‘The Truth About Stanley’ dir. Lucy Tcherniak (2012)

The story of an unlikely friendship between an old Congolese man and a young runaway…

Year: 2012
Country: UK
Director: Lucy Tcherniak
Writers: Lucy Tcherniak, Neil Westley
Producers: Tom Clark
Key Cast: Oliver Litondo, Raif Clarke

10 Questions for Lucy Tcherniak, Director of The Truth About Stanley 

C8: Congratulations on a fine film. Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired the story?  

LT: Thanks! It started with a conversation with my co-writer Neil. We were discussing what happens to a homeless person when they die on the street. It was a question that neither of us really knew how to answer so it instantly intrigued us. As for Stanley himself, I’ve always been fascinated by people who are compulsive storytellers, and also by people who lie to themselves and to others to make them happy. I suppose Stanley’s character grew from an amalgamation of those interests.

C8: Did you always decide to frame the action from the perspective of a young boy?

LT: Well I think what we found interesting about friendships that are forged on the street, is that they can happen between two people who would never usually meet under any other circumstances. We wanted to create a character that was the polar opposite of Stanley in many ways, but whom he connected with through this shared experience. As we wanted Stanley to be a storyteller, it just felt appropriate that Sam should be a young boy, and to frame the story from his perspective seemed an interesting angle on the subject. I find it intriguing to view things through a child’s eyes.

C8: This film was made in association with The Big Issue Foundation – can you tell us how that relationship developed and what role they played during the making of the film?

LT: Yeah the Big Issue Foundation came on after the script was written. My producer saw the opportunity of getting them involved so that we could raise some money for a good cause at the same. Its quite rare you get to do that as a filmmaker, and I think we’ve raised quite a few thousand so I’m really pleased we did! They were wonderful, and completely trusting so I maintained complete creative control .

C8: By short film standards this is a fairly sizeable piece of work – what were the biggest  production challenges  in getting it made?

LT: Yeah it wasn’t easy! Shooting it in 5 days whilst having to stick to child shooting hours was tough, and we were shooting in December so it was getting dark pretty early. We had a lot of locations all over London so some shoot days were quite logistically awkward, but we got there in the end! It was such an enjoyable shoot – the crew and cast were all so wonderful and there was always a really lovely atmosphere on set.

C8: You’ve chosen to treat the subject with a luscious, lyrical aesthetic, can you talk us through the creative thinking when you were in pre-production?

LT: When it comes to the aesthetic, I tried to use the camera in a way that mimicked the emotion in the scene. I carried this same aim into the edit, so rather than fussing over match cuts on action and getting wrapped up in continuity, we wanted to cut between moments that carried the emotion forward. I think the usual assumption of a film about homeless people in London is that it will be anything but beautiful, but I wanted to reflect Stanley’s optimism and grand fantastical stories in the often very beautiful locations, and stay away from that same old grotty side of London we see time and time again.

C8: The chemistry between your leads is wonderful, were you able to spend significant time in rehearsal with Oliver (homeless man) and Raif (young lad) to establish the dynamic between them?

LT: Not really! That was the plan but due to visa complications which held up Oliver Litondo’s flight from Kenya, we only had all of about an hour or so the day before we started shooting, and poor Oliver was extremely jet-lagged. But as soon as he entered the room he gave Raif (who played Sam) a massive hug and started calling him Sam immediately. It was so lovely to see them instantly click like that. I did have a couple of days with Raif on his own though and that was really helpful.

C8: Where does ‘The Truth About Stanley’ sit in your career, what had you done before?

LT: It’s my fourth short. After my grad film, my second was I Stood Up was made as part of the Smoke and Mirrors 48 Hour film competition, which it won back in 2008. And after that it was a 15 minute psycho-noir set in a 50s gentlemen’s club called Dominic. And I finished ‘Stanley’ in April this year. I also do the odd music video etc too.

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

LT: I suppose its when both people are pulling their weight and contributing different elements that compliment each other’s work. I find its very difficult and rare for two people to entirely share the same vision – I tried co-directing before but its not for me. Co-writing on the other hand I really enjoy, I tend to meet up with my co-writer and chat through scenes, characters, themes and everything else in between and then we’ll divvy up the scenes and pass drafts back and forth, continually re-drafting each other’s work until we’re both happy.

C8: If you could give a filmmaker starting out a piece of advice for breaking into the industry what would it be?

LT: Probably to just crack on with making your own stuff as soon as possible, even if you’ve got no budget – it’s the only way to learn.

C8: What’s next on the horizon for Lucy Tcherniak?

LT: I’m shooting another short called Lay Me Down at the weekend, starring Jessica Barden (Hanna, Tamara Drewe) and Eleanor Gecks (Alice in Wonderland) but I’ve also just begun co-writing my first feature, a tragicomedy called Jesus and the Jetpack with a writer called Luke Norris. The hope is to shoot in 2014.