Sussex Screen caught up with Benjamin Verrall, the writer and director of Incidental Characters, set and filmed in Lewes.
Why did you choose to set it in Lewes? Which came first, the story or the setting?
Incidental Characters was made with more love than money. Early on, we thought about how we could keep costs down – while keeping the production values high. The film is about people so, in theory, could be set anywhere in the world. Lewes is where we live, so a place we know very well – and a very photogenic town with lots of visual interest. It made sense to write the script with location in mind. I actually wrote a lot of the scenes where they were eventually filmed. Lewes is a perfect setting for the story and is a character in its own right. A small town, but one with history and buzzing with creativity.
How did you arrange the filming?
We approached the owners of the various locations we had in mind and asked if we could film in their premises. This meant creating a filming schedule around opening times. Tizz’s – the shop where Josie works – allowed us to film on a Sunday when they were closed. The pub scenes were filmed in the early morning before opening time (with cleaners kindly working quietly around us!). We also used Toffee Hammer’s studio as a location in the Star Brewery. Amelia – who co-produced and did all the art direction – also let us use her studio as a changing room, make-up station and filming location. Ruth, the other co-producer, had stayed in lots of Air BnBs during pre-production and some of these also became locations. To get permission to film on the streets of Lewes and the South Downs, we liaised with The Sussex Film Office.
Any unforeseen circumstances?
Filming with an actor in a cardboard robot costume in public places was fun! But – in all honesty – the people of Lewes are so used to seeing eccentric sights, thanks to Bonfire, that most members of the public we encountered didn’t give us a second glance. Because we were working to such a tight schedule, we were very lucky not to have any problems.
I gather the unpredictable British weather was an issue…
We planned to film at a time when it normally rains in England – and figured I should write it into the script. For the 10 days we filmed we had nothing but glorious sunshine. It makes Lewes look beautiful – but meant I had to be inventive in post-production where the rain was important to the plot.
I really identified with Alf. Do you find people have reacted to the characters in a surprising or expected way?
I watched the film with a full house at the Depot Cinema, as I was due to do a Q&A afterwards. It was really interesting to hear the audience reactions. While it was a relief to hear lots of laughter during the scenes which we knew to be funny… there were also some unexpected (but welcome) laughs in places where I had forgotten there was humour. You learn so much from watching a film with an audience. It seems everyone who watches the film has a different character they relate to. All four main characters are lonely in their own way and looking for ‘that thing’ that makes them happy … perhaps these things are universal experiences.
What next for you? Can we have more of Alf and the puppets?
I think we will leave Alf’s story at the end of Incidental Characters! We are working on a screenplay that will be more ambitious to produce – so it may take us a while to get a budget together. We learned so much from the process of making Incidental Characters – and we want to use all that knowledge – but also want to stretch ourselves to learn more. I am sure Sussex will feature still – although I think we will travel further afield than Lewes next time.