Interview with British filmmaker and writer Dean Leon Anderson
[dropcap size=big]B[/dropcap]ritish filmmaker and writer Dean Leon Anderson learned his trade at the feet of BAFTA nominated film director Yann Demange. Since then Anderson has gone on to set up his own production company and produce a number of well received and award nominated short films including Grace, The List and most recently Jasper which was nominated for Best Narrative Short at Pan African Film Festival Los Angeles.
Realistic and engaging character development is Anderson’s modus operandi, so we caught up with Dean to find out how he approaches short film making.
Your previous films are within the drama genre. How have you been able to refine your script-writing and directing skills over the years?
Refining my scripts and directing was mainly done through watching films constantly. My very first short film was a comedy called The List. It was an idea that popped into my head one day, and I felt I could shoot it with relative ease. However, once I finished it and made a conscious effort to continue making movies, I was exposed to a lot of great filmmakers’ work. I discovered Michelangelo Antonioni, Asghar Farhadi and Shane Meadows, among other directors. Watching their films allowed me to start to shape my own stories, and I found drama appealed to me more. This was a great period for me too, as I’d hunt down and watch many old films I missed out on over the years, and would often find them for pretty cheap. I bought The Pianist by Roman Polanski for about 50p, and Adrien Brody’s performance just blew me away. For the foreseeable future, I can see myself continuing in drama.
Your recent short film Jasper has been well received on the Film Festival Circuit. How did Jasper come to life? Was it based on a personal experience or something else?
No, not entirely. Jasper’s not based on a personal experience, but I have met many men similar to Jasper where I grew up. There’s many father’s wrestling with their own personal problems, and have to rebuild the relationship with their children at some point.
I wanted Jasper’s older daughter Lisa to reject him, as she’s a little older and wiser to his ways. His younger daughter Tiana is still open to having Jasper as a father on his return. I named Tiana after the princess in the Disney animation The Princess and the Frog, as that’s how Jasper sees her. Nobody has picked up on her name yet!
My overwhelming reaction to Jasper was that it is very engaging and much of that is down to how you developed the character. Give us some insights into how you approach character development within your short films.
With developing characters, I’ll usually start with a basic idea, such as a deadbeat father, or the unrequited love storyline from my previous short Grace.
I’ll then spend a lot of time thinking about the characters. This could include their appearance, how they would react in situations and what their goals are in the story. I will write a lot of notes, and won’t start on the script until I’ve thought a lot about the film’s characters. Too many first time filmmakers come up with an idea and jump straight into writing the script. If you take the time to think about it, and write down character notes and plot structure, it becomes much easier when you eventually sit down and start writing. The film almost writes itself at that point because you know where it’s going.
The next step is doing another draft. I usually end up with about five drafts before I get round to shooting. The drafts are based on feedback from people I really trust, like my frequent collaborators, Shereen Billings, Geofrey Okol and Steven Heycock. I know they’ll tell me what they think without sugarcoating it. That’s exactly what you need isn’t it? How can you progress without constructive criticism? Great actors will also put their own stamp on the character. Kevin Golding (who played Jasper) was just amazing at this. For the brief few days that we filmed, he just embodied the Jasper character with certain quirks and other ideas I hadn’t thought of during the writing process.
You have recently completed a short film called Ribbon. Tell us a bit more about the story and what your aspirations are for the project.
Ribbon was a self-funded project, and it basically addresses youth violence in London. The story came to me from a single photo in the Evening Standard newspaper of a mother holding a bouquet of flowers with a red ribbon, sitting alone on a bench. She was mourning, having just lost her son to teen violence.
We have become numb to these images, because we see them so often. But, the image really stuck with me, and I thought about illustrating her story after this loss, rather than before. The film stars newcomers Marian Keogh and Emjay Elitus, and I’m sending it to film festivals at the moment. I’ll release it online after the festival run.
You have some experience attending the film festival circuit. Do you have any tips for up and coming directors about how to maximize the experience?
Yes. Most festivals give filmmaker passes if your film gets accepted, so see as many new films as you can. Also, print out flyers with your film screening times. Usually when you’re networking with other filmmakers, the first thing they ask is “what is your film about?”. Hand them a flyer, and invite them to one of your screenings.
Be ready to meet film producers, actors, journalists and organisers from other festivals. Film festivals are a big melting pot of people in the industry. Bring a few copies of your film on DVD for the right people. Most importantly, just enjoy the whole experience.
Any exciting plans for the future?
Yes, I’m currently on the B3 Media Talent Lab programme, developing a new drama short called Class 15. I should be shooting this in a month or so. Then I’ll be focusing on my first feature film that I’ve written.