Short Film Review: YouTroll and Mustard

Monday, 23 June 2014

Last week I was invited down to a private screening of two short films written by hot new writing and directing talent Nathan Bryon (of Some Girls fame) and Theresa Varga. With both films about to embark on the festival circuit, I caught up with the guys behind the camera for a chat about internet trolls, 1970's decor and a little mouse with dreadlocks!

YOUTROLL: written by Nathan Bryon, directed by Theresa Varga and Nathan Bryon

A twisted tale about the dark side of the Internet and its use in modern day bullying, YouTroll uses contemporary techniques like grainy camera phone-style and YouTube footage to cement its youth focused message. A very modern tragedy, the use of social networking for leaving suicide notes is heightened by the pounding use of grime beats that mimic a fast heartbeat and sync with shots exploding onto the screen. At first the audience are led to believe that Ola is a victim of bullying as we see him being roughed up by school mates but later, in his diatribe to camera (which includes him calling himself Twitter famous!) we see that he is the bitter and angry bully who has led another classmate to suicide.

Here's what Nathan had to say:

Was it a conscious decision to tell the story from the point of view of the antagonist rather than the victim? What kind of impact do you think this has on the audience?

My main message of the film is that young people are not ‘evil’ which I think is a common misconception and I don’t believe evil exists. It for me shows societies failings of these young people. I think everyone in these situations are victims and YouTroll shows that from both sides!  But yes long story short it was a conscious decision, as we need to think of all the viewpoints of a story and ideally the most unique and nuanced one that will give off the best story.

Social media is such a dominant part of youth culture and obviously affected the visual style of the film. Do you think anything can be done to combat the dangers of the online world? What would you say are the good parts of social media?

I think that is all fundamentally falls back on how young people are feeling about themselves in this day and age, Bullying will always find another vehicle to travel in if you block those sites people will find a new way. We need to look at the root of the problem, and that will be when the rest gets better. The root of the bullying problem is young people’s self-confidence, and people wanting to feel accepted. If in school’s you taught self-love and we got more spiritual in schools we would start to see a change in behavior, for example the basic lesson that we are all just one being Let A Don Live!

Why was Ola so angry? There’s mention of his dad not being around and also of the dreams of Theo which is a bit homoerotic – do you think young men find it hard to express their emotions and so become violent?

Ola was so angry because he was lonely, he went from being someone who was very confident in a ‘gang’ to being the outcast. There is a history of young men finding it hard not expressing their emotions but I do believe it is something that is changing more and more even subtly with the likes of drainpipe skinny jeans and guys plucking their eyelashes. I would again say we need to encourage that freedom of not suppressing your emotions whatever sex you are, as it’s science you bottle bad energies up, you will explode with bad energies and always feel on edge.

Being well know yourself, have you ever had to deal with a ‘YouTroll’? How did you handle it?

Luckily no, I have never had anything that bad, sure some people have said nasty stuff about me or my work, but I am in an industry were I am told no EVERYDAY I couldn’t care less! Just block delete and hope they can link love or attention elsewhere, because (sweet brown voice) ain’t nobody got time for that!  I once had some nasty comments about me posted on an SBTV video I did and at first it hit me I was like aww that makes me feel sad mainly as LOADS of other people can freely view that, also as the comments weren’t deleted by SBTV you do feel a bit out there, but the keyboard warriors generally ain’t really making movements that I need to worry about so we keep it moving baby!!

You have worked a lot with director and editor Theresa Varga who happens to also be your girlfriend. Best and worst things about working with your girl?

Best things you are working with someone you trust and love, and has the same mindset of the future goal and work ethic! I wouldn’t call it the worst but if a project is very intense you can end up talking work literally 24/7 so we have nice weekends where emails are just not linked and work is not whispered! I have never had this before in a relationship so it is great to be with someone who inspires your work ethic and make me a better person and artist. And after these two films I plan to work with the amazing Theresa Varga a lot more J

You act – how and why did you get into writing your own stuff? What’s next?

Becoming an actor writer is the best thing I did, if gave me the opporutinity to create my own work, I hate waiting around so I need to make work and get it out there, I learn from my mistakes which are generally in front of people rather than behind closed doors! I got into writing at the Lyric Theatre, shout to Dean Atta and Deanna Rodger who taught a don how to write, then I did some boom playwriting workshops with Simon Stephens and Bola Agbaje and that was it, I wanted to write everything, plays,TV, films and I have not lost the bug. I would encourage every young actor to write, we need to create our own roles, and generate our own shows, like my idol Oprah she has got OWN she got a network and that is the dream.

Up next for me I have written an episode of Rastamouse for the new series on Cbeebies. I am working on my next short film called Just A Walk In the Palk which I am shooting in July and lots more YouTube stuff. I am writing a lot of TV stuff all of which is in the mix at various places so beg you cross some fingers for me. An currently writing my first feature film with Isaac Ssebandeke who play’s Ola in YouTroll.

