Despite the magic they possess and the passions they stir, films don’t just magic up out of nowhere. Writer-director Jonny Dry has waved his wand over Exeter Phoenix commission Open Country and BFI film Mackling. Open Country went well up until the shoot.
“Because the weather was so awful, we couldn’t do a lot of what we planned. I was having to kind of rewrite the scripts each day, almost to work with the weather that we had. That was a real challenge,” says Jonny.
It’s a very different film to the one he intended to make, but what shines through are the performances.
“The more I got into the film, particularly during post-production, the more it became about giving the film over to those performances,” says Jonny.
Open Country became an exploration of the form of film.
“Seeing what atmosphere of story you can tell by putting scenes layered and layered on top of each other, rather than guiding the narrative too much,” explains Jonny.
Open Country certainly lends itself to an emotional deep-dive. The film explores tense male relationships between brothers and cousins as they attempt to find common ground with each other following a death in the family. Much of the devising had been workshopped with the actors, to hone their performances and the direction of the film.
The film features Jamie Robson alongside Cornwall actors Jowan Jacobs, Jenny Beare and Jack Brownridge-Kelly.
“It’s very much about observing these characters,” says Jonny. “That is partly from that initial desire to work collaboratively with the actors. I’ve got some really great performances.”
In some ways, the weather has made the film more interesting, says Jonny. It didn’t let them set the story up in quite the way that they wanted, but that provided atmospheric dividends.
“There’s a tone to it which I really like. René [Huwaë], the cinematographer, has beautifully shot it. Again we had to adapt, but as we progressed it seemed as though the footage was also becoming more and more interested in experimenting with form.”
“I like films that you have to give yourself over to. They have an atmosphere that you have to feel, and that’s kind of what Open Country became – it’s just not what I expected when I started.”
Jonny’s An Tarow manages to be both poetic and hard-hitting, respecting the audience to take In and absorb the story – so Open Country promises to be a treat.
But it’s been hard won, given the conditions and making a second film concurrently.
“Practically, it was hard being in post-production for that and pre-production for Mackling,” says Jonny. “Because they’re two different states of mind.””Ella [Turner], who produced Mackling, did a phenomenal job of getting us to that start line.”
“The brilliant stuff was working with the actor Jamie Robson who was in Open Country and came back as the lead in Mackling. He’s just a fountain of enthusiasm and knowledge and ideas, and Callum Mitchell’s script provided a lot of material for us to dig into.”
And the crew blew him away. “It was such a smooth shoot.”
Surreal, the unreal and the real.
Mackling [now called Salvage] is a film which blends the surreal, the unreal and the real.
“It was about trying to find ways of subtly bringing that in whilst maintaining a coherent world,” says Jonny.
The DP on Mackling, Milo Travers, came from a documentary background and brought a real freedom to the shoot
“I loved his ability to work quite openly to see what was happening on set, both with the actors and more widely in a location, and respond to that,” says Jonny.
Juggling two projects at different stages of completion has caused some reflection for him.
“It’s maybe not something I would do again. It is quite difficult to reconcile two different states of mind and creative minds.”
“I do feel quite empty at the moment. I want to work is organically as much as possible and that can take its toll. I enjoy having space to explore things and I guess I like work that offers questions rather than providing answers, that you have to feel, however finding that line can be very demanding; something I’m still learning.”
Open Country premieres at Two Short Nights at the Exeter Phoenix
Top image: Jonny Dry, courtesy of Steve Tanner
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