Interview with The Field co-director Andy Orr

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I recently had the chance to catch up with writer/director Andy Orr. Andy co-wrote/directed The Field, the short which has picked up the 57th BFI London Film Festival Special Jury Prize…

Flickfeast: Firstly, congratulations on getting the film into the festival and winning the Jury Prize. Quite the first-film experience. Not bad for a first stab. So, what was the genesis of the idea for The Field?
Andy Orr: My co-director Matt had originally written a script with the same basic idea but it had a very different approach, with a voiceover almost like an Attenborough documentary. We trimmed it down, tried to distil the themes and upped the comedy a bit.

FF: How did the directors come together? And why was this the project you chose for your first outing?
AO: Matt has been my writing partner for the last six odd years so it seemed natural for us to want to make the next step together as a team. The project seemed achievable with the slender resources afforded a government grant funded short film.

FF: How did the fact that this was your first film and you were making it with friends inform the making of the film itself?
AO: I think that although we made the film with friends, it was always uppermost in our minds that we should mix the team up with experienced members. They could often set us straight if we were going wrong and made sure that the shoot ran professionally. Having said that, dumb luck and naive optimism helped. There are downsides to being aware of just how difficult it is to make a short film for very little money!

FF: What did you want to achieve with the film (apart from get it made and win awards)?
AO: I suppose mainly it was the chance to do it exactly how we wanted. Put our money where our mouth is, so to speak.

FF: How did it feel working with someone like Alice Lowe as a newcomer? How much direction did she take and how much input did she give back?
AO: Talk about dumb luck. To get an actress of Alice’s calibre to work with a couple of first timers gave us all a massive boost, not just in confidence but also how others viewed the project. She definitely gave us cachet. But she was also massively patient and very ready to try stuff. Obviously she is an award winning actress AND writer so you’d have to be a dummy not to listen to her advice but it was always given in the spirit of collaboration. She’s a class act.

FF: So…Anthony Reynolds. Good choice? Easy to work with?
AO: I think Anthony is the one that most people were surprised by. The one thing we hear all the time is, “That guy had never acted before?! Wow, he’s so great”. We were pretty confident in his abilities but I think he surprised even us. I remember we had a days rehearsal a few weeks before the shoot and in the morning we were ran through the script and discussed character and it was good but a bit sterile. So we had a bit of lunch and in the afternoon tried some improv based around Richard and Sylvia’s relationship. Suddenly, Anthony and Alice just clicked and it was a real ‘Ohhhh, this is going to work’ moment. They were so funny and real, it was just hilarious. Seeing him spar with Alice, who is a seasoned improvisor, was hugely impressive.

FF: This was a small crew in the grand scheme of things. How was work delegated (and responsibility) delegated? Did the members of the crew who had worked on set before help much?
AO: You can read all the books you like but there is no substitute for experience. In particular Pete (our DP) and Jim (our 1st AD) really made the shoot run smoothly. You can’t micro-manage but of course in the back of your mind you’re worried in case people don’t know what to do. But those two people definitely meant we could hit the ground running. As regards Matt and I, we had always arranged that he would primarily deal with the framing and camera crew whilst I would take the lead with the actors. There was of course some crossover but it seemed to go pretty smoothly. If it worked for Nic Roeg and Donald Cammell…

FF: What was the best thing about making the film?
AO: I really enjoyed post production. It was fascinating how the most minute of changes can make a large difference to how a film plays. Also, whilst the shoot itself was exhausting (we managed 8 hours sleep over 3 days) I loved the fact that a disparate group of people came together with one purpose in mind and made a movie. Whilst being paid peanuts.

FF: And the worst?
AO: I don’t think any writer relishes going through draft after draft after draft. But it is an essential process. Also, having very little money we were reliant on many favours during the post production process. However, it is very easy for one small hiccup to ruin a carefully planned but fragile schedule.

FF: How close is the end product to what was in your heads?
AO: It’s certainly a very different beast from what we had in mind when we first sent in our script to the grant application. But a lot of that comes from the process of collaboration that we always insisted should be our goal. Matt and I relish working with other people and I think the film is better because of it. If we are being brutally honest we needed another day of filming to get everything we wanted in the can so the film is different because of this also.

FF: Did you feel you were able to channel anything by way of influence in to The Field?
AO: We had a list of influences that we discussed, particularly with the look of the film. But I think that the naturalistic performances were also key.

FF: Do you admit to much analysis of the end result? How invested are you not only in the film itself qua film, but in what it has to say?
AO: I’ve done nothing but analyse it for the last 3 months! All the way through editing it was very important that we try to keep our original themes intact. We didn’t get to shoot everything we wanted in the 2 days we had so this was paramount. All decisions, from the cut, to sound mix, to colouring were made with this in mind. I think for the most part we achieved it. I always said that the biggest disappointment would be if we fucked it up to the point we had to go ‘experimental’. I have no beef with experimental films but only if that is what you set out to do. If you don’t and you decide to head down that route then you’re a fraud.

FF: Where to from here? Do you think another short might be the way forward or are you up to making the jump to a feature? Do you even want to?
AO: We are attempting to get as feature off the ground. We learnt so much from The Field and, whilst we have a few other short film scripts floating around, I reckon we are ready to make the step up.

FF: The film is fantastic and many congratulations again.

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