In the private confides of the BFI Southbank Green Room, I sat before the minds responsible for the extended thought-ridden laughter session that filled an auditorium not more than an hour ago at the BFI Future Film Festival. Brandishing a jacket and standard jumper set up, one of the duo, Tom Kingsley, is your standard Cambridge Footlights alumni; articulate whilst layering his words with profound lax and humour. His co-writer and director, Will Sharpe, with his round spectacles and clean shaven face, looks very different to the on screen heartthrob that had besotted many a Casualty viewer (my girlfriend included).
Together they are responsible for the BAFTA nominated Black Pond, a debut feature that is as unusual as it is exceptional, selling out its limited London run and garnering much attention for its young and inexperienced concoctors. “It’s useful for us, that if we can stand for anything, it’s that anyone can make a film” said Will. “Neither of us went to film school, we had no financial backing, we had never made a feature film before; you know we basically just learnt everything as we went along.” Much has been made of the film’s £25,000 budget, strung together by friends and well wishers by the two. “Well I guess it’s sort of an underdog story, and soon there’ll be the backlash story” said Tom.
Their Q&A, which succeeded the screening, ended with the inevitable question of whether the pair would go mainstream or continue their now tried and tested approach. Will’s tone almost made it sound like he was debating the issue with himself as he answered it. “Even with the most open minded, coolest, most independent, creative thinking companies there is an element of mistrust if you like. All of the systems put in place are about minimizing risk, so it’s ‘if we’re stupid and we fuck it up, how can we guarantee that there’s other measures in place that means we can minimize that damage?’”
Perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves a little. Summing up Black Pond’s tale of a middle class family accused of murder, after they bury the body of a man who died at their dinner table, inevitably gives away its ending, but luckily the film’s non-linear storytelling does that for us already. According to Sharpe this developed after a showing of the early cut to friends prompted an unwanted reaction: “People would talk about the twist at the end, and we hadn’t put in a twist in the end, and we sort of decided that that changed the way people watched the movie, if they thought it was the plot that was important. And so we decided to just tell everyone pretty much exactly what happens, so that the interesting thing is not what happens but how it happens and why it happens and what the journey of each character is that leads to that eventuality.”
You might consider it strange that a film’s structure could be determined after it wrapped, but the way in which the film ‘mockuments’ itself and its events with a continuous stream of improvised talking heads probably made this quite easy. Not only did this aid the characters but the comedy itself. For example one scene of the father character staring blankly at the sky is juxtaposed with his ex-wife coldly criticizing him. “There’s an aerodrome near Chris Langham’s house and he just politely said ‘oh we should wait for the plane’,” said Tom. “He just thought he was doing a normal expression, but he does look a bit gormless.”
Needless to say family is a central focus of the plot, but it’s a matter of contention how relatable this particular clan would be to a normal viewer, what with its repressed bohemian mother, apathetic teenage daughters and an overly friendly father who embraces the boy his girls bring home like a son. “We had a couple of reviews which were like ‘I couldn’t relate to the family because they have a swimming pool’” said Tom. “I don’t understand why you would not… these are the same themes and problems as in all families”. Will chimed in: “I couldn’t relate to The King’s Speech because I’m not a King.”
The many lives interwoven in the tragedy are in themselves tragic. Sharpe appeared in front of the camera as Tim, a young man who befriends the family’s two daughters, falling in love with them (as a pair), a plot point left much aground. “I think the funny thing was that we realized that the more interesting bit of the relationship was after that story had ended,” said Will. “In another Universe, that could have lead somewhere, and that would have affected the rest of the film, but in this Universe they’re A. not interested and B. fail to acknowledge it properly, so that means that there’s this awkward thing where it’s not properly dealt with and there’s no closure.”
So for the rest of the film Tim is left the unassuming straggler, which is particularly funny when the very event that brought the girls home was the death of a family pet. “Chris Langham pointed out that his character, the father, would not have let him go, it is quite realistic that he is hanging around,” said Tom. “In fact after filming I was staying at Will’s house, cause we were editing it, and they have two dogs and one of the dogs died and I was staying there… and everyone was extremely upset. I was quite sad, but it wasn’t my dog I so I didn’t really care.”
As important as how they’ll make it is just what exactly the two are planning for their follow up movie, and already they have an idea. “It’s an adaptation of Candide, a book by Voltaire which is a story about an optimistic guy who basically ends up in a series of terrible events, and so it’s about optimism really.” Said Tom, who also assured us that the two were in the good position of having avenues of funding if they so choose to use them. Though the story is set in 1750 they intend to make it contemporary, “so far our thoughts are very similar to what the money lad’s thoughts are.”
Black Pond is currently showing in a limited cinema run, and will be self-released on DVD and VOD on April 16th.
Words & Photos > Graham Ashton