‘This Chair is Not Me’ dir. Andy Taylor Smith

Alan Martin was born with severe form cerebral palsy and has been in a wheelchair since birth. ’This Chair is Not Me’ illustrates a pivotal moment in one mans life, a moment that acts as a catalyst to change, and one that shapes his future.

Country: UK
Writer-Director: Andy Taylor Smith
Producer(s): Tina Pawlik and Blair Barnette
DOP: Andy Taylor Smith

C8: How did you meet Alan Martin? What inspired you to tell his story?

ATS: I stumbled across Alan’s dance workshops on the Internet while researching another project. I was incredibly moved by the inclusive nature of his workshops, and inspired by his determination to do what he loved. Individuals that would perhaps be too intimidated to try dance were encouraged and emboldened by the spirited character that was Alan. I travelled up to Liverpool to meet him and sit in on one of his sessions, initially I was intending to make a film about the work he was doing at the time but as I got to know him and small snippets of his life story came out I instantly knew this was the angle I wanted to take.

C8: Did Alan give much input when you were trying to capture his point of view?

ATS: Rather than a point of view, what Alan did give me was his story. I spent a lot of time with Alan over a period of about a year, because of the communication challenges I asked Alan to write down a brief history of his life focussing on a few key events. He was brilliant because what came back was his full life story very much from his perspective. It was inspiring and heartbreaking all at the same time and gave me a great foundation to work from.

C8: The film has a very cinematic style that is being seen more in documentaries. Do you fear that this can detract from the story you are trying to tell?

ATS: Not at all, I come from a cinematography / art background and have a very visual way of thinking and interpreting things. Alan’s story is very unique and brought to mind numerous images, I was really interested in showing things in a visceral and visual way and as much from Alan’s perspective as possible, I wanted the style of the film to support, accentuate and intensify what was happening in the story.

C8: The sound design is particularly interesting. Did Grant Bridgeman have a free remit or did you have a specific vision?

ATS: I had written a lot of stylistic sound design ideas into the script and knew that I wanted to really push the sound in a way that complimented the visuals and heightened the audience’s response to Alan’s journey. Grant is brilliant and took these ideas and pushed them even further. I trust him implicitly and wanted to give him the space and freedom to develop the core concepts and was blown away when I heard the first pass.

C8: You have directed several documentaries. How does ‘This Chair is Not Me’ differ from the other films you have been involved with?

ATS: This Chair Is Not Me was a brilliant project to work on as it straddles the line between drama and documentary, meaning I could write a loose script. My other documentary projects were more conventional in a sense that I was filming the events as they happened and then we found the story in the edit. With ‘Chair’ I had a fantastic story to work from so in some ways it was a little like adapting a memoir and bringing it to the screen.

C8: The title is very thought provoking. How did this come about?

ATS: In a word ‘Alan’ - the title was taken from a beautiful poem that he wrote many years ago. It was a very moving poem that asked people to see him as an individual and not the chair that he was in. Alan passed away unexpectedly 6 months ago and the poem was read out at his funeral. I was devastated to hear that Alan had passed away and am truly grateful that I was able to tell his story.

C8: ‘This Chair is Not me’ is not a traditional documentary in terms of its narrative. Did you have strong ideas about the style and structure or did it develop as you made the film?

ATS: I knew that I wanted to make a film that was slightly unconventional and I really wanted to push the boundaries as much as I could. I always knew the line that I wanted to end the film on: ‘Alan is no longer lonely’. This gave me a creative space in which to experiment and arrive at the final film.

C8: How long did the whole process take you? What obstacles did you run in to?

ATS: I mentioned earlier that I spent a year getting to know Alan, it took this long because there were challenges with communication as everything had to go through Alan’s communication aid. This process was greatly supported by his carer Joan and his business support worker Frank without whom the film may never of happened. Overall the film took approximately a year and a half to make.

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

ATS: No, I don’t think I would, the whole process seemed very natural and instinctive and I always had a sense throughout that I was in the right place at the right time. If I had done anything differently I might not have ended up with the film that I did.

C8: If you could give young filmmakers a piece of advice what would it be?

ATS: Make work, and make your own work in the way that you want to, don’t wait for things to happen. Be really proactive, curious and enthusiastic and above all make sure you enjoy it, because everything then will be a labour of love.

C8: What is the essence of a good collaboration?

ATS: For me I have found that communication, trust and respect are by far the most important values of collaboration. Film projects can take such a long time and you have to have a good relationship in order to produce the best possible film.

C8: What’s next for you? Any plans?

ATS: I have just finished writing a script called ‘Serious Swimmers’ which is an adaptation of a Michel Faber short story and has been developed through this year’s collabor8te scheme. I also have a feature film project that I am co-writing with Benjamin Noble titled ‘The Scent Of Dogs’, which we aim will go into production in 2014.