‘Child’ dir. George Watson
A teenage boy’s conversations with his ill father about the inevitable day they’ll have to face euthanasia.
Director: George Watson
Writer(s): Tom Webb and George Watson
Producer(s): Al Marshall
DOP: Matthew North
Key Cast: Jeff Stewart and Harry McEntire
C8: What inspired you to make ‘Child’?
GW: It was inspired by the relationship with my late father. It was a story I wanted to tell for some time, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it, to make sure I paid it the right amount of respect. Then one day I just wrote a small piece of a pair having a conversation on a park bench and it just went from there. I was keen to keep the film an inspiration but never make it too personal, although there are elements that have real moments.
C8: You co-wrote the script along with Tom Webb. How did you go about this? What was the writing process like?
GW: It was great fun; Tom’s a fantastic writer and really understands structuring which is something I’m extremely weak at. I’ve known Tom for a while and as a writer he seemed perfect to get involved and try to develop everything into a more structured narrative. It was a very simple and effective process. I was very specific in my mind on how they spoke and the language used, this came about from being trained as a writer by the television writer Tom MacRae, who has written for Doctor Who and Lewis etc. So I have a good understanding of their language and how their story should be told.
C8: What was the mood like on set? Did the heavy subject matter have an effect on the cast and crew?
GW: Generally the mood was really good. Jeff is a great actor, hugely experienced and professional and has a fantastic humour he kept everyone smiling whilst adding his own little touches to the film. One of the last lines about not being buried next to his wife was one of Jeff’s own ideas. I tried to keep the film more charming and poignant then dark and hard hitting and I think that came across well on set, there’s as much humour as there is in the bleakness.
C8: ‘Child’ addresses the dreaded ‘E’ word. Were you nervous in making a film that tackles an issue such as euthanasia?
GW: A little but probably not too consciously, it’s not something dad and I spoke about but one thing I’m fascinated with is the concept of death and how we deal with it, in particular what is your own right, how we deal with those rights and how death effects other people. It’s a dark subject matter but something that interests me a great deal. In this case I think I wanted to be almost a discussion then a tragic moment in a hospital bed. So the pair bounce off each other rather than it becoming a dark, devastating conversation, it’s as if they know each other so well they can talk over a subject like this whilst eating a sandwich in a park. This also humanises it, makes them real people that the audience can identify with, a conversation that anyone could have.
C8: Jeff Stewart and Harry McEntire have great chemistry together. How did you go about casting the film?
GW: It was cast by Hannah Birkett who did a fantastic job, ironically these two fittingly both came in and did their audition together which was perfect and made the process of finding the right balance quite easy in the end. They are both hugely talented and experienced and that chemistry really came about right from the beginning.
C8: The narrative jumps back and forth quite a bit revealing the highs and lows of the father-son relationship. Do you think this experimentation with the structure allows for a greater emotional impact?
GW: I think it does, it was fantastic editing by Yaya who saw it in this vision as well. I always saw the film as like a set short stories or memories that we view, leave see another part and then come back to with everything loosely tied up at the end. But what it did was allow the story to pick up from an emotional low to a high and then back again, that narrative juxtaposition really interests me and something I’m keen to explore as much as possible in the future.
C8: What was the hardest part of portraying the life of someone confined to a wheelchair?
GW: Trying to make it believable. I wanted the audience to feel and believe that he was unwell. Not on his last legs but genuinely ill and reaching that point in his life where he is questioning the point of his existence, especially as his son is growing up, and should be moving forward with his life. But the hardest past was creating that feel, angling Jeff’s legs a little to the side, making him look awkward and uncomfortable. This is where experience really helps and I could use how my dad was placed in the chair as a reference point. Incidentally the actual purple seat he is placed on was the cushion my dad used and that helped generate a feeling that elements of this story are true.
C8: The film is both deeply emotional and darkly comic. Did you find it difficult to balance the two when shooting?
Not too much, I think what worked in the script was that the story is very open in terms of where the characters go and how the story itself develops. For example in the script there was a specific ending, which I never shot and was glad, I didn’t. The hardest scene was trying to find the right balance in the living room at night. I wanted a genuine closeness between the pair and that feeling of who is really the Child. Which is first introduced when they squabble over the sandwiches, and is ultimately concludes when the son asks for a cigarette, but I wanted a real sense of a childish weakness to both of them, so we jump back and forth to who is the adult.
C8: Can you tell us if any other films or works influenced you during the production process?
GW: In the early stages of writing I did keep going back to Mike Leigh’s ‘Nuts in May’. It juggles humour and drama very well and has long periods where little happens except for pure characterisation. There is a specific scene where Candice asks Keith how many times you should chew on a piece of food and that is a direct inspiration for when the pair are on the park bench. I try to keep a lot of influences out of my head to avoid any sort of unintentional repetition. I was keen for a continued handheld feeling, nothing too wobbly but almost a feeling of voyeurism, that we are watching something itself rather then just a film play out.
C8: What was the most difficult aspect of the shoot?
GW: It was shot for on a very tight budget, so it was a case of trying to capture the right place which was tricky. I was very specific in my head that the exteriors had to be out of London and somewhere open so it’s a direct contradiction to the dad being trapped in the wheelchair. Matt (director of photography) and I did a massive scout in the morning of the first shoot day and found this fantastic place in Shalford, Essex which had blooming oil seed behind. I wanted everything to feel cramp so the interiors needed to feel small, as if the dad would constantly catch a finger or a thumb as he spins his wheels out of the room and that’s very typical of where I grew up, in a small bungalow in a field.
C8: If you did the whole process again, is there anything you would do differently?
GW: Tricky question, if I had had more money I would definitely have added an extra day to shooting. I also would liked to have had the boy come home and find some blood, before going into the bathroom and finding the dad in there, adding a little bit of tension and like a child can the dad be able to stay at home alone. It was an original idea that I scrapped but I think would have made the piece a little stronger. I’d also have a added a little more to their bench conversation.
C8: What is the essence of a good collaboration?
GW: A number of things really, understanding each other’s ideas and being practical towards the story when using or dismissing those ideas. I’ve always felt this whole industry is a huge collaboration, whether between writers, between director and actors or director and DOP / editor etc. You open up to ideas whilst never allowing anything to derail or detract from your ultimate vision, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
C8: What does the future hold for you? Any plans on the horizon?
GW: I have just shot two more films; the first is about to come out. It’s called Twelve and stars BAFTA winning Monica Dolan and BAFTA nominee Joseph Mawle. Which Tom co-produced with Alex Marshall my producer from Child. It’s about a conversation that takes place in the early hours of the morning where a wife has a secret to tell her husband. I’d like to think it’s a step up both in terms of storytelling and style. I have a feature in the works as well which I will be shooting in the autumn, hopefully October.