AWARD WINNER INTERVIEW – BRADY HOOD
The first in our series of Award Winner interviews is with Brady Hood, about the film Sweet Maddie Stone, which scooped our Grand Prix at the 2016 Festival. He talks us through his highs, his lows, and an entertaining and detailed insight into the making of this short film.
Congratulations on your 2016 Encounters Festival win! How does it feel?
Can I swear? Fu*@ing fantastic!!!
I have long been a fan of Encounters Film Festival and this is actually my first ever short film award so to win it from such a prestigious festival has simply blown me away.
Unfortunately I was not present due to work reasons and I was actually told by my co-writer, Jessica Jackson, that we had won over the phone whilst on a tube in London. I welled up immediately and had to get off the train to have a little cry on the platform. And if you know Barking in London, it’s certainly not a place for tears.
So thank you Encounters for nearly getting me beat up! But seriously, I’d take a good hiding for that award any day of the week.
The central character Maddie Stone is a complex, intriguing and quite challenging individual, what inspired this character and the story your film tells?
I’ve made no secret of the inspiration behind all of the characters I have written, and Maddie is no different. With all of my work I ensure that I tell the story to one person – My previous film “In T’Vic” was a love letter to my friend. It was an apology for running off and leaving my hometown.
“Sweet Maddie Stone” was for my younger sister. She is a fantastic woman who, a few years back, was going down the wrong path. Yet she had the strength to turn her life around before it was too late. She had two children and become one of the most fantastic mothers I have ever seen (except for my own of course ;-)). Therefore this was my love letter to her, and an attempt to say ‘well done kid,’ because this is what could have been. Then of course I dramatise the shit out of it, exaggerate everything and make it as entertaining as possible for the audience to hopefully enjoy
In my work I always try to tell a personal story and then set that within a world that I feel strongly about and this is where the social comment comes in. In this film I brought the world of ‘a prison’ into it, as I always found the correlations between some working class state schools and prisons very similar – the institutions that govern us. At school we fall into groups depending on music taste, intelligence and sports you like, to name a few. It’s a place where you are told where to be and at what time, and where to go next. In my school we even had caged fucking fences keeping us all in. It’s all so regimented and therefore similar to a prison. Although I have no idea how to fix it, I do believe something isn’t quite working and therefore wanted to start the discussion.
So we shot the film in a prison, entirely. Our production Designer, Declan O’Brien, had such a massive task and created something magical. In essence he had a shell and built ‘a set’ within it. We had small windows covered with bars and a yard fending it all in – the rest Dec and his team created and I am so grateful for that.
Dan (DOP), Dec and I spoke closely with Jess Jackson (co-writer) a lot during pre production in order to ensure that we all kept the ‘truth’ in the combination of the two worlds. For example, we chose to refrain from shooting in classrooms to keep the illusion that this could be both a school and/or a prison. If you didn’t realise the film was shot in a prison then that only cements my thoughts exactly.
This of course was all developed from the essence and themes of the story or it would have been style over substance. We were telling a story of a victim of oppression, of circumstance. A girl who was destined to go from one institution to another and probably become the king of that yard too.
The casting of the film is very strong – with Maddie’s character being played by Jessica Barden. Can you tell us a little bit about your casting process for such a young character that required such intense and challenging performance skills?
I knew Jessica from years ago. I was working on Joe Wright’s “Hanna” and she was very young but even then had a natural talent for comedy, and a cheeky charm that made her very warm and engaging. Her demeanor stuck with me and knowing that she was from a small town in Yorkshire (about 20 minutes away from where I was brought up), I knew she would understand the world we were creating and the comments we were hoping to make. So I met Jessica, who was now living in London, a few times while I was writing the script and began discussing it with her. She was very impressive and instantly told me just as much as I knew about the world of sweet selling around schools, about the oppression of small towns and about breaking out to chase our dreams. Everything just clicked and it seemed so perfect, it was the best half a lager I have ever had looking back now.
Jessica ‘owned’ the role so well. She brought the charm and charisma as well as the vulnerability that we needed Maddie to have. I must admit at the beginning I was a little reserved about the physical elements and ensuring Jess could ‘kick off’ and make me believe it. Luckily Jess was very keen to prove it and as soon as I saw a little tape she did for us I knew we were doing this together, it was as simple as that.
When we started shooting she continued to impress me, Jessica threw herself into the physicality with such passion and wouldn’t give in until she got it right. I love that about her. It’s the sign of a truly great actor.
At the time of casting though Jess was finally getting the recognition she truly deserves, and I’m forever grateful to her for fitting this into her hectic schedule. She brought such a personal character to me, to life so perfectly. Cheers Jess.
But it’s not just Jessica. The whole cast were so talented and lovely – Barney Harris, Zachary Sutcliffe, Harriet Cains, Jason Flemyng, Keeley Forsyth and Kirsty Dillon all brought touches of magic and were the perfect reflections of Maddie. On top of all that, they brought an energy to the set that was needed because I am a firm believer that the love created on set will bleed through the screen.
