Creatives in profile - interview series

Creatives in profile: interview with William Grave

“I spent about 200 pounds on ‘casting’ socks” – film maker William Grave chats to Nothing in the Rulebook about movies, screenwriting, and his new short film, ‘Tumble’

What’s the greatest love story ever told? Romeo & Juliet? Doctor Zhivago? Casablanca? Or perhaps it’s one you’ve not yet heard of. 

Tumble is the new short film created by London-based film maker, William Grave. Released on Valentine’s Day, the film follows the relationship of two star-crossed lovers socks. 

As couples around the world celebrate another Hallmark festival, Tumble promises to be the perfect antidote to the consumerism of Valentine’s Day – allowing couples and singles alike to enjoy a charming tale of love and loss (and lost socks). 

Nothing in the Rulebook caught up with Grave to talk about movies, screenwriting, as well as Tumble, and just how one goes about auditioning candidates for the crucial role of ‘lead sock’. 

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle 

GRAVE

I live in Kingsbury, north London. Born to an Italian Mother and an English father, I was very fortunate to grow up with the world’s greatest roasts and Italy’s finest tiramisus. I couldn’t sing or play an instrument, but writing was something that gave me that buzz you see from musicians on a stage. I studied Creative Writing at Warwick, where in my final year I did a screenwriting module. That opened a door for me in my brain. Screenwriting is all about the story, and that’s what I love about it. 

And from screenwriting I’ve moved onto directing. I feel like you haven’t truly written the film until you direct it, as so much evolves from just a line on a page and so many new ideas come up in the film-making process that makes the story and individual scenes better. 

INTERVIEWER

Is film making your first love, or do you have another passion? 

GRAVE

I wrote poetry, prose and still do a lot of screenwriting. The amazing thing about writing is that it’s just you and the page. You are in control of that whether you like it or not. No excuses. Film-making often involves dozens of people and every jigsaw piece has to fall into place just to have a film made. 

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

GRAVE

Charlie Kauffman is a screenwriter who often breaks the rules, and has so few films made despite the critical success of Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine because he challenges the studios’ norms so much. I was lucky to see him in a Q&A a few years back in London. 

INTERVIEWER

Your short film, ‘Tumble’ centres around essentially a love story between two socks. Why did you feel it was important to tell this story? 

GRAVE

I’m interested in the power of inanimate objects to move people, simply through music and point of view shots. In some ways it was an experiment. But, beyond that, I think everyone has suffered from a form of loss or heartbreak in their life. I hope this film could mean something to them. 

Watch the trailer for Grave’s film ‘Tumble’ here

INTERVIEWER

How do you make a story about two inanimate objects feel ‘real’? 

GRAVE

Before starting out, I had to think about how to anthropomorphise a sock. What is the mouth? Where’s its head? I did a series of testing. I had a ‘casting’ problem when it came to the socks too. As mad as it sounds, I spent about 200 pounds on different socks. Some had hearts on them, but it felt a bit on the nose. The day before shooting I saw these two red socks, and made a little hole where the big toe would be and a hole on the base,  and suddenly it gave the old sock almost an ‘eye’ and a ‘mouth’. Now you have a character to identify with. And when you have two of them, you have a couple to root for. 

A ‘casting problem’ with socks? A still from Grave’s short film, ‘Tumble’

I didn’t want to animate the socks or have dialogue. I wanted their journey to be ‘real’ but emotionally involve the audience by showing them what they’re seeing. What they’re going through. The ups and downs in life that are out of their control. 

 Music was always going to be crucial to bring to life this ‘Casablanca for socks’.  Recording live, the pure emotion in the singer songwriter’s Jean Claude Madhero’s voice… it was breathtaking. His music is about love and loss, so was a natural fit for this film. Being from Martinique, he sings in French Creole. Even without knowing the dialect, the words emotionally translate so well. Especially the final song. 

INTERVIEWER

In the film, you use some interesting cinematography – including a shot from inside a washing machine. Can you talk us through the process of creating these shots, and were they always in your mind when you were writing your initial script? 

GRAVE

It was initially a very short script, so a lot had evolved from what was on the page. Like, yes the sock is hung up on the line, but is it a traditional washing line or one that spins? And how do we make it feel like suffering? A crucifixion? 

We had a plumber cut a washing machine in half so we could shoot from the inside of it. My cinematographer James had the great idea to put the socks in a fish tank and place the lens against the tank. In the film you don’t see the tank at all, you just get the effect of the water rising above you inside the washing machine amongst the socks. 

Later on the shoot day, the cinematographer was putting the lens cap over the lens after a shot and I noticed these shards of light broke through the darkness when that occurred. I asked him to do it again, and that moment features in the film during the ‘shipwreck moment’ when the lonely sock comes to on the washing line. 

INTERVIEWER

As both a writer and director, could you tell us a little about how you view the relationship between these two roles? Is a script sacrosanct? Or does the director have ultimate creative control over any film? 

