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On his release from jail, William ‘Wild Bill’ Hayward (Charlie Creed-Miles) returns to his East London home to find his sons, Jimmy (Sammy Williams), now 11, and Dean (Will Poulter), 15, providing for themselves. Bill’s arrival brings the attention of social services and the boys are facing foster care. Since Bill needs to stay away from trouble and not break his parole, Dean manages to force him to stay for a few weeks, in order to convince the social workers that they are ‘one big happy family’. Starting out as pretense, the Dad role soon feels genuine to Bill – now, for the first time, he’s got a family and a place in life. As the film unravels, a lost father and his two sons slowly build bonds and re-discover each other. When shadows of the past creep up, Bill needs to make life-changing decisions fast.
Written by Dexter Fletcher and Danny King, it took two and a half years to bring this story to life. “Several scenes had to go due to budget restrictions”, Fletcher shared, “We also shot different endings”. The main desire was to portray relationships in their purest form – how it would unfold in real life, with no Hollywood pomp. It had to make sense in relation to the story: “We had to re-shoot the ending, as it didn’t feel right; it felt too sentimental and staged”, explains Fletcher, “I never want to spoon-feed the audience.”
How did he know it was ‘the right’ project to push forward? “You never really know… It’s alchemy […] I just wanted to make a film I wanted to watch. If you do it according to what the audience wants, then you’re second-guessing. But I was open to other people’s input and collaboration.”
Entirely privately-funded, by ‘non-cinema people’, Wild Bill was made on the rather modest budget of under £700,000. “Some investors didn’t even really know much about the film industry – and frankly didn’t care – and I had this luxury of ‘Here’s some money, go make it’ option. This would’ve not been possible with a studio picture”, admits Dexter Fletcher. “The beauty of being untried and untested is that you have the freedom to do your own thing.”
Wild Bill‘s story is reliant on having a likable protagonist – someone who can get the audience on board. Which is why successful casting choices were crucial. “Charlie (Creed-Miles) is an old friend of mine and I knew how funny he can be. He has this incredible presence, a sense of humour, so I knew that if I cast him as Bill, then we’d have a hero to root for.”
And how was it working with child actors? “Kids are great… if you get the right one”, joked Fletcher. “They do great impressions of actors and are most natural at the stage when they’re conscious of their acting. You can just give them scenarios and their imagination does the rest. When they get older, they start to think about it, be more aware and it could get in the way. But essentially all you need is to know how to ask for what you want. Each individual requires something different and, as a director, you just need to figure out what it is.”
As every film shoot can be a bumpy ride, in one way or another, Wild Bill was no exception. For example, there were the fight scenes that needed precision in choreographing. Another stress factor emerged from certain people dynamics on set. “I find it especially hard when people, actors included, are pushing their own agenda – it puts you off balance”, admitted Fletcher. “But there is always a solution. None of it is insurmountable.”
Having made this transition from acting to directing, what would be his next move? Fletcher ponders, “Well, I’d lie if I said I wasn’t interested in doing a studio production. But I got to make a couple of more films before I really know. I’d like to cement my directorial voice first.”
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