About the film
Waxwing is a story of a child's hunger for guidance, attention, admiration, and above all, intimacy. Set in the curious wilderness that exists on the boundary of city and country and on the cusp of winter and spring, it explores the awkward negotiations that children navigate between themselves and the adults that surround them.
A small boy with a passion for bird-watching seeks an encounter that is all his, in which he can experiment and take risks in safety. He sees opportunity in the search for the exotic Waxwings that have arrived in his neighbourhood. But in his quest he makes a connection with another exotic stranger, one that begins pleasurable and profound but soon becomes perplexing and complex.
In making Waxwing, I set out to communicate a child's vivid sense of magic and fear when far from the protection of parents and the safety of home, and to capture the thrilling yet unsettling mystery to be found in new independence, in strangers and in strange places.
My goal in making any film is to discover and hopefully expose simple 'truths' about the struggles and riddles we all encounter as we try to walk straight, get by and live in this complex and confusing world in the best way we can.
The more films I make, the more I discover that these simple 'truths' reveal themselves in most unexpected places within a film. They fall in the holes and gaps, the 'ellipses' in storytelling, unexpectedly powerful sites of emotional communication capable of holding contradiction, confusion and yet extraordinary clarity simultaneously. Filmed stories about people, their choices, actions and motives inevitably provoke questions in the audience. It is my ambition to tell stories that ask questions and create the right type of holes and gaps for an audience to tumble into.
All my films must have a vivid connection with events in my own life. Without this, I struggle to find the images and words that I am confident will communicate something truthful. Perhaps it's finding a sense of 'home' (not necessarily comfortable) in order that I know that the feelings evoked by the film: through sound, music and image; the appearance, behaviour and language of characters; the choice of performer, location and the palette of colour and textures on show through design and wardrobe, and finally in the structure and telling of the story, are the right feelings.
It was essential, with so little money, to find strong and experienced support in building and running the shoot for Waxwing, and Ruth Peters Train, a brilliant Production Manager I know from my work directing television drama, loved the idea behind the film and kindly agreed to help me put the shoot for Waxwing together. She drew together a terrific production team, including the ever cheerful, loyal and hard-working Ben Brooks as her co-ordinator, and built a schedule for the shoot that made my very limited resources go a long way.
Elaine Jaxon, another colleague from television, was thankfully inspired enough by my efforts to help me nurse the film through a long and 'fundless' post production schedule and finally into the world as a finished film.
I had worked with Casting Director, Amanda Taback on other film projects and knew she would have the right sensitivities for Waxwing. The BOY had to be just right, requiring both innocence and maturity and great sensitivity in a film with almost no dialogue, and in which he appears in every moment. Amanda put together three days of auditions in which we improvised with many candidates around themes in the film and talked to them about their own lives. We chose Joseph Darcey Alden, a young actor with almost no screen experience. His face was beautiful and capable of communicating a depth of character and feeling with little outward effort, his body was small and vulnerable yet his movements were heroic and assertive.
I had also seen and much admired the work of Denise Gough and Anton Saunders in two wonderful short films and was thrilled that they were excited enough in the project to offer their talent and time.
The success of this very delicate story was for me to be found as much in the places I chose to film as the performers I chose. The exterior location in particular seemed a character in itself. A trusted colleague from location television drama filming, Steve Whale, was keen to develop his career as a Location Manager, and together with his brilliant colleague, Len Kerswill, discovered several options around Watford that expressed the curious hinterland to be found on the cusp of town and country that the story so desperately required. These were places that needed to evoke my own childhood memories too, and I spent long hours with Len scouring these landscapes for exactly the right environments to site each scene. The subsequent management of these locations by Len Kerswill to make Waxwing possible on so little money was essential to the film's success.
A powerful and haunting film called Until The River Runs Red won the Bafta for Short Fiction Film in 2010, and in it I saw images that emanated joy and pain simultaneously, images that appeared 'stumbled upon' or 'home-made' but were undoubtedly highly sophisticated in their creation and manufacture. In hope rather than expectation I contacted the DOP responsible. This was Annika Summerson, and I shared with her the scrapbook of images and colours and textures I had gathered for the film and she was excited enough by my ideas to make herself available. She brought with her a marvellous crew and connections that delivered access to camera equipment otherwise beyond my means that greatly enhanced the finished film, but most important for me was the awe inspiring skill she has in exploiting the fall of natural light on landscape and the people that move in it.
I have worked with Heather Gibson many times in television drama and know she can create a truthful, elegant and compelling reality on location or a set with very little money. Together we reviewed locations and the props in order to decide how to add to them in a manner that would honour our restrained colour palette and powerfully capture and enhance the spirit of the story, it's world and characters. We were always rigorous, her advice always brilliant, and with her guidance we found places and things which required minimal costly intervention, but the interventions she and her trusted crew made were always compelling, powerful and 'pitch perfect'.
Costume & Make-up
Di Humpheys, Claire Wilson and Lucy Stack are all highly experienced, very sensitive and wonderfully creative Costume Designers with whom I have worked in television drama for years. Lynda Pearce, the make-up designer too. They all have an understanding and passion for my intentions, a deep understanding of character, tone and mood and an ability to work in sympathy with my actors beliefs about the human beings they were required to 'become' and all with patience and humour and very little money.
Long serving collaborator, film editor Rob Platt's gift for rhythm, grace and surprise, coupled with his profound grip on character and story made it very easy to choose to work with him. Sound Designer Kenny Clark was a new discovery for me, a man with an uncanny talent for creating soundscapes that seem entirely natural and unforced, while powerfully supporting and enhancing the feelings, themes and moods at work in the discreet world of a film.
Ben and Max Ringham, the composers, are 'men of the theatre', and very successful they are there too, but they were new-comers to filmmaking. However it was their often surprising and unique sound palette that drew me to them and I believed, with a little support from my own experience of working with original music for film, that they would create a unique musical world that would support and complement both story and character and yet have a strong voice that would stand out proudly. They did not disappoint and the result of their work paints an epic emotional landscape in haunting detail with a few simple seeming musical brush strokes.
Imogen Heap's music, so full of wisdom, joy and longing, has in the past inspired me during the process of writing several of my film stories, so with this in mind I plucked up the courage to ask her for music for Waxwing. She was touched somehow by the early picture cut I showed her and was kind enough to offer music from her remarkable repertoire. Amongst the many splendours I discovered a track aptly named 'Little Bird' that worked beautifully in every way to close the film and I am very grateful for her enthusiastic support.
My final thoughts
Waxwing was a difficult film to make for practical and financial reasons and as a creative and personal journey it was emotionally expensive. It has been a labour of love for myself and I think my collaborators too, and the result, I think, reveals this love in abundance.
However, you came to visit the Waxwing website, so very beautifully conceived, created and crafted by Halmat Ferello, I really hope you have enjoyed learning a bit more about me the filmmaker, the talented people that helped me make Waxwing and of course the film itself. Furthermore I hope that you have already have seen, or will soon see the film and decide for yourself whether you think it was worth our efforts. I believe you will.
I have really enjoyed sharing some thoughts with you about Waxwing and hope we will meet again, perhaps through my journal where I share more of my thoughts about films and filmmaking and other things that interest me too, or perhaps we will encounter one another again through my next film.