Film interview by Chris Olson
UK Film Review recently met up with some of the cast & crew from short film, Reality Mine, to discuss films, Sam Peckinpah and of course, what they would say if they were a dolphin…
With us are Nick Goulden (director), Angela Godfrey (producer) and Séan Browne & Jye Frasca (who star).
UKFR: Can you tell us about your new short film, Reality Mine?
Angela Godfrey: [It’s] a short film about how a family man becomes implicated in his brother's environmental terrorism activities by a government that, through the internet, knows everything. He must then choose between his principles and having his entire life publicly examined and torn apart.
Nick Goulden: It tells the story of Max (played by Séan), a loyal, family man who is forced to betray everything he believes in to save his own skin. It is based on the Harold Pinter play ‘One For The Road’ and deals with similar themes.
UKFR: Séan, what attracted you to the role?
Séan Browne: I've been lucky enough to have worked with Nick a couple of times before on various projects so teaming up with him and his producing partner Angela Godfrey again was an obvious decision to make, made all the easier by the fact that I thought it was a well written and unique script about a very pertinent issue today. Also the character of Max was someone I both felt for and felt I could identify with, were I put in the situation, so that was something I wanted to explore.
UKFR: And Jye, who do you play?
Jye Frasca: The character I play in Reality Mine is Charlie Mayhew, a government official working within the anti-terrorism department. He is seemingly your everyday kinda guy but as the story unfolds you see he also possess a steely determination to see justice served.
UKFR: Your character is a blend of intimidating government operative and a wet-behind-the-ears everyman. Would you say that’s fair? And why did you take this role?
J.F: I would. I was really thrilled to get to do this role for a number of reasons but mainly because of the character’s complexity. The juxtaposition of Charlie’s personality was fascinating to me and it was interesting to explore playing a character that had so much power but had been written to exude that power in the most subtle of ways. It was both challenging and liberating.
UKFR: Séan, the character you play experiences some huge emotional challenges during the film. Is this particularly difficult given the short running time?
S.B: Not really no. I think our mental and emotional states are so erratic in life (unless you're a buddhist monk or blissed out on substances) that it's relatively easy to go from one to another, moment to moment, especially depending on the stimuli and certainly in a high-pressure situation such as the one Max finds himself in. It's a game, a power struggle, between Max and Charlie, and just like in any football match there are huge shifts in the emotions of the players from one pass of the ball to the next, and also hopefully in the spectators, or in our case the viewers, as well.
UKFR: What was the motivation to tell this story Nick, in particular with these themes?
N.G: ‘One For The Road’ is set in an unnamed, Soviet-era country where a sadistic interrogator breaks his suspect through threats and mind games that play on the suspect’s vulnerabilities. Backing up the threats is the knowledge that the interrogators have the power of life and death over the suspect and the suspect’s family, and uses the threat of various forms of violence to break the suspect. This is our, now outdated, template for a police state.
Reality Mine seeks to bring this definition up to date. Reality Mine’s key themes are power, family and loyalty. The key thesis is that governments have total power over us, not through the mortal threat of violence as before, but through control of the internet. This control can overpower both our family ties and personal loyalties, not necessarily through the threat of imprisonment, but through the threat of character assassination.
Far reaching new laws in the wake of 9/11 coupled with new technology have enabled governments to know almost everything about us. I wanted to make a film that explored this, and thereby comment on the nature of power in the modern era and show how people can be controlled and manipulated. We are reliant on governments to not abuse this power, and this is why the protagonist in the story, Max, is an ordinary person like us. His ‘crime’ is loyalty to and love for someone whom the government has decided is a terrorist, and he must therefore be broken.
I also wanted to question our understanding of ‘terrorism’, a word that has become a blanket term for anyone the government doesn’t like but can’t pin to another government.
UKFR: It is a weighty short film, pulled off by a talented team. Angela can you tell us about why you wanted to be involved with Reality Mine?
A.G: When I first read Reality Mine I knew it was a very special story and I immediately wanted to get involved however I could. In just 15 minutes it manages to get you gripped, intrigued, panicked, confused, angry and sad. All whilst sending a very important message about us in a digital age. Not many 15 minute stories can do that!
