Searchlight: Bevan Walsh

A schoolboy stumbles upon a hidden stash of naughty mags, but soon finds his new collection to be more of a curse than a blessing. Bevan Walsh’s short Love Does Grow on Trees has been picking up awards all over the place, from Rushes Soho Shorts to Super Shorts International Film Festival, and counts Danny Boyle among its fans. And the reason for its success? Walsh reckons he’s tapped into a group of ‘teenage perverts’, but we reckon it also might have something to do with the well-observed humour, gorgeous cinematography and a brilliant performance from the young lead. Oh, and the fact it has a porn fairy.

Love Does Grow on Trees feels and looks very British – the grey skies, the school uniforms – and yet it has done incredibly well internationally at film festivals. Why do you think this is?
When I wrote it, I thought I was the only one who’d found adult magazines in strange places as a teenager but when I became brave enough to show a few friends the script I started to realise it was something a lot of people could identify with. Then as I travelled with the film to festivals I realised that it wasn’t just the UK, there was an international group of teenage perverts out there and this film has helped them all to feel a little better about themselves. I felt so relieved when I realised it wasn’t just me, and I think others do too.

Saying all that, the true theme is love – a real girl and the possibility of a real relationship will always win out over a fantasy in the pages of a magazine.

Where did the story idea come from?
I’ve always believed that for a story to really work it has to come from real experiences, and the things you’re most embarrassed about or feel uncomfortable talking about are usually the best things to write. This actually started out as two different scripts, one was about finding porn, the other about falling for a girl at a bus stop. Both came from personal experience but neither was quite working so I decided to combine the two. The rest came from an unanswered question from my teenage years – how does all that porn get into the woods?

The young lead does a great job! What was he like to work with?
We were very lucky to find Luke, he is a fantastic actor and a lovely person, and I knew straight away that we’d found our star when we auditioned him. He had the right look, he knew the script off by heart and played it exactly how I’d imagined. He was also ready to do whatever it took to get it right and was never afraid to look silly if it worked for the film. He had that perfect mix of being very professional and comfortable with the material but still had that awkward teen edge to him. A lot of young actors seem too grown up too fast and have to act like the kid they’d never really been. I’d always much rather cast somebody who can bring something of themselves to the part.

In terms of the shoot, what were the biggest challenges?
We had a lot of FX shots with magazine pages flying around, the second bus stop sequence being the most difficult to get right, especially seeing as we had to shoot it in tiny chunks, shot by shot, making it very difficult for the actors or me to get into it, to start feeling their way around the scene properly. But the biggest challenge was, and always is, a lack of time and money – trying to get everything you need with limited resources and time constraints. I always try to get through set-ups as quickly as possible without compromising on giving the actors enough time to get into the rhythm of the scene or getting what I need to make it work. It’s almost never possible to do it exactly as you want though, and part of becoming a better film-maker is learning how to manage and be creative when those inevitable compromises rear their ugly head.

I love the combination of fondly remembered nostalgia and almost magical realism – what sort of feeling were you trying to capture with the film?
I just wanted it to feel honest. I wanted to capture the feeling of that time and the end of innocence that is happening as teenagers start to investigate their sexuality. But when it comes down to it, I’m always just trying to make sense of my experiences and use film-making as a kind of therapy. I seem to dip into ‘magical realism’ quite often but it always seem a natural progression and honest extension of the themes of the film and the questions asked. At that age, kids are controlled by their hormones and I always try to find ways to turn a metaphor or a remembered feeling into something real that can become part of the story.

In terms of cinematography, there’s a sort of lingering stillness which, for me, seemed to intensify the boy’s embarrassment. Why did you make the film look the way it does?
The majority of the film is our hero on his own, and I wanted to give him time to think and take in what was happening. He’s constantly on the edge of embarrassment, and like a rabbit in headlights, so I felt we needed to allow him those extra beats, frozen in fear, before he could get out of a situation. We had a very tight schedule and I storyboarded every shot to try and make the most of the time we had, I think there were only two of the storyboarded shots that we didn’t use in the final cut and one or two extra that we discovered on the day. Lighting-wise, I wanted to use natural light as much as possible and keep an autumnal feel to the whole film. My memories of the UK as a teenager are almost always grey skies and buildings, with the muted greens and browns of nature surrounding it, so we tried to keep that feel in mind throughout. I was also convinced we needed to shoot on film as the story is set in a time when digital didn’t exist, and it wouldn’t have felt right to shoot on a modern format. It was either film or Hi8 and I’m glad we chose film, you can’t beat it.

The Porn Fairy – does he really exist?
I think he exists in every teenage boys mind, ready to help when needed and equally keen to disappear when that young man decides he wants something more.

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