A Press Conference with the Director, Screenwriter and Actors of Dear Frankie

Category: Dear Frankie News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: March 24, 2005 | Publication: DC Film Society | Author: James McCaskill
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The Dear Frankie press conference took place at the 2004 Edinburgh International Film Festival. Present were the film's director and director of photography Shona Auerbach, screenwriter Andre Gregg, actor (The Stranger) Gerard Butler, actor (Marie) Sharon Small.

"Dear Da, Do you know something? We are moving again." "Dear Da, We are living on the edge of the sea. On the edge of the world." Nine-year-old Frankie Morrison's (Jack McElhone) writes letters to his father for he, his mother (Emily Mortimer) and grandmother Nell (Mary Riggans) have for several years moved from one Scottish town to another. Lizzie, his mother, feels she must move to protect her deaf son from his abusive father. Frankie has been told that his father is in the merchant navy, travelling the world on the HMS Accra. Every few weeks his mother fakes letters to him telling of Da's adventures in exotic locations.

Their latest move is to village just outside Glasgow and to a wee flat above a fish and chip shop. A friendship forms between the shopkeeper, Marie, and Lizzie is soon employed in the chippy.

Frankie learns that the Accra is soon to dock in their seaport village. He is desperate to meet his father. Lizzie asks her new friend Marie to help find a man who can be hired to act as Frankie's father for one day. The Stranger agrees, for a price. The one day meeting expands to a second and now includes the mother. The plot's twists and turns coupled with a surprise ending keeps this film from descending into cloying mush.

At the press conference, Shana Auerbach was asked about combining the roles of film director and director of photography she said, "For me it is something I have always done. I did commercials for six years and have always lit and directed. I'm sure that's a help and a hindrance. But I would say more than anything it helps because that's what I've always done. I'm from a stills background where the still photography is essentially the director and the DOP. I've never known anything else."

Butler was asked about the mood on the set. "We had two weeks rehearsal, two weeks of solid talking about our characters. We tied down a lot then."

Screenwriter Andrea Gibb said, "It was fantastic to have the stuff you write made into a film. I am very lucky. This brought my work forward. You get other offers. I had done a lot of medical films so they look at you and see a certain kind of writer." "People," she continued, "can offer you what you want. You always have a choice.You make things interesting for yourself. I keep myself interested and challenged."

Sharon Small was asked about playing the best friend and said, "My role was to serve and enable the love story. It was freeing to do that kind of part, second female lead. You have these different kinds of forces in your own life. My job was to be a real person," she continued, "and to be that place where Emily is moving to." Small is well known in the UK for her television roles. Her previous film work was a Hugh Grant's sister Christine in the international hit About a Boy.

"I've had a lot of experience working with children," Auerbach responded when asked about the young actor, Jack McElmorne. "My commercials had children. Jack is very strong willed. Very intelligent. You tell him once and he goes off and plays football then comes back and does it. That character had to be very warm." Over 100 children were auditioned for this part.

Butler interjected, "I was inspired by Jack. If I had been an actor at that age it would have been miserable." "You are like brothers. He was not afraid. Jack's performance had such depth. You never knew where Jack was going next. So much of it is about the audience climbing inside his head."

The screenwriter, Gibb, talked about working with the young actor, "At no time did they patronise him. The same thing was required of him as every other actor on the set. He talked with Shona as any other actor."

Auerbach gave a behind the scene glimpse into Jack's acting. In the dance scene, he is looking at the girls on the stage and gives such a great smile. What he was actually looking at was his mother on stage dancing." Although only ten, McElhone is a film veteran. Dear Frankie is his second film. His previous work was as the son of Tilda Swinton and Peter Mullen in Young Adam.

Gibb said she was struck by his assuredness throughout the casting process. "He has a fantastic sense of self. And that's not to say he's an arrogant boy, absolutely not. He's just so obviously got such a fantastic relationship with his parents. He is just totally sure of who he is and the fact that he is loved. And I think he brings that to Frankie. You feel the love between Frankie and his mum strongly."

The script began life as a 15-minute film for Scottish Screen's Tartan Shorts series. That entry was called Natural History and was sent to Auerbach as a writing sample. "Just before producer Caroline Wood had just seen the Czech film Kolya that had won an Oscar in 1997 and wanted to do a film with a child at the center.

Auerbach met with her and they decided to find a project involving a child. Together with Gibb they worked to turn the 15-minute short into a 90-minute feature. Gibb said that some scenes haven't changed at all. "Until very recently when we added an scene, the ending is almost intact from the first draft. The last four pages have not changed. There are some other scenes that are still in the long film script; like the scene in the kitchen where the Stranger arrives for the first time."

One big change was that the character of Frankie became deaf. "How much of the truth does he know? How much does he accept? Nobody ever told him that his father is on that ship but inside deep down he knows, the little boy knows what we find out at the end." "What would that do if the communication between Frankie and Lizzie was restricted in some way? That's how I came up with the notion that actually he was deaf. And that gave me something else, something interesting to explore between mother and son. I have a cousin who is both deaf and mute. He was very much in my head when I was writing Frankie."

Questions were asked about the locations in the film. "The location," Auerbach said, "came from Andrea. She is from Greenock, the Clyde Coast town where she grew up." "Weirdly enough," Gibb revealed, "I think I'm not writing about Greenock and I always am." I don't know why that is and I don't know why it has such a pull, or what it is about that particular place you can't shake off."

Auerbach said, "I was looking for something very visual. That's just the way I think." Butler contributed, "The film does not feel like regional Britain. The story could be any where." When asked about her style in working with the actors, the director said, "I don't think it very extreme, working with actors. Jerry liked to talk a lot before the short. Emily likes to get it in her head exactly what she wants to do. Sharon, you are more like Jerry. Jack can be spontaneous but did not want to talk about it."

Gerry Butler concluded the press conference by sharing his thoughts about coming back to his native Scotland. "Nice to come back to Scotland. I had such a good time coming home to Glasgow, to Greenock. Had such a fantastic time there." He was born in nearby Paisley and practised law in Glasgow before being bitten by the acting bug. "My family now lives in the Highlands so I usually just pass through Glasgow. Such a nice simple experience. I really liked this role. It was great for me. Parts of the film brought back such good memories. The beach where Frankie and I walk is the one that I played on with my father."