BFI NETWORK Short Film “Obsession” – behind the scenes with the production team

Posted on 9th July 2019

Meet the north east production team behind BFI NETWORK Short Film 'Obsession', TV Scriptwriter Debbie Owen, Director Daymon Britton and Producer Morgan Stephenson.

“Obsession” is a BFI NETWORK Short Film, supported with National Lottery funding, that’s cast, crewed and shot in the North East.  The film explores what a person is capable of, when pushed to their limits – survival is sometimes about accepting the life you’ve been given and it’s sometimes about fighting for the life you deserve.

The film has been made by Tri-Hard Films, a team of three talented creatives from the region comprising of TV Scriptwriter Debbie Owen, (BBC Casualty) Director and actor Daymon Britton (School for Seduction, Wire in the Blood and Falling) and Producer Morgan Stephenson who stars in Obsession in his debut acting role.

 Who are your main team? What is their background and experience?

Writer: Deb Owen: I’m a scriptwriter, currently writing for BBC Casualty.  I have a feature film ‘out there’, doing the rounds, I have an original TV series being considered by an independent production company and I also have a play I’d like to see on stage in the North East next year.  Obsession is my first short film… but I have the next two already lined up!

Producer: Morgan J. Stephenson: I’m a producer, my background is in TV advertising, documentary and corporate online video. I was the Business Development Director for a production company for 18 years and in 2018 I left that behind to pursue my main passion, which is film. I’ve had the privilege of experiencing a variety of disciplines over those 18 years as an offline/online editor, animator, digital designer, DOP, production manager, Actor and Director. Generally, this has given me a unique perspective on budgeting, technical process and production development.

Actor: Kim Tserkezie: Actor, Presenter, Writer and Producer with 25 years of experience across TV, Film, Radio and Theatre, with credits spanning comedy, drama and documentary. She is founder and MD of Scattered Pictures which produces scripted comedy and drama based in the North East promoting local, diverse and emerging talent and crew. Kim is currently writing and developing TV projects in collaboration with BBC Studios and Talkback Fremantle. Kim’s screen acting credits include four series of BAFTA award winning CBeebies show, BalamoryBoy Meets Girl (BBC2); Wolfblood (CBBC) and feature film, Bliss.

Director: Daymon Britton: I’m an actor/director with over 20 years broadcast experience in front of the camera. Over the past 5 years I have been making short films in order to find my route to market as a director. I am incredibly proud of the collaborations I have experienced to date and thrilled to have been supported by the BFI on this, my 5th short film.

What inspired your story line?

DO: I normally write characters who exist just outside of what’s socially acceptable. I think they’re more interesting.  For Obsession, I wanted to write about a woman at that moment of breaking.  I think, with the right trigger, we’re all capable of the most extraordinary things – good and bad.  We’re expected to exist inside boxes labelled ‘acceptable’, ‘normal’, ‘decent’ – but life’s messier than that.

MJS: The original storyline was developed many years ago by Debbie and originally featured an able-bodied lead role. We spoke about developing the piece into a short for a number of years and then we met Kim Tserkezie. So, we were then inspired to adapt an existing storyline, originally intended for an able-bodied actor, for someone who was right for the role irrespective of physical ability.

How did you find your cast?

DO:  We were introduced to Kim by a mutual friend who thought it might be useful for us to know each other.  During that meeting, Kim spoke about the lack of strong roles for disabled actors.  Often, there’s a ‘victim’ mentality, which isn’t helpful to the portrayal of disabled characters.  I had a script with a strong female lead, and Kim was looking for a script with a strong female lead – it was as simple as that really.  And casting Morgan, untried and untested though he is, was an easy ‘yes’.  He was never going to let us down, cos his investment was too great, and he was surrounded by people who wanted him to succeed – so it was a safe environment for him to step in front of the camera.

MJS: With casting, Kim was always a safe bet with her track record, and I felt I’d like the opportunity to play ‘Dave’; the violent husband. I’d always watched from the side lines when we’d produced content previously – but the support and encouragement of my team I took the role. Daymon specifically was a huge encouragement. With his extensive background in acting, the coaching sessions we ran, and the fact he had confidence in my ability, I let my insecurities go.

DB: This was an incredibly interesting project on paper, so adding cast that I’d not worked with before made it even more interesting for me. Kim was secured during the development process, and Morgan asked to audition for the role of Dave. Although Morgan had no prior acting experience I was convinced he would do whatever it took to give the performance required. We workshopped together one afternoon, and from that I was confident he would be able to deliver the performance needed at the centre of Jasmine’s story… and he did.

How did you find your crew?

MJS: Our focus was to produce a regional piece of cinema and we always wanted it to be predominantly crewed by regional talent. The vast majority of our crew was sourced by Daymon and our DOP, Scott Coulter. I was overwhelmed by the talent, who all felt it was so important to support a regional production. We of course got additional support from NFM, BFI Network, and I reached out to some others including a trusted producer (BAFTA Crew) who I know, Paul Furlong, to work as my Line Producer.

DB: I have been lucky to build up a network of incredibly talented and committed crew throughout the region, who I call upon time and time again. We were blessed with a number of those people being available and keen to be involved. Once we had the project green lit by the BFI we very quickly set a date and began booking those needed to help tell the story.

