Gavin Boyter makes the leap into the director's chair this week as he makes his feature debut with Sparks & Embers, which is released in the UK this week.
As well as being in the director's chair, Boyter has penned the screenplay and teams up with actors Kris Marshall and Annelise Hesme. He talks about the film, working with the actors and what lies ahead.
- Gavin, tell us the plot for Sparks & Embers
Tom (played by Kris Marshall) has just been made redundant from a dream job in a record company. To make matters worse, he then gets stuck in a lift for six hours with the feisty French consultant, Eloise (played by Annelise Hesme) who cost him his job. They move from mutual antagonism to the stirrings of desire over the next six hours together.
Fast forward five years and they've broken up and Tom is meeting Eloise supposedly to say goodbye before she gets on a train to Paris to start a new life. Secretly, though, he hopes somehow to win her back. We cut back and forth between these two locations - lift and London's South Bank.
- Describe each of the main characters in one sentence.
Tom is a bit of a feckless dreamer, passionate about music and little else. Eloise is a driven, ambitious but brittle person who's masking a lot of vulnerability. They're yin and yang - together they make a rounded personality.
- You have cast 2 actors famous for high-profile commercials - Kris Marshall for the BT Ads - and Annelise Hesme who played Sophie in the Renault campaign. Did your background in advertising shape these decisions?
A little. I used to work for a sister publication to ad industry bible Campaign and later, in a commercials production company, so I got used to paying a little more attention to these 30-second mini-movies than most folk, I guess.
I actually cast Annelise in a short film I made before Sparks and Embers, as a direct result of seeing her in that commercial. I've never directed an ad, but I'd love the challenge.
- What were your cinematic inspirations for Sparks & Embers?
A strong influence was Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise and Before Sunset films, which I love. I kind of wanted to combine those two-time frames into one film. Also, I'd say some of the mid-period Woody Allen films and the Irish film Once, which revolved around two people with a shared love of music. I just wanted to focus on two characters and dig deep into their quirks and insecurities.
- You once worked with Shane Meadows and Primal Scream. Tell us about these experiences and have either of them seen Sparks & Embers?
I worked at a production company which repped Shane where he was a creative - I liked Shane's DIY ethos - there's a guy who's not going to let industry indifference or lack of resources get in his way. He's a very charming guy bit I think there's steel underneath the surface. To make it in this industry, there has to be.
In 2003, I won a commission called 4 Minute Wonders which gave me the chance to direct a music video for Primal Scream. The band weren't in the video and I only met Bobby Gillespie in a restaurant in Islington by chance years later.
I went up to him and mentioned I'd directed the video, which was made for a competition, but, unfortunately, he'd never seen it. I'm still not sure he has to this day! Nice bloke, though. To my knowledge neither have seen Sparks & Embers.
- London's Southbank plays a prominent role in the film. Was it difficult to film outdoors in the capital city?
Very. We paid through the nose for some of those locations and often weren't allowed to block areas off to the public, so we had to work around a lot of "unpaid extras"! Then, in the most antisocial hours of the shoot, it proved hard to get enough paid extras to turn up.
It was either feast or famine. The weather was a real issue - we shot in December in sub-zero temperatures from about 6pm until 6am each day. Lots of huddling around space heaters and wearing multiple pairs of gloves. That said, it only rained twice in two weeks, which is phenomenally lucky.
- What advice do you have for other first-time feature film directors?
Keep it simple and manageable. Make time to rehearse with your actors - Kris and Annelise had two weeks with me before we shot a frame and we even got to rehearse on location now and again.
Get the best heads of department you can and trust them. And finally, remember to enjoy it. It'll probably be the most stressful experience of your life, but presumably you're doing the thing you always dreamed of. Make time to relish that fact.
- How difficult was it to finance the film?
Not easy, even with Kris on board, whom everybody knew and was excited by. The financing structure became so complicated you'd need a degree in higher mathematics to understand it. That said, it was mostly private equity, from a group of individuals.
And we got a company to finance the tax breaks (20% for films which are substantially British), basically a short-term loan. Structures for the financing of British independent films is something the industry needs to work on - it's chaotic and random at the moment.
- What other projects do you have in the pipeline?
I'm developing a psychological thriller called Nitrate - very different from Sparks and Embers - with co-writer Guy Ducker and producer Christine Hartland (Containment, WMD). We got development finance and are casting that now. I'm also editing a mountain of rushes from a recent documentary shoot - I ran from John O'Groats to Land's End in 48 days (an 1100 mile route) and filmed it with a range of cameras.
I have about 500 hours of footage - not kidding. A lot of crazy and at times life-threatening things happened. The film will be called The Long Run. There should be a teaser trailer out soon. I have scripts for a film pitting vampires against Roman Legionnaires, a time-travel love story and a horror film set in the Scottish Highlands. I have no shortage of projects!
- The film is set on Christmas Eve. What are your favourite Christmas films?
I don't really like Christmas films! Well, It's A Wonderful Life is an obvious classic. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by that. I also have a soft spot for A Muppet Christmas Carol and the 1951 Scrooge with Alastair Sim. Basically any Christmas film about suffering and loss!
Sparks & Embers is released 18th December.