For a first film, a comedic, period romance might seem a bit daunting, but for Ben Kernow, new film Sensibility was the right story to tell and it’s ok to be scared, just a little. He tells us why and how the film came into being
Sensibility is not the usual Regency romp, what can you tell us about the film, how it came to be and why you made it?
Ben Kernow: Sensibility follows the Howards, a somewhat chaotic family in the Regency period and their attempt to climb the slippery slopes of high society. The film is very much a play on the much-loved romance novels of the era, and in particular those of Jane Austen. What I always found interesting about these stories and indeed this period of history was how status and one’s standing in society were seen as so vitally important. It seemed like a rich playground within which to tell a story.
I can’t say I specifically set out with an agenda to make a period drama comedy, but I began writing something and soon found myself with a script, the next question was how do I bring it to life? It felt like a fitting story to tell, as my first foray into filmmaking. I like making ambitious and large work, and I’ve always believed that it is alright for a project to scare you, just a little, and Sensibility scared me enough that I felt it was the right challenge!
Costumes and setting seem big hurdles to making a period piece – how did you overcome them and how did you make Sensibility?
Ben Kernow: There’s no doubt that filming a period piece carries huge obstacles when you’re working on a small budget. Costume and locations being the obvious ones. With Sensibility we were fortunate enough that both our locations were very happy to work with us and accommodate us so that we could do it within our budget. It took a lot of searching but as luck would have it our two locations were historic houses close to our base in North Cornwall. I was pleasantly surprised at how generous most people are if you ask kindly. As the saying goes, if you don’t ask you don’t get!
In terms of costume, I have to place a lot of the success down to our production designer, Marion Harrison. I’ve worked with Marion on several projects now and each time she seems to achieve the impossible, even when, as in this case, set with a rather tight budget! Her attention to detail, along with that of Yasmin Baird, our art department assistant, were crucial for ensuring we brought the right look to the film. The ability to adapt and change to find the right solution is vital, as there is often only so much you can plan for. Having a team who can respond quickly is vital when trying to achieve the right look throughout the film. The same must be said for our makeup artists Caroline Edwards and Lucie Allano. Those details really do elevate the production design of the whole film. As they say, the devil is in the detail.
The cast and crew for Sensibility is largely South West based – is that important and how did you go about recruiting them?
Ben Kernow: Being a Cornwall-based company it felt right that we should naturally look to work with local cast and crew wherever possible. Working with as many people locally helps to stimulate the creative sector down here. The more job opportunities we can create then the more we can help develop Cornwall and the wider south west as a place where you can base yourself and work as a creative. Often many people feel the need to move away to find work, which ultimately takes talent away from the region, so for me, it’s important that we try and create opportunities for locals.
Having said all this, I am a firm believer that be it in casting or crewing on any project the aim should always be to find the right person for that job, and sometimes that means hiring from further afield. It may sound like a contradiction to my previous statement, but I believe that bringing skilled people down here to work can help in skills sharing and developing more collaborating links and connections beyond Cornwall.
In terms of recruiting on Sensibility, Screen Cornwall were a huge help in connecting me with various crew locally. They have an extensive list which was invaluable for finding out who is around locally. I would definitely recommend people to get in contact with them and join their lists if they haven’t done so already.
How does Sensibility fit with your other work and aspirations for both your film and theatre work?
Ben Kernow: Honestly speaking I never intended for Ha-Hum-Ah to become a company fixed on making work of a specific nature. I find I’m interested in many forms and stories and naturally this bleeds through into the company’s work. The only thing that interests me is the story, how that story is told, the medium, I believe should always be up for grabs.
Branching into film feels like an exciting move. It opens us to a whole new world of both creatives and audience goers, and I believe the truly exciting thing about branching into both film and theatre is it has helped to open the doors for greater cross-collaboration between the two fields in our work. We’re bringing people from the world of theatre into film and vice versa and developing that in my opinion can help create more robust and diverse audiences for both as well as more opportunities for creatives.
You’ve talked about your excitement about transporting an audience to another world or period, saying “I also find that these explorations often give us an insight or a new understanding of our own world and time.” What is the role of the artist / filmmaking in society?
Ben Kernow: A tricky question! I don’t believe there is a one size fits all answer to this. Part of me firmly believes that my role is that of a storyteller, the aim is to tell a good story and I do believe that should always be a firm starting point. Obviously the more you unpick the question the more other aspects come to the light. I do believe as creatives another role we play is holding a mirror up to society, offering audience members a chance to see things in a new light, or indeed for the first time.
Building on from that we can offer a chance for audiences to experience things which perhaps day to day they would never have the chance or access to. Particularly in film, we have the ability to transport audiences to new worlds, characters, cultures and experiences and I think that is a very special thing.
Where can we see Sensibility?
Ben Kernow: It is currently embarking on its journey through the festival circuit, so you will hopefully be able to see it at some festivals up and down the country in the coming year. We are also looking at how we distribute the film afterwards, so keep your eyes peeled.
Thank you Ben!
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