Metal Life exclusive interview with Natalie Kennedy, director of “Down And Out”
In our ongoing exploration of events, movies, comics, etc that deal with bullying and the general concept of society shunning those who are “different”, we reached out to Natalie Kennedy, director of “Down And Out.”
“Down And Out” Synopsis:
Billy (Tommy Jessop) has had people stare at him all of his life on account of him having Down Syndrome. He is a young man fighting for equality and his own autonomy. Danny (Christopher Faith) is Billy’s brother and the two couldn’t be more different. While one fights for independence, the other fights for survival in a difficult world.
Both will have to confront their personal demons on a fateful day in Blackpool that will leave them both changed forever.
Accompanied by Michelle “Shell” (Mia Vore), these lost siblings will realise how much they really need each other, as the very foundation of brotherly love is tested. But will it be in time to save them both?
Metal Life interview with Natalie Kennedy:
So tell our readers a little about yourself, Natalie.
Well I grew up around the theatre. I remember going to watch my dad rehearsing from a very young age and it had a great impact upon me. I was always very interested in the creative arts and that quickly developed into something more. I acted through a lot of my childhood through to early adult years and this naturally developed into writing and directing theatre before I found an immense passion for film. It is from here I really feel I found my way in directing for the screen. I still get involved in theatre, as that is where my roots are and I really enjoy it, plus it keeps me on my toes and strengthening my skills. I’m a passionate person and I love to explore new ideas, new worlds, the intricacies of how people minds work and what they are thinking and I really love to explore this through directing.
Your current movie project is why we are here of course. Tell us about “Down And Out” and why it means so much to you?
Down and Out came to me in summer 2015. Christopher Faith (who also plays one of the main roles in the film) sent me across a 6-page script about two brothers, one of whom happened to have downs syndrome. Though it needed a little more development, there was a great story in those pages, one that I could clearly visualise and set to work to bring to life. We got a fantastic team of very talented individuals attached to the project and everything moved forward nicely. My projects tend to focus on drama, great characters and social realism, though I do vary my work also, as long as the story has heart. This certainly had the potential for all those qualities that I love and pride myself on bringing to life for an audience. I feel like Down and out is a really great opportunity to raise awareness and do something positive whilst making a really great film.
What are you hoping to accomplish with this movie?
As a filmmaker I want to tackle issues that challenge people and that can change perceptions in a positive way. I want to make stories about people that can hopefully make a difference. I want to help overcome out-dated stereotypes about disability and show that we are all unique in our own way. Our film is just a story that focuses on two brothers, who are on their own individual paths. We haven’t focused in a direct way on downs syndrome in the story, as it seamlessly integrates with the narrative itself, rather than pointing it out in an obvious way. Just as in the real world, every unique individual fits into place in the grander story of life, and so this should be reflected in the media. The perception has shifted but not enough, there is still a long way to go yet and it is our responsibility to bring further light to the topic. If we can make the use of disabled actors a more common thing, show a general audience why there should not be such a divide, and also inspire other people, disabled or not, that anything is possible with hard work and belief, then we have truly achieved our goal.
Who are the cast members and why do you think they were attracted to this project?
Tommy Jessop played the main role of Billy in the film, and he was an actor that we approached directly as we could tell he was incredibly talented and had the right look for what we wanted in the film. I had a number of talks with Jane Jessop and we discussed the script, the ideas behind and what we wanted to achieve on a wider scale. She put it to Tommy and they were both very pleased with what we were aiming to do. The feedback on the finished script was great and very accurate in terms of the expression of that character, the things he would say and so on, and from their Tommy was officially signed to the project. Christopher Faith had originally written the script with two people in mind for the parts of Danny and Michelle, and even though he never told me I picked up on them both immediately. It turned out to be Christopher and Mia Vore, both of whom I knew. Mia I had worked with on a number of occasions and I have always found her to be an incredibly hard working and talented actress, and Chris I knew from the Manchester film and theatre scene, though we had never worked together at that point. One of the other actors, Mark Smalley, I asked on board because we had worked together in the past and I trusted him for the role. The final actor, Colin Mackay, approached me directly. He is an actor that I knew of and I was aware he was a wheelchair user. Now the part was not written originally for someone in a wheelchair, but I didn’t see any reason why he couldn’t do it, I appreciated his tenacity, and I felt it would only further strengthen the very important topic and finding any way possible to have more diversity in film, and in this case the use of more disabled actors.
