Two young men, Michael and Eric, on a collision course with the world around them. As they race violently towards each other their world comes crashing down, changing their lives forever. This is the premise for micro-budget independent film, Little Pieces, from Apple Park Films and written and directed by Adam Nelson.
Finnian Nainby-Luxmoore, Matt Jones, Isabelle Glinn, Graham Cawte and Peter Oliver star in this story of love, violence, reconciliation and family in which all the pieces matter. Little Pieces is now available via VHX for streaming and download, with both a standard and deluxe package available, as well as the ability to purchase the soundtrack.
We spoke with writer/director Adam Nelson about Little Pieces.
With Little Pieces you served as both writer and director. Do you have a preference?
I love to write; it’s one of the only things I do that never feels like a hassle or a chore. I write everyday without fail and I’m always working on something whether it’s a screenplay, poem, short story or a novel.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy directing Little Pieces, I really loved the process and engaging with other creative people on a daily basis to create the film we have. It was a real eye opener to see how other creative engaged with the material I wrote and what they then brought to it as a result, you don’t get that with poetry, novels or short stories; they’re finished and you let them out into the world and hope for the best.
I suppose to answer the question I would have to say I prefer writing, but I’ve been writing since I was eight years old; I’m more comfortable with it. Little Pieces was a real learning experience as a director, once I’ve done it a bit more and figured out who I am and what my style is and I can apply that with real confidence; then I’ll know for sure which I prefer.
Describe the casting process.
The casting process was entirely fresh to me. I had always cast people I knew in roles but with Little Pieces I knew we needed something more. We had an incredible response to the adverts we placed on Casting Call Pro and Starnow. I created a medium list from the applicants, ignoring people who would have to travel long distances, didn’t have a show-reel or just weren’t suitable for the role. This happened more than you may think, one person who applied for the role of Cheryl was thirty-eight and lived in Ireland.
Once I had medium listed the candidates Darren [Church, producer] was then utterly ruthless in creating a short list, he narrowed it down to four people per role and we auditioned those. When people came in to audition I was really keen to be an active part of the process. I believe that if you cast the film right half of the battle is already won.
We knew almost instantly who we were going to offer the roles to as soon as they came in. There were a few exceptions to this but especially with Finn, Isabelle and Matt, they fit what we were looking for instantly and we knew before they had even left the building we’d be offering them the roles.
In hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently with Little Pieces?
I would have shot at 24 fps so I could get the film onto iTunes and reach an even wider audience. Little Pieces was shot at 25 fps in order to make the editing workflow easier and they won’t take films that run at 25 fps. I can either pay a lot of money to have re-formatted to 24 fps, try and do it myself, probably messing it up in the process, or leave it.
I find being picky about frame rates in the modern age quite funny. 24 fps is something that dates back to when film was made out of nitrate and couldn’t be played back too fast or it would explode. 24 fps was the slowest speed at which they could sync film and sound together and have it be stable. Now that the majority of filmmaking is digital filmmakers should be able to film, cut and release their film at whatever frame rate they see fit.
That’s the only thing I would change now. Part of the charm of Little Pieces is that even though we knew how to make films we had never done it on this scale and that left plenty of room to make things up as we went along. This would often lead to some of my favourite bits of the film.
The film runs out of sequence, why did you choose to tell the story this way?
It reflected my desire to tell a story about the order we receive information and how we process it to complete the story ourselves. It also allowed me to give the audience 2 + 2 as opposed to 4. As an audience member I like to work for my meal and telling the story out of sequence means the audience are working for their meal and ultimately that is more satisfying for them, or so I believe.
What inspires you creatively? Are there any people you'd love to work with in future?
Anything can set me off creatively, I find it to be a case of identifying an image, asking “what if” and then finding out where the trail of breadcrumbs leads from there. To give you an example one of my earlier scripts started life whilst I was eating lunch in a seafood restaurant. The restaurant was very high class and towards the back they had private booths for lunch meetings etc. There were two men sat in one of the booths and they appeared to be having quite a heated discussion. I took that, ran with it and put together a police thriller about rival gangs in Portsmouth, the city where I live. Somewhere in this process you find the emotional heart of the story and once you’ve got that it’s simply a case of getting it written.
In terms of people I’d like to work with I’m not really sure, I don’t think about things like that until I have the script in front of me. I never write with roles in mind for people and always select people based on what’s right for the script.
There’s a whole host of actors that I would love to work with, some of whom I’m pursuing for my next project. I’d like to work with more women on the technical and creative front, I’m a big believer that everything benefits from the perspective of both genders and I always run my ideas past women to get their take. I think it’s essential to getting a balanced and rounded project.
As the Writer/Director what do you think the essence of the film and its characters is about?
Originally I would have said it’s a film about storytelling but as we’ve worked on the film this has changed. The actors brought a lot to the roles; I gave them a lot of freedom to explore the characters and adjust them. This became even more obvious in the edit as the focus of the film shifted.
As I was writing the screenplay this was Michael’s story and it still is in a way because it begins and ends with him but as we cut the film it became more and more about Eric and his story. That’s the beauty of the creative process; the film will become what it was naturally meant to be. This means the essence of the film changes, now it’s much more a film about reconciliation and violence begetting violence. It’s more violent, both physically and cerebrally, than I had originally thought it would be.
Who would you say your biggest influences are and how did this factor in to making Little Pieces?
My biggest influences as a filmmaker are people like Kubrick (but everyone says that), John Carpenter, Clint Eastwood, Christopher Nolan and Paul Thomas Anderson. I’m a big fan of architecture and I love the way Kubrick shoots buildings and locations, I try to bring that to my work as much as possible. Clint Eastwood’s 'get down and get it done’ approach really worked for me on set. I didn’t want to waste lots of time doing take after take because I was feeling insecure. If I [was] happy with a take I’d ask the actors how they felt, if they wanted to do one more. I’d trust them that they had something more to give but if they were happy as well we’d move on.
When it came to Little Pieces Josh [Beecher, Director of Photography] and I looked at other low budget films such as Fish Tank, Bullet Boy and La Haine. We looked at these for inspiration with our visual style. They’re all coverage based, they let the action happen and allow the story to tell itself through performance. Given our time and budget restrictions we decided thiswas our best approach. It worked.
Any advice to anyone thinking of making a film?
Just do it. Figure out what film you can make with what you have and go and make that. When I decided to make Little Pieces I knew that I would have about £6000, access to good equipment and students who would be willing to work on the project with me. I took all of that into consideration when writing the script; I couldn’t write anything with car chases and explosions because we didn’t have the money. The beauty of doing it this way is we got to make OUR film, there were no suits looking over us telling us to tone down the language or make sure we made the film look polished; it’s our film and we may never have that experience again when we start taking money of off investors.
Doing it this way also allowed us to make our own mistakes and learn from those, we made plenty and we’ve learned a lot; all of which will be put into practice with the next film.