‘Nits’ dir. Harry Wootlif (2004)
A seven year old boy struggles to understand why his mother isn’t giving him the attention he craves.
Director: Harry Wootlif
Writer: Harry Wootliff
Producer: Bex Hopkins, George Isaac
Key Cast: Jonathan Mason, Ben Crompton, Nicola Stephenson.
Winner, Newcomer Award, 2004
Presented in association with Rushes Soho Shorts Film Festival 2012
5 Questions for Harry Wootliff
C8: Where did Nits sit in your career and what had you done before?
HW: Nits was my first film and I was at the very start of my career. Prior to Nits I had been an actress and I hadn’t been to film school. Needless to say making Nits was a sharp learning curve!
C8: Nits was nominated for a BAFTA and played in Cannes, did it do a lot to boost your career?
HW: Its success in festivals made sure it was seen by lots of people across the board and helped open doors. I had lots of meetings with film companies. It certainly raised my profile, but I was also very taken aback by its success – it was a complete surprise to me and I didn’t have a plan of where I was heading career wise. It still surprises me how many people have seen the film and tell me how much they enjoyed it. I think even if a film has awards behind it people make up their own minds about whether they like the film or not.
C8: The little boy that plays James is an absolute marvel on screen. Where did you find on him and how long did you spend rehearsing?
HW: I met Jonathan Mason (who played James), via an after-school kids drama group in Yorkshire. As soon as he walked in the door I felt there was something very special about him. But he was also a very tiny boy and quite shy and so at the time so it did feel like a leap of faith giving the part to him. He came back for a recall audition and I worked through every scene in the film with him and he was brilliantly receptive to direction and also had the very natural yet idiosyncratic quality that you see in the finished film. I knew it would be important for him to know exactly what he was doing before I bombarded him with all the pressure of being on a set, and also I felt it was important for him to get to know me and trust me. I can’t remember exactly how many times we met up – I think three or four days spread over a couple of weeks. We rehearsed the scenes till Jonathan knew exactly what I wanted from him. In a way with children you are also teaching them how to act and as I just mentioned it was also a process of him getting to feel comfortable with me.
C8: Why do you think so many shorts are about, or from the perspective of, kids?
HW: I’m not sure… I think maybe it’s because when you are a child small events feel profound, and stories about small but emotionally profound events lend themselves well to narratives which need to be told in a short amount of time.
C8: Have the people who feature in the film had a chance to see it? If so, what was their reaction?
HW: Yes indeed and I think they were all proud that the film was so appreciated. I remember when Jonathan came to the TCM/London Film Fesitval screening at the BFI. I’m not entirely sure how he felt seeing himself on such a big screen but I think he found the evening very exciting and enjoyed the accolade! I do feel a pressure when I have made shorts that the film is rewarding for the people involved as nobody makes very much money and they are a lot of hard work – so if the film is a success it feels like it’s the best way of saying thank you for everybody’s support.
C8: What’s next on the horizon for you?
HW: A feature film I have developed with Lizzie Franke at the BFI and my producer Kate Ogborn. We are currently casting and hope to shoot in late Autumn.