Why do you think the industry struggles so much to utilize actors with differing abilities, such as those having Down Syndrome?
At present only 2 in 10 people with learning difficulties are in employment and many of that number really wishes to be. In my opinion I think it may stem from a lack of understanding and knowledge, and opinions can be slow to change. Sometimes it can just seem easier to overlook it or to fall into stereotyping people in those roles, treating them only as stock characters, which is incredibly unrealistic and unfair. Now I really do believe times are starting to change more and the industry is waking up to this injustice of representation but we all need to work together to keep this shift moving. Film and the media has this great ability to open peoples eyes to new issues and raise awareness, representing all different kinds of people so that we can be a much more self aware world. Shows such as American Horror Story, Glee, and now Coronation Street are all using downs syndrome actors, and this can only continue to benefit this issue. One comment that stood out to me in an article concerning the Glee actress, Lauren Potter, was that people used to turn their heads away from her before she was on the show, but that now people would come right up to her. Her featured role in that series has opened up people’s eyes a lot more to understanding downs syndrome and it gives an opportunity to present all different people on our screens.
What more can be done, in your opinion, to help raise awareness for equality in the movie industry?
In my opinion change needs to be continually implemented with these types of projects and more work done in the mainstream of course. It’s about taking risks and pushing the boundaries for positive change. Onscreen, in television and in theatre we need to see a reflection of life how it is, not just an idealised notion or viewpoint of the perfect person in the perfect world. Of course we all sometimes want a bit of fantasy escapism, but lets also show the beautiful, varying characters of our own true world. Representations of ourselves for us all, not just for a segment of society. It gives people a greater understanding of the world we live in. It shows people that diversity can be good and not scary, that our differences are what make us unique and wonderful, and that it is not such a hard thing to understand. In fact an actress named Sarah Gordy recently made history in the play, ‘Crocodiles’, at the Royal Exchange Theatre. She is breaking new ground by playing a character without a disability, which I think is absolutely fantastic and I really hope we see more of this in the very near future.
How far along are you in securing the necessary funding to complete the film? What are the needed funds going to be used for?
So we are currently at the tail end of a crowdfund on Indiegogo, if you want to check it out just search on there for the project Down and Out. We have raised nearly 50% of our funds now with just under a week to go. That initial 50% will cover our post production costs, including editing, grading, sound, score and so on, however we will be continuing to search for avenues of funding after the crowdfund officially ends as it is really important to us to put money into our supporting charities MENCAP and the Downs Syndrome Association, as well as promote this film with a fantastic marketing campaign and get the film seen at some of the big festivals worldwide. We have had amazing feedback off the rough edit so far, and the future looks bright for this film.
You have mentioned there are perks for making a donation to the funding. What are a few things potential donators could receive for their contribution?
From the more basic perks we have items such as a digital copy of the script, early private viewing of the bonus features of the film, an early look at the film before it gets a wider release, signed poster, scripts, exclusive limited content such as a copy of the original comic created for the film and a bag with comic bear design that is designed for the film, up to the higher end perks including exclusive invite to the premiere, with a goody bag of original content, company sponsorship credit for businesses looking for an affordable advertising and promotion opportunity, whilst supporting a good cause and interesting project, up to an executive producer credit, very beneficial for anyone wanting to develop or further their involvement in the film industry (very limited quantity), and finally a big business package where the donation would go towards getting a high quality company or advertising video done by the talented members of the film. There are truly great perks for everyone here.
