Mark Bazeley is an actor who has enjoyed success on screen and in the theatre during his career, and now he is back in new short film Drone Strike.
We caught up with the actor to chat about the film, what drew him to the role, and working with first time filmmaker Chris Richmond.
- You star in new short film Drone Strike, so can you tell me a bit about the film?
Drone Strike is a the day in the life of a man who is a drone pilot in England as well as running parallel with the story of a family man who is living in Afghanistan.
We follow these two lives - seemingly unlinked at the beginning of the day - one of them is a pilot in Lincolnshire while the other is marble quarrier in Afghanistan. Slowly, we come to realise that the pilot is actually a drone strike pilot sitting in a little booth and has his orders from American satellites to survey and perhaps destroy potentially threatening targets.
We see the quarry man get a puncture on the side of the road and we see that the action of bending down and mending his tyre, could be seen as someone planting and IED at the side of the road. My character has an order to destroy him. He is unsure if this is right and equivocates about whether it is the right thing to do.
However, he is given the order and the man is killed. It is obviously a mistake - he doesn’t know this at the time. They record that the target has been taken out and he goes home. It is in direct contrast to how we set this film up with this man: he is a family man and things are going well, but he is unable to reconcile what he has just done with his day.
We then see the impact to the family back in Afghanistan. It is simply that, it is a human tragedy that is played out on a grand scale. It attempts to lift the lid on - perhaps not answer - but tackle the whole drone issue: which was just beginning to form at the time and be reported by the press.
When the film came out, it seemed to be right at the crest of the wave in trying to understand and come to terms with Britain and America... I don’t think Britain has drones anymore I think it is just America. They may have now, I am not sure.
It is seemingly efficient but there is collateral damage: they are becoming more accurate but they do bring about casualties and mistakes. I think that this is where the contention lies and why they are so dangerous.
That is really what Drone Strike is about, it is about that issue. It explores the potential for mistakes but also the need to have them.
- You take on the central role of Will Brydon in the film, so what was is it about this character and the script that drew you to the project?
When I read it, I could really see it being made and I could see the ideas very clearly: it was punching above its weight and it had a very clear idea about what it wanted to do.
I thought that it was very prescient to the whole idea of drones: it was something that I had been reading about. It was very current, it was a very knotty, difficult, and complex issue that seemed to be made clear and human with a short film.
Short films at their best don’t try to overreach, they make something entertaining, compelling and explained in a short space of time.
That is not easily achieved but I really thought this one - with a good tail wind and if the forces were with us - we could make it and make it something interesting. I hope we did do that.
- The short sees you play a RAF drone pilot, so I was wondering what kind of research you did to find out about this world? Is it a world that you were familiar with?
Not at all, I knew nothing about it apart from what I had read in the newspapers about drone strikes. I did my research. I got on the internet, went to the library to discover about the people in this world and what their day would be.
I was keen to learn about the phraseology that the pilots would use, the way they would speak and the hours that they might work - all of these things are useful to play.
However, I didn’t want to focus on that too much because I wanted to imagine the actual story that was played in front of me, but there was a certain level of research that need to be done: just so I knew what I was saying. The rest of it was what was in the script and what we improvised.
- Chris Richmond is in the director's chair for the film, so how did you find working with him? This is his debut-directing project.
Yes it is. I quite like working with people who haven’t done an awful lot and are just starting their careers because they come with... when you are making something like that... Chris was making it for him and he knew what he wanted. There were not a lot of executives breathing down his neck in order to fit some sort of formula, so he was at liberty to create.
That is a very liberating process to be involved with if you feel that you can share someone’s vision and help them make it. I felt that Chris seemed to have a handle on what he wanted to make; that was the most important thing.
He had a good visual eye - I saw some of the stuff on the monitor, the framing that he was doing and the way he was using shots, and I thought he just seemed interesting.
Then you have got to take a plunge, go along with someone and then you are in their hands really. I felt that he was someone who really wanted to work with actors - I mean that literally - as opposed to telling them what to do or having no idea an letting people just some up with their own thing. He was collaborative, imaginative and a nice guy: and it doesn’t get better than that.
- Do you change your approach when you are working on a short film compared to a feature? You are having to accomplish the same as a feature but in a shorter space of time.
Certainly not in terms of acting. You have got to be sure that every frame that you use is vital: there can’t be any fat on it in a short because there just isn’t the time and you have so much less time to explore an idea.
In answer to your question, there is no real difference for me acting, you just have to be clear about what every scene is because they are all important and carry the story along. That is really the director and editor’s choice and problem really. My job is to honour the scene and the character.
We chat and rehearse before we go and do it, so that everything in the scene is watertight and we all know what we are doing.
The short answer to your question is the acting is not different (laughs). It really is the same as if you were doing any other screen acting.
- How important is short film do you think as a format? It doesn't always get the recognition and the exposure that it deserves.
I think that they are absolutely vital. You really are seeing a lot of the next generation of actors and directors in their formative years.
Not only that, there is a lot of pleasure to be had from watching a short film: I really rather like them. You can see five shorts in the same time that it would take to watch a feature film.
You are more likely to be able to make a short film because they have a small budget. They are more accessible - you might not be able to make a feature film but a short film really is in all of our reach.
The good ones really are going to be great because so many people can now make a sort film. I think that they are great; I have always enjoyed them myself.
- Throughout your career, we have seen you move between television, shorts, film, and theatre, so important is it to have that variety as an actor?
For me personally, it is vital. I absolutely love the theatre and going and doing a job with a bunch of people, but film acting is almost like an antidote to theatre acting in a way.
One really does serve as a tonic to the other because when you are half way through one job you are thinking about moving on to something different.
They really are all string to your bow and they all develop and test your skills as an actor. I am very lucky to really have been able to do a lot of stuff in theatre and on screen during my career.
- Finally, what's next for you going through the rest of this year?
I have just finished a play in the West End, which was on for four months: it was the theatre adaptation of the movie Fatal Attraction.
I am just about to start filming a new six-part drama of ITV set in the Second World War. The show is set in a fictional village in Cheshire and is about the women who are left behind and set up the WI.
It has been written by Simon Block, who I worked with on the shooting of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher for Channel Four a few years ago.
It really is a lovely look at the women who gathered together after their men were going and went to war, and is a cross-examination of women’s lives. Women are very much in the spotlight and we look at their heroism at home.
They didn’t complain, got on with it, did their best, and were as heroic as the men on the frontline. We are hoping that it is going to be a series that people tune into, enjoy, and follow the characters.
Mark Bazeley stars in the award-winning short film Drone Strike which is playing at film festivals around the world. For screening updates, please go to http://drone-strike.com/