We love a good Yorkshire production here at JumpCut HQ, so when we heard local filmmaker Brett Chapman was bringing together a large-scale, dystopian thriller just up the M1 in nearby Leeds, we were immediately intrigued. Brett is a passionate and prolific director from our hometown of Sheffield, who I’ve been connecting with more and more regularly over the last year or so, and in that time his work has been impressive not due to its only high-quality, but what also the diversity of his filmography – ranging from super short comedies to documentaries, and now this epic, thirty-minute effort.
An enthralling look at a not-too-distant future, ‘The Good Book’ depicts a bleak society where rival dictators and factions battle for power and control, every move, every word and every connection is monitored, and being on the wrong side of the war can lead to devastating consequences. Think, George Orwell meets Black Mirror and you’re on the right lines. But it’s not just the narrative which is interesting here, with the project having a genuine community feel to it, having been made with the help of Slung Low and Leeds People’s Theatre. I was curious how this involvement came to pass.
“Slung Low initially approached me with the project, which was written by their frequent collaborator James Phillips. I’ve done some work with Slung Low in the past, including making a documentary about them taking over the oldest working men’s club in the country (which features as one of our primary location in The Good Book) so we already knew each other’s style.
Slung Low have a long history of putting on large scale site-specific theatre shows that draw on the local community to be part of the cast, so this was really their doing. The Leeds folk who came on board for the film were amazing and because of the nature of the project it was just as important to us that they enjoyed the process of making it, as it was to produce a good film. Their involvement defined the whole spirit of the production and above all else I hope that they are all proud of the piece of work we made together.”
It’s clear that Brett’s work has taken a step to the next level with ‘The Good Book’, not only allowing himself a wider scope for storytelling with the longer runtime, but also in the sheer scale of the production. It is this high production value, with its many, various moving parts which, as a filmmaker myself, I found most commendable and awe-inspiring. With a story spanning across lots of different locations, with a wide-range of characters and big set-pieces, I wanted to get a better understanding of how Brett handled all of this.
“Being commissioned by a theatre company, we had to come up with a whole new way of working, so that the project was neither a traditional short film, or a piece of theatre. Working that out throughout production was a brilliant challenge, and I think we really did find a great balance where these two disciplines came together to create something unique. With the type of work Slung Low do, they’re logistical experts, so by having them on board as producers (and their Artistic Director, Alan Lane, as the films 1st AD), we were able to achieve things on a scale that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.
This was very different to the process you’d usually find with a lot of the short-form documentary work I do. I did extensive preparation before we shot a single frame, first of all breaking the script down into a simple shot-list to form a collection of ideas for the look of the film. Next, I recorded the script as a podcast so I could get a feel for the pacing, and finally I took this podcast and placed it on top of imagery and clips from films I was using as inspiration, as well as rehearsal footage, so we could essentially “watch” a very rough version of the film, months before we even shot anything.
I think by refining the process in this way and being certain of what we needed, it actually gave us room to improvise on set because we knew exactly what was, and was not essential. When we were on set, it’s a case of trusting that everyone you’ve brought together is great at what they do, and being able to let go of your control freak streak, and just let the film happen. I think that’s probably an over-simplification of what happens, but once cameras start rolling, you’re moving at such a pace until wrap that a kind of filmmaking autopilot takes over.”
Now, this kind of story is exactly my vibe. I love depictions of dystopia, and the fascinating world-building that comes with this atmosphere, and ‘The Good Book’ takes a really interesting and unique approach to this. We may be transported just a few years into the future here, but what actually transpires is a return to medieval practices and archaic, mob mentality. Tackling themes of politics, society, morality and freedom in 30 minutes is never easy, but this film manages to tie everything together really nicely. What is really refreshing though, is Brett’s ethos on storytelling, and the audience connection to his film.
“I don’t really want to over explain what we hope people will feel after watching our film. I hope that there’s several ways to view the film and that we’ve left enough space for the audience to make up their own minds about exactly what it is the film says to them as an individual. I hope that doesn’t sound too high-minded but I’m really passionate about the idea that you can’t force a load of stuff you want the film to be about onto the piece you’ve made. All we can do now is put it out to an audience and let them find their own way with it. If people watch the film and feel anything at all – good or bad – that’ll do for me. My favourite films are the ones that let you do all the work for yourself without having to prime every moment – I hope we’ve been able to do something akin to that here.”
I’d say it’s mission accomplished for this filmmaker and his team, who have created an ambitious and refined thriller which simultaneously feels polished and professional, whilst never losing sight of the sense of community and independent spirit at the heart of the production. As if treating you all to this film wasn’t enough, Brett also put together a fantastic making-of video (see below), documenting the process of bringing this film to life, which just highlights this promising filmmaker’s commitment to his craft, and his audience.
Before I let Brett go, I asked him if he’d read any good books lately…“In these times of isolation, I picked up The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa again today. It’s one of my favourites, and a great tool to try and identify some of the joys and beauties that can be found in the banality and repletion of simple things. Since that’s basically how we’re all living now, I highly recommend it!”