We had the opportunity to interview the director, writer and lead actor of The Beat Beneath my Feet. Here is part 1 of 3, where we sit down with director John Williams to discuss the highs and lows of filming and his future projects.
So John, what first attracted you to the project?
Well, I liked the story, I liked the use of music and the characterisation of it, this kid who wants to make his own music… It’s just the ability to get into his mind and his world. I think that’s what had the initial appeal.
And of course, this is quite a change from your previous work as not only is it your first feature film, all your previous work was quite heavily animated. Was changing mediums like that a challenge?
Yes and no. I had done something for Channel 4 a couple of years ago which was in a similar sort of vein. But I think the big jump for me was the length. The last thing I did was 24 minutes. So going from that to 90 minutes plus was a massive leap. When I initially saw the script I thought “We can’t do this on this amount of time and a tiny budget, we need to be creative.” So using something like animation for the more complex scenes became a really good choice.
Yes of course, and we have the music video sequences distributed all through the film that clearly carry a mark of your previous work. What was your inspiration in crafting those?
Well as I mentioned, animation meant that we could not worry about doing these things in an 18 day tight shoot. We could spend a few weeks on those in post-production. The idea of animation also meant we could explore things beyond what we could do on film. There’s particularly one sequence called “The Dream” where we see Tom start playing guitar in Steve’s room and he ends up on the rooftop looking over London playing to this massive crowd. That’s obviously his teenage fantasy. If we were to shoot that, that would be the whole budget on one or two shots! Animation sort of became a playful way of achieving that. And it also added an extra flavour to the film, it’s got drama, it’s got heart, it’s got humour but it also means having something else in there that has a different flavour which was really nice. So the music video sections jump out a little bit so hopefully they give the audience another flavour and hopefully it gives us the opportunity of opening the film up a bit more.
You’re obviously a big music fan yourself, what kind of stuff do you like listening to?
Well, I started off making techno music in the ‘90s and I had a record label. But then I started working with bands like Coldplay and Radiohead and it became quite a big influence. I wasn’t really into band music before I started doing music videos. But then I connected with their vibes. That’s the kind of angle I was coming from. And I wanted to bring that into the film as well and kind of make it a bit more emotive. I think the original ideas for the music were quite classic and rock. I think for Tom’s stuff it needed to be a little more emotive and current sounding.
Speaking of Tom, of course this film introduces Nick Galitzine, it’s his first feature film. What was it like working with him?
Oh Nick was fantastic! All the young actors were, especially Nick… Just because you know, I think young talent, they’re very enthusiastic. They’re very open-minded there are no rules for them about how it should be done, you know “the way I like to work, I don’t like doing that ” etc. They are very open and amenable. And Nick was very creative as well. He would take the character and think a lot about the character like “this is the way the character should walk” and “I think my character always has one shoelace undone”… You know little details that as the audience we don’t notice but for him to be in this character really helped and… We had some fun getting the haircut and the glasses which he totally hated because they made him look much nerdy… But that was really important so whenever he put the glasses and the coat on he became he character and that was really good. He moulded into the role really, really well.
And on the same set, on the other end of the spectrum you have an experienced actor like Luke Perry. How did having those two different extremities on the set play out?
Yeah, well I think it was perfect in a sense, because my fear would have been to have just new and unknown actors. When you bring in someone like Luke at least they have some gravity because they have been around, they know performance… Luke has done a lot of stuff on screen, he knows about camera lenses, he knows about marks… And when we started doing rehearsals I left him with Nick for quite a bit of time and he just kind of mentored him a little bit which worked out so well because the characters in the film, you know, he’s mentoring Tom to play music and in real life he’s mentoring him how to act. Nick didn’t know about where a mark is and eye lines and all that kind of stuff and Luke was taking him through that stuff so it worked out really well.
We are talking about a film based in a high school after all – what were you like in high school? Bit of a Tom? Bit more of a Damien?
I think I was a bit more of a Tom… For me it wasn’t music it was a bit more filmmaking. You know, I was making little films and stuff. Maybe not as geeked up as Tom but I relate to him more than the Damien side.
Another thing I meant to ask you was, looking at your previous work and your short films I couldn’t help but notice there’s a bit of a dark streak that seems to go through them. Things do lighten up a bit with Beat Beneath my Feet, although there is a lot of serious stuff going on there too with the self-harm and all that kind of stuff… Are you going to continue exploring darker themes or are you moving on to happier stuff?
For subject matter I’m interested in both the dark and the light, I mean, Beat Beneath My Feet deals with some tough issues, but it’s got some humour in there. I’m very much interested in both. If it was all heavy it would be a very dark film but if it was all light it wouldn’t have much soul to it. So the way I would very much like to move forward is having humour and heart.
Finally, what’s in the future? Any projects you’re working on yet?
I’m open to all opportunities!
It was great talking to you John, thank you so much for your time!