NRFF Interviews Director Brady Hood
Sweet Maddie Stone
Movie • 24 min • Drama, Youth
DIRECTED BY Brady Hood *2018 OSCAR Qualifier
SUNDAY 04 MARCH 2018, BLOCK W, LAB 1, 1.30-3.00 PM.
15-year-old Maddie Stone rules her school yard under the protection of her family name. But after discovering her notorious father has been arrested, she has to make his bail money or lose the yard. The more Maddie fights, the more her world spirals out of control–and the closer she gets to becoming the man she’s trying to save.
1. Welcome to the New Renaissance Film Festival. Congratulations on winning BEST UK FILM, London 2017. How does it feel?
Ha, I love this question. How does it feel?… well, It feels f@#king great!!…. I am allowed to swear right? If not then you might have to proof read this entire thing before posting it. Ha.
I think filmmaking is such a hard, in fact almost impossible, task when you think of all the factors that are involved. How they all have to align to make something that another person out there simply enjoys or more importantly, is affected by. Film is such a subjective medium in which there is no right or wrong answer, so every filmmaker out there somehow needs to get together a team and collaborate all their ideas to make a piece of work that will touch someone they’ve never met. A series of random images cut together and then with all the cogs in between from that early seed of an idea all the way to the final product have to work together and speak a language that is relatively new to us all, I mean it is nothing short of a miracle really. So yeah it feels pretty good to have recognition from audiences, critics and jury members. We make films for people to enjoy and hopefully respond to, and when you get nominated like this you know it has all been worth it. Especially after spending 7 days sleeping in the actual mucky old bastard cells of a broken down prison, and being woken up by our producer blaring out “Black Skinhead” down the prison landing at 5am.
Seriously though, it’s such an honour to be nominated and means the world to us. It’s a great festival with some very powerful films playing alongside Maddie, so it is an honour to even screen with them, let alone us being nominated for so many awards. I say ‘us’ as whether it is for Best Director, Best Actor or Best Film they are all nominations for and because of a team effort. All the cast and crew strived to make this the best it could be and whatever plaudits come our way, it’s for all of us. I know that I personally wouldn’t have made a film anywhere near the quality of this without their input, ideas and talents. I just hope we can bring at least one home for them all, because they deserve it.
I am sure Maddie would be very proud an all, but the fame got to her head and she disappeared to Hollywood for a while to live the American dream. She then went off the grid… last I heard things didn’t work out and she’d moved to Vegas waiting tables down Fremont street to fund her $200 a day crack habit. Still I bet she’s having a fucking blast. Viva las Vegas!
2. Tell us about the central character ‘Maddie’ in the film and her journey. What inspired you to write about such a troubled teenager?
I was given a great piece of advice about five years ago by a very good friend of mine; “Stop trying to make films to win awards.” And ever since then these words have rung truer and truer. It is of course, great to win awards, but setting out to win them is no the way to make film in my very humble option. Trust me, I tried! What makes us individual as directors, what gives us that so called ‘voice’ is the elements of ourselves as human beings that we bring to the stage. As a person I am quite driven, I have a funny turn of phrase due to been a working class Yorkshireman (of which I am very proud) and I have a lot of energy… oh and I try to be funny now and again, fuck knows if it works, maybe they’re just laughing at me.
But the point is. None of that was in my early films, I was making shitty, boring, monotone and depressing films that I thought were ‘saying something’ because they was about death of world war 2, but they weren’t me! So following this advice, I wrote my first film, “In T’Vic” which was basically a love letter to my mates, apologising to them for running off to London to be an arty farty filmmaker. I wanted to tell them that I love them and would die for them or in this case, go to prison for them. This film was the first film I ever made that had a good festival run and won awards.
Since then I have always told personal stories, developing my own rule; ‘If I aren’t uncomfortably showing it to my family, then it isn’t personal enough.’ Now I aren’t saying I am going to do this forever, but for now it seems right. Therefore Maddie was written as a ‘well done kid’ to my sister. My personal life is dull as fuck; I wanted to be in film from a young age and have chased that dream ever since. Therefore nothing really dramatic or suspenseful has ever really happened, other that me waiting for calls that never came ha.
So I’m lucky that the rest of my family have stories I can nick and take all the credit for! My sister for instance has a much more colourful story and to be honest I have always wanted to tell her how proud of her I am anyway. Words themselves never seemed enough, so I wanted to dramatise it. Therefore the inspiration of this story came from that, me wanting to say a huge well done to my sister. So this story was actually inspired from one long, awkward, heartbreaking silence that her and I had during a conversation about 7 years ago now.
