We spoke to Little Pieces director Adam Nelson about his debut feature film. Check out Adam Morris’ Film Trance review of Little Pieces here.
So Adam, tell us a little about Little Pieces. How did the film come about?
Little Pieces is the culmination of nearly four years work on the production of my first feature film. I’ve wanted to make films since I was about ten-years-old and never really figured out the best way to do that while I was in education. When I went to college I studied A levels in film, media and psychology because I was told that A levels are what smart people study and BTECs were what stupid people studied. Then at university I studied film studies because I had no production background and didn’t feel confident applying to a production course; none of this really prepared me for pursuing filmmaking as a viable career path so I went into teaching. After about five years teaching I realised that I was living vicariously through my students and that just cemented the fact that what I really wanted to do was make films. I borrowed some equipment from the college I was teaching at and shot my first short The House Near Apple Park. The House Near Apple Park didn’t do too well on the festival circuit because it’s a bit too esoteric and artsy to fit into festival programming but it did get a few very favourable reviews, so I started to consider the possibility of making a feature.
I knew that Christopher Nolan and Robert Rodriguez had both shot their first features for around £6000 and they had shot on film, so I saw no reason why I couldn’t shoot a feature on digital for £6000 or possibly less. I knew I could save about £5500 of my own money before the six-week summer break the following year and I knew I had friends and students who would be interested in helping out. I looked at a lot of low budget directorial debuts and all of the filmmakers said the same thing about the creative process: ‘We looked at what we had available to us and we asked ourselves what film we could make with that.’ I took this same approach because I knew I could get equipment and access to certain locations pretty easily and I thought about what type of film I could make. I decided on a social drama because it was a genre I could get invested in; you see a lot of low budget horrors that go for gore but I wanted to do something that would involve the audience emotionally. In the outlining phase of writing the script I decided to tell the film out of sequence so that it felt fresh and bit different for the audience.
Give us a bit of insight into the cast and crew. Who’s in in it?
Finnian Nainby-Luxmoore, Matt Jones, Isabelle Glinn, Graham Cawte and Peter Oliver are the film’s five principals. Darren Church (producer) and I held open casting and saw a fair amount of people but in each of these five cases we knew as soon as they had auditioned that we were going to offer them the respective roles.
The crew was a real skeleton crew made up of former and current (at the time) students in the classes I taught. Imraan and Josh had worked with me on The House Near Apple Park and I was keen to get them involved in Little Pieces. Imraan has a real knack for being able to compose off script and he’ll often come back to me with music before I’ve even started cutting. I’ll be able to listen to it, know where to place it and in turn the music will change how I feel about the scene and how I approach cutting it. Josh and I have a very strong working relationship, we’re able to call shots back and forth between each other with examples from films we’ve seen so we know what aesthetic we’re going for. I trust him without question and when he suggests something during the shoot, a different angle or framing for example, I’m always sure to give it a try because they’re usually brilliant ideas that make the final cut.
Tell us a little about your background. What got you into filmmaking?
I’ve always loved stories and I’m a very visual person so film has always been the preferred method for me to experience stories. When I was growing up we had what I felt was a very cool VHS video camera, and when I was about 10 I remember making a film about dinosaurs escaping from Loch Ness using my Jurassic Park action figures. Since then I’ve always had an interest in making films.
When I left university and started teaching I wound up teaching the media production BTEC at an FE college. That reignited the spark and from there it grew into a passion that I was keen to pursue no matter what.
Which films and directors have inspired you? Which films influenced your work on Little Pieces?
I’m a big Paul Thomas Anderson fan; he’s one of the few filmmakers that I still get excited for when he’s releasing something new. I’m also a massive Christopher Nolan fan and his first film Following had a lot of influence on Little Pieces. I recently revisited Interstellar on blu-ray and if I could make something that wowed and moves audiences the way Interstellar did me then I could die a happy man.
The biggest influences on Little Pieces aside from Following would be the social dramas of Shane Meadows, such as This is England and Dead Man’s Shoes. This was especially the case when determining the look of the film; it wasn’t shot on an expensive large sensor camera so there was no point trying to pretend that it was when it came to the colour correction process. I gave the film a very high contrast, grungy look that is similar to the look you might get shooting on 16mm film and it adds to overall aesthetic of the film in my opinion.
Though I’m not a big fan of his work, I took the Woody Allen approach to directing actors. I gave them permission to play around with the roles and the dialogue, and then when it came to working on set we’d discuss the scene, I would get out of their way and let them go through a take and then we’d discuss it further before the next take. I wanted to include them in the creative process as much as possible rather than just say “Stand over there and be angry.” I also took a leaf out of Clint Eastwood’s book and did as few takes as necessary so as to keep the mood fresh during the performance.
Looking back over the film, is there anything you’d do differently? What did you learn during the creative process?
I think it’s impossible to look at a film shot in the way Little Pieces was (very quickly over 18 days) and not think about ways to do it differently, but the fact of the matter is we didn’t have the time or the budget to do what we would have really wanted. I had to abandon quite a few ideas very early on, for example we had a dolly that we used on the first day of the shoot and we very quickly came to realise just how crap it was, so we stopped using it from that point on rather than lug it around and hope for a different outcome. I’d have loved to have put the camera in the back of the car and had dolly shots of Finn running during the opening sequence but it was unfeasible given the guerilla style we were shooting in. Rather than worry too much about what we couldn’t have I focused on what we did have, which was a good script and a good cast that could deliver it, so my focus became making sure we got through the script rather than worry about the shots I couldn’t have.
The one thing I would have liked from a writers perspective is more Michael and Cheryl. As I was cutting the film I really liked the way the relationship worked in the scenes where they are together and I would have liked to include more of that. Doing that would have made the film longer though and I think given the bleakness of the world Little Pieces examines means eighty minutes is about the right length.
What does the future hold for Little Pieces?
The film’s world premiere is on the 15th of April in Cinema Screen 1 of the ICA in London at 2pm. Tickets can be bought for £9. (Link: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/little-pieces-world-premiere-tickets-16438424771)
Little Pieces has also been entered into eleven festivals so far and we’re waiting to hear back from them. We’ve also sent screener copies to a few distribution companies who have expressed an interest and we’re waiting to hear back from them as well
And yourself – what’s in the pipeline for the future?
I’m currently developing a thriller called Isolated, which a few of the distribution companies who have looked at Little Pieces have an expressed an interest in. I’m hoping to get that up and running over the year for a winter shoot. A few of the cast from Little Pieces have read it and expressed an interest in being in it.
I’m also working on the screenplay for a heist film called Euromillions, which is based on a story by Mark Tilbury and is in development at Jack in the Box films on the south coast. It looks to be a really exciting project and I’m very proud that they’ve asked me to work on it with them because the quality of their work is exceptional. Graham Cawte, who plays David in Little Pieces, is attached to the project at the moment.
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