‘The Groundsman’ dir. Jonny Blair

Depicting a lonely football groundsman named Keith who finds out his club has gone out of business, but instead of moving on with his life and acknowledging his past affairs, he tries his utmost to keep the club running.

Writer-Director: Jonny Blair
Producer: Kenny MacKay
DOP: Andrew Wright
Key Cast: David O’Hara

C8: Where did the idea for ‘The Groundsman’ come from? What inspired the film?

JB: I have always had a real affinity and connection with quiet, more secluded characters so for me that was really the starting point. Round about this time as well, I was also noticing a lot of football teams going bankrupt, Glasgow Rangers in Scotland being the most notable. I thought it could be really interesting to combine the shy character with this world and exploring the people that these problems really affect. I also found that there was something really poetic about a man who looks after a stadium that has no team, that idea of not letting go of the past.

C8: How long did the script take to finish and what obstacles did you encounter while writing?

JB: I began writing it in the first year of the film course I was studying in Glasgow. This process continued for around three years. My script mentor was based in LA so I had regular skype calls with him where we pulled the script apart and assessed what we thought the best way of improving it would be. Originally the film didn’t have any back story or family element to it. With that it was slightly impersonal and it didn’t resonate in anyway. When we changed it, things felt complete, something clicked. It no longer felt like something was missing from the story.

C8: What was it like working with David O’Hara and at what stage did he come on board?

JB: David was excellent. He was on board from the very beginning of the process, even before the script was commissioned. He was great to have around and to be honest his performance speaks for itself.

C8: As an emerging filmmaker how did you work with David O’Hara? Did you have time to rehearse at all?

JB: David and I already had a good rapport, I’ve known him for a number of years now as I used to film audition tapes for him and send them off to casting directors in America. With that working relationship already in place I thought there would be no harm in asking him if he wanted to do the film. Luckily for me he loved the script.

We didn’t rehearse at all; the idea of rehearsals puts me off slightly. There is something about ‘first times’ that I think is really special. Particularly as most of the dialogue in the film is improvised, we didn’t rehearse on set before a take either. There’s always that great worry that an actor out-does them self in the rehearsal and never quite reaches that point again. You don’t have to worry about that if you shoot first time.

C8: What did you shoot on and what was the reasoning behind this choice?

JB: We shot digital on the RED Epic. This wasn’t necessarily a choice as that was aesthetically the best camera the university provided. Also, that’s what our student crew had been trained on. Given the choice I would have loved to have had the opportunity to shoot on film, sadly that was not to be however.

C8: If you could do the whole process again is there anything you would do differently?

JB: There is a lot little niggling things I see when I watch the film. Shots I maybe would have done differently, little performance and editing things. But nothing huge. I think that’s to be expected as a creative, you’re never quite happy with your work. I think it’s perfectly natural. Also, I think things change with time. Come back to me in ten years with the same question I’m sure I’ll have a list.

C8: How did you fund the film? Did you receive funding from any financial bodies?

JB: The film course funded almost all of the film. As I mentioned they also provided production and post production equipment. They really acted as a blanket throughout the whole process. We did also receive external funding from Glasgow businesses like Guy’s Restaurant who were generous enough to add to what the university was already providing.

C8: How was the film received on the festival circuit?

JB: The film played in LA, Berlin, London, Glasgow & Edinburgh. It seemed to go down well, and all I’ve heard is good things really. It seems to have struck a chord with some people; there were a lot of sniffles and sobbing in the audience on the night of the first screening!

C8: Do you think that film festivals are still the best place for emerging filmmakers to showcase their work?

JB: I’ve not been in the game very long, but yeah, from what I’ve seen, that seems to be the case. Especially in a culture that is dominated by Blockbuster / Hollywood movies it makes it even harder for independent films to get any form of recognition. You’ve got to hope that one day there is going to be some sort of revolution and these types of films are going to appeal to the greater majority again.

C8: The film won a Scottish BAFTA New Talent Award. What has this award meant for the film and your career?

JB: Yeah, we won for Best Fiction and Best Editing. For me personally it justifies to people that I’m not just “a wee guy from Scotland that makes films for fun”. To people outside the industry they know what a BAFTA is, so it’s nice that they start to understand and respect what I do. On a more literal scale, I’m sure these awards helped towards me being offered a place at The National Film and Television School, where I begin on the directing course in January.

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

JB: I think it’s more simple than people think. I genuinely believe if you like someone as a person and you are on the same page creatively, that should be enough. You can tell very quickly from the first meeting with someone if you are going to get a long. Fundamentally I think it all comes down to trust, you’ve just got to have faith and believe your collaborators are doing the right thing for you and for the film.

C8: What is next for Jonny Blair? Have you got any exciting projects lined up?

JB: As I mentioned before I begin at the NFTS in January. Meantime I’ll be working on various projects. I just crowdfunded a short called ‘White Lies’ which I aim to shoot next year. I’m also developing another short called ‘Come Out of the Woods’ with actors Benjamin Smith, Joe Dempsie and Nico Mirallegro, we’re hoping to shoot that in Summer 2015.