I thought that by leaving the town we are from and going to University I could inspire her and my other sister to follow, or at least show them that it is a viable option. However what I later discovered was that, by me running away I had inadvertently put the pressures of an oppressive small town, pressures that I should have faced, onto her. It never fails to surprise us that there are two sides to every story, and discovering this broke my heart. This moment lived with me for years. For her to have the strength to turn her life around whilst staying in the same place showed much more balls than I ever had and I admire that in her because I never could, I just ran. She had 2 kids and became a fantastic mother, so this was my love letter to her and all her charms, because she is such a lovable little shithead.
3. How did you cast the two leads?
Our lovely casting director Isabella Odoffin brought so many fantastic options to the table and it was a huge joy to see such wonderful actors for the roles of Maddie, Tyke and Fal.
Jessica I have known for a while and consider her a close friend. We actually met when I was working on Joe Wright’s film “Hanna.” She was very young at that point of her career, but even then had this natural charisma and a cheeky charm that made her very warm and engaging. The mix of that X factor as well as been a great performer is something I always strive to find and she simply had it all. She had always impressed me in everything I had seen her in and knowing that she was from a small town in Yorkshire and a working class background, like me, I knew she would understand the world I was trying to create and the comments I was hoping to make.
Jessica owned the role and was a real tour de force in my very humble opinion. She brought the strength and charm as well as the vulnerability that I needed Maddie to have, and that is no small feat.. I must admit at the beginning I was a little reserved about the physical elements and ensuring Jess could ‘kick off’ and make us believe it, but luckily Jess was very keen to prove it and as soon as I saw a little tape she did I knew we were doing this together, it was as simple as that.
When we started shooting she continued to surprise and amaze me. Jessica threw herself into the physicality with such passion and wouldn’t give in until she got it right. I love that about her. That passion is the sign of a truly great actor.
Fal was a little more difficult to find. We had auditioned quite a few people who were great performers but either had the arrogance but not the darkness or vice versa, and again I also wanted to find that x factor charisma too, so I was asking for quite a lot like. One day I met Isabella, the casting director, at Kings Cross station as I was shooting off on a scout, and again we didn’t quite find the right person from the self tapes we were watching on her laptop. But as we were closing the screens down, I noticed an open window for another film. Barney’s face was staring back at me and I asked “Who’s that?”
I then immediately went and bought a film he played a small role in and thought he was great. He self taped for us and the rest, as they say, is history.
But it’s not just Jessica or Barney, people are only as good as those around them. The whole cast were so talented, lovely and brought their whole hearts to each role – Zachary Sutcliffe, Harriet Cains, Jason Flemyng, Keeley Forsyth and Kirsty Dillon all brought touches of magic. On top of which, they brought such amazing personality to the set which was vital to me because I am a firm believer that the love created on set will bleed through the screen.
4. What was the most challenging scene to film and why? How long was the shoot? Where is the film located?
The film was located, geographically, in an abandoned prison in Oakham, Rutland, which is in the midlands. It was always our intention when Jess Jackson and I started writing to make a social comment about the correlations between some British state schools and prisons, so in the initial drafts we had lots of visual motifs that linked to that, such as the caretakers keys / wardens keys or the bus arriving outside the gated development then walked into and couldn’t leave until 3:30pm. But we had such a lot going on for a short film anyway it had to be diminished to create a better balance. We shot for 6 and a half days in that shit hole and all slept there together, so it was, well, interesting and we became slightly institutionalised ourselves.
As for the challenges, it wasn’t so much a scene in particular than the rules we set ourselves for the film itself. From the script writing process through to prep and all the way to post we had rules to play by, which were tough to stick to, but bred more creativity I feel.
First and foremost came the script, with a deadline. This was a film where I truly learnt the clarity of the idea – you make a film three times. Writing it was a beautiful process and so much fun, yet Jess and I constantly debated the order of which Maddie ‘lost’ things – sweets, the yard, Tyke, Straker, money and ultimately her family name/pride. We kept moving these elements around and I will be the first to admit that we thought we had it when we signed off the shooting script. Yet whilst in the edit we were still re-writing and altering scenes. We continued to alter the order of the final act right up until the picture lock deadline, because suddenly it felt more powerful a different way. We had the film we planned to make, but by altering some of the elements it seemed to work slightly better and enhance the powerful ending.
Dan Atherton, the cinematographer and I spent a lot of time in prep working out how we were going to shoot the film. We went to the prison location a few days early (whilst Dec was creating the design) and walked each scene clearly in our head. I always over prep where I can, and then let go of that when shooting, in order to keep the organic nature of the film. After all we plan shots and ideas, but when the actors arrive, this is their world and we are the aliens in it. I block the scene and forget all of my prep and watch what the cast do as I believe you should allow them the space and then map the beats around their movements. The prep came in handy though as I could always quickly just double check that I was hitting all the beats I needed to, as well as keeping to the rules and emotions we wanted to create within each scene.
Dan and I spoke about a lot of references together and, of course, Alan Clarke came up. The energy in his camera movements, the bold strokes and the personal connection this creates to a characters journey. So with that in mind, as well my love for the Dardenne Brothers, we decided that the strongest way to shoot this film for us was to be entirely on steadi-cam. To follow Maddie and only know what she knows when she knows it. The risk of course was losing all dramatic irony within the film, which is always a scary thought as that is one of the most fantastic attributes of the cinematic medium. But we both felt that this was still the way the script was informing us to go.
So off we went and basically Dan and I created a visual manifesto that his was created from the script, from the story and never forced upon it. We didn’t keep to all of our rules I do admit, but the manifesto was at the forefront of our minds at all times.
Our main idea was that the camera was always motivated by Maddie, it would only move when she moved, apart from 3 times when the camera is unmotivated. These moments we called our Eastenders shots (no one likes pretentiousness, so we slagged ourselves off a lot). These moments were used in order to highlight a powerful change in character, where the score also kicked in to highlight and enhance a gear change within our protagonist. It’s the moments of a huge character decision that in essence transcends the audience into the ‘next chapter’ of the film.
On top of that, because we had this motivated camera throughout the film it also allowed us to choose when to stop following her. At the end when Maddie has truly lost herself, we could enhance that by finally refraining the camera from following her. After we see the screwdriver, Maddie has gone to a place we don’t want to go with her, so we don’t. Literally.
Then there was the ratio format – We used this in the hope of hiding things outside of the frame, to enhance the tension and allow for an element of surprise. Widescreen reveals too much, so we wanted to heighten how on edge Maddie feels each day, and also add to the feeling of enclosure an entrapment. Shooting on a 4:3 ratio on the first film I have ever shot totally on steadi-cam brought up some very interesting challenges too. I mean choreographing extras was very interesting. Due to the fact we were so close to the lead character in such a tight format, everything had to be choreographed in front or behind her, rather than to the sides which made it difficult at times.
We also used wide lenses on top of all this in order to exaggerate motion, again giving a texture of Maddie’s state of mind. As well as never crossing the line to look at Maddie from another characters POV. Therefore it did make for some interesting moments as we ‘bounced’ from character to character during scenes of confrontation.
5. Have you always wanted to be a director? What films inspire you?
Not so much a director, but I always knew I wanted to be in film in some form. There was no opportunity for that where I was from and I am not from an artistic background, nor did I have friends who had any interest in filmmaking. So it never registered with me, if I am honest, that a director was even a job I could do when I was young. But there were a number of moments I remember clearly that made me know I wanted to be in film. One of the strongest for me was, of course, when I was growing up. My family were always grafting all day, everyday, so we didn’t spend too much time together. However, we’d always settle for ‘film night’ at 9pm most nights. That was the time that I felt most comfortable, having the whole family around me. I loved these moments together, so I started out wanting to make films, whatever the job, for other families to sit and watch.
So I ended up taking drama at school. But whilst at school we were doing a syllabus on plays and I asked the teacher if I could write my own. The teacher Mr Sayers said yes and I did some shitty rip off of the “Meet Joe Black” twist, cos I was in love with Brad Pitt then and had a woeful dyed blonde parting (don’t judge me!). But once I’d written it Mr Sayer got me to direct it, this was my first taste of directing ever, but again I didn’t take it seriously as a job for life idea.
