Will Kenning, writer and director of hilarious short film The Legend of Bob Leonard - which was nominated for Best Film in the Judge's 6 at last year's Exit 6 Film Festival - talks to us about the making of his comedic medieval masterpiece.
Hello, Will! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us about the making of your hilarious short film The Legend of Bob Leonard, which we were delighted to screen in the Judges 6 of our festival programme last year. Can you tell us what the film is about and where the idea came from?
Hey Mark. First off I wanted to say that we were chuffed to bits to be selected for the Judges 6 at the end of last year, particularly alongside such a strong set of finalists. It’s the first time I’ve been to Exit 6 and it’s definitely one of my favourite festival experiences to date - put together with real care and attention to detail.
Oh stop it, you... (please don't).
The Legend of Bob Leonard is a medieval comedy short based on the premise, (spoiler alert) ‘what if Robin Hood was an ar*ehole?’ It’s a slow burn gag spread over 7 minutes where we ask the audience to work out that the characters they’re watching are inverted versions of Robin and his band - but they’re all thugs, whores and idiots. I wanted to make a short that didn’t feel like a short, and to create a world in 7 minutes that people could still get immersed in despite it not being a feature length project - Robin Hood seemed like a good vehicle for that. Plus the idea of the joke really seemed to fit the short film format. The idea had been in my brain for about 3 years
How did you go about putting the funding and production together?
One of the main reasons for making this short was to ‘put my money where my mouth is’ so to speak. I’m a white, male, middle class dude so not a massively attractive prospect when it comes to securing funding. It’s that catch 22 situation of not having a piece of work in my portfolio that I was proud enough of (or rather of high enough production value) to help persuade backers that they should support me in making my next film. My first 4 shorts were made for literally nothing, all shot on DSLR’s with mates and sticky tape, so I felt like I needed to bite the bullet and self fund this project.
I spent £8k of my own savings (don’t tell my wife!!) and I borrowed a further £5k to get the film through post and secure Katie McCullough at Festival Formula to help me with the festival strategy. In terms of putting the production together, I’m an actor as well as a filmmaker, so everyone on screen is basically a mate - cast & crew. Everyone was working for expenses only and we put all the money towards kit & stuff that was on camera (horses, costumes, stunts, locations etc). It was a case of pulling in a lot of favours and having some very generous and understanding friends who were all working towards the same shared goal.
The film opens with an incredibly well choreographed fight scene that features horse and stunt work rarely seen in short films. Who was involved in devising the action of the scene and how did it work?
So really the magic piece of the jigsaw puzzle was Steve Dent - horse-master and stunt coordinator. If you’ve never heard of Steve, look him up on IMDb... he’s done everything, from Gladiator to Robin Hood! I got in touch with Steve and told him what I was trying to do. We got together and had a coffee and he said he’d help me out. Steve brought 3 stuntmen (including Will, his son who’s the soldier who falls off the horse), 2 horses and lots of great looking weaponry to the set. It was a 2 day shoot over the last weekend in October and we devoted the first day to choreographing the fight, which was put together by Steve and the team. Then on Sunday we shot it. We only just made it before the light went. I’m so enormously grateful to Steve Dent - without his generosity the project just wouldn’t have worked. If I’m ever in possession of a proper budget later in my career and in need of horses or a stunt coordinator I know where to go!
Are you also now able to ride a horse like a pro?
In a word, no. I left that to the professionals.
On top of the production value brought by the action, there’s a splendid array of period costumes and props on show too. How did you go about sourcing these?
Angels was far too expensive, so we got all the costume from the National Theatre costume department. It’s a fantastic resource and you need to put a couple of days aside to go and riffle through all the clothes yourself, but you get a great price. Having said that costume & props took up about 25% of our budget. Without decent togs any attempt at a period piece is going to die a death.
The entire cast is fantastic, particularly Dennis Herdman in the title role. How did you go about casting the film?
As I mentioned, my casting process for this was going through my address book. But I’ve always had Dennis in mind for this... I’m just so pleased he said yes! The only people in the cast I didn’t know before were our Norman soldiers and prisoners who came to me through a post on Casting Call Pro, or mandy.com as it’s now known. There wasn’t enough money to audition so I cast via showreels, and I’m so delighted with the fantastic actors we got. I’m so indebted to everyone on this project for giving up their time for nothing.
The Legend of Bob Leonard is your 5th short film. While you’ve no doubt learned an awful lot making your earlier films, what would you say was the biggest lesson you took from shooting this one?
Like many directors I’m a bit of a control freak, but when your productions start getting bigger you have to start letting other people share the load. I need to learn to work more harmoniously with my producers and trust that you’ll achieve more as a team rather than trying to maintain control of everything yourself. I’ve also learnt that a 5-litre coffee urn will always trip a generator.
What’s your best memory from the shoot?
I spent most of this shoot so pumped on adrenaline and terrified that everything would fall apart that I don’t really remember having much time to enjoy it. Difficult when it feels like you’re gambling £8k of your own money ;) But I think the feeling of accomplishment after we’d wrapped was amazing - it really felt like we’d got away with it! The weather had been kind, no one was hurt and we got the main shots I wanted. The attached picture of the cast and crew after the final shot captures a sense of this elation and relief I think.
What advice would you give other filmmakers looking to add stunt work to their short film projects?
Get a good stunt coordinator on board and don’t give up if a bunch say no to you first. Even the best people out there are willing to help out up and coming filmmakers if they’re between projects, and you never know what they could bring to the project. I think it’s bit like asking the prettiest girl to dance at the disco… no one does it because they all think she’ll say no, but often if you just ask, people will be more generous than you could imagine. Oh, and be safe - it’s so easy to throw caution to the wind in the heat of the moment, but when you’re working with weapons, animals etc you have to put your cast and crew’s safety above all else…it’s just a film at the end of the day!
Can you tell us about your next project in the pipeline?
I’ve just written & directed a 20 minute short film with my great friend Michael Rouse which is about to start it’s festival journey. It’s called Geoff and is a more lyrical romantic comedy about a guy with Gephyrophobia (fear of crossing bridges). We’re really excited about this one as we managed to secure a lot of help from the team behind Murder on the Orient Express (Michael had been working on the film for 6 months before hand as an actor). We shot for a week in the Scottish highlands and it looks stunning... amazingly the rain stayed away! I’m just gutted that (at 20 minutes) we can’t enter it into this year's Exit 6 (we are too)!
Apart from that I’m writing my first feature length project which I hope to go into pre-production with before the end of the year.
You can follow Will on Twitter: @WillKenning
For more info about The Legend of Bob Leoard visit the official website.