Dark and brooding, Martin Radich's 'Norfolk' focuses on the fractured relationship between a father and a son and the often blurry lines separating right from wrong.
The film is the second to be produced through Creative England's iFeatures, a programme that aims to support and develop three micro-budget films of £350,000. Guy Myhill's critically well received 'The Goob' came first and Alex Taylor's 'Spaceship' is currently in post-production and will be released later this year.
'Norfolk', which stars 'Inglorious Basterds' star Denis Ménochet alongside a host of newcomer talent, debuted at Rotterdam Film Festival earlier this year and is due to screen at Edinburgh International Film Festival. We talked to Martin about his unconventional shooting style, the importance of capturing the moment and how regional filmmakers can achieve their goal of reaching the big screen...
How did 'Norfolk' find its way onto Creative England’s radar?
I went to one of the iFeatures residentials. When Creative England was starting this new programme they visited cities throughout the country and I was aware of one that was taking place in Leeds. I went to that and thought I had nothing to lose, so I applied. I didn’t have an idea for a story then and I think they were very keen that you didn’t apply with a full script because the team wanted to develop the whole story with you. I just had a small idea and wrote that. At that stage I still had no idea what the film might become but I applied and got through
How did the project change from your original idea to the final film?
It all boils down to money. The final script was still only 70 pages long however once you did the scene count there were a phenomenal number of scenes. Then you work out you can only have a four week shoot and suddenly you’re thinking ‘Crikey, I’ve got to shoot this amount of scenes per day!’ and that became a problem. You’ve got to find a way of solving those problems so the end film is different from the script as a consequence.
Is the ability to think on your feet an important part of being a filmmaker?
Absolutely, the last thing you do is the scene count, you’re just concentrating on the story so I should have noticed that sooner but once you start shooting you do have to be a bit nimble on your feet and perhaps anticipate that you might have to lose some things.
What can you tell us about the story of ‘Norfolk’?
That’s always difficult to do. With all my work I find it incredibly difficult to pitch because the idea is not to make something that’s straight forward or scripted. Fundamentally it’s the story between a father and a son.
What themes did you want to tackle?
I wanted to make a puzzle and try not to explain things to the audience. I wanted them to walk out trying to piece the parts together. I didn’t want to spell it out and I wanted to try and tread the line with all the elements in the story; the idea that it could go either way. Is the man good or bad? Is the boy good or bad? Is this right or wrong? It’s very difficult to achieve and some people still walk out after watching it saying ‘well what the hell was that all about?’ whereas some people walk out and they’ve just nailed it. They know exactly what was being said. I wanted to try and make it a bit more engaging and interesting to the viewer. That was my main target.
What was it about the notion of good and bad, right and wrong that appealed to you?
It’s something that surrounds us every day of our lives. One man’s meat is another man’s murder, the problems throughout the whole world, some people see them as right and other people see them as wrong. It’s endemic in our society that we all see things differently.
Did the cast know much about their characters going in or were they left to decide for themselves whether they were right or wrong?
They were all magnificent and Denis was just dedicated beyond the line of duty in many ways because I was a bit concerned with him coming from quite big productions to our lowly piece in Norfolk and Lincolnshire, but he was incredibly supportive and dedicated. We had conversations about the script in advance but we never did any rehearsals or explored the scenes before we had the camera set up. It was almost unnecessary and I do believe that if you have high-caliber actors you should trust them. They have already put the work in and figured it out and only on a handful of occasions would you feel the need to steer them in a slightly different direction. They were just all wonderful; it was a joy working with them.
How did you find working with no rehearsals – did it give each take an immediacy?
Yes it did. In the past I’ve actually made films with no script at all because you want to try and experience what the viewer might feel watching that for the first time. So writing a scene I feel like I’m already one step removed but certainly not having any rehearsals helps to keep it fresh and more truthful. I think on most scenes we only do one or two takes. A lengthy scene towards the end of the film where Denis confronts the grandparents took about five minutes and that first take was like “wow” - It gave my goose bumps and there was no need to do a second take. That's hopefully how someone watching it in the cinema will feel.
Are you constantly chasing that excitement and spontaneity?
