‘The Answer to Everything’ dir. Rupert Jones

The Answer to Everything is film and opera set in a conference run by fictional property developer, Locateco Solutions. Mixing performances from Streetwise Opera’s homeless and ex-homeless performers with a handful of professionals including renowned soprano Elizabeth Watts ‘The Answer to Everything’ is a rich and characterful 40-minute film.

Director: Rupert Jones
Associate Artistic Director: Emma Bernard
Producer: Jess Gormley
Executive Producer: Matt Peacock
Key Cast: Elizabeth Watts

C8: How did you become involved with Streetwise Opera and why did you want to direct ‘The Answer to Everything’?

RJ: I was approached through my agent and, as I was curious, went along for an interview. I think I might have come across as rather self-important. When they expressed an interest in me to direct, I was a bit non-committal to begin with - the script seemed a little abstract for my tastes. Subsequently, I realised that it was tailored to very specific scheduling requirements, to ensure the presence of all the participants throughout the film

It was also hard to resist the charm and enthusiasm of the Streetwise crew. They’re unstoppable.

C8: The performers in the film are largely made up of the charity’s 11 groups from around the UK, all of who have experienced homelessness. How did you approach working with the cast?

RJ: The other reason for my initial hesitancy was a certain apprehension about working with what I ignorantly presumed would be a ‘difficult’ group of people. I was a little anxious that I wouldn’t know how to ‘handle’ them. As it turned out, they were tireless, good humoured and extremely professional. And so my approach didn’t really change - though I might have shouted a little louder when explaining things, as there were so many of them.

C8: How did you go about integrating the professional actors with the rest of the cast?

RJ: This wasn’t really an issue for the reasons I have mentioned. I didn’t feel any need to treat anyone differently. In fact, I would say that the participants of ATE were more inclined to repeat takes and accept direction than certain professionals I’ve worked with in the past.

C8: ‘The Answer to Everything’ was shot on several different locations across the country, using different cast in each location. Can you talk about some of the challenges this presented you with?

RJ: The script was designed in order to give the impression of the participants being one large group. In fact, there were three groups spread across three locations at three different times. The challenges of this were really met in the planning. In those songs where all three groups appear, it was important to have a precise sense of which group sings which line. A tremendous amount of effort went into getting the songs rehearsed and recorded long before my involvement. By the time we came to the shoot, everyone knew who sang what. It was thanks to Emma Bernard (the Artistic Director of the entire production), who was right on top of all this that I didn’t have to worry about the musical logistics.

C8: You have directed several music videos before, how did this opera film differ from your previous work?

RJ: Yes, it felt a lot closer to directing videos than it did to shooting drama. I tend to be very organised and precise when planning videos, so that there is little room for going off-piste. When shooting ATE, however, we were often forced by time to abandon our plans in favour of improvised solutions. My favourite bit of the film, the beach stuff at the end, was far looser and more lyrical for being decided on the spur of the moment.

C8: You often write and direct your own shorts. What is the difference coming on board a project solely as a director?

RJ: Usually I start out with a clear idea of what something is going to be and then do my darnedest to realise some essence of that original vision. On this project, there was so much that was already decided – the script, the cast, the locations – that I just had to decide whether I wanted to dive in or not, and see what came out the other end. Curiously, I’m still not sure what we’ve made. I think it’ll take a while away from it to find out.

C8: The film premiered at BFI Southbank with live performances given alongside the film. What was it like collaborating on this enormous scale?

RJ: If I’m being honest, I am bound to say that when you have shot and cut a film, the last thing you want is to see is it cut into parts again. Really, my job was finished when the film was complete.

C8: What is the best piece of advice you have received about filmmaking?

RJ: Learning how to write is the surest way to discover the mechanics.

C8: What, in your opinion, is the essence of a good collaboration?

RJ: Talented, likeable people working for the sake of the film.

C8: What future projects are you working on?

RJ: I’m developing several features, one of which, ‘Kaleidoscope’, I’m aiming to make this year. I’m also co-writing a three-part TV drama.\

The Answer to Everything live opera and film experience will be part of the London Short Film Festival on Thursday 16th January, 6.30pm at the ICA. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

Streetwise Opera is an award-winning charity that uses music to help 500 homeless people per year make positive changes in their lives. We do this through a weekly music programme in 11 homeless centres across England and Wales and by staging critically-acclaimed opera productions starring our homeless performers.www.streetwiseopera.org