Q&A With Chicken Director Joe Stephenson

Chicken is the debut feature length film directed by Joe Stephenson. BRWC were lucky enough to ask Joe about his new film – a story of two brothers living on the edge of society that packs an emotional punch. Chicken is a unique gem of a little movie and Joe explained that it was important to him: “to make a film lead by a character with learning difficulties that wasn’t actually about his learning difficulties”. Does he succeed? We certainly think so.

How did the project come about? Had you already seen the play and thought I want to put this on the big screen?

Scott [Chambers] and I have been friends for years, and when he got the part in the play I felt very involved in the work he did there since he was crashing at mine at the time. As I would go over lines with him and discuss the character and the themes Freddie had written, it was settling the back of my mind that I really felt something about what was being said. Then when I saw the play I really felt that the world could be expanded on, and that it might be a rare case of a play that could adapt to cinema without feeling too stagey. I felt I might be able to use the medium I love to bring the characters and world to life in a different but, crucially, faithful way.

How different is the film to the play?

I think Richard has changed, just through the nature of discussion and research. But also a few plot points didn’t feel right when adapting, but I can’t go into that without ruining the film!

What was it that attracted you to this subject matter as your first full length feature?

I always want to go on a journey with characters, to laugh and cry and be taken into their world and this felt like a story I could do that with. My tastes are really for quite epic storytelling, and when I saw the play I realised that epic storytelling can be used to describe emotion as much as scale.

Did you ever consider changing the title of the film?

I did not, it is Freddie’s title and I felt it was both important to keep for him, and it worked thematically for me too.

On camera the lead actors have appear to have a close brotherly bond. Did they know each other before filming took place?

They did not! Only brief acquaintance, so that’s great you say that. We did rehearse, and I had them do character biography’s to create a shared past together so all that work is hopefully what makes you say that.

Scott Chambers does a fine job in his portrayal of Richard. Did the two of you differ on how the character of Richard should be portrayed?

Not at all, we both love and care for Richard and understand him to an equal degree. We did a lot of talking, and I mean A LOT, and we found him together. From the time he was rehearsing the play to the conversations we had while financing was being raised for the film. Hours and hours of discovering a complex character together so we could bring him to life with respect and honesty.

Watching the film I felt more of a connection to the character of Polly than Richard because we get to see more of him interacting either people. Was it a conscious decision to not fully explain Richard’s learning difficulties etc.

A very conscious decision yes, the film is told largely from his perspective. The film is led by his moods, his attitudes, and just because he has certain learning difficulties I felt that it didn’t mean I had to make the film about them. If we had decided to explain them, I felt we would end up in a trap of making the film about them.

The ending almost feels “Hollywood happy” – was the intention to finish on a high note?

It was to end on hope, and I wanted that as first of all I didn’t want to put the audience through high emotions and have them exit the cinema feeling down! But second, and most importantly, I’m a hopeful person and I wanted the message of the film to be that no matter where you’re from or what you’ve been through, with a little help – sometimes from strangers – there is a way through and things can be better.

How long did it take to shoot?

4 weeks, it’s all we could afford! But you make it happen with what you have, and I had an amazing crew with which I wouldn’t have been able to do it without. No pick-ups or reshoots either, which I’m very proud of!

How did you go about raising the budget to shoot the film?

I asked all the places you would expect me to ask, and they all said no. So I spent months and months asking everyone I knew if they had anyone they knew who might be interested. Luckily a small handful (can count them on one hand!) stepped up and believed in me when no-one else did.

How do you want the film to be perceived?

As an emotional, well-made, little film that represents people not often represented in the media, and that it does it honestly and with respect. If people care about and remember these characters even just a little bit I will have done my job. Beyond that, industry speaking, I hope people can see that this is a little film that fought hard to be made and fought even harder to be seen, when the current state of the industry doesn’t work in favour of films like this.

Chicken is released in UK cinemas on 20 May.

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