Yeah. As much as I feel Kubrick is the greatest filmmaker there has ever been, the idea of doing forty takes would just nullify that moment for me and you would lose perspective. I don’t understand the notion of wanting to keep on going until it gets worse which I can adhere to and I understand that but surely if you have done forty takes, it can’t still be getting better surely? Something has gone awry there!
As your films get bigger do you feel that this method will be harder to hold on to?
I think the only thing that can prevent that would be an overly technical scene. If it's still simple to execute then regardless of other issues you should still be able to work in that way.
Did your actors embrace this style of shooting?
I got a really nice email from Barry Keoghan who plays the young boy in ‘Norfolk’ and because he was quite young I wasn’t sure he would like it but he said he had watched it three times and was really in to it. He said it was almost not like acting and he was really pleased by that because it wasn’t a performance as such. It made me feel quite good because it was subtle. I think because we lived there for about eight weeks he felt like he imbued the character a bit more,
You shot in Norfolk and Lincolnshire, how did the production find its way there and what did the location add to the film?
We had a problem finding the main location; it took us months to find that because it was quite specific and quite remote. It was a difficult task but I think it’s a joy working on location. Once you have your crew all living together in a small village I think it helps build team spirit. You bond with your crew and especially if the weather is nice which it was.
You’re originally from Blackpool. What advice would you offer other regional filmmakers looking to make their first feature?
It hasn’t been easy. I grew up on Grange Park and I left school with nothing because there wasn’t an emphasis on education. It was tough but I knew that filmmaking was what I wanted to do. There are lots of people who go to college and you would think they know what they want to do but as soon as they graduate they’re working in banks and you just think, how did that happen? That was never the case for me. I always had an interest in the arts, I always watched lots of films and I always felt like I had something to say. I observed the world and I wanted to criticise it and tell stories and that is all I wanted to do. It was hard though, I had to make sacrifices.
What kept you going?
I just want to make films, regardless of whether it’s with Denis and a big budget. I’m still quite comfortable making a film with a children’s camera and a mate in Blackpool. It isn’t about being rich or famous and the glitz and glamour, I just have a story and I want to tell it. I think sometimes some people are in it for the wrong reasons and then when they realise that it’s difficult they tend to drop out. I’m comfortable with either end of the spectrum; I just want to tell a story. You get these periods where you want to pack it in and go grow oranges in Croatia but I know I would end up making a film about growing oranges in Croatia. It’s just in me; it’s something I can’t avoid, for good or bad.
How did the project find its way to Denis?
During the development of the script the executives are always asking who you have in mind and even when we were greenlit I still had no idea. Then we got a casting director on board and were presented with these familiar faces and as much as they are all great actors I was just keen to have somebody that I wasn’t very familiar with seeing on British TV because there isn’t a great deal of dialog in this film so I wanted their faces to be quite striking. I wanted someone who, in a simple expression, would give me a multitude of emotions. Then we suddenly thought: what if we opened it up to actors within Europe and instantly we thought, what about Denis Ménochet? I was shown a picture and I just thought that his face was magic and you only have to watch the opening scene to ‘Inglorious Basterds’ to see he’s incredible.
Did Denis have his own ideas about the character or was it quite a collaborative process?
I think that the whole film is a collaborative process. The director is not a dictator and for me it’s about opening up and listening to everyone’s suggestions. I think that you would be foolish not to accept a good idea because in the end the director does take the credit for that good idea. Denis would be quite apologetic when he would come up to me and say “well, I’ve got this idea” and I would embrace it. Sometimes he might see himself as he was just being awkward but it wasn’t, I interpreted that as his passion for the project and dedication to the cause. He gave us everything. I don’t have a single bad thing to say about him, he was just magic.
How are you feeling about returning to Edinburgh International Film Festival and showing people the film?
It actually premiered in Rotterdam Film Festival and for that I was nervous. I think because I have been able to gauge some people’s reactions I’m a little bit calmer for Edinburgh but I am still nervous. It won’t be as nerve wrecking as the premier and hope it will be a wee bit more enjoyable and I have got a bit of a history with Edinburgh because I studied there and I have had things show there in the past so it actually feels a little bit like a home coming. I have a bit of a soft spot for the festival. It should be really good fun.
To find out more about 'Norfolk' and when it's screening at Edinburgh International Film Festival, read our EIFF round up blog.
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