Hitting DVD this week is Albatross, a coming-of-age comedy-drama about a Emelia (Jessica Brown Findlay), a verbose, would-be writer’s incendiary effect on a struggling author, Jonathan (Sebastian Koch), and his respective family, including wife Joa (Julia Ormond) and daughter Beth (Felicity Jones).
The film, which premiered at last year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival to wide acclaim, is BAFTA award-winning filmmaker Niall MacCormick’s feature film debut.
Late last week, HeyUGuys had the opportunity to speak to Niall about what initially attracted him to Tamzin Rafn’s screenplay, the process behind finding the perfect actress to play Emelia and his thoughts on the difference between TV and film.
Here’s how it went down:
HeyUGuys: What was it about Tazmin Rafn’s screenplay that interested you the most about Albatross?
It was the relationship between the two girls. To me, the film is really about the beautiful imperfection of friendship. I haven’t had an experience like that myself, so I’m not sure why I felt so moved. Well, I suppose I have with childhood friends. When you spend so much time with someone, then it goes wrong and you sort of reflect on that afterwards. Even though you really don’t want to hang around with that person anymore, that experience changes you.
What was your relationship like with Tamzin? Did you work well together?
We did. I’m not sure if you’ve met Tamzin, but she’s very funny, and very witty. I mean, what can I say, she’s got an answer for everything. She was a bit like Emelia, I suppose. The way I worked with her I was trying to wrestle out of her the emotions of the story, and she was trying to wrestle out of me delivery on the comedy. I think that would be a good way to characterise the nature of our relationship. It was good, you know. I think it was a good relationship. It was fraught at times as all writer-director relationships are, but I’m very glad that I had that experience with her.
Would you be willing to work with her again?
Yeah, I’ve asked her since. It’s all about finding time, but one day, yeah. I think comedy is a terrific way of opening people up to subjects which have meaning. And she’s got talent for that, you know.
Did you have much input in the casting process? I, for you, think you were spot-on with your choices, particularly Julia Ormond and Jessica Findlay-Brown.
Yes, I did, of course. One of my jobs as the director was to choose the cast, which, of course, always has to be approved by the financiers. But, no, I loved that process. I mean, Jessica, who was billed as this person who’d never acted before, had something about her. She just really shone at the audition. I was very cautious about it, though, because as a low-budget production there’s not a lot of shooting time or rehearsal for someone who doesn’t know how to act. But she did it, and being surrounded by the quality of acting ability really helped her acting ability come out. I was very, very proud that performance, and I’m very happy that she seems to be capitalising on a really strong, and awards-worthy performance.
How was the experiencing of launching your directorial debut at the longest continually running film festival in the world?
Do you know what? I have to say I wasn’t even there because I live in a different country and I had prior commitments that I couldn’t get out of. So, all I can say is that, you know, people tell me all the time how well received it was and what a cool place it was to be. I’m just delighted that they liked it and that they took it on in the first place. I only wish I could have been there.
How do you feel about the US release? Have you had much feedback?
No, not at all. I haven’t heard anything, actually. I mean, I read some reviews, mixed reviews. There were some that said “Don’t waste your time with this” and others saying that it’s a really charming British film. I’ve read some really positive things about it over there. I’m just happy that the producers were very pleased with it, the performance were great, the actors are very happy and I believe Tamzin, on balance, is happy with what we achieved. So, I think, what more can you ask for?
How different is directing a feature film than an episode of an established TV series or movie? Do you prefer one to the other?
Not really, no. I mean, it’s all about money really, about resources. I think I’ve made quite a lot of TV with more resources than Albatross had, because TV programmes often reach a wider audience and so the people who work in TV have to be more inventive with how they do things on a lower budget. Whereas, people who work on films have to be more precise, because the production schedules are a lot tighter. I think, though, at the low-budget level there’s not much of a difference. It’s only when you start talking about films with bigger budgets that things change.
Are there any directors you try to emulate in your work?
No one in particular. I mean, I’m relatively new to the drama process. If I’m honest, I never had this huge ambition to make films, I sort of fell into it in a way. I’m hoping my interest will evolve and I’ll start to take on more and more references. But, at the moment, it’s just a case of whether I connect with what’s written on the page. I’m pretty eclectic in my own personal taste. I like anything from the action films with the IMAX experience to films like We Need to Talk About Kevin. I’m not a niche player, yet, but maybe that will happen.
Do you have any projects currently in the work that you’re able to talk about?
Yes, but none that I can really talk about because they’re too far off down to line to say what’s happening. But I’m busy. I’m in that process of developing, and I’m almost certain that what comes next will be a television project. There is, however, feature film stuff in the pipeline.
For those who might not know much about Albatross, could you sum up the film in a snappy sentence?
A comedic film about the portrayal of friendship.
Thank you very much for your time, Niall.