Interview with Directors Brian Fairbairn, Karl Eccleston (TOMMIES)

TOMMIES, 15min., UK, Drama
Directed by Brian Fairbairn, Karl Eccleston
In Regency-era London five women waiting for a carriage descend into a frenzy of vicious gossip about a notorious scandal – with devastating results.

Get to know producer Ioanna Karavela. and directors Brian Fairbairn, Karl Eccleston:

1. What motivated you to make this film?

We came across this story of a real scandal that happened in London in 1810 where a group of men who had been frequenting a male brothel (known as a molly house) were arrested by the police and publicly pilloried. The story of moral panic, outrage, and public shaming immediately piqued our interest because it felt like there was a very clear parallel between the frenzied backlash against these men in 1810 and the very modern threat of social annihilation at the hands of the social media machine. We’d noticed that this fear – this fear of being exposed or cancelled – was becoming more widespread and what’s more, it spoke to the very common gay fears of being outed, so we wanted to create something that channeled this anxiety and the horror of exposing the deep-rooted shame a lot of queer people learn to live with. So it may be a period drama, but really it’s a comment on the human instinct to scapegoat, modern rituals of public shaming, and mob justice. We also have a deep love for the genre and are very inspired by the period films of the Australian new wave – films like Picnic at Hanging Rock and My Brilliant Career – so it was a joy delving into the language of the world and getting to play with that sensibility.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

It was about four years from start to finish. We worked on the screenplay for about 18 months and then it took us a really long time to find a producer. It was very difficult to find a producer who wanted to take the film on given its narrative complexity and also with all the challenges that trying to make a period short presents. The pandemic also put a spanner in the works – it added about a year to the process – but it was also a blessing in disguise in the end because it meant we were able to take our time with casting, production design and making sure the script was perfect.

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?

Paranoid, savage

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Writing the screenplay was the biggest challenge. The film has a complicated back story and five characters who all know very different things at different times, so the challenge was getting the balance right between planting all the seeds of that backstory without lapsing into clunky exposition while also allowing the drama of the actual story on screen play out. The edit was also fiendishly difficult. We had all this material and we had five character arcs we needed to fit into a 15 minute film. Surprisingly, the fact that it was a period drama wasn’t that challenging (it’s just expensive!). If anything the greatest obstacle was finding a producer who would take the story on. We were very lucky to find Ioanna and Erik at EP:IK, who were not only able to brilliantly execute a difficult project, but also mentored us and pushed us creatively.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

We were quite blown away, actually. As filmmakers you slave over something for years to make something with a runtime of fifteen minutes so it’s really gratifying to hear these really astute observations where people pick up on all the details and choices you’ve made from the edit, right through to lighting, hair and costume. It’s a dense film, we’ve really packed a lot in and it brings us a real joy to see it all getting appreciated and noticed.

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

Karl always wanted to be a writer, and Brian had directed mostly theatre at university. It wasn’t until we met in Australia back in 2010 and we went to a local short film night called Kino (it’s like an ‘open mic’ night for films) that we thought – ‘we can do that.’ Our first short film Skwerl went viral on YouTube and now has over 50 million views. We’ve been making films ever since.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

The Wizard of Oz (Karl), Rocky Horror (Brian)

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

For us, festivals are all about the opportunity to discuss your work with an audience and also get their thoughts. Live Q&A sessions are great but we also loved the filmed feedback the festival provided – we’ve never had feedback in this format. It’s almost like getting a series of reviews of your work which you usually don’t get with a short because feedback in a Q&A at a festival is ephemeral.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

We’ve used FilmFreeway a number of times over the years and have always found it straight forward and convenient in submitting to multiple festivals.

10. What is your favorite meal?

We both really love a good lasagne.

11. What is next for you? A new film?

We’re currently working on a film set in the 90s in Sydney (where Karl is originally from). We’re also in the early stages of expanding Tommies into a feature.

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By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival www.wildsound.ca

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