Beard Envy, a new film from John Tomkins, has all that you would want from a short: cross-creative-fertilisation; a community of filmmakers interacting with the community at large; plus a strong sense of classic English eccentricity. And it’s fast-moving, surreal and funny.
Beard Envy is based on a poem from South Devon performance poet Robert Garnham.
“We’d just done The Professor in the Bathroom,” say John. “And I chose Beard Envy next because it was so visually appealing to me. It just came out of the page, and I thought, wow, I’ve got to make a film out of this. This is brilliant.”
John had a few concerns about capturing Robert’s unique vision on film, so began with a tight storyboard, and searched for the right locations and cast.
South West Beard Club
“They were awesome,” says John. “I sent out invites for people to come along and all of them turned up, which is 22 bearded guys from across the south west, just to be in this film. But not only that – they’ve been supporting the film, which has been awesome.”
For the visuals, John tapped into a classic.
“I’m a massive Monty Python fan,” he says. “I wanted to go for that weird look – a journey when you don’t know what’s going to happen next.
Two directors of photography
“It’s the most visually interesting film that I’ve ever done,” says John. “I was very lucky. I didn’t have just one director of photography, I had two – Jacob Brandon and Julien Kemp. They both had a really good visual eye. They took my storyboard and popped it to the next level.”
With his JJ Abrams hat on, John was keen to keep the locations as real as possible, a tall order for a surreal story. Along with the Lucky 7 Club, Torquay Museum and a barber’s, John rented a van for an authentic journey in The Bay.
Other influences came in the form of Edgar Wright’s Shawn of the Dead and Spaced, inspiring John with quick cuts.
Brixham’s most famous pirate
The film opens with the hero’s encounter with Brixham’s famous pirate Cpt’n Blackheart.
The film’s main character Dan A Beard is played by Jack Allum, who was up for the story’s more bizarre scenes. It was his first film.
“Which I cannot believe,” says John. “He was just really really enthusiastic.”
After just finishing a degree in acting in Plymouth, Jack was put in touch with John, who asked him to put something together.
“He did a monologue piece to camera. And I thought there’s something about this actor,” says John.
Eccentric film will travel
When we spoke to John, he’d already entered the film into eight festivals throughout the world and there is a sense that the surreal, eccentric film will travel.
Part of that is down to Robert’s own work ethic, spreading the word far and wide, having had gigs throughout the country and abroad. And another aspect is the massive worldwide interest in beards, including a vast array of clubs.
“The beard community is a bit like the biker community,” says John. “They’re really nice and supportive bunch of people.”
According to John, ‘Robert’s writing is bizarre… in a good way’, and he is looking to be working with him again.
Bizarre… in a good way
“One more film and then we’ve done a trilogy,” says John.
With a documentary about Brixham released just a few weeks before the completion of Beard Envy, John is looking to stretch his mind for his next adventure with some more experimental filmmaking. That and the long-term plan of his feature film.
“I’m very lucky,” says John. “I’ve still got a lot of the team from They’re Coming [one of his early films]. Plus new members along the way in this film’s cast and crew , who have all been phenomenal on this production.”
“The key to it is that it’s a collaborative thing.”
And maybe that’s why Beard Envy will be a success, merging art forms, and drawing together different members of the community in a surreal and funny trip.
The UK Premiere for Beard is on the 18th of August at the Lucky 7 Club. Check out what to expect at the event
Read our review of Beard Envy
(top image: Dan A Beard (Jack Allum) meeting the South West Beard Club in the film)