Focus on Filmmakers: Rupert Cresswell

 

Rupert Cresswell is the writer and director of Charlie Cloudhead, which was chosen for competition in the 2015 edition of the Winchester Short Film Festival.

Charlie Cloudhead is a tragic comedy drama about a man (Paul Higgins) who bottles up his problems into a cloud that hovers permanently above his head. A tense birthday dinner with his wife (Daisy Haggard) forces Charlie to confront his issues – with spectacular and heart-breaking results.

This film marks Rupert Cresswell’s directorial drama debut. He is an experienced director of commercials and online content, specialising in directing live action film and merging it with computer generated animation and VFX. Rupert has directed films for clients such as adidas, Ford, Samsung and Jaguar. He currently splits his time between London and Margate on the Kent coast.

 

Tell us a bit about Charlie Cloudhead.

Charlie Cloudhead is an absurd depiction of a very common story – a man attempting to hide his feelings and soldier on while it is obvious to everyone he is deeply unhappy.

Charlie isn’t a specific person, though there are traits of him in me, and perhaps many people can recognise his issues. He is the guy on the packed train at rush hour that is soldiering on unaware that he looks like his world has ended. He’s a bit dull, a bit grey, but isn’t a total loser. He’s got all the elements that might equate to happiness or success (job, wife, house, money), yet there’s this nagging emptiness. He finds it hard to justify changing things when he’s scared the alternative might be worse. Eventually, the pressure becomes too great and he is compelled to act, and he faces the tragic choice that he will have to destroy everything he has worked for years to achieve in order to be true to himself.

I wanted to explore the brutality and compulsion of pursuing personal happiness, for everyone that has had to end a relationship, leave a job or even their family, to follow a dream.

Charlie Cloudhead Image

Image © Rupert Cresswell / MPC 2015

What training did you undertake to become a film maker?

I made little films as a student at Camberwell College of Art, but I’ve had no training as such. I’ve been working in TV and commercials for 10 years and you pick things up by being thrown in the deep end and generally being around creative people. Watching movies closely and reading scripts helps, it’s all there.

Outside of film making, what is your background?

I’m a Londoner – born here, studied here, still live here. I used to play in a band, which toured the US a fair amount. I have a background in design, and currently work at a big London post house. I have a dog, she should get a mention.

How many films have you made so far, and do you have a favourite?

Charlie is my drama debut, but I’ve directed lots of commercial bits and pieces. Charlie is definitely my favourite.

Where do you get your inspiration for your projects?

On the tube, brushing my teeth, just before I fall asleep. Random moments when I’m not concentrating. I have an app on my phone to jot down ideas or they get forgotten, also I found having the discipline to sit and write scripts leads to new ideas. The idea for Charlie came first from the image of a man with a cloud over his head and his story kind of went from there.

How do you go about financing your projects?

Beg, borrow, and steal. Go and talk to people, if you believe in the story enough you never know – enthusiasm seems to rub off.

Charlie Cloudhead Image

Image © Rupert Cresswell / MPC 2015

How do you cast your films?

I wrote Charlie with Paul Higgins in mind, I always thought he seemed like the perfect fit. I sent the script to his agent and luckily he saw something in the script that resonated with him. Daisy was recommended and I adored her instantly, she’s incredible. Again, I was very lucky. The film only works because of those two and I still pinch myself about it.

What cameras did you use on Charlie Cloudhead, and do you have a favourite bit of kit?

We used an Alexa camera. It would be amazing to shoot on film one day, but for the quality and ease of use it suited me fine. Our Director of Photography Ben Fordesman is a real cinephile, he was a pretty indispensable piece of kit!

What size crew do you have on your sets, and what roles are the most invaluable?

I’m pretty lucky to have professional producers and Ben’s crew agreed to get involved with the project, so we had a full team. Everyone on set has a role and they are all invaluable or it starts to fall apart like a house of cards.

How do you go about setting the soundtrack for your films?

Music is really essential to me. I used to write music myself so I’m pretty fussy. I spent quite a long time putting guide music tracks together for this film. I make a playlist of songs to listen to while I’m writing the script, it helps me create a mood for the film. Sometimes I put a playlist together for characters to help flesh them out in my head.

I’ve been working with Will Bates (the composer for Charlie Cloudhead) for about 10 years, we used to go to school together. He’s incredibly talented and I see him as my secret weapon – I trust him unreservedly. He’s really busy nowadays making features, so I’m hoping I’ll still be able to use him in the future!

Charlie Cloudhead Image

Image © Rupert Cresswell / MPC 2015

How do you split your time for pre-production, production, and post-production? What is the most important for you?

They are all essential, it depends a lot on how much time you can devote to them. I work a lot in post-production for a living so that comes quite naturally. On this project, pre-production was the lengthiest process because when it started I had no deadline. I wrote lots of versions of the script and it changed a fair amount while we worked out what locations we could use. I storyboard everything myself too, so I spent quite a lot of time doing that. At one point I was going to make it into a graphic novel.

How long did it take to film?

Charlie was filmed over 3 days at the start of September 2015. The cast and crew were really generous with their time, forfeiting a weekend to bring the film to life.

The main restaurant scene was filmed on set in North London, and then the majority of the rest of the shots were filmed in MPC’s London offices, which were transformed for a weekend.

The trickiest section to film was the final scene where Charlie confronts his problems and lets go in a literal emotional outpouring. We had limited time, wardrobe and props, and would have to destroy the set in the process. Fortunately, everything came together and we managed to capture a magical moment that we feel would be impossible to replicate.

Can you tell us about the special effects behind the cloud?

The film was produced by MPC Creative. MPC’s team of talented artists have brought to life some iconic feature films and commercials, including the Oscar-winning VFX on Life of Pi. We set about creating CG clouds as soon as the edit was finished. We used a prop of the cloud on set (made out of papier maché and cotton wool) as a guide to light and texture the work in CG. A team of artists at MPC worked extremely hard and fast to finish all the special effects in just 2 weeks.

Charlie Cloudhead Image

Image © Rupert Cresswell / MPC 2015

What parts of the film making process do you most enjoy and most dislike?

Filming the final scene of the film gave me goose bumps, it was pretty emotional to witness it unveiling in front of me. I think with all that had been invested into the film by everyone and to watch it come off was something I’ll remember for a long time.

I hate casting sessions. It’s awkward for everyone involved and as a director you feel like you are becoming an evil Simon Cowell version of yourself. Thankfully I bypassed this on Charlie.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given and would pass on to burgeoning film makers?

Do it. Just do it.

What other film makers do you most admire and have been influential on your work?

David Lynch made me first want to direct and I loved commercial / promo directors like Jonathan Glazer, Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze. Then there’s Kubrick, it’s really just all about Kubrick.

How important are festivals and competitions to you?

Festivals and competitions were never a focus, but now the film is done I’ve become more interested and have realised their worth. It’s great to go and physically meet people who share the same passion – short films are all about the love of it. Also, I’ve started to live for compliments. If you want to tell me how amazing my film is, please, please get in touch.

What are your future plans?

I want to make another short, and I’d love to do a feature. I’m writing stuff at the minute, I keep telling myself, “Do it”.
Images © Rupert Cresswell / MPC 2015

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