Garry Jenkins picked up an award at the ANINA film festival for his Into The Night short. And his Bella & Monica trilogy connects two unlikely people. He told us what dragged him from in front of the camera to make his own films
As an actor, what drew you to making your own films?
I think it was mainly about wanting to tell a whole story rather than literally just playing a part in one, and so it began with writing, and then thinking “heck, I’d better start cutting my teeth with a camera so that I can tell it properly!” It’s also great to be proactive and create your own work, rather than sitting and waiting for the phone to ring. I’m very wary of actors creating vehicles for themselves, but when you involve yourself properly it’s essentially about having more responsibility and participation over the stories you want to tell.
Loss runs through your Bella & Monica trilogy, and is also part of Into The Night. What type of stories are you drawn to, and what themes do you explore?
I think definitely people being tested, admitting their mistakes, and coming through hard times as a better person is very appealing to me. There’s something about people being humbled and trying their best that I’m drawn to, and I think losing people you love is probably one of the most humbling things of all. I basically write, act, and make film as a form of therapy!! At the end of the day I think we’re all quite simple creatures that want to love and be loved in return, and I’m very drawn to people who are open about that. Bella & Monica is mainly about hanging on to the positive stuff from childhood that adulthood can erode away, and likewise dealing with any baggage from those early years that can stifle how we function as adults.
Your style lends itself to a certain intimacy, is that by necessity or design? And what are the pros and cons of your approach?
I’ve so far mainly shot my films on my own – I’ve been very private while feeling my way – which has led to quite intimate films. I tend to draw from what I know, and I think if you can start with telling things very truthfully and on a small scale, then that’s a good foundation to move forwards with, and especially important to hang on to as you start to involve more people and perhaps the scale of production increases. The cons are that, inevitably, you need other peoples’ insights and perspectives to inform the work, and it can be very lonely tackling something on your own sometimes, but on the plus side you definitely get to concentrate on what it is you’re trying to say and nurture what it is that’s important to you with the stories you want to tell, rather than having your focus split too early onto a film unit and the practicalities of shepherding a shoot.
Talking about Bella & Monica, you mention Edward Scissorhands, Groundhog Day, Lost In Translation and It’s A Wonderful Life – that’s quite a mix. Where do you get inspiration from other than films?
The biggest influences are always from real life – my family, friends, relationships, my nieces, nephews… spending time with loved ones is usually when I’m at my happiest, and the floodgates open and I start getting ideas for story beats. Or indeed negative experiences, where I usually then start writing to work through and make sense of them. Journeying basically came about because I was crestfallen after biting off more than I could chew in trying to fix the engine on my beloved old Mini – I never forget the afternoon it failed miserably, and I was so down, I honestly thought “who the heck am I to play at being a mechanic?!” And then literally that same afternoon I took a step back and analysed the problem, and decided that I was going to figure it out and fix it. I felt so happy after making that decision, taking the power back and going “no, I’m going to own this”, it’s literally like I turned from one person into another. It’s amazing how your mind has control over you like that, and I’m very intrigued by the inner and outer influences that impact on our behaviour and ways of thinking, which is a huge part of Bella & Monica.
You put yourself through some physically gruelling moments in Into The Night, what are the worst and best bits of making films?
Hahaha, you mean rummaging around the river in a bin bag? The most gruelling stuff is always the emotional stuff, I remember doing only two takes of the confession in the bedroom in the second half of that film, and that was enough!! The best bits are when the creativity is flowing, shots are happening, takes are firing, dogs aren’t barking in the background – the worst bits are usually when technical hitches are stopping the creative flow, and you can’t capture what it is you’re trying to get because the sun is disappearing, or the sound isn’t right… you kind of know when you’re filming if you’re getting what you need, and watching it come together in the edit you get all excited – the social experience of sharing a story with an audience in a cinema is the absolute best bit, and very much reminds me of live theatre work.
The Bella & Monica trilogy is the basis for a feature. How’s that going and what’s next for you?
So I’m literally just at the stage where I’m starting to apply for funding to develop it. A first draft already exists and was written before the trilogy (which essentially lead up to the events of the feature and act as a proof-of-concept). So I’m now on the long road of shopping the project around and trying to find the right people to champion it, as inevitably it’s a much bigger task. I may get itchy feet and want to shoot something else in the meantime, but I kinda feel like there’s no excuse not to get on with the main project. In between that, it’s basically just about keeping a roof over your head and not losing sight of the end goal! But I’m really excited about the story, I feel like as long as the script is solid, that’s the most important starting point.
Thank you Garry and good luck!
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