"Be Bold In Your Decisions" -- EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW With Writer / Director David Kitchen ("Family Reunion")

First time writer/director David Kitchen recently completed the bright drama short film, "Family Reunion" (review here).  Featuring top notch acting from UK TV regulars Karen Bryson (Shameless) and Trevor Laird (Doctor Who) as well as Clint Dyer (Sahara), the film poses an explosive family secret right in the middle of a troubled but loving everyday family.

"Family Reunion" is Kitchen's first attempt at writing and directing since taking a hiatus from his acting career ten years ago to work in charity fundraising.

The success of "Family Reunion" is only the beginning, though . . .
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FCSFR: You were an actor first, but you've recently made the jump to directing with "Family Reunion". Have you written for the screen in the past?

DAVID KITCHEN: I have two feature film screenplays and several television dramas completed but six or seven fully planned out film scripts ready to get started. The thing is, I’ve been away from the business for a decade, working in the charity fundraising sector. During these last ten or so years, however, I’ve been very disciplined, writing into the early hours; and now plan to have this work recognized – "Family Reunion" being my first step.

FCSFR: What was the turning point for you when you decided you wanted to tackle directing a short film?

KITCHEN: My mother died Christmas 2012 and as proud as she was with my work in the charity sector, she wanted me to be doing what I always dreamed of – writing, directing and a return to acting. In 2013 I completed the Director’s Course with the Raindance Film Festival in London. Raindance gave me the tools, my Mum gave me the inspiration and I provided the script.  Done it and proud. Now ready for the next challenge.

FCSFR: "Family Reunion" is essentially an ensemble piece -- every actor and actress had to shine in order for the film to work.  How did you manage to get Karen Bryson, Clint Dyer and Trevor Laird to star in this film?  The acting in this film is just tremendous.

KITCHEN: I wrote a drama. Call me old-fashioned but a drama, to me, means people communicating in order to tell a story; therefore, actors are needed. I have known Karen since our days at Lamda, she and I spoke about this project years ago. When I resurrected this script/project, Karen was on board straight away. Karen recommended Clint Dyer; on the strength of the script, he said yes. Clint recommended Trevor Laird. Again, Trevor believed in the script and also came aboard.

I was so lucky. Here were three actors, absolutely on top of their game and they agreed to work with me – on my debut. I like to think I directed them, and I know they would be kind in saying I did but really I just guided them through the non-linear aspect of the script and filming. They gelled as a cast, trusted in the project and delivered three beautiful performances.

FCSFR: This film allows the actors the ability to portray such a wide range of emotions, particularly Bryson.  How tough were the flashback scenes to shoot?

KITCHEN: Again, not tough. These actors knew their characters by the time we came to shoot.

Karen and I met on many occasions and got to know the role of ‘Karen’ so well. Karen Bryson is a very giving actress so her ensemble scenes were a joy; asking her to seize the moment when she was alone was a learning curve for me – I had to gain her trust – I had to ensure she knew when I was happy and when I needed more. The professional she is, she gave the camera everything it needed and her performance is testament to her talent.

Clint’s flashbacks were much more technical.  He had to drive a 4x4 he’d never driven before, driving along the streets of Ladbroke Grove at night, in character, screaming, a £25k camera strapped to the car, squirting water in his eyes. Clint’s done action films with Liam Neeson (and Rowan Atkinson) so I showed no sympathy . . . just sheer admiration, respect and gratitude.

FCSFR: I liked how the camera movement was fluid without resorting to handheld camera tricks like so many "indie" filmmakers do.  Particularly in such an otherwise "quiet" film, it adds a lot of life to the proceedings.  Could you talk a little bit about what made you choose the style with which you filmed "Family Reunion"?

KITCHEN: I decided to make this film on a Thursday in November, emailed Stuart Graham to ask if he would come on board.  Stu and I had worked together years ago – on a great little film, Dinner Money. Whilst I was earning a crust in fundraising, Stuart had gone on to be one of the most sought after cinematographers in the business.

Friday, the next day, I received Stu’s reply; he needed a "couple of parking permits, sandwiches for the crew and a break-down of scenes".

I wrote this script and knew every shot I wanted, I story-boarded the lot. Stuart began, on day one, and just saw the story, like the greatest DoP’s do. Every take was discussed but he knew what the story and over-all film required. There was no hand-held, just a harness where needed.

FCSFR: What writers or directors inspired you to pursue a life in film? 

KITCHEN: Martin Scorsese. The fact my film’s penultimate scene was set in a brothel, much like Taxi Driver, was obviously a coincidence, but I’m so proud Stuart and I managed to create a similar feel to the master’s.

Both Woody Allen and Tarantino – I know they’re polar opposites but their work as writer/director is a huge inspiration to someone wanting to write and direct one’s own films.

Being British though, I have to fly the flag and mention the genius of Danny Boyle, Hitchcock and David Lean

FCSFR: What is your dream project?

KITCHEN: Oh man. I do want to film many of my scripts using London as my backdrop -- real stories, of real people, dealing with real life situations -- again, not dissimilar to what Woody Allen did with New York. One day, a love story to London, like Woody did with Manhattan, would be a dream come true.

However, my dream project is already written. It’s an epic love story, set in Africa. Africa is just so big and beautiful, with in-built drama of such magnitude.

FCSFR: When are readers going to see "Family Reunion"?  Will it be shown at festivals or will it be available online?

KITCHEN: We’re entering it into most of the top festivals, including many across the U.S.  Unfortunately, many of the festivals won’t accept films that are available to view online. Therefore, we’re hoping for a good run of festival success and when it’s able to go online, we’ll be more than happy to let readers know.

FCSFR: What can we look forward to seeing from you next?

KITCHEN: A small but slick drama about a young man imprisoned in his own home – it’s based on a true story – it has a slight Trainspotting vibe to it.  Whilst we search for the finance I’m busying myself with a documentary series.

FCSFR: Last question: what kind of advice can you give to young filmmakers out there, stepping into directing for the first time? 

KITCHEN: Know your story. If you are handed a script, learn it before your cast and crew. Own it. Be bold in your decisions; I had an experienced cast and a very experienced crew, but it was my film. Own it.

FCSFR: Thank you so much for your time, David.

KITCHEN: Thank you, it was a real pleasure.

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Thanks for reading! I'm a screenwriter and script consultant. Most recently, I've worked with LMC Productions and Mad Antz Films in Australia. I helped mold Goodybag Productions' award winning screenplay "The Teacher" and Michael Maguire's feature length script "The Wolfpack", which is still in development.

Check out my blog and let's get in touch!