One of the inspirations for the Baobab team for making films was their trip to last year’s English Riviera Film Festival. How fitting, then, that this year they should pick up the first English Riviera Film Festival Award for their film Flies.
We spoke to writer Phil John about Baobab, Flies and the future…
D&CFilm: Flies is written, produced, filmed and edited by Baobab. Can you tell us some more about Baobab – who you are, how you got together, what you do and your collaborative approach to filmmaking?
Phil John: Baobab started in the way most of these things happen. A sort of bumping into one another. Accretion around a mass, you know a bit like how planets form! Only the mass in question is performance.
…a bit like how planets form!
I am a writer and theatre-maker and have knocked around a few places in the Southwest, for a while in Wales, Bristol and now Devon. I have worked with Jason Housecroft (director of Flies) as a writer for his direction on an adaptation of the Faust story. Jason has many years time served as an actor and director.
I wrote a community play for a site-specific commission at the Rotherfold Square in Totnes, where Tim McGill (protagonist in Flies) played the titular Rotherfold Bull. Tim is an actor, musician amongst many other things.
Luck and persistence
I was really very lucky to meet and work with Tim and Jason. It’s all about luck really and persistence. All three of us sat down and decided to create a company, primarily because we feel we have something to say.
Our working relationship developed from working together on theatre primarily. Arguing with each other. Arguing about the merits of 4k. Sausages.That kind of thing.
You can get a good look at what we are about by checking www.baobabtheatre.org where we have some moody black and white photos of us all and some information.
In terms of working in film, this happened in an organic manner whilst we were doing some R&D on a theatre piece we decided to have a crack at putting together a trailer for it and from there Tim suggested putting together a short film which is ‘They’re Made out of Meat’ which we had some success with -taking it to film festivals including to New York, Atlanta and Dublin and of course Torquay last year.
Both Jason Housecroft and Tim Mcgill have a great visual eye and an attention to detail, which I think suits the creation of both theatre and film. As for me, they just keep me in a box and feed me when I write!
We work collectively in the sense that we all contribute in some way to the overall piece though we tend to follow assigned roles, else it would be chaos.
The ‘magic’ of editing
I tend to write, Jason directs and Tim has a passion and skill for performing and editing. As a newbie myself to film I have found a lot of the ‘magic’ is in the editing.
D&CFilm: Flies climbs into the psyche of one person, and watching it I was never sure where it was going to go. Did you intend that or was it a natural exploration of the story? And where did the idea for Flies develop from?
Phil John: The film is actually an adaptation I put together from a play I wrote some years ago for a show in Bristol. As Baobab we performed it at the Ways With Words festival at Dartington Hall in 2017 and we thought, you know what? We could put that together fairly easily as a film ha ha famous last words.
A person’s response to grief
The idea behind it is simply a person’s response to grief. All three of us have had experiences over the last few years that have sadly seen loved ones pass away and I suppose it was an organic reaction, call it a need – to set that down in some way.
The character that Tim McGill plays is a man who gives up in response to the death of a loved one.
Despair and absurdity
It charts the despair and the absurdity of lived life in the immediacy of death. Going on when you don’t want to. Anyone who has been through such circumstances will understand the breathtaking ability of grief to stop you in your tracks. Even though the world goes on around you. I hope in some way we have captured that.
D&CFilm: Creatively, what are your influences and how did that impact the making of Flies?
Phil John: I think the challenge for Flies was taking a theatrical piece and quite a wordy one at that and using it in the landscape of film. Show don’t tell and all that!
Existentialism and horror
So the influence was drawn from the concept of taking a ‘stage’ and expanding that stage to encapsulate it in the form of a film narrative. The creative influences of the film for me come a little bit of existentialism and some horror.
Perhaps ‘Don’t Look Now’, which I have always found disturbing and terrifying in equal measure.
Jason and Tim have there own responses to this and will lock me away in a dark space for not mentioning them I’m sure!
D&CFilm: It was shot Lupton House, Brixham, Devon. How did that come about and how important is that location for the look, feel of the film?
Phil John: Jason did some filming for a festival Lupton House was running agreed on a quid pro quo basis and they kindly let us use a back area of the place to shoot. It is a really atmospheric location.
D&CFilm: Daniel Greensmith’s music is incredibly emotional. How did that collaboration come about?
Phil John: Dan is somebody I have worked with since leaving college some many years ago now. I have always found him to be an intuitive and responsive composer. The kind of person who can tease out themes from the most abstract of conversations.
Themes from abstract of conversations
You can find out more about Dan here: https://danielgreensmith.wordpress.com/about/
D&CFilm: I love that you ‘seek to empower those who often do not possess a voice’. Where does Flies fit into what you do, and what are you working on now?
Phil John: We’re not politicians or particularly clever but I think we are trying to reflect on the attitudes of men, the absurdities, the challenges, the prevailing social norms of being a man is something we are examining. Kind of ‘write about what you know’ but also challenge what you think you know.
Mental health and male suicide
Currently, we are looking at themes around mental health and the huge problem that is male suicide.
The topics are heavy but we’re middle-aged guys and we think we have something to say on these issues because we have all lived a bit of life. We create work from what we observe and what challenges us.
Specifically, we are developing a longer form film, broadly in the sci-fi genre, which we are developing from a story idea Jason had. This should start shooting in March if Jason and Tim beat me enough to get the Screenplay out.
We’re also looking at developing a project around men’s mental health and we will be reaching out to those working in this field to develop something that we hope will be able to pass important messages on. We do as much as we can do in the time that we have. Film, theatre, radio. We are up for anything.
The allure of film
Film though is a beguiling medium. Exacting, challenging – the allure is when you start to get things more right than wrong, then the immediacy of the response is amazing.
We’re going to continue exploration in film and theatre and we hope both can inform the other in our ongoing work.
People watching will be the judge of that!
D&CFilm: Thanks for your time Phil! And thanks to Jason and Tim, too. Congratulations on the ERFF win, and looking forward to seeing more.
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