FEATURE: Blood Cells | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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It’s already been a busy year for locally-based production company Third Films. After the recent successful release of Bypass, the company are bringing another of their newest productions, Blood Cells, to the Tyneside Cinema for a special screening and Q&A session with directors Joseph Bull and Luke Seomore. The pair’s film focuses on drifter Adam – played by Barry Ward – as he makes his way through the fringes of life in Britain after his family are devastated by the Foot and Mouth crisis. Having lived a rootless life for years, Adam is faced with a curious dilemma that means he may have to face up to the demons of his past.

Ahead of the screening, we talked to directors Bull and Seomore as well as producer and co-writer Ben Young about the creation of the film, resisting the usual stereotypes of British film and being a part of the Venice Biennale.

Tell us a bit about Blood Cells; where did the idea for the film come from?

Joseph Bull: The idea came from different places… In our previous work in documentary we had been drawn to the marginalised, people who had been forced into social exclusion. These encounters fed into the character of Adam. We always talked about the idea of making a British road film, a genre which is associated with Germany or the US. So those two Ideas naturally moulded together. Primarily the imagery from the foot and mouth crisis resonated with us. For me on a primal level, the imagery seemed apocalyptic, very evocative. This crisis kind of got lost on the news agenda but it affected a lot of communities. We started thinking about the human stories behind the crisis.

Luke Seomore: The idea of a mysterious singular character, a drifter, charming but lonesome, was influenced by literature as much as film; Camus and Dostoyevsky. But we wanted to convey a twisted romance or warmth to the journey too. Adam is liberated once he starts his trip, so it was important to us to capture that feeling.

The film focuses a lot on people and cultures on the edges of societies. Why did you decide to take a look at the fringes of life in Britain?

JB: We were always drawn to the fringes and the more we looked the more we became fascinated. For years we visited and took photographs of transitory places, forgotten places and the people existed in these places. Hidden worlds…

LS: These people have a unique point of view, they live more extreme lives, we wanted to explore those idiosyncrasies.

Ben Young: People perceived as being on the edge of society have been a core part of Joseph and Luke’s films from the start, but on this film for me it wasn’t just that these people and settings are organically part of the central character’s life and reflective of his state of mind. We also wanted to show people in difficult personal and material circumstances knowing and living a rich and subtle internal life that is usually more readily attributed in cinema to characters in comfortable, aspirational circumstances: boarding schools, stately homes, Tokyo hotels.

Blood Cells has been praised for often not feeling like your standard British film but were you ever worried that the film might be branded as yet another “typical” or “gritty” British flick?

LS: As soon as some people see a British film, they automatically say it’s another social realism film. That is lazy. Blood Cells has an authenticity, hopefully, but that is not the only element, through the characters, visuals and sound we evoke a certain world. It’s Adam’s world and it explores all the emotions, ideas and fears that live inside him.

JB: I think most of our influences come from abroad and come from outside cinema so “British Cinema” is never on our minds. Although we developed the film for years, we made the film intuitively, always tried evoke an atmosphere or feelings that Adam has…

BY: I think our trump card there was the aesthetic of the film. Yes, the subject matter can be intermittently labelled “gritty” but the portrayal of those circumstances was designed to give characters the interior lives they deserved and to not fetishize their circumstances. But it’s always something to worry about. The labels applied to British films seem to fall into a tiny range of shorthand categories that aren’t healthy for British cinema at home or abroad.

Why did the pair of you decide that you wanted to direct the film together?

LS: We met at art college and became good friends, we found out that we had a lot of similar influences. Mostly music but also film. We both love Hitchcock, it started there. Then we experimented and made abstract films, those morphed into more narrative pieces, which lead to Blood Cells.

Were there any challenges or benefits to working together on directing duties?

LS: It’s an intense relationship, so there are arguments but that hardly ever happens; most of time it’s an advantage. We share the ideas, working with actors, film is such a collaborative art-form that the fact the element that holds it all together is another (very) small team makes complete sense to me.

blood cells 2

“The labels applied to British films seem to fall into a tiny range of shorthand categories that aren’t healthy for British cinema at home or abroad”

As well as helping to direct the film, Luke has worked on the score as well, which is often haunting and atmospheric. How did you go about arranging the soundtrack?

LS: I wrote some of songs before we shot, while writing the script. I shared those with the DOP and actors. But I also used field recordings from the shoot, I then mutated those into elements of the score. These are the beds which I lay the instruments on, everything is from a real source. Even the electronic sounds are sampled from our film’s environment.

The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival last year; how did the film get chosen to be part of Gucci’s Biennale College?

BY: Apart from the Biennale’s belief in the strength of the film and in Joseph and Luke as filmmakers, I think a couple of things really helped. First of all, it was an outlier: quite a bit different than your standard British film in development. Secondly, while we had done acres of research and development on the project—not just on the screenplay but on the locations, production and post production teams, budgeting, and so forth—we also were very clear about our desire to collaborate with the Biennale on the film, that we weren’t going to rock up in Venice and say “giz some money, yeah?” and bugger off.

What was the reception towards the film like in Venice?

BY: It was great, each screening packed to the rafters and queues out the door. And all of that good buzz from Venice and its aftermath made the homecoming at the Edinburgh International Film Festival this June a particularly cool experience.

JB: There was a great buzz around the film and we got nice feedback from journalists and filmmakers which is flattering. But there is so much history to Venice that is humbling. When you look at the program that year, Abel Ferrara, Iñárritu, David Gordon Green etc… People have inspired us, that’s always a really nice feeling playing our film amongst great filmmakers.

LS: An honour and a pleasure. I saw Al Pacino eating peanuts, that was a fine spectacle.

What will you be working on next?

BY: A few things but I’m particularly excited about one with a great writer-director, Andrew McVicar, who is based up in Newcastle.

LS: We have some new ideas, we’re very excited about the potential next films. One in particular is a dark coming of age story based on a memoir. Until next time, farewell…

Joseph Bull and Luke Seomore will take part in a filmmaker Q&A after the screening of Blood Cells at the Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle on Friday 17th July.

Blood Cells – Teaser from David Procter on Vimeo.

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