Jorn Threlfall has returned to the director's chair for his new short film Over, which is the fourth short of his filmmaking career.
The movie has been making waves on the festival circuit, winning over audiences and critics as well as picking up some awards.
We caught up with filmmaker to chat about Over, what inspired the idea for the film, and what lies ahead.
- Over is your latest short film, so can you tell me a bit about it?
Over is based on a little newspaper article that I read a couple of years ago. It was a little article about this very surreal event that had happened in a very ordinary corner of West London. What interested me and struck me about it, was the sadness of it and it was such a surreal event with such an incredibly mundane circumstance and environment.
It was that contrast that really sparked my interest. I suppose it is a symbol, for me of the utter desperation of people trying to make better lives for themselves when they come to this country. It startled me, it made me very sad, and I thought it was a story that people needed to know.
- The movie sees you back in the director's chair and pen the screenplay, so what sort of themes/ideas were you keen to explore with the film?
Certainly, this ubiquitous story of migration. Right now, and I think that is why the film is resonating so much at the moment, every newspaper you look at, no matter where you are in the world, on the front page you are going to read a story about migration, people fleeing warzones, people fleeing persecution and torture, and people trying to find better lives in countries that they think will offer them a safe haven.
You read stories about desperate plights, people walking, people travelling, people going to ridiculously surreal lengths to get to places that turn them away when they arrive; some don't even arrive because the journey is so tough. That is the central and guiding theme of the film; it is a theme that I have been interested in for a while. My mother is originally from East Germany and she escaped the East after the war.
I made a film called Mojado, which was shot in Mexico, about a Mexican man walking across the desert to try and get to the United States. It is certainly a subject that interests me very much. As I said, the combination of that subject with something very ordinary, very mundane, very every day is something that I found very interesting and really resonated.
- Can you talk a bit about your writing process? Do you start with the story first and then the characters for example?
This is an interesting film to talk about in this context because it is not a very conventional narrative. I have just written a feature that really began with characters and grew out of characters; I suppose a storyline grew out of characterisation. With this film, it really started with an idea and it started with the story of the migrant falling. I wanted to find a way of telling this story... I wanted to tell in such a way that people would really sit up, listen, be shocked, and challenge a viewer in a different way than a regular and more conventional narrative film.
With the way that I have told the story, structure become the most important element in the writing process. I tell the story backwards - I start at the end of the day and move to the beginning - that was a key factor in delivering this message and this story in the most impactful way that I could possibly imagine. Putting the film in reverse with a reverse narrative structure, for me, tells the viewer something is going to happen, we are going to reveal something, and we are going to see what has happened in this story by going to the beginning of the day. I think that it intrigues the viewer and makes the viewer a lot more involved. The idea of static wide-shots - which is a structural and formal way of telling a story - it could do two things; it could turn the viewer of and make them bored or it could make a viewer lean forward and want to know more, get more involved and what to find stuff out.
I think that it has had the latter effect. People cannot get close to the action or cannot get close to the event, so they lean in to listen to sounds, they try to find little bits of information - I give little misdirects here and there - and they piece things together; they take the little fragments and try to piece a storyline together themselves, I hope. Of course, the final moment, which reveals what actually happened, I don't think anyone could ever guess.
- And how much did the story change and develop from the initial idea to the final film?
Very little actually. The structure was such an important part of the film process itself and it really was very rigid. I think it was so integral to the telling of this particular story, for me, that once I had wrote it and it was on the page, it was there in stone and I didn't really veer away from that.
I think the only thing that I did do, was to include a couple of hand-held close-up shots, which momentarily immerse the viewer in loud sounds and action. Apart from that, I think everything was very purist and was a wide and static way of telling the story. It didn't actually change that much, from the moment that I wrote it to the moment that I presented it.
- Can you talk a bit about the casting process for the film?
Casting was really straight forward; other than the police procedural stuff. The police procedural stuff was the most involved. I worked with an ex-detective from Scotland Yard, who really sat with me and talked me through the process and the procedure of how the police would deal with an event of this nature. We looked at forensics, the first police to arrive on the scene, who the detectives and people from CID would come along, how the area would be cordoned off, how witnesses would be questioned, how a body would be taken away, and the clean-up process - all of that sort of thing.
For the police casting, there is an agency that you cast from and they bring all of the police with them. The other characters, such as the couple at the start, the cleaner, and the witnesses, they were all people who I knew, friends, and people I had worked with in commercials. They didn't really have to act and they just needed to be themselves in this environment; they are just wide shots really and there is no real performance as such.
- The movie has played extensively on the festival circuit and picked up some awards, so how have you personally been finding the response to the film? You must be thrilled with all the recognition it has received?
It is wonderful to receive any sort of award - it always is - as it is incredibly gratifying and it makes everything worthwhile. But the fact that this particular film with this particular story is receiving so much attention, just touches me immensely actually. It is so exciting to see audiences around the world really responding to this particular film about people who are trying to change their lives.
It is a very political issue and people are reacting to it, responding to it, and people are being shocked by it. Awards are wonderful because awards mean that people will probably watch the film, the film will possibly be sold, and the film will play at more festivals. It is very very exciting for me that this particular subject and this particular film that I have made is getting so much attention.
- As you have said, this short is very relevant to what is going on around the world at the moment, so what do you hope audiences take away from the film?
I think the film is really about... because it is set in the middle of our lives, amongst us, and in the everyday, I think I am making a point that perhaps we often turn a blind eye to events like this. I think that the distance those wide shots provide, offers that idea that we look from afar and we never really get involved with stuff.
I am really hoping that the shock of this event, the surrealness and outlandishness of an event like this, which takes place in an area with a lot of people can identify with, will make people sit up and think and understand that this stuff is happening in front of us and in our streets and we are part of it whether we like it or not.
- Over is your fourth short film, so how important a grounding is short film when you are kicking off your filmmaking career?
I think it is vital. People talk about short films as the start of a career, of course it makes sense for people to start with shorts as they cost less money and are much quicker to make, but shorts just provide a fantastic way of keeping the wheels oiled.
They offer a very disciplined way of telling a story in a short amount of time; the idea of distilling a story into the short form is incredibly challenging and incredibly exciting. A feature film can be much more indulgent but the short means that you have to make much harder and faster decisions. It is often said that making a successful short film can be much harder than making a successful feature; it is no mean feat.
- As I said, Over is your fourth short film, how do you feel you have developed as a filmmaker from your first short to this?
Good question. I have certainly become more confident in the economy and the style that I might utilise. This one is a good example actually. I am telling a story in a very simple and distilled way with maybe just nine shots and I think it is quite a challenge and an audacious step to take to tell a story in that economical a way. I am not using many shots, not using many cuts, and not using camera movement. For me, I am just distilling an idea.
I am interested in that and I am interested in the way that film can tell a story in as distilled a way as possible. I have gained confidence over the years, which has allowed me to be able to tell a story like that. A number of years ago, I may have told the same story in a much more involved way with more shots, more cuts, and perhaps some dialogue. Certainly, I have honed my craft I supposed.
- Finally, how soon do you think it will be before we see you make the leap into features for the first time?
I have just written a film, it is a teenage love story that is set against quite a dark and surreal emotional landscape - I won't say more than that for now. I am having meetings now and hoping that we might be able to get something moving within a year.
I am not ruling out another short; I have an idea for another short. As I say, it is a way of keeping the wheels oiled and it does keep me shooting; the more shooting that directors do, the more honed their craft becomes.