UKFR: And what did your role as Producer involve?
A.G: On a low budget project like Reality Mine Tom [Harberd], Nick & I basically took care of everything; getting it financed, casting, organising the shoot, seeing it right through post production, (working closely with the editor and colour grader, composer & VFX etc,) and then, finally when it was finished, marketing, taking it to festivals & distribution.
UKFR: And how was it working with Nick and the rest of the cast?
A.G: Amazing! Firstly, Nick is a wonderfully gifted writer/director, who is a dream to work with. He has big ideas and wants to make the world a better place through film so he is an excellent person to have around on set and is great at getting the best out of his team. He is fantastic with the actors and is very talented at getting those one-off fantastic performances we all hope we’re going to get.
Séan Browne is also one of those very special people in the world. He’s so positive to be around and somehow when he’s in the room everything is calm. Séan really got down to the nitty gritty with his character, so his performance really shines because of it. He’s such a talented actor and I very much hope I get to work with him again.
Jye is a true professional. He is always on the ball and pushes the boundaries to give the best performance. Jye was fantastic to work with on Reality Mine and managed to create a fine balance with his character by keeping us guessing all the way through…is he a good guy or is he a bad guy? That’s a very tricky role to play as an actor and he does it tremendously.
Michael Ryan who plays Dan Keller (Max Keller’s brother), was just wonderful. He gave a blinding performance in both of his scenes, but I’ll never forget when we shot the very last scene of the film, Michael gave such an outstanding performance that there wasn’t a dry eye in the room! Watching him act is incredible.
We were so lucky to have such an amazing team work with us on Reality Mine and it might sound overly sweet, but we really could not have made it without every single person who helped us. The hours were long, the conditions tough, but everyone really mucked in and made it work.
UKFR: And Jye, your chemistry with co-star Séan Browne is hugely compelling. How was it working with him and Nick?
J.F: Thank you, that’s very kind. Working with Séan was really enjoyable. He is an extremely talented guy and has a wonderful way of being present during every take. He is also a nice guy off camera and that made the whole experience even more enjoyable.
Nick is the best and I truly loved working with him. The funny thing is straight after I finished auditioning for the film I phoned my agent saying “it’s not going to happen” - during the casting Nick had asked me to read the scenes several times but each time completely different from the last, which was great, however I left the casting thinking “Damn. I’m just not what he is looking for” - so when I got the call saying it was going to happen I was a little surprised but knew instantly that Nick was going to be awesome to work with. On reflection, I suppose he was wanting to explore all the angles I could bring to Charlie and not just challenge me and my ideas of the character but also his own.
Nick had a very clear vision for his film from the start which always makes your job as the actor, fulfilling that vision, so much easier. Nick also generously allowed Séan and I to play with that fragile dynamic between both characters in the story during our rehearsals so when it came time to film we could really fly.
UKFR: Séan, how was it working with Nick?
S.B: Nick is that rare thing of being both a complete sweet-hearted lovely great fun guy, and a brilliant writer / director who has a very clear vision of the story he's trying to tell and the best ways to get that onto the screen, so it's always a total pleasure working with him. I almost wish I had some badass horror stories to share but he just makes it very comfortable and easy to do what he's employed you to bring to the table.
UKFR: Nick, how important was the casting? Were there elements specific to the characters that you were looking for?
N.G; Hugely important. Firstly, with Dan and Katie, our eco-terrorists, it was important to have roguish, charismatic performers who could quickly project the enthusiasm, excitement and energy of the brief opening scene. For the character of Dan, we also needed an actor who could show the pain and heartbreak that we see at the end of the film. Lyneah Johnson was excellent as Katie and Michael Ryan was outstanding as Dan. It was a great shame we could not see more of them in the film, and in fact a brief expositional dialogue scene with Dan sadly was left on the cutting room floor.
Flo, Max’s wife, was also a crucial although small role. We needed someone who could represent the bosom of the family and help us understand both why Max wanted to hold the family together but also give us a feeling that he was in trouble if he didn’t! Kezia Campbell, I hope you’ll agree, was perfect in the role.
I must quickly mention Tommy Grabiec, who played Sergeant Keele. Again, although a small role, it needed a performance that immediately informed the viewer of the world that Max was entering, and Tommy was the perfect choice.
