‘Twelve’ dir. George Watson
After receiving a mysterious phone call Jodie is forced to reveal a long buried secret to her husband. A secret that will change their lives forever.
Writer-Director: George Watson
Producers: Al Marshall & Tom Webb
DOP: Matthew North
Editor: Yaya Leon
Key Cast: Monica Dolan, Joseph Mawle, Tim Bentinck
C8: Where did the idea for ‘Twelve’ come from? What inspired the script?
GW: It’s loosely based on a conversation that took place back in the mid nighties between a woman, who had a horrendous secret to tell her daughter before the press leaked it out. I read about it a while back and thought it would be interesting to take this concept and dramatise it. Instead of the daughter I wanted it to be a husband. I thought with a daughter there would always be connection, no matter what happened, but how would the husband feel with it being outside of their marriage lifetime? I also wanted to play with several themes that have always interested me: how long do you pay for your crimes, and how well do you really know the person you fall in love with?
C8: From start to finish how long did it take you to write?
GW: It was actually pretty quick, once I had the crux of the story in my head it really became just a small two hander bouncing backwards and forwards between the pair – the tricky part was to keep the energy going, both visually and through the dialogue. I had the ‘confession’ moment in my head and knew that would be the centre point of the film, so it was how I could lead up to this point, and then how to come down from that as well. I treated it in a very traditional manor, beginning, middle and end, except the ending was more outcome based with loose climax to keep it open.
C8: Can you describe your writing process including any obstacles that you faced?
GW: With a short film I tend to write quickly without mapping out much of a formal outline or treatment. Once I’ve got the opening and the ending I write the script and sort of let it do its own thing really. It’s a very organic process and it’s when I am the most creative in terms of the general direction of the story. I know how it starts and I know where it ends. This script was quite different because it’s all set in one location and is a two-hander, so there’s obviously not too much bouncing around in terms of time. It’s more the development of the characters and for me in particularly how much can happen in a quarter of an hour, how your life can dramatically change in such a short space of time. Playing with time in terms of the narrative is something that really fascinates me, whether it’s all real time, or we start at the end and work backwards etc.
C8: It is difficult to keep an audience engaged in a dialogue-heavy short. How did you approach this film visually?
GW: For me that’s one of the joys of writing, that sort of challenge. How to keep an audience engaged with just two characters for ten minutes. It’s something that has always inspired me, particularly films that have had long conversations between characters. I think it’s a tone that will always appear in my work in some way or another. We also had just one day to shoot seventeen pages so it was pretty daunting. We storyboarded it and there were several shots that I knew exactly what they would be like. For example the confession was always a two-shot because I wanted that split screen approach to it. I wanted people to watch it and decide who to look at or maybe even watch it a second time to see the reactions having already known the outcome. I also wanted it to look bleak, have a grainy, cinematic look so it was very low lit, just above the pair and it would then be adjusted accordingly. So the shadows are actually dark and the continuity would then the same throughout in terms of look.
C8: The subject matter is incredibly dense. How did you approach working with your cast?
GW: I worked closely with the casting director, Hannah, and we decided at an early stage to find and approach actors rather then audition them. I was keen to get the strongest possible cast. With Monica, I’d been a huge fan of hers for a while and was keen to work with her. We really broke up the script, the character, her back-story, and worked hard on who she was, what her motivation was as both a mother and a wife. She has this horrendous secret, this burden that has been glued to her for her entire adult life, so how would she feel about revealing it. We approached it that it would come with a fear of dread, mowing that she’ll probably lose everything in the process. However, Monica is such a strong actress that we were able to grapple with so much ore, her tone in terms of revealing the secret, her tone when she refuses to say what she had done to him and her pleading at the end. With Joseph, it was lot more subtle, and more about his natural reactions on set. His character is basically given revelation after revelation, so we were keen to keep that on set, and so never branch away too much in terms of how much he knew and Joseph would have his own specific method in how he would allow himself to build up for this emotionally. I wrote the part for Tim Bentnick and it was great to cast him in a role which he doesn’t normally play and he was fantastic as well, a very cold, icy feel. I wanted him to be anonymous, who he is and where he’s calling from is for the audience to make up their mind.
C8: How did you work with cinematographer Matthew North to realise your cinematic vision?
GW: I have worked with Matt on several films and we have a good understanding in what I want. As I said before, we had such little time to cover everything, the film really needed someone who I knew well, so we could work quickly and get what we needed. Matt’s work is fantastic and it’s only a matter of time before he has a huge breakthrough in drama. Obviously we had storyboarded it and we had a specific kitchen in mind, which we managed to find. After that it was very much letting the actor’s do their work and matt covering it. At one point there was a twenty-one minute take. I let it role so Monica and Joseph could exorcise some energy but you could almost see the camera shaking slightly at the end, as it was all on an easy rig, which is like a steady cam, with a belt around Matt’s waist supporting the camera. For a long time I pushed to make this on 16mm, it felt so perfect, closed, conditioned one location.
C8: How did you fund the film? Did you receive any assistance from film funding organisations?
GW: Nope all self funded, I did think about a Kickstarter but the main problem was that in order to put the film out there in this way, I would have to reveal too much and I just didn’t really want to do that. I’m from a director’s assistant background, so I have built up a lot of contacts and took advantage of that, pulling in favours where I could and hoping it would all work out. Personally there are some elements where you can tell it’s slightly under budget but on the whole I’m really impressed for what we got. And credit to both Tom and Al for that.
C8: If you did the whole process again what would you do differently?
GW: More technical than anything. Being able to use two cameras, would have helped a lot and allowed more takes and probably taken the pressure off to a certain extent. I would have adjusted the shot selection so we would have shot a more dirty ‘over the shoulder’ feel rather then being as wide and static as we were. Looking back I would have taken a Barry Ackroyd approach where it’s a lot more dirty over the shoulder but also handheld, so it has that third person, voyeuristic feel, the ‘Bourne’ films are a perfect example. In particular the scene where Bourne is talking to the guardian journalist in the cafe. There are a few elements in the script I left out and I sometimes wonder if that works or not. But, there’s always going to be things that you think twice on and wonder. It’s part of the whole process.
C8: The Huffington Post named ‘Twelve’ as one of their top ten films to watch at Loch Ness Film Festival. How has this impacted the film?
GW: It did a huge amount for the film in terms of its wider appeal but also recognising the fantastic performance from Monica, Joseph, Tim and everyone who helped make this possible.
C8: ‘Twelve’ played at prestigious festivals such as the London Short Film Festival. What has the reaction to the film been like on the festival circuit?
GW: It went down very well, a lot of strong feedback and the content took a lot of people by surprise, which is what I aimed for. With a film like this is always interesting but it very contained and bleak, I don’t want it to just be another bleak film in a mass of other bleak films. At the heart I wanted it to be a love story.
C8: Do you think that film festivals are still the best place for emerging filmmakers to showcase their work?
GW: Yes absolutely, it’s a perfect way of showcasing your work and reaching it out to as far afield as you can imagine. I think the rise of the Internet is starting to have a say in terms of actual growth your film can have but festivals will always lead the way.
C8: What’s next for George Watson? Any exciting projects on the horizon?
GW: Quite a few things, couple of shorts – one we are prepping now, written by Tom MacRae who mentored me as a writer – beautiful story about two young boys who meet a tramp who claims to be a time traveller. I’m also shooting a feature documentary and in the final stages of prepping a feature drama as well.