Chris Dundon is the director at the helm of this week’s short, Bro. He talks us through production challenges, the difficulties of portraying mental and physical disabilities on screen and why a crime thriller is next on the agenda.
BRO IS A REALLY POIGNANT, ENGAGING DRAMA. WHERE DID THE IDEA COME FROM?
Mainly from my time as a youth worker, I would often see young people try to hide aspects of their lives they weren’t completely comfortable with. Often there was a fear of being judged and needing to fit in. What many of these young people hadn’t quite grasped yet was that the best friends you will make in life are those who will accept everything about you. So for me, that was interesting ground and a starting point. I then wanted to create a character that would hide their difficult situation, and not accept it. But ultimately discover that there are good people out there that won’t judge, these are the people you need in life.
THE CENTRAL DILEMMAS FOR YOUR MAIN CHARACTER, SIMON, ARE DRAMATISED EXTREMELY EFFECTIVELY – WERE THOSE TENSIONS AND SCENARIOS THE BUILDING BLOCKS FOR YOUR STORY FROM THE OUTSET?
I knew from the start that I wanted to make a longer format short, the beauty of that is that you have more time to explore a character and throw more obstacles their way, than say, a ten minute short. I wanted to use each dilemma and tension as a bigger building block than the last, so there was a natural culmination, simmering and building towards the bus final scene. I think this allows for audience to stay engaged, but also to care enough to stay with a character and see where their journey ends and whether they reach fulfillment.
SO MUH IS ESTABLISHED ECONOMICALLY IN YOUR SET UP THAT PAYS OFF EMOTIONALLY LATER AND YOUR SCRIPT IS A REALLY GOOD EXAMPLE OF WHAT NEEDS TO BE LAYERED IN EARLY FOR A DRAMA TO BE ABLE TO GO THE DISTANCE. HOW LONG DID YOU SPEND DEVELOPING THE SCRIPT?
A long time! I love writing, but I find the process a difficult one. I remember writing myself down a lot of dead ends before I managed to get to a place where the story felt settled and layered enough. I think I drove my script editor crazy, but that’s all part of the process when you are learning. I guess it roughly took me around six months from a first draft to a last.
REPRESENTING PHYSICAL AND MENTAL DISABILITY ON SCREEN COMES WITH A LOT OF RESPONSIBILITY. HOW DID YOU APPROACH RESEARCH AND CASTING WHEN IT CAME TO MARK’S CHARACTER?
It’s interesting, because I had to fight my corner to cast an actor with a mental disability, which I think is unfortunate and disappointing. I remember being advised several times to use an actor, without a disability, to portray the character of Mark, but I was never going to do that. My casting director Leoni Kibbey was amazing, once we discussed casting an actor with Fragile X Syndrome and Autism, she worked tirelessly meeting families involved with The National Autistic Society and young people affiliated with similar organisations. We had several workshops in London and then created a short list of those we felt would be able to work on a film set, I think it was clear that for some young people we met, the stress and bustle of a film set would have been just too much. With our shortlist, we then did a few workshops with actors and actresses we were interested in for the roles of Simon and the Mother. It was a truly amazing experience and quite unique for some of the actors like Sean (Simon) and Emma (Mother) as well I think.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO NEW WRITERS TRYING TO DEVELOP DRAMA IDEAS?
For me, once I have the concept, idea or moment that will drive the story, I spend a long time writing a backstory about all my characters before I even begin an outline. This helps me to know enough about them and how they will react to the obstacles I place in front of them throughout the story. Oh, and I guess stay strong when your story isn’t working, there will always be times when it just doesn’t seem right, or feel right, but if you stay focused and believe in the idea – it will come good eventually.
AT 17 MINUTES BRO IS AT THE LONGER END OF THE SHORT FILM SPECTRUM. WAS THIS A CONCERN WHEN YOU WERE EDITING, OR DID YOU FEEL THAT IT WAS NECESSARY TO HAVE A LONGER RUNNING TIME TO ACHIEVE THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT YOU WERE STRIVING FOR?
I didn’t really ever look at the running time during the edit if I’m honest, not until the very end. The main focus was on developing the characters and telling the story with the right pacing. I don’t think the film could have been any shorter really, I tried to take a few scenes out here and there but I always felt like each scene that was removed had something important to say, so it stayed eventually.
WHAT WERE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES IN PRODUCTION?
Having a crappy old bus that broke down repeatedly, and overheated so badly, we were frequently evacuating it at the side of busy carriageway. It meant everything on the bus was done in less than four hours and one take for each shot. Still, what do you expect for a hundred quid all in for the bus and the driver? There were many other challenges too, having so many characters and locations on just a four-day shoot meant that most scenes felt rushed and compromises had to be made on the way I intended to shoot certain things.
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE SECRET IS TO MAKING A STAND-OUT SHORT?
Every brilliant short film that stands out from the crowd has one moment you will never forget; it will stay in your mind long after the final credits role. I think you need that one moment, whatever it maybe. I think Ah Ma by Antony Chen is one of the best short films I have ever seen, it has ‘that one moment’ at the end with a young boy and his grandmother who is dying. It really is quite a remarkable moment that I know I will never forget.
WHAT’S THE ESSENCE OF A GOOD COLLABORATION?
Honesty and hard work. You have to be able to feel free to say to anyone you collaborate with when something isn’t right. Then work hard to fix it, together.
WHAT’S NEXT ON THE HORIZON FOR CHRIS DUNDON?
I am writing a drama feature at the moment and it’s tough going. I think drama sometimes feels like a slightly dirty word with features – especially when you have to pitch it! But there is a market out there for strong dramatic features. I feel that this story asks some very tough questions at its heart, and it is set in a fairly distinctive world, so I believe I can get it off the ground. I hope to have that finished by the end of the year, to shoot in the near future. I am developing a crime thriller as well, which I am enjoying – it’s out my comfort zone as a writer, but that is a good thing for sure. I have also just raised some money privately to shoot a short film this summer, so it’s a busy time – which is good!