What other organizations are you working with to help fund and promote the film?
We are obviously working with the charities MENCAP and the Downs Syndrome Association, which are helping advise us on the issues surrounding this, as well as helping us to promote the film, but Christopher Faith and myself have privately funded the rest. We have a fantastic producer on our team named Rebecca-Clare Evans, who is experienced in this area. We may bring someone else on board after the crowd fund ends, though we feel more than capable to take this project where we want it to go, with the right funding behind us.
Where was the movie filmed at? Why did you choose this particular location?
The film was made in Blackpool because we felt it had the wonderful, diverse quality we needed. It has a glitz and glamour about it, but also this faded beauty element that gives it that darker edge that was needed for this story. Looking at the Blackpool lights at night it seems almost magical, especially when you are younger. Myself and Christopher both discussed what it was like going there from a young age, and how it was always an event to be looked forward to. This is one of the connections between the two brothers, it was a place they visited when they were younger and it always help a certain amount of wonder and good memories for them both. A time when the innocence of youth prevailed. Now older it has that darker edge to it, though when Billy first arrives it is still about the wonderment of it all. I really feel we had the perfect location for this and I must say the shots we have do look fantastic.
Have you done a project like this before? Tell us about some of your other films.
In the past I have worked on many differing types of projects, some on other directors sets, but my passion is in directing my own work. I have recently directed two fringe theatre plays, both of which are award winning, and I recently got the fantastic news that my second play, ‘Parents Without Children’ has been nominated for the prestigious Manchester Theatre Awards, which feels like a great honour and I am so excited about it. In terms of my film work as a director I have also had a good deal of achievement here, with critic, audience and festival success and some of my films being seen worldwide. I do tend to like to tackle important social issues as mentioned earlier, and one of these projects was entitled, ‘Doris’ (2013). There were many articles at the time about loneliness in the elderly and I felt that with my film I could raise awareness of this issue, and maybe make people think a little more about their own parents and grandparents, or someone they knew that may feel lonely. The feedback was great for that film and I have big plans to take it further. I have another film due to come out soon, that was my way of looking at the financial crisis and what lengths some people may have had to go to for survival when everything else around them was failing. This project, ‘Cinderella Nights’ will be completed very soon this year, after having already been seen to great acclaim with only a temporary soundtrack. The main character, Paula (played by Rebecca-Clare Evans), was a prostitute, and the film looks at her story and why she has to go to these lengths, all in the short film format. I have a number of other short films, including SHED (2011), looking at stereotyping and prejudice, and Trauma (2014), covering issues of post traumatic stress disorder after war, and I am immensely proud of the achievements of the cast and crew on these projects.
What has been your greatest challenge in directing this particular film?
Down and Out has been the biggest and most professional project I have undertaken as a film director. We were working with a big team of very talented people on this short film; many of which are award winning in their field; multiple locations, all in a very short deadline. I think the biggest challenge was getting everything ready in time, and up to the high standard that I want to elicit from a production and crew.
Though in a way it has been one of my smoothest running productions also, and I believe that is down to having a great team of talented individuals in place, and good preparation, with a great story to boot.
Finally, where can people interested in the project find all they need to know about it, and where to donate?
If anyone would like to know any more about the project they can feel free to e-mail me directly on: email@example.com
Search the crowd fund link on indiegogo, searching for Down and Out. Or find the link here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/down-and-out–5#/
Type in google natalie kennedy filmmaker to find me. We are still looking for addition funding or support after the film, and we are also to help promote any charities that think we may be able to benefit them. Please do get in touch and I will be happy to speak with you.
Watch the trailer here:
[Editor’s note: Many a metalhead has been the victim of bullying, shunning, etc so we can relate to stories like the one told in this movie. Thankfully, within the metal community this is rare and we all accept everyone as our brothers and sisters. Maybe the world could learn a thing or two from us metalheads…]