Why They're On Our Radar: With their first feature, oddball murder mystery "Black Pond," British directing duo Will Sharpe and Tom Kingsley are taking the UK by storm. The two (along with producer Sarah Brocklehurst) were nominated for the 2012 Outstanding Debut BAFTA this year for their debut, alongside Ralph Fiennes ("Coriolanus"), Richard Ayoade ("Submarine"), Joe Cornish ("Attack the Block") and Paddy Considine ("Tyrannosaur"). Not bad company.
If the stellar reception for "Black Pond" at its North American premiere at SXSW is anything to go by, the film will fare well Stateside (it's still seeking a US distributor). The drama tells the story of a family accused of murder when a middle-aged stranger dies at their dinner table. Told in flashbacks through a pseudo-documentary framing device, Sharpe's deft screenplay is more interested in the dynamics of the family who take the man in than with the mystery at the center of the tale.
What's Next for Them? They're almost done adapting Voltaire's classic novel "Candide." "The book is in itself a critique of novels," said Sharpe. "I guess the film is sort of sending up some stock devices and things, that for some reason are acceptable in filmmaking [but] are in fact completely ridiculous." Their adaptation of "Candide" will be set in the present day like "Black Pond," but the similarities end there. "There are elements of it that are more fantastical and magical [than in 'Black Pond']," Sharp added. "People die in it and come back to life."
How old are you two? You both look relatively young.
Sharpe: I'm 25
Kingsley: I'm 26. And if it's of interest when we made the film, we were both 23.
How did you two meet?
Kingsley: At Cambridge University. We didn't study film or anything, but we did lots of plays and did some comedy shows. We left in 2007 and since then Will's been working as an actor and I've been making music videos and adverts. We were kind of learning how to make films.
But for for all the plays we did, we made trailers and created websites to advertise. That was our first taste of filmmaking, I guess.
What led you two to collaborate together in the first place?
Kingsley: I guess, just inevitably, we were working on similar things that we liked. I think our tastes have grown closer together over the years. Also I think we both work very hard at stuff. Part of it is having the right sort of aesthetic taste, but it's also about, do you work hard, do you care enough about it?
How would you two characterize your tastes?
Sharpe: Oh, I don't know. I can tell you who we like. I really like Hal Ashby films. We both like Wes Anderson a lot. Terry Gilliam, too. I quite like Woody Allen. I probably like Woody Allen more than you do?
Kingsley: Yes, probably. We've also been really inspired by Ben Wheatley in the UK, who did "Kill List," and before that "Down Terrace." He gave us some really helpful advice in making this film. Basically, the main thing he told us was that we weren't crazy for trying to do it. So that was inspiring.
But we didn't have a conscious style going into this movie. The story evolved as we went along. It was the most tasteful response we could have to the kind of constraints we were in.
Sharpe: I think also we both find it very hard to find something moving if it hasn't made you laugh first. We also similarly find it hard to find something funny if the characters don't have depth. There has to be an element of pathos. So I suppose that affects what we do.
Will, were you an actor before writer or have you been always been writing?
Sharpe: Well, I don't know. I was professionally hired as an actor before being paid to write.
I've always written. I thought I was going to be a writer when I was younger. It's something I've done since I was a tiny child. Then when I became a teenager, I started enjoying performing, got signed as an actor at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival and was lucky to get consistent work from very early on. That decision was kind of made for me, in terms of what to do now.
Tom and I both knew that we wanted to make films, so we kept in touch. We made a short film before we made this one, which was kind of an experiment to see what happened if we had literally nothing. We had no crew, it was just me and Tom. We shot it in Japan. My Gran is in it.
The acting job I had just before I made this film was — to be honest — done just to save money for this film, without having to worry about doing something else to pay the rent.
I guess for me, I don't see acting and writing as different films. I used to write music and be in a band. You write the song, and then you perform it. I guess that's similar to how I make films.
So how did "Black Pond" come together? It's not a straightforward murder mystery.
Kinglsey: There was a play that we wrote with two other friends which was much more ridiculous and over the top. We basically stripped it down to make it more achievable with the money we had raised. In doing so, it became so much better. We tried to make it much more simple and natural. That previous old version is almost like the subtext for this.
The film is clearly the work of young filmmakers, with the abundant use of social media throughout. But it also struck me as a remarkably mature effort. The film centers mainly on a married couple in their fifties and details their crumbling marriage with such precision and grace.
Sharpe: I think one thing we liked about the ideas that came further down the line — like the YouTube videos — was that they gave you glimpses of a whole other story. You just sort of peek around the door and you can tell there's other stuff going on, but we choose not to explore that. You have to form the conclusions yourself.
There are possibilities for other stories throughout the film. It seems to give it more texture and breadth. But in terms of old and new, I don't think that was conscious at all. We just tried to put in what we thought what was good, and stopped when we thought it was working.
"Black Pond" has a very British sensibility. What's it been like bringing it to what is arguably the most American film festival you can find?
Kingsley: We didn't know what to expect at all, but it's gone really well. I think in a way it's British in a kind of dry, quite quiet way. But the themes are universal.
Sharpe: We both really like to watch very French films, very Japanese films and very American films. On the basic level, the things you talk about in films apply to everyone on the basic level. If you're a human being, you can understand it. If you thought too much in that way, people would say, "I couldn't relate to 'The King's Speech' because I'm not a king. I feel we were hopeful that it's not that alien.
Do you either of you have plans to venture off and work solo?
Kingsley: Yeah, I think that could happen. But at the moment, when we work together it's really fun. Otherwise it's just a bit of solitary thing making a movie. It's a big part of our friendship.