‘Pieces’ dir. Jack Weatherley

An unspoken incident unravels the lives of two families into nightmare, fracturing time and memory.

Writer-Director: Jack Weatherley
Producer: James Levison
DOP: Laurie Rose
Key Cast: Michael Smiley, George Mackay, Alice Lowe, Paul Kaye, Tanya Franks

C8: Where did the idea for ‘Pieces’ come from? What inspired it?

JW: Ultimately it came from a place of love. A friend of mine died on the road a few years ago and losing her in such a sudden and unexpected way was a difficult thing to try and understand or accept. It was the first time in my life that I’d properly experienced grief and in the aftermath of the incident somehow time, memories, moments and dreams seemed to fracture and blur. I wanted to try and convey that somehow. It’s important to stress that ‘Pieces’ isn’t about her or her story specifically but an exploration of sorts into that time and those feelings.

C8: How long did the script take you to write?

JW: On and off about two and a half years. It existed in quite a few different iterations before getting to the final draft. The structure and shape was always pretty similar but previous drafts were more dialogue heavy. Distilling it and stripping dialogue out, to let mood dictate the piece, felt right.

C8: What was the most challenging aspect of the shoot and how did you over come it?

JW: Scheduling. Assembling the cast and crew of the caliber that we did was difficult. All of them are busy folk in high demand, so finding time that worked for everyone was a challenge. Miraculously my producer managed to find three days that worked and it was a case of shooting then or probably not at all.

C8: The film has an all-star cast headed up by Michael Smiley and George MacKay. How did this come about?

JW: Michael is a beautiful soul and was very much in my mind when I was writing his part. I’d always admired his work and offered him the role directly. I offered Alice, Tanya and Paul their parts directly too. George was the last to be cast. I’d given our casting director a list of young actors who I was interested in collaborating with and George was on the top of it. Michael came to the audition and had worked with George on another film, so they already had that trust between them, which is so important. George is a phenomenal talent, whatever that ‘thing’ is that results in real screen presence, he has it. We were incredibly lucky to get such a talented group of actors together at the same time.

C8: How did you work with actors who were already so established?

JW: I was experienced in working with established actors on previous projects and my approach is always the same. I’m far more interested in truly collaborating with an actor on a part and exchanging ideas, than projecting my interpretation onto them. The script is a blue print and the real alchemy happens when you explore performance rather than sticking rigidly to what’s on the page. I see it as my job to provide actors with the best possible environment in which to explore and play.

C8: What advice would you give to emerging filmmakers on working with experienced actors?

JW: It’s a continuation of what I was saying before really. I think you have to provide them with the best possible environment and opportunity to achieve what is right for the project. Give them reason to trust you and put their faith in you.

A director has to know what they want and be able to communicate that effectively. That’s the same whether working with actors, heads of department, crew, anyone involved in the process. If you can demonstrate that you know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, confidently and clearly, actors will respond. Generally if an actor feels as though they’re in safe hands, then you’re okay. Obviously every actor is different (as all human beings are) and you have to work with them accordingly but as long as you have trust between you, you have everything.

C8: How did you work with cinematographer Laurie Rose to achieve your vision?

JW: We did all the normal stuff. Exchanging references and making lens choices but we also had certain rules, specifically in framing two of the characters. The film wouldn’t be the film it is, not only in look but in feel, if Laurie hadn’t been involved. He has a really calming manner, which puts actors at ease pretty much straight away. With that he’s able to capture really intimate performance, quite often being physically very close to them. It’s a skill that DOPs and operators don’t get enough recognition for, as working like that they’re an extension of the director.

C8: The film premiered at the 57th BFI London Film Festival. What did this mean for both the film and your career?

JW: My first short premiered at LFF two years before ‘Pieces’, so to go back with my next film was ace. It tends to be the case that if you get into one of the bigger festivals your film will have a better chance of getting into others. Career wise, I think it’s a validation of sorts within the industry and suggests you must be doing something right.

C8: There are lots of film festivals and thousands of short films. How do you go about making something that stands out from the rest?

JW: Difficult one, art is subjective after all. Having well known cast and collaborators will get a degree of attention but that alone isn’t enough. Ultimately the work needs to hold up. I think the films that stand out, whether shorts or features, are the ones that stay with you. That may be because they’re funny, frightening, poignant, visceral or so on but the thing they all have in common is real soul, feeling and texture.

C8: Are film festivals still the best place for emerging filmmakers to showcase their work?

JW: Depends on what your aim is really. If it’s prestige, selection in big festivals will always carry a degree of that but you may just be looking to get your work seen by as many people as possible, in which case festivals aren’t necessarily the way to go. Even if your film has a really decent run on the festival circuit, it’ll only be seen by relatively small numbers of people. Good online exposure can reach big audiences very quickly, if that’s what you’re going for.

C8: You’ve directed commercial spots as well as narrative shorts. What considerations do you have to make when directing a promo as opposed to something more narrative?

JW: Directing commercial work, you’re a hired hand delivering what the client and agency want. That is the main consideration. You’ll have got a job because they like your work and approach and while every job is different, there doesn’t tend to be much scope for experiment. With narrative work, particularly when you’ve written it, it can take whatever shape you want it to.

C8: What, do you think, makes for a good collaboration?

JW: I know I keep on banging on about it but it’s all about trust. It doesn’t matter whether that’s trust between director and actor, actor and DOP, director and composer or so on. If you have trust, you have everything. I’ve surrounded myself with a really talented family of collaborators who know what I’m trying to achieve on each project and I have total trust in them that they’ll help me craft each one.

C8: What is next for you? Any exciting projects lined up?

JW: Another short, ‘The Hope You Promised Love’, is in post at the moment and should be out soon. I collaborated with an impossibly talented cast again, this time Jim Sturgess (‘One Day’ / ‘Cloud Atlas’) and Stacy Martin (‘Nymphomaniac’). I’ve had a feature length documentary / art piece commissioned which I’m looking forward to getting stuck into and I’m working towards a narrative feature debut. I’m being mentored by Peter Strickland, as part of Guiding Lights, which has been really inspiring.