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Tribeca ’09 Interview: “My Last Five Girlfriends” Director Julian Kemp (Discovery Section)

Tribeca '09 Interview: "My Last Five Girlfriends" Director Julian Kemp (Discovery Section)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of several interviews, conducted via email, with directors whose films are screening at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.

“My Last Five Girlfriends”
Director/Screenwriter: Julian Kemp
Cast: Brendan Patricks, Naomie Harris, Jane March, Cécile Cassel, Kelly Adams, Edith Bukovics
Synopsis: After his latest failed relationship, Duncan has hit emotional rock bottom. He just can’t understand what, or who, has caused all of his relationships to fail. Was it something he did… or didn’t do? In a final attempt to find out where it all went wrong, Duncan takes a ride through the memories of his last five relationships. He’s pretended not to care about ex-boyfriends that haven’t quite disappeared, disastrously attempted to give fashion advice, and even been the first to utter those three special words—nothing seems to work out, but that’s all about to change. [Synopsis courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival]

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Julian Kemp. I am a London based film and television director. “My Last Five Girlfriends” is my second feature film.

What were the circumstances that lead you to becoming a filmmaker?

Though the eighties I worked as a child actor in a series of children’s television programmes which eventually led to a place at RADA. Soon after graduating I realised that my real passion was directing. I made series of award winning children’s programmes which eventually led to feature films.

What prompted the idea for your film and what excited you to make you undertake it?

For a long time I had wanted to make an original film about love. I had a felling there might be a different way to explore the complexities of the romantic struggle outside of the traditional romcom structure. I was very inspired by the Orson Welles film “F for Fake”, a film which is part drama, part essay, part magic trick.

About ten years ago I came across Alain De Botton’s book “On Love” and it seemed to me that he had created the literary equivalent of what I was trying achieve on screen. So the book became a great basis for the the film. Little did I know how complex the whole process would become. Nearly a decade, and many many screenplay drafts later we finally have the film. And the real surprise is that it is remarkably close to my original idea.

Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making your film.

Most scripts have around 70 scenes. Ours had 299. They were very short and often in completely different locations. A traditional shooting set up was clearly not going to work. The solution was to have a small, tight crew and a longer shooting schedule. As a result, we were able to give the film quite a unique look. Filming in Central London is normally extremely difficult. But because we were a tight team and light on our feet we were able to actually shoot in most of our first choice locations. As a result, I think that you really believe our lead character lives in London W1.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?

As the film is made up of many disparate elements – animation, puppeteering, fantasy sequences – the toughest challenge was to keep a clear emotional through line. Despite the visual pyrotechnics, the film is a sincere and honest attempt to express what it feels like to be in and out of love. We had to discard many of our favourite moments and sequences in order to keep the focus on the central character’s journey. Getting that balance right proved to be very tricky on screen and on the page.

How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals as a filmmaker?

I define success as managing to get your ideas across on film. That sounds obvious and simple. But, with the madness of production, and all the different technical challenges, financial restrictions and random elements that have to be dealt with, the real challenge is to avoid getting knocked off course from the film you set out to make.

My personal goal is to make good films. That’s it.

What are your future projects?

I am currently developing a science fiction comedy from an original idea.

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