‘Kids Might Fly’ dir. Alex Taylor

An off-beat portrait of kids living in East London.

Year: 2009
Country: UK
Director: Alex Taylor
Writer: Alex Taylor
Producers: Hsinyi Liu and Rachael Swindale
Key Cast: Georgia Christou, Christie Leigh Emby and Kyle Hill

C8: Tell us about ‘Kids Might Fly’ – where did the idea come from?

AT: I had a script about teenagers involved in a supernatural occurrence, but after I started casting and talking to lots of teenagers I got more fascinated by the idea that they find funny ways of getting over their emotional problems.  I rewrote it and included real bits of their lives which fitted into this theme.  The title came after I felt it needed flying footage and I found someone on Youtube who had attached a camera to a remote controlled airplane and flew it over the same area we had filmed the farm sequence.  But the central story that ties it all together was from a real interview with my friend Dannielle who did nearly jump off a bridge but survived her depression by reading a book called The Pig of Happiness.  I thought that was the ultimate in funny ways of surviving.  She read that book hundreds of times in the care home.

C8: Where did the film sit in your career and what had you done before it?

AT: It’s the first of three short films I’ve made.  I was a musician at the time, and one day I phoned Hackney council and asked if they had any film funding as I was also interested in writing.  I wrote something one evening and sent it in, and luckily they funded it, which pretty much changed my life because it then won the Best of the Boroughs, SXSW, and started going around the festivals.  That was a whole new world that I never knew existed, it was an amazing year of making new friends and seeing the world, and we won in SXSW at the same time as Lena Dunham won with ‘Tiny Furniture’.  So I really felt part of that whole low-budget indie movie movement that was, and is still, happening.  But before being a musician I was an archaeologist - I have a degree in that, I didn’t go to film school.

C8: What were the biggest challenges during production?

AT: Working with non-actors and getting relaxed performances was something I really wanted and wasn’t easy.  With girls it’s easier, as they start talking and don’t stop so I could create an atmosphere and get the dialogue to fit in, but with teenage guys I found were much more shy and it was difficult to get them talking naturally once the camera was on.

I also found it difficult working with the one or two actors in the film because I had to strip away any acting and get them to be themselves and not analyse everything.  I wanted it all to feel like a documentary even though it wasn’t.

C8: It is really great to see some interesting and positive representations of east London kids on the screen, were you deliberately trying to counter the negative stereotyping of that particular demographic?

AT: Yeah I really feel that most films with teenagers show them being in trouble with gangs and drugs, which is really repetitive and uninspiring!  I think film should illuminate and fascinate, not depress us!  So I wanted to have a film where the kids kind of get their own back on the stereotype and just boldly go where they’re not usually allowed to go.  Like the two Essex boys when one sings a country and western love song, you just don’t see that in films, normally he’d be driving around in a suped-up Fiesta listening to grime.  Young people nowadays are so switched on and mature, if anything it’s the adults who have all the problems!

C8: Some of the characters you’ve found say the most extraordinary things – how did you find them?

AT: Documentary way so it would blend in, but we also used improv.  So the high power vertical speed-tanning bit was a speech I wrote, except she made up the bit about her elbows being ashy.  The two boys with the bag of bones at the start of the film came up to us while we were shooting Dannielle feeding the pigs.  They annoyed us at first because they kept talking about this bag while we were trying to record sound, but my first AD pointed out that they looked interesting.  So I said ok, we’re gonna film you and you tell us about your bag of bones, and they did one take perfectly and we never saw them again.

Dannielle is someone I met in a bar who was freaked out because her sister was having an argument with her boyfriend and I invited her back to mine for a cup of tea and we became friends.  But most of the teenagers were found by the wonderful casting director Tina Boles, who is some kind of mad genius and brought a real mix of people from Facebook, myspace, and the street.

C8: Did you have loads of extra footage that didn’t make the final cut?

AT: We couldn’t shoot much because we shot on film with a budget of £1500, so we didn’t have the luxury.  I think we shot 60 minutes for a 6 minute film, so ratio of 10:1.  All the budget went on processing and stock! But people loved shooting film so everyone was happy and the colours and texture always look better than digital.

C8: The film is quite expressionistic, but takes its cue from the everyday world of these kids – is artistic documentary a medium you want to develop in as a filmmaker?

AT: I don’t really consider it to be documentary or fiction, I guess because I’m untrained and have more of a musician’s approach to making film.  Just put whatever it is that looks and sounds good and works, whether you have to write it or find it doesn’t matter.  I think the film is like a vision you try to recreate and sometimes you find what you need in front of you and sometimes you have to make it up.  I’m also not sure there’s much distinction between documentary and fiction because they’re both manipulated and the notion that documentary shows reality doesn’t stand up.

The expressionistic part is important for me because I feel it takes the audience to a deeper level of understanding about the subject matter. 

C8: Talk us through your choice of music for the film?

AT: The indian flute and drone at the start of the film was from a guy I saw busking on the subway, I stopped and got his number and asked him to send me some music for the film.

The other track is Best Friends Forever, an unsigned indie band from Minneapolis.  I like them because of the catchy, homemade sound they have and this somehow sums up the off-beat world that I try to explore in films.  They toured and played in Hackney last year, at the Old Blue Last, so I got to meet them after talking on the phone for two years!  Phil Ilson who runs London Short Film Festival wants them to compose a theme tune for this years festival…I need to ask them!

C8: What is the essence of a good collaboration?

AT: I guess it’s choosing the right people to collaborate with?  I have a really trusting relationship with my DOP, Liam Landoli.  I hardly ever tell him what to film or where to stand, I just let him use his intuition and follow the action or people.  I think you have to give people respect to put themselves into your film and not try to stamp yourself all over it, otherwise the film can seem unhealthy and claustraphobic.

C8: What’s next on the horizon for Alex Taylor?

AT: I have funding from iFeatures (http://ifeatures2.co.uk/still-night-still-light1.html) to write my first feature film.  It’s about a girl who fakes her own alien abduction and disappears, forcing her father to look for her among her weirdo friends who are all goths and cosplayers.  It’s a journey into the fantasy-obsessed world of teenagers through the eyes of a father searching for his daughter.  The Exec Producer is Tristan Goligher who produced Weekend, he’s really great to work with as he’s super focused and encourages individuality.  We find out if we go forward into production this February and hopefully be making the film over summer.