GRAVE

I came into directing because I think in the end, you could have a feature film made as a screenwriter but deep down you will be very frustrated by some of the choices made by the director. Unless you are Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter has very little influence on the film once it goes into production. If you are directing something you have written, it’s like you’re writing a new draft. You are improving it. You are thinking about it on so many levels that you did not when you were writing it and that’s the exciting part.  The same goes with dialogue I have written in the past, when an actor makes an improvement on a line – good! They’re making the film better, which is what you want. You can’t be too precious about it and get in the way of yourself. 

INTERVIEWER

One of the reasons ‘Tumble’ works so well is that it is ultimately about one of the most timeless stories of humankind: it’s about love, loss, and the way we view and deal with relationships both past and present. How do you go about creating a story that feels new and unique when it’s about something as ageless as these themes? 

GRAVE

I’m drawn to stories and ideas that feel fresh and original, but you still need to find something universal within it. Everyone’s got an odd sock in their sock drawer, but everyone also has had a moment of loss or heart-break in their life. I think it’s the reason why, when people ask about the story, they are so desperate for the socks to get back together again. 

INTERVIEWER

Why do you think it’s important to tell this story today, in the context of the current world we live in?

GRAVE

Let’s be honest. This is a film about socks. It’s not going to take down Trump and or the rise of Nationalism, but if it makes one person smile around Valentine’s Day, I would be happy with that. 

INTERVIEWER

Can film making – or good stories – change the world?

GRAVE

If you go back to The Birth of a Nation, which boosted the status of the KKK in 1915, it can change the world and sometimes not for the better. But, if film has that power to bring about negative prejudices, surely it can do the opposite too. 

There are some worthy films being made and about important issues, but film-makers and all storytellers need to find a way to get that message out to everyone and not just narrow echo chambers or film festivals. 

In Blackkklansman, Spike Lee chose (with permission from her mother) to show the murder of Heather Heyer at the Charlottesville far right rally at the end of the film. It was incredibly powerful and it was watched by millions in cinemas across the world. Even though the film was set in the 70s, it shows the danger of the far right today and how it’s not just something from our distant past.  

INTERVIEWER

Looking around at current trends in film-making, what are your thoughts and feelings on the industry? And how would you advise aspiring film makers or script writers to break out onto the ‘scene’? 

GRAVE

I would say it’s a time to be optimistic. Whatever people feel about Netflix, they are making films that other studios would have passed up on. For example, films with a vegan message like Okja would have been passed up by the traditional studios; but not Netflix. More stories than ever are going into production – and less cliché ones too. 

I’m still trying to break onto the scene myself, but you can learn with every BFI networking event you go to. Once you have a couple of good shorts written under your belt, put the synopsis up on shootpeople.org and see if you can get a good cinematographer on board. From there you can probably get a producer on board and actually direct the film yourself. It’s very common for shorts to have a ‘writer director’ credit, and it’s the most likely way you will get something made. If it’s good, you can enter your short into festivals, and that’s how people tend to get noticed. 

From reading about the Sundance Screenwriting Lab, I’ve seen that people have got in after having a few short films made. Actually getting something made seems to have a value over a good script on a page because it has engaged enough people to actually make the damn thing. Even on a short, there is often a small army needed to make a film. So, even if you just want to be a screenwriter, have a go at directing. You might love it. You might hate it. But, if you don’t try it, you won’t know. 

INTERVIEWER

In terms of writing screenplays, what do you think is most important to keep in mind when writing your initial drafts?

GRAVE

Short films can be written in a day. But features are another beast. I spend about 4 weeks just planning and writing scenes on cue cards, and then you get down to writing the thing. The exciting moment is when a character does something you didn’t plan for. They’ve come alive beyond your notes and initial thoughts. 

It’s a bit of a cliché but learning from experience, it’s better to master the form before breaking it. 3 Act structures have been around since Aristotle’s Poetics, and it is certainly your best starting point. What you choose to tell within that principle can be the most original, strangest story on the face of this planet. Giving your story a form, does not take away from its creativity. As people who write poetry know, having a rhyme scheme and restrictions can actually make for better poetry. Sometimes!

Finishing your feature film first draft is a great moment. Buy yourself a drink. But, then you go through the process of sending it onto trusted readers, and the next draft is actually harder I find. Because, so much thought went into your first draft and once you change one scene or character, the whole film sometimes needs to be rewritten. A painful process that sometimes has to happen. 

INTERVIEWER

Do you feel any ethical responsibility as a writer or director?

GRAVE

I think you have a responsibility to yourself to tell your story, a story no-one else will tell. If you think too much about outside influences your work will be tempered by that. Equally, you can be motivated by a social issue you want to tackle, but if it becomes too didactic your story or film risks being turned into a charity advert. 

Then there’s the day to day of film-making. When you’re working with people there are always ethics involved. I’ve worked with actors in an audition, where there is a kiss scene.  In everything you do in film, you want authenticity above everything. If it feels real to you, directing it in the room, there’s a likelihood that will transfer to an audience too. But, of course you have to also make sure the people you are working with are comfortable and happy.

In my next film, there is a dinner scene with a roast goose being served; it’s supposed to be set in the traditional countryside and you work with a food artist. They go about getting a roast goose, but even though I’m not a vegetarian, you question whether that goose needs to die for your film. These are day to day ethical questions, you ask yourself in film-making. 