The real moment it really sank in for me was when I was 14 ish. My mum and nana had sneaked me in (cos I was underage) to the cinema to see a film called “The Sixth Sense” for my birthday. I am sure you all know the film now, but at the time no-one in my area had any idea and it was the opening night so the twist hadn’t been spoken about. I was sat their with me mam, and my nana, who have always being very supportive of my stupid dream chasing, when the twist occurred and the whole cinema in one moment gasped together. I literally screamed out “Arghhh…. I want to do that to people.” The hairs on the back of my arms stood on end and I was awash with this feeling of awe. From that second in that shitty little UCI Cinema in Hull, I’ve never looked back.
But most of all I wanted to do something with my life to make my family proud and show my sisters that anything is possible if you apply yourself. My family have done so much for me in their lives and I wanted to repay that and that, in essence, is what has driven me on for so long.
As for films that inspire me it varies a lot. I get inspiration from films, from galleries, from people around me and even sitting in a coffee shop people watching. The world is full of inspiration we just need to look up from our mobile phones and actually look at the world around us. Which is sad but very true these days. But I tend to always fall into referencing certain work due to the style of film I make. Alan Clarke is my biggest influence and has been for years now, I love how he managed to make a film such as “Scum” that was not only entertaining but also managed to change the borstal system in Britain. The same way that Ken Loach has always used the medium to try and change things. I think it is important to use the art as a way to try and make people take note, so Alan Clarke and Ken Loach are certainly up there. I also love French cinema, the works of The Dardenne Brothers and Jacques Audiard are directors I get excited about their next films. Robert Bresson and his use of the camera in films like “Pickpocket” or “A man escaped,” similarly to Max Ophuls and the blocking of character and camera… God, I could rattle on for days, but I will leave it at that…. Because you should be writing or shooting something instead of listening to me bark on…. Even if it’s tough, it’ easier to edit a shit page of writing than a blank one.
6. What advice would you give someone starting out in filmmaking?
I think everyones story is different so any advice is difficult to give. Just trust yourself, write, shoot and cut as much as you can and learn the new language of cinema. The rest will hopefully fall into place.
Personally I suffered with my own confidence issues due to the lack of opportunity and frankly hope from my hometown, so I needed film school to beat that out of me and to gain the empowerment and belief in myself. I also needed that school to be the NFTS because it was renowned for being the best and the most competitive to be selected for. But plenty of people better than me have done it without film school so it isn’t necessary by any means. What is though is meeting over talented people who have the same interests and who you work well with so that you can find your ‘family,’ people who will make you better and collaborate with you, regardless of what time you call them and have a breakdown ha. So film school for me was vital for all the above reasons.
Trust the people around you, they will always be better than you at their job, allow them the space to show you that and simply guide them to keep the train on the right track.
Don’t overthink your work too much, just get on with it. Write a word a day, shoot a scene on your I phone each week. Just keep learning the language, you wouldn’t learn Spanish by picking a book up one a year and working on it for 3 weeks then stopping for a year again.
But the two most valuable pieces of advice I was ever given was from my mentor Joe Wright, who is a man I cannot thank enough. Without him I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today, so this is all his fault! During my time working as his assistant he was always supportive and insightful, but these two struck a chord with me and have imprinted themselves in my mind:
Tell your story to one person, don’t make it for an audience, because to say something universal you have to start somewhere very specific.
Ensure you’re personality is in your film and don’t try to make films thinking you want to win awards, because then your making the film for the wrong reason.
But most of all trust your fucking instincts man, it’s all we’ve got and it makes you, you and your film, your film. Nobody wants to see you trying to do a Lars Von Trier or Terrance Malick movie, if I wanted to see that I’d go see their fucking movies. Tell me the story you want to tell the way you want to tell it. Then hopefully the timing will align and you’ll get that little bit of luck also.
9. What’s next for you?
I have just finished directing the opening episode of the new season of “Endeavour” for Mammoth Screen and ITV, which will be aired in January I think. So that’s very exciting and I can’t wait to get home to Yorkshire, order a Chinese takeaway and settle in to watch it with my Nana. She’s a big fan of the show so it will be a dream come true to watch it with her like that.
But other than that, ‘Sweet Maddie Stone’ the feature film is now deep in script development with Shoebox Films and Creative England and I very much hope to be shooting it next year, so fingers crossed on that front. And I was lucky enough to sell the options to two tv drama ideas that I am working with co-writers on, so we are burrowing away trying to hit the deadlines on them. It’s a very exciting time and I am so lucky that I absolutely love everything I am working on at the moment, I guess that’s a by product of telling personal stories you want to tell for the right reasons.