‘Balance’ dir. Rankin

At 15, Paul can’t ride a bike and he’s determined to conquer his childhood shortcomings. When his friend and mentor Gareth steals one to learn on, we realise how important this moment is for a teenager.

Director: Rankin
Writer: Freddy White
Producers: David Allain & Jess Gormley
DOP: David Liddell
Key Cast: Xavien Russell, Tom Moutchi

C8: What inspired ‘Balance’ and how long did it take you to write?

FW: That phrase “it’s like riding a bike” is a cliché but I thought what it might mean if you couldn’t ride a bike. At the time I was living in a council estate and all the kids had bikes. In London they seem so much more essential than back home. I thought it would be interesting to have a character who was older but had missed the boat on learning. Where that might place him with his peers. I wanted to find the essence of why learning to ride a bike was important to someone now and felt that really it’s a communal thing. You learn to ride from someone else, a sibling, a parent, and Paul not being able to ride was a reflection of not having someone around to teach him.

C8: Was ‘Balance’ always a three minute short or did you envision a larger piece?

FW: Originally the script was over ten minutes long and went more into why Paul wanted to learn. It was less about the riding but more trying to recapture a childhood experience which most people take for granted. For the purposes of Channel 4, we had to cut it down and in the longer piece it alluded to his absent father and his missed childhood.

C8: What’s your writing process like? How long do you spend developing ideas before writing the script?

FW: This took me seven months to write the original, which is a long time. That’s partly because of the central idea of “recapturing a childhood moment”. Finding that meaning was what took so long and without it I think people might just say, “why give a shit about riding a bike now? You don’t really need one.” I put more time in to the front of writing, bullet pointing where I’m going because I struggle with structure most. I’ve derailed a couple of projects because I jumped in to them without knowing my story properly and then found myself flat in the middle of it.

C8: You’ve written two shorts that were directed by Vicky Lawton. Can you talk a bit about your collaboration process with directors?

FW: Having left film school, I was wary of directors, having experienced a fair few control freaks who pretend they’re listening to the writer and then ignore them. That’s where films fall apart I think, when the writer’s selling apples and the director’s buying pears. When I met Vicky she totally changed my perspective, she listens, gives the writer space to do what they’re good at and then invites you into the process of what she’s so good at, which is directing and making it a visual piece. She is a collaborator in the purest sense, which for a writer is an extraordinary privilege.

C8: What is the most difficult thing about writing shorts?

FW: You don’t have much time so trying to make someone feel something in that time without it being pretentious or heavy handed, is tough. The benefits, however, are that they are short and unlike a feature you can make changes to it and see the results quickly. I see them as poems to books, it’s nice to write something which is important to you but doesn’t take an age to produce.

C8: You’re also a video editor. Does this give you a different perspective than other writers?

FW: Out of all the areas of film making, I think editing is the closest to writing. Editors get frighteningly less plaudits considering they influence a story so acutely. I’m definitely more aware of it when writing scripts, knowing how much the juxtaposition of scenes can affect the audience, as opposed to just dialogue or character action. However, I definitely don’t have an advantage though. I have a black belt in over thinking.

C8: You attended the London Film School. How instrumental was this in shaping your narrative voice?

FW: It’s quite fashionable to say you don’t need to go to film school and you certainly don’t that is true. However, I needed that guidance to get rid of pretensions and delusions that I had. I wrote a lot of rubbish when I arrived no bones about it –and I still do- but Tony Grisoni said that “you have to write bad to write good”. It was wisdom like that which has helped me so greatly in the working world. You forget that top-level filmmakers are still human like you and are constantly suffering the same tribulations.

C8: Are there any films or filmmakers that inspire your work?

FW: Kieślowski is the best, for me. His understatement and simple approach makes story-telling look so easy from script to screen. John Cassavetes too, for getting performances. He was the actors director. I love Aaron Sorkin too, he’s so self-effacing for such a great. A gentleman.

C8: What in your opinion makes for a good collaboration?

FW: Listening probably. There’s too many people working with/for your story that you can’t be closed minded. I guess I try to be protective but not precious about my work.

C8: What’s next for Freddy White?

FW: That’s what I say when I throw my scripts in the bin. [Laughs] I’m writing a feature currently and still trying to figure this game out.