New British Cinema: Pond Life Q&A with Director

On 15 May, Storyhouse hosted a screening of Pond Life and a Q&A with the director Bill Buckhurst who previously directed Much Ado About Nothing for Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre. One of our Young Content Creators, Matt went along…

This week Storyhouse hosted its second in a series of director Q&A screenings, celebrating New British Cinema by welcoming along Bill Buckhurst and his debut feature film Pond Life. Set in a small village just outside of Doncaster in 1994, Trevor, an early twenty-something, acts as an older brother figure to a group of younger friends as they try and catch a legendary carp that has been rumoured to have surfaced in a nearby pond. Bill Buckhurst talks about what it is about this story and script that drew him to direct his first film, and how he brought Richard Cameron’s play to the big screen.

Bill Buckhurst took a much different route into filmmaking than that of Toby MacDonald (Featured in the first Q&A screening of this season, click here for more). Bill began his career as an actor, working on both stage and screen, having featured in Skyfall and a reoccurring role in Eastenders. Despite some prolific roles and regular work, he decided acting was not for him, modestly joking that he just “wasn’t very good”. With his love of being on stage dwindling, but his love of storytelling still alive and well, he followed his passion and transitioned to a new role. Describing himself as a “late bloomer” in the world of directing, he quickly gained ground and became a tremendous success in the world of theatre, having worked on everything from musicals like Sweeny Todd to Shakespeare (including last years Much Ado About Nothing in Grosvenor Park).

His theatre work began to attract attention from the screen. He began making some short films and received some tutelage from television directors, shadowing them and learning the ropes. Eventually the script and opportunity to direct the adaptation of Richard Cameron’s Pond Life landed on his desk. Penned by the original playwright, the story immediately appealed for its timelessness and universal themes. Despite the fact the film is set in 1994, Bill was keen to demonstrate that “we are a collage of the times that come before us”, noting that the film feels like it’s even older, citing even the fishing techniques used would have been out of date by this period.

The time period in which Pond Life is set is exceptionally important. Set in a time after the mining industry around Doncaster had collapsed, but before the rise of new labour and the full euphoria of Britpop washed over the youth of Britain, it is a world very much in limbo. Parents lives have been devastated by industrial collapse and thusly the children of this time are feeling the effects. What this does is allow Bill Buckhurst to a state of “just being”. All major plot points and traumas have already happened, very little in the way of conflict is important and everything is just bubbling under the surface of the characters lives during a few boring days during their summer holiday.

As for the location, the beautiful landscape of rural South Yorkshire proves exceptionally important. Vast open spaces of countryside that act as a contrast to cramped family housing allows the characters the opportunity breathe. The quiet and boredom acting as a respite for the troubled lives of the young people within, which allows the film to tackle some rather heavy subject matters in a way that does not feel overwhelming to view. Bill Buckhurst notes how this time period of deprivation and a lack of technology means that there is no instantaneous distraction, so they must create their own. This is where so much of the films charm comes from.

One of the biggest challenges of this film for Bill Buckhurst to overcome was the very short production time, with only 21 days to shoot. When working on a small budget this can often be a big factor, as the longer the shoot, the more expensive the film becomes. This film is one of the first to be produced by Open Palm Films, a company that is focused on telling stories that under conventional means would not get made. The 21 day turn around is quite an achievement, especially considering some quite challenging scenes. Without spoiling the movie too much, one particularly distressing but key scene sees the character of Pogo break down. Due to the demanding nature of this scene, Bill spoke of his desire to complete it in a single shot. He emphasises the importance of managing your time wisely, planning and rehearsing scenes in advance to ensure things run smoothly and the importance of time management. Bill believes it is important to prioritise your time according to the importance of the scene you are shooting. In the example of the scene where Pogo breaks down, he allotted two hours. He ran through it extensively with the actors prior to shooting and rehearsed it the day before, this allowed a very difficult scene to be filmed in a single take.

Despite a precise approach in regards to scheduling, he emphasises the importance of creating a comfortable and relaxed environment. Introducing actors to each other as early as possible was key. The film is very much an ensemble cast and thus the importance that these feel like a real group of friends is vital. Bill speaks about how he likes to let cast members make mistakes and that the more at ease they are, the freer they feel to inhabit the world in which is being created. This shines through in the film, both when characters interact or are simply together in silence. There is a very natural chemistry between the cast.

The next Q&A in the New British Cinema series comes next month as Jon Jones talks us through his debut Last Summer (find out more here). In the meantime, Storyhouse hosts Northern Exposure, a regular event in the cinema highlighting new, local talent and providing networking opportunities for local filmmakers. This month’s event consists of numerous short films followed by a Q&A with their creators, for more details on these films and to book tickets click here.

This article was written by one of our Young Content Creators, an initiative ran in conjunction with Young Storyhouse to provide budding content creators paid opportunities to showcase their unique voices within Storyhouse’s digital channels.

Young Content Creators are supported by Film Hub North, awarding funds from The National Lottery.