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Mercedes Grower • Director

“Maybe it’s a film for those weird first dates”

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- British director Mercedes Grower takes us through the making of her extremely low-budget feature debut, Brakes

Mercedes Grower  • Director
(© Ki Price)

British director Mercedes Grower sat down with us to discuss calling up her comedic actor friends to make her no-budget feature debut, Brakes [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Mercedes Grower
film profile
]
, which is currently on release in the United Kingdom.

Cineuropa: Brakes is a true example of guerrilla filmmaking, shot over a long period, and with actors who are friends of yours; how did it come about?
Mercedes Grower: I had been talking for ages with my friends, a lot of whom act in the film, about how it would be good to make something about the end of relationships, because it often happens at really difficult, weird, explosive times in your life. Then, a little while later, or even five minutes later, what caused so much heartache can seem funny.

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The film plays backwards, with the couples getting together after we see them breaking up; why did you do that?
In hindsight, when you trace it all in the back of your mind, it makes you think of the beginnings, and you look at that time in a different way, a more magical way. So I thought it would be a good idea to go backwards and to show that, too.

It’s not really a film you should watch with your girlfriend or boyfriend, is it?
What? I think it is! Is it good to go and see some soppy Hollywood film with your girlfriend or boyfriend? I don’t know. Maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s for those weird first dates. Actually, it’s funny because one review just said it’s a good final-date movie.

A lot of the film is improvised; was there also a script?
It wasn’t like I sat down and wrote a script. I’m quite dyslexic really, so I wrote it more as a story. After I had written the story of each couple, I would get the actors together and ask them what they thought about the outline of the story, and the three of us would discuss it. I don’t want to go into it too much, but I gave the actors the backgrounds on what had happened between their characters in the relationship so that they knew what was going on. So I did know what would happen in each scene, but when we were improvising on set, other things happened.

The film cuts between different shots; did you have several cameras shooting at the same time?
We had three cameras going, which meant we could stop and start, and look back at what we were filming and decide if something was working or not, and try different things. Many times, one camera would be still on a wide shot, and I had a camera on each actor so they didn’t cross the line, and you could pick and choose – that meant you could keep going. I was deliberately using MiniDV at the beginning because I’m insane and I wanted it to look retro and rough – a bit like how rough and mad it is when you break up with someone.

How did you finance the film?
There was no finance at all – everyone did it for free. It helped that we were only shooting for a day or two here and there at a time. Halfway through, I tried to get money, and even with the cast that I had, I couldn’t get funding. Then producer Judy Counihan came on board and got me into an edit suite. We edited it together, and we managed to get it into the Edinburgh International Film Festival. After that, the British Film Institute awarded us some lottery money, which was literally the £60,000 it cost to make the film, and that meant it could go into post-production and be finished properly.

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