are going to be family reunions over the next few weeks.
While we see the family preparing for these family reunions, there is this underlying secret that is revealed to the audience. It then opens up this can of worms, which is laced with secrets and lies.
We leave the ending of the film very much up to the audience to decide which way the characters are going to go. The film is very well acted and we are very proud of what we have shot.
- You are in the director's chair for the film and have penned the screenplay, so where did this project start for you? And what inspired the story?
Karen Bryson, who plays the role of Karen in the film, is an old friend - we went to drama school together many years ago - we were out one night and talking about people having left the acting profession or doing things in the acting profession.
Our conversation went on to broken dreams, and I told her that I had this idea about this young woman who wanted to work as a dancer, but she got involved in things that she never dreamt that she would. Karen said ‘oh yes, you have got to make it’. I went home and wrote it in about three hours.
I went back to Karen with it and said ‘we have got to get it made’. Life and careers got in the way, and quite a few years later, we finally got around to doing it. We are extremely happy that they did.
- They always say you should write what you know, bearing that in mind who much is the script inspired by your family?
I lost my mum at the end of 2012, so there certainly was a lot that I could draw on as far as knowing what a family goes through when there is that major loss: especially with it being a mother as she is the heart of the family.
In the acting industry and show business, there are always many ambitions that have not yet been achieved, dreams that have not been fulfilled, or people have not continued to chase them; we are surrounded by that a lot of the time.
I took a lot of time out and moved into fundraising, but I always knew that I was going to get back in. However, sometimes people don’t get back in; sometimes that is by choice, or life just gets in the way.
As far as the family in the film, I had a lot of experience to draw on and dealing with a profession where there are many broken dreams, I had that to draw on as well. The slightly seedier aspect of the film is more my imagination, but the basis and the foundations were things that I had drawn from personal experience.
- Can you talk a bit about your writing process - do you develop the story first and then characters, for example?
I have ideas all of the time; I am very good at finding a beginning a middle and an end to a story. Then you flesh it out and you put all of the pieces in. I came up the idea: which can come to you when you are sitting on the tube or on the bus. You can then start to form a story from there.
I do like to work on stories that are about regular people, in regular relationships and leading normal lives; I am not a George Lucas and I haven’t created a universe far away. I do much prefer to watch life as it goes on here in London - or anywhere that is real. I then sit down and really start thinking those characters through.
You have got to have a core cast of the main characters, and then you can flesh it out with some interesting ones here and there that are a supporting cast. Having been an actor, the dialogue is where I get most of my enjoyment.
If you just start writing that dialogue, the plot often comes from that dialogue, I find. It is also the best way that a writer has to get to know his character. If you have a duologue between a male and a female, you would write his line how he would speak and her line how she would speak, and the characters start to form from there.
Once you have the character, you know what that character would do next and it is then easier to manipulate the plot around the character.
- Family Reunion also marks you feature film directorial debut, so how did you find the transition into the director's chair?
It hasn’t been difficult. Having worked as an actor, I know what works for me and what doesn’t. I can draw on some of the good directors that I have had and remember some of the not so good directors, and think ‘right, I won’t go about it that way’.
As far as working with the actors was concerned, I didn’t find it too much of a leap because of my experience as an actor. As far as getting the best out of your crew was concerned, that was a little more difficult. I was working with Stuart Graham - he is just a fantastic director of photography - and you have to build that relationship with him.
I am not going to go to Stuart and tell him what lense to use or what angle I expect him to film this reverse shot on. I will trust him implicitly. It is about building that relationship because I am still am so inexperienced when it comes to the technical side of it.
I do have a good grounding as I studied at the Raindance Film Festival director’s course, but with so much of this work, it is about experience. I am looking forward to my next project because I will have so much more confidence when it comes to working with the crew and the technical side of things.
With the actors, I couldn’t have asked for a more professional cast on my first project as they were absolutely fantastic. I hope I will always cast actors who are prepared to work in a team.
- As you have extensive knowledge and experience as an actor how do you think that helped you as a filmmaker?
I know what is being as of actors, having done plenty of television. Therefore, I can bring that across and I am not going to ask them anything preposterous. There are so many different types of actors; there are actors who work very much from the inside and are slightly more method, and then there are actors who feel as long as they are wearing the right shoes then they have got the character.
There are very different methods of acting and I have a good experience of working with most of them. It is just knowing individually what each actor wants and needs from a director and building that trust. I believe that I have always delivered my best work when there was that trust with the director.
- You have enjoyed a successful acting and voice-acting career what made you decide now was the right time to take on a directing project?
I think it was because… I have been in charity fundraising for quite some time now and I have kept a hand in with the acting with voice work. I did want to get back into it, but I wasn’t looking to do theatre touring.
I was very aware that I wanted to step behind the camera, as both a writer and a director. I am really enjoying the decision that I have made and it is certainly one that I want to pursue.
- Karen Bryson and Clint Dyer are just two of the actors on board, can you talk a bit about the casting process?
It wasn’t too difficult actually, because I do have contacts within the profession after coming from an acting background. I do read these online networks that the film industry uses where they are desperately looking for a cast or a first assistant director; I was very lucky that I already had these contacts.
When Karen and I got serious about making this, I was given a few names; I knew their work but I did go on to research their work more closely. Clint was someone I felt that I definitely needed on board. I was casting a family and so I did need them to be of similar look.
When I did meet with Clint, he did give me a couple of names: Trevor Laird being one of them. I know Trevor’s work well, as he is in Quadrophenia: which is one of my favourite films. I sent him an email. He emailed me back the next saying ‘what a lovely email, thank you very much. Your script is fantastic, let’s meet’. That is how I got my three principle leads.
- Karen Bryson has also served as co-producer on the film as well, so how did you find working with her?
Brilliant. Karen is so focused and she knows what she is doing. She has a very realistic view of it, but she knows that you have to work hard; people aren’t going to come knocking on your door, you are going to have to go to them.
She has worked so hard and did so much in the pre-production stages. In pre-production and post-production, she is incredibly energetic and opinionated, but when she is on set, she is incredibly giving. She is not there giving her opinions, she is there to work and deliver. She is a good friend, very trustworthy and a very intelligent woman.
- Finally, what is next for you, both in front and behind the camera?
I have got some scripts already finished. I am focusing in on this particular script, which is not dissimilar to Family Reunion; it is a dialogue driven drama set in London. I am just finishing writing that. Then I will be off to knock on some doors and hopefully find the money to get it made.
In the meantime, I will be taking Family Reunion to the festivals and really getting that distributed. We have only just started the submissions, but we have submitted it to Cannes.
I got the email the other day saying that it had been received, so we are going to have to watch this space. That is where I stand at the moment.