‘Forgiving Your P.E. Teacher’ dir. Warren Malone
A short film about doing the right thing.
Director-Producer: Warren B. Malone
Writer: Simon Josiffe
DOP: Justin Brown
Key Cast: Matt Bailey, Liz Richardson
Presented in association with Encounters Short Film & Animation Festival 2013
C8: How did you come across Simon Josiffe’s script, and what made you want to direct ‘Forgiving Your P.E. Teacher’?
WM: Simon had been a friend whose taste and writing skills I’d appreciated for a good few years, since we took a Directing Plays course at City Lit. I’d never seen anything he’d written which I’d wanted to or been able to make until I saw a rehearsed reading of his play version of “Forgiving your P.E. Teacher”. Straight away I knew I wanted to film it. The start of her monologue at the end has always made me cry and of course there’s some genuinely funny bits too. And the overall theme of forgiveness and attempting to move on from past damage seemed very worthwhile.
C8: You achieve a great dynamic between Luke (Matt Bailey) and Suzi (Liz Richardson). How did you go about casting the film?
WM: I work a lot in Casting; I co-own The Green Room Casting Studios in Soho and have kept financially solvent by doing camerawork for castings for many years. So I knew that there were a lot of talented actors willing to work on quality short projects for expenses. Brendan McNamara, now a successful Casting Director but at the time just starting out on his own, put the brief out properly through Spotlight. That helped get a good quality response, rather than having to sift through random CastingCallPro or TalentCircle responses, though I think I did put it out there too. I was then able to host proper castings by using Casting Studio favours and volunteer helpers. Liz Richardson I got from the first casting and have always been blown away by her naturalism and sense of humour. I can’t believe she still doesn’t have an agent! She’s brilliant. It was much harder to find the male lead. I knew he had to be very attractive and charismatic as well as having something dark going on. I didn’t set the shoot date until I’d found the right guy and I saw a lot of people. I think one of the biggest mistakes filmmakers can make is to compromise on the cast, in terms of quality or suitability for the role. In the end it’s all about them. If they’re not right you could throw millions in production value at it but it’ll still be terrible and if they’re brilliant you could probably do it handheld with a DV camcorder and it would still be engrossing.
C8: How did you work with your cast to achieve the performances you desired?
WM: I love working with actors (or at least seeing actors working well) and I’d like to take all the credit for their performances but in the end there’s so much else to do on set, especially on something like this where I was producing too and many of the crew were inexperienced that it’s mostly down to choosing the right actors. We did rehearse for a day or so and I think by the time we were on location they pretty much knew what I wanted. I didn’t play any tricks to manipulate anyone, though the standout acting – Liz’s monologue – was right at the end of a day when she’d got freezing cold and really tired and the take you see was the first and only time she got through it so there’s maybe something there? I think the hard bit about directing actors is usually deciding what you want rather than communicating it to them.
C8: ‘Forgiving Your P.E. Teacher’ has a dark edge but also a comedic side. How did you maintain a balance between the two?
WM: Although there’s an element of fantasy about the story I tried to keep it grounded in realism. Dark things happened and may happen but her character is funny and uses humour to get by. I guess I made it as funny as I could without losing the empathy and compassion of the audience. I like to be able to laugh with the characters as much as at them.
C8: You directed and produced the film. What advice would you give to emerging filmmakers attempting to do the same?
WM: Obviously try not to do both! I always try not to but so far I haven’t found anyone with a similar sensibility and the necessary skills and motivation to produce my work. If anyone is out there who wants to, please get in touch! I talked someone into “producing” P.E. Teacher who applied for a 1st AD role and they actually left half-way though the 1st day of our 2 day shoot. They had been so ineffectual that it was actually quite funny, but still – not ideal!
C8: Where does ‘Forgiving Your P.E. Teacher’ sit in your career? What had you done before it and what have you done since?
WM: I’d been making short films with a friend for years. We’d done one “Blow it up to 35” which we’d spent way too much money on (£2000 in the early noughties) and never properly finished. Then a few shorter things for 48 hour film challenges or as fake adverts. The first one I properly directed: “Office Party” (before that we’d nominally shared Directing, but as I was the more organised and practical one I usually ended up Producing) got nominated for Best Newcomer award at Rushes Soho Shorts so that gave me a bit of confidence. Forgiving Your P.E. Teacher was the 1st proper thing after that. It wasn’t really meant to cost anything but as elements fell into place I saw it had the potential to be good so ended up spending a few thousand (from credit cards) on equipment (RedOne and good lenses etc) to fulfil that potential.
Forgiving Your P.E. Teacher winning the Encounters Best of British award gave me the impetus to make my 1st feature happen. I shot the mostly improvised romantic comedy drama “Across the River” in 2011 (though we finally got round to some reshoots in August 2013) and I’m still editing it, but it’s looking like a lovely 90 minute film. www.acrosstheriver.co.uk Like everyone else there are lots of other little things which I’ve shot, directed or produced.
C8: If you did the whole process again, is there anything you would do differently?
WM: My main learning was to never shoot exteriors in the UK between November and February! Just don’t bother. Everybody wearing ten layers of clothing, running inside to thaw their feet out every few hours, feeling like you’re never going to have full movement of your fingers again and trying to protect everything from cold rain is not worth it.
Now it wouldn’t be necessary to spend so much money to get good images. In fact, try not to spend any money on shorts, you’re incredibly unlikely to see any of it come back…
C8: If you could give young filmmakers a piece of advice what would it be?
WM: Work with the best people you can convince to get involved. You can learn a lot by just playing around and experimenting yourself and you should definitely do that but at some stage you’re probably going to want to produce something of a higher quality and the easiest way to do that is to work with good people. You’re also going to learn a lot from them.
C8: What do you think is the essence of a good collaboration?
WM: In the end someone has to make the final call and in most cases that’s the director but I like to think I listen to everyone’s suggestions and take the best of everyone’s contributions. A good collaboration is about getting the best from everyone involved and like in every part of life I think that happens when people are enthusiastic, feel valued, feel comfortable pushing their limits and care about what they’re doing. I don’t always succeed in making all that happen but it’s definitely part of my job.
C8: What’s next for you? Any plans for future projects?
WM: It’s hard to really take anything seriously until “Across the River” (www.acrosstheriver.co.uk) is finished but I suppose I’m looking for material for my next feature (feel free to send me feature length scripts) and for other opportunities to direct drama.