Tell us a little bit about the creative process behind the film?
The creative process was so much fun, but of course it wasn’t without its challenges!
This was a film where I truly learnt the clarity of the idea – you make a film three times. Writing it was a beautiful process and so much fun, yet Jess (co-writer) and I constantly debated the order of which Maddie ‘lost’ things – sweets, the yard, Tyke, Straker, money and ultimately her family name/pride. We kept moving these elements around trying to create the jigsaw into the most powerful image. I will be the first to admit that we thought we had it when we signed off the shooting script, yet whilst in the edit we were still re-writing. The fantastic Meredith Mantik (who I can’t speak more highly of) and I continued to alter the order of the final act, because suddenly it felt more powerful a different way. We had the film we planned to make, but by altering some of the variables it now packed a much harder punch – A Maddie punch! (Yes I just did that! ha)
Dan Atherton, the cinematographer and I spent a lot of time in prep working out how we were going to shoot this. We went to the prison location a few days early (whilst Dec was creating the design) and walked each scene clearly in our head. I always over prep where I can, and then let go of that when shooting in order to keep the organic nature of the film. After all we plan shots and ideas, but when the actors arrive, this is their world and we are the aliens within it. I block the scene and forget all of my prep and watch what the cast do. I believe you should allow them the space and then map the beats around their movements. The prep came in handy though as I could quickly just double check that I was hitting all the beats I needed to, as well as keeping to the rules and emotions we wanted to create within each scene.
Dan and I spoke about a lot of references together and, of course, Alan Clarke came up. The energy in his camera movements, the bold strokes and the personal connection this creates to a characters journey. So with that in mind, as well my love for the Dardenne brothers, we decided that the strongest way to shoot this film for us was to be entirely on steadi-cam. To follow Maddie and only know what she knows when she knows it. The risk of course was losing all dramatic irony within the film, which is always a scary thought as that is one of the most fantastic attributes of the cinematic medium. However, we both felt that this was still the way the script was informing us to go.
So off we went. We created a visual manifesto from the story and never forced our ideas upon it. We didn’t keep to all of our rules I do admit, but the manifesto was at the forefront of our minds at all times.
Our main idea was that the camera was always motivated by Maddie, it would only move when she moved, apart from 3 times when the camera is unmotivated. These moments we called our Eastenders shots (no one likes pretentiousness, so we slagged ourselves off a lot). These moments were used in order to highlight a powerful change in character, moments where the score also kicked in to highlight and enhance the gear change. It’s the beats of a huge character decision that in essence transcends the audience into the ‘next chapter’ of the film.
On top of that, because we had this motivated camera throughout the film it also allowed us to choose when to stop following her. At the end when Maddie has truly lost herself, we could enhance that by finally refraining the camera from following her. After we see the screwdriver, Maddie has gone to a place we don’t wish to go with her, so we don’t… literally.
Then there was the ratio format – We used this in the hope of hiding things outside of the frame, to enhance the tension and allow for an element of surprise. Widescreen reveals too much, so we wanted to heighten how on edge Maddie feels each day, and also add to the feeling of enclosure an entrapment. Shooting in 4:3 on the first film I have shot totally on steadi-cam brought up some very interesting challenges too. I mean choreographing supporting artists was very interesting for example. Due to the fact we were so close to the lead character in such a tight format, everything had to be choreographed in front or behind her, rather than to the sides which made it difficult at times.
A few other small rules we discussed were: to use wide lenses in order to exaggerate motion, again giving a texture of Maddies state of mind and we never cross the line to look at Maddie from another characters POV. Which certainly made for some interesting moments as we ‘bounced’ from character to character during scenes of confrontation.
What was your biggest challenge whilst making the film?
Having too little money to make the film. I know that this is always the case, but we literally had to sleep in the prison on blow up beds. So I cant thank the team enough for suffering this with me. Although on the first night I must have slept very badly and somehow managed to pop my shoulder, so directing the entire film with one arm for smoking, drinking and pointing (cos all directors love to point!) was extremely difficult.
No, seriously it was tough conditions for us all, but in a way that made the cast and crew pull together, which always makes for a better film in my experience. I actually would always recommend going away together to shoot if you can afford it. It helps a team gel without the ‘rules’ of home life and makes the whole adventure a little more collaborative, which I love.
As always, the weather was a fu**er to us. So we had to jump around the schedule ridiculously and I am so proud of the cast and crew for been able to adapt to that so quickly with us. And I must apologise hugely to the 1st A.D who must have been pulling his hair out. In fact, I still haven’t seen him since. Gareth, are you still alive?
And the two major challenges for me personally were:
1) Trying to time all the beats of emotion with a constantly moving camera and actor simultaneously. The whole choreography of this on a tight schedule was very exciting, but also very challenging and made everyone have to work together bring cohesion to the visual language.
