featured Interview

From Page to Screen: Director Neville Pierce on His Short Films 'Bricks,' 'Ghosted' and 'Lock In'

March 3, 2018Ben MK

Anyone working in film journalism would kill to be able to call Neville Pierce's resume their own. For the better part of the last two decades, Pierce has written for the likes of Esquire and The Guardian, has served as an editor for Total Film and Empire, and has interviewed such actors and directors as Michael Fassbender and David Fincher. Since 2011, however, Pierce has been honing his own skills as a filmmaker, directing several short films, including three that have received a worldwide release this past month.

I caught up with Pierce to find out more about these shorts — Bricks, Ghosted and Lock In — and to learn more about his experiences as a journalist-turned-filmmaker.

Aside from already working in the industry, what inspired you to turn to turn to directing, and how did you apply your experience as a journalist to your work behind the camera?

Pierce: I don't know when the idea of being a director took hold. Growing up I used to devour TV listings and record films — mostly westerns and thrillers — onto VHS and make my own labels listing the year, stars and director. John Ford, Anthony Mann and Hitchcock would've been among the first I was aware of. Then, as a teenager, Fincher and Soderbergh. It probably took interviewing the likes of them and witnessing filmmaking up close to fully appreciate the job. I kind of came to regard film journalism as my own private film school – and I'd ask directors, screenwriters and actors questions specifically so I could learn. It also, though, made the interviews better I think.

These three shorts cover a range of genres, from suspense, to quirky romantic comedy (in black and white, to boot), to psychological thriller. Did you set out to make shorts in the genres that appealed to you? Or did you perhaps want to challenge yourself by taking on a genre that didn't speak to you as much, and trying to turn that around?

Pierce: I think you have to only make films that speak to you. Even short films require a lot of time and effort, so you better be spending that on something you love. I do have feature projects in similar tonal territory to each short, so that has obvious benefits, but wasn't the driving force.

Bricks was based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe who, I read recently, was a big influence on Hitchcock as a teenager — so I wonder if there was a subconscious tonal appeal there. It made me shiver, it made me smile.

We shot Ghosted in black and white partly for budget reasons, partly because it feels inherently romantic and partly because I thought it might be my only chance to do so. The film isn't autobiographical, but it is about love and loss and was intensely personal.

Lock In was a little more expansive — it's one main location, but there's a little car work, more ambitious staging — and I like how it deals with stereotypes and expectations and secrets. Plus, that cast! I'd met Nicholas Pinnock socially and really liked him and was inspired by him — there isn't a shred of dishonesty in that man, he's got a laser-sight for truth — and so was looking for something to do with him. Then we were amazingly fortunate to nab Lucy Boynton off the back of Sing Street and Tim McInnerny, who is brilliant.

You've made a fourth short as well. Can you tell us more about that one and when it might be released for a worldwide audience?

Pierce: The fourth short, Promise, came out of a competition called The Pitch, which I'm a judge for. Hannah Lee was a finalist and though her pitch didn't win, she went on to write the script anyway and I loved it and raised extra finance to make it. It's about a Syrian refugee who can only stay in Britain if she agrees to become a surrogate mother for a desperate couple. It felt timely without being preachy and it doesn't just touch on immigration, but jealousy, love, parenthood.

I'd wanted to work with Rebecca Callard for quite a while and she read it and said yes immediately — it's a great part, quite complicated motivations. Then I met with Nabil Elouahabi, who is a terrific character actor, and he recommended Lara Sawalha for the third role. She's a relative newcomer with a big career in front of her I think. It'll be released alongside some other Pitch films. Not sure when, but 2018 at some point.

With the experience you've gained making films over the past few years, if you could go back in time to when you first began as a filmmaker, is there anything you would do differently?

Pierce: Start sooner. Worry less. Do more. People always say the way to learn is to make things... and it turns out they're right. I was very concerned about doing "professional" productions and while that wasn’t necessarily wrong, there may have been some benefit to just busking it a bit — taking a camera-phone and trying to do stuff in a more informal manner and then stick it in a drawer if it didn't work.

Perhaps if I'd done that then I'd have made a feature by now. Because although Bricks, Ghosted and Lock In were all shot within 11 months, I'd been thinking and talking about making films for years before that. Still, you try not to beat yourself up. You can't worry about what you didn't do. Just got to focus on what you're doing. It's the only way to stay sane.

Bricks, Ghosted and Lock In are now available for streaming on Vimeo.

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