Hi Film Folk!
At an age (wonderful 24) when a lot of people are only beginning to scrape their career ideas together, Chris Presswell is well ‘in the game’ – from working for festivals to writing and directing own work, to setting up a production company (Paper Sun Films) and entering industry markets.
Film Doctor caught up with Chris few days before Festival de Cannes 2012, to talk about his recent projects – including the début feature film Forget Paris – and future plans.
Chris, ‘Forget Paris’ has been doing some great rounds and is premiering at this year’s Cannes Marketplace – could you tell us a bit more about the project’s (and your personal) journey to date?
I think it’s fair to say that the film was born from my inherent dislike of Paris.
Billy Wilder once said that the idea for The Apartment came while watching Brief Encounter, and wondering who on Earth would regularly loan out their home to allow the couple to engage in their affair. Not that I’m comparing myself to Wilder, but Forget Paris had a similar conception. There aren’t many cinematic portrayals of the city that don’t look at it through dreamy eyes, and yet I was more interested in the couple who succumbed to the romantic clichés only for the rug to be pulled out from underneath their feet. To me, that’s where the real drama is. I set out to tell a painfully honest story; one that a number of people have since told me they’ve experienced first hand and yet, to my knowledge, has never really been told on screen.
You’re taking not 1 but 2 films to Cannes 2012 – “The First Noel” is screening in the Short Film Corner (following your entry with Missed Connections in 2010). What, in your experience, have been the decisive factors for projects to ‘make it’ to festivals and marketplaces?
To be honest, The First Noel was more of a side project than anything else. A creative whim, for want of a better term. It arose from a discussion in a pub about making a short film and having access to a church. Four hours later I’d written the first draft of the script, and six days later we’d shot it. It’s really just a silly little film, but the fun we had making it seems to transcend the screen and work with an audience.
In terms of ‘making it’ to festivals, half the work is knowing which ones your film is suited to. Different festivals have different remits, and specialize in different things. Something that works for Raindance may not work for Tribeca, or vice versa. That doesn’t mean that a film that fails to get programmed isn’t any good, but that it may not be the sort of thing they’re looking for. The real key is doing your research, keeping a clear head, and looking at previous years’ line-ups to see whether your film would fit in . Would it have made sense were it programmed in 2010? If so, give it a shot in 2012. If not, save yourself the submission fee and find another festival that’s worth it.
Going back to the inception and production of Forget Paris, how did you get the other resources together? How did you find your cast and crew – was it from previous collaborations or referral or just the ‘normal recruitment’ process? Do you have a core team that you prefer to work with?
It was a combination of luck and having an amazing team to support me. The bulk of the crew were people I’d used on Missed Connections, so we’ve turned into a little family. I’m a firm believer that, if you can find a team of people who understand and can work well with each other, why mix it up? It’s obviously all subject to peoples’ availability, but I’m sure we’ll all end up working together on the next one.
As for the casting process, I’ve never really written with particular actors in mind, so we held a very intensive day of auditions. There are only two characters in the film, so it was crucial that we found the perfect people to portray them, and we struck gold with Ed and Mai. Not only did they deliver fantastic performances, but they managed to carry the film solely on their shoulders with their screen relationship that feels incredibly real.
You not only write/direct, but also produce and have set up your own company, Paper Sun Films – how do you work with all three hats on? And what helped and hindered the process of starting your own business?
I never really set out to be the main producer on Forget Paris, but once the momentum got going I just went with it. If anything, while it left me doing three full time jobs at once and cost me 18 months of sleep, it meant I had complete control over every aspect of the production and made the process a little easier. So much so that I’ll probably fulfil all three roles on all future projects, and it’s something I’d really recommend trying – especially on your first feature.
What was the best advice you’ve ever been given for your film industry career?
In early 2009 I had a meeting with a big producer (who shall remain nameless), and it was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. It was around the time I was trying to get Missed Connections off the ground, and they proceeded to shoot down every one of my ideas, tearing them apart. Their advice was effectively to give up, as I was never going to go anywhere.
It’s advice that I ignored. Three years later, I’ve made an award winning short film and am about to screen my debut feature at the Cannes Film Festival. And yet, my biggest personal victory has been to prove them wrong.
What’s next for you?
I’m putting the finishing touches to a script called Reformation, which we’re hoping to shoot towards the end of the year. It’s a black comedy horror rock’n’roll thriller which is a complete departure from my previous work. I’m afraid that’s all I can tell you at the moment, except that it is completely and utterly mental – but in a good way.
Forget Paris is due for theatrical release in October 2012.
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