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Common People – Review and Director Q & A


Fresh off its iTunes release earlier this month ‘Common People‘ is a British Independent film, written and directed by Stewart Alexander and co-directed by Kerry Skinner.

The film begins with a clever intrigue involving the escape of an African Grey parrot affectionately named “Princess Parroty”. The highly vocal bird makes its way by flight across the common, where viewers are taken on stunning tour offering a unique and enthralling bird’s eye view of what proves to be the setting for the entire film. The film weaves through various groups of individuals who frequent the common, each with a unique story.

We quickly come realise that the owners of the lovely parrot are offering up a reward, which becomes the keen pursuit of newly widowed father Ian, played by Irish actor Iarla Mcgowan and his young daughter Veronica, (Melody Weston-Shaw). This duo offers a touching look into the struggles of single parenthood, as Ian reveals that he is still very much reeling over the loss of his wife.

Also occupying the common is a young homeless man, played by Michael Ballard – who comes to meet the energetic yet heavily pregnant Jenny, (Kerry Skinner) who openly admits the unknown identity of the babies father, in addition to her own inner fears of becoming a parent. Jenny later finds herself in full on labour only to be comforted by fellow common frequenters the young Intrepids. This group of inquisitive boys are in search of answers and hell bent on doing good deeds in order to earn a badge of honour. Led by Mr. Wright played by Jeff Mash, and Phil (Tom Gilling). This high energy group of youngsters provide a great deal of comedic relief as the boys prance about the park collecting rubbish and enquiring about the origin and use of the ‘clear sticky balloons’ they found under a tree.

Next up we meet the quirky group of friends consisting of the spandex touting Harry (Stewart Alexander), Alesha (Eleanor Fanyinka), Veiko (Alex Utgoff) and Buster (Sidney Cole) whose weekly discussion group resembles that of an ancient Greek philosophers club. Colourful debates collide with cultural barriers as Harry a borderline alcoholic confesses his affections for the endearing Alesha who admits she’s Muslim. She proceeds to reconcile her faith with her heart in a moving scene of true devotion.

In a brilliant intro of complete intelligent hilarity we meet elderly, Pam played by veteran actor, Diana Payan, and her husband, Derrick, played by the equally talented Sam Kelly. The two engage in a series of deeply serious discussions of life and death, which are basted in moments of complete levity.

The characters continually brush into one another all within the confines of the common which proves to be an integral character within this at times – – raw, compelling and hilarious story. ‘Common People’ offers something for everyone, leaving your heart touched and your belly ripe with laughter.

The film can be bought here.

Directors Stewart Alexander and Kerry Skinner sit down with Live for Films to answer a few questions.

What inspired you to make the film?

Stewart: Kerry and I live around the corner from the common where the film was shot. We’ve been walking there for years, and one day we saw a poster for a missing parrot. It offered a reward, and gave a number where you could report sightings. Then a few weeks later, a new poster appeared reporting that the parrot had been found, and thanking everyone on the common who had helped to locate and rescue her. That was the Eureka moment. We had a story with a beginning and an ending, a setting and a theme regarding how communities come together to help each other. All we had to do was fill in the middle, and populate the common with other characters. They’re a combination of people you’d see in parks anywhere and I wanted their stories to reflect the issues that can affect us all, but inject them with humour, optimism…and a parrot.

How did you go about casting the project?

Kerry: We hired a fantastic Casting Director named Briony Barnett. She said from the start that we wouldn’t be able to get huge stars on our budget but we could get great actors because the characters were so well written. She also came up with a strategy to assemble a really strong ensemble by attracting someone who commanded respect in the industry for one of the main roles. So the first to come on board was Sam Kelly for the role of Derrick. He’s not well known in North America, but he’s appeared in many of the UK’s most popular sitcoms, worked with all the top theatre directors, and been a favorite with Mike Leigh for years, both on stage and in six of his films, including “Mr. Turner.” And Briony was right, once Sam came on board all the agents who had previously said, we don’t consider micro-budget movies suddenly started offering their clients, and we managed to put a great ensemble together. Very sadly, Sam passed away the week of our nationwide cinema release in the UK, but many of the reviews have praised Sam, and Diana Payan for their wonderful performances in the film. He was an incredibly talented actor, and a lovely man, so it was an absolute honour to work with him on our first film.

What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome while filming?

Stewart: The British weather. Without a doubt. Apart from one short scene where the parrot escapes, the entire film is set outdoors on the common. We shot it in April, 2012, which the Met Office would later describe as, “the wettest April since records began.” That’s the wettest April (synonymous with showers) in London (also famous for rain) since records began (a long time ago). We spent a lot of time huddled under umbrellas surrounded by rain, hail, and rivers of mud. At one point one of the crew remarked that, “only a Canadian would be optimistic (read stupid) enough to write a film completely set outdoors in the UK.” The film was scheduled for an eighteen day shoot, but in the end we had to shoot it in about twelve days.

If you could go back and change one thing about the film what would it be?

Kerry: Not to bang on about Stewart’s previous answer, but again, I’d say the weather, or at least having some way of dealing with it where we wouldn’t have lost so much time. We did spend most of the shoot literally waiting for the rain to stop and the sun to come out. Thankfully, we’d spent time rehearsing with the actors in a nice warm pub during pre-production, so they were ready to burst into action as soon as the sun made a brief appearance. But there was rarely time for more than two takes. And often, due to light changes, we found in the edit, that only one take was usable. Ironically, it’s an incredibly bright and sunny film, and I think it’s a great credit to our actors that the performances are so good throughout, but it would have been nice to have been able to give our actors more time to

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