Mustard: written by Theresa Varga and Nathan Bryon, directed and produced by Theresa Varga

Mustard is an intense, almost overwhelmingly foreboding dark piece of cinematic storytelling with a strong comedy element. With limited dialogue we meet protagonist Penelope, played by Ria Zmitrowicz from Youngers, at home with her American mother and sullen father. There is something charmingly 'other' about her character; she seems removed from the boring world she lives in and the flashbacks soon reveal why. Having been the victim of abuse at the hands of her head teacher, Penelope extracted her revenge...and got away with it. The 1970's aesthetic is so on point, adding to the strangely claustrophobic feeling of the piece and the cinematography is stunningly haunting, particularly during a scene in a graveyard.

I spoke to Theresa Varga about the film and what it's like to be a female film maker.

Penelope is not immediately likeable – why do you think the audience warms to her?

Penelope is certainly a complex character but I think the audience warm to her as the film progresses because we all have a sort of have a Penelope in us. Whether it be the feeling of outcast or distance from those that should be closet to us, she represents a dysfunctional child which many of us have been at some point in our lives and the audience grow to love her through their own experiences and feelings in life and can relate to at least some part of Penelope. Also I think her warped comedy and warped enjoyment in life makes her slightly loveable as lets face it everyone can be weird at times and again this also reflects a part in everyone.

How did you get things so spot on in terms of the period? It looks sooo 70’s!

The key to the 70s look was a mixture of knowing what I wanted from the moment I wrote the script, collaborating with amazingly talented Amelia Bennett who was my costume and set designer and also a great deal of luck (although I don’t believe in luck nothing is a coincidence!). As I produced the film too I had full control over location choice and came across this incredible 70s d├ęcor house in London, the house even had a pool it was amazing. We also had to research quite a lot particularly concerning music, clothing, hair and makeup looks and other factors such as newspapers. Massive props to Millie for baking the fabulous cakes that you see in the film too! I think overall the work that me and Millie put into the film and the attention to detail is what drove the film forward, we made a great team and I’m so excited to work with her again, but I really have to give the most praise to Millie for her incredible work ethic and the heart and soul that she put into the film.

Why the old school tv style footage to frame the film?

The old school TV style footage pops up in her memories or flashback of her teacher. I wanted to differentiate this part from the rest of the film, hence the way it is cropped. I wanted it to symbolize a type of broken record or never ending film reel that is constantly playing in Penelope’s head, as if her mind was a home movie. The style is also kept within the vintage feel of the film .

The graveyard scene was brilliant, especially the filming with both the  characters on either side of the cross headstone. Do you like to combine comedy with dark elements and why do you think this works so well?

In regards to dark comedy I love it, I like twisted and warped realities, a character you don’t particularly see on screen often but one in a dark way you can relate to. I think the comedy element puts the viewer in a weird realm, the comedy is never laugh out loud but Penelope’s quirks in particular and even the mothers quirks keep your attention alert and drawn in. I just think comedy and darkness go hand on hand so well but at the same time are still polar opposites, creating a surreal environment.

What are the challenges for a female film maker in a male dominated industry?

I think certain male filmmakers without realizing can be slightly prejudiced towards woman in the industry and I think this all stems from trust on their part but also the fact that woman lack a certain kind of cockiness that men carry, kind of like the alpha male effect. I feel even at uni there just hasn’t been the same amount of praise and respect towards female filmmakers from fellow students. This is deeply rooted in our society and has been the core of beliefs for so long its something even our generation are finding hard to shake. But the fact is there are so many amazing female directors, DOP s, gaffers etc.. That are seeping slowly through into the limelight and we all haven’t succumbed to the fictitious attitude that we “have to act like men” to make it in the industry – our talent holds for itself.  I firmly believe woman do have a harder time, even my teacher once prepped me that I will have men hitting on me in industry with the proposition of making me successful quicker. I could literally talk for days on the subject but I think we need to firmly teach all our children from young about equality (and that goes for all minorities) to really make a change in this world.

What’s next?

Both Nathan and me are about to hit the festivals with our debuting films, which is very exciting, so keep your eyes peeled! It exciting and nerve wracking all at the same time haha. My next short is currently in the writing stage, so I will also be crowd funding and raising funds very soon to get the project up and running.. I can’t wait to be on set again! Also I’ve just graduated from Ravensbourne university so it will be time to hopefully *fingers crossed* find a job within the industry too!

Nathan and Theresa are undoubtedly some top talent to keep an eye out for in the film world. Keep an eye out for a collaboration between myself and Theresa too ;)

Follow them both here:

Nathan: @nathanbryon on Twitter or his website

Theresa: @theresavarga on Twitter or her website

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