INTERVIEWER

Many directors talk about the idea of dealing with ‘disaster’ – the unexpected dilemmas or catastrophes that appear when you least expect them over the course of making a film. Did any of these occur during the making of your film, and how would you advise other aspiring directors to deal with such events?

GRAVE

Making films is how you cope with ‘disasters’ and still get the thing made. I’ve had my fair share with another film project with a 20k budget, and the whole thing fell through 4 days before shooting. But, sometimes a disaster can lead to something better. 

With Tumble we lost a multi award winning composer from the project, which sucks as the film is so reliant on music. One day I was on the tube and walked 100 metres past this amazing voice complimented by a guitar. It was the voice of Jean Claude Madhero busking in Oxford Circus. I wanted a Latin sound for my film, something passionate and melodramatic, and his voice stood out. We teamed up together for this film, and I feel very fortunate to have worked with him. I’m releasing this film, because I’m inspired by him. I want the whole world to know about him and his talent. At the age of 70, he himself has had some knocks backs, having been homeless in Paris many years ago, but he never gave up on his art. 

Listen to the dulcet tones and beautiful guitar of singer songwriter John Claude Madherowho provides the music to ‘Tumble’

INTERVIEWER

How would you define creativity? 

GRAVE

Giving the jumbled up toys in the toybox a new playground. 

INTERVIEWER

What does the term ‘writer’ mean to you?

GRAVE

Someone who hasn’t given up on their dream. 

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about some of the future projects you’re working on? 

GRAVE

In My Day is a black and white short about a white girl from Bradford who is deeply in love with her British Asian boyfriend, Asif. But, the local skinheads in the city and her parents from the countryside aren’t accepting of their relationship. The true reason for their hostility is only revealed at the end: Asif is a robot. It’s a film that questions what will we be conservative about in the future. I’ve been very fortunate to get a Bafta winning composer on board, a feature film cinematographer, costume designer from Netflix’s Sex Education and the sound recordist from Peaky Blinders. The great thing about being based in London, is that there are a lot of passionate film-makers out there, and a good script can help you bring onboard top people as a passion project. We’re currently looking for a new producer, if anyone is out there? 

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

GRAVE

The houseplant stopped being thirsty yesterday

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 5 – 10 tips for writers and film makers? 

GRAVE

1)Find yourself a producer, who is committed to you and your storytelling. They are priceless, and you will make a few shorts together and then the next step is a feature. The directors who are making their debut feature films often have a producer on board who has been with them from their earlier shorts. 

2) Don’t Give Up. What draws me to film, beyond the storytelling and opportunity to work with many talented people, is that you can still be doing this into your 70s and 80s. You never retire from something you love. And however old you are, you can start now. 

3) Stick with your instincts. Whether it’s a story premise or how you want to shoot a scene, your instincts are your best and quickest guide. 

4) Don’t follow a trend. They don’t last very long. By the time you have written your screenplay and got it made, it won’t be ‘on trend’ anymore.

5) Welcome back. You’re going to university again. With every film you make, you’ll be learning so much. Embrace that. 

6) An imperfect film is better than an unreleased or no film, and I include mine in that bracket. Vimeo has thousands of password protected films that are never put out to the public because it was never quite as good as the director had hoped. 

Quick fire round! 

INTERVIEWER

Favourite writer/director?

GRAVE

After Charlie Kaufman, it would be Taika Waiti. Love his style of storytelling, where light meets dark, and his new film Jojo Rabbit has that in abundance. 

INTERVIEWER

Critically acclaimed or cult classic? 

GRAVE

Cult Classic – it’s actually loved by people and for decades. 

INTERVIEWER

One film everyone should watch?

GRAVE

La Vita e Bella – Life is Beautiful

INTERVIEWER

Most underrated artist?

GRAVE

Talib Kweli 

INTERVIEWER

Most overrated artist? 

GRAVE

Stormzy 

INTERVIEWER

Who is someone you think more people should know about?

GRAVE

Jean Claude Madhero

INTERVIEWER

If not film-making – what would you do?

GRAVE

Write novels. 

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any hidden talents?

GRAVE

Undefeated at Limbo… going on 10 years. 

INTERVIEWER

Most embarrassing moment? 

GRAVE

Too many to tell. 

INTERVIEWER

What’s something you’re particularly proud of? 

GRAVE

Being an uncle… although I can’t take any credit for that. 

INTERVIEWER

One piece of advice for your younger self?

GRAVE

If not now, when?

Watch the full version of Grave’s film, ‘Tumble’ right here

John Claude Madhero will be performing his incredible music live at the Whirled Cinema in London during a special screening of ‘Tumble’ on Sunday 16th February at 8.30pm . Email William Grave at willgrave@gmail.com for a free ticket.

To keep up to date with the latest news about ‘Tumble’ and to follow updates about Grave’s latest projects, follow That Sock Film Tumble on Facebook, and @will_grave on Twitter. You can also check out the official Tumble Website, and Grave’s personal website.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: