It’s an unusual way to begin an interview, but then again Death of a Farmer is an unusual film. A provocative, and sometimes difficult to watch examination of mortality, loneliness and depression, it sets its stall clearly from the very outset, with a title card that reads, ‘No animals were harmed specifically for the making of this film’. Which is true. But that doesn’t mean it’s not going to present you with some challenging imagery.
Making the most of available resources
The movie, the directorial debut of Alice’s brother, Jack, came about shortly after he completed training in the family business “I’ve always wanted to make films. And when I finished RADA, two years ago, I thought, ‘now’s my time,” he explains, “It was a case of thinking, what I had access to and writing around that. I needed locations I had access to because my family has a foothold in this particular village, Heyshott in West Sussex, so I just wrote around what I knew I could shoot around and everything came from that. All the locations and all the story came from what I could use.”
One thing Jack was able to fall back on was his family. His father, Trevor Eve, agreed to star in the movie, as did his mother. And his brother George not only appears in the film, but also composed the soundtrack. But it was his sister who really helped drive the project forward.
“He came to stay with me in the house I have now, and he didn’t speak for two weeks, and he was writing in the living room,” explains Alice, “I’d been very supportive of all his stuff, because he was always a great storyteller. I’d won an award when I was ten, at school, because I copied his story… so we decided to put it together.” And so, alongside Dalton Deverell, a friend of Jack’s from RADA, they set about producing the movie. All for a budget of £30,000.
Lonely and alone
The film tells the story of a farmer, recently widowed, and struggling to cope with life alone. It’s surprisingly profound and contemplative subject matter for a first time director in his mid-twenties. Jack puts much of this down to his father’s influence during the development process, but Alice has a slightly different explanation, “[the farmer] has no love in his life, and had never had a child, and had no one to pass his heritage on to. Which obviously, because we’re a close knit family is quite important to us, the handing down of a legacy or a name or a love.”
This sort of subject matter poses a risk. With so much weighing on the protagonist, the film could easily fall into melodrama, or worse, soap opera territory. It avoids doing so with a combination of extremely stylised photography, and a heightened sense of reality. There are clear nods to the work of David Lynch and Nicholas Winding Refn, although Jack’s primary influence was Stanley Kubrick, “More so than anyone” he reveals, “I didn’t really know, I didn’t really understand what the concept of making a movie was until I saw his movies, and then I understood what it all entailed. As soon as I saw his films it all kind of clicked, and I understood that’s how you do it.”
Filming with Fire
One of the most striking things about the film is that look. Given that the budget wouldn’t even cover the catering on most projects, the fact that it looks so polished is a great credit to the film’s cinematographer, Andre Austin, and shows just how much can be achieved when the limited resources available are well handled. Where the cinematography really shines, though is in the night shots.
“Bary Lyndon, as you know, was made back in the 70s, they only used flames. They shot a lot of the interiors and the night with just candle light.” Explains Jack. And inspired by that, he tried to do the same thing.
“The night before we began our night shoots, I got all the fire things out to go and test them. So we went out into the middle of a field and we tested it. We literally had a guy holding a flame, and we thought, ‘this looks pretty cool, I can see what I want to see, maybe I’m not getting the fill of the trees and the branches, but I’m getting what is the essence of the scene.’ So we thought, ‘let’s try this’
“When it came to the set, our first night shoot was a scene that took place between Gordon and Benjamin. Andre lit it perfectly with his – I think he had a couple of 2Ks there, and we had the fire lights laid down. And as the night progressed, I think after take 4, I said, ‘how about we turn more lights off’, and by the end of it, by take 12, which I think is the one that made the film – take 11 or take 12 – that’s only the flame. Only firelight lights that scene. So we just continued that throughout. The Alexa’s such a fantastic camera that we just used that throughout the night shoots. So all the night shoots, I can hands down say, that they’re all only lit by fire.”
Getting it seen
The film was shot in June of 2012. It had its first public performance in October 2013. “It’s a long journey for these films”, Alice reveals, “Actors have a really easy ride. ‘Do you want to turn up on Tuesday’, ‘sure’ And then you turn up, and you do it, and you leave six weeks later, and it’s like, ‘done now’. And this is a different thing, this is an investment.”
The film went down well at the screening, and deservedly so. Unfortunately, completing a movie is only half the battle, as Alice explains, “Obviously we’d like to get it into a festival as official selection. If it gets some sort of platform for distribution, that would be ideal, but these things are slow, and he’s an unknown entity, and it’s kind of moving along at the pace we can move it along.”
Hopefully the movie will be released at some point next year. In the meantime you can stay updated with the film’s progress towards distribution, and with Jacks next project, by following him on Twitter.