‘The Conductor’ dir. Geof Wolfenden

‘The Conductor’ tells the magical story of an old man’s battle against the elements as he goes about his timeless calling.

Year: 2010
Country: UK
Director: Geof Wolfenden
Writer: Geof Wolfenden
Producer: Mike Knowles
Key Cast: Seamus O’Neill 

C8: Congratulations on ‘The Conductor’, great to see a short really reaching for the big emotional notes – where did the idea come from?

GW: The basic idea or premise for the film came out of a conversation with a good friend of mine when we were talking one day about what makes a good film, about how all the elements have to be just right from the script to the casting, the right locations, the score etc. etc. and even then there’s no guarantee. This lead me to trot out the pretty well known saying that its like trying to catch lightning in bottle and after that I couldn’t get the image of someone actually doing that out of my head and so I sat down and starting developing the idea into what became ‘The Conductor’.

C8:  How did you fund the film and what were the biggest logistical challenges in production?

GW: The film was self-funded so I basically took on a lot of extra work, working seven days a week for quite a while which to be honest sucked but I knew if I wanted to make the film I was going to have to make it happen myself - although a few good friends did also put some money into the film as well for which I will always be very grateful. I tried to follow most of the ‘rules’ of low budget filmmaking, few locations, minimal cast but without having that limit the story I was trying to tell.

C8: The score is quite a powerful force in the film – how did you go about finding a composer to work with and can you give us an insight into how the conversation went?

GW: My Co-Producer on the film, Mike Knowles, and I were talking about the score for the film when Mike suggested a former band mate of his (Mike being a former rock god or so he tells me!), Ian Livingstone who was now a composer  and who might be right for the film. Because the film is dialogue-free I knew the score would have to convey the emotion of the story whilst also enhancing some of ‘grander’ visuals during the storm scenes. Luckily Ian is an absolute genius and came up with an epic score that took my breath away, as a filmmaker its not often I am ever fully satisfied with any element of a film I make, there’s always that niggling feeling that it could be better or that maybe doing it differently would have make it work more but the score Ian produced for the film was perfect and I still love it as much now as the first time I heard it. I’ve worked with Ian a lot since then on other projects and feel very lucky to have such a great friend and collaborator.

C8: Who was responsible for the wonderful production design?

GW: I was lucky enough to talk the wonderful Vanessa Hawkins into being the Production Designer on the film. Vanessa usually spends her time working on a variety of high end TV shows and feature films so I was delighted when she agreed to help us out. I had some very specific ideas on how ‘the world’ of The Conductor should look and had been sketching designs and buying random props here and there for a couple of months but it wasn’t really helping to build a coherent picture of what the overall look would be. Thankfully Vanessa came in and quietly took charge to create the stunning sets and props for the film which give it that unique and interesting look.

C8: How was the short received and how hard did you push it on the festival circuit?

GW: The film was initially picked up for representation and distribution by the British Council although this unfortunately didn’t lead to many festival screenings. The film toured the festival circuit in a fairly limited way for about a year and received a lot of great comments although ultimately I think it didn’t reach as wide an audience as it could have. Having a clearer and more targeted approach to festival submissions would probably have enabled us to get the film to be seen by more people and it was a somewhat sobering lesson in relation to the fairly obvious fact that the work doesn’t and shouldn’t stop just because you’ve finished your film…

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

GW: I’d been making shorts for a while before but I wanted ‘The Conductor’ to be an attempt to make a ‘feature quality’ short film, to show 5 minutes of what, given the opportunity, a feature film of mine might look like. I wanted the film’s visual style and design to match the ambition and scope of the idea whilst also conveying the magical quality of the story. We shot on 35mm and utilized a comprehensive VFX pipeline to ensure the visuals matched the original vision of the film. Because of the low budget it took a long time to get it finished and I hope that the attention to detail comes across in the film.

C8: What are the films, and who are the filmmakers, that made you want to get into directing?

GW: Its pretty tough to say which films have influenced you the most as I don’t think it’s something that ever stops. I always say my favorite film is ‘Jaws’ because I remember watching it on TV with my family when I was little and actually lifting my feet off the floor in case the shark was there - any film that can do that gets my vote! I guess I’m quite common in the fact that Steven Spielberg’s films, along with other mainstays like Star Wars and Superman, were what made me want to make films in the first place; just the magic of the stories and worlds they created blew me away. I love the escapism that comes with those big movies, the stunning visuals and epic scores that just make you smile but always with well drawn and distinctive characters at their heart. I suppose I’ve always been drawn to directors with a clear vision who create their worlds in which their stories play out; Ridley Scott, Tim Burton, Wes Anderson, Tarsem Singh and JJ Abrams would be a few of the many filmmakers I aspire towards.

C8: What, for you, is the essence of a good collaboration?

GW: Filmmaking is at its core a collaborative process, I’m not sure if there is a magic formula for getting it right every single time. I think I’ve been quite lucky in that I’ve always approached any potential collaboration the same way, by just telling whoever it is what I’m trying to do, telling them the story - in essence pitching it to them. If you’re asking someone to give their time and expertise then I think its right you have to ‘sell’ them on the project and on you. My experience has been that if you’re honest and open from the start, and appreciate how lucky you are to have these skilled people working to bring your vision to life, the collaborations and friendships that are vital just take care of themselves.

C8: What’s next on the horizon for Geof Wolfenden?

GW: Like so many other filmmakers I’m currently developing several feature projects at the moment in the hope of directing my feature film but also trying to keep things fresh by working on a new short film with a good friend of mine, the insanely talented Haz Dullul (who was also the VFX supervisor on ‘The Conductor’) through his new company Masked Frame Pictures. I am also looking to try and sign to the roster of a production company to expand on the commercials directing work I have done as some of the work being done in the UK at the moment is just amazing and how can you not want to be a part of that!