The key casting decisions were, of course, Max and Charlie. It was important that the ‘battle’ between Max and Charlie came across as a rather David and Goliath affair, where Max looked to be the Goliath.
Max therefore needed to exude a certain measured arrogance and somewhat bullying nature which could then be cut down to size.
Charlie, on the other hand, needed to be softly spoken, polite and unassuming, but possess an underlying confidence. It was vitally important that Charlie appeared, in every respect, to be no threat to Max and in fact to be a nicer, more easily pushed about character. As the struggle between the two unfolds, it had to appear that Max held every advantage except one – that Charlie knows everything. Given that the film’s success was always going to rest on the key scenes in the hotel, and the interplay between the characters, it was essential to get it right.
I was lucky enough to have worked with Séan Browne on a number of previous projects, and with his good looks, natural self-confidence and easy smile he was a natural choice for Max. He’s just not a guy you expect to lose! For Charlie, I am extremely lucky we found Jye Frasca and grateful to him for all his genius! His performance brought out brilliantly the subtle power of the character but he also brought a good deal of humanity to the role, which is exactly what Charlie needed
UKFR: When you were making Reality Mine, were there any influences you regularly drew upon? And in your filmmaking in general, do you have any Greats that you lean on?
N.G: In the writing and prep phase I frequently referred back to ‘One For The Road’ in order to remind myself of the tone I was aiming for. I also looked at a lot of films that shared the same themes, but also, critically, had a similar structure to Reality Mine. Most important in this was the issue of the long hotel room sequence of something like 12 minutes, happening essentially as one scene in one room. There was a huge danger this could get extremely dull, especially as the piece was always going to be dialogue heavy. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to dilute the film by cutting away somewhere else. Taking the lead from films such as 12 Angry Men, I resolved to split the action into French scenes and move the action to different areas of the room to suit the different beats of action.
During filming itself, there was very little time for anything other than shooting the thing but in the hotel room this issue resurfaced and I am very grateful to cinematographer Adam Scarth for his input on how to structure the shots to compliment the blocking and inform the whole scene.
In terms of the greats, of course there are many. I would point to Sam Peckinpah in particular for Reality Mine, as Max shares many traits of the classic Peckinpah protagonist of a rugged, independent-minded man struggling to survive in a modern world in which his worldview and beliefs are ill-suited. Unfortunately, I forgot to drink heavily during filming, and I didn’t have a bowl of coke by the monitor, so I’m still missing a few Peckinpah tricks. Maybe next time…
UKFR: Speaking of next time, where is everybody headed now in their perspective film careers?
A.G: I’m working closely with Nick at the moment on quite a few projects, but the most exciting one is a black comedy feature film about an old lady who wants to jump off a cliff so she can keep her independence. Believe it or not, it’s a feel good, family movie!
N.G: Next in terms of filming I’m looking to shoot another short around January, but have yet to find the right project (please let me know if you know one!). In terms of features, I’m currently writing the black comedy, aforementioned, called ‘Grace Escape’ about an old lady who decides to thwart her children’s attempts to put her into a home by jumping off a cliff – except she needs her grandchildren’s help to do it.
There’s also a feature length version of Reality Mine in development, which I’ll be focussing on after Grace Escape. I am also hoping to work with writer Nic Alderton on a psychological thriller in the vein of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Following’ and the ‘Bourne Identity’, but that will have to wait for a gap in the schedule!
J.F: Well, I have just moved across the pond to the USA and now live in LA. So as for what’s next… I have no idea?! But it’s exciting!
UKFR: And...of course...what would you say if you were a dolphin?
A.G: I thought you’d never ask! I would say, “Humans! Please stop throwing all of your rubbish in the sea! And start being nicer to all the fishies.” And then I’d end it with an impression of a whale.
N.G: I would complain that there aren’t enough opportunities for dolphin directors in the current climate.
J.F: If I were a dolphin I’d say “I need new head shots”!
S.b: A series of clicks and nods relating to my other-worldly origins and how man as a species should really stop shitting on each other and this fragile rock we all share, and yeah - so long and thanks for all the fish.
Click here to read the full film review of Reality Mine.