"It’s absolutely not a weakness to listen to suggestions on set"
Sam Bradford is an award winning Director born in Kent, England. His latest short film, Edelweiss, has found great success in many festivals across the globe and has won multiple awards on the circuit, including Best Picture at the New York Film Awards.
Edelweiss is inspired by real events discovered within the pages of a WW2 soldier's journal. When Emma Fisher and Sonu Louis (writers and lead actors) first approached him with the script, he fell in love with this unique and humane story of two people who connect despite the horrors of war.
We asked Sam to join us for an interview, and met a passionate director who brings a message of kindness and humanity, not only in his films.
Sam, tell us about your background.
I grew up in a small town from the South of England called Edenbridge. It’s not too dissimilar to the fictitious town of 'Sandford' in Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg’s movie “Hot Fuzz” - except we don’t have a secret society of killers trying to keep the town perfect and experience epic car chases that tear through the middle of the town... or at least we didn’t the last time I checked!
What made you decide to go into film?
When I was around 11 years old I really started to become obsessed with film. You couldn’t stop me from renting videos every weekend from the local store and saving all of my pocket money to buy special editions of films that I already owned.
A few of my friends at school really understood and shared my passion for film so we journeyed into the world of filmmaking together. We got our hands on a cheap camera and some editing software and just started making our own films from there. You’d find us running around the town at 5am dressed up as zombies or rehearsing a fight scene in the school gym after hours all for the sake of making movies.
When I got to about 15 years old I realised that film was going to be my career choice, I got my head down and became a graduate of the University of Greenwich studying Film and Television
Do you have a filmmaking role model? Who is your biggest influence?
I’m a big fan of Steven Spielberg. He’s nothing short of a maestro when it comes to making movies, it’s clear that he’s cracked the formula and his body of work is just astonishing.
Edgar Wright is also a hero of mine. He’s so versatile with his ability to jump from genre to genre and still knock it out of the park. Shaun of the Dead remains one of my favourite films and Baby Driver is a real treat to watch.
Tell us the story behind Edelweiss. Why did you choose to make this film? And why now?
Edelweiss is a short story about a man and a woman who connect with one another during the trials of the Second World War. The script was penned by actress Emma Fisher, who developed the story from the real life accounts found from the pages of a war journal that belonged to our lead actor, Sonu Louis’ father.
There’s a lovely little network of filmmakers based in and around London that I find myself a part of - we’re almost like one big happy family. It was through this group of directors, producers, writers and actors that Emma and Sonu first approached me with the script. I really liked the story, the purity of emotion and being able to find a moment to connect with someone despite the horrors of war and which side of the line you find yourself standing on.
I was also very interested in shooting a film that was set at such a specific point in human history such as WWII. What would it look and feel like? How could we create that world and do it justice so our audience could lose themselves in the story?
Edelweiss - Trailer
You have a phenomenal ensemble of actors in Edelweiss. How did you cast the film? What was it like to work with your actors on set? Any tips to young filmmakers on casting and working with talent?
We definitely lucked out with our amazing cast in Edelweiss. Emma and Sonu were instrumental in the casting decisions and we talked a lot about what we imagined each character to be like in the film, what they should look like and how they should sound.
On set, we had invaluable advice on war history, how officers behaved and even how medical procedures were carried out during that time so working with the cast was a very rich experience.
We shot the film over one weekend and kept to about 8 hours per day so we could really focus on the performances and shot compositions. I like to create a bit of a family vibe on set and make sure that everybody goes home happy. I had actually only worked with one of the cast members before so we had a lot of laughs and conversations whilst getting to know one another.
I definitely don’t feel qualified enough to give any tips, I’m still a student of film myself. Some good advice which I’ve learnt is to keep an open mind when working with talent on set. Actors are great storytellers themselves, it’s part of their craft to help make films more exciting, believable or intriguing. Sometimes an actor will throw a suggestion into the mix and ultimately it’s your job to decide if it will better the film. It could be a line change or an entire change of direction for one particular scene but it’s absolutely not a weakness to listen and entertain these suggestions. I think the movies that you make and yourself as a filmmaker will be all the better for it.
What was your favorite part in the process of making Edelweiss?
When I arrived at location for the first day of principal photography I was just in awe as I watched these huge WWII vehicles being manoeuvred into position out on the field. Our production was so fortunate to have Chas Jellis heading up the art department. He’s handled props and vehicles for movies such as ‘Fury’ (dir. David Ayer) and ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ (dir. Doug Liam) so the production value of Edelweiss was in some really safe hands. At one point during pre production he actually turned to me and asked “Do you want a tank? I can definitely get you a tank.” How awesome is that?
