Today we welcome Joseph Bull (left) to the site in order to chat about his new film Blood Cells. We have now had Joseph’s co-writer and director Luke Seomore¹ on the site and his lead actor Barry Ward² so make sure you check those out. For now though scroll on to get a new perspective on Britian’s latest and most intriguing road movie…
Could you firstly describe the film for our readers in your own words?
Yeah I guess it’s a road movie, meets family drama, meets character study.
And do you see the end result as being more political or a personal narrative?
I think that when we started forming our ideas for the film some of the stories, character traits and scenes come from personal experiences and family members. But actually I think through looking into the foot and mouth crisis and at other marginalised characters I think we were saying something political about the state of the country.
A lot of our previous work was documentary based and those films looked at marginalised characters. Through our research we would get drawn into those worlds, and that fed into Blood Cells. For example we’ve done a lot of work with refugees; ex-soldiers who have come back from Afghanistan and wound up on the streets, teenagers within inner cities from deprived backgrounds… they all sort of ended up in Blood Cells.
I’ve had quite interesting reactions to that question when I talked to Barry and Luke; Luke leaned towards it being much more of a personal narrative with some political elements, Barry took it as being 50/50. Why do you think some people see certain areas more strongly than others and was it intentional to leave it open like that?
I think that audience members, whether they are experience a book, film or piece of art, are all affected differently. For example when we started showing Blood Cells at festivals I would get some people coming up to us who had really empathised with Barry Ward’s character as they had seen that first hand.
One thing I didn’t anticipate when writing it was that loads of lower-middle class people would actually really respond to it. They were from rural backgrounds and had seen business go to ruin in the same way. Not necessarily by the foot and mouth crisis but by other means, and that experience resonated personally. Whereas other people like you say see it in a bigger political context. Maybe it didn’t resonate with them personally but they might recognise character’s like Barry’s from the cities and see the bigger picture.
There wasn’t much written about it (the crisis). There were lots of scientific papers but in terms of artists nothing had been written really. That’s when we started researching these stories and found that farmers had committed suicide and that it disrupted family homes.
So where did you grow up then? If you don’t mind me asking…
I grew up in Norfolk.
Right so a lot of people have lost farms over there in the last twenty years, although not necessarily through foot and mouth. That’s what the story was also based on in fact. During our research we found there have been a lot of various crises in farming over the last twenty/thirty years. The supermarkets paying really low rates for food for example. So those kind of cases weren’t always about foot and mouth but were about farmers losing their income.
Just thinking about the structure of the film for a moment, it’s quite a brave decision to make a film where the lead, Adam, just drifts from place to place without any supporting characters hanging around for long. Was it easy to write a script like that or was it more challenging than a conventional script?
We went over that in our heads and we always wanted to make it a British road movie with one central character. Luke and I always talked about films like Paris, Texas, Taxi Driver and Conversation, we always wanted to do a film like that. So we started looking into landscapes and the way they can affect a character’s psyche and I started reading a lot about psycho-geography. From the outset, despite the script changing a lot, we planned to do the script that way.
When I spoke with Luke he said about how Barry and Hayley brought a lot to the film as they grew their characters. Do you work with improvisation? Do you do a lot of rehearsals pre-shoot?
Every scene was different actually. With Barry we started developing the character about three years before the film really. We shot a test film and then would use that for rewrites and putting the scenes through lots of different stages. We did have a script but the characters went through lots of improvisation. After rehearsals we would film what we had had done and would pick out mood and feeling which would then feed back into the script.
As an example; the scene where Barry and Keith are in the house and Barry cuts his hand went on for a couple of years. We wrote an initial scene and the two actors improvised with it. We filmed it and then a year later they reproached it and continued to work on it. Because of the relationship we had with Barry we were able to do that but I don’t think we will be granted the same luxury again in the future.
I think Mike Leigh might do something like it, John Cassavetes did too I think. There’s an interesting book about his (Cassavetes) last film where these kind of techniques are discussed. I think there are other directors who do something similar but the way the film system is set up makes it hard to work with actors, even low key ones are hard to get hold of. It’s a shame because films are better off for it.
So what’s the working relationship like between Luke and yourself on set? Do you shoot together or does one do something whilst the other is focused on something else?
We do everything together basically. Even when we did commercial work it’s kind of the same. Sometimes one of us is getting on particularly well with the actor… but more often than not we are together. We tend to agree on most stuff and if one wants to shoot one way and the other differently then it doesn’t really matter because you can just look at it in the edit.
How does your documentary background shape the way you approach fiction?
In lots of ways really. From a writing point of view the drive for authenticity gets worked into characters. You are always quite paranoid in documentaries about getting the absolute truth. Working with people is much like working with actors though really, and we’ve worked with non-actors too. You have to be very patient with documentaries, especially with interviews.
Isolation was the first thing we did which we proud of, the first proper thing we had done. It was done on no money and we wanted to make it really cinematic and that required a lot of patience. I think that way of working ultimately fed into Blood Cells.
And do you think documentary is something you are going to continue to pursue or will it be film?
Film. I think we are really excited about working more with performance. We are writing a couple of things for the future now, although having said that if a subject matter were to come along which we felt passionate enough about then we would do a documentary.
I think it’s a great form of filmmaking, and in Britain it’s become so formulaic. When we took Isolation around different festivals, particularly in Europe, the attitude is very different. The documentary is much more like an art piece really. I think they have a lot of potential but the scene in cinema doesn’t’ always feel right to me.
And that’s all folks! I hope you enjoyed this interview, be sure to leave your thoughts in the comment box below!