How did you raise funding?

MJS:  BFI NETWORK supported the film, thanks to National Lottery funding, working closely with their Talent Execs based in the North of England.  And we worked to that budget.

What was the biggest challenge?

DO: For me, everything! This was completely new territory, so I was learning from day 1.  It was fabulous to work with, and learn from, such incredible North East talent – I’m chuffed to now know a group of people who I sincerely hope to work with again.  They’re a very generous bunch.

MJS: I think the biggest challenge for me was overcoming my own insecurities. As a Producer, I have a huge amount of transferable skills and credibility in so many areas – with this film though, I was surrounded by people with arguably more relevant experience than me. As we had so much talent on board, I felt it difficult to maintain that line between being an assertive Producer and acknowledging other people’s experience.

On the acting side; I was concerned about letting people down, but with the support of my team, a lot of rehearsal time and the kindness and patience of those around me I was able to put those insecurities aside.

DB: Every project has its own challenges, and for this film it was very much having clarity of story. The film plays backwards for most of the narrative, so I was very clear on my shot list, and had cut the entire piece in my head before stepping onto the floor, to make sure that what we captured would tell the audience exactly where we were in Jasmine’s story. I also wanted to limit my coverage during filming – not that I ever over shoot, but I wanted to be very precise in what we shot and wanted every frame to have purpose. I am thrilled at how well the piece has come together, and with the incredible collaborations we have a film that is very accomplished.

What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps with a short film looking for funding?

DO: You always have to start with something you want to write. If your heart’s not in it, it’ll show.  But the bit that a lot of writers miss out, is – “why now?”  Writing a script because it means something to you is important; but, in the end, it has to be bigger than you and exist beyond you.  So, when someone asks you “why now?”, and they will ask, you must have an answer ready.  Because you can’t ask someone to give you funding for a film that only matters to you.

MJS: The biggest bit of advice is networking and building relationships with good people. Kindness and selflessness are key in this industry – you can’t do it alone. Set a BHAG (a Big Hairy Audacious Goal) of what YOU want to achieve, something that makes you think “that’s a stretch for me” and strategize on how you’re going to get there and who you’ll need to collaborate with to make it work. Then, make yourself visible, meet people, get their perspective on what you want to achieve and when you’ve got a team of people who you know and trust with a common goal… set that goal in motion.

DB: Firstly, work out if a budget is entirely necessary for telling your story. It has only been the past few years that my short films have relied on budgets, as many before that were made on very little to £0. Once you have established yourself as someone keen to make films and keen to collaborate, find others who are also willing to give up time to tell an important story, and to expand on their own skillset. My previous budgets have come from private financiers who have been keen to tell a story or to get an important message out to the world, and because of my network and passion for film making, I have been in the right place at the right time. You never know when you will meet someone who can move your project forward… so keep networking.

What would you do differently?

DO:  That’s an impossible question, because the answer is “I’d know more”.  To want to do something differently, suggests a mistake; and a mistake normally comes from not knowing.  There’s plenty I’d do differently ‘next time’… but ‘this time’, I’d do what I did.  That’s all you can do.  That’s how you learn.  And this has been a massive learning curve.

MJS: I wouldn’t do anything differently; if the question was ‘what mistakes have you made’, the answer would be – ‘so many I can’t count them’. However, I needed to make those mistakes to learn from them. The things I WILL do differently next time is to believe more in my abilities, make sure I communicate better with my colleagues and friends, and probably pick one role in production. It’s hard to be dispassionate as a Producer and then passionate as an Actor, talk about being emotionally exhausted…

DB: I try to stick to every decision made during the production and can say I am happy with how it all turned out. I of course find 1000000 faults in my telling of the story, but they’re all lessons learnt for next time.

What aspect of the production are you most proud of?

DO: I’m proud to know the people I now know. I’ll move on from this film, to the next project; but the people, I hope, will always be around.  My go-to film making team has grown from about 4 people, to about 40!  These are people who’ve got careers far exceeding my own, who came back to the North East to help with a BFI Network film, because they’re so incredibly supportive of the region and of the people in it.  That’s amazing to be part of.

MJS: I’m most proud of the team we assembled, and the fact that so many people who didn’t know each other just naturally formed bonds and perfectly complimented one another. Through a common goal of making an amazing piece of work, everyone shined, everyone threw their heart and soul into production, and everyone showed what’s achievable when regional talent comes together.

DB: It’s all about the team for me… to get such a high-level crew together to help tell the story always astounds me. I always take a moment to sit back and watch the crew go about their work on set. As I watch, I remind myself that they’re all working for a lot less than they would normally make on a production, and yet they have such focus and professionalism on set – it’s an incredible commitment from them all, and a joyous collaboration.

What’s next for Obsession and the team?

DO: Obsession will go to Film Festivals from September onwards and then…

MJS: We’re discussing all sorts at the minute, obviously we have the festival run immediately next. There’s so much more to come from us though… Watch this space, I think you’ll be surprised.

DB: A drink… Another watch of the film… Then as I say goodbye to it, and send it off around the world, I want to hear action soon on my next project.

Images credited to Cameron Bruce
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