Five minutes with director David Pearson on making swans act
The sound coming from the white van as it pulled up was muted, but unmistakable, writes David Pearson. Like a trumpeter on steroids playing after a rough night out in Soho being arrested. This was the “swan truck” and Lloyd Buck, expert bird handler, warned me the director of Black Car Home that none of the four inmates might play ball, “as Henry is a bit grumpy.”
Welcome to the world of animal actors and my first time directing a fiction film intended for the cinema and showing at the BAFTA qualifying London Short Film Festival this week. Although I have previously successfully directed many TV documentaries, short dramas and bits of comedy, produced or inated ed ought ct ors, bird and human with respect and care. iosn to it. www.blackcarhome.com . He asked to see texecutive produced for TV and cinema; won awards and been Oscar shortlisted and BAFTA & Emmy Nominated, here I was in sub-zero temperatures trying to get an animal to act with humans for “Black Car Home”. Must be mad I thought, comforting myself that at least I hadn’t written any child characters into the script.
I watched the van’s tailgate open. Had Henry alienated them all? It was Olive who came gamely waddling down the ramp. Lloyd gave me the thumbs up. She was soon in position on the set with DOP Ian Salvage and go to bird camera operator Mark Payne-Gill in position with their Alexa cameras, and actors Nadia Serantes and Jon Cleave rehearsed and ready to go, watched by a nervous crew of 30.
My approach to film making is to be well prepared, be clear, have back up plans and get great people working with me, and Lloyd and his wife Rose were no exception. But a Plan B for climatic scene with a swan is difficult, if no swans cooperate.
I asked Lloyd how close to the script Rose could get- not expecting miracles. “Oh all of it as intended,” he said”, with luck.”
Gently shepherded by Lloyd and his wife Rose we started and I found myself asking a swan to, “please go again”. Would she mind walking closer to Nathan, played by Jon Cleave, to show intimacy? With Lloyd’s expert help she did. What a pro performer! Then she had to fly off on cue. It was all achieved and the shots by Mark and Ian look beautiful. Finely edited by David Thrasher, and with music and sound added the scene makes its mark.
Cinema audiences have gasped and after screening audience questionnaires cite the scene as one of the most memorable and striking scenes in the film- well it is the climax!
All my previous directing experience proved useful transitioning to make this darkly comic fiction film about an illegal immigrant being rescued by a homeless man. So what did I learn? That like your crew, directors must treat all actors, bird and human, with respect, care and understanding. www.blackcarhome.com
You can judge the result at the film’s showing in the BAFTA qualifying, London Short Film Festival on the 14th January at 1845 as part of a programme on REFUGEE, ASYLUM & GLOBAL MOVEMENT tickets here.