2) Not been able to simply cut to the other side for ‘coverage’ – Dan and I made it very clear from the outset that we weren’t ever going to shoot ‘coverage.’ It was the most exciting challenge I have ever faced in filmmaking and I believe it has made me a much stronger storyteller. To not give ourselves the freedom to alter our major decisions in post made us think differently throughout every stage. It’s so easy to fall into a wide shot and two OTS shots to tell a story, but we didn’t want to be that weak. We wanted to challenge ourselves and push for something more. That certainly terrified me, but it was such a great lesson for my final film at film school. I loved taking the risks and been so concentrated on each and every decision, it certainly keeps you on your toes at all times.
Tell us a little bit about how you got into filmmaking?
There were a number of moments I remember clearly and some that are much more hazy, but one of the strongest for me was, of course, when I was growing up. My family were always grafting all day, everyday, trying to make ends meet so we didn’t spend too much time together. However, whatever happened we’d always settle for ‘film night.’ That was the time that I felt most comfortable, having the whole family around me. Therefore I started out wanting to make films to bring families together, like we did, but as I grew older I began to fall in love with the work of Alan Clarke. So the films I wanted to make were no longer family films, but films that tried to say something underneath an entertaining story.
Unfortunately though, where I was from there was no opportunity for directing. So I ended up taking a drama course at college with the hope of at least learning what it feels like to be an actor. Luckily on this course I was allowed to write and direct my own plays, so I started learning a little without the camera.
Following college I went straight to London for University and started making my own short films, which at that point I thought were pretty good. But trust me they weren’t! A couple of years after university I was lucky enough to get a job with Joe Wright who was such a gentleman and has since become one of the major reasons for everything I have achieved so far. He always took the time to feedback on my work and eventually as we grew closer tell me exactly what was wrong with it all. In one simple sentence, which I still have written above my computer, he made me realise that I had been making films for the wrong reasons for a long time. So I got a final draft trial and wrote my first ever short film script. Actually I wrote this script (for my film In T’Vic) while sat on the red light and bell whilst working on Anna Karenina. So I’ll never forget the mucky old bucket I was sat on and I should apologise one day to Joe for missing a few of the red light calls! Sorry Joe!!
Joe enjoyed the script and his company helped to finance it. After been turned down by the film school twice previously, it was this film that finally got me in.
But most of all I wanted to do something with my life to make my family proud and show my sisters that anything is possible if you apply yourself. My family have done so much for me in their lives and I wanted to repay that and that, in essence, is what has driven me on for so long.
Film is a subjective medium where there is no right or wrong answer, so it’s very difficult to ever know if you’re doing well or if you are one of them delightful people on X Factor who believe they are really good, but really aren’t! But with the recognition of this award and a few other things that have happened recently. It’s nice to feel that I might actually be doing something right.
And what’s next! Will there be more to come in this particular style, or will you be taking things in a different direction?
We were very fortunate to meet with some companies following the graduation showcase from the film school. One of these companies was Shoebox Films who are a company that I have worked for since finding my way into the film industry. In fact the heads of the company Joe Wright and Paul Webster, along with my family, are collectively the reason that I could afford to go to film school. Luckily they expressed an interest in Maddie as a feature and I snapped their hand off. It is such an honour to be making my first film with Shoebox and in essence feels like been at home. Through this we had the opportunity also to meet with Creative England who have been incredibly supportive and Jess Jackson (the co-writer) and I are now developing the script together.
I am very excited to be developing this story in particular though as I feel it is an important story to tell to a wider audience. The world is in a terrible condition at the moment and there are women (and men) like Maddie all over the country. People who are trapped in a cycle with little chance of escape, and I want to reach them. As storytellers we aim to emotionally connect with someone and if I can at least help one person through the situations in their lives, then it will have all been worth it. The whole reason for making films is to hopefully help someone and I want to show people like Maddie that there is another way and if you don’t take it, this is what could happen.
But this is just the first chapter in a journey; I don’t want to be typecast into this genre. I am also developing a comedy drama in a heightened reality as well as two TV dramas that play with genre conventions. I am not adverse to any kind of project, as long as I can find a personal connection, then I can apply my heart to it. So who knows what will go first, but it is a very exciting time and I’m still pinching myself a little.
Before we leave, are there any recent short films you’ve encountered that have caught your attention?
I must admit I haven’t seen as much as I would have liked to have recently, but I did manage to see a short called “Everything will be okay” by Patrick Vollrath, which I was a very big fan of.
But some other ones I have managed to see and that have stuck with me are:
The Pacemakers – Selah Hennessey (made me cry with joy)
End of the fucking world – Jonathan Entwistle
Fan Girl – Kate Herron
Mia – Maria Martinez Bayona
The Hope Rooms – Sam Yates
Rate me – Fyzal Boulifa
The Alan Dimension – Jac Clinch
Analysis Paralysis – Anete Melece
Crack – Peter King
Balcony – Toby Fell-Holden
The Gentleman Thief – Roland Kennedy
I am sure there are some fantastic films that I have missed, but these are just a few I have enjoyed of late.
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