As the British Independent Film Awards showed this weekend, there is a consistently high level of independent films being produced in the UK, and it is lovely to see the future of British cinema is in safe hands. One pair of those hands is director Joe Stephenson, whose first film Chicken is receiving rave reviews from names such as Stephen Frears and Sir Ian McKellen. The film tells the story of a young man, Richard, who struggles with the twists and turns of his life with the help of his constant companion Fiona, who just happens to be a chicken.
The film, which stars Scott Chambers and Morgan Watkins, is currently being shown in a number of advanced screenings, one of which I attended last week, with another being held in Stephenson’s home town of Sheffield on December 18 and a final screening in London’s Crouch End on December 20. I cannot recommend this film enough, and if anyone has the opportunity to attend either of these screenings, I would highly recommend they do.
I was lucky enough to speak to Stephenson this week about Chicken and his future plans, and here at 4YE we can’t wait to see what this exciting new director has to show the film world in the future.
The next advanced screening is being held in Sheffield. Is there an added pressure in showing the film to your “home” audience?
No more than the pressure that comes with showing it to any audience, I care equally about every single audience member. When you make a film, I believe you make it for the audience. Not for yourself, not for the industry, but for the audience. Your great hope is that it finds a wide and varied audience. The greatest pressure is that people from all walks of life find something in it that speaks to them, and hopefully moves them. That pressure is there with every audience no matter where they are.
East Anglia is largely ignored by film and TV makers, especially Essex which is considered by many as an extension of London. How important was it for you to cast “local” people in the project, and would you consider making another film in the area?
I think the source material is always the greatest representation of an area or locale, and Freddie (the original playwright) is from Colchester. He created these characters that live in the environment he grew up around and knows inside out, and it’s my job as director to make sure his characters and their environment are represented honestly. But good actors take that job on too, and the most important thing is to hire actors who you trust and are skilled enough to understand the characters on every level. The fact that Scott (Chambers) is from the area too I’m sure added to his own affection for the character of Richard. However, priority to me will always be an actors talent and energy on screen, not where he or she was brought up or what their natural accent is. As for making another film about the area – if a story takes me there, then of course.
Would you be open to working on a project that would take you back to Sheffield or Yorkshire?
I certainly would, and hope I get the opportunity to at some point. The UK is a diverse country, both the landscape itself and the people living in it, that’s what makes this country great. That diversity should be represented on film, but paramount to that is of course the script and finding a story that means something to me personally. I have one I’d like to do that is based in North England, but who knows when that will happen and if the movie Gods will let me make it!
Scott Chambers was truly exceptional in his portrayal of Richard in Chicken. Chambers played the same role in the stage play, did you ever consider casting anyone else in the role?
I didn’t. Every now and then an actor owns a role so completely you can’t see anyone else portraying that character. That’s what Scott did with Richard on stage and, while he is certainly different in the film, there was never going to be anyone else who could bring Richard to the big screen with me. It’s a privilege as a filmmaker to be able to give Scott his first lead in a film, because when this performance has premiered to the industry there is no doubt in my mind that he will go on to very very big things.
With the warm reception Chicken has received do you feel any added pressure for your next project?
I don’t actually! They are very very different projects in every way: budgetary, aesthetically, emotionally. So while I want to develop a career as a consistently reliable director, in a variety of genres, that pressure will always be there no matter the reception of any one piece of work. The biggest feeling you have when your work is received well is pride, I’m very proud that the hard work by everyone involved in Chicken is being felt by the audiences we’ve had so far.
Talking of your next project, was there any particular reason in your choice of casting an American in the lead role (Noel) as for many Coward is the epitome of Englishness?
As I mentioned before, the most important thing when finding the right person for a specific role is their talent and their energy. That was the case with every cast member of Chicken, and it is the case with casting a film about Noel Coward. Chris Colfer is an incredibly talented actor, he has an emotional intelligence that I believe audiences see themselves in. He also has a comparable energy to that which Noel Coward had at his age, an energy not usually associated with Noel Coward today because of who he became as he got older. It’s that combination of energy and emotional intelligence that has served him so well in Glee, and gained him so many fans. But I also know Chris has a lot more to give as an actor, so I’m going to work him very hard and it’s going to be great. We’re going to surprise a lot of people I think.
I was excited to learn that you directed the Sky Arts series In Love With Shakespeare which I really enjoyed, Would you ever think about directing a movie version of a Shakespeare play, and which one would you choose?
Interesting, I’ve not really considered it. Mostly because I’m a bit of a romantic, so Romeo & Juliet always sits on top as my favourite and there really doesn’t need to be another film version of that! It would be most interesting to tackle one that is adapted far less, like The Winters Tale or something. But there is also a reason why those are less adapted! Perhaps there is a way to do adapt a lesser known Shakespeare for screen that breaks some rules, takes some risks, but by breaking rules with Shakespeare you will undoubtably upset traditionalists who would probably be your primary audience, so it’s difficult. In short, maybe one day but not any time soon!
Thank you to Joe and B Good Picture Company for taking the time to talk to 4YE, and please check out the website for Chicken, and in the mean time here is the trailer for your enjoyment.