So my favourite part had to be walking out onto set for the first time that morning. Greeting my cast who looked fantastic in their costumes, lining up these amazing vehicles to create our backdrop and just being able to trust my entire team. We all wanted the best out of that weekend and everybody brought their A-game.
What were some of the challenges in the production?
When we carried out a location recce at the farm we realised quite early on that the shoot might be challenging for a number of reasons.
My DP, Jamie Wanstall, was very mindful of identifying where the sun rose and set over the field as Edelweiss takes place completely outdoors. With a decision to shoot in February it was still quite cold outside and we had to have a plan in place that would ensure that filming wouldn’t be affected by any changes in outside weather conditions. Because of this we made a conscious decision to shoot the script in chronological order, this way if the opening shot was met with mild weather and then at the end we were treated to some sunshine it wouldn’t cause any continuity errors or disrupt the viewing of the film for the audience.
The other main challenge was the actual positioning of the field in relation to public transport. We found ourselves working adjacent to a major train-line that travelled out from London to the North of England. We were also directly underneath a flight path for London Heathrow Airport, so for almost every five minutes we either had a plane or a train making itself heard on set. Hats off to our Boom Op, Simon Coram, who was nothing short of outstanding in light of all of this, the sound was bang on and very little ADR was needed in post.
What is your favorite scene in the movie? Why is it your favorite?
Once Nurse Laurent and Nurse Frances arrive I think the film really switches up a gear.
It’s the only time in the movie where every cast member is present on screen together and I just love the dynamic that my cast were able to create with one another. We have a soldier who thinks that he’s god’s gift to women, a major who’s realised that his prisoner is far more important than he first thought, two nurses who’re exhausted and would much rather be saving the lives of allies than foes, and of course, the POW who has no idea where his fate lies but is also keeping quiet about a certain injury he’s sustained which greatly affects the story later on.
In that moment when the Nurses turn up, there’s a lot more going on with these characters than what’s just written on the page and I wanted the actors to have fun in exploring how we could tease that to our audience through their performances in the scene.
What would you like the viewers to take from Edelweiss?
I haven’t made an effort to create a political film or movie that demands change in the world however Edelweiss is probably a film that finds itself somewhere very loosely in the middle.
It’s not a love story but it is about connection.
Nurse Frances ends up caring for a man who fights for the other side. A man who quite possibly might have caused death to friends or family during the war and yet, in our film, she’s able to look past all of that and just see another person that needs her help. It’s about kindness and that’s what I hope viewers can take from watching Edelweiss. It’s not about race, nationality or even gender. We just need to stick together and we’ll be ok.
It felt like Edelweiss has the potential of becoming a feature film. Is that something you’re considering? If so, what can you tell us about the process?
It’s an interesting question as we didn’t really set out with that in mind but I have had the very briefest of chats with Sonu Louis after the film was completed about ideas for a feature. I’d love the opportunity to explore these characters more but for now we’ll have to wait and see.
Can you give a word of advice to aspiring filmmakers around the world?
Just do it. It’s a tough journey for sure and there’s going to be points where you will want to curl up and hide from it all but imagine a world where Meryl Streep decided to not be an actor or Christopher Nolan not becoming a director? Surround yourself in good people that want the best and you will learn from them, growing as a filmmaker and being the best that you can be too.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m very excited about a feature that we’re developing for the later part of 2018 called ‘The Pay Day’. I’ll be directing Sam Benjamin and Kyla Frye once more, two amazing actors and friends of mine who I directed in my debut short film ‘Double Cross’.
My team has just finished producing a TV pilot that I directed called ‘The Cloaking’ that we will be pushing out to networks soon featuring Clayton T. Smith, Billie Vee and Stan Yanevski so fingers crossed people will be seeing that soon.
If you could work with anyone in the world, who would that person be?
Just one person? That’s a really hard question to answer. Can I take two? I’d love to work with Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels on a buddy movie where they drive to Colorado with a briefcase full of money and not a brain cell to share between them. I fear I might be a couple of decades late on that one though...
Please share your website, or where people can find you on social media, so I readers could keep track of you and your career:
You can find out more about my production company Praxima on our website - www.praxima.co.uk
Read my rants and opinions on Twitter - https://twitter.com/sambradfordtv
Look at my never ending pictures of cats, dogs and food on Insta - https://www.instagram.com/sambradfordtv/
And keep up to date on what movies I’m making on imdb - https://www.instagram.com/sambradfordtv/