Turn an old joke on its head and you’re apt to start encroaching on a bizarre world of extremes. It’s an approach to life that can inspire a closer look at the edges of the world.
When asked about the inspiration for his three-minute micro short, Repercussions, Charlie Coldfield said: ‘How long have you been playing the drums? Ten years. You must be exhausted.’
He went on to explain a little more.
‘I was probably on a journey. That’s quite often when you start thinking about these things -your mind starts to play around. I remembered the joke and thought that’s weird, that’s absurd.
‘What would be the implications of someone playing the drums and unable to stop -not a choice, but physically can’t stop playing.’
The immediate film that springs to mind about compulsion and obsession is The Red Shoes, but the Exeter Phoenix bursary film Repercussions is following a different track as it heads into post-production – the film was shot during an intense time at the Moose Studios in Exeter.
‘I wanted to look more at how people would cope with it rather than what they would do about it. If it’s an unchangeable fact, how do you then live with that? That was the key theme for me really,’ said Charlie.
As a micro short, was he able to explore the themes?
‘I think three minutes felt quite nice,’ said Charlie.
‘I’ve got a really experienced team to work with and that’s really nice because there are lots of things I don’t have to worry about. It always felt right that the challenge is to tell a story that’s coherent in three minutes. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a narrative story, but it has to feel satisfying to an audience. I hope we’ve achieved both.
‘I’m hoping that people will buy into it. It all feels very real and very normal, but with this absurd thing at the centre of it. But there’s no difficulty in getting on board with those people, they’re relatable.
‘Ultimately, my hope is that people will watch this and say ‘I can relate to that’. It’s not about one thing -it’s not a metaphor, but I’m hoping people will find it’s specific to them and their life experience.
‘There’s nothing surreal about a guy playing the drums, but there is something surreal about a guy who can’t stop playing the drums. You’re not seeing anything that visually looks surreal, but it’s the concept that’s surreal.’
Charlie is one half of arts organisation Wandering Tiger, and it was fellow Wandering Tiger and award-winning director Luke Jeffery who gave Charlie the nudge to write the film. It was then Charlie decided to submit it for a Phoenix Bursary.
‘It’s always nice to push yourself a bit and do something slightly different. I’ve directed little bits of theatre and I felt like as long as I had a team of people who knew how to do the cameras, the sound, the light and so on, then I’d probably be ok with the actors and with what happens.’
The team includes Luke Jeffery, who is producer and editor; Ross Gill as DOP; Bizarre Rituals are doing the sound and composing; James Stewart was the sound recordist; Ben Hudson is the composer; Ben Tallamy was first AD. And Jeni Watts ensured everyone was comfortable and looked after.
A big inspiration for the look and feel of Repercussions was the rhythmic and wonderful opening of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 1991 flick Delicatessen, along with the other of the director’s films. Plus Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso. The films have elements of magical nostalgia but with hard edges.
‘They’re nostalgic and romantic and they have a certain feel it’s quite hard to put your finger on,’ said Charlie.
The guy who plays Jorge -the main role -is a Oraine Johnson, who Charlie had first worked with while touring Of Mice and Men about eight years ago.
‘He’s one of those exceptionally talented people: he’s an actor; he’s a musician; he’s a writer; he a director; he can pretty much do everything,’ said Charlie.
‘He seemed the absolute perfect choice and he plays the drums amazingly. But also has those acting abilities to convey something in silence. He was the obvious choice for me.
‘Although I didn’t know her, I got a strong sense that she would be the right kind of performer because there’s a lack of vanity in her performances,’ said Charlie, who got in touch to talk through the role with her.
‘It turns out that when she’s not acting she works with people with dementia so she really understood the frustration of this character who’s having to care for someone,’ he said.
There are other cast members, including an improbable band.
‘We have a lovely scene where we just have an eclectic bunch of musicians who all came together and knocked out a tune in an hour, and it sounds really good.
‘It’s a fantastic band that you would never necessarily put together in terms of instruments -there’s a really funky electric guitar, accordion, a banjo, mandolin, a flute -it’s a weird mix, but it works,’ said Charlie.
David Lockwood, director of The Bike Shed Theatre, said of Charlie’s acting, ‘he’s particularly good at playing broken survivors’ and ‘in every role, he strives to find the humanity at the core of his characters.’
Does any of this inform his filmmaking?
‘I don’t see these characters as broken so much as I feel like there’s a real joy in this,’ said Charlie. ‘Even though this life-changing thing has happened, they find these moments of joy. In amongst something that’s difficult, there’s a little spark of hope, a little light burning.’
Charlie’s no stranger to cross-platform work. His play Granny Eyeball is based on a book he wrote.
Charlie’s no stranger to cross-platform work. The play Granny Eyeball is based on a book he wrote, and he was in Luke’s play Breathe With Me, which was part of Hall for Cornwall’s Minimalism tour in 2011.
He’s also involved with the Villages in Action project Unearth. So it’s no surprise that he’s developing the Repercussions idea for the stage, which will be longer than three minutes, and probably quite a different story.
With his work across the arts industry throughout Devon and the South West, Charlie’s upbeat about the cultural output of the region -especially with its ‘get up and create’ vibe. As the performer who’s allegedly appeared the most times at The Bike Shed Exeter, after being in the first production there, he cites that -and the summer’s Boat Shed -as examples of the vigour.
‘This area is looking really healthy from the arts point of view,’ he says. ‘And people have a really nice attitude to just getting on and doing stuff and giving things a go.
‘Audiences as well are open to going to seeing things and experiencing things. And people are really positive -they are open to stuff happening. It’s in a good place.’
For the future, Charlie is seeing how things go, but with Wandering Tiger, they are pushing towards making a feature, with Luke in the director’s chair.
‘We have a joke that he’s the Lennon and I’m the McCartney, and I think anyone who watches Hell’s Bells and then watches Repercussions will get what that means in terms of our styles.
‘I think that’s healthy -we’re not trying to make the same stuff, but we’re within a ballpark that’s similar.’
Repercussions will be screened at the Two Short Nights film festival at the Exeter Phoenix on December 1, 2017.
(top image: Actor Oraine Johnson on set of Repercussions with writer/director Charlie Coldfield in the background. Courtesy of Ben Tallamy)