Q&A with director Gary Roberts (The Problemless Anonymous)
We are delighted to talk with Gary Roberts, co-writer and director of The Problemless Anonymous, which was one of the films featured at last year’s Exit 6 and deserving winner of our Audience Choice Award. The film has also been selected to be part of Short of the Week.
Hi Gary, first off, congratulations on your Exit 6 win and being selected for Short of the Week. Before we get into it, can you tell us a bit more about Short of the Week?
Thank you, it’s great to finally get Problemless online and I’m very excited it’s been premiered by Short of the Week, for those who don’t know they’re an online platform for short films. I’m honoured they selected The Problemless Anonymous as I’ve been a big fan of their site for years and the calibre of content they select is really high, so I couldn’t be happier we’re now a part of that.
I was lucky enough to catch the film at Exit 6 last year and I really enjoyed it and watching again recently I had the same question – where did the idea come from?
It’s the writer Samuel Barber’s baby, we’ve been friends since university and he told me about this idea a few years back. He was inspired by the belief that humans strive for a glimpse of perfection, yet it is always unattainable. So, Samuel inverted the idea that perfection is the problem itself and in doing so the story worked its way out from there. Straight away I thought it was such an original concept and it stayed with me for a long time after, the best thing about it was it kept making me think. I started to find myself contemplating details about how that world would function? What would it look like? How would people act towards each other? And ultimately what are the repercussions in a world with these rules? It challenged me. Samuel and I had to write together to get the idea to work for a short film though and at the time he was living in Japan so it was a lot of back and forth emails of sending draft after draft of the script but we got there eventually.
The look and style of the film is very striking. Did you know how you wanted it to look when you did the first draft of the script?
A good script should fire images into your head and I definitely had ideas straight away but nothing was ever set in stone, I really wanted to collaborate with the team. I always liked the idea that there would be a propaganda element underneath it all, which would be pedalling these people to blindly follow these rules in fear of the outcome. I enjoy storyboarding, which is mainly for my own benefit but sitting with DOP Nick Coleman I showed him the drawings and we discussed about the overall look of the film, talked about references we loved and thought were relevant. But the colour palette really came alive once we found our location and from there that massively informed the overall look of the film.
The attention to detail is fantastic, even the little things like the posters on the waiting room wall. It must have taken some time to set up – how long did it take you from script to final edit?
It was incredibly fast, probably around 3-4months from final draft of a script to the final edit. We had a deadline through a competition that we acquired some funding from, but it was actually a big help rather than a hindrance. I found it sharpened my eye further and all decisions that were made weren’t overthought or overdesigned but instinctual and it was fun to give yourself over to that process and commit.
Where did you do most of your location work?
We filmed everything in 2 days in Feb 2016 at the Ruth Winston Centre in Palmers Green, North London. It was suggested to me but from a quick Google couldn’t really find much, so I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to find on the inside… when we were shown around every room was purple, I loved it. It created a visual continuity straight away that we didn’t have the budget to create from scratch, it did need a little bit love with set dressing but it worked perfectly and that colour informed the design.
I really liked the music, it lent itself well to the atmosphere of the film. Do you have an idea of music when you are putting the film together or do you let the musicians do their thing?
I’ve known the composers (Michael Baker, Ed Martin and Andrew Stuart-Buttle) for a long time, and we’ve worked on many different projects together so I totally trusted them to put their stamp on it. I like to edit for as long as possible without the crutch of music, so we didn’t use any temp tracks when we were cutting so had no real idea of what the music should be. I was sharing edits with them along the way and they would keep writing tracks and changing bits but once we had a decent offline edit, I went down to Brighton and spent a weekend with Michael, Ed and Andy. We then locked ourselves away and finalised the whole score, moving their ideas around and trying new things out, it was very collaborative.
Exit 6 is a great showcase for filmmakers experienced or just starting out. For those who are thinking about making their first short, what advice would you give?
Don’t dwell, don’t wait for somebody to give you permission, just go and make it.
Following on from that, we know that getting finance for films can be tough, how did you get the resources to make The Problemless Anonymous?
I’m lucky really as I was chosen by Talkies Community Cinema and Short Sighted Cinema in a competition where they offer filmmakers some cash to make a short inspired by / shot in the Palmers Green area. They’re an incredible team and hugely supportive of independent film so without them I wouldn’t have been able to make it, so big thanks to them for trusting me and letting me run wild.
It has some really unsettling moments that wouldn’t feel out of place in a horror film. Did you take inspiration from watching any particular films?
There’s a big mix of genres in this short, which I really enjoyed doing. As we move through the story it keeps leading you down somewhere new visually and tonally. I’m a massive Bergman and Kubrick fan but I’m quite eclectic when it comes to inspirations, there’s definitely some Twilight Zone vibes as well.
Finally, what exciting projects do you have coming up in the future?
Currently, I’m in early stages of development on a couple of scripts with different writers one with another sci-fi leaning and the other is a really human-led narrative. I also have a few things I’ve written that I want to start finding the right producers to work with, so yeah, 2017 is shaping up to be another productive year!
You can watch The Problemless Anonymous on Short of the Week.
You can follow Gary on Twitter: @GeeRoberts
You can follow the film on Twitter: @ProblemessFilm