INTERVIEW: Simon Pitts | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Working together with highly respected American festival DC Shorts, this year’s Sunderland Shorts is set to be one of the biggest film events that the city has seen. Taking place across four venues, more than 65 unique films are set to be shown at the festival, ensuring that there really will be something to suit everyone’s tastes. Leading up to the four-day festival, which begins on Thursday 2nd July and runs until Sunday 5th July, we’re interviewing some of the film makers screening works at the festival, asking them what made them decide to make short films, what inspires them and about the works themselves. Here, Peter Cumiskey talks to Simon Pitts about his life as a director and his short The Boy And The Bus

How did you get into film making, and making short films in particular?

I had been at the BBC producing, presenting and directing loads of radio and some TV documentaries and features about arts and culture. I began to think and dream about creating original work as an even more interesting challenge. So in the evenings and weekends I trained part-time at various film schools in directing drama. In the process my focus became “cinematic” drama rather than TV-style drama and the best – and only – way to develop skills to make that is to make short films. The Boy and The Bus is my third short film and most ambitious in scale.

What led you to directing this particular project?

This story about a boy who starts to run after moving to a new rural home following the death of his mother felt very true. I really felt it when reading. It’s by the Morpeth-born actor Rod Arthur. Rod’s been in everything – Cranford, Coronation Street, Trinity, Gigglebiz – and he really knows drama. Of course, when you make a script into something 3-dimensional, a lot changes. So we changed some scenes and improvised many of the dialogue lines with our cast of local actors to try to make it feel right.

The film seems quintessentially northern in tone; what do you feel the use of setting adds to the piece?

The setting is crucial.  When I was driving around looking for a place to shoot The Boy and The Bus I kept asking myself “where could this story be true?” And after a few days I found the answer in Rothbury. The idea of a small community linked by the thread of a bus route who might gradually take in an outsider seemed possible there. The town and surrounding area has the ragged wildness that a boy moving in from the city would find unfamiliar and forbidding. I also respond personally to this landscape and find it very beautiful and believe that it could be, as in our film, healing to a bruised soul.

What led to the stylistic choices that you made, such as the Little Unsaid/ Tiny Ruins soundtrack and use of 16mm film?

The number one choice was to ask the cinematographer Chris Doyle to shoot the film.  He’s worked with celebrated directors in Hollywood and Asia and is one of the greatest cameramen working today. We shot on the dying medium of 16mm film because all of us favour it over digital. Have you noticed how everything looks similar in digital films? But 16mm and 35mm film with its expensive old chemical processes has something distinctive. And when it comes to changing the pictures’ colours and feel in post-production there’s a better result with film. The great joy of short filmmaking is that you can more or less make the film you want. And so you can bring people together whose work you love. I feel that way about The Little Unsaid and New Zealand band Tiny Ruins. Both lean on an acoustic sound which tonally feels as open as the big skies of the film.

“There’s something about discovery, about seeing films together on a big screen, that matters to people”

How do you feel about the film coming home back to where it was shot, and being screened here in the North East?

Very proud and honoured. The film has won eight prizes across the USA where festival audiences have given it Jury, Audience and technical awards. Finally, we’ve been given a chance to show it at home.

How useful are festivals as a showcase for short films and how do you think Sunderland Shorts is going to fit into the already-established scene?

The thing that has been surprising, given there’s so much to see and do online, is to see is how much people enjoy short films at festivals. There’s something about discovery, about seeing films together on a big screen, that matters to people. Short films matter, and not just to the crews of people giving their time for nothing to make them. Or at least the good ones do.

I’ll do all we can to support Sunderland Shorts. The future is local and I hope this marks the start of a festival that is popular, rewarding and sustainable for the community. Get tickets!

Sunderland Shorts takes place between Thursday 2nd and Sunday 5th July at various locations across Sunderland.

The Boy and The Bus Trailer from Simon